Paul Douglas, president and senior meteorologist at AerisWeather, and Mitchell C. Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, discuss their newly released book Caring for Creation: An Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and Healthy Environment, as part of CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Religion & Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach for CFR. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website at CFR.org.
We are delighted to have Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas with us to talk about the role of religious communities and environmental stewardship.
Mitch Hescox is the president and chief executive officer of the Evangelical Environmental Network. Under his leadership, EEN has successfully championed the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards and has galvanized the Evangelical community to support various EPA proposed standards.
Reverend Hescox serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals and has been interviewed on many major media outlets. Prior to joining EEN, he pastored a local church for 18 years. And before ordained to ministry, he served in the coal industry as director of fuel systems for Allis Mineral Systems.
Paul Douglas is a nationally respected meteorologist with more than 30 years of broadcast television and radio experience. Mr. Douglas is also an entrepreneur who started a number of companies focused on improving existing weather technologies, finding new ways to personalize weather, increasing safety margins for consumers and companies, and making renewable energy more predictable and profitable.
Reverend Hescox and Mr. Douglas have come together to co-author a book entitled “Caring for Creation: An Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and Healthy Environment.” Mitch and Paul, thank you very much for being with us today.
Mitch, I probably could start with you to talk about—outline, really, the main takeaways from your book, and give us a sense of what you hope to accomplish with this guide, and how you hope it will gain traction on environmental issues among Evangelicals and conservatives.
HESCOX: Well, thank you very much for having Paul and I on this call, and it’s truly a pleasure to be here.
As Paul literally came up with the idea of this book is that—let it be known that Paul and are both Evangelical Christians. Paul does serve on the board of our ministry, the Evangelical Environmental Network.
But as we prayed together and came up and thought about the ideas for this book, it really is pretty simple. We wanted to write a concise book that would share the science and the weather and the climatology around what’s happening in the Earth, interlace it with the values of scripture and the Christian call to care for the least of these, to care for our children, and put it in a way that we could hopefully offer an alternative, to bring together a nonpartisan way forward to making a new clean energy economy.
We at EEN say that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time, but also the greatest opportunity for hope, especially as we build a clean and new energy future. So the whole goal and premise of the book starts with that. Paul talks about the weather and how he became part of it. I talk about how I did, and the scripture influences, and how pollution affects our children around the world.
Literally today, at least 6 million people die worldwide because of pollution. And that just really makes it, for us, a pro-life issue, that we are concerned about life from conception to natural death and we have this moral responsibility to care for them, but we also have the moral responsibility to build a better world, to offer a future that has pure air and clean water, that offers good economic standing not only for the United States but also for all of God’s children in the developing world.
In fact, one of the great opportunities we see in our book is to make energy freedom both available here in the United States but energy prosperity for the 2 billion or so people who have limited or no access to energy around the world, because for us, and for me particularly, energy is one of the keys to successful education and development and moving forward.
And we don’t want to see the rest of the world make the same choices that we made. I mean, we can all realize that fossil fuels were a tremendous benefit to our society and economy, but we never realized the cost until the past couple decades, maybe 50 years. And so the whole thrust of the book is how we can move forward, find a bipartisan way, find a God-centered way to accept the science and move forward to create and make a better hope, a better world.
So that’s sort of the schematics of the book in a brief moment or two.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Paul, why don’t you take it away here?
DOUGLAS: OK. Well, thank you, Irina. And I’m just going to amplify what Mitch said.
I’m a meteorologist, so use small words and talk slowly. I’m also an entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur. I’m on my fifth business, focused on internet data and specifically internet of things. So I have to be open to data. If I only look at data that makes me comfortable, if I don’t look at all the data, I set myself up for trouble. Chances are I go out of business.
And so, as Mitch mentioned, it was really in the context of a meteorologist analyzing weather every day. Back in the late ‘90s I began noticing that something was off. The rhythm of the atmosphere was off. I mean, since the beginning of time we’ve had extremes, we’ve had storms, but something was tangibly different. The patterns were changing.
And I began noticing this in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, and that is what actually pulled me into the peer-reviewed science. It wasn’t a slick documentary, nothing to do with Al Gore, God bless him, but this was just noticing that the symptoms of climate volatility were beginning to show up in the weather.
The analogy I give: If you’re running a fever of 2 or 3 degrees—some people might say, well, what’s 2 or 3 degrees? Chances are you feel miserable if you’re 2 to 3 degrees warmer than average. And there are visible, tangible symptoms, and we’re starting to track those symptoms now. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years worldwide have occurred since 2000. The odds of this happening naturally are 650 million to one.
