Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Creation green, barf bag green, sclerotic green [Rant warning!]

Consider two articles, one, “The Greening of Evangelicals” by Blaine Harden in The Washington Post about how the Christian Right is turning to “environmentalism,” and the other, “Paper sets off a debate on environmentalism’s future” by Felicity Barringer in The New York Times.

The “evangelicals” article is a real puzzler. “Creation care” evangelicals like Seattle’s Rev. Leroy Hedman are going “green.” Here's the gist:
Such "creation care" should be at the heart of evangelical life, Hedman says, along with condemning abortion, protecting family and loving Jesus. He uses the term "creation care" because, he says, it does not annoy conservative Christians for whom the word "environmentalism" connotes liberals, secularists and Democrats.
This makes me green, too. Bag please.

But wait! Isn’t this an “opportunity”?
"It's amazing to me that evangelicals haven't gone quicker for the green," Hedman said. "But as creation care spreads, evangelicals will demand different behavior from politicians. The Republicans should not take us for granted."
Here it comes. We should get into bed with evangelicals when we both want the same (perhaps) limited objectives. Forget the fact that both partners can only do it if they put paper bags over their own heads before they assume the fetus-above position and satisfy their own desires to screw the hell out of their bedmate. We should hold up one end of a banner that says Stop Mercury Poisoning of the Unborn. Forget about the Mercury Poisoning of the Born.

Many of you will think my view short-sighted. We should be trying to win over the 90% of white evangelicals who voted for Bush, right? Larry Schweiger, for one, president of the National Wildlife Federation (who describes himself as "a conservationist and a person of faith”), believes we should be trying to talk to evangelicals.

But the Right doesn't want our "help":
[Pollster John C.] Green said the evangelicals' deep suspicion about environmentalists has theological roots.

"While evangelicals are open to being good stewards of God's creation, they believe people should only worship God, not creation," Green said. "This may sound like splitting hairs. But evangelicals don't see it that way. Their stereotype of environmentalists would be Druids who worship trees."

Another reason that evangelicals are suspicious of environmental groups is cultural and has its origins in how conservative Christians view themselves in American society, according to the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. The group made its name with the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign against gas-guzzling cars but recently shifted its focus to reducing global warming.

"Evangelicals feel besieged by the culture at large," Ball said. "They don't know many environmentalists, but they have the idea they are pretty weird -- with strange liberal, pantheist views."

Ball said that the way to bring large numbers of evangelicals on board as political players in environmental issues is to make persuasive arguments that, for instance, tie problems of global warming and mercury pollution to family health and the health of unborn children. He adds that evangelicals themselves -- not such groups as the Sierra Club or Friends of the Earth, with their liberal Democratic baggage -- are the only ones who can do the persuading.

"Environmental groups are always going to be viewed in a wary fashion," Ball said. "They just don't have a good enough feel for the evangelical community. There are landmines from the past, and they will hit them without knowing it."
Well, Excuse, Me. . . I don’t worship trees, I’m not a pantheist and I’m not a “public health person of faith.” I’m an atheist. Got it? Athiest. I’ll say it again. Atheist. Atheist. Atheist. I shouldn’t do that? It might offend you, Rev. Ball? You don’t mind shoving your faith down my throat at every opportunity. Atheist. Atheist. Atheist.

Now The New York Times article. I really don’t know what to think about this but I have been thinking about it (although I'm not sure what). This is about Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, two environmentalists whose “in-your-establishment-environmentalist-face” paper, “The Death of Environmentalism,” is pissing off quite a few environmental heavyweights. But some kind of challenge seems inevitable, given the failures and morale-sapping losses the environmental movement has suffered since the 1980s, culminating in the Gehenna of the Bush Administration (NB: the Wikipedia notes that Gehenna originally “referred to a garbage dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of Jerusalem . . . where fires were kept burning to consume the refuse and keep down the stench. It is also the location where bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped.”)

According to the NYT (I haven’t seen the Shellenberger/Nordhaus paper)
Their paper asserts that the movement's senior leadership was blinded by its early successes and has become short-sighted and "just another special interest." Its gloomy warnings and geeky, technocentric policy prescriptions are profoundly out of step with the electorate, Mr. Shellenberger and Mr. Nordhaus say.

"We have become convinced that modern environmentalism, with all of its unexamined assumptions, outdated concepts and exhausted strategies, must die so that something new can live," they wrote. As proof, they cite the debate on global warming and the largely unsuccessful push for federal regulation of industrial and automobile emissions.

They avoided making tactical prescriptions, but they did chide the movement for its limited efforts to find common ground with other groups, like labor and urged their compatriots to tap into the country's optimism.
Not sure exactly what this means. Does it mean common cause with evangelicals? And let’s not forget that labor hasn’t exactly been the most progressive “special interest” around, either (oh, shit, I just lost the other half of my readers). But at least there might be common ground with labor. They are not inherently anti-science. (Forgiven?)

What’s the response of the environmental establishment (besides high dudgeon)? Josh Reichert of Pew Charitable Trusts is typical: the public loves us, but this is a tough time.
"[The environmental movement] reflects the values and aspirations of a huge majority of the country - but it simply can't compete with war and terrorism, nor should we expect it to."
Wrong, wrong, wrong. There's something drastically wrong with a movement that "can't compete with war and terrorism." We can and should expect to compete with war and terrorism and we can and should expect to win.

Maybe I don’t know what to think about this, but I know what NOT to think.