Right Opinion

New Yorker Writer Lashes Out at Scott Pruitt's Evangelical Supporters

Cornwall Alliance · Jun. 23, 2018

By E. Calvin Beisner

“How is it that the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a public servant who walks around clouded in ethics scandals like Pig-Pen in his swirl of dust, still holds his job?”

That snide lede by Margaret Talbot to her New Yorker article June 8 titled “Are Evangelical Leaders Saving Scott Pruitt’s Job?” should tip off even the uninitiated that what follows will be, shall we say, something less than journalistic fairness.

Talbot attacks Pruitt, then turns to evangelical leaders whose support she thinks has kept him in office despite his “ethics scandals.”

What’s her beef with Pruitt? Well, according to her, he

has engaged in acts that range from the pettily self-serving (allegedly asking agency employees to help him acquire a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel and to set up meetings so that his wife could get a Chick-fil-A franchise) to the egregiously self-serving (spending millions of dollars on an around-the-clock, twenty-person security detail, which is unprecedented at the Agency, and splurging on first-class flights) to the weirdly clandestine (installing a forty-three-thousand-dollar soundproof phone booth in his office, though there are other secure locations for conversation at the E.P.A. headquarters, and declining to follow past practice and release his schedule in advance).

What doesn’t she mention?

First, as the first EPA administrator to enter office facing multiple death threats, Pruitt certainly qualifies for the security detail. The security detail, in turn, requires the first-class flights.

Second, as the first EPA administrator to enter office facing strident opposition by career bureaucrats in his own agency determined to frustrate his efforts to enact policies President Donald Trump was elected to achieve, the soundproof phone booth makes good sense.

And the other matters, including, which she doesn’t mention, an apartment rental alleged to be at below-market prices but found to be about average for the single room it covered? They’re at worst poor optics but don’t appear to violate ethics rules or indicate conflict of interest.

But Talbot spews her real vitriol against the evangelicals who support Pruitt. She briefly mentions Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Liberty University students, but she focuses on two: Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries, which provides Bible studies and prayer groups for government workers in Washington and counts members of Congress and the administration among those who attend, and the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, the ministry I lead.

According to Talbot, Drollinger and I typify a “Christian Right” that “can find justification for their climate-change skepticism and for the valorization of extractive industries in evangelical teachings that insist, against the overwhelming scientific consensus, that humans could not have created global warming.”

Ah, yes, that “overwhelming scientific consensus,” the dual fallacy of truth by popular vote and appeal to authority — a sure sign that the author fails to understand not only logic but also:

  • That skepticism is the hallmark of genuine science, a principle set forth in the motto of the world’s oldest scientific association, The Royal Society, “Nullius in verba,” which translates roughly as “Take no one’s word for it."


  • That the consensus is bogus.   Oh, yes, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists — and probably all scientists, for that matter — think global average temperature has increased significantly since about 1850 and that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse” gases have probably contributed to that warming.

But beyond that, as climatologist and former National Hurricane Center Director Neil L. Frank explains, everything’s up for grabs.

Is CO2 the primary cause of the warming, or have natural cycles of the Sun and ocean currents dominated, as a climate statistician and two climate scientists have argued? Do the benefits of the warming outweigh the risks, or vice versa? Is the warming now or likely to become catastrophic? Do the risks from warming outweigh the benefits of the energy from the fossil fuels that release the CO2 — and the fertilizing effect of added CO2 on all the world’s plants, including food crops? Would the benefits of a rapid replacement of fossil fuels with wind, solar, and other “renewables” outweigh the costs, or vice versa?

On all those questions and others, as Judge William Alsup, presiding in the trial of a lawsuit brought on behalf of some children who claim (or for whom the adults exploiting them claim) harm from global warming, has found, scientists are all over the map.

She quotes Drollinger saying, “To think that Man can alter the earth’s ecosystem — when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind — is to more than subtly espouse an ultra-hubristic, secular worldview relative to the supremacy and importance of man.”

Capitol Ministries has posted a lengthy reply to Talbot, demonstrating ways in which she misrepresented Drollinger, as the very source from which she lifted her quotes demonstrates.

