Tag Archives: Mitch Hescox

Suppressing the Truth in Florida

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz

Generally, history has not been kind to authorities who knowingly suppress the truth. If suppression results in oppression or injustice, we feel anger. But in nearly every case, we react with scorn.

That’s why last week’s revelation that Florida’s GOP Governor Rick Scott has forbidden state agencies to use the words “climate change” and “global warming” has attracted more ridicule than indignation. Scott’s “I-am-not-a-scientist” approach to climate science has provided ample fodder for the country’s comedians. The Twitter hash-tag #Scottaway has gone viral. But now we have the words of his General Counsel Larry Morgan, warning state employees to suppress established science: “Beware of the words ‘global warming, climate change and sea-level rise’….”

Small-minded officials, in the service of powerful polluters, who sacrifice their children’s futures for the benefit of wealthy donors?

Oooo. Yuck.

Governor Scott’s gag order on science burst into the news this week, when a number of Florida news outlets tracked down Florida scientists and officials whose reports were censored to redact virtually all references to climate change.

Gov. Scott, widely reported to have censored science reports in Florida

Gov. Scott, widely reported to have censored science reports in Florida

Florida is the country’s most climate-vulnerable state, with all of its barrier islands and 30 percent of its beaches threatened by sea-level rise in the next 85 years. In just the next 33 years, much of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are projected to be inundated by rising seas – plus virtually all of Monroe County, home of the Keys and the Everglades. And globally, Miami ranks #1 among cities projected to suffer monetary losses from rising seas, according to the OECD. And so the censorship was widely seen as both ridiculous and incredibly dangerous in this state.

The governor’s staff has denied the reports, but increased scrutiny is unearthing a flood of very detailed reports, plus many whispered accounts of intimidated employees cowed into compliance under the threat of termination or de-funding of entire offices and programs.

The governor himself has become famous for dodging the question of manmade climate change. When asked about it by a reporter from The Miami Herald, Scott offered a familiar response: “Well, I’m not a scientist,” he said, echoing John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and many other GOP politicians.

So last year, a group of Florida’s leading climate scientists publicly offered to educate Scott, then locked in a tight reelection battle with former governor Charlie Crist, who took climate change very seriously during his time in office. Under intense media pressure, Scott agreed to give the scientists thirty minutes of his time.

“This is not complicated,’’ said David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College, before the meeting. “We teach this to 18-year-olds every year and I’ve been doing it for 25 years. It’s not hard science.”

One by one, the scientists used their precious half-hour to give Scott the barest summaries of their disciplines, ranging from the changing composition of the earth’s atmosphere, to the melting of the polar ices sheets, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs and alarmingly acidic oceans – all linked to the burning of fossil fuels.

And they warned of the cost of inaction: “The longer you wait the cost of the solution goes up about 40 percent a decade.”

By all accounts, the meeting did not go well at all. University of Miami geologist Harold Wanless remembered that Scott “spent ten minutes doing silly things like prolonged introductions,” which reduced their time to speak to about 20 minutes. “He said thank you and went on to his more urgent matters, such as answering his telephone calls and so on. There were no questions of substance.”

I hope we don’t miss how incredible this is. The governor of the most climate-threatened state in the country doesn’t know enough to act on climate change. So his state’s scientists band together to teach him. In response, he doles out 30 minutes of his precious schedule, and then filibusters one-third of it, cutting deeply into a meeting that was impossibly short to begin with.

Could there be a clearer way for the governor to say: I don’t know, and I don’t WANT to know?

But if the scientists made no progress with Scott, evangelical pastor Rev. Mitch Hescox couldn’t even get his foot in the door. Hescox, the President of Evangelical Environmental Network, brought a petition signed by 60,000 Christians, urging fellow evangelical Scott to take action to protect Florida from the threat of climate change. But Hescox was sent away without even the courtesy of an audience.

