Analysis of Cornwall Declaration

A group that labels themselves evangelical Christians have produced the Cornwall Declaration, which denies human responsibility for climate change / global warming and advocates protection of the economy. This page analyses that Declaration from an evangelical Christian point of view.

There are three types of analysis:

Of course the three types of analysis work together, and in practice even in analysis 1 I would find myself making some of other types of analysis.

The overall structure, after a preamble, is about what the authors believe (both positively and negatively), followed by what action they call for. It seems well-written and succinct.

Analysis 1: Clause by clause

This analysis is as we would read it, clause by clause, without much reflection, but just taking it in, unwarily like I would read my newspaper. This is how most people would read their webpage. In the second columnI speak out the 'immediate reaction' that I as an ordinary evangelical Christian might have. This 'immediate reaction' is not something logically worked out, nor even articulated; it is what goes on in the back of the mind, almost subconsciously, and in a flash of a second. But I have tried to express the type of reaction I have (except for one, in which I imagine how someone uncommitted would react; I already have a view). Each part of the reaction is a reaction to a touch-point contained in the clauses.

How an ordinary reader might react to the Declaration.
Clause or paragraph How I reacted
PREAMBLE

As governments consider policies to fight alleged man-made global warming, evangelical leaders have a responsibility to be well informed, and then to speak out. A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming demonstrates that many of these proposed policies would destroy jobs and impose trillions of dollars in costs to achieve no net benefits. They could be implemented only by enormous and dangerous expansion of government control over private life. Worst of all, by raising energy prices and hindering economic development, they would slow or stop the rise of the world's poor out of poverty and so condemn millions to premature death.

Sounds authoritative; perhaps I should believe what they say? After all, aren't my energy bills already too high? And of course, as a Christian, I want to help the poor rise out of poverty. And I hate waste, and "trillions of dollars" sounds huge. And I hate 'government control' such as they have in the socialist countries of Europe and Cuba. They have my ear!
WHAT WE BELIEVE

1. We believe Earth and its ecosystemscreated by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth's climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

Yes of course, these are my basic beliefs! God is a faithful Creator; the earth and everything in it displays His glory; it works well because God designed it, so it is likely to be robust. What a wonderful, intelligent God we have! Sounds reasonable. God would create a habitat that is resilient, that works 'for' us, wouldn't he? Nothing really to worry about.
'Human flourishing' seems an odd phrase not found in Scripture, but I suppose they're right.
2. We believe abundant, affordable energy is indispensable to human flourishing, particularly to societies which are rising out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it. With present technologies, fossil and nuclear fuels are indispensable if energy is to be abundant and affordable. 'Human flourishing' again. 'Flourish', to my mind, means happiness, plenty of choice of nice food, ability to visit good friends without any hindrance, having lots of clean fun in life, everything convenient, and so on. Yeah, I can see these require abundant energy at a price I find it easy to afford. And when I see pictures of poverty on my screen, my heart goes out to them; I want them to have exactly what I have: prosperity and abundant affordable energy.
3. We believe mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, achievable mainly by greatly reduced use of fossil fuels, will greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies. Hmm: my mind has already been drawn to the matter of energy; of course I don't want a price increase.
4. We believe such policies will harm the poor more than others because the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on energy and desperately need economic growth to rise out of poverty and overcome its miseries. That sounds simple sense. So such policies must be wrong - indeed, they must be evil.
WHAT WE DENY

1. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth's climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Of course the earth is not just chance; it is God's creation. If the idea that the climate is vulnerable is linked with belief in chance; so I must reject it. Recent warming: only half a degree, I hear, so what these people say seems true. Sounds authoritative.
2. We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty. "alternative, renewable fuels" sounds eccentric; I'm not eccentric. And it sounds reasonable to want to protect prosperity.
3. We deny that carbon dioxideessential to all plant growthis a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits. It's basic school biology that plants breathe CO2. What stupid people these greens are, if they say that something essential to plant life is a pollutant! If costs of environmental responsibility really exceed the benefits, then perhaps they're not worthwhile?
4. We deny that such policies, which amount to a regressive tax, comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression. Well, that settles it.
A CALL TO ACTION

In light of these facts,

1. We call on our fellow Christians to practice creation stewardship out of Biblical conviction, adoration for our Creator, and love for our fellow manespecially the poor.

Of course I will! But I believe that creation stewardship includes living in such a way that my climate change emissions and other environmental damage are reduced; these people seem to be against that, which slightly troubles me. As far as I am aware, what has brought poverty to the rest of the world is our past climate change emissions, our trade policies, and our political competitiveness. So what they say confuses me somewhat.
2. We call on Christian leaders to understand the truth about climate change and embrace Biblical thinking, sound science, and careful economic analysis in creation stewardship. Absolutely. As a follower of Christ, I want truth. Perhaps I was wrong? But perhaps I was right?
3. We call on political leaders to adopt policies that protect human liberty, make energy more affordable, and free the poor to rise out of poverty, while abandoning fruitless, indeed harmful policies to control global temperature. Hm. They sound like climate change deniers. Not sure I want to be associated with them entirely. But the case they make seems quite strong. And, most important, I am an evangelical Christian who tries to put Christ first. So maybe I should take what they say to be true, and endorse their declaration? ...

