Puzzling about Creation Care--Part 1

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I was not able to attend or listen to the discussion at Synod 2012 about creation care. It’s only fitting that the physically largest report to Synod engendered one of the longest, and warm, if not most heated, discussion. (Talk about global warming!)

Though largely respectful, I’m told, the debate and vote were not without their oddities. All the advisory committee recommendations were adopted. How many, if any, were done so unanimously, I do not know. Four registered negative votes on three recommendations (Acts of Synod 2012, pages 803-804) indicate that at least three decisions drew disapproval. That’s fine.

What I found most puzzling, though, were that the first three negative votes registered came against these two recommendations:

“a. It is the current near-consensus of the international scientific community that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity.

 b.  Human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue.”

I can understand, even though I thoroughly disagree, why recommendation “b” might be disputed. Not everyone understands the Reformed accent of the Christian faith to embrace all things as ethical, social justice and religious issues—even though that’s precisely what I thought Abraham Kuyper meant when he thundered about “every square inch” being under the Lordship of Christ. I get this disagreement, because not everybody agrees that climate change is human-induced.

But I just plain don’t get why anyone could possibly vote against recommendation "a.” That is not a matter of personal opinion that should be voted on. It is, if anything, merely a carefully, even weakly, stated declaration of a fact: Whether or not anyone agrees or disagrees that climate change is human-induced, the international scientific community certainly does. That’s all recommendation "a” says.

Why would anyone dispute that when papers, conferences and speeches have again and again shown that to be true? Is it just that we want to believe what we want to believe, regardless of fact, argument, evidence, demonstration? (See David Schelhaas's article in May 2012 Perspectives for similar thoughts.) If that’s the case—because I can’t imagine anything else--that’s highlights a significant problem of community, communication and trust, demonstrated by known leaders in the CRC and probably by not a few of their congregants and colleagues. All I can think to say about that is “YIKES.” And pray for reasonableness and something other than mulishness.

So, you may have guessed by now that I am pleased with Synod’s decision on creation care report, despite unreasoned stubbornness among some colleagues in the debate. The decisions are careful, deliberate, modest and potentially effective. I argued that at the end of a moderately critical blog I posted on The Network a few days before Synod began. But, because I am a little  dubious about our collective will to work seriously on our decisions, let me end this first of two creation care blogs by quoting a blog I posted a few days before Synod:

“Will we look seriously and deeply into changing lifestyles? If we do . . . and even succeed . . . what about the nearly 9 billion people who aren’t part of the CRC? Will what we do matter? Or will we do some right things regardless, just because we believe and want to live like our word does belong to God?”

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I work a bit in the area of climate change adaptation and mitigation, including offsets.  So what I am about to say should be taken in that context.  I suspect that people voted against proposition "a" because of its implications primarily, not first of all because the statement is absolutely untrue.  The implications are that a near consensus means they must be right, and that if human activity is a cause, then human beings must 'fix" it at almost any cost.  Proposition "a" says the same thing as proposition "b".   So I think they were voting against adopting it as a statement, regardless whether "true" or false.  But probably they also disagreed that human beings are having a significant impact. 

They might also be disagreeing with statement "b", because while human induced climate change, if real, might be considered to have implications for humans interacting with each other,  statement "b" appears to be directed towards the  objectives of society  and certain environmental extremists and activists.  To say that it is religious is to imply that if someone disagrees or does not react, that they are not religious or ethical or just.  They would disagree with this assertion.  Particularly they would disagree with the proposition that it is a religious issue.   Perhaps I could make the analogy that if it is a religious issue, then so was the construction and piloting of the Titanic a religious issue, and so is the construction of the overpass on the nearby highway also a religious issue.  It is to say that there is nothing that is not religious, but in the context, what does this mean?...

