Religion is the greatest hope we have in solving environmental problems. This might sound extreme or wrong and you might want to argue the point with me, but let me explain. If you look at the heart of environmentalism, it is a moral issue; a moral imperative that calls into question the way we live and how our economy drives it and bucks the new American Dream. Not the American Dream where we can all rise as high as we are willing to work, but the American Dream of consumerism and consumption.
What environmentalism calls into question is the new global economy and no one wants to hear that because the economy is king. But if we were to be honest, we would acknowledge that environmentalism is the most urgent and persistent ethical dilemma of this century precisely become of our economic values. To paraphrase the purpose behind the National Environmental Policy Act explained in the 96th Congressional notes of record, we can no longer ignore the science, the effects of our actions, and the subsequent consequences for humanity (1). The National Environmental Policy Act was meant to protect humanity from itself. Religion does the same thing. It has guidelines for how to protect you from yourself, from others, and others from you. It is a moral code. Environmentalism just requires one to expand that moral code to encompass more, to connect dots that we previously hadn’t.
While there are many who want to leave religion out of environmentalism and just look at the facts, which is noble if you are swayed that way, the fact of the matter is, science does not answer the moral question. While it provides information and knowledge about cause and effect, it does not answer why we should do something or behave a certain way. Religion does. Religion has the most potential to change attitudes and minds about environmentalism and climate change because it is the source for moral and ethical behavior for millions of people. It already addresses caring for the poor, living selfless lives, and not worshiping money – all of which are also at the heart of environmentalism. Because of this, religion is also the antithesis to the New American Dream. It is so closely aligned with environmentalism that if the two combined it could be the ultimate game changer, the unstoppable movement that turns the tides on how we live in the world and how we define living a moral or good life.
George Handley is a very good friend of mine. He is a humanities professor at Brigham Young University, an environmentalist, and yes, a devout Mormon. He is also a Democrat. In other words, he is a bit of an anomaly in these parts. While George is a religious person, and I am not so much, we have more in common than one might believe, and I believe this is true of most of us – despite our differences. George and I do not share the same beliefs on all things, but we share a lot of common ground. George is an outstanding, conscientious, and genuinely good man. I have been blessed to know and call him a friend. We have had great conversations, all of which have been enlightening for me. I hope this blog post that I am about to share will be as enlightening to you as it was to me and if you feel so inclined, compels you to write, share, or engage in. He articulates and explains so well the moral blind spot so evident from the religious community when it comes to climate change – and the schism between religion and ideology and why it should be different. Enjoy.
“There has never been a generation in the history of the world that has had a better opportunity to understand the causes and depth of our impact on the world. What a crying shame it is to see such knowledge mocked and disparaged, even though our science is also what we rely on everyday to enjoy our American standard of living. To enjoy the fruits of our economy while we disparage the science that built it is unconscionable… Surely we can’t ignore science and then claim, when we do our damage, that we didn’t know any better. Maybe we didn’t want to know, but we certainly had a chance.” ~ George Handley
“Today we have the option of channeling some of our wealth into the protection of our future. If we fail to do this in an adequate and timely manner, we may find ourselves confronted, even in this generation, with an environmental catastrophe that could render our wealth meaningless and which no amount of money could ever cure.” ~91st Congress, NEPA
(1) 91st Senate Report No. 91-296 The National Environmental Policy Act: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCsQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fta.dot.gov%2Fdocuments%2FUnit1_04SenateReport91-2961.doc&ei=YRoGVJfkGYGkyATy8oHIDw&usg=AFQjCNH0USSo6ghEJI7yThoAB7Xl3735jg&sig2=LKCc70_ibQaZPpyrQP4qYA