Welcome to Cold War II

Welcome to Cold War II

Written by E. Calvin Beisner |
Saturday, November 12, 2022

Because much of the environmental movement embraces socialism and global governance to replace capitalism and sovereign nations—recipes for poverty and tyranny—we sometimes compare what we’re doing with fighting “Cold War II.” In Cold War II, the threats to liberty and justice don’t come so much from foreign nations—though those remain. Instead, they’re right inside America—and every nation. They come from the elite leaders of the Green movement, which threatens, ironically, to rob America of its productive capacity in the name of saving the planet. 

Two scenes from my toddlerhood in Calcutta, India, have flashed in my mind thousands of times over the last 60-plus years. The first was of a beautiful tree with a red-flowered vine hanging from its branches. The second was of the emaciated bodies of people who had died overnight of starvation and disease.

I saw the tree and its vine as my aia, or nurse, led me by the hand through the courtyard of the building housing my family’s apartment while my father worked with the U.S. State Department. I stepped over the bodies as she led me block after block to the home of an Indian family who cared for me through the day while my mother was paralyzed for six months. Ever since I became a Christian in middle school, the first image has reminded me of the beauties of God’s creation. The second, of the horrors of poverty.

Caring for the Planet & the World’s Poor

After spending much of the first two decades of my Christian life in personal evangelism and apologetics, I found myself led into work that addresses both creation stewardship and the conquest of poverty, along with the gospel.

My two books, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (1988) and Prospects for Growth: a Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future (1990), opened doors for me, initially, to speak at churches and conferences on poverty and the environment, and later, to teach, first at Covenant College and then at Knox Theological Seminary.

In 1999, some thirty scholars and I worked together to produce “The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship,” issued the next year with over 1,500 endorsements from religious leaders, scientists, and economists, and later signed by many thousands. Then, in 2005, I founded the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

Over the years, Cornwall Alliance scholars have developed ideas about environmental protection and about how mainstream environmentalism actually posses a significant threat to the world’s poor, despite environmentalists’ frequent warnings that environmental abuse harms the poor more than anyone else.

Cornwall’s thinking on environmental protection rests on the idea that the bottom-line measurement of environmental quality is human health and well-being, coupled with the understanding that a clean, healthful, beautiful environment is a costly good and that wealthier people can afford more costly goods than poorer people can. (Hence, one looks for the dirtiest parts of a city in the poorer areas—not because the poor don’t care about cleanliness, safety, and beauty, but because they can’t afford them as much as the rich.) The number-one aim of environmental protection, then, should be human thriving, though this doesn’t mean jettisoning or even ignoring the health and well-being of the rest of creation. Those matters, too, can and should be pursued.

Another idea the Cornwall Alliance weaves into environmental protection is the economic reality that life is full of tradeoffs. Hence, for example the proper answer to the questions, “How clean is clean enough?” or “How safe is safe enough?” or “How beautiful is beautiful enough?” is not “As clean or as safe or as beautiful as possible,” but “As clean, safe, or beautiful as we can make it before the cost of making it cleaner, safer, or more beautiful exceeds the value of the added cleanliness, safety, or beauty.” (If you doubt this, just ask yourself: Why don’t you spend all your time sanitizing your house? Clearly, because the cost would exceed the benefits. Could it be cleaner? Yes. Should it be? Not if making it so costs more than the benefits.)

It’s not that no other living things matter, but that human beings—alone created in the image of God—are the most important, and that their God-given vocation to subdue and rule nature (Genesis 1:28) is going to be practiced one way or the other, for good or for ill. We should want to practice that rule—what the Bible calls dominion—for good, not ill.

Granted that a clean, healthful, and beautiful environment is a costly good, and that wealthier people can afford it more than poorer people, it becomes clear that economic development.

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