Earth Day Memo: Perhaps ‘Environmentalism’ Is a Better Word
By Neil Earle
Celebrating Earth Day was 50 years old on April 22.
This subject is better handled as a Personal than a Commentary for all the heat it generates when mere casual allusion to such themes as “climate change” emerge.
I realized I’ve been tracking the subject of the Environment across more than a half-century now from my earliest days as a college editor. “Caring for the Environment” – in itself a truly worthwhile project, one dear to the heart of Canadians such as myself – has become sadly distorted by the almighty tussle in public debate about the subject.
Apathy and Panic
A wit has said that in North America we operate at two speeds – apathy and panic. If you don’t subscribe to every chapter and verse of the Climate Change hymn book you are considered a Neanderthal in many circles, a calloused uncaring moral pygmy who doesn’t care about the future of the planet and generations yet to come.
Not much room for manuever there. On the other hand, the true devotees of climate change now include such irresponsible propagandists as the leaders of the Green New Deal movement. These are the people who would eliminate a host of modern conveniences except their Twitter accounts, presumably, and would lead a world heated and fueled by wood and stoves which would devastate the forests and the planet’s “lungs,” as they like to call them.
What’s surprising is the number of “responsible” public officials willing to subscribe to such a grand and totalizing scheme.
A healthy focus on the Envrionment, however, resonates with such things as nature hikes through the forest, recycling as an example of creation care and marching to save your city from a Fortune 500 company removing a mountain behind where you live.
“Discover the Forest.Org”
All this I have done in the last 60 years and unapologetically. Something in all of us small-town folk revolts at the sight of an empty box of beer bottles littering up a rural road. There are a host of rejuvenating experiences conjured up when I hear ads for web sites such as “discover the forest.org.” Ah, the forest! The domain of friendly forest rangers I knew after five summers in the gorgeous Minnesota wilderness.
So, environmentalism OK, global warming – well…
To be fair, critics of The Coming Ecological Apocalypse cannot easily forget how in the 1960s and 1970s the worry of many public intellectuals was the exact opposite of global warming. The fear then was of a coming ice age. Respected scientists such as Barry Commoner in The Closing Circle warned that global cooling would shorten growing seasons and lead to global famines and epidemics as did happen in the 1300s. “Little Ice Ages” have indeed occurred in recorded memory such as in the 1100s when the North Atlantic filled with ice and the Viking colonies in the New World were (just possibly) cut off and abandoned. How well I remember the book Famine 1975 catching lots of attention and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb warning of starvation of which Ehrlich was so certain that he had himself sterilized! And urged governments to inflict the remedy on their citizens.
There’s sincerity for you but so far none of these secular apocalypses has worked out. The experts were wrong. Remember Y2K? Another parable in the long sad history of Doomsday Around the Corner – NOT! The experts get it wrong – badly.
I was up on many of these trends and wrote and spoke about them often. The church I supported put out a booklet simply titled “Pollution” in 1968 that went out by the truckload. Such things as the Club of Rome calling for Reshaping the Global Order were texts I carried around and preached about in the 1970s.
Science Without God?
Climate Change has definitely impacted history. Even the Black Death which I have to teach in church history classes was abetted by weakened human constitutions after several years of bad harvests across Europe. The pandemic of 1918 came at the end of a disastrous war when supply chains were severely disrupted and Germany, for example, was experiencing starvation.
“The curse causeless shall not come,” taught one of my mentors.
Now Carbon Dioxide overkill is the culprit. George Carlin had a funny (if profane) routine about our puny human efforts to save the planet. Like Canadian philosopher Jordan Peterson he urged today’s would-be revolutionaries to begin by cleaning up their room! Which has more merit than we might suspect.
I find wisdom in the thoughts of Dr. Michael Peterson of the Unversity of Delaware’s community health sciences division that there is much in this “saving the planet” credo that has a disturbingly radical overtone to it. Where is God in all this? Hasn’t Jesus already saved the planet in the understanding of many Christians? No, we can’t “leave it all to God” as we face our very real challenges but the slogan “our probems are man-made and therefore can be solved by man” was touted in the secular 1960s. But how did that all work out?
The basic Judaeo-Christian text that was once used to guide much of our social thinking on matters from prison reform to anti-slavery related the profound claim that we as a human race are in a world where exists in equal measure “the knowledge of good and evil.” That insight seems up to date. “It goes against our human nature to accept that we are not in total control of our lives and climate,” claims Dr. Peterson. “The global warming message espoused in the popular culture is one that prmotes a view that man, and man alone, is in control of this planet.”
Is this where the Science has led us? The models for Corona Virus tracking proved woefully and perhaps disastrously inaccurate. This gives me reason to tone down “Global Warming” and champion environmentalism in as localized a way as possible. Reshaping the planet seems, at least at this stage, above my pay grade.