The charlatan "wizard" in L. Frank Baum's classic "Oz"

The charlatan “wizard” in L. Frank Baum’s classic “Oz”

Scott, it happens, is one of a handful of climate deniers who openly profess faith in Jesus Christ, while promoting policies which suppress the basic knowledge necessary to care for God’s creation. Some of these even cite their Christian faith as the reason for their denial of climate science. And to Christian earth-keepers, this makes our skin crawl.

To our many friends who are becoming disaffected with the anti-science voices that are being dressed up these days as “American evangelical Christianity,” we beg you to consider: There are more than 2.1 billion Christians in the world today; only about five percent of them hail from the US; almost all of them come from countries where the science of climate change is accepted as fully reliable; the vast majority face very tangible climate threats, including droughts, flooding, rising sea levels, ocean acidification – and social upheavals which arise from these ills. And even here in America, there are numerous evangelical declarations that affirm the importance of creation care, and call Christians to action against climate pollution. And only one takes the position of the climate denial politicians. What you hear from the religious talking heads on American cable news channels has precious little to do with the global Christian church, which understands the perils of environmental abuse with first-hand clarity.

In our experience, the world’s Christians watch with near disbelief as American politicians cite the Christian scriptures as the skin-deep rationale for their heart-deep collusion with wealthy polluters, inflicting severe harm to the world’s poorest communities.

Consider GOP Senator James Inhofe, the inventor of the “greatest hoax” narrative of global warming. A professing Christian, he cites this verse as his favorite premise for denying that human actions can change the world’s climate: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). In context, God makes this promise in the aftermath of the story of the great flood, as he makes a new covenant “with every living creature” never again to destroy the earth by a cataclysm of judgment.

Perhaps serious theologians might debate the possible meaning of this passage. But surely no scholar thinks it means that climates never change: that the Little Ice Age of the 17th Century (which killed roughly one-third of the planet’s humans) could never have actually happened; or that the Earth did not warm since the last great Ice Age; or that there would have to be a “seedtime” in Antarctica; or that equatorial regions would have to have a “summer and winter;” or that the world cannot have warmed by 0.9 degrees Celsius during the last century. And certainly, no scholar believes that a passage like this negates the natural laws that God has set in motion, like the workings of greenhouse gases that warm and protect the planet when in balance, and cause climatic chaos when thrown out of balance.

Sen. Inhofe throws a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that climate science is "the greatest hoax"

Sen. Inhofe throws a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that climate science is “the greatest hoax”

Senator Inhofe, we beg you to refer us to a single biblical scholar who affirms your narrative.

But back in Florida, suppression of the truth is much less bombastic, and more insidious. Gov. Scott never says why he shuts his eyes to climate science. No silly speeches warning of massive hoaxes by corrupt scientists. He just makes sure his administration suppresses climate science, and intimidates experts who rely on state funding.

By the end of this century, most of South Florida will be uninhabitable. The Keys will be gone; Sanibel-Captiva and much of Ft. Myers will be abandoned; the Everglades will be open water; what remains of Miami will be a narrow sliver of land frequently inundated by periodic storms. Those who remain in the state may well remember that they once had a governor who suppressed the one discipline that might have saved their state.

But, alas, he was not a scientist.

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  (St. Paul, Romans 1:18)

The Prophet Nathan and the EPA Carbon Limits

“The Lord sent Nathan to David.”

That’s how the story begins – the familiar Bible account of royal corruption, conspiracy, sexual abuse and murder. The prophet began by telling the king a simple story of two neighbors: one rich, and one poor; one with vast herds of sheep and cattle, and one with nothing but a beloved pet lamb who slept in his arms.

We remember the storyline, don’t we? The rich man entertained a visitor, but was unwilling to use any of his abundant livestock to feed his houseguest. Instead, he seized his poor neighbor’s pet to be slaughtered for dinner. King David seethed with anger over such pitiless injustice, and pronounced the death penalty without even asking the rich villain’s identity.

Nathan didn’t waste a moment: “You are the man!” he declared (2 Samuel 12).