Finally, I would like to add a side comment that I find the language used in this post rather insensitive, disrespectful, and unloving.  We have had a couple other posters requested to stop posting for their manner of posting.   I would suggest the same standard be applied to James Dekker, and that he be asked to stop posting for awhile on this and similar issues, unless and until he discovers the ability to refrain from using such phrases and terms as: "All I can think to say about that is “YIKES.” And pray for reasonableness and something other than mulishness. "  and ..."despite unreasoned stubbornness  "   His phraseology is manipulative and disgraceful, in my opinion.   . "  "

I would like to repeat  that I find the language used in this post rather insensitive, disrespectful, and unloving.  In my mind, it is a personal attack on those who differ.  We have had a couple other posters requested to stop posting for their manner of posting.   I would suggest the same standard be applied to James Dekker, and that he be asked to stop posting for awhile on this and similar issues, unless and until he discovers the ability to refrain from using such phrases and terms as: "All I can think to say about that is “YIKES.” And pray for reasonableness and something other than mulishness. "  and ..."despite unreasoned stubbornness  "   His phraseology is manipulative and disgraceful and a personal attack, in my opinion, and should not be permitted particularly on a blog post. 

It is also important to point out that our idea of creation care is primarily based on its impact on human beings or perception by humans.  For that reason, we swat mosquitoes and trap mice and rats and plant fields without compunction.  When we highlight the presumed impact of climate change on the poor coastal people who might be displaced by rising sea levels, or those living in warmer tropical zones who might suffer from higher temperatures, droughts, and famine, we also ought to realize the irony of lifting a host of poor people in some countries out of relative poverty into a working middle class or working lower class who now have triple the income and conveniences that they used to have.  The “lifting out” from poverty has included increased industrialization, more cars, larger homes, more airconditioning, more processed food, increased meat consumption, and other things that inevitably lead to increased ghg (greenhouse gases). 

And as a result, China has now increased its ghg emissions by 9% just last year;  India has done much the same.

In wanting to have our cake and eat it too, we ought to have more humility and not to disrespect the opinions of those who disagree with some of the main premises of the debate.   


John Zylstra--I don't know you, but we have exchanged comments before. Since it is Saturday night, I do not wish to let the sun go totally down before I at least try to address you, especially right before Sunday when I will be preaching and serving communion. Perhaps it would be best to have a phone conversation, but I do not know where you live and cannot call you. That would, I think, be a rather pleasant thing to do.

But first, if I have offended, I'm sorry. I was not personally attacking the people who voted against Recommendation "a." I know both of them. One is a good friend whom I met 14 years ago at classis, connected regularly after that and served at synod together and stayed in touch. We have had many spirited exchanges, more or less in the spirit and tone of the blog; neither of us ever took offense. Another is a colleague and acquaintance for many years, though we've never served together closely. They might be reading these blogs and seething-- maybe they're thinking, "Hmm. Sounds like the guy I know and love."

But, looking back, I can see how people who do not know us would consider my tone offensive. Again, I'm sorry for the tone, if that is deemed disrespectful. 

I will comment on your defense of those who voted against the factual statement of Recommendation "a." I believe it is fallacious logic or a wrong decision to deny the truth of something that would stand alone as accurate and truthful. Of course Recomendation "a" leads into the other recommendations that eventually were adopted, but it could easily have also led into a thoroughly different series of recommendations that went in a different direction. It still would have been accurate and truthful. Each recommendation must be seen both on its own and in context, but should be evaluated according to its accuracy or falsehood.

Maybe we won't agree about this, but I do believe it is not transparent to let the colour of later recommendations stain a merely factual statement--which Recommendation "a" was. Whether or not that large consensus in the scientific community is eventually determined to be accurate is another question entirely.

In any case, I am planning but one more blog for this department. I'm sure you'll read it, because you read a great deal. You might not agree with it, but then you might, because I have seen your intense commitment to careful, righteous living--even if we seem to disagree in certain perspectives. 

And finally, it is most fitting to call attention to the irony of people being raised to higher standards of living as having an ever greater impact on the environment. Have we reached the earth's carrying capacity? Or can we with more learn consistently to reduce, reduce, reduce? 

Thanks for reading. Blessings.


