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Global warming deniers and the ‘global left’ believers

In his June 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis described global warming as a major threat to life on Earth. 

“Many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective,” Francis wrote, “not only because of powerful opposition, but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.”

Solidarity? The Wall Street Journal would have none of it. The headline of a Dec. 24–25, 2016, Journal article about Francis’ stance on global warming, written by Francis X. Rocca, the paper’s Vatican reporter, described the pope as “The Leader of The Global Left,” thus confining him to a suspect political pigeonhole.

 

This pigeonhole view is shared by Vatican conservatives, as well as by President Trump’s former right-hand man Steven K. Bannon, as noted by Jason Horowitz in a Feb. 7, 2017, New York Times article headlined “Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican.”

“Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe,” Horowitz reported, “he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff.”

Protestant denominations, of course, have no pope and do not issue encyclicals. Members gather in conventions and agree upon resolutions. Take the Presbyterians, for example — a denomination of which, during the campaign, President Donald J. Trump asserted he was a proud member. 

He also stated, while campaigning (and then denied having stated), that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Less equivocally and more recently, he has tweeted, “Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” 

In accordance with this view, as president he appointed to cabinet positions men (almost exclusively) who have expressed not only a willingness, but eagerness, to strip the laws of regulations designed to protect the environment and the health of the U.S. population.

Mr. Trump’s stance and actions, then, would seem to put him on the side of what The Wall Street Journal might call “the global right,” an odd pigeonhole for a member of a denomination whose 218th General Assembly issued a document regarding U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming that begins by emphasizing that “energy choices, more than ever, are moral choices. 

“As our planet grows warmer, our Christian witness must become bolder. As individuals, families, congregations, and church administrative bodies, we must become the change we want to see in our nation. We must put our own houses in order even as we call on our nation to accept its moral responsibility with regard to energy policy and climate change. Together we must radically reduce our carbon footprint.”

Such statements would seem to suggest that Presbyterians — the church of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers — have become card-carrying members of the global left. Or, to put it another way, they are poor, little Protestant sheep who have gone astray. 

Meanwhile, let us consider the case of Representative John Culberson, who, as chair of the House Commerce, Justice and Science spending panel, served as the first-stage booster of the lopsided appropriations bill that lavished money on planetary exploration and slashed funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with more radical surgery still to come.

 

Culberson is a Methodist. He waffles on global warming. “I read all the time about scientific evidence of dramatically higher temperatures that are completely unrelated to human activity. There’s also a tremendous amount of data out there that is still in conflict, so I think it’s essential that we follow the facts and the science.”

A resolution adopted by the United Methodist Church in 2008 does not waffle. It states that, “whereas … an increase in future carbon dioxide concentration is very likely to cause significant warming of the Earth’s climate …,” and some of the changes “may have significant detrimental impacts upon human populations in the future …,” be it resolved “that members should also work to make their own congregations more aware of the issue of global warming and create policies and practices which reduce greenhouse gas emissions from congregational infrastructure ….” And “be it further resolved, that members call on the nations of the world to require reductions in greenhouse emissions ….”

Again, a respectable Protestant denomination seems to have gone astray.

And then there is the case of Bruce Babin, whose Houston congressional district is dominated by the Johnson Space Center and who serves chair of the House Space Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Bruce Babin is a Baptist. 

After starting off by stating that “Christians are called by God to exercise caring stewardship and dominion over the earth and environment,” the first of seven resolutions adopted at the Baptist Convention held in San Antonio in 2007 states that, “we urge Congress and the president to only support cost-effective measures to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse-gas emissions and to reject government-mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions….”

While this exercise in equivocation could have been crafted by an oil-industry flack, the seventh resolution regains moral muscle: 

“Be it resolved that we continually reaffirm our God-given responsibility to care for the earth by remaining environmentally conscious and taking individual and collective efforts to reduce pollution, decrease waste, and improve the environment in tangible and effective ways.”

Whether Babin has lifted a finger to exhibit his God-given responsibility to care for the earth, he alone can say. Meanwhile, he is dismissive of claims that humans are responsible for global warming, and boasts, on his website: “The refineries and chemical plants in and around the 36th Congressional District [which he represents] are unmatched in the world.”

That may well be. However, according to an article in the April 29, 2016, Texas Observer, written by energy and environment reporter Naveena Sadasivam: “Houston, which has some of the highest levels of smog in the country, is currently not in compliance with federal regulations limiting smog pollution.”

One might conclude that Baptists are yet another Protestant flock led astray by left-leaning shepherds. More reasonably, one might conclude that, while those who say they belong to this or that denomination may stray, the position taken by America’s mainstream Protestant churches regarding global warming differs very little from that enunciated by Pope Francis.

 

Jon Swan is a poet, journalist and former senior editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. Several years ago, after living in the Berkshires for 40 years, he and his wife moved to Yarmouth, Maine. His poems and several articles can be found at www.jonswanpoems.com.