The Cornwall Alliance has been transformed into a propaganda machine to cast doubt on climate science and to urge Christian churches to “Resist the Green Dragon” of environmental stewardship.
According to the Cornwall Alliance, the Christian environmental movement is a Green Dragon swallowing up our churches, saying “Both professing Protestants and Roman Catholics bear a burden of guilt for the current political mess we are in with the global warming and other hysterias.” Further, NASA is complicit , ”The environmental lobby and your government [NASA] want to indoctrinate your children into envirospies watching your every move and harassing you until you change your behavior.” Such is the messages of the Cornwall Alliance under the leadership of Dr. E Calvin Beisner.
Why the attack on NASA? NASA‘s research has shown that the rising burden of carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels is causing the Earth to warm and for our weather to be more severe. Dr. Beisner is upset that NASA put together a children’s website to help children understand using energy wisely to reduce climate change. Dr. James Hansen, former head of the NASA’s Institute for Space Studies is one of the most respected climatologists in the world. His most famous quotes is, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, CO2 will need to be reduced from the current levels of 400 ppm to at most 350 ppm.” That can only be done if we greatly curtail our use of fossil fuels, which of course would hurt the profits of the fossil fuel industry. Attacking science. scientists, and Christian stewardship on behalf of the fossil fuel industry is what Dr. Beisner does best, and the Cornwall Alliance is his vehicle for doing so.
The Cornwall Alliance: The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, in 2000, developed the Cornwall Doctrine. Its main goal was to address the challenges faced by the very poor because of climate change. The doctrine was based on Genesis 1:28 which says, ” Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Generally, those who argue for Christian stewardship think that dominion means “benevolent rule”. Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, a Dominionist, apparently interprets the scripture to mean “subdue and exploit”. It is likely that not everyone who signed the Cornwall Doctrine would agree, but Dr. Beisner promotes his views as that of the Cornwall Alliance. The Cornwall Doctrine was viewed as guiding principles until about 2007 when Dr. Beisner formed an alliance with the Heartland Institute.
The Heartland Institute: It became apparent in the early 1980’s that carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels was causing changes in the environment that would impact mankind, particularly those in poor and indigenous societies who do not have the resources to adjust to the changing climate. Many churches have adopted statements encouraging environmentalism based upon good stewardship, some specifically mentioning the threat of greenhouse gases. The Heartland Institute was identified by Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright as a part of the Climate Change Denial Machine which receives “dark money” from fossil fuel companies and funnel it to front groups that create propaganda casting doubt on climate science. Dr. Beisner makes a special point that dominion is not domination; however, the men who wish to dominate and exploit the environment for profit certainly find his arguments useful. They found in him a way to counter the Christian Stewardship movement, and the Cornwall Alliance, under Dr. Beisner’s leadership, became part of the sounding board for the climate change denial machine.
The Green Dragon: In 2010, the Cornwall Alliance chose the “Green Dragon” to symbolize its campaign against the growth of the environmental stewardship movement in Christian churches. The campaign was based upon the book “Resisting the Green Dragon”, by James Wanliss. A review of the book shows that though Dr. Wanliss is a physicist, the book was not soundly based upon physics, but upon Martin Durkin’s movie, The Great Global Warming Swindle, though the movie is based upon bad science and fraud. Mr. Durkin misrepresents his credentials, presents fabricated data, and distorts the work of scientists he quotes. The Cornwall Alliance has produced a series of videos based upon Resisting the Green Dragon, assailing its hold on the churches. There is little truth and much propaganda in the videos. They seem designed more to protect the profits of the fossil fuel companies than to protect the Earth, or the people who depend on the Earth for survival. Though the book and the videos try to make a case that Christian churches should abandon environmental stewardship, they are apparently having little impact.
