Blogger David Wheeler has a post the other day over at Vox Nova, in which he talked about the difficulties he had as the liaison between his parish council and the Cincinnati Archdiocese on "green" topics.
I don’t know why, but my parish approached me last year about becoming the parish liaison between our parish council committee and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Task Force on Climate Change. I guess it had something to do with the fact that I drive a Prius and use Buckeye Eco-Care on my lawn. But, honestly, I don’t know…
After a few meetings in Cincinnati, I finally had the opportunity to report back to our parish about what we as a parish are being asked to do about global warming by the hierarchy in the Church.
The gist is that several people on the parish council reacted very negatively to the diocese's suggestion that they become a flagship "green" parish, with solar panels, etc. Wheeler was frustrated that there was so much opposition to this, as he sees the command to be good stewards of the earth as a moral one.
Having spent time on a parish council, and feeling like I was able to give a fair approximation of why more conservative Catholics had trouble with the green=moral line of thinking, I left the following comment, and received the following response:
FWIW, I would imagine that for many on the parish council who objected to the idea of being a “flagship green parish”, it seemed to them that that recommendation represented a tendency to focus on politics rather than morality. (And yes, I agree that the “how about if we frame greenness as supporting our troops” idea was downright moronic.)
As for why many “conservative” Catholics are not more eager to lead in applying environmentalism and other social teachings — and speaking as something of an insider to the conservative approach in this case — I think it has a lot to do with people finding it hard to envision environmentalism in the sort of moral terms they are used to. What most Catholics active in their parish are concerned about are basics of personal morality: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t use violence unjustly, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t get divorced, don’t commit adultery, don’t use porn, don’t use birth control, don’t have an abortion, etc. The moral framing of these rules is simple and clear: Action X is wrong because it violates natural and moral principle Y.
Environmental concerns seem harder to fit into that kind of formulation, especially because they seem so relative. So using rechargeable batteries is “more moral” than using one-use ones. But is it even more moral simply not to use the sound system? Does plugging in and recharging the batteries really use much less resources than buying new ones? Is using a solar panel more moral than using the electric grid? Is just setting the A/C to 80 instead of 76 better than using the solar panels, since after all building solar panels themselves is a messy and energy consuming process, which the panels themselves may not actually prevent enough pollution to justify?
These are all very relative trade-off discussions, and so while I think you would probably get little disagreement from most conservative Catholics that “be good stewards of God’s creation” is a moral law, most would not tend to see the choice between disposeable and rechargeable batteries as a moral choice, with one option being sinful and the other virtuous.
I think also, for political reasons, people are often concerned that there’s something very mee-too-ish about showy “green” measures by churches. Almost as if to say to a segment of society, “Sure, I know you disapprove of what we say about marriage and birth control and abortion — but look, we’ll be pretty quiet about that and talk about solar panels instead! Do we fit in now?”
Good thoughts DarwinCatholic… but this brings me back to what my colleague said, “If we Catholic would’ve just obeyed our Scriptural mandate to take care of the earth… then these discussion would be irrelevant… we wouldn’t even be having them…”
Later in the day, when I checked back, I saw the above, plus a number of other comments, including several from a conservative commenter questioning whether there was in fact a scientific consensus over global warming, and Wheeler's responses to those comments, which cited Al Gore's writing several times. I left the following reply:
but this brings me back to what my colleague said, “If we Catholic would’ve just obeyed our Scriptural mandate to take care of the earth… then these discussion would be irrelevant… we wouldn’t even be having them…”
Well, this assumes a couple of things. For instance, I doubt that many people say, “If I thought we had a duty to take care of the earth, I would do so, but since we don’t I’m going to actively work to trash it.” Most people probably argue that they do a moderately good job of taking care of the earth, and it’s not entirely clear that some of the most popular “green” activities (building wind farms, putting up solar panels, driving hybrids) are necessarily less hard on the environment than simply using less. For instance, though China has an absolutely terrible record in regards to pollution (example) the fact that China is overall much poorer than the US means that the average Chinese actually has far less impact on the environment than the average US environmentalist. And similarly, Al Gore’s lifestyle is much more polluting than mine — though he buys “carbon offsets” and I don’t.
Nor is human impact on the environment a result only of technology. Humans were pretty clearly responsible for the extinction of a large number of species in Europe, America and Australia in the period 20-40 thousand years ago, and the combination of deforestation and soil exhaustion is believed to be a major cause of the “dark age” at the end of the Bronze Age around 1000 BC.
“And Global warming IS the scientific consensus.”
That has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, beyond scientific scrutiny.
I think, Theresa, one can certainly argue about how much of global warming is actually caused by human activity (rather than natural cycles), to what extent continuing emissions trends will actually impact the climate (or whether natural dampening factors will kick in), and to what extent the amounts of change that we are likely, as a society, to be able to achieve would make any difference in the trend. However, I don’t think we can really deny that there is a scientific consensus, at this time, among those in the field, that global warming is real.
That said, scientific consensus and reality do not have a one to one correlation by any stretch, and many environmental advocates (Al Gore very much an offender in this regard) tend to distort the scientific consensus in order to make it more exciting and serve their own ends.
As you can clearly see, something is going on… something is causing the snow and ice to melt.
This is DATA, what used to be accepted among critical thinkers as FACTS! Today, opinion has become God, and facts, well… I guess we don’t use Reason anymore… maybe we don’t even use Faith…
The point is… you can disagree with global warming, but you’ve got to come up with an alternative to why glaciers are melting… and you’ve got to come up with an alternative as to what we’re going to do about it!
While your passion is admirable, it is at times the argument of amateurs that gives a movement a bad name. For instance, in regards to questions like “Why are the glaciers melting” someone can simply point out that through the majority of the history of life on earth there have not been glaciers. We are, still, at a period of abnormally high glaciation compared to Earth’s overall norm — an interglacial period in an ice age. And Earth has, at times, sustained CO2 levels significantly higher than what we currently have, with no damage to it as a planet. Compared to other disasters that have afflicted life on this planet (Permian/Triassic extinctions, KT impact, etc.) the effects of human civilization on this planet are as nothing.
Further, some popular environmentalists (such as Al Gore) tend to make statements about weather effects and speed of climate change which are drastically out of keeping with anything the IPCC puts out. For instance, claims that “catastrophic weather” has gotten worse because of global warming are very, very hard to sustain by any real data.
What should, however, concern people is not that we will destroy “the planet” but that our civilization as currently organized relies on the earth’s climate patterns not changing very much, regardless of whether than change is natural or anthropocentric. Comparatively sudden changes could result in widespread displacement or hunger, if they came, regardless of their origin. But the planet, qua planet, will be just fine.
Several hours later, both of those comments of mine had been deleted, and the thread closed, though oddly enough his reply to me remains in place. I'm not really sure why the comments suddenly were perceived to cross that threshold over which blog owners feel they cannot allow people to tread. But if nothing else it does certainly seem to be an example of how touchy people can become once they start demanding that people "look at the facts" and explain them.