Stubborn Things

This April 24, many churches will celebrate "Creation Sunday." The date is timed to coincide with the larger observance of "Earth Day" on April 22. As in previous years, the goal of the upcoming "Creation Sunday" is to help develop an "understanding of the Christian joy and responsibility of caring for Christ's creation." There's no arguing with that goal. What we can and should argue about, however, are the facts. The focus of this year's "Creation Sunday" is "protecting God's endangered creatures." We're told that "extinction isn't stewardship; it isn't creation- care." By way of adding urgency to this appeal, the organizers tell us that "the current rate of species extinctions is . . . 100 to 1,000 times higher than it should be under natural conditions." The chief culprits in this increased extinction rate are phenomena associated with human activities, like the loss of habitat and global warming. This sounds bad, but before we rush in, curbing industrial activities and possibly affecting people's lives adversely, let's be sure these reported extinction rates are accurate. After all, the people often most affected by many environmental proposals are barely scraping by as it is. In 1997, Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and former Greenpeace member, read an interview with the late economist Julian Simon. Simon argued that much of our "traditional knowledge about the environment" was the product of "preconceptions and poor statistics." It was a claim that an "old left-wing Greenpeace member" like Lomborg couldn't resist. He and his students set out to disprove Simon's contentions using "official" and "widely accepted sources." Instead, Lomborg found that much of the "general understanding of environment," as depicted by "news magazines and popular science magazines," didn't stand up to statistical scrutiny. His findings became the controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist. For instance, the "threat of biodiversity loss," that is, extinctions, while "real" is "exaggerated." There are species in danger of extinction alright, but extinction rates are nowhere near as high as environmental groups say they are. Their figures are based on a presumed connections between the rate of habitat loss, like cutting down forests, and rates of extinction. Lomborg's study of the data found that that the presumed connection was just that: a presumption. There's little, if any, statistical evidence for this connection. Areas in Brazil where the forest has been reduced by as much as 90 percent haven't seen any animals go extinct. It isn't just Brazil. Elsewhere, the loss of habitat has coincided with a significantly lower loss in biodiversity than the presumed connection between the two would have predicted. Similarly, the data suggests that global warming "does appear to be a long-term phenomenon, but its total impact is unlikely to pose a devastating problem for the future of humanity." The "bigger problem" may be the "inappropriate responses" being called for. None of this should be taken as an excuse for inaction or inattention. God has entrusted us to take dominion, to care for all of His creation. But let's keep things in perspective. That concerns not just extinct species, but people and their economic well being, as well.


Chuck Colson



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