An effort by 17 state and territorial attorneys general and former vice president Al Gore to find “creative ways to enforce” laws related to climate change has been characterized as contrary to the spirit of a 2007 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “on global warming.”
Evangelical climate change experts have added that the coalition of attorneys general from 15 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands seems to have made assertions in conflict with constitutional principles and sound scientific procedure.
New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman announced at a March 29 press conference that the coalition is working to find “creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuel industry and their allies in their shortsighted efforts to put profits above the interests of the American people and the integrity of our financial markets,” according to a YouTube video of the event. He added according to The Daily Signal, “The bottom line is simple: Climate change is real.”
Schneiderman specifically mentioned a joint effort among some coalition members to investigate the Exxon Mobil oil company for possibly committing fraud. He said the company, among other actions, used “the best climate models” to prompt adjustment of their oil rigs in preparation for rising sea levels while simultaneously telling the public there were “no competent models to project climate patterns.”
The New York attorney general referenced a “relentless assault from well-funded, highly aggressive and morally vacant forces that are trying to block every step by the federal government to take meaningful action” to fight climate change.
The attorneys general – 16 of whom are Democrats and one of whom is an Independent according to The Daily Signal – also announced their support of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, The New York Times reported.
The announcements drew criticism from political and social conservatives.
Martha Lawley, a member of the 2007 SBC Resolutions Committee, said the potential persecution of those who question human-induced climate change runs contrary to the convention’s most recent statement on the matter.
“The resolution was based on the fact the science is not settled and left open for individual Southern Baptists to determine for themselves what they felt in terms of what the science established or didn’t establish,” said Lawley, a women’s ministry author and speaker and retired attorney. She stressed that she spoke only for herself and not the Resolutions Committee or the convention.
The resolution stated “many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming” and “urge[d] Southern Baptists to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.”
Lawley said “the science remains unsettled” nine years later. “Declaring the science settled as a political matter seems to violate the very essence of scientific inquiry, as I understand it.” The potential prosecution of climate change critics “raises some serious concerns for me personally about constitutional protection of free speech and free thought.”
Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, said the idea oil companies can be found guilty of fraud related to climate change is “naive to ridiculous.”
To commit fraud, Beisner said, is to “knowingly [convey] a falsehood with the intent of enriching [oneself] or harming others financially.” In climate science, there are “literally thousands of different opinions” on the amount, causes and impact of global warming. That makes it virtually impossible for an objective court to declare any one of those opinions false, he said.
The freedoms of speech and inquiry are grounded in a Judeo-Christian worldview, Beisner said. “Christians, therefore, should line up firmly in favor of this freedom. But this effort by the Attorneys General United for Clean Power [the coalition’s official name] will put a chilling effect on that kind of debate by threatening people … for voicing their skepticism about dangerous, man-made global warming.”
John Christy, a former lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said more than a third of the members of the American Meteorological Society disagree with the view that “climate change is happening now and is dangerous,” according to one survey conducted by the society. That, combined with the variation among climate change models, should debunk the notion that “virtually every scientist agrees with the [Obama] administration on climate change.”
The initiative of the attorneys general appears designed to “intimidate those who disagree with the administration on climate issues,” said Christy, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former Southern Baptist missionary. “Climate science, as almost everyone knows, is a pretty murky science. We don’t predict it well at all.
“… To stifle those like me, who spend a lot of time actually building data sets and looking carefully at the global data … and come to different conclusions than the administration, is an attack on free speech and free thought,” said Christy, who testified before Congress in February that “extreme climate events” are not increasing due to human-induced climate change.
Jeffrey Riley, professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said the 17 attorneys general are not proposing “the best way forward” in the climate change debate.
“Few deny that the climate is changing – it always has,” Riley said. “The debate is on the cause. In spite of the public rhetoric that declares scientific consensus, the debate is still out. Public and political rhetoric on this issue is neither truth nor an argument for truth. Christians who hold that we are stewards of the earth ought to be interested in truth, and for that reason should not support any action that stifles legitimate scientific and economic debate.
“These state attorneys general (attorneys general don’t even agree), who are not experts in the science and appear only to listen to the loudest and best funded proponents of human-caused climate change, are not acting on all the evidence,” Riley continued. “They should know better than to act essentially on hearsay or, more importantly, without a legitimately established law to guide prosecution. Threat is not the best way forward. The better way is to continue to research clean and efficient energy, support a clean use of fossil fuels, and let the scientific method continue to work on determining cause for current climate trends.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)