Scaife’s pocket go-fer

"Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action" — is refreshing, in part because it's list of 86 endorsers goes beyond the usual suspects of "progressive evangelicals" to include some prominent figures from the community's very conservative mainstream. Backing from influential clergymen like author/mega-church pastor Rick Warren means this effort can't be shrugged off as some "left-wing" crusade from the Jim-Wallis-fringe of evangelicalism.

Laurie Goodstein has a perceptive New York Times piece on the statement, "Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative."

This statement follows shortly after the National Association of Evangelicals publicly backpedaled from taking any stance on climate change (see "Evangelicals Will Not Take Stand on Global Warming" from The Washington Post on Feb. 2). This was a shame, but it was the honest thing to do for NAE, since much of its membership remains clueless and apathetic about the issue.

Rich Cizik, NAE's vice president for governmental relations, has been an enthusiastic advocate on the issue, but he's been up against a lot of resistance. He spoke about this candidly in a recent interview with Grist magazine:

Look, there are those in my community who are concerned that environmentalists are advocates of population control, of big-government solutions, or New Age religion, and have apocalyptic tendencies. In the latter case, there's some irony in my opinion. It's like the pot calling the kettle black. …

For some people in the evangelical community there is a mistrust of science in general and a mistrust of science on climate in particular. There is a basic formula that goes: science supports evolution, evangelicals oppose evolution, ergo there's a conflict between science and evangelicals. Evolution is like the third rail — if you touch, you die — sorta like Social Security. We need to move beyond that.

Grist blogger David Roberts reports on the organized opposition to the NAE's attempt to oppose climate change, including the text of the letter sent by a collection of right-wing evangelical leaders, including Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

That letter was drafted and organized by one E. Calvin Beisner, who says that "the science is not settled" on climate change. This is one of Beisner's favorite games — pretending that the science is never settled and never can be.

I have a bit of history with Beisner, a Julian Simon disciple with a master's in "Society" from International College.

In 1993, Beisner published an attack on the "Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation," which included many ridiculous examples of his willingness to Just Make Stuff Up. I chose to respond to just one of these:

"However, there simply are no empirical data to back up any claims of specific rates of species extinction. … Until observational data are forthcoming — and they do not appear on the horizon — there is no good reason to believe that species extinctions are occurring much more rapidly today than they have for thousands of years of human history — that is, perhaps one per century."

— E. Calvin Beisner, "Are God's resources finite?" in World magazine, 11/27/1993

One species per century. One. Per century.

I responded with a list of species that had become extinct in the 20th century. And invited Beisner to reconcile this list with his claim that "there is no good reason to believe that species extinctions are occurring much more rapidly than … perhaps one per century."

This list mentions only vertebrates (not plants or insects or other invertebrates) and only those native to the contiguous United States (not Alaska or Hawaii or the Amazon or the rest of the world).

Miller Lake lamprey * Longjaw cisco * Deepwater cisco * Blackfin cisco * Yellowfin cutthroat trout * Silver trout * Thicktail chub * Pahrangat spinedace * Phantom shiner * Bluntnose shiner * Clear Lake splittail * Las Vegas dace * June sucker * Snake River sucker * Harelip sucker * Tecopa pupfish * Shoshone pupfish * Raycraft Ranch killfish * Pahrump Ranch killfish * Ash Meadows killfish * Whiteline topminnow * Amistad gambusia * Blue pike * Utah Lake sculpin * Lake Ontario kiyi * Alvord cutthroat * Maravillas red shiner * Independence Valley tui chub * Banff longnose dace * Grass Valley speckled dace * San Marcos gambusia * Relict leopard frog * Heath hen * Passenger pigeon * Carolina parakeet * Louisiana parakeet * San Clemente Bewick's wren * Santa Barbara song sparrow * Texas Henslow's sparrow * Dusky seaside sparrow * Penasco chipmunk * Tacoma pocket gopher * Goff's pocket gopher * Sherman's pocket gopher * Pallid beach mouse * Chadwick beach cottonmouth * Louisiana vole * Southern California kit fox * Florida red wolf * Texas red wolf * Cascade Mountains wolf * Northern Rocky Mountain wolf * Mongolian Mountains wolf * Texas gray wolf * Great Plains wolf * Southern Rocky Mountains wolf * California grizzly bear * Wisconsin cougar * Caribbean monk seal * Merriam's elk * Badlands bighorn

That's a total of 61 species — not including flora and invertebrates, and from only 48 states — in 96 years. This seemed to me to be a "good reason" to suspect that species extinctions were occurring more often than "one per century."

