Al Gore compared naysayers of manmade global warming to those who reject historical and scientific fact in a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night.
When questioned about prominent leaders skeptical about climate change, Gore said, “You’re talking about Dick Cheney?”
“I think that those people are in such a tiny, tiny minority now with their point of view, they’re almost like the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the world is flat,” said Gore. “That demeans them a little bit, but it’s not that far off.”
Gore’s challenge to global warming deniers contained a gentle truth, considering the non-stop, anti-Gore drumbeat that swells from religious fundamentalists and extreme free-market ideologists, both of whom fear science for different reasons.
The former group has long struggled with science, which they fear undermines their faith and values. From the Scopes Monkey Trial to the Florida Baptist Convention’s effort to shoehorn intelligent design into public classrooms, Christian fundamentalists have rejected the scientific theory of evolution in favor of a six-day creation account in Genesis and its first cousin intelligent design.
At the heart of the problem for fundamentalists is biblical literalism, the same literalism that says creation occurred over six days and once purported that Planet Earth is flat. After all, the Bible refers to the “four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12) and the earth on its foundations (Psalm 104:5).
Nowhere is this literalism more apparent than in a recent Southern Baptist climate change declaration. The statement said, “We recognize that we do not have any special revelation to guide us about whether global warming is occurring and, if it’s occurring, whether people are causing it.”
Special revelation is another term for the Bible. Since the Bible does not speak literally to manmade global warming, these Baptists couldn’t definitively say if the earth is heating up due to human-induced actions. They recognize what others are seeing ”climate change ”but their literalism restricts a full-throated challenge of global warming.
Their declaration generated uncritical press stories and widely inaccurate headlines without having really moved Southern Baptist church opinion.
As their document was being circulated for signatures, an SBC leader with a penchant for name-calling referred to Gore as “Spotted Al Gore.” He said in a segment, where he misled his few radio listeners with false information from FOX News, that the earth was cooling and that “a lot of scientists” were switching sides against Gore.
Joined at the hip in opposition to Gore and the need to discredit global warming are the free-market ideologues, who fear science for what it demands from public policy that may affect personal gain and corporate profit.
One such group is the Heartland Institute, which identifies its mission to promote free-market solutions to problems. That means advocating education vouchers, arguing for the privatization of public services and trying to discredit global warming at every turn. As recently as 2006, the institute teamed up with a pro-tobacco group to oppose restrictions on smoking.
With funding and leadership from ExxonMobil, Philip Morris and rightwing foundations, one can hardly expect that the institute would let good science redirect its preexisting financial agenda.
In his opening speech at a national conference to refute the science behind global warming, Heartland’s president Joseph Bast reportedly said: “It is no crime for a think tank or advocacy group to accept corporate funding. In fact, corporations that fail to step forward and assure that sensible voices are heard in this debate are doing their shareholders, and their countries, a grave disservice.”
Expressing hope that governments would not pass laws before “the fake ‘consensus’ on global warming collapses,” Bast concluded, “Once passed, taxes and regulations are often hard to repeal. Once lost, freedoms are often very difficult to retrieve.”
Ironically, in an attempt to discredit global warming, the SBC’s communication arm, Baptist Press, cited the Heartland Institute to bolster its case, quoting one participant who claimed a media conspiracy against global warming naysayers.
“As a scientist who has dealt with the media extensively I believe that one of the things affecting public perception of this subject is that the media has total censorship of quality scientific data from the other side,” said Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane research division.
Christian fundamentalists and free-market ideologists oppose science for different reasons. One needs to defend faith; the other needs to defend its special interests. That’s a toxic partnership.
Knowing the truth about the global warming deniers can help to set good church folk free to do the right thing–care for God’s creation.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.