Talbot says the Cornwall Alliance “holds that the Earth is ‘robust and self-regulating’ and that ‘God’s wise design’ will correct the damage we do to it.” That’s news to me.

Nowhere will you find us saying God’s wise design “will correct the damage we do” to the Earth.

The closest you’ll come to that is in “Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies,” where we say:

As the product of infinitely wise design, omnipotent creation, and faithful sustaining (Genesis 1:1–31; 8:21–22), Earth is robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting. Although Earth and its subsystems, including the climate system, are susceptible to some damage by ignorant or malicious human action, God’s wise design and faithful sustaining make these natural systems more likely — as confirmed by widespread scientific observation — to respond in ways that suppress and correct that damage than magnify it catastrophically.

More specifically, we say, “global warming alarmism wrongly views the Earth and its ecosystems as the fragile product of chance, not the robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting product of God’s wise design and powerful sustaining.” We also explain that research showing that clouds act as a thermostat to regulate global temperature is consistent with our understanding that the Earth and its climate system are “not fragile and prone to catastrophic change due to comparatively minute influences (such as CO2‘s rising from 28 thousandths of a percent to 56 thousandths of a percent of the atmosphere).”

Perhaps most importantly, we say, “A crucial element of the environmentalist worldview is that Earth and its habitats and inhabitants are extremely fragile and likely to suffer severe, even irreversible damage from human action. That view contradicts Genesis 1:31. It is difficult to imagine how God could have called 'very good’ the habitat of humanity’s vocation in a millennia-long drama if the whole thing were prone to collapse like a house of cards with the least disturbance — like a change in carbon dioxide from 0.027 to 0.039 percent of the atmosphere (the change generally believed to have occurred from pre-industrial times to the present).”

Our point is that, when thousands of other factors influence global temperature, thinking that an extremely minute change in atmospheric chemistry is going to cause catastrophe is inconsistent with the understanding that God designed the climate system. And what’s critically important in the face of Talbot’s selective quotation is that we go on to muster large amounts of empirical scientific evidence that in fact such a minute change in atmospheric chemistry is not likely to cause catastrophe.

To remove all doubts about whether she intends to fairly represent her targets, Talbot calls Drollinger and the Cornwall Alliance “evangelical climate-change denier[s].” Perhaps she should take the advice of University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass, by nobody’s estimate a “climate-change denier.” In “Why One Should Never Use the Term ‘Climate Denier,’” he gives three reasons:

  1. “It plays off the term ‘holocaust denier,’” which “cheapens the term ‘denier’ in a way that is painful to many in the Jewish community.” But, who knows, maybe anti-Semitism explains Talbot’s tone deafness?

  2. “The terms ‘climate denier’ or ‘climate change denier’ is [sic] usually used for anyone who does not ‘believe’ that virtually all of the change in Earth’s climate over the past half-century was caused by human emission of greenhouse gases. You are a climate change denier even if you accept that there has been climate change caused by natural processes, or if you believe that both natural variability and human forcing is behind the changes. Seems strange to call someone a climate change denier if they accept that there is climate change and mankind is contributing.”

  3. “Climate denier clearly is a pejorative, put-down term that does not win converts or friends. … We need to build bridges to those who are doubtful about the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases, and calling them names can only push them away.”

Talbot closes her screed with a paragraph containing some interesting scare quotes:

Pruitt echoes much of this thinking — he speaks frequently about “stewardship” and “management” of the resources that “God has blessed us with” and clearly wants us to use, and of following the “Biblical world view” on environmental matters.

What’s scary about “stewardship”? A steward manages something that belongs to someone else and is answerable to the owner. Christians think God intends people to be stewards of the Earth, answerable to Him. I daresay I’m more concerned about how I’ll answer to God for how I manage my share of the Earth than to any government agent.

Does Talbot think God hasn’t blessed us with resources? Perhaps, but millions of her fellow Americans would beg to differ. Does she reject the “Biblical worldview”? Ditto.

“What may be the scariest thing of all about Pruitt’s tenure at the E.P.A. and the damage he can do to the environment,” Talbot concludes, “is the righteousness he surely feels in doing it.”

What may be the scariest thing about Talbot is the righteousness she feels in caricaturing those with whom she disagrees.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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