That was then. Three thousand years later, the poor still suffer abuse at the hands of the powerful, just like in King David’s time. The themes of speaking prophetic truth to power are also timeless. But neighbors with cattle, sheep and pet lambs are not, are they? So how does Nathan’s story translate into the struggles for justice in the 21st Century?

At its core, Nathan’s story is about a transaction – enjoyed by one party, but paid for by another. There is a rich man, and he has a houseguest. Maybe they’re both rich; maybe they’re relatives; maybe they’re together for a business deal – the prophet doesn’t say. But cultural norms require hospitality, and part of the deal is a good dinner. Whatever their business, they need meat for the traveler and his host. They could bear those costs themselves; in fact, any thinking person would demand it. But instead, they impose the costs on a neighbor. What’s worse, they dump them on someone who is already dirt-poor. If you’re at all like King David, you’re hot under the collar just thinking about it.

Lisa Sharon Harper, of New York Faith & Justice, praying with religious leaders at the EPA hearings.

Lisa Sharon Harper, of New York Faith & Justice, praying with religious leaders at the EPA hearings.

And this brings us to a debate that’s been raging in major American cities this week. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed standards under the Clean Air Act, to cut carbon pollution from electric power plants. It’s sparked an intense debate, with pastors and conservationists among the supporters, and coal and utility executives arguing against it. Twelve coal-mining states even filed suit  yesterday to block the EPA from issuing its carbon standards.

Whatever you’ve heard about the debate, a bit of background on the Clean Air Act would be helpful. With overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress passed the Clean Air Act under President Richard Nixon in 1970, and expanded it under George H.W. Bush in 1990. The Act required the EPA to establish air quality standards to protect public health and welfare, and to regulate emissions of hazardous substances. Over the years, the EPA has responded by setting standards for harmful pollution contaminating the country’s atmosphere. Forty years later, few of us can remember the days when cities like Pittsburgh were shrouded in a permanent toxic fog, when rivers like the Cuyahoga in Cleveland actually caught fire, or when less than half of Americans were served by wastewater treatment facilities.

In recent years, the EPA’s duty to also regulate climate-warming gases under the Clean Air Act has been confirmed by landmark legal cases beginning in 2007 and culminating with a Supreme Court ruling in 2014. And in response, the agency has proposed regulations designed to cut carbon emissions from electric power plants – the largest single source of greenhouse gases – to levels 30% below current levels by the year 2030.

Rivers aren't supposed to burn: the Cuyahoga in 1969

Rivers aren’t supposed to burn: the Cuyahoga in 1969

This week marks the end of a lengthy period of public comment on the EPA’s proposals. In Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Denver, hundreds of stakeholders came out to speak their minds on the proposals, including coal industry lobbyists, politicians and conservationists. In Washington on Wednesday, about two dozen religious leaders took to the podium to add their voices in support of the EPA’s proposed plan.

“We are responding to the reality of climate change,” said Sojourners’ Liz Schmitt, “not just because of what the science says, not just because we know ethically we need to, but first and foremost because the Word tells us to.”

Schmitt was joined by Evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jewish leaders, among others, in invoking biblical faith as the basis for fighting climate pollution. “The creation speaks to us of God’s steadfast love for us,’ said Schmitt. “And the Bible speaks to us of our first responsibility, the task God gives to humanity in Genesis – to steward the creation.”

Two days later, evangelical environmental leader Rev. Mitch Hescox told the EPA delegates in Pittsburgh: “For years, we have subsidized the cost of coal-generated electricity in the brains, lungs, and bodies of our children, and privatized the profits. Asthma, cancers, autism, birth defects, and brain damage have a direct link to the use of fossil fuels and petrochemicals.”

For Rev. Hescox, the coal companies make the profits, and the children bear the costs of diseases and climate disruption.

And that brings us back to the prophet Nathan, and his story about little a lamb and a rich man. Who should bear the cost of dinner? Not the poor neighbor, of course! In our day, who should bear the costs of electric power production? When those plants burn coal, oil and gas, who should bear the costs – the external costs – of the pollutants that find their way into the air, water and land? Not the poor, of course! Right?

