For where your stewardship is, there will your politics be also

I do not understand the push-back on being responsible stewards of the garden we call our Planet. Here’s what I’m thinking, and I could sure use some help in sorting it out.

“Common Sense” vs. Responsibilities

I’ve read tons of articles on the pros & cons of greenhouse-gas and global-warming science in order to round out what comprises the debate. And I can sympathize with looking on some conclusions as suspect, although I can’t agree with fallacious reasoning for rejecting everything because of some suspect reports — throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To do that, to me, suggests underlying motivations that either resist or undermine logic. I suspect the A-word: agenda.

Even if the science was so suspect as to render it comedy, what is wrong with controlling what is damaging the womb in which we live. I’m not concluding “damage” from the suspect science; I conclude damage based on the little things we do around us that clearly demonstrate — to those who apparently notice and/or care — what effects a human has on his surroundings. Pour gas on the lawn, and what happens. Clear away all the trees of a hill, and when the rains come, what happens. Pollute a source of water, and what happens. Hunt to extinction a source of food on which a tradition is based, and what happens. “Harvest” all the trees that produce our oxygen, and what happens. Fill up a space so completely with oxygen-poor or toxic gas or smoke, and what happens. This list goes on and on! Even children can figure this stuff out … by accident! Grownups don’t have the innocence excuse.

Something else is in play. Or not.

To me, there might be missing something akin to “common sense” (a phrase I seldom use because I don’t think that “sense” is common) that says:
• You can’t pour harmful chemicals into a natural system or poison living things and expect nothing to happen.
• You can’t over-consume resources and expect nothing to happen.
• You must tend to the wellbeing of the things upon which your health and the survival of life on the planet depend.

How do we know that it matters? Well you don’t have to really think too hard that if you’ve gone from before we started our industrial activities in the 19th century, carbon dioxide levels were at 280 parts per million by volume. We are now rapidly approaching 390 parts per million which means it’s been a 40% increase. Most of that increase has happened in the last 50 years. And if we know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, it’s hard to believe that if you increase it by 40% you’re not going to do something to the temperature of the planet. — Julia Slingo, the chief scientist at the U.K. Met Office

In the case of greenhouse-gas science, I have learned that 15 right-leaning States or right-leaning elements within those states have pending or enacted resolutions against pollution-control efforts arguing mainly that such efforts will hurt human economies. At the same time, the mantra around stopping “inter-generational theft from our children and grandchildren by not meeting our responsibilities today” is the “common-sense” rationale for opposing many Progressive initiatives regarding the environment. I bring up that mantra because it is not a moral position that extends to the consumption and care (stewardship) of our planet even though its stewardship is tied to any possible sustainable success in meeting our “responsibilities.” It rings well; it just doesn’t translate across the board, reflecting a perspective that truly and profoundly believes it.

Seeing the Forest thru the Trees

We are the children of those who came before, and we can say without scorn that our ancestors did not see the forest through the trees: as far as they could see, planetary resources were endless. So they chopped and bulldozed and paved and polluted (poisoned) and “developed” without care or foresight until it dawned on their children and grandchildren and g-grandchildren (etc.) that the assumption of endless resources was obviously false. (Well, at least it dawned on some of the progeny.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad for the position of comfort and wealth that we have. But now we can see the “forest,” and the little that’s left is in poor shape. The days of carefree consumption within the current paradigm needs to end, and a perspective founded on the reality of the remaining “forest” needs to be formulated in order to actually meet the “responsibilities” to future generations. Consumption that feeds the notion of progress is possible to the extent that it falls within a sustainable (within nature) solution. But that can’t happen by sabotaging the thinking process to disallow “common sense.”

We, the current children, must make decisions based on different premises. The challenge in doing that, as I see it, is twofold:

1) We have too many deeply entrenched mechanisms in place (laws, creeds, agendas, economic machinery, ways of life, etc.) whose notion of “progress” is premised upon endless resources, their consumption and “development” (that translates to less nature).

