Sound economics and creation care

It’s often said that there are three stages to the acceptance of any idea.

  1. The critics say, "that’s a ridiculous idea, and probably heretical."
  2. The same critics say, "the idea may be true, but it’s trivial."
  3. The critics say, "that idea is significant, true, and we thought of it first!"

David Gushee, writing in CT, stressed the point long made by engaged economists,

I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call ”stewardship“ are basically the same thing.

I previously commented on David’s column here.

Judging by the response of Jordan Ballor at the Powerblog, the Action Institute is somewhere between stages 2 and 3. He seems to agree with Gushee, with this "stage 3" comment:

I’ve made that argument here, "Stewardship and Economics: Two Sides of the Same Coin," where I contend, “If we hold a biblical view of economics and stewardship, we will not be tempted to divorce the two concepts but instead will see them as united.”

But then we realize he hasn’t yet moved from stage 2 when he qualifies his statement:

Gushee may find, however, that as his realization of the connection between responsible stewardship and sound economics really sinks in, the positions of the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the Evangelical Environmental Network are in need of some modifications…such that “when economics tells us that there are much more imminent threats and opportunities than global warming, the proper approach to Christian stewardship is to heed these priorities and work to effect changes in the most pressing areas.”

Of course, Christian leaders who have long dedicated their lives to actually making those pressing changes and not just calling for them, like the executives of major relief and development bodies, are saying that we should do both. We should continue our good works in relief and development AND take steps to mitigate climate change. We don’t want our good work relieving present suffering to be simply undone by global warming, which economists tell us will be a major threat to our quality of life and to the development prospects of poor nations. (You can read the climate statement and policy recommendations of the Evangelical Climate Initiative for yourself, and see the list of senior evangelical signatories.) As Ed Brown notes over at the Care of Creation blog:

Ballor’s contrast between climate change and "much more imminent threats" is valid – but has often been used by others to discount the concerns raised by climate change predictions.  That is akin to a doctor dealing with a patient who has both appendicitis (an acute life threatening condition) and diabetes (a chronic, but still life threatening disease).  One does not treat the appendicitis and say, No big deal about the diabetes; neither does one say, Ignore the appendicitis – we’ve got to control the diabetes!

We’re intelligent people.  We *can* do both!

It’s great that scholars at the Acton Institute are starting to see the connections between sound stewardship and care of creation, and I think over time they’ll more and more accept sound climate economics. They are clear on their concern for the poor, and their worry that poorly-designed climate policy might hamstring development opportunities for poor people in poor countries. They’re right to worry, and in that warning they join the Evangelical Climate Initiative. That idea is significant, true, and we don’t need to argue about who thought of it first!

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