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How Fossil Fuel Money Made Climate Change Denial the Word of God

Submitted by on August 9, 2017 – 1:55 pmNo Comment

by Brendan O’Connor (Splinter News/Special Projects Desk of Gizmodo Media Group)  In 2005, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the National Association of Evangelicals was on the verge of doing something novel: affirming science. Specifically, the 30-million-member group, which represents 51 Christian denominations, was debating how to advance a new platform called “For the Health of a Nation.” The position paper—written the year before An Inconvenient Truth kick-started sense of public urgency around climate change—included a call for evangelicals to protect God’s creation, and to embrace the government’s help in doing so. The NAE’s board had already adopted it unanimously before presenting it to the membership for debate.

At the time, many in the evangelical movement were uncomfortable with its close ties to the Republican anti-environmental regulation agenda. That year, a group called the Evangelical Alliance of Scientists and Ethicists protested the GOP-led effort to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, and the NAE’s vice president of governmental affairs Richard Cizik pushed for the organization to endorse John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s cap-and-trade bill. “For the Health of a Nation,” which Cizik also pushed, was an opportunity to draw a bright line between their support of right-wing social positions on abortion and civil rights and a growing sentiment that God’s creation needed protection from industry.

The rank-and-file membership rejected the effort. Like the oil and utilities industries, they decided that recognizing climate change was against their political interests.

At the behest of a group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the board buckled, releasing a statement in February 2006 “recognizing the ongoing debate” on global warming and “the lack of consensus among the evangelical community on the issue.”

The NAE did eventually endorse climate action in 2015. But it was too late. By that time, a corps of right-wing Christians, funded by fossil-fuel interests, had hijacked the public and political machinery of the evangelical movement. They are now in the White House, where the anti-environmental agenda is dominated by Christian fundamentalists like EPA Commissioner Scott Pruitt while the more moderate views of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson are ignored. This is the story of how they did it.

The pull of fossil-fuel interests and the religious right is so strong that even conservative politicians who privately believe climate change is caused by humans have kept that view secret. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, has said that he knows of at least a dozen Republicans in the Senate who accept climate science and want to take action, but feel they can’t do so for fear of the political repercussions—despite the fact that recent polling shows a majority of Republican voters believe that the United States “should play a leading role” on climate action. Half a dozen politically connected evangelical Christians who are active on Capitol Hill backed up Whitehouse’s claim to Splinter, saying they have either first- or second-hand experience with politicians who admit in private that they accept climate science even as they oppose regulations and reforms in public.

Reverend Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, estimated that there are as many as 20 senators who would take action for climate and clean energy—but only if there were grassroots support to do so. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and an evangelical Christian who believes in climate change, suspects that the “vast majority” of those who dismiss climate science in Congress are secret believers.

Still, Inglis, Hescox, Hayhoe, and other evangelical Christians were not willing to expose the politicians who feel that climate action is simply too great a political risk. They fear that Republicans who are seen to support climate action, or even waver on opposing it, would immediately be subject to well-funded primary challenges by more ideologically committed candidates in the same way that Inglis was. “I don’t want to scare them off before I have the grassroots support for them,” Rev. Hescox told me.

In a 2015 interview with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (of which he is a trustee), Pruitt said he believes that, under a proper reading of the Constitution, “government would be kept out of religion, not religion out of government.”

Meyaard-Schaap (Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, an organizer with a pro-environmental Christian group called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA)) believes that the green evangelical movement already has sufficient support in Congress for climate action; the issue now is getting the electorate to communicate to their representatives that this is, in fact, what they want. “I continue to believe wholeheartedly that grassroots power is more powerful than small, monied interests. If politicians recognize that there is a bona fide grassroots movement around this issue, and that their seat—regardless of how much money they might be getting from the other side—is in danger, that’s when you get their attention,” he told me. “I think in the next five or ten years, as more and more young evangelicals get plugged into the political process, that grassroots movement is going to grow to the point where politicians who might be getting money from the fossil fuel industry will say, ‘Look, this isn’t gonna cut it. I can’t protect my seat anymore and I have to change tack.’”  READ MORE

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