Before the election, the front-page New York Times story, “Climate Change Doubt is Tea Party Article of Faith,” quoted several supporters who claimed religious motivations for their climate skepticism: “Being a strong Christian,” said one, “I cannot help but believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country and it’s not there to destroy us.” Ridiculous, right?
But now we know that the election ushered in a whole caucus worth of climate-denying Republican politicians who believe something close to this. Daily Kos blogger RL Miller calls them “climate zombies.” Some Tea Party-backed governors are now in position to roll back existing energy regulation. Tea Party Congressmen are dangerously close to becoming head of the Energy Commission. Their very existence wipes out any chance for national cap-and-trade legislation.
And worst: these American failings have made the United Nations Climate Change Conference which wrapped up Dec. 10th in Cancun, Mexico, and renewal of the crucial Kyoto Protocol, feel futile. Brad Johnson, climate correspondent for the Center for American Progress, had a front-row seat to the fallout. “Practically speaking,” he wrote me from Cancun, “the failure of the United States to pass climate legislation — and the seeming ascendence of climate denial — makes progress on a climate treaty seem almost impossible.” As an example, he pointed to the recent appeal of four Republican Congressmen including climate zombie Jim Inhofe, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her not to fund any international emergency funds for disasters caused by climate change. This, writes Johnson, is “a profoundly immoral and sinful act, and one designed to cripple progress at COP16.” International negotiators in Cancun remain stunned by our failure to grasp the severity of climate change. “Many people simply don’t understand — it seems to them as if people in the United States must be insane.”
It sure looks that way: Tea Party libertarianism and religious-right anti-environmentalism combine to eclipse what the rest of the world knows is an impending disaster. But the role of the religious right in this development is not quite black-and-white. Climate change denial has never been quite the evangelical litmus test that anti-evolution, or anti-abortion, or anti-homosexuality positions have been. Major evangelical leaders including Rick Warren, Jim Wallace, and Richard Cizik once advocated something called “creation care,” arguing that Christians are actually called to combat environmental devastation, and to care for those already affected by it around the world. In 2006, a call to action called the Evangelical Climate Initiative was signed by numerous evangelical leaders. Back in 2006, the misleadingly named climate-deniers Interfaith Stewardship Alliance shot back, pressuring the National Association of Evangelicals to postpone an expected statement on climate change that same year.
It turns out, the Evangelical Climate Initiative still exists. It’s an ongoing project of the Evangelical Environmental Network, where Rev. Jim Ball, Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change, emphatically insists that the idea of “creation care” also still exists. “As an idea it has been wildly successful.”
In the face of climate denial, Ball wrote me, the EEN will “continue to do what we have been doing: telling the truth to our community and others that anthropogenic global warming is one of the most serious threats to humanity in this century and therefore a profound challenge and opportunity for Christians and others of good will.” He’s just released a new book, Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change, and started a new project with the Department of Energy to make houses of worship more energy efficient, called GIVER (Green Initiative for eVangelical Renewal).
Rev. Ball attributes the main delay in climate-change action to the economy, which has “sucked the air out of the room when it comes to US politics. However, it is also true that we need to have more people who are passionately committed to overcoming global warming. We hope to help with this.” Though he realizes that “a policy that fits the challenge” will not have a chance until after the 2012 elections, his faith gives him a way to continue the fight. “We are optimistic because we believe that it is the Risen LORD who is leading the way in overcoming global warming.” And it may be just this passionate commitment that the secular environmentalists will need.
A recent article in Slate explored the current state of the “creation care” movement. But the question remains: why doesn’t “creation care” have the political traction that climate skepticism apparently does? It’s got the catchy name, it’s got big personalities behind it, it makes a lot of common sense. What it doesn’t have: big oil money. But that’s another story…