Trying to put myself in the shoes of an 'ordinary evangelical Christian', that's roughly how I find myself reacting when I first read it - and all but a few of the reactions above were genuinely mine. But somehow I felt something's not quite right. What they've written doesn't quite sit easily on my soul. I wonder why. Perhaps their Declaration feels a bit self-centred, a bit narrow in its view? So I'll think about it for a bit before I sign their petition ...

Analysis 2: The Underlying Assumptions, Aspirations and Beliefs

Here I look at the Declaration as a whole, trying to see what aspirations and beliefs caused it to be written the way it is, and what assumptions the authors made. What do the authors truly believe to be important, what do they believe to be good and bad? What view do they have of God and of God's cosmic Plan in creating, redeeming and re-creating? What do they take to be authoritative, with which they expect the reader to agree? These are religious or spiritual matters, to do with a group's deepest beliefs and motivations. I look at two things: to what extent the authors live up to the religious they claim (evangelical Christian) and what they really seem to treat as important, regardless of formal references to their religion.

To what extent evangelical?

On the positive side:

On the negative side:

The authors seem to miss out a huge swathe of what is important to evangelical faith. It would seem that these people are very narrow and limited in the extent to which they are evangelical. I wonder: Are they truly evangelical at heart, or does some other deeper belief, unspoken and hardly admitted, drive them? So let us see, by trying to discern what they truly deem important. {1}

What Do They Really Believe and Find Important?

What do the authors really treat as important? What assumptions underlie their Declaration? What seem to be most greatly valued in this Declaration are economic prosperity and "abundant, affordable energy". Here are some of the assumptions that seem to underlie this Declaration:

All these assumptions are ones that I question. Here are the questions I would level at them:

All the assumptions that I can find that underlie their Declaration are ones that I severely question. But perhaps I now need to look in more detail, phrase by phrase, in case I am wrong about these.

However I also detect something else in their Declaration: an adamant opposition to climate responsibility and anything advocated by 'environmentalists'. I sense that this is what drives them: hatred of environmentalism.

Analysis 3: Detailed Examination

So let us now examine what they say in detail. Statements and phrases have an intention as well as a meaning. So, after noting the surface meaning of the words used, I look behind them, asking "Why did they say that here?" Some clauses may be taken as a whole, but others contain several separate intended messages.

Detailed analysis of what the authors mean
Text that give message My comment
PREAMBLE
As governments consider policies to fight alleged man-made global warming, evangelical leaders have a responsibility to be well informed, and then to speak out. Sounds good.
A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming demonstrates that many of these proposed policies would destroy jobs and impose trillions of dollars in costs to achieve no net benefits. (Must look at that document, to see what its arguments are. My belief is that man-made climate change will destroy the lives of the poor, but I am open to persuasion. Will not green work increase jobs? But let's get back to this document ...)

Is not "impose trillions of dollars in costs to achieve no net benefits" exactly what we have done to prop up the banking system? I don't hear them complaining against that.
All outlay is 'cost', so "trillions of dollars in costs" is merely a statement of what we choose to spend our income on. God judges us for the choice we make.

How much (what %) of the authors' income is spent on their own and their families' conveniences and pleasant living? How much do they, and we, spent on 'the poor'? If these people were really concerned for the poor more than for their own prosperity, would they not have mentioned the poor rather than 'jobs' and 'costs' here in this first sentence of their Preamble?

They could be implemented only by enormous and dangerous expansion of government control over private life. Do we here begin to see the authors' real heart-commitment? To anti-government individualism? Is that what really drives them? See analysis 2.
Worst of all, by raising energy prices and hindering economic development, they would slow or stop the rise of the world's poor out of poverty and so condemn millions to premature death. At last they mention the poor. Indeed environmental policies must ensure this does not happen.
But wait! What has generated poverty in Africa especially is precisely a combination of economic growth of the rich and the operations of huge corporations, climate change and national self-interest. See website of The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund (TearFund). As we suggest below, whereas the economies of African nations should develop, the economies of the rich nations should stop growing and start 'blossoming' instead.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
1. We believe Earth and its ecosystemscreated by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence ... OK. Sounds good. (I leave aside for now the contentious issue of whether we believe in the theory of Intelligent Design, because it is not salient to this discussion.) A Biblical introduction, with which most evangelicals can be expected to agree.
...are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth's climate system is no exception. (Notice their insertion of 'human flourishing' as though it is a fundamental Biblical concept; it is not. But let us accept it for now ...)

