Friday, June 9, 2017

Paris Accord: Wrong Climate for Creation Care

They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."  -- Genesis 11: 4

Ratification of the Paris Agreement
In 2015, President Obama and leaders of nearly 200 other nations met near Paris, France to constitute the World Climate Change Conference (WCCC).  Their mission was to establish goals to reduce global carbon emissions in favor of renewable energy sources.  The conference drafted the Paris Agreement which was entered into force in November, 2016.

The Paris Agreement, or Paris Accord, calls for each nation to submit its own climate-action plan for reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG’s) in favor of adopting clean energy policies (e.g. solar- and wind-powered energy generation).  The Obama proposal committed the USA to reduce emissions by 26-28% by 2025 as referenced to 2005 levels when the US emitted 6,132 million metric tons of CO2.

By an executive order, President Obama included the United States in the agreement in 2015, but did not submit his proposal to Congress for ratification.  Absence of congressional ratification would leave the door open for any future president to “cancel” any responsibilities of the US to the agreement.  On June 1, President Trump stepped through that open door. 

The president announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. He summarized his decision for the US to exit the agreement with these words:

As president, I have one obligation and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.  It is time to exit the Paris Accord. And time to pursue a new deal that protects the environment, our companies, our citizens and our country.

President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord unleashed yet another sea of controversy among the many surrounding the policies of his administration.  Like many issues facing the world today, global climate science is layered with complexities.  The politics and economics surrounding the climate science add to the complexity.  Therefore, I do not pretend to be an expert on this multidisciplinary topic.  Nor will I try to offer the last word.

For purposes of this article, I will affirm four claims that advocates use to justify taking action to address global warming, or climate change:
(1) Global concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and other GHG’s have generally increased during the last century.
(2)  Human-generated (anthropogenic) GHG’s contribute to the increase in atmospheric GHG’s 
(3)  A correlation exists between the increase in GHG’s and increasing average global temperatures.
(4) Increased atmospheric GHG’s from both natural and human sources are partly responsible for the increase in average global temperature. 

Although I affirm the above claims, it is not clear to me that human efforts to address climate change are headed in the right direction.  Therefore, what follows is a brief sketch of my concerns.  Although these concerns are all interrelated, I will present them under three categories, scientific, geopolitical, and biblical.

SCIENCE CONSIDERATIONS

From the scientific perspective, I do not believe the four claims above are so strongly supported as to be called “settled science” as many climate alarmists have asserted.  Therefore, I will offer the several points, each accompanied with some additional sources to read and consider.

Steady increase in CO2 (decreases in summer) 
(a)  Multiple Contributing Factors:  There are valid reasons for questioning how much human activities actually contribute to the total annual increases in GHG’s.  A report by G. Wang (2017) suggests that sun spot activity and planetary motion with possible connection to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation cycle may also contribute significantly to climate change. Changes in cloud forcing, atmospheric components such as water vapor, and regional land use changes should be considered in addition to anthropogenic GHG’s.

(b)  Climate Models:  Some respected climate scientists question the predictive accuracy of climate models and hence the degree of urgency of our response to climate change.  Dr. Richard Lindzen, respected atmospheric physicist, has criticized climate models. But, he has also contributed excellent research in efforts to improve climate models.  Dr. Lindzen submitted a public letter to President Trump with hundreds of scientists as signatories, urging the president to revoke “the U.S. signature under the 1992 treaty signed in Rio which became a cornerstone for the subsequent Kyoto and Paris treaties.” 

According to Cal Beisner, founder and spokesman of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, writing in the Washington Times, scientific evidence is mounting that climate models are overstating carbon dioxide’s warming effect. Beisner cites University of Alabama climatologist John Christy who testified in Congress on March 29 saying “the models call for warming of 0.389 oF per decade.  But weather balloon measurements find only 0.2 oF, satellite measurements 0.211 oF and re-analyses of data from major weather centers around the world 0.221 oF. Observed warming is about one-half to three-fifths what the models predict.”

