Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) is pushing for more new coal-fired power plants in Minnesota, but the Shakopee Republican is undeterred by reports about the effects of carbon-emitting energy production on global warming. His reason: He believes God will prevent the planet from running out of fossil fuels while also eliminating the harms associated with climate change. While Beard speaks from his religious tradition, many others in Minnesota’s faith communities believe it’s dangerous to wait for divine intervention to solve our environmental problems – and they say it’s the duty of people of faith to preserve the planet for future generations.
In an interview with MinnPost’s Don Shelby on Tuesday, Rep. Beard explained his recent push for new coal-burning power plants in Minnesota.
In the Minnesota House, Beard has taken aim at clean air standards – in particular those that curb carbon dioxide emissions by power plants. He introduced HF72, which would lift the ban on new coal plants, and he also introduced HF509 to repeal the 2007 plan – touted by Gov. Tim Pawlenty – to curb greenhouse gasses and build Minnesota’s renewable energy infrastructure.
“A lot of what Beard knows he learned in church,” wrote Shelby. “One Congressman, talking about global warming, recently said that God wouldn’t allow man to do anything to destroy the planet. Beard told me, ‘It is the height of hubris to think we could.'”
That congressman, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, made his remarks before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November. “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over,” he said. “Man will not destroy this Earth.”
Beard also told Shelby that God would prevent the planet from running out of fossil fuels like coal: “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.”
While the view that humans can have negative impacts on the earth is prominent among some conservative evangelical Christians, it’s not the view of the majority of faith traditions in Minnesota.
It’s certainly not for Chuck Dayton, a retired environmental lawyer who has been following the push for more coal-fired power plants in the state. He says there are no pending applications for coal plants in Minnesota and that specific exemptions exist that already allow for new coal plants in some cases.
He pointed out that coal has become expensive “because of the cost of transportation fuel, and that the cost of natural gas had plummeted.”
“Minnesota does not need new coal-fired power,” he said.
Dayton is co-chair of a new coalition of faith groups in Minnesota called Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light. The group works to educate congregations about how they can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, provide educational opportunities for people of faith on the issue of global warming and contribute a faith-based voice to public policy surrounding climate change issues.
He said that many people of faith view the Genesis commandment of “dominion” as a call to exercise stewardship of the earth. “There are a number of devout evangelicals who believe that it is the command of God to protect the earth, and eminent theologians have identified compassion as the the main common element in all religions.”
“We are already beginning to see the devastation that a warming world can bring to human beings,” he told the Minnesota Independent, citing wildfires in Russia and floods in Pakistan as recent examples of human suffering from a changing climate.
“So the question for congregations in America is, ‘How can we Americans, who are more responsible per person than any nation on earth for the growing burden of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, sit by while our country does nothing to try to solve the problem?'” he asked.
Of the thought that God will prevent humans from negatively impacting the Earth, as Beard and Shimkus have argued, Dayton is not convinced.
“It’s just plain wrong-headed to think that divine intervention will fix everything,” he said pointing to the six great extinctions thus far in the planet’s history. “One could say, ‘Well, life persisted and got better, ’cause here we are, the pinnacle of creation, so that was all a part of God’s plan.'”
He continued, “But suppose that immense human suffering results from global climate change, that tens of millions and perhaps hundreds of millions of human deaths occur because of it, not to mention the loss of a quarter of all species on the planet?”
“Life will continue, of course, but this is a harm that we have the power to prevent,” he said. “Most religions believe that we have free will. We can sin and we can do bad things to the earth; its our choice and we must suffer the consequences.”
Dayton pointed out that many large Christian denominations have already taken a strong stance on the issue of global warming.
The United Methodist Church said, “We, as stewards, have failed to live into our responsibility to care for creation.” The U.S. Catholic Bishops said that the Church’s “response to global climate change should be a sign of our respect for God’s creation.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said, “We see the despoiling of the environment as nothing less than the degradation of God’s gracious gift of creation.”
The Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Presbyterians, prominent Muslims and many Jewish traditions have spoken of the urgent need to curb greenhouse gasses.
Dayton’s group is part of a national network of Interfaith Power and Light, and last weekend congregations across the country spoke about the issue during their worship services. “Minnesota’s response was very strong with over 30 churches talking about the subject,” he said.
And some religious leaders are even exploring a return to non-violent civil disobedience over the issue as a sense of urgency has been growing.
“By the time the worst disasters begin to appear, the burden [of greenhouse gasses] in the atmosphere is there and will remain,” said Dayton. “We could not then change it by stopping all carbon emissions. So the need is to act now.”