Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My Politics: Faith's Place Therein (Part X)

For those who haven't been following closely, I'm in the midst (near the end?) of a series on how my faith informs my politics. The last post in the series touched on how I see the issue of poverty. Today 'd like to move on to the next topic near and dear to my heart, the environment.

For those of you new to the Northern 'burbs, I did a series (yes, I like the series format, mostly due to my tendency to carry on so) on the environment vis a vis the stewardship issue last year. I won't repeat everything in that series here, but if you're interested, those posts are, in order, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Now you see why I don't want to post everything here again.)

In general, I find the Bible tells me a few things about environmental politics, few of which mention the specific issues that face us today. There is no talk of global warming, mercury emissions, nuclear power, or runoff. Again I look to general principles that can be applied consistently, and thus is an environmental outlook formed.

The first thing we need to remember is that environmental concerns are not the most important thing. As noted earlier in the series, God comes first. And in reality, other priorities take precedence too. The right to life for instance is more important, since if you don't have the right to life, clean water is meaningless. Likewise, meeting the needs of the poor, and addressing poverty, also come before nature. This last point isn't only Biblical, but also practical; environmentalism is a rich country's luxury. The poor have to worry about food and shelter. It is only when basic needs are met consistently that one has the time and energy to spend on environmental worries. End poverty and the environment becomes easier to protect.

This is not to say the environment isn't important. As noted in my series of last year, we have an obligation towards stewardship. And as long as we keep things in proper perspective, taking care of the environment is absolutely an appropriate area of concern. For some ways to get involved in the politics of nature, see the original series.

I don't want to leave it there, though, as there are a couple of things I didn't talk much about last year that are important. First, Christians need to be sure that the decisions we make vis a vis the environment, as with all decisions, are informed and rational. It is easy to get caught up in emotion, especially since much of nature can be very beautiful. I love hiking in the Rockies, or canoeing through the BWCA - and I'm certainly fond of animals. I can see how easy it is to fall for arguments based on aesthetics, but political decisions are best made when they make use of available facts instead of emotional pleas.

Going along with this, we need to remember that the government doesn't have sole responsibility in caring for the environment. A community's recycling program is ineffective if residents don't participate. Considering fuel economy and high-efficiency appliances/building materials can save money down the road which can be used to help others. While other things may be more important, the environment is important to God, and He won't look kindly on those who destroy it.

Finally, we need to be sure of our motivations in determining which environmental causes to support, and how to do so. For instance, I am skeptical about humanity's influence in the global warming debate. I think the cyclicity of weather is much more important, the variables involved in modeling future temperatures too many and unpredictable (I mean, we can't really even predict accurately one month out, let alone a century), and our CO2 emissions' influence is unproven. It's also hard to believe the many current global warming adherents who in the 1970's were clamoring about an impending ice age. That being said, I am still motivated by a desire to care for the environment to seek improvements in air quality and reductions in air pollutants. We shouldn't let disagreements with certain environmental viewpoints lead us to disregard concern for the natural world. Just because I don't like PETA's methods in arguing for vegatarianism doesn't mean I should relish cruelty to animals in farming. And just because I don't think much of global warming evidence doesn't mean I should not be a proponent of hybrid cars and cleaner burning energy sources.

Keep your priorities right, and remember God wants us to care for the earth. All of creation is important to God, and we cannot give environmental concerns short shrift. Just use common sense and know that God comes first, people second. Neither of those priorities implies that the environment should be abused; in fact they demand the opposite since loving God means we obey His commands regarding stewardship, and loving people means we want to help people live in the cleanest, healthiest world possible.

God bless!

BTW, this is post #300 at the Northern 'burbs. Thanks to all who've kept me interested in this little hobby this long!


Ed Darrell said...

Environmentalism is a rich nation's luxury?

It's a poor nation's necessity, since the basics of food and fiber cannot be provided when the local ecosystems cannot support the activity. Desertification hammers poor people in Africa, China, India and South America. Bad water kills and maims thousands, mostly poor, on every continent. Lack of firewood due to overcutting kills thousands in Kenya and across Africa.

God's commandment to Adam, and then to Noah, to be stewards of the Earth came before there were poor people, with the understanding that without the Earth, our children have nothing.

Care of our environment is among the earliest commandments God gave. Love of God is not an excuse to ignore God's commandments, nor to give them less precedence.

R. Stewart said...

Yes, environmentalism (as a movement emphasizing environmental concerns and spawning such groups as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club) is a rich nation's luxury. Ask someone starving in Ethiopia if he'd rather have food or a windfarm, and the answer will be food.

I'm not saying environmentalism is unimportant; I'm saying that poor countries don't have the luxury to care about it as much as rich countries do because poor countries must be more concerned about feeding citizens than saving the whales.

Besides, Jesus was much more concerned about feeding the poor and clothing the naked than He was about animal husbandry regulations. Environmental concerns are important, but they are subservient to the basic concerns of feeding the hungry and healing the ill. We need to keep things in perspective - nature is for mankind, not the other way around. And all is for God.