“Endless” could be a literal view, but it may also be a composite (the Gestalt, if you will) of many, many people concerned with only themselves and what they think they can get without regard for how everyone’s actions amass to produce the whole…er… consume the whole. “Endless” might also be an “assumed premise” based on the attitude that continuing “increases” in GNP, standard of living, etc. are goals because they can be. After all, there couldn’t possibly be infinite increases in economies & consumption, progress & development if there weren’t endless resources, right? (For you logicians, “infinite” is not a “slippery slope” or “hollow-man” assertion because the sense of infinite arises when there is no sense of limitation. It follows from how we establish expectation: if all we hear and learn is that progress/increase must continue without the inclusion (mention) of limits, then our thinking continues along a path without a notion of limits, or limitless.)

In all three of these possible sources of “endless,” we have laws, creeds, etc. that institutionalize, support, uphold, and encourage the premise.

2) We are hobbled by a perspective whose concern for the welfare and development of human “economies” and “communities” trumps the fragile system that is Nature and the fact that we depend on this planet for literal survival.

65% think we should do nothing about climate change since “we are powerless to stop it,” and the same percentage think science should stay out of the political process. When asked “How much would you be willing to pay to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change?” 76.7% said “nothing.” (poll analysis)

Perhaps our individual and collective bankruptcy (of every kind) explains why 79.6% of respondents to a Scientific American poll are unwilling to forgo even a single penny to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change. Scientific American readers undoubtedly are better informed than the general populace. And yet they won’t pay a thing to avoid extinction of our species. (Mr. McPherson’s website)

The superimposition of abstract notions of “economies” and “progress” onto this concrete and finite system is a blindness produced by utter and complete selfishness. It has to be because the arguments against better stewardship all focus on the collective “I” — we, our community, our country, local economies, traditions.

Hold your breath while you count your money“Development” in this point translates to more riches & comfort for more people for longer time…infinitely growing riches that are derived from a delicate system with finite resources. “Development” here also gets tangled with patriotic and religiously fused notions of tradition; and another selfish notion: “stability.” (Actually, “stability” is a delusion or illusion. Think about it: how do you define “stability” such that it has both historical and future significance? Stuff changes …um… all.the.time.) The perspective both disallows and blinds us to options where humans and Nature are part of the same “system” of life.

Both of these two hurtles in changing the paradigm involve politics, I’m afraid. Made all the more gargantuan by selfishness, individual & collective; and collective selfishness used as an excuse for the individual.

The Politics of Selfishness

I wrote a note a while back that was an exploration of the two main partisan perspectives — conservative and liberal — in an effort to understand, at least rudimentarily, what their respective agendas are founded upon. (I have since learned the explanation was framed by George Lakoff in his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant.”) But when it comes to this point on sane stewardship, I’m not sure I can extrapolate to this incredible level of Humanity Über Alles: my bit of research is missing something sufficient to explain how any philosophy can be so utterly obtuse as to not accept cause-effect, especially in, and as a product of, a system wherein we learned cause & effect to begin with!

While I can rationalize the human tendency toward selfishness (the root of all evil — why did Adam & Eve munch on some forbidden fruit?), I cannot reconcile a perspective that claims so much moral, Bible-based authority yet is so devoid of any concept of Biblical stewardship (Matt. 25, Lk. 16, Ps. 24:1 for starters). We, as a culture, are not living within sustainable means; we are living to “progress,” to amass wealth, to increase, increase, increase this and that, all without regard for stewardship. For being a supposedly “Christian Nation,” the total absence of stewardship as a guiding principle of life, community or individual, is remarkably conspicuous in its politics.

We’re like Packman! (Or a God-fearing cancer.)

I am open, really I am, to understanding what the push-back is all about. If it is politics … well, what can I say except the people playing into supporting the agenda are maintaining a selfish direction that will do worse than mortgage our children’s future. By “worse” I mean that consumption consumes; it does not produce but waste. Pollution poisons, which kills or debilitates the system infected. Continued and unchecked movement of consumption and poisoning inside a closed, limited system must result in calamity or disaster when nothing corrective is being applied to realign or maintain the components upon which life as we know it depends. And we know that Nature cannot “correct” or heal itself fast enough to overcome our momentum — unless it destroys us and starts over. Supporting agendas that appear to disdain stewardship, for whatever reason, and that don’t apply corrective or maintenance measures necessarily conserve the human course we’re on.

