Letter to the Editor
The Wright Response
Wenham, MA 01984
From PSCF 47 (December 1995): 287-288.
I am grateful to E. Calvin Beisner for his response to my article. He has not only taken me to task for some of the views expressed in the article, in his response he has also clarified his own approach to environmental issues. It is tempting to debate his concerns point by point in this forum, but another feature-length article might result if I did. However, I will answer several of his responses. The first is in reference to his editorial in World, where I state that Beisner "concludes that there is no serious environmental problem in the world today." Because my statement is similar to Aeschliman's in Prism, Beisner suggests that I may not have even read his article - puzzling, since earlier in the article I quote extensively from it. Could this be an ad hominem attack? I must submit that Beisner's language in the editorial leads inevitably to such a conclusion. In problem after problem, he claims there is no evidence to support concern.
I am happy to see in his response that Beisner recognizes "there are indeed serious environmental problems." However, the problems cited (in developing countries and the present and former communist countries) are only a subset of the problems that the Evangelical Declaration records, and Beisner once again dismisses acid rain, global climate change, ozone depletion, and the loss of biodiversity. The main reason appears to be that these problems haven't killed anyone yet, and thus are non-problems. Such an attitude appears to dismiss any environmental damage that does not lead directly to human deaths. Even assuming no immediate human deaths, should we not be concerned about what is happening to the rest of Creation? And, should we not respond, as the world community indeed has, to major threats like ozone depletion that are slowly getting worse and will indeed kill many people if they are not addressed? What is most disturbing again about Beisner's response is his apparent willingness to ignore the mainstream scientific consensus on these major issues and continue to rely on scientists and others who...for a variety of reasons...are challenging this consensus. It is their right to do so, but the mere existence of a counter opinion does not imply that the consensus is wrong, or that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Beisner makes the point that many trends are either toward improvement or can be predicted to improve as economic development occurs, and cites the strong statistical correlation between development and reduction of pollution. I must point out that this correlation is a selective one. Some problems get worse with level of development: release of CO2, production of air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, and generation of solid waste, for example.1 Development alone will not take care of everything, even assuming that development will happen rapidly in the less developed part of the world...an assumption that is subject to serious question.
Perhaps the most serious charge is that I make use of ad hominem arguments...instead of debating the issues and using empirical evidence to counter the views of Simon, Singer and Ray. In my article in question, I was deliberately probing the motives behind the environmental backlash. It was, I felt, necessary to ask why people were taking a given position, and to do so meant looking very directly at ad hominem concerns. For a more detailed look at the evidence and issues, I could direct the reader to the 5th edition of my text, Environmental Science: The Way the World Works,2 or to any of the well-regarded texts in environmental science written by highly credentialed scientists. I might add that these documents...and the mainstream refereed articles on which they are based...are not constructed out of thin air or conjecture. The concerns they address are real, and one must either be unaware of the scientific work or must have an a priori bias in order to dismiss the concerns. To mention just one...Beisner claims that there are as yet no measurable increases in ground-level UV-B, yet Kerr and McElroy documented in 1993 a clear relationship between declining ozone levels over Canada and rising ground-level UV-B.3
Again, it is helpful to see Beisner's current thinking about environmental protection. I am encouraged to see that his reasons for protecting the Creation include doing so "for the benefit of other creatures, independent of man's benefit." This was not at all clear in his previous publications.
I do appreciate Beisner's drawing attention to the quotes around "scientific work," as I referred to the sources employed by him and by Burkett, Limbaugh, and others to refute the current consensus. I should not have done that, and I apologize for doing so. Most of these workers are indeed scientists, with good credentials. Again, however, it is fair to ask: Why are they so exercised over the issues of global climate change, acid rain, and ozone depletion? Is it that they have convincing data and arguments that can demolish the opposition, or could it be that they are working out of a political commitment that fears the public policy changes implied by the magnitude of the environmental issues they address?
I'm afraid that I just crossed the line again into ad hominem arguments. Nevertheless, I welcome E. Calvin Beisner's criticisms, and hope that these issues will continue to be the subject of debate and critique in the pages of this journal. It is my belief that they are of crucial importance for the Christian community.
1The World Bank, Development and the Environment: World Development Report 1992 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)
2Bernard J. Nebel and Richard T. Wright, Environmental Science: The Way the World Works (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996)
3Kerr, J. B. and C. T. McElroy, "Evidence for Large Upward Trends of Ultraviolet-B Radiation Linked to Ozone Depletion," Science 262, 1993, pp. 1032-1034.