So I understand the skepticism around climate change. I mean, I think we all climb a wall of skepticism when it comes to this subject. Albert Einstein said, “A man should look for what is, not what he thinks should be.” And if you really take time to drill down and look at the data, there are compelling multiple threads of evidence.
One of the areas that it’s showing up I think most vividly is the preponderance of these megafloods, these thousand-year floods. TheUnited Stateshas seen five separate thousand-year floods since October of last year:Louisiana,Maryland,West Virginia,South Carolina,Texas. So we’re seeing it showing up now in the weather.
And in the book there are 11 meteorologists who are interviewed, including Tom Skilling inChicagoand Bob Ryan inWashington, and they all talk about how it’s showing up in their respective markets. So I found it gratifying that other meteorologists are stepping up and acknowledging the fact that something is changing. The weather patterns are, in fact, different.
Schopenhauer said that all truth goes through three stages. First it’s ridiculed. Then it’s violently opposed. Finally, it’s accepted as self-evident. And I want to believe that we’re coming out of the violently opposed stage and that there will be some acceptance.
But I think how we frame this for conservatives and Evangelicals is critical. You can’t just pile on more science, more evidence. At some point, people curl up into the fetal position mentally and they just shut down. They don’t want to hear the gloom and doom. And I understand that, but I think framing this in a way that resonates with the lives and values of conservatives and Evangelicals is critical.
And my hunch—and I think Mitch shares the same belief—is that clean tech, this clean energy economy that we are rapidly moving into, is the tail that’s going to wag the climate change dog. Even if you don’t care about climate change, you think it’s a load of hooey, my hunch is that most people can agree that more energy at lower price with fewer side effects—unpleasant side effects—is probably the direction we need to go.
So overall I’m very optimistic. Younger generations, emerging generations aren’t as cynical. You look at the arc of technology; prices are dropping. This is disruptive, and it’s disruptive for the fossil fuel industry. And I agree with everything Mitch said. We’ve all benefited from fossil fuels, but nobody gets—nobody gets—what’s the word I’m looking for? Nobody gets to ride along in the future without any disruption. Every business, every industry gets disrupted, and that’s happening now in the fossil fuel industry. We have the technology. We have the entrepreneurs. I think the question is, can we move faster?
So I’ll leave it at that for now and then we can drill down into more details, Irina.
FASKIANOS: Thank you both. That was a great overview.
Let’s open up to the group for questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
Our first question will come from Larry Greenfield with Parliament of the World’s Religions.
GREENFIELD: The question is, who is the audience for the book and why does it need to be addressed to that—the book—the argument of the book, addressed to that audience?
DOUGLAS: Well, Mitch, do you want to—
HESCOX: Sure. I’ll be happy to answer that.
It is that, you know, the audience for the book is anybody, quite honestly, but it is literally targeted to the conservative faith community, primarily in the United States. And the reason for that is pretty simple, is that that’s the community that I represent and I do ministry with. And we know that the Evangelical community has been—you know, until recently been one of the ones lagging behind in their understanding of climate and moving it forward.
And Evangelicals are also a significant political force in the United States. And we wanted to offer ways that people of faith, especially conservative Christians in the United States, could come to understand climate change, as Paul said, in their own value frame system.
I believe very tremendously in the power of value-based messaging because it’s simple when it’s the truth. You know, the second chapter in the book is entitled, “It’s Not About Polar Bears,” because, really, while we care for all Creation, most people aren’t going to act out of concern for polar bears, but helping people to understand that right now we are engaged in climate change as one of many problems that are actually harming and impacting our children today.
You know, it’s not about a future threat, and that’s one of the things we wanted to convey in this book. It’s about defending our children now. It’s about defending our military now. It’s about defending our businesses now.
And so the audience was specifically reached for the one that Paul and I work in primarily, and that’s the conservative faith community in the United States, but it’s open to all.
GREENFIELD: Where is the resistance theologically?
HESCOX: I think the resistance theologically comes a lot of places. Some of it’s just a political understanding of where the United States has been and for liberal politics. I think what happened is it became more of an argument when those who denied climate change made it a liberal cause instead of being a spiritual cause and a moral cause.
You know, there are certain passages of scripture that people talk about—you know, that the Earth will never change and the seasons will continue—which are sort of misuses of technology—or scripture itself, and we talk about that in the book and use it. But quite honestly, I think it’s a lack of education. In fact, one of the biggest things we talk about in the book is, in fact, that a lot of Evangelicals in the churches really have never talked about Creation care. It’s not been on their radar screen.
I tell the story about a Bible study I did in Harrisonburg, Virginia a few years ago, where I taught the passage from Colossians Chapter 1, where Jesus—the whole Earth was created for, by, and through Jesus. And after sitting down, after giving sort of a lecture on it, an older gentleman said, I’ve been reading the Bible my entire life and I never caught the connection that Jesus making the Earth makes us responsible for caring for it.