Beisner's response? Nothing directly. But when he repeated the passage quoted above in his 1997 anti-environmental book Where Garden Meets Wilderness, he included a footnote which read:

Here I may have been mistaken. The figure common in the literature is four per century. But solid empirical evidence for this and almost all other figures regarding species extinction rates is almost entirely lacking.

I believe that 61 is greater than 1, and that 61 is greater than 4. Beisner does not believe that this arithmetic is settled.

"There is no good reason to believe" that E. Calvin Beisner is an honest man.

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  • Ray Baxter

    Is the reference to Scaife made clear in one of the links, or is that something you know from your previoius experience with Mr. Beisner?

  • Darryl Pearce

    6,600,000,000 — number of people on the planet today. Tomorrow, there will be more.

  • cjmr

    And since there are places where we may be causing extinctions of species we hadn’t even discovered yet, we may never know exactly how many species became extinct in the 20th century. But the number is much much higher than 4. The only question is, by how many powers of ten?

  • Cactus Wren — “The Earth’s species are dying out at an alarming rate, up to 1000 times faster than their natural rate of extinction.3 By carefully examining fossil records and ecosystem destruction, some scientists estimate that as many as 137 species disappear from the Earth each day, which adds up to an astounding 50,000 species disappearing every year.” — “While estimates of the current rate of species extinction vary widely, most scientists agree that the Earth’s species are dying out at an alarming rate. According to the World Resources Institute, 100 species become extinct every day due to tropical deforestation. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of tropical forest species will become extinct each decade during the next half-century. Current extinction rates rival those of the five greatest mass extinctions in world history.”

  • Andrew Brown

    Ah — but the superb weaselry is in his phrase “thousands of years of human history” — I think he wants there to have been few enough species to fit on the ark, around 6,000 years ago, and if there are 50,000 disappearing every year, this becomes even harder to imagine.
    What loathsome slimeballs!

  • bulbul

    You have my sympathy, Fred. I deal with liars and idiots like Mr. Beisner every day, yet their ability to deny what is right in front of their eyes astonishes me every fracking time.

  • lightning

    One of the hallmarks of the right wing is their total inability to do simple arithmetic.
    After watching them for a good long time, I’m fairly sure it’s inability rather than just unwillingness. Their arithmetic flubs hurt them as often as they help them.

  • cjmr’s husband

    It’s not a flub. It’s “Fuzzy Math”.

  • Jon H

    “One of the hallmarks of the right wing is their total inability to do simple arithmetic”
    That’s giving them far too much credit. It’s not an inability. They can do simple arithmetic.
    They aren’t making simple math errors. They’re intentionally telling lies.

  • bulbul

    It’s “Fuzzy Math”.
    AKA “Junk science” – you know, the kind where “an objective source” means “people who say stuff I agree with” and where “a respected authority” is a guy with a BA in Journalism who wrote five articles on the subject.

  • Reverend Ref

    “There is no good reason to believe” that there is a God either. A “good reason to believe” might entail something like, oh, I don’t know . . . the lack of evil in the world.
    There is really no “good” reason to believe in God, unless you hold to some pie in the sky theology. No good reason, certainly, but then, that’s faith.

  • animus

    “a respected authority” is a guy with a BA in Journalism who wrote five articles on the subject.
    Part of a BA in Journalism, in the case of NASA.

  • Edward Liu

    Jon H: “That’s giving them far too much credit. It’s not an inability. They can do simple arithmetic.
    They aren’t making simple math errors. They’re intentionally telling lies.”
    Now, now, let’s be fair and accurate here. It’s entirely possible that the extremist right-wing are both incapable of doing simple arithmetic AND intentionally telling lies at the same time.
    Were I to engage in partisan hackery, I would further suggest that their systematic eviceration of the American educational system is simply an inferiority complex run wild where they try to take down those smarty pants who made them look stewpid in school. Luckily, I would not be inclined to engage in partisan hackery, so I will make no such suggestion.

  • Irrational Entity

    On related matters, I checked my e-mail this evening and found an article from those fun folks at worldview weekened titled:
    “Evangelical” Leaders Form Unholy Alliance with Pro-gay, Pro-abortion, Globalists to Fight Global Warming?
    It can be read here:
    I love the quotes around evangelical. No good evangelical would ever team up with those unrepentant, internationalist sinners to combat harmful environmental change. The article discusses environmentalist extremists that have infected the church, and these people are the secular left’s trojan horses.
    This article is one of those situations that would be incredibly funny except for the number of people who believe it.

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