Science: Dr. Beisner doesn’t understand science, despite claiming to be an authority on energy and environmental issues. When God created the Heavens and the Earth, he also created the laws of physics which governs them. While Dr. Beisner may interpret the scriptures to suit his purposes, the Earth will follow the laws of physics no matter what he claims. Dr. Beisner’s degree is in Scottish history, which in no way qualifies him to make judgments about climate science, nor does it give him the expertise to decide whether the science Skeptics he quotes are legitimate. Every major science organization in the world has adopted statements similar to that of the American Chemical Society which says,” the Earth’s climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing aerosol particles. There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.” Dr. Beisner’s pronouncements are in conflict with the theories of climate science, the empirical evidence, and the opinions of the 97% of the scientists who are active in research.
Military: If Dr. Beisner will not listen to our scientists, then perhaps he should listen to our military leaders , ” Drastic weather, rising seas and changing storm patterns could become “threat multipliers” for the United States, vastly complicating security challenges faced by American forces.” Many low lying islands, and even some of our military bases, are threatened by rising sea levels and increased tidal surges. The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict. It concluded that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.
Religions: Despite Dr. Beisner’s insistence that environmentalism is a Green Dragon, eating the heart of the church and leading it into sin, the leaders of our churches differ . At its 2014 meeting in Geneva, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches , which represent some 590 million people in 150 countries, endorsed fossil fuel divestment, agreeing to phase out its own holdings and encourage its members to do the same. Serene Jones, the President of Union Theological Seminary in the US, which recently committed to divest its entire $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuels says, “Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole. As a seminary dedicated to social justice, we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”
The Catholic Church, who centuries ago made peace with science, is following suit. Pope Francis will release in March a comprehensive Vatican teachings on climate change, which will urge 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to take action. “The document will take a position in favor of the scientific consensus that climate change is real … and link the deforestation and destruction of the natural environment to the particular economic model of which Pope Francis has been a critic.” The pope also plans to address the United Nations General Assembly and convene a summit of the world’s main religions in hopes of bolstering next year’s crucial U.N. climate meeting in Paris.
Representing the most conservative of Christians, the Evangelical Environmental Alliance take great issue with Dr. Beisner’s claim that they are worshiping a false God. They assert: “ Pollution hurts the poor the most, and Christians are called to care for the poor and the less powerful (Mt. 25:37-40). Thus, caring for all of creation provides a Christian with the deepest sense of joy and contentment since it is part of loving God.” And, recently, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UNCC) adopted a strong resolution on climate change that calls upon church members to “make shareholder engagement on climate change an immediate, top priority for the next five years”, to “demand action from legislators and advocate for the creation and enforcement of carbon-reducing laws.” , to “make lifestyle changes to reduce the use of fossil fuels in our lives, our homes, our businesses and our churches”, and to “to reduce the use of fossil fuels, our carbon footprint, and our complicity with the fossil fuel industry.”
Funding: Dr. Beisner is vague about the funding sources for the Cornwall Alliance. Much of its funding is given through 501©(3) organizations that do not have to reveal the amount or the donors. Though it is difficult to trace the funds, many of the paths lead from the foundations aligned with the fossil fuel industry. When Leo Hickman, in a Guardian interview, asked Dr. Beisner directly about funding, he neatly evaded the question by replying “ Here in the US, for a variety of different reasons, you can make a donation to one charitable foundation via another foundation and the receiving foundation does not know who you are. Sometimes it’s just as simple as, ‘Hey, Jesus, said don’t let the left hand know what the right it doing.” When he was asked in an interview with Bill Moyers about his role as a resident scholar at the Acton Institute, he acted unaware that the Acton Institute for years has received steady support from Exxon-Mobil. Anyone who thinks that Dr. Beisner is not disingenuous in what he says, should read that interview. Think Progress traced the funding for the Cornwall Alliance back to what they call the “oily operators”, showing that Dr. Beisner is likely hiding his main funding sources. Certainly, men who wish to dominate and exploit the environment for profit, and misguided politicians, will find the Cornwall Alliance’s arguments useful, and be willing to pay for the propaganda.