So it’s a matter of enlightening and educating and helping people to really to go forward in a way that’s in their value system, within their frame of reference and their spiritual context.
GREENFIELD: Yeah, I’m obviously interested in how there’s cooperation between Evangelical Christians and other Christians, mainline and liberal, but also other religious traditions. Do you think the environmental issue is a basis for dialogue and action, significant action, given what you’re proposing?
HESCOX: I think there’s room for dialogue, but I also think it’s determined how it’s framed. EEN as a ministry, for example, doesn’t do interfaith work but we do multi-faith work, because being in our conservative Christian community, we want to make sure that people in our community understand where we’re coming from and that we’re representing our values as Evangelicals.
So I think we’re still somewhat away on that issue, but certainly there’s a lot greater dialogue. We personally do a lot of work with the Roman Catholics and the Catholic Conference of Bishops here in the United States. And of course the Lausanne Movement worldwide has been very engaging in the worldwide community. In fact—(coughs)—excuse me—the Lausanne Movement, in their Cape Town movement, is one of the great Evangelical statements on not only caring for the Earth but theology in general, and how we can find common ground between people of differing faiths.
GREENFIELD: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Galen Carey with NAE.
CAREY: Yeah, thank you.
So your last answer somewhat anticipated what I wanted to ask, but could you just elaborate a little more? For those who want to base their positions on biblical teachings, what would you say are the main core biblical teachings that would lead one to support action against climate change?
HESCOX: Hi, Galen. This is Mitch.
I think the first scripture comes really from Genesis Chapter 1 and John Chapter 1, is in the beginning God created through Jesus Christ. I mean, the Creation belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 and 2 says the Earth belongs—everything in the Earth belongs to God. And then, importantly, in Isaiah Chapter 24, which is probably the most hardest scripture for people but actually the most moving, Isaiah 24, versus 3 to 5, where it says human beings destroy the Earth because they don’t follow God’s commandments.
So I often tell people, in fact, that when you look at that Isaiah passage, you need to remember that what God is referring to is that throughout much of the Hebrew scriptures—especially in what I like to tease people and say the most often-read books of the Bible: Leviticus and Numbers—God lays down a pretty good basic handbook for caring for the Earth: crop rotation, animal husbandry. We all know it talked about the year of the Jubilee, which we’ve never failed to. So we have destroyed the Earth.
And then, obviously, turning to the New Testament—you know, the reason I do this is from Matthew 25. We are called to care for the least of these, and we all know that both in our own country, the children are most adversely affected by the impacts of climate change, from disease spread, from ozone and asthma readings and other illnesses that are exacerbated and linked to petrochemicals, but also those in the majority world, which are the least responsible for climate change but are suffering the greatest impacts.
DOUGLAS: That’s right. And, Mitch, I would add, you know, rising seas to that.
Luke 16:2: Man has been appointed as a steward for the management of God’s property. Ultimately he will give account for his stewardship. I mean, that resonates with me. I mean, as Mitch said, we’re called to care for everyone, and especially the least among us, as Christ commanded, and the fact that climate volatility is already impacting the least among us. The 1 percent will be just fine, but the least among us are the first to suffer the effects.
It’s already impacting migration patterns around the world. That’s going to accelerate. It’s already impacting water supplies, you know. Clean water, not oil or natural gas, is going to be the most precious natural resource of the 21st century, and we’re already seeing shortages in the Western U.S.
So things we took for granted in the past we will not be taking for granted going forward. And I think it’s just that sensitivity that, as Christians, I mean, we can have everything we want, everything we need, but we can do so with a lighter footprint on God’s creation, and that there is a smarter way forward. You know, what worked in the 1930s probably won’t work in the 2030s.
And, you know, in the past we called this progress. So this transition to a clean energy economy, you know, where we focus on energy freedom—all things that are consistent with conservatism: more choice, more competition, driving down prices. The same people that are for choice when it comes to education and health care should probably be for choice when it comes to energy.
And if I can pay less for my energy, have more security if there’s a solar flare or if Chinese hackers somehow get into the grid, that I can still power on my house and power my vehicle, why wouldn’t you want that energy security? And so that’s the direction we’re already moving, but most of the experts seem to believe that we have to move faster.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
Our next question will come from Charles Strohmer with the Wisdom Project.
STROHMER: Oh, hello. Thank you for taking my call. I’ve been having a little bit of trouble with my phone. Can you guys hear me OK?
FASKIANOS: Yes, we can.
DOUGLAS: Yes, absolutely.
