Beware that bandwagon

I love a bandwagon as much as the next man. There’s a certain satisfaction to be gained from jumping on board the happy caravan as it passes by, to the cheers and back-slapping of your new fellow passengers. And as you join in shouting to the onlookers that they should jump on board too, there’s a delicious feeling of belonging to the righteous brotherhood of the truly aware.

The trouble with bandwagons, of course, is that their gaudy and attractive colours can mask the fact that those on board don’t really know where they are going, or why they really got on board in the first place. Usually all it takes is a few memorable slogans, some authoritative sounding stats, a human interest story, and enough people repeating all of the above and nodding in approval, and most people are happy to jump on board.

Christians are by no means immune. In fact, I’ve noticed in recent years that we are quite susceptible to various social policy bandwagons that become popular in the mainstream media. We want to be engaged with political and social issues, and bring a Christian perspective to bear. We want to be seen to care. And so we clamber aboard, but not always before checking the facts and thinking through the implications as carefully as we should.

A recent case in point is the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’ (ECI), a statement issued by a large group of (mostly American) evangelicals calling for action on global warming. The statement states that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures are rising and that human activity is causing “most of the warming”, that the consequences of global warming will be catastrophic and will hit the poor hardest, that Christians are obligated to speak out on behalf of these poor who will be most affected, and that the urgent and immediate need is for all levels of society to take drastic action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

All of which sounds straightforwardly obvious and true, and who could fail to jump on board? Answer: another bunch of (mostly American) evangelicals calling themselves the ‘Interfaith Stewardship Alliance’ (ISA) who have issued a detailed response to the ECI, calling into question or refuting most of their key assumptions, statements and suggested actions.

It turns out, for example, that the oft-quoted IPCC statements about the extent of global warming and the contribution of human activity are taken from the executive summary of the IPCC report, which was written by government negotiators not the scientists themselves. In the report itself, the scientists are far more cautious about the data and the conclusions that can be drawn.

The ISA response goes on to argue (rather convincingly) that whatever the extent of global warming, and whatever consequences actually do end up occurring, implementing the Kyoto protocol will make almost no measurable dent in the problem, and that any drastic action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would hurt the world’s poor far more than the likely effects of climate change.

It’s a bandwagon-wrecking response, if their information and arguments are sound. I would like to do some further reading and investigating before making up my mind, but the at least one lesson is clear. Evangelicals: beware passing bandwagons.

For the ECI, go to:

For the ISA, go to:

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