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Religion & Liberty: Volume 29, Number 4

The antidote to fear

What differentiates a Christian view of the environment from a secular one? Too often, even confused Christians don’t know. Reading putatively faith-based attempts to address the environmental debate often leaves one none the wiser. Many writers simply recycle the same premises, and conclusions, as secularists, sometimes tacking on Bible verses which otherwise seem not to affect the substance of their thought. 

Others make a tentative start by basing their discussion of Christian environmental stewardship on a citation of the Book of Genesis. People of faith should strive to place the human person at the center of this – and every – topic. However, the current state of climate alarmism and panic finds its antidote in a different citation. 

In this age of agitation, the verse that should guide distinctively Christian environmental discussions is I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” 

Peace of mind provides needed grounding for a climate debate awash in alarmism – and high-pressure sales tactics.

Peace of mind provides needed grounding for a climate debate awash in alarmism – and high-pressure sales tactics. “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, ”said the author of the Green New Deal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Not to be outdone, former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said the nation must “make this transition in the 10 years we have left to us, as the scientists tell us.” Both touted their own plans – and their acquisition of power – as the answer. Threat inflation has even affected the terms of debate, which have escalated from “climate change, ”to “climate emergency, ”to “climate catastrophe” – almost invariably modified by the term “existential.” 

The tenor of the environmental dialogue has concerned Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the UN’s special agency on weather and climate, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “The atmosphere created by the media has been provoking anxiety, ”he warned. Climate “doomsters and extremists” have cobbled together a Green-based ideology that resembles “religious extremism.” He cited as two examples the unrealistic demand for “zero [carbon] emissions by 2025” and the widespread view “that children are a negative thing” for the planet. Environmental extremists place their proposed sacrifices of life and GDP on the altar of anxiety. 

Fear and haste short-circuit wisdom. The reason lies in undisputed science. Fear activates a part of the brain known as the amygdala, which primes the body for a fight or flight response. The prefrontal cortex later places the perceived threat into wider context and determines whether it really poses a danger. (The hormones released during this process also create a “rush, ”explaining why some people enjoy high-risk sports or scary movies, or seemingly revel in tales of impending climate catastrophe.) However, if the mind is bombarded with an endless string of apocalyptic threats, the brain’s higher analysis process cannot begin. Instead, the person gets swept along in a sea of dread-driven conformity. 

Only a calm mind can begin to assess the shortcomings of the proposals and panaceas or – more importantly – invent creative solutions. History shows the power of this insight. Pope John Paul II lit the rhetorical fuse that would cause Communism to implode when he stood before his native Poland and recited three simple words: “Be not afraid.” The Gospels, which record Christ telling the apostles to maintain their courage despite wars and rumors of wars, should inspire us to have the fortitude not to panic at the sight of computer-generated models. People of faith need to maintain the prudence demanded by many of today’s proffered environmental fixes. 

Take, for instance, the Green New Deal. The House Resolution supporting the plan states that inaction will cost “more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100.” To save $500 billion, its sponsors propose a plan with an estimated price tag of $93 trillion. Further, AOC has acknowledged the success of the Green New Deal requires scientists “to invent technology that’s never even been invented yet.” Clear-headed voters may doubt the wisdom of switching from reliable energy to an ill-defined program whose solutions are untested, unscalable, or, as the congresswoman has admitted, nonexistent. 

Take, for instance, the Green New Deal ... To save $500 billion, its sponsors propose a plan with an estimated price tag of $93 trillion.

Another example came when 11,000 scientists signed a statement demanding that the world’s governments enact “bold and drastic transformations regarding economic and population policies” to limit the global population and, hence, its carbon footprint. “Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward … reducing inequality, ”the document said. Discerning thinkers might question the notion that the survival of the human race demands that it stop reproducing itself. They would realize that economic growth allows citizens to focus on long-term goals, such as environmental protection, and gives them the resources to weather the literal storm that may follow unforeseen outcomes or incomplete climate mitigation. 

Reality has also asserted itself on the technology the Obama administration called the best system of emission reduction: carbon capture. Carbon capture is to greenhouse gas emissions what the Strategic Defense Initiative was to a nuclear attack. Both identify, disarm, and neutralize the threat. Carbon capture technology pulls carbon out of the air, then sequesters it deep beneath the earth, removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere entirely. “One of our plants does the work of 40 million trees, ”boasted Steve Oldham, a CEO in the industry. 

Unfortunately, the technology is too expensive for mass development. But two facilities have made the process financially viable by using their carbon reserves in enhanced oil recovery. Petra Nova in Texas and Boundary Dam 3 in Saskatchewan inject the captured carbon into oil reservoirs to extract additional fuel, providing more abundant resources while reducing their carbon footprint. 

Apart from this use, its cost has proven prohibitive. “Finding new commercial uses for the captured CO2 is key to lowering the costs of these technologies and scaling them up, ”according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute. If the government experts’ solution is to save the planet, it will only do so thanks to the force many of them say is destroying the environment: the profit motive. 

This insight would seem less counterintuitive if the climate debate put the human person, and his purpose, at its center. The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes states, “When man develops the earth by the work of his hands or with the aid of technology, in order that it might bear fruit and become a dwelling worthy of the whole human family … he carries out the design of God manifested at the beginning of time, that he should subdue the earth, perfect creation, and develop himself. At the same time, he obeys the commandment of Christ that he place himself at the service of his brethren.” 

Markets and free exchange create a remunerative system of mutual service. This dogmatic Catholic document confirms that service stems from divine love. And the Christian worldview teaches that true love must be free from fear. 

Two thousand years ago, the angels announced the birth of the Savior by proclaiming, “Peace on earth.” Two millennia later, that remains Christians’ most valuable asset. 

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Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.