The Indigenous and poor: Though the Cornwall Alliance receives donations from individuals and corporations, there is no evidence that any of the money actually goes to help the poor. It’s main contribution seems to be a claim that environmentalism will keep them from having cheap energy from fossil fuels to develop into industrialized nations. Dr. Beisner should realize that civilization existed for thousands of years without fossil fuels and, though fossil fuels have been a great benefit to man, abusing their use is creating conditions on the Earth that threatens poor countries and indigenous people. If they are to develop energy sources, it would likely be from sustainable sources as they do not have the wealth or the infrastructure to support a fossil fuel system. He ignores the social justice element. The countries and the people feeling the greatest effects of climate change are those with the least infrastructure and economic capacity to deal with those impacts. And they’ve also contributed the least to the problem because they’re often small economically and small in terms of their carbon footprint. So as global leaders in countries that enjoy a very high standard of living, isn’t its partly our responsibility to do something that doesn’t wreck the climate for everybody else?
Though Dr. Beisner asserts that efforts to reduce climate change will hurt the poor and indigenous people, just the opposite is true. The poor do not have the resources to adapt to climate change or to recover from climate disasters. In many cases, climate change is threatening the way of life that has sustained them for centuries. Last year’s drought on the Horn of Africa led to widespread famine and many deaths among the poor. The people of Kashmir are concerned that the glaciers that feed their streams in the summer are receding – making less water available. The Sherpa of Tibet worry that their villages may be flooded by lakes that now form each summer from melting glaciers, held back by unstable ice dams. The Inuit in Greenland cannot use their traditional hunting grounds at the ice is too thin for their dog sleds to traverse. Those in the Arctic are having to move their coastal villages to keep them from being eroded away by wave action of open seas, which used to be ice year-round. Their inland villages are threatened because the permafrost upon which they are built now becomes a quagmire in the summer. They are being forced to change a way of life that sustained them for centuries. While some may adapt, their way of life and culture will be destroyed, and many will likely end up among the poor and unemployed. As reported in The Guardian, thousands of indigenous people from the Andes, the Amazon, and neighboring South American countries invaded the Peruvian capital during the Climate Conference. They marched outside demanding a solution to climate change, and a solution to the corporate invasions of their traditional lands.
Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org, dedicated to reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to a safe 350 ppm. In his acceptance speech for the Right Livelihood Award, akin to a Nobel Prize for humanitarian work, he expressed it eloquently, “We stand in solidarity with Andean activists losing the glaciers that supply their drinking water, and with Bangladeshi activists watching the seas rise in the Bay of Bengal. We learn from African leaders like Desmond Tutu, who recently called climate change the greatest human rights challenge of our time, and from Sámi leaders from the top of the world, who are watching berserk winter weather wreck time-honored ways of life. We struggle alongside residents of Delhi and Beijing and the other smog-choked metropolises of our planet… We look with great inspiration to the countries like Germany that are demonstrating daily that it is entirely possible to turn to renewable energy for the power that we need on this planet.”
Conclusion: Dr. Beisner’s opinions are not only in conflict with climate scientists, our military leaders, and mainstream Christian churches, but with his own Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church stated in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2008, its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.” While Dr. Beisner may believe what he wishes, he should not bear witness to ideas which are so much in conflict with those of his own faith and with the majority of scientists, nor should he encourage others to do so. Clearly, the conspiracies theories he spins and promotes in his newsletter have little evidence to support them.
Even the book, “Resisting the Green Dragon”, upon which his attacks upon stewardship are based, was published by WND Publishing which is well known for publishing conspiracies. It seems wrong for the Cornwall Alliance to use the power and respect that people have for ministers and Scripture to criticize the Christians who believe in good stewardship. The Cornwall Alliance does just that, as resisting the Green Dragon aligns more with profit motives than Christianity. There are millions of Christians around the world who consider the Cornwall Alliance’s views, as presented by Dr. Beisner, as a misinterpretation of the Scriptures and a failure to reflect what Jesus actually taught. The only time Jesus showed anger in the Bible was when he drove the money changers from the Temple. How might Jesus feel about the Cornwall Alliance bringing corporate interests into places of worship? Perhaps Dr. Beisner should rethink whether he really wishes to do that.
(C) 2015 J.C. Moore