But that’s the way external costs almost always work. Buyers and sellers get all the advantages of the fossil fuel production. But people downwind pay the price in asthma and elevated mercury levels, and in droughts, floods and crop failures that have become the routine calling card of climate disruption. And study after study  shows that the poor are much more likely than the rich to be found among the victims.

Although they would never come out and say it that way, that’s just the way the coal companies and their backers want it to remain. Every state attorney general filing suit against the EPA, and every coal executive has the same message: “We can’t afford it.”

However, they seldom complete the argument with much candor. “We can’t afford it – unless people like you continue to subsidize our profits by paying for the external costs of our pollutants” – that’s the actual heart of the argument. It’s a startling admission that the fossil-fuel business model is essentially bankrupt, unless our neighbors bear the external costs for us.

Until recently, we didn’t really know the scale of the external costs of coal burning. But in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences quantified these costs in their study titled The Hidden Cost of Energy. Its findings were shocking. Coal burned in a single year by U.S. power plants costs everyone else on the planet another $200 to 300 billion in unpriced external costs – the costs of respiratory diseases, ecosystem damages, and climate impacts like drought, flooding and rising food costs.  That’s a tax of about $40 levied on every single human on Earth. Only for U.S. coal. Only for one single year. Borne by men and women, by adults and children. Borne by the rich. And borne by the roughly one billion humans earning less than $1 per day.

So maybe it’s time to “remix” the story of the prophet Nathan for our day. If we’re among those who benefit from “the right” to freely pollute the world’s air, forcing the world’s billions to subsidize our use of cheap energy, maybe Nathan is speaking to us: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? … Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house….”

Yes, perhaps the sword. Or perhaps the chaos from disrupted climate systems, rising sea levels, drought and wildfires, flooding and hunger. This planet is the only one God has provided for its seven billion human souls. Can we continue to abuse it without incurring the judgment of its Creator?

Governor, the Scientists and Theologians Want to Talk to You

Imagine a press conference in Washington.

  • Q: “Governor, do you advocate drinking toxic sludge?”
  • A: “I don’t know, I’m not a scientist.”
  • Q: “Well Governor, is jumping off the north rim of the Grand Canyon safe?  And is it a good idea to place my head in the jaws of a lion?”
  • A: “I told you, I’m not a scientist.”

Silly, right? No one talks like that. We take firm positions on all kinds of things in reliance on the expertise of others. And that’s why it’s been so strange to hear “I’m not a scientist” from politicians dodging questions about climate change.

Consider Florida Governor Rick Scott. On May 27th at a campaign stop in Miami, the Miami Herald reported this interchange:

  • Q: “Do you believe man-made climate change is significantly affecting the weather, the climate?”
  • A: “Well, I’m not a scientist. But let’s talk about what we’ve done…. But I’m not a scientist.”
  • Q: “In 2011 or 2010, you were much more doubtful about climate change. Now you’re sounding less doubtful about man-made climate change….”
  • A: “Well, I’m not a scientist. But I can tell you what we’ve accomplished….”
  • Q: “So do you believe in the man-made influence on climate change?”
  • A: “Nice seeing you guys.”
Florida Gov. Scott, not a scientist

Florida Gov. Scott, not a scientist

Or consider House Speaker John Boehner. On May 29th, he took the podium to criticize the EPA’s proposed power-plant carbon standards, which aim to reduce climate-warming emissions.

“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Boehner said. “But I am astute to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs. That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes to our climate.”

Boehner protests that he’s not qualified to debate climate science, but he’s pretty sure about the economics. For the record, he is neither a scientist nor an economist.

And then there’s a second Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio. “Denial is a loaded term,” he told ABC News on May 11th. “I’ve never denied that there is a climate change. The question is: Is man-made activity causing the changes in the climate?”

If you’re waiting for Rubio’s answer, I’m so sorry. Rubio isn’t a scientist. He’s not going to venture a position.