(c)  Ethics Under Pressure: Climate scientists are under considerable peer pressure as well as pressure from research funding sources and from those in the environmental movement, thus making the climate science community vulnerable to breaches in ethics.  Richard Lindzen whom I cited above has testified in the U.S. Senate that he “personally witnessed coauthors forced to assert their 'green' credentials in defense of their statements."  For a more recent review of ethical concerns in science, see “The Conscience of Science: Part 1 Ethics and Accountability.”

GEOPOLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Besides my scientific concerns, I have geopolitical concerns about the complex web of interrelationships among international leaders, scientists, lobbyists, politicians, industries, NGO’s, and climate activists.  The environmental concerns, motivations, and intentions of each party rest upon the belief that there is a credible scientific case for climate change.  But, as I have stated, climate science is not “settled science.”  Furthermore, we ought to ask whether nearly 200 nations would gather at the table and sign onto an agreement to limit their use of fossil fuels simply because they are concerned about climate warming.  Could most of the gathered leaders have come with an open purse waiting to be filled?

(a)  Paris Agreement Goal
is to limit global temperature increase to 1.5o above pre-industrial levels.  This goal is to be achieved by encouraging the 195 nations that have signed the agreement to pledge to reduce fossil fuel usage in favor of renewable energy—largely solar and wind power.  However, a study published in Nature, in 2016, claimed that the combined national pledges will be insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise "well below 2 °C." The Washington Times has published computations by Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus think tank.  Lomborg estimated the impact of the Paris Agreement using the assumptions of climate change advocates about how much warming comes from CO2, and assuming all provisions of all signers were implemented.  He concluded that the Paris Agreement would “prevent only 0.306 °F of global warming by 2100.”  This fraction of 1°F is hardly a statistically significant measure of the “good” that would presumably come at a cost estimated at $739-$757 billion per year!  Lomborg summarizes the estimated cost:  All told, $924-$946 billion.  Per year. Every year from 2030 to the end of the century…
So, for $65-$132 trillion, we might — if the alarmists are right — reduce global average temperature by a third of one degree by 2100.  That’s $212-$431 billion per thousandth of a degree of cooling.”  Next question:  Who will come up with this kind of money?

United States takes the leadership in financial commitment.
(b)  Financing through the Green Fund:  Under the assumption that developed nations are more financially equipped than developing nations, the Paris Agreement calls for developed nations to mobilize $100 billion per year to assist developing nations in mitigating and adapting to climate change.  Based on the fact that the US funds a disproportionate amount of the annual budget in the United Nations and of NATO, both of which have treaty-binding status, it is not hard to guess who would be stuck with the lion’s share of funding for the Green Fund.  It is not clear exactly what specific programs this would fund.  Nor is it clear who would administer the programs.

Other major producers of  CO2 must reduce emissions, too.
(c)  Commitment to Paris Agreement is based not on a signed, binding treaty, but on an unbinding agreement ratified in 2016.  Therefore, it seems important that we assess the level of commitment of individual signatory nations to achieve their goals in the future within the Paris Agreement.  According to a report by the Institute for Energy Research, “the United States had the greatest share of wind and solar electricity (5.4 percent) among the 3 countries in 2015—the year of the most recent data available. China had a 3.9 percent share and India had a 3.7 percent share of wind and solar power to total electricity generation.”  On the other hand, of the three largest producers of CO2, only the United States has made significant progress in reducing emissions.  Shouldn’t Americans consider that our president might be right in withdrawing from the Paris Agreement?  After all, America has demonstrated a proven commitment to and success in reducing carbon emissions and adopting alternative energies in addition to showing good faith in contributing a generous amount up front to fund the program.  Shouldn’t we consider that the US might accomplish Paris goals on its own while saving billions that we could otherwise invest in areas of clearly demonstrated urgency in developing countries—e.g. soil conservation, sanitation, and nutrition?

(d )  Paris Agreement:  Good or Bad for the Poor? 
With billions of dollars being transferred to foreign leaders, agencies, and administrators it is clear that the Agreement will be “good” for at least some, perhaps many people, and perhaps the Earth.  But, will the millions in poverty see opportunity to better their lives?  I urge readers to research the question of whether the Paris Agreement would actually promote better access for the poor to affordable energy and opportunity. 