So I guess this question is for Paul. And I want to embarrass myself a little bit here and say that I really don’t know what to think about it, not because I don’t want to know but because I’ve just been so involved in an initiative in international relations and foreign policy for about 15 years that I just haven’t had time to get my mind stuck into the science, or lack of it, about global warming and climate change.
So what help can you offer me, you know, on this conference call, someone like me who would like to know which way to land on it? And I don’t really know. You know, I hear strong arguments from second-, third-, fourth-hand forces on one side, and then the same way on the other side. People say, no, it’s not true, or it’s not as true as people are saying. Frankly, I just don’t know what to think about it.
DOUGLAS: And I appreciate your honesty and candor. Again, we all approach this from a place of skepticism. You know, how could we, as people, possibly impact the climate, impact the weather? I mean, it seems ludicrous on the face of it until you actually drill down into the data.
I think there’s a semantics challenge. When you hear “global warming,” the assumption is it’s warming everywhere simultaneously, but what happens when it gets cold in the winter, when it snows? Where’s your global warming then?
And then climate change, of course, the climate has always changed, which is true. The climate reacts to forcing, whether it’s variations in solar radiation, volcanoes, aerosols, wobbles in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. But one thing that’s undeniable is that we are increasing the rate of CO2 and methane at a rate which is historically unprecedented.
We are the volcano now in terms of emitting these greenhouse gases, roughly a trillion metric tons since the mid-’60s. That’s a trillion hot air balloons of additional CO2. And there’s a very tight correlation between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the average temperature of the atmosphere. And we know this looking at ice core samples going back, you know, many, many thousands of years. And so the last time CO2 levels were this high, water levels—sea level was 16 feet higher than it is right now.
And so I understand the paralysis. And it’s much easier to say, no, this is all bunk, it’s all some liberal hype, but if you really take the time to drill down and look at what’s happening, this is either the mother of all coincidences, this is either the greatest scientific hoax ever perpetrated on mankind, or it’s happening.
And, you know, I was a smoker back in the ‘70s. I’m not proud to admit that, but I wanted to believe the Philip Morris-hired scientists who sat there with a straight face and told Congress that, no, you know, you can’t prove that my client’s product killed poor Aunt Betty. I think all of us who smoked wanted to believe that there was no causation. Now we look back and that and at least I shake my head, you know, how naïve I was.
We don’t want to believe that our actions actually might have consequences. But, you know, this is a symptom of success. I mean, we’ve used fossil fuels for hundreds of years. It was convenient, it was relatively easy, they were available, and they got us to where we are today. But I think our point is that it’s just—it’s not sustainable.
And that doesn’t mean that we stop using fossil fuels next year. There’s going to be a gradual winding down of fossil fuels as we ramp up clean alternatives that provide more security, more safety, and a cleaner short-term environment, less short-term pollution concerns, and fewer long-term climate concerns, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
But I think the point that Mitch and I are trying to make is, you know, this issue has been hijacked by the left. Where are the pragmatic, commonsense conservative approaches to dealing with climate change that empower our economy, that launch thousands of new businesses with good-paying jobs?
You know, we have a history in the United States of engineering around seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And I understand people don’t want to hear the gloom and doom, but it’s really a message of hope and opportunity. And I agree with Sir Richard Branson from the Virgin Group who said, this is the greatest wealth-creation opportunity that we’ve ever seen as a species, trying to figure out clean, nonpolluting solutions that allow us to have the lifestyle we want without the negatives.
So I’m still optimistic, and I would encourage you: Pick up the book. We do delve into the science. I tried not to throw it on too thick, but I also—there’s a chapter with skeptical questions, the questions that keep arising, and we try to deal with that head-on.
STROHMER: Thanks, man—appreciate it.
DOUGLAS: You bet.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Jack Miles with the University of California, Irvine.
MILES: (Coughs.) Excuse me. My question is for Paul.
Paul, when you were speaking of several thousand-year floods that have occurred in the past year, I noticed that a number of them are in areas where Evangelical Christianity is very strong.
I have a background in book publishing and have been wondering how your book is being launched and whether you are concentrating on some of those areas where you might now receive a sympathetic reception because of what people have been going through. I’m also curious to learn, if you have been making public appearances, what the reception has been.
DOUGLAS: Great question, and thank you.
I believe we have more of a shotgun approach right now. I don’t believe we’re focusing in on any one geographic area. But your point is a good one. Climate change hits home when it hits home, and it’s hitting home with greater frequency and greater ferocity.
And it’s hard because, I mean, it’s in our DNA. We respond to weather. We don’t necessarily respond to climate, and yet this weather disruption—the terminology I use, which doesn’t just fall off the tongue like “climate change,” is climate disruption—climate volatility leading to more weather disruption. And that’s what we’re seeing. We’ve always had floods. We’ve always had droughts. It’s just the frequency and intensity of the extremes appears to be getting more extreme over time.