God made a creation that enables us to 'flourish' - but under what conditions does it do so? Since we turned away from God [Genesis 3], the creation no longer always works 'for' us. I remember someone pointing out that the land to which the people of Israel were led was very sensitive to the people's treatment of it (which was in turn determined by their adherence to the Living God), so it acted as a barometer showing their spiritual state. When they turn away from God, the reliable early and late rains would cease.

Read Hosea 4:1-3. Note the "because of this" at the start of v.3 [NIV]: look at what starts in v.1, is developed in v.2, and what results in v.3.

Might it not be the same with the planet - a barometer of humanity's spiritual state? Just as the land of Israel would be healed when - and only when - the people and especially their leaders turned back to God in repentance and in the upholding of justice, might it not be that the planet will be healed when - and only when - humanity and especially its leaders turn to God in repentance and in the upholding of justice?
God is indeed able to step in to prevent harmful climate change - but I believe he will only do so when we turn to him in humility, and repent of our greedy standards of living, and of our stubborn refusal to take responsibility for the earth and its climate.

Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history. That might be the opinion of the authors, but there is much debate whether it is true or not, and the best and most careful science is against them. Is it not disingenuous of them to tack a doubtful opinion-statement onto the leading statement with which all evangelicals might be expected to agree?
2. We believe abundant, affordable energy is indispensable to human flourishing, particularly to societies which are rising out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it. With present technologies, fossil and nuclear fuels are indispensable if energy is to be abundant and affordable. So is the Bible wrong / irrelevant when it says "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you"? This clause makes 'human flourishing' something to 'seek first' - that is humanistic not Biblical reasoning. Is the Bible wrong / irrelevant when it says "having food and raiment, let us be therewith content"? This passage makes "abundant, affordable energy" generated by nuclear and fossil fuels the thing that is "indispensable".

This clause expresses only the standard techno-centric assumptions of the affluent West that were prevailed in the late twentieth century. The Bible, by contrast, warns us not to let the world squeeze us into its mould [Romans 12:1-2], but to critique the prevailing assumptions of society, not presuppose them.
(Also, they conveniently forget that nuclear power is NOT cheap.)

3. We believe mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, achievable mainly by greatly reduced use of fossil fuels, will greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies. Even supposing this clause is true - So what! Would it be so bad to increase energy prices and to modify GDP-measured economic growth?
Perhaps energy is currently far too cheap in the rich countries? Perhaps 'economies', by which is usually meant 'growth in GDP', can stand some reduction? Prof. Goudzwaard's notion of 'blossoming economy' is attractive: just as a tree, when small, puts its energy into growing taller but, when mature, it stops growing and puts its energy into blossoming, so perhaps small, underdeveloped economies need to grow but mature economies should stop growing and put their energy into 'blossoming' - i.e. developing good for all humanity and the rest of creation?
These authors seem to want to protect (USA) economic prosperity at all costs. It is only those who worship the idol of 'economies' who want to protect it and ignore our wider responsibilities in order to do so; see about idolatry. I would rather worship the Living God.
4. We believe such policies will harm the poor more than others because the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on energy and desperately need economic growth to rise out of poverty and overcome its miseries. Why do the poor spend higher percentage of income on energy than the rich? Because the rich spend most of their income on trivialities, pleasures, conveniences, baubles, and surfeit of food - things which neither poor nor rich really need. These authors' arguments are fallacious.
While ensuring 'the poor' have enough for a decent life is important, but it does not mean that we must at all costs keep energy prices artificially cheap.

Here we might ask: whom do the authors mean by 'the poor'? The relative poverty found in the USA? The poverty to which I refer is found in Africa where, because of climate change, land is today producing only half what it used to. The answer to this is not "abundant, affordable energy", but things like 'Farming God's Way' (led by an evangelical Christian from the USA, by the way).