It is not a stretch (or “slippery slope” argument) to say that such a course will leave “our children” with a decimated and barren garden, where the story of the Garden of Eden and later Redemption will be even harder to believe (except by those who don’t care because the End of Days is coming anyway, so what does it matter — I actually know people who think this way! By their actions, they make the “end of the world” a self-fulfilling prophecy).

Besides individual actions toward stewardship, what can be done to offset self-annihilating-but-immediately-gratifying politics? And, is my logic leading to these current conclusions sound?

Update (8/4/10)
I ran across a great article by the Associated Baptist Press, “Seminary prof says Gulf oil spill could be wakeup call for evangelicals.”  A few paragraphs really stood out for me:

“There’s really nothing conservative — and certainly nothing evangelical — about a laissez-faire view of a lack of government regulation, because we, as Christians, believe in sin,” Moore said.

“That means if people are sinful, if all of us are sinful, then all of us have to have accountability — and that includes corporations.” Moore said. “Simply trusting corporations to go about their business without polluting the water streams and without destroying ecosystems is really a naive and utopian view of human nature. It’s not a Christian view of human nature.”

Moore, who also serves as teaching pastor at Louisville’s Highview Baptist Church, said the call to creation care is grounded in theology.

“God cares about the Creation,” Moore said. “He displays himself in nature, and so the more that people are distanced from the Creation itself and the more people become accustomed to treating the Creation as something that is disposable, the more distanced they are from understanding who God is.” [italics added]

“People are designed to be dependent on Creation and upon the natural resources around us,” he continued. “In order to love future generations, in order to love cultures, we have to love the ecosystems that support those things.”

“What’s happening is that you have entire cultures and communities of people now imperiled,” he said. “That’s an issue of love of neighbor.”

Now THAT’S some amazing thinking.  Too bad the phenomenally simple logic of it either surpasses the masses’ ability to process it or it is obscured by politics reinforced greed.

13 Responses

  1. During the first Republican presidential debates, when Michelle Bachman was asked what government program she’d cut to reduce the deficit:

    And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.


  2. Without a doubt, we have increased the thickness of our blanket, albeit just by a little bit. Now, we can argue about, quantitatively, just how much of an impact this thicker blanket has on our temperature. Some argue that it’s quite large, some argue that it’s small enough that it doesn’t matter, and while the models generally agree that a thicker CO2 blanket makes the Earth warmer, there isn’t a consensus as to “how much.”

    Now, I am fully aware that showing a correlation between the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere — of which the rise is indisputably caused by man — and the global average temperature doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other.

    But given what we know about carbon dioxide absorbing heat, given what CO2 atmospheres on other planets do, and given the disastrous effects that continued rising temperatures are having (to say nothing of the scientific consensus on the issue), don’t you think — at the very least — it’s time to stop putting on more blankets?

    If you believe that blankets keep you warm, then it’s inconsistent of you to believe that emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere cannot possibly cause a rise in the Earth’s temperature. And if you still don’t believe it, then I politely invite you to go to Venus.

    If You Believe That Blankets Keep You Warm…



    When the Evangelical Environmental Network first launched, the core of our message was simple: If you love the Creator, you ought to care for the creation.

    I still find the logic of that message compelling and unassailable. If you believe that God made this world, then love of God ought to entail a corresponding love for the world that God made. To be disdainful of creation is to show disdain for the Creator.

    It’s right there in American evangelical Christianity’s favorite Bible verse, “For God so loved the world.”

    The original word there in John’s Gospel was “cosmos” — a word that was, for John, as vast and comprehensive as it would be centuries later for Carl Sagan.

    John 3:16 isn’t mainly about God as Creator, but about God as Redeemer, which only intensifies the point about God’s passionate love for the cosmos. God created the world and declared it good. Then God redeemed the world, thus dispelling any doubt about the Creator’s enduring love for the creation. (And yes, John 3 teaches, as Paul did, that God is redeeming “the world.” Jesus may be your “personal Lord and Savior,” but Jesus is not only your “personal Lord and Savior.”)