And again, the folks at NOAA and NASA are fairly apolitical. Every major scientific organization on the planet acknowledges that, yes, the climate system is warming. The oceans are warming. The atmosphere is warming. We’re seeing less ice, especially at the North Pole, instability in Greenland—multiple threads of evidence.
And, you know, we don’t know what we don’t know. I mean, there’s a lot of talk of tipping points and what could happen. The bottom line is we are changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and the oceans. We are conducting a test on the atmosphere, on Earth’s system, that hasn’t been done while people have been on the planet.
And we’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen, but what we do know is that we’ve been poking at the climate system with a long, sharp stick and then acting surprised when the weather bites back. And it’s biting back with greater frequency and greater ferocity.
So, you know, my—
MILES: The reaction to your work, you know, that—I was curious about that too. I know it’s new and perhaps you haven’t had much reaction yet, but with the interesting theological arguments that are a part of it, have you found some new receptivity?
DOUGLAS: There does seem to be receptivity, especially among younger people. I mean, there’s some older people whose minds are made up. They say they’re open to data. I’m not sure they’re open to new data. But when I go out and I talk to churches—and I have talked to a number of Evangelical communities, mostly here in the upper Midwest in Minnesota, also in Michigan—people seem to have an open mind.
And I tell them, look, even if you don’t believe the climate scientists, OK, you don’t believe ministers, you don’t believe meteorologists, OK, do yourself and your kids a favor; believe your own eyes, because you’re going to see more symptoms, more tangible symptoms of this volatility, things that fall so far outside of the whole concept of average weather that chances are you’re going to be doing more double-takes in the years to come.
But unless there’s a solution, it’s much easier to deny that there’s a problem. And up until now there really hasn’t been—there’s no silver bullet that’s going to save us. I tell people, you know, there’s plenty of silver buckshot. We have the technologies. You know, the price of solar has dropped, what, 80 percent in five years. Unsubsidized solar now is cheaper than natural gas and coal and oil. So technology is moving rapidly in the right direction but we need to scale it faster.
HESCOX: Paul, let me just jump in for just a second—
HESCOX: —is that one of the things, that this is actually the first public discussion that our book has taken. It is literally just reaching bookstores right now, as we speak.
So the answer to part of your question is the only tangible reaction I can give you is that Greta Van Susteren happened to put it on Facebook and Twitter two days ago and she received over a thousand “likes” and several hundred comments coming from the more conservative people. And, by and large, the comments that came back just of her talking about the book was extremely promising and very hopeful.
DOUGLAS: You know, if I can just add to that, I believe—you know, as somebody who’s voted—I’m a Reagan Republican. I voted for the GOP since I could vote. And I understand the misgivings on the part of conservatives. When they hear about climate change and global warming they think, oh, my goodness, this can only be solved through more government and more regulation and higher taxes, and this is going to expand the federal government; that’s the only possible solution.
And Mitch and I say, no, this is not going to be solved by a bureaucrat in Washington. This is going to be solved from the ground up by a marketplace that’s empowered to create the solutions we need to make us more resilient to help us adapt to climate volatility, and to keep the lights on and the economy powered up, but do so in a clean manner that doesn’t contribute to the problem. And there will be technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and make the oceans less acidic.
Could there be technologies that clean up fossil fuels? You know, I wouldn’t rule anything out. We haven’t seen it to date but, you know, let’s do what we do best in the United States. Let’s invent the solutions that will make us more resilient in this country, energy secure—technologies that we’re going to export to the rest of the world, because the rest of the world is going to need these solutions as badly or even more so than we will.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Timothy Mallard with the U.S. Army.
MALLARD: Good afternoon. Timothy Mallard here.
I obviously can’t say that I’ve read the book, so I don’t know if you can comment on this, but I wonder if you could—earlier in your presentation you had several times mentioned the issue of security. And I assumed you were talking about nation state security. So I wonder if you could touch on either how climate change will impact that in the future, either decreasing resource—perhaps resource wars or competitions, and also potentially how that can be mitigated at either the state-on-state level or sub-state level. Thank you.
HESCOX: Sure. This is Mitch. I’ll give it a first shot.
You know, currently I work with a lot of retired brass of the military, working up ways just to do that here in Washington and other places. But there’s no doubt the research has shown for—like in Africa, that for every 1-degree temperature rise there’s at least a 20 (percent) to 30 percent increase in potential violence.
And it’s not just the temperature rise. You hit the proverbial nail on the head. It’s resource scarcity. You know, there’s a lot of work—in fact, one of the most interesting stories that we tell in the book is about Somalia and what happened there and how climate change was one of the exacerbating factors of that war.