James, I don't think you are listening very well.   The point is not just about your comments to specific people whom I don't know (I have not checked who the objectors are).  The point is that you feel justified in calling those people unreasonable, mulish, and unreasonably stubborn, who might object to proposition a and b.  This displays no charity on your part in attempting to understand why some might object.   It becomes a form of character assassination, and pressure with epithets.  You would not appreciate if I or others began to use such language in reverse.  These are not private conversations, and more importantly, believing that people are merely unreasonable stubborn mules, even if you don't say so, reduces your ability to understand where they are coming from. 

I'm quite sure that I have been involved in creation care of much more significance, quantity and quality, both individually, and in leadership,  than yourself, and yet I prefer to be more charitable to those who oppose these propositions. Furthermore, for those who believe that the church is trying to dictate methods, or follow environmental trends, outside of its competence, and outside of its sphere, voting against these propositions may be the only way of doing so at the moment.  After all, they are essentially voting against the church adopting the statements, and they might vote against even if they agree with the statements themselves.  Yes, your tone was inappropriate, but you don't give me the impression that you truly understand its arrogance, including the implications for others who object but have not registered their objections, nor attended or voted at synod.

Getting past the "tone", I have in the past found it ironic that there have been a number of predictions made that our world cannot sustain certain levels of population ( think Malthus), or that we have a supply of oil that will run out in 1980 (oops, our recoverable energy supplies seem to be increasing) and yet, here we are, producing energy in ways we didn't previously understand, and producing food for a population that is five times as great as Malthus estimated could be sustained.  Yes, ghg are an issue, but I suspect we do not understand it completely.   Global circulation models do not seem to predict future precipitation trends with any degree of certainty, and only take comfort in greater variability and extreme events. 

Environmentalists often worship the environment, as if it was static, or as if it had a soul of its own.  The environment (whatever that is) does not care if it gets warmer or colder, or drier or wetter.   If there was a glacier covering the Sahara, it would not matter, and if Greenland became a desert, it would not matter to the environment.  It has been warmer and colder and drier and wetter in the past.  The environment doesn't care if it changes.  The environment just is whatever it is.  It only matters to people.  When we talk about Creation Care, we are really talking about a creation in which we can comfortably live.  For that reason, all of creation is important to us, including our ability to drive, to vacation, to use the internet, to take a bath, to pick raspberries, or to eat interesting food that is produced by someone else far away. 

We can talk about reducing, sure, within our context.  We can reduce 20% of what we expanded last week.   But you can't reduce what you don't already have.  And if you reduce it completely, then you don't have it at all.  Chinese and East Indian and African want to have something first, so then they can have something to reduce as well. 

The biggest recent cause of ghg reductions was the recent recession.   Are we happy to live in a constant recession economy? 

Yes, we can look for ways to reduce energy use, and ghg emissions.  We should and we will.   But underestimating the costs of doing so is not smart.  And overestimating man's role is not smart.   Malthus seemed to forget that God created this universe; man didn't create it. 

(I hope you don't read this response until Monday...so you can do your Sunday stuff. )

Thermal-assisted gravity drainage (TAGD) looks like it will use less energy, and thus be more ghg friendly than SAGD in the oilsands.   It also allows for the possibility of using hydro or nuclear power instead of fossil heat to extract oil.   Just another example of how ghg reductions become possible over time, while we find more difficult fossil fuels to extract.  (It's also interesting that Texas, and at least another half dozen USA states, each have higher ghg emissions from their coal generated power alone, than Alberta does from  its coal power and oilsands production combined.) ---------------------------------By: HazMat Staff
08/03/2012 2012-08-03

"Athabasca Oil Corp. is having success with a new technology that uses electrical cables to heat bitumen, enabling oil to flow to the surface.

The Calgary-based company said it did a field test on its Leduc carbonate property 90 km northwest of Fort McMurray, Alta., using thermal-assisted gravity drainage, or TAGD. The test confirmed the process. 

The more common technique to extract heavy oil from deep underground is steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).

Athabasca anticipates the cost of TAGD operation will be about half of a SAGD one. Iit won’t require any steam to be generated or any water treatment facilities to be built. It can also soften up the bitumen at much lower temperatures than in SAGD.

Athabasca expects to get regulatory approval by year-end and to launch a TAGD pilot project in 2013, followed by a two-year drilling, construction and installation phase."

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