WHAT WE DENY
1. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, ... Here they touch an evangelical 'nerve point': we all believe that the entire creation is not a 'product of chance'! But that does not mean it is fragile. A precious vase, made with exquisite care, is fragile. Maybe as I suggested above, the earth is 'fragile' in order to be a spiritual barometer, reminding us of our responsibility to the rest of creation, and giving us warnings to change our ways before it is too late. This is the mercy of God, and it is not to be ignored.
... and particularly [we deny] that Earth's climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming. They run two things together here: a denial of non-linearity of the climate system, and a denial of human contribution to dangerous global warming. The first requires reasoning about climate systems; as Dr. John Lockwood (climatologist) explains, the climate system is very non-linear. The second requires reasoning from the physical to the intentional and social; see an explanation of sciences needed. On both points, these people are wrong.
By the way, it is atmospheric physics, not chemistry, that contributes to the greenhouse effect. See our simple explanation of greenhouse effect and why it occurs.
2. We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty. Nobody that I know claims that renewables can replace fossil and nuclear. Rather, they are an important component of the match. As my mother used to say (and the largest UK supermarket chain uses as its catchphrase), "Every little helps". So they are felling a straw man there.
But more serious is their false faith in "abundant, affordable energy" in service of their idol of "prosperous economies" (see above).
3. We deny that carbon dioxideessential to all plant growthis a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, ... Of course carbon dioxide is essential to plant life. Of course it is not a 'pollutant'. But too much of it can be detrimental. Vitamins and trace elements are essential for our growth - but only in small doses.
Why do these people forget that too much of a good thing can be bad? Are they stupid, or just stubborn? They are beginning to annoy and anger me.
What do they mean by "significant reductions in future global temperatures"? What we want is to prevent future global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees (less developed nation want limit of 1.5 degrees). Not numerically large, perhaps. But huge in its consequences, as far as we can tell. Their statement is vacuous and misleading, and probably entirely false. See again the explanation of why a small increase in CO2 is harmful.
... and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits. When you have a debt to pay, you pay out money without any 'benefit' (except that of removing the debt). The costs we must pay to mitigate and adapt to climate change is a payment of debt. We must repay the debt we owe the climate systems and the Majority World for what we have, in effect, taken from them in the past without due payment. So don't expect to see 'benefit' (except that of removing the debt).
4. We deny that such policies, which amount to a regressive tax, comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression. I just disagree with them about that.
A CALL TO ACTION. In light of these facts,
1. We call on our fellow Christians to practice creation stewardship out of Biblical conviction, adoration for our Creator, and love for our fellow manespecially the poor. This sounds ok.
2. We call on Christian leaders to understand the truth about climate change and embrace Biblical thinking, sound science, and careful economic analysis in creation stewardship. This also sounds OK as far as its words go, and I could make that statement. The CCGE group tries to practice all that; see our outline, draft manifesto and arguments.

But I feel an 'intention' behind this text. In view of all the above, I sense that the following phrases are loaded.
Read "understand the truth about climate change" as "refuse to believe humanity is responsible for climate change".
Read "embrace ... sound science" as "listen only to climate-skeptic science".
Read "careful economic analysis" as containing "get scared that I'll have to pay more to maintain my comfortable lifestyle".

3. We call on political leaders to adopt policies that protect human liberty, make energy more affordable, and free the poor to rise out of poverty, ... Notice what they value: what secular liberal humanists want: 'empowerment'.
... while abandoning fruitless, indeed harmful policies to control global temperature. They have by no means made the case that policies to live responsibly by mitigating climate change is "fruitless" and "harmful".

To come to think of it, not only have they made no case at all for any of their claims (they just assume readers will acquiesce to their authority) but they do not seem to point, at each point, to where I might read their case. This contrasts with our draft manifesto, which at every point provides data, evidence and examples.

It does seem to me that these people are driven simply by an ideology of resisting and even opposing climate responsibility. They attach elements of their faith to it, to try to get evangelicals to support them. But they seem to have other things that are really more important to them, other gods - just like Jesus said the Pharisees had, who loved money.

Andrew Basden.
20 December 2009

(Since their Declaration asks for degrees and status of those who sign their declaration, here are some of mine: BSc in Electronics Science and PhD in Computer Aided Design, University of Southamption, UK. 13 years in industry and commerce. Now Professor of Human Factors and Philosophy in Information Systems, Salford Business School, University of Salford, UK; Founder member and Board member of the Centre for Philosophy, Technology and Social Systems; member of Main Street Community Church, Frodsham, UK. See my C.V. and other details. Finally, I write this as a member of the CCGE group.)

Contact.


Notes

Note 1. Perhaps the authors mean their Declaration to be accessible to unbelievers, and believe that they cannot bring God into a declaration about climate change (though in that case, why begin with reference to God?). But that will not do. Is not the whole of life supposed to be under the sovereignty of Jesus Christ? Readers who want to see examples of how the above evangelical issues can pervade thinking about the environment, please turn to 'A New View in Theology'.

Note 2. One of the supporters of Cornwell is the Indian Christian philosophy Vishal Mangalwadi. He argues that environmentalism has damaged attempts in India to help the poor. However, his view is based on a false dichotomy between humans and nature, that the two must necessarily always work against each other. But, in God's intention in both Creation and the New Earth, they are to work together (e.g. Isaiah 11:6, Isaiah 65), and even in this 'overlap' situation they can do so. This was pointed out to me by my colleague who is an Indian ecologist. She cites the case of the Jerddon's Courser as one of humans and nature working together. I am saddened that someone known in India as a Christian should so resist God's intention and love.


Questions and comments are welcome.

Created: 20 December 2009. Last updated: 17 July 2017 Vishal.