In the northern part of the country was predominantly nomadic Muslims who would often travel to the south looking for water. And as water resources became scarce in a predominantly Christian world, there became a fight over the water, which was one of the contributing factors to that great, ongoing conflict. And we see that all over Africa. I know in Malawi crop yields are down by two-thirds in many cases—Tanzania the same way.
And so as people search more and more for resources and ways to protect their families, to preserve their livelihoods, there will be more conflict, and I think that’s pretty simple.
And I think the beginning way that we have to solve that is—one of the ways is we have to empower people. We have to create jobs and we have to look first off—I mean, there’s two ways of looking at climate change. The first is adaptation. How do we help people adapt? How do we do more drought-resistant crops? And those are—and looking at better pumps for irrigation. And those are things that, you know, we can certainly start doing right now in the majority world. And I know we work with USAID and a lot of the Christian relief and development organizations to be empowerers of that.
But I think the second key, and what we highly advocate, is this aspect of energy prosperity. You know, it costs on—you know, and as I said, 2.2 billion people have no or limited access to electricity. In sub-Saharan Africa it would cost, right now, using conventional central generating stations, about $430 billion to create the central generating stations and another 3 (hundred billion dollars) to $400 billion to install transmission lines so we could have lights and electricity and computers and good health care and working pumps and all those type of things.
So we see that distributed energy is going to be offered at far less cost, is already working across Africa by many entrepreneurs, and really see the combination of mitigation of giving people alternatives to generate their power that would reduce the health impacts of indoor smoke and other things that will really be the boom of how we can power it.
That’s why we’ve been, you know, quite honestly, at the EEN, been very champions of things like the Green Climate Fund and Powering Africa and other resources around the world, because I think we have responsibility to help the majority world take care of some of these problems, both to adapt and to mitigate it.
Plus, the future cost and consequences are—to the military especially. You know, I had a son that did two tours in Afghanistan. Paul has a son that’s in the Navy right now. I sit across a table with, you know, brigadier generals with tears in their eyes saying that they never wanted to send our troops, men and women, into harm’s way because of climate change.
And we have to act now because it’s already happening. We’re already seeing it across the developing world. We’re already seeing it here. And I think those are some of the initial steps that we can do to make those things happen.
DOUGLAS: Yeah, the military, Mitch calls it a threat multiplier. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense came out with a report a couple of years ago, and I quote: “The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities. Our actions to increase energy and water security, including investments in energy efficiency, new technologies, and renewable energy sources will increase the resiliency of our installations and help mitigate these effects.”
So I obviously agree with everything Mitch just said. I can tell you for a fact that the Navy, you know, with rising seas, is taking the threat very seriously. How do you retrofit ports in the Virginia Tidewater, the Norfolk area, San Diego, Honolulu? They’re not ignoring what’s happening. And again, you can—we can measure the rise in sea level. This isn’t a theory. It’s not a computer model. You can go out and actually measure. \
And we know that even now on clear days, with the King tide, no storms, Miami floods; much of South Florida floods. You know, I tell people, you know, who are interested in retiring to Florida, I say, don’t buy anything right on the beach. Buy something five, six blocks inland and be patient. You’ll get your beachfront. The water is rising and we don’t know how quickly it’s going to rise. The computer models don’t do as good a job with those projections.
But David Titley, an admiral in the Navy, said something that really touched me. He said, “Climate change is not a belief system but a matter of evidence. The evidence comes from all aspects of our natural world: temperatures on land and in the ocean, melting ice and rising seas, the responses by animals and plants.” And he said, “Civilization was built on a foundation of climate stability. Although we do not know exactly how the future will unfold, we cannot wait for 100 percent certainty to take action. In the military, if you wait for 100 percent certainty you will be 100 percent dead.”
And that stuck with me. People who say there’s still not enough evidence to move forward, I don’t know when we will reach that critical mass of evidence, but there’s a lot of evidence out there today and most—not all, but most within the military now, I think, do take this seriously and see this as a threat multiplier.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Zul Kassamali with—president, Toronto Area Interfaith Council.
KASSAMALI: Thank you. Thank you, both of you. Can you hear me?
HESCOX: We can.
KASSAMALI: OK. Thanks for taking my call.
I wanted to just—I will tell you that I am personally very much worried that the greed is going to take us into another fight because we’ll be fighting for clean water in North America, because we are almost paying the same price of bottled water as the price for a little gasoline. So the future doesn’t seem to be very promising if we continue doing that.
And greed, I am telling you, is not a good thing. And I would like to ask you, have you—because I haven’t read your book—have you put anything on greed of what people are doing, going against their religion?
DOUGLAS: Boy, that is a great question. I mean, I believe—you know, Mitch and I both attempt to weave scripture in and out of our narrative. Second Timothy 3, verse 2: People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy.