Of course, people who aren’t scientists usually have a way of getting to the bottom of scientific issues: For the most part, they listen to the actual scientists. In this case, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (among scores of other authorities) has found that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field of climatology support the scientific consensus on manmade climate change. Further, they report that the 2-3 percent who don’t agree possess comparatively low expertise and prominence in the field.

In fact, not being a scientist is almost always a reason to seek out and heed the advice of those who are. We can all appreciate skepticism about medicine, or physics, or biology. But none of us respects it from someone who is totally unlearned in the field being debated. “I’m skeptical, but I’m not a scientist?”  That doesn’t carry much weight in virtually any arena.

Except maybe politics, it would appear.

But there is a risk to this approach. What if actual scientists offer to sit down with you, and explain the facts in easily understood layman’s terms? You might just have to listen, right?

And that’s what’s just happened to Florida’s Governor Scott. Last week, ten prominent Florida climate scientists offered to give him a crash course in climate change science.

“We are scientists,” they said in a letter to the governor, contrasting themselves with Scott’s not-a-scientist narrative.

“Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists — seekers of evidence and explanations. As a result, we feel uniquely qualified to assist you in understanding what’s already happening in the climate system so you may make the most effective decisions about what must be done to protect the state, including reducing emissions from fossil-fuel-burning power plants.”

Of course, this is Scott’s worst nightmare. “I’m not a scientist” somehow seems much more forgivable than “I understand the problem but don’t want to run afoul of my oil company donors.” Or even: “Okay, it’s a problem, but let’s let the kids deal with it.”

Flooding without rain: Miami Beach streets at high tide

Flooding without rain: Miami Beach streets at high tide

The scientists said that they could bring the governor up to speed in about a half an hour. “It’s not rocket science,” said their spokesman, Jeff Chandon of Florida State University. Chandon plans to walk the governor through millions of years of temperature data, which has risen whenever the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, and fallen when it decreased. But those concentrations also never ranged outside of 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stands at 400 ppm, and is rising fast.

This is not good for the unknowing Scott, currently locked in a tight reelection race for the votes of Floridians, two-thirds of whom are convinced of the near-term peril to their state from the changing climate, according to a Yale University study. So he initially agreed to send a staffer to meet with the scientists. But when his rival, former Governor Charlie Crist agreed to sit down with the scientists in person, Scott relented, and the crash course is now on.

But another group of experts is also trying to meet with the governor, with less success so far. Reverend Mitchell Hescox, the head of the Evangelical Environmental Network, has asked for a meeting with Scott, a professing Christian, to discuss the moral and spiritual implications of climate change on the vulnerable people of Florida.

“Florida, your home, literally represents ground zero,” wrote Hescox in a letter to the governor last week. “Sea level rise, more extreme weather, saltwater contaminated wells, loss of farm land and increased air pollution all pose significant threats to the health and well-being of Floridians.”

Hescox, an outspoken conservative, assured the governor that this has nothing to do with politics. “It’s a moral challenge to all Americans. It is a call to follow our Risen Lord and act to prepare for the impacts, many of which are already happening, and to work to reduce our carbon pollution to help our children, now and in the future.”

So far, Hescox hasn’t gotten too far. He’s collected more than 57,000 signatures from Floridians urging Scott to develop a plan to address climate change. But the governor isn’t planning on meeting him. Lots of Hescox’s fellow Christians have begun to pray, and next Tuesday, Hescox is planning to knock on Scott’s door with his 57,000 signatures, his Bible, and his plea for justice for “the least of these,” who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Who knows? Maybe the scientists will help Scott understand things well enough to realize that his state faces a crisis. And maybe Hescox’s boldness will get him in the door, for a few prophetic words to a fellow believer.

For me, I’m joining those who are praying for both meetings. Florida is indeed ground zero. But it’s not too late for its leaders to take action to reduce the harm, especially for those leaders who believe that “the earth (including Florida) is the Lord’s, and all its fullness” Psalm 24:1.

