My dear wife introduced me to you a few weeks ago. I've been hiding ever since and have finished this blog post after an appropriate bribe, and in a desire to prepare for a panel discussion I'll be participating in this coming Thursday.
Over the last 5 years, we've grown to appreciate the passions of our city and university. Some we do not want to share, but many are passions we are growing to appreciate and even embrace. One in particular is eco-conscious living. In the midst of a country that has gone green, it has been hard to not breathe in the purified air.
While we have been motivated largely by a growing conviction that we are stewards of the physical world, I have begun to ask 2 questions in particular about this green brigade we seem to be joining.
Are there assumptions and motivations that the popular eco-conscious movement is based upon that I as a follower of Christ cannot stand upon?
And secondly: Does the Gospel offer a better paradigm from which to address the brokenness of the physical world? This question has stemmed from a larger journey in which I've developed the conviction that the gospel offers real hope for all people, communities and systems that are marred by sin.
In this post, I want to address the first question and examine the assumptions and motivations under girding the popular green movement. I do so from a humble beginning though, acknowledging that I as a follower of Christ stand with sap on my hands. I, who believe that my Father in Heaven created the world and called us to steward it for His glory, have turned a deaf ear for too long to the cries of those who could see our physical world being exploited and neglected. I am thankful that the Lord has seen fit to rebuke me through a movement that doesn't necessarily believe in Him. I also need to state that i recognize that there is justifiable blame to lay at the feet of the Church over the last Milena for the current ecological crisis.
For more on this, read the article The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis by Lynn White.
I'm going to stay away from examining the reality of the crisis. There is still much debate about the degree to which humans are creating global climate change. It's a healthy debate that I am keenly interested in. But it has no bearing on this discussion for there are many ecological "crises" that exist independently of global climate change and therefore deserve our attention.
First, i am wary of the way in which eco-consciousness has become a form of Self-Righteousness. I've heard of too many conversations about green-living devolve into comparisons aimed at proving one's merit. "How often did you ride your bike to work this month?" "I even rinsed off the aluminum foil and recycled it." And then there is the Ford Escape commercial where the girl is ashamed to go to a party with her dad and his gas guzzling SUV. But wait...it's not...it's a hybrid. Now this peer-conscious-teen feels okay about being seen in her dad's car. Commercials are certainly not the definitive word on our motivations, but ad agencies aren't paid to be idiots...they know what people want. We want to be seen as eco-conscious. It's become the way to sell groceries, clothes, cars and homes. I'm not faulting the green practices of the product makers, but rather this appeal to a desire that "My ass be always greener than the other guy's."
Lord knows that we, His followers don't need to add another form of self-righteousness to our significant collection.
Now, I want to take a moment to mention carbon offset companies such as TerraPass. The general idea is that this company helps you calculate your carbon footprint and balance it out through the purchase of verified carbon offsets (which is basically money that funds carbon reduction research). Intriguing idea, and I'm glad the money goes to research. But think with me about this for a minute. When I decide that I can't (or don't want to) reduce my carbon footprint any further, I buy a terra pass carbon offset so that I can fund efforts to reduce carbon emissions. I allow myself to indulge in my current lifestyle by giving money to this program. Does that sound like modern day Indulgences to anyone else? Am I being a tad harsh? Some people will not use the carbon offset programs in that manner. But many will b/c it's easier to throw money at this than change one's lifestyle. Unless you're poor. What if you don't have the money to buy a carbon offset? In many ways this sounds like a means to easing the conscience of wealthier Americans who are greener in theory than in practice.
I am not doggin' the idea of funding research. But I'm struck by the more subtle reality that this is a conscience-easing-tonic for many who are choosing to not reduce their carbon footprint further. This observation has caused me to turn the same eye to my heart and examine where I've substituted trade-offs for true obedience and creation care.
Finally, I want to speak briefly to the fundamental ethic behind much of the environmental movement today. "Why should we take care of the planet?" What response would you give? What response do you most frequently hear? The most common answer I hear is that one enjoys the world and wants to preserve it for that enjoyment, or that one wants to preserve it for another's enjoyment (usually their children's children).
I'm not a philosopher, but it seems to me that this ethic is a self-centered utilitarianism. Do I hear a "so what?" out there. Well, I hear one from myself. However, I am becoming convinced though that the problem is with the lack of real transcendence. I believe that for an ethic to remain, it must transcend human desire...be rooted to something outside of ourselves. What happens if what I enjoy becomes a real problem for someone else? What if I can preserve what I and later generations would enjoy while still exploiting other parts of the created order? What would make that wrong?
Many recognize the weakness of this foundation and so argue for a combined effort between science and religion to combat global climate change. While I do not agree with the content of his argument, E.O. Wilson illustrates this approach in his book, The Creation - An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. One long-standing synthesis of these 2 is a pantheistic approach to environmental care...a belief that all things are sacred because god, or the universal spirit is in all things. While this view does provide a transcendent ethic, it is not compatible with Jesus' teaching about the nature of God and the physical world.
So, as a follower of Christ, i am learning from those of various ideologies who have blazed the trail before me, but i do so with a self-examining eye. I want to take real responsibility as a steward and walk humbly before my Creator, not in self-righteousness and not simply for how it benefits me. My next post will look more at the hope that the gospel offers for a physical world marred by sin.