You know, we all worship the same God. And, yeah, I mean, in the end this really does come down to greed. And can we—I mean, I’m fascinated with the concept of sustainable markets, sustainable capitalism. How do we have everything we want, how do we provide for everyone, but do so with less impact—less negative impact on our support system, our life support system? You know, we can’t treat the planet—we can’t treat God’s creation like a dirty ATM card.
But I don’t disagree with your premise that there’s been a land grab: You know, I want what’s best for me and the heck with everybody else. But I believe that most people are waking up to the reality that actions have consequences. I mean, look at what’s happening in China. You know, you can’t—in many parts of the country you can’t breathe the air, you can’t drink the water, you can’t eat the food. Other than that, it’s going quite well.
And the Chinese government realizes they have a problem. And so I don’t believe they’re just paying lip service to clean technology. They’re bringing on an entire U.S. grid-worth of renewable energy here in the next five to six years. So they know they have a problem and they have to come off especially coal-fired electricity.
Mitch, what would you add?
HESCOX: I think the requirement in the book is we don’t specifically mention the word “greed,” but our calling in this book is for all of us, from our faith tradition as Evangelical Christians, and to follow our risen Savior, and Jesus is quite commanding on his saying to love one another, to care for each other, to care for the poor.
And I think implicitly in our work is the fact that, to be disciples of Christ, you can’t be greedy. And so for us as Evangelicals, we’re going to stick to the model of greed is not an acceptable part—it’s a sin and it’s not part of being a disciple of Christ. And so we’re calling on all people to be good stewards of all God’s resources, that we have to protect them for all of God’s children.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Craig Patterson.
PATTERSON: Yes, hello. Thank you very much for taking my call.
And what I was—what I’ve been thinking and wondering and would like to have some response to this is wondering if, in fact, in some ways we’ve got the notions of heaven and hell backwards. And the reason why I say that is because when we view heaven in the clouds, it seems like we can trash the planet with impunity, whereas if you look at indigenous cultures who saw the Earth and nature as very much connected to their worldview and their spiritual view, would not dream of trashing the planet.
So I’m wondering if, in part, our environmental crisis is a crisis of mixing the notion of heaven and hell. Can you respond?
HESCOX: Sure. This is Mitch. I’ll give it a first try.
I don’t say that it would be a mixing of heaven and hell, but I would say—and that we argue very strongly in our book—that the longstanding time of Evangelicals only being concerned about going to heaven is one of the problems.
You know, I believe very strongly in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And we are called throughout scriptures to be truly stewards of all that God has given us. And there is no place in the Bible—in fact, I wrote a long paper that there’s no permission, no place—even the word “dominion” does not give us the authority to trash Creation.
But I think we have a responsibility, as we argue very strongly in the book, that we’re to follow, for us, Jesus Christ, to build his kingdom here on earth, which includes living in a sustainable, moral way. And that’s, in fact, in the chapter we call that, you know, “We are Easter People.” It really outlines our theology very well. I mean, Revelation 21 says that heaven comes to earth. And that’s the theology that I’m going to hold up with and live with, and that no matter what your end-time theology is, there is always—never has been a place we’re not called to be stewards of God’s creation.
Unfortunately, sometimes humanity, Christians and other faiths, don’t accept the fact that God is the owner of this world and we’re just tenants. And I think that I would say it’s more of a mixture of ownership than of heaven and hell. And so that’s what we talk about and we would like to promote is that really living faith as a disciple of Christ and building his kingdom calls us to be good stewards.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Satoshi Nishihata with Realization Party.
NISHIHATA: Thank you. I’m a graduate student of Columbia University. I’m studying international relations.
My organization is the Happy Science Group, relatively new religious organization in Japan, which is trying to overcome the difference between the different religions and cultures and histories of each nation by believing the common belief, the God of the earth or the Lord of the universe.
So my question is, so I think that climate volatility, disruption, is very—a matter of global public good and every nation has to cooperate with each other. But the fact is that each country has a very different temperature—I mean the degree of attitude—the attitude for cooperation in climate change. So what could be the solution to this difference of degree in cooperation with climate change, so especially in the religious aspect? Thank you.
DOUGLAS: Well, Mitch, I don’t know. I mean, that’s a great question. This is Paul. This is what makes this the perfect problem, right? It’s global. There are no easy TV sound bite solutions. It requires new technologies and it requires some level of changing our habits.
And you’re absolutely right in that the impacts vary from country to country. The United States, in spite of the problems we’re going to have, especially in the Western U.S.—you know, 30 years ago the climate scientists predicted—they said dry areas will get drier and wet areas will get wetter. And that is exactly what we’re seeing year after year. There are exceptions to every rule, but the West is drying out. Meanwhile, east of the Rockies, you know, the amount of flooding is certainly on the increase and we’re seeing more of these incredible thousand-year floods.
