In 2005, 1200 concerned scientists issued a statement that “Biodiversity is being irreversibly destroyed by human activities at an unprecedented rate”. It was estimated that as many as 50, 000 plant and animal species disappear each year. In April 2007, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned “there is observational evidence” regarding the impact of climate change on physical and biological systems. It has serious consequences for agriculture and food security. Examples of this include drought and famine in Africa, and heightened frequency of flood in Asia.
Sadly, while increasing number of progressive Christians are beginning to view the environmental crisis as a spiritual issue deserving the attention of all people of faith, the Christian Right has chosen to limit their discourse to homosexuality and abortion. Demonizing the environmentalists as “New Age worshippers of Satan”, and calling them everything from “tree-hugging pagans” to “socialists”, the neo-cons have ignored the undeniable facts about environmental degradation.
The media has brought attention to the environmental debate among the evangelical Christians, but have failed to ask the most important questions: Why does the Christian Right hate the environmental movement so much? Why would anyone who claims to love God the Creator of all things hate the people that care for the Earth created by God? Why is the Christian Right threatened by the movement that seeks to make the world a better world? And why does the Christian group, which is supposed to exemplify the love of Jesus, incite hatred against the greens for encouraging sustainable lifestyle?
The answers to the above questions boil down to two things: political power and money. Politically, the Christian Right is angry at the environmental movement for fear of losing the old guard. Thanks to Jim Ball’s Evangelical Environmental Network, the new generation of evangelicals not only rejects the idea that the GOP is the Christian party, but also embraces environmental stewardship and social justice as moral obligations for Christians. The consequence of this development for the Christian Right became evident in the 2006 elections.
The right-wing opposition to the environmental movement has nothing to do with God; it has everything to do with money and big business. Many of the conservative Christian ministries were founded and funded by people whose business activities are harmful to the environment. For example, the founder of the fundamentalist Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, runs an oil company. As major polluters, the oil corporations are under the scrutiny of the environmentalists. So, by trying to take the environmental discourse off the Christian agenda, the neo-cons are only fighting for their business interests, not God.
Related to the above is the fact that environmental concern and social justice are interconnected. A successful push for environmental justice often opens the floodgate to demands for justice in other areas. This includes demands for socially responsible business practices in the third world countries. For example, in the late 1990’s, major environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and Green Peace, embarked on a vigorous campaign that held the oil companies accountable for the destruction and massacre of indigenous people in Nigeria and Columbia, leading to Senate hearings and lawsuits against Chevron and Occidental Oil.
Unfortunately, it is not the right wing leaders who urge Christians to ignore environmental protection that pay the price for abusing nature. The rich pastors can afford to live on ranches and enjoy the calm of a pristine environment. They can afford to live in mansions with swimming pools and beautiful trees, but it is the poor that bears the full brunt of nature’s wrath. This was the sad reality in the event of Katrina, where the rich quickly escaped in their trucks and SUVs, but the poor were left to suffer and die.
It is time Christians started reading the Bible for themselves. While the Christian Right is entitled to its political views, it does not have a monopoly on Biblical interpretation. The creation story in the book of Genesis is not a license to savage the earth.
Peter Opa, a writer and Sierra Club member, is an alumnus of the Center for Environmental Citizenship. His memoir, Childhood Faith, will be published this year.