The GOP claims to be the party of conservation and in their platform they talk about the importance of protecting our “God-given” resources. They speak about the necessity of sustainability and energy independence, all things I fully support. But once again, their concrete proposals seem a stark contrast to the lofty rhetoric they employ. Amongst the proposals made by these alleged conservationists:
Expand off-shore drilling.
Do more coal mining and build more coal-fueled power plants.
Resist any and every form of cap and trade.
Open up ANWR for drilling.
Build the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Open up all federally-owned forests for logging.
Those are the proposals. Now we need to talk about what the platform doesn’t say:
They completely ignore the multiple disastrous oil spills brought about by irresponsible drilling practices. Conspicuously, there is no mention of the BP oil spill and no meaningful discussion of how to prevent those sorts of disasters from happening again. And lest we forget, this is what happened, amongst other things, during the BP oil spill:
More galling still, there is not a single mention of climate change in the entire section. Not one.
Nor is there any discussion of the problems associated with the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Like the fact that they initially proposed building it over – I kid you not – a giant aquifer. Or the fact that pretty much everyone in Nebraska opposed it and the only way proponents of the pipeline could get anyone to show up in favor of it at demonstrations was by busing them in from out of state).
There is no discussion of how oil pipelines have sometimes malfunctioned, leading to leaks that completely desolate the land. (Google Nigeria’s Ogoni people sometime.)
The thing that has struck me over and over and over as I’ve read this document is that I have no idea how to reconcile the rhetoric with the policy. They want to balance the budget, but steadfastly refuse to consider tax increases or cutting the absurd defense budget. They want to be conservationists, but refuse to acknowledge the existence of climate change or the significant dangers associated with such unrestrained use of fossil fuels. Being the son of a conservationist and being someone who delights in God’s creation myself, I find this section especially frustrating.
If caring for God’s creation doesn’t include an opposition to limitless use of coal, off-shore drilling, desecrating ANWR (a region that is remarkably beautiful), and environmentally-risky pipelines… well what does it include? Even if you set aside the climate change issue – though you shouldn’t – this is a really confusing, distressing section.
The thing that is so striking to me is how Christians can be counted on to support this party, despite their adopting such radically anti-creation policies on land use, energy, and conservation. And, to be clear, conservationism is not a faddish position adopted by evangelicals in the wake of pressure from the greenwashing popular culture. Conservationism is perfectly consistent with Christian faith. Lately I’ve been working on a longer essay about Wendell Berry and young evangelicals. So I’ve been reading a lot of Berry’s essays as well as a lot of C.S. Lewis. In one interview Berry says that he sees himself and Lewis as basically on the same page on most issues. The biggest difference between them, says Berry, is not one of theology or philosophy, but simply one of vocation. In my own reading of them, I’ve come to find this judgment accurate.
One of the things most striking when you read Lewis a bit more closely is how concerned the man was with ecology. He lacked the vocabulary of the modern environmentalist movement – which is probably a good thing, actually – but when you look at his works more closely you see that Lewis was a staunch defender of the created world. (Tolkien was as well – compare Mordor to Hobbiton sometime. Or Isengard to Lothlorien.) In the finales of both of Lewis’ fantasy series, one of the first clues we get that something has gone badly wrong in the world is ecological: We see mass deforestation. Another thing you find in both The Last Battle and That Hideous Strength is imported food and industrialized agriculture, which are seen as an essential part of things “being right” because how can they be right when you can’t eat whatever you want? This is striking, given the way the GOP’s third section ends with another paean to “liberty” (by which they seem to mean the freedom to piss on God’s creation and call it conservation).
“But isn’t everything right already?” said Puzzle.
“What!” cried Shift. “Everything right? – When there are no oranges or bananas?”
“Well, you know,” said Puzzle, “there aren’t many people – in fact, I don’t think there’s anyone but yourself – who wants those sorts of things.”
In Lewis’ writing, one of the signs that something has gone wrong is that people refuse to abide by the limits of the place in which they live. Consider this excerpt from one of Lewis’ letters:
The feeling about home must have have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, … perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken, for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside.
Also consider this excerpt from his essay on vivisection, a practice that Lewis positively despised, in which Lewis explains one significant reason that our treatment of God’s creation is so important:
Though cruelty even to beasts is an important matter, their [those in favor of vivisection] victory is symptomatic of matters more important still. The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements. In justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.
I share these Lewis excerpts to make a simple point: Christians ought to care about preserving God’s creation. It’s one aspect of how we honor and love God. In fact, honoring creation is one part of a holistic Christian ethic that shouldn’t be understood in segmented or parsed-out terms. In all our relationships, Christians ought to be characterized by humility, care, and a willingness to take the lesser place. I see none of those qualities in the GOP’s platform.
To be clear, honoring creation is not synonymous with “adopting the Democrats’ environmental platform.” I haven’t read it yet, but Obama does use the same “all of the above” language to describe his energy policy, which tells me that I shouldn’t expect much when I get around to reading the platform. That said, we know from plenty of experience that there are tons of ecologically disastrous consequences to our current oil-fueled lifestyle. Climate change is foremost amongst them, but the safety risks associated with deep sea drilling and lengthy pipelines are notable as well. And all that is to say nothing of the disastrous spiritual consequences to a people who become accustomed to life with cheap, “infinite” energy. That may well end up being industrialism’s greatest devastation.
So if we mean what we say when we claim to care about conservation, we should probably exercise extreme caution in our approach to burning more fossil fuels and building more dangerous infrastructure for transferring that fuel. We should also demonstrate a care for the natural beauty of creation and see ourselves as its stewards, not its masters. On these fronts, the GOP platform fails badly.