But this is going to vary from nation to nation. You have countries like Kiribati, some of these nations—island nations in the Pacific that are literally experiencing an existential crisis. Will they still be around in 20 years? The richer nations, the developed Western countries will probably have the wealth and the technology to adapt.
And now the question, quite frankly, is are we looking at 2 or 3 degrees of warming or is this going to be 7 or 8, 9 degrees of warming? If it’s 2 or 3 degrees, we can adapt. There will be disruption. There will be dislocation. Not to minimize the heartache, but we can adapt to that. If it’s 7, 8, 9, 10 degrees, we’re living on a different planet and there will be massive disruption.
And I think Tim brought up, from the Army, the whole dislocation, the refugee crisis that has transfixed the world; you know, what’s happening with Syrians trying to get out. What happens when much of North Africa and the Middle East is unlivable? Where do these people go? How do they—how do they survive?
There are no easy answers, but that is why we need to transition into this clean energy future faster and find ways to share technology with other nations and turn up the volume. So I’m still optimistic most days.
HESCOX: And I would just like to add to that is I think one of the questions—(inaudible)—is that, you know, the United States, and especially conservative faith people, one of the reasons that they haven’t engaged in climate or understood, or have been deniers of climate, is because up until people like Paul and I, it’s been—they’re seen as a liberal problem and not a bipartisan issue.
And, you know, for years climate change was purveyed as something happening in a distant—and all about polar bears. But I think what we’re trying to do, and people like us are trying to do, is to raise that awareness by really listing the impacts that are happening today in the United States and elsewhere around the world, and helping people to understand it’s an imminent concern right now and here to people they care about, themselves, and their children. So we’re working on it and that’s really the goal of the book.
FASKIANOS: I think we have time for one last question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question will come from Leonard Rodgers with Global Initiatives, Inc.
RODGERS: Yes, thank you for addressing this subject. I would like a little practical help.
What would be the “red flag” vocabulary that you should not use in introducing this subject to Evangelicals? And the second is—second question is, what is the better verbiage to use, for example, if we got your book and wanted to share it with someone?
HESCOX: I think—and I make a practice out of talking to Evangelicals, and I think the first thing to talk about is—I’ll give you the short answer of the book really quickly—is to help people identify the current problems that are in their area: knowing how many kids have asthma and their condition will be exacerbated by temperature rise, or vector-borne diseases like in the Northeast like Lyme disease or dengue or now Zika in South there.
Talk about the value of scripture, and talk about things in terms of defend, and talk about human health versus science. Those are some of the key things. Make it as value-based as you can to people that really touch people where they’re at. And my biggest thing is don’t take it—talk to about, you know, being future and government solutions, but talk about ways they can personally become engaged.
So, I mean, I would hope you would buy the book. And there’s whole ways to talk about it because, you know, one thing that I have learned over being at EEN for now eight years is that language does matter and each community has separate ways of talking. Evangelicals like to talk about sanctity—sanctity of life—about purity. And those are key words that help people understand and put the idea of climate change and its consequences in the value system that really means a lot to who they are.
DOUGLAS: I would add that, you know, what obligations do we have to our kids, to our grandkids, to future generations? Proverbs 13:22: A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.
And, you know, this is about the sanctity of life. If you’re pro-life, it’s not only today’s generation of unborn; it’s tomorrows, it’s next year’s, it’s 20 years down the road. What obligation do we have today to those who come next?
And as Mitch has been saying for many, many years, this is not about polar bears; this is about our kids. We love our kids. We want to do everything in our power to help our children and their children. Why would we do anything that makes it harder for our kids? And by ignoring the topic, by hoping it goes away, by denying the fact that this is happening, we’re not doing our kids or your kids any favors.
FASKIANOS: Well, thank you both for today’s discussion. I’m sorry that we couldn’t get to all the questions, but I hope that you will all take a look at Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas’ book when it comes out—in the next week or so?
HESCOX: It will be out shortly.
DOUGLAS: I think October 4th, right? Yeah, give or take.
Thank you, Irina.
FASKIANOS: Great. Well, you heard it here first.
You can follow Mitch on Twitter @mitch_at_een, and Paul @pdouglasweather. So you should also follow their analysis there. And we encourage you to follow what we’re doing here at CFR as part of our Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative on Twitter @CFR_Religion.
And thank you all again for being partners in today’s discussion, for your terrific questions, and to Mitch and Paul for continuing to give this issue the visibility that it deserves.
DOUGLAS: Thank you so much.
HESCOX: Thank you, Irina, very much. Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.