    So that was the core of our basic message: If you love the Creator, you must love the creation. And caring for creation must also mean caring about creation. And that means wanting to know more about it — wanting to learn as much as you can learn about every facet and aspect, every realm and region, nook and cranny, quark and quasar.

    Imagine someone who didn’t know their spouse’s middle name, or favorite foods, or hobbies, occupation, background or family. You would assume — rightly, I think — that such a person couldn’t possibly really love their spouse, because to love someone is to desire to know them better.



    This kind of accidentally disastrous consequences arising from well-intentioned actions is particularly confusing for the many Americans, including most evangelical Christians, who have a primarily visceral sense of morality, where what matters is what’s “in your heart.” Good-hearted decisions to do what you think is best for your family — a nice suburban home, cars chosen for their tank-like safety, etc. — can’t conceivably, from this perspective, produce anything but good results. The absence of deliberate malice constitutes innocence.

    And that innocence will angrily assert itself against any suggestion of blame — or any suggestion of responsibility that sounds like it might be somehow connected to blame.

    One comment

    On the one hand, I see the truth in this because I continue to stumble over USians in the media being completely surprised that “the opposite of good is good-intentioned” – that good intentions in foreign policy or when drafting laws without using brain or factual expert knowledge causes huge harm; or that people with cynical, even bad intentions, can make very good laws.

    On the other hand: these people drive cars, they operate machinery, they have children who get into mischief or accidents. They must know about negligence causing terrible accidents without any intentions.

  5. On “common sense”:
    I don’t think that “sense” is as “common” as the expression implies of its existence. The reason is the “common” part of the equation. “Common” implies something shared; and a lot of times, “sense” relies on experience within a certain situation that, having experienced or being aware by third-party information, one can refer to for making assessments.

    I follow a number of Christian blogs (both right-wing and left-wing), and I have observed that, even with a single (common) “Source” (the Bible), interpretations vary wildly such that the notion of “Christianity” is really only very generally tied to a common book. Then “sense” is derived from the Spirit (more often than not, confused for bias and agenda).

    I think that, apart of formal rules, there are informal rules — ethics that our family elders taught us — about what “good” and “right” is. This might be what you’re referring to. I think it’s too easy to have seemingly lesser FOUNDATIONAL rules (as guidelines) overruled by conclusions derived from faulty logic, lack of empathy and/or self-interest.

    I wish common sense existed, but sense is entirely subjective. So we have external rules and guidelines.

  6. Well, I think the narrative that got us into this – that’s part of the reason why you have climate change denialism being such as powerful force in North America and in Australia – is really tied to the frontier mentality. It’s really tied to the idea of there always being more. We live on lands that were supposedly innocent, “discovered” lands where nature was so abundant. You could not imagine depletion ever. These are foundational myths.

    ~ Naomi Klein interview:

  7. When tradition is thought to state the way things really are, it becomes the director and judge of our lives; we are, in effect, imprisoned by it. On the other hand, tradition can be understood as a pointer to that which is beyond tradition: the sacred. Then it functions not as a prison but as a lens.

    ~ Marcus Borg

  8. Criminal negligence is normally understood to result from failures to avoid reasonably foreseeable harms, or the threat of harms to public safety, consequent of certain activities. Those funding climate denial campaigns can reasonably predict the public’s diminished ability to respond to climate change as a result of their behaviour. Indeed, public uncertainty regarding climate science, and the resulting failure to respond to climate change, is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated denialists.

    Is misinformation about the climate criminally negligent?


  9. From a You’ve Been Scienced facebook post heading:

    Here’s a question for you: If we humans, as a species, are well suited for the current environment, what do you think will happen if we alter that environment?

  10. “It is not at all clear that the small amount of additional CO2 produced by the burning of fossil fuels is detrimental to the environment” says Dr. Alan White on their site. “Let’s obey God’s command and use our scientific knowledge to be good stewards of our natural resources and preserve our environment for the next generation until He comes again.

    Good Stewards … really? Do they really think they are good stewards? How on earth (literally) is that measured or determined?

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