By E. Calvin Beisner, Janice Shaw Crouse, and Austin Ruse
Case in point: the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) recently launched a “Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign,” promising to “organize half a million pro-life Christians to participate” in efforts to curb pollution by demanding a switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar. It calls this campaign “pro-life” and says it will “free our children from pollution all across America with 100% clean electricity from renewable resources by 2030.”
Even if it were true that pollution from generating electricity from fossil fuels endangers children—and modern pollution control technologies and actual emission levels make this assertion questionable—the reasoning is ethically fallacious.
The Bible makes a stark and fundamental distinction between intentional and accidental killing. When God instructed Israel to provide “cities of refuge” in the Promised Land, He said:
If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to [a city of refuge] and live, lest the avenger of blood … strike him fatally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he had not hated his neighbor in the past. …
But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. [Deuteronomy 19:4–6, 11–12]
Most legal systems today incorporate this fundamental ethical distinction, as by distinguishing accidental killing from negligent deaths, and intentional but not premeditated from premeditated homicide. They typically inflict no criminal penalty on the first and graduated penalties on the rest.
Some American evangelicals fail to make this distinction today. That failure weakens the pro-life movement and their pro-life arguments.
Like most ethics professors, when Dr. Beisner taught ethics in seminary, he made sure his students understood that proper ethical judgment considers carefully both the intent and the outcome of our acts. The EEN campaign ignores that distinction and twists the facts about the outcomes.
The campaign morally equates fossil fuel electricity generation with abortion. However, the ethical differences between abortion and pollution are glaring.
First, the intent differs. In abortion, the intent is to kill a baby. In energy production, the intent is to provide energy that people need to sustain life and health. Any pollution that is a byproduct of energy production is an unintended risk—like the risk of an axe head flying off while cutting wood.
Second, the factual outcomes differ. In abortion, the outcome of every “successful abortion” is a dead baby. In energy production, the outcome of the energy produced is enhanced human health, living standards, and life spans. The effect of any pollution byproducts may be a slight reduction in some people’s health—but certainly not enough to outweigh the intended beneficial outcome. By contrast, the result of denying people access to affordable electricity is often to reduce their living standards, health, and life spans.
The term “pro-life” was coined in the 1970s to designate those who sought to restrict abortion. That has been its primary meaning ever since. To apply it to efforts to reduce the relatively small risks from pollution from electricity energy generation in the United States is to cheapen the term.
Moreover, the EEN campaign does more than cheapen the term. Expanding on efforts that it began four years ago with its “Mercury and the Unborn” campaign, the current EEN campaign continues the organization’s practice of disseminating erroneous information about pollution.
The previous EEN campaign claimed that mercury from power plant emissions put 1 in 6 American infants at risk of “devastating … permanent brain damage.” In reality, the number exposed to enough mercury to have detectable effects was closer to 1 in 1,000; the risk was a delay in neurological development so slight as to be detectable only by trained specialists; and even that risk disappears in most children by age seven. In no case does it exceed about a half-point reduction in IQ, a difference common in identical twins raised in the same household. Further, less than 5% of mercury in U.S. air comes from power plants.
Ironically, implementing the EEN demand for “100% clean electricity from renewable resources by 2030” would likely impair human health or even kill more people than the pollution it prevented. By raising the cost of electricity, the mercury regulations alone are calculated to cost about 2,500 to 4,250 deaths per year. Getting 100% of our electricity from “renewable sources” (basically wind and solar) would cost multiples more. (The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury regulation, for these and other reasons, but the EPA had already implemented it.)
Nonetheless, by morally equating the risks from power plant emissions with abortion, the EEN justified applauding members of Congress who supported the EPA’s proposed mercury regulation as “sensitive to pro-life concerns”—and chastening members who opposed it as not “sensitive to pro-life concerns.”
Whom did the EEN applaud? Among the 13 members named, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin (both D-MI) both had 100% pro-abortion voting records in the 110th Congress (2007–2008), and Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (both R-ME) and David Pryor (D-AR) all had 78% pro-abortion voting records. Only two of the 13, Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) and Cong. Bob Latta (R-OH), had 100% pro-life voting records.
By broadening the definition of “pro-life” as it does, the EEN obscures its meaning. By describing people with 100% pro-abortion voting records as “pro-life” solely because of their environmental views, the EEN divides the pro-life movement, extols suspect health claims, and ignores the benefits of fossil fuels.
As a result, the EEN makes it more difficult to identify and elect truly pro-life people to office, and thereby postpones or prevents victory in the long struggle to end the intentional slaughter of hundreds of thousands of babies every year in the United States (over 52 million since the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973).
Further, by presenting its environmental concerns as “pro-life,” the EEN draws activists away from truly pro-life work into environmental causes tightly tied to the population control movement, which promotes abortion all around the world. It also delays bringing reliable, affordable electricity to billions who do not yet enjoy its wondrous benefits, and thus prolongs their poverty, disease, and premature deaths. These consequences are now so obvious and undeniable that promoting anti-fossil fuel policies in poor nations amounts to reckless disregard for human suffering and death—hardly a pro-life position.
Four years ago, more than 30 pro-life leaders signed a statement repudiating the EEN’s deceptive mercury campaign. Now concerned citizens can join many more in signing a new statement condemning the EEN’s deceptive “Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign” — for the same reasons.
By all means, let us be good stewards of God’s creation. Let us seek ways to reduce risks posed by pollution, while still providing the abundant, affordable, dependable energy that is indispensable to lifting entire societies out of abject poverty and enabling them to enjoy the health and living standards we do.
And in seeking to reduce relatively small and unintentional risks, let us not undermine the efforts of truly pro-life people to end the killing of millions of babies here and abroad every year.
NOTE: Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Janice Shaw Crouse is an author, columnist, and commentator, and Chairman of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Austin Ruse is President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.