Written by: ChristianView Network
Article source: www.facebook.com
Are Environmental Carbon Limits Unbiblical?
In 2020 Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate change agreement a set of goals for carbon dioxide emissions. Most of the conservative media including its Christian affiliates applauded the move – which at the same time angered the Green lobby and drew protest from the more socialist oriented American politicians. The arguments go that carbon limits hurt the economy, which costs jobs; they require socialist style state intervention in the economy. Conservatives ask we haven’t had them before – we have done fine without them – so why do we need them now? And all this is a reasonable debate – but a part of the debate is that since there is no biblical command for carbon limits then we shouldn’t have them. Is this argument rationally biblical?
How Should We Apply The Bible For Today?
The Law of Moses in its detail was given for a particular tribe in a particular place at a particular time in history, with a particular economy, geography and technology. We have to draw enduring principles from those detailed laws and then use those principles to apply to our own particular situation.
The law of Moses facilitated one of the most free market economies in the ancient world in all respects for one: agricultural land. Why? Because land was a limited capital resource. All other commodities could be freely traded, including city housing, but agricultural land firstly had to be left fallow every seventh year and every fiftieth year had to be returned to its original owner. In this way, firstly the law of Moses prevented soil degradation due to over-farming and allowed the land to regenerate. Secondly the law prevented the creation of a wealthy land owning class with land farmed by serfs as was the case in many other contemporary economies. Further it prevented the monopolisation of land by a few. Just about everyone got their plot of ground on which to make a living.
Now a hundred years ago, land was a plentiful resource in most of the world including America and Africa. Nomadic tribes moved around from one place to another without building fences. Such laws were unnecessary. But now population levels reached a point where land is a scarce resource and its trade has to be tightly regulated.
The Atmosphere Becomes A Scarce Resource
Up to the middle of the twentieth century, there was no need to regulate air pollution on a global scale, because the atmosphere just dispersed it. Now the scientific consensus with 95% certainty is that man made carbon dioxide emissions are reaching a concentration in the atmosphere that are influencing the climate. The climate is always changing. Nevertheless, the rate of change is happening at a pace that is hard for the natural and human environment to adjust and secondly we have developed such a large portion of the land with agriculture and cities that it is hard for nature to shift its migration patterns to adjust. We put nature reserves in certain places because they were good places for certain species to live, but with climate change those are not necessarily good places anymore. Thirdly we have built up coastal edges so that we cannot just allow the sea to wash in without massive damage to property. Should coastal property owners pay or polluters pay? Agriculture is impacted by such change.
Who Should Pay For Harm?
So the question is who should pay for such impacts. Should polluters just be allowed to carry on polluting as much as they like or should there be a total limit distributed by the economy? In economic terms this is called ‘internalising an externality’. Those who were doing external harm, now have to pay for it. Essentially the carbon limits is doing for the pollution what has already been done with land. The atmosphere having reached a carrying capacity as land previously did, now becomes a limited resource and has to be managed and traded.
Is Such An Idea Socialist?
We agree that socialism is unbiblical, but are carbon limits and trading socialist? If the government was to micromanage each and every person and industry and its emission, they could be accused of socialist government intervention in the economy. Nevertheless, if there is a world agreement to cap emissions at a certain level and each countries emissions at a level, then it is up to each country to decide how to distribute those emissions within their economy. That is not a socialist idea. That is exactly the same as the management of land. There is a limit capped so you can’t just move into a nature reserve or mountain and start farming and then people trade between them.
Further the system is using market forces to drive technology within a free economy. So for example, coal was producing electricity at around one rand a kilowatt hour. When the South African government opened bids for solar pv then came in at three rand per kilowatt hour, which was expensive. But within a few years, the market had brought the cost down to less than one rand per kilowatt hour. An initial de-facto subsidy allowed technology to develop to the point it was no longer needed. The efficiency of wind energy is also increasing by the year as larger scales of turbines are built. The state did not simply hand out cash in a socialist manner, but created an energy market which made upscaling investment in renewable technology viable. In the long term some technologies may be abandoned or modified but the best will win. Further the socialist state monopoly on electricity supply was broken.
Then the department of environment affairs required emissions scrubbing at coal fired power stations to clean out sulphur that was harming peoples lungs. Previously this was a cost to the health budget but now the electricity supply must pay for the pollution clean up. Isn’t that more fair? Our electricity was cheap because there was no cost to damage others lungs. Now the price is going up, which causes us to use it more carefully and we pay for clean up. So now when one includes the cost of cleaning up the sulphur then coal is much more expensive. Is that not a biblical principle to make the one who causes the injury pay for it? Then the polluter is forced to pay to clean up their emissions to prevent injury to the people living nearby, and we carry the cost in increased electricity prices instead of healthcare taxes and the injury to those people.
Carbon emissions trading and mitigation offset allows a free market economy to decide how to distribute the environmental cost of pollution. So one polluting industry can reduce its emissions and sell those to another start up industry that will use them more efficiently. That is not socialist. It is the same as buying and selling the limited resource of land.
Other Limited Resources
Similarly, in biblical times, fishing was a free resource, but now we are reaching limits where if it is unrestricted the fish cannot replenish themselves. So the state has to create fishing quotas. The Bible for example puts limits on bird catching. The young could be taken from a nest but the mother must be released. That prevents depopulation of birds, such as is happening now in Italy limiting migration of birds into Europe. The Bible put limits on the military to prevent them cutting down fruit trees for siege works against enemy cities. But we have to abstract these specific laws to the underlying principles and apply them to our own time – what the reformers called ‘the general equity of the law’. We draw the general principles out and adapt them.
Even if the carbon air pollution problem did not exist or was proven to be not causing climate change, fossil fuels are also a limited resource and they will run out – which means that if no alternative sources of renewable energy are found the world is going to hit a an energy crisis within a generation or two. We have to thus make plans for transition. Fossil fuels thus like land have to be managed as a limited resource. Transitions are costly and who will pay for them? Since we are all affected it is not unreasonable that we all pay for them incrementally by slowly transitioning rather than just waiting for them all to run out.
We do have evidence that some ancient civilisations e.g. parts of Greece burned all their forests, depleted their agricultural soil and then faced economic depression. We also have evidence that some civilisations e.g. the Turks were forced to migrate out of central Asia into Asia minor because of natural climate change making their agriculture non-viable. Both of these are scenarios we would not like to copy.
So no. Carbon limits are not unbiblical nor are they a violation of free market economics. They are just adjusting to the situation where the atmosphere has become a limited resource just as land did. There is still much space for debate as to what is a limited resource and how we should mitigate and manage this, but the Bible definitely does not promote a free for all destruction of limited resources. On the other side, being biblical doesn’t force us to accept any particular claim about science or about mitigating climate change or a political treaty – that is up for debate – but it does model the principle of managing limited resources of the earth so as not to destroy them or create monopolies that enrich some at the expense of others. There are many detailed sub-debates within environmental protection which we need to apply our minds to separately within this principle.
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