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Forum speakers mix science, faith in discussing climate change
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From left, John Cromartie, a retired United Methodist pastor, Rev. Bill Coates, pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, and Dr. Vernon Dixon, a local leader for the Citizens' Climate Lobby, listen during the “Climate Change: A Common Sense Approach and Free Market Solution,” forum and panel discussion at Brenau's Hosch Theatre in Gainesville, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Often at odds with each other, science and religion shared center stage in Gainesville Thursday in a discussion of climate change.

“God’s plan is very clear. His instructions are very clear,” said the Rev. John Cromartie, a retired United Methodist pastor. “We are to care for this precious creation and, likewise, the Bible is clear about our responsibility when things go amiss.

“My friends, we have vital work to do, and it is our responsibility as a people of faith to do that work.”

Cromartie was one of several speakers addressing the controversial topic in the forum, “Climate Change: A Common Sense Approach and Free Market Solution,” at Brenau University’s John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts.

Mark Farmer, a University of Georgia cellular biology professor, spoke on the science concerning the planet getting warmer, including possible causes.

“We can predict what’s going to happen with aerosols … and greenhouse gases, and in making those assumptions, our models tell us the temperatures are going to continue to go up,” Farmer said. “... It’s just going to get hotter. It’s not going to get cooler in your lifetime.”

Farmer said, “We are changing the planet’s atmosphere and the planet’s ocean chemistry at a rate that’s 1,000 times faster than is natural. As a biologist, I can tell you that gradual environmental change leads to evolution. Sudden environmental change leads to extinction, and we know that’s a proven fact.

“It’s not so much that things are getting warmer or cooler. It’s the rate at which they’re happening that’s alarming to those of us who are scientists.”

The Rev. Bill Coates, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gainesville on Green Street, said he believes “there are two extremes” in the thinking about climate change.

“One is denial and dismissal,” he said. “In other words, it’s all a hoax. That’s one extreme. It’s ridiculous, but there are people who hold to it.”

“But equally ridiculous is this alarmism that you sometimes hear. The sky is falling and we’re all going to die.”

Coates described himself as an “eco-conditional optimist,” saying, “I’m a big believer in science, I’m a big believer in religion, I’m a big believer in reason, and I believe that our problems are solvable.”

“They’re solvable through government policies and technology,” he said.

“Care of creation is about balance. We balance reasonable policies, innovative technology, along with religious and human values — all working together in balance with one another.”

Also speaking at the event was Vernon Dixon of the Citizens Climate Lobby.

He offered what he calls a free-market solution to climate change: A federal tax on greenhouse gas emissions that would then be reappropriated as a dividend to Americans to help pay for the increasing costs of energy as fossil fuel energy is phased out for green energy.

“It’s called a revenue-neutral carbon tax. You put a price on (energy production) to account for the damages that are caused,” Dixon has said.

His argument is that climate change caused by emitters of greenhouse gases causes hundreds of billions of dollars in health costs, lost productivity and damage to the environment — costs that the public is on the hook for, Dixon said.

“It’s the best solution that we know of to combat climate change,” he said. “The prices of fossil fuels rapidly become much more expensive than the price of alternatives to wind and solar, and there’s a rapid switchover to clean energy.”

The dividend would need to be paid to all Americans to help cover increases in power, light, transportation and goods as energy becomes more expensive.

Also involved in the event were Brenau, the University of North Georgia and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.