As one who has studied and tried to apply biblical environmental stewardship principles, I would suggest two resources that address how individual Christians and the Evangelical church ought to respond to the issue of climate change.  In 2011, the National Association of Evangelicals published “Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment” as a clear and forceful application of biblical environmental stewardship principles, particularly as they relate to the poor (Matthew 25: 36-44).  The author, Dorothy Boorse, explains that climate change will disproportionately affect the poor.  However, returning to our discussion of the Paris Agreement’s transfer of billions to developing countries, we must ask whether our tax dollars are being used most effectively when the target is to reduce a hypothetical fraction of degree of global temperature based on questionable climate model projections. 

The Cornwall Alliance offers an alternative view of how climate change policies such as the Paris Agreement may affect the poor, in an article entitled “Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies.”  The authors argue that proposals for shifting to alternative energy sources will increase energy costs and disproportionately affect the poor who spend a higher percentage of their income on energy.  The result will be, in effect, a regressive tax—“taxing the poor at higher rates than the rich.”  Furthermore, funding for climate change programs will divert financial commitment from projects where it “could do far more good by providing pure drinking water, sewage sanitation, electrification, nutrition supplements, infectious disease control, health care, and other benefits to the world’s poor.” Beisner sees the Green Fund as yet another wrong-headed effort to help the poor.  
Placing billions of dollars in the hands of a few powerful money lenders who then pick and choose winners has historically not solved poverty, either at the national level (Think “War on Poverty.”), or international level (Think World Bank.).  Instead, the best policy for the world’s poor, the policy that will most help them rise out of poverty, is for governments to get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the energy field (as in all others) and let free-market competition decide.

BIBLICAL CONSIDERATIONS:

Since the confusion of one human language at the Tower of Babal; and, the geographic, ethnic, and cultural divergence that followed, mankind has been unable to reunite around one cause for the benefit of either humanity or the planet.  Our efforts through human reason, philosophy, the sciences, and religion have all failed, many times with the bloody defeat of a tyrannical ideologue or the collapse of a mighty empire or civilization.  Likewise, well meaning humanistic efforts to bring peace have failed.  For example, in spite of its name, billions spent, and the sincere toil of many dedicated people, the United Nations has had very limited success in bring peace and prosperity to Earth.  Therefore, I am not optimistic that trillions of dollars amassed and distributed through the Green Fund will bring “good” either to God’s creation or to the many who are forgotten either in Detroit or in Dhaka. 

However, the inspired revelation of Scripture reveals that throughout human history, God was at work to redeem us, speaking long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1: 1-2).  And He…upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
…(Heb. 1: 3b) …Who also intercedes for us (Romans 8: 34b), having chosen us to be His body, set apart (sanctified), holy and acceptable to God as a beacon of His Truth to a lost and spiritually dying world.  For there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4: 12).

As evangelicals, members of Christ’s body by faith in His atoning death and resurrection, consider how to respond to environmental issues like climate change, we should not question the importance of either caring for God’s creation, or assisting the poor with an opportunity to fulfill their God-given purposes.  Rather, we ought to consider the validity of climate science claims and projections, and carefully evaluate where funds are most needed in order to do the most good for the most lives in today’s world.  In addition, we must remember that, as members of Christ’s body, the church, we are called to do “good deeds” as a means for the poor to earn their daily bread, but also to provide the “good news,” the Gospel, of the Bread of Eternal Life.  If the Christian voice within the climate change community is not spoken in loving word and deed, we are salt that is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.  
– Isaiah 61:11

Additional Reading:
1.  If you are a Christ-follower who is confused about how to "integrate" the call of God to "preach the Gospel in word and deed" with His call to stewardship of His creation, consider reading "Creation Care and Christian Character" which provides a helpful list of additional readings.

2.  Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 1 "Serving With" Our Creator -- Article #1 Biblical Foundation

3. Calling forStewardship Without a Master

2 comments:

Eli Hause said...

Interesting read and well-balanced are my thoughts on this post.

John said...

Thanks for following and reading, Eli. Wish I had your gift of brevity without sacrificing content.