 

Why Do American Religious Bloggers Deny Climate Science?

 

I’m sitting next to a madman.

No, really. From his perch at the next coffee shop table, he rails aloud at an unseen adversary: “I’m speaking to you in the language of reason, logic and common sense! But to you, it might as well be Swahili!”

His long grey beard and shoulder-length hair fit well with the nonstop Jeremiad. You’d think he’d eventually tire, but the filibuster goes on and on. I relax for a moment while he visits the restroom. But then he’s back, and the tirade resumes. “If it weren’t for premarital relations, we wouldn’t even be here!! … Martin Luther King should have kept his mouth shut!!” Or whatever.

I don’t hear much logic, or much reason. But he does.

Funny, but at the same time, I’m reading comments in the Christian Post in response to the excellent article written by evangelical climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman. The scientists wrote to rebut the bizarre assertion by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh: that you can’t both believe in God and believe the findings of climate science.

The article is great, as was an earlier rebuttal by Christian pastor Mitch Hescox. But the comments are – for the most part – simply unbelievable. To me, they might as well be Swahili. Maybe my friend at the next table could help me understand. Here’s a sampling:

Comment A: 98% of people who hold to the view of manmade global warming voted at least one time for Barack Obama. I would be surprised if the contributors of this article are not in [that] category. Which makes me wonder why they are even allowed to contribute. Perhaps, they feel the need to just to stir up controversy, instead of Godly edification.

Translation: Even though I don’t know anything about other people’s votes, you don’t have to take evangelicals seriously if I can drop the hint that they might have voted for a presidential candidate that I don’t like – even if he claims faith in Christ, belongs to a Christian church and ran first against a non-church-member and then against a committed Mormon. And the Christian Post shouldn’t even allow scientists to speak up if they agree with the 97 percent of their colleagues who accept mainstream views of manmade climate change.

Continue reading

An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh

By Rev. Mitchell Hescox

Dear Mr. Limbaugh,

Blessings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Mitch Hescox, President of Evangelical Environmental Network

Mitchell Hescox, President of Evangelical Environmental Network

As a lifelong Republican and an evangelical pro-life clergyman who pastored a local congregation for almost 20 years, spent fourteen years working in the coal industry, and now leads one of the oldest creation care ministries, I ask you to refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change. It is simply wrong.

Recently, you stated that “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming.” Nothing could be further from truth.

You made this false claim as part of a rhetorical sleight of hand wherein you posited a straw-man position, which you then defeated, saying that only God has the power to destroy his creation. But in “winning” such a false argument, you take people further from the truth. I am aware of no one who is saying that human-induced climate change will completely destroy the earth.

From the beginning we were created to be God’s stewards or caretakers of His creation; we were given the freedom to care for it and for each other, or go our own way and selfishly look to our own interests and desires. Sadly, human history shows us that too often we have chosen the latter.

Today, human-induced climate change works against our call to love others and care for God’s creation. Its impacts on creation are already a threat to our children and therefore a pro-life concern. Overcoming climate change is an act of discipleship, stewarding what was created for and through Jesus, the ChristContinue reading

Fossil Fuels are a Faith Issue

Written by Rev. Richard Cizik. This article appeared in the Washington Post this morning. Reprinted with permission of the author.

One day, our children, their children, will almost certainly ask, “What did you do to solve the climate challenge?” That’s how President Obama put the challenge ahead of us in his extraordinary call to action on climate change at Georgetown University.

Rev. Richard Cizik

Rev. Richard Cizik

Those of us in the audience were certainly warm to the challenge, and not because it was over 90 degrees in the afternoon swelter of humid Washington. Most of us had already accepted the call to do something about this moral and spiritual challenge. Alas, most Americans are only now waking up to the reality that this is about “us,” more than even government.

Ironic enough, most evangelical leaders have not. Standing in the shade before Obama’s speech, Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, admits the irony.  The leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, for example, will say there’s a climate impact on the poor but won’t adopt any specific legislative or legal solutions. Continue reading