Reading the headlines lately, we could not help but notice that two competing groups of evangelical Christians have been at odds over the nature and extent of human-induced climate change, as well as our nation’s proper response to it    Reading between the lines, however, we believe both groups ought to be able to work together to improve the lives of people in the developing world who are the most likely to be impacted by weather conditions, whether or not they are ultimately proven to be related to global warming, and the least able to deal directly with floods, drought, and other natural phenomena.

Just a few years ago, the Evangelical Environmental Network published its “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation,” citing numerous “degradations of creation” as “signs that we are pressing against the finite limits God has set for creation.”  Their “creation care” approach focused on the “earthly result of human sin” and a “perverted stewardship,” with the only remedy repentance and a new environmental ethic.

The EEN today urges the faithful to make personal lifestyle choices that express humility, forbearance, self-restraint, and frugality and to work for godly, just and sustainable economies.  Those last words are notable, as the group expresses support for the development of just, free economies which empower the poor and create abundance without diminishing creation’s bounty.

A newer coalition, called the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), focuses solely on the perceived threat of global warming, and it recently upped the stakes by introducing a policy statement to the National Association of Evangelicals that would have committed that diverse body to campaigning for major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and a virtual end to the use of abundant U.S. coal as an energy source.

The ECI argues that without drastic action the oceans will warm, sea levels will rise, and there will be more frequent and more deadly heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and floods coupled with huge drops in agricultural output, huge increases in deadly diseases, and perhaps (if it could be imagined) even worse scenarios.  Global warming, according to the ECI, even poses threats to national and international security.  The ECI cites as its progenitors the “What Would Jesus Drive” campaign and the Sandy Cove Covenant.

In response to these initiatives, the newly formed Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) urged the NAE not to commit itself to the ECI’s resolution, which it saw as going beyond the boundaries of scientific and political wisdom.  The ISA was organized by signatories of the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, a document crafted and widely disseminated throughout the evangelical community in 2000 which encouraged human beings to “care wisely and humbly for all creatures” and to foster “widespread economic freedom” so as to make sound ecological stewardship available to even greater numbers.

Cornwall and the ISA cite three impediments to a sound environmental ethic: the view that humans are principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards; the misperception that “nature knows best;” and the recognition that focusing too much attention on some high-profile environmental concerns can lead to policies that ignore real needs in developing nations – such as inadequate sanitation, widespread use of primitive fuels, low-yield agricultural practices, and the persistence of diseases that have been virtually eliminated in developed nations.

CFACT applauds the growing concern of evangelicals for environmental stewardship and trusts that, as these seemingly competing coalitions continue to dialogue with one another (and their nonaligned colleagues), they will find common ground in their mutual commitment to “just, free economies that empower the poor” and “widespread economic freedom.”  We agree with the analysis of British scientist Robert Matthews, who wrote recently in Financial Times about the past (and present) ability of Homo sapiens to adapt to climatic change.

Matthews decries the fact that the climate change debate has been so heavily focused on mitigation strategies, such as the flawed Kyoto Protocol, that carry high price-tags and promise little real benefit.  Instead, he says, resourceful people in richer nations should spend more of their energies on helping their poorer cousins find ways to prosper regardless of short-term climatic conditions or even longer term trends.

Indeed, CFACT has crafted such a strategy as an outgrowth of our longstanding interaction with environmental and economic development organizations worldwide.  Our Social Entrepreneurship and Free-Market Environmentalism Demonstration (SEFED) program creates a template for empowering fledgling entrepreneurs in developing nations to obtain the energy and other resources they need in ways that have the least imprint on the environment.  By building stronger, freer polities in these struggling regions, we can ensure that local voices will develop and implement wise environmental policies that will be respected and followed at home.

CFACT believes that evangelicals –  many of whom send both formal and informal missionaries around the world –  can play a vital role in the SEFED program.  Indeed, SEFED was designed to be a consortium of local entrepreneurs, academics, government workers, and nongovernmental organizations who work with international entrepreneurs, academics, governmental entities, and NGO’s (including faith-based missions) to overcome barriers to environmentally sound economic growth.

We urge evangelicals (and others) to take a close look at the Cato Institute’s “Economic Freedom of the World: 2005 Annual Report,” which shows the remarkable correlation between the degree of economic freedom which exists in a nation and its individual well-being and domestic peace.  Other studies have shown that wealthier, more peaceable societies are much better equipped to address environmental and human health concerns.  Many faith-based missions (and others as well) already utilize strategies like micro loans and outright grants for water wells and other facilities to help people in developing nations improve their lot in life.   CFACT believes that a coordinated effort can result in economies of scale that will multiply the benefits now being provided to the poor – so long as the effort focuses on empowering individuals and communities to make their own decisions, earn their own money, and gain their own economic and political freedom. 

In the end, we can all accomplish more by turning those whom we may now see as supplicants into full partners.  We urge the competing evangelical groups to put aside their swords and pick up their plowshares, and in so doing, build upon their common ground of creating prosperity and fostering stewardship in the developing world.

Special thanks to CFACT South Central coordinator Duggan Flanakin, a SEFED organizer, who contributed to this article.