I thought that this was a pretty powerful column (even though his primary example of human ingenuity, a scientist who wants to grow the meat we eat in a lab, sounded pretty horrible).
I watched Bill Moyers interview Daniel Goleman and thought that a couple of the resources that Goleman mentioned might be of interest to readers. GoodGuide helps consumers look at the environmental, health, and social impacts of the products they buy, and Skin Deep focuses on cosmetics.
Even if you’re not as sold on environmentalism as Moyers and Goleman are, you might find the information on these two sites helpful.
Jonathan Dodson at the Resurgence has a list of practical ways to integrate ourselves into our communities and share the gospel with our neighbors. I’ve thought about some of these practices before as a way to escape the individualism of modern society, but not much (if at all) in the context of evangelism. One that I’ve already been trying for environmental and personal reasons is this one:
Walk, Don’t Drive
If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving to the mailbox or convenience store, walk to get mail or groceries. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don’t know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, carrying along a 6-pack to share, bringing the kids. Make friends. Get out of your house! Last night I spent an hour outside gardening with my family. We had good conversations with about four of our neighbors. Take interest in your neighbors. Ask questions. Engage. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet, and some people.
I hadn’t thought of it as a way to talk about the gospel with those around me too. If you have a couple of minutes, check out the whole list.
Hat tip: Justin Taylor
After airing some criticisms of the speech, I wanted to get to the positive elements as well. To me, his speech pointed to one major problem and one major possibility. Not surprisingly, the problem that he focused on was the influence of lobbies on the political system. In his case, he meant that corporate contributions and also the ability of major polluters to hamstring the enforcement of environmental protection laws (like power plants that are able to evade the restrictions of the Clean Air Act) damage both the environment in which we all live and the quality of democracy. Furthermore, he argued that many polluters, including the agribusiness industries, “externalize” as many costs as possible by dumping pollutants into the natural environment and by getting huge subsidies from the government. In this age of bailouts, I wonder if this is something that people from across the political spectrum might be able to oppose together. He described subsidies to agribusiness, commercial fishing, oil, and other industries that pervert the free market, but he didn’t demonize corporations or the free market system. Rather, he said, the true free market encourages responsibility when businesses must deal with the true costs of their enterprises.
The best phrase I’ve heard to describe the attitude that he criticized is “socializing the risks and privatizing the gains.” Once on Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill suggested this to conservative commentator P.J. O’Rourke, who responded with something like, “Well, yeah, they’re not dumb.” And P.J. was exactly right; our system allows for this to happen, probably for a host of different reasons that don’t match neatly with any one group or ideology.
RFK also discussed his faith that the free market held the key to solving the energy issue. He believes that the free market, when not blocked by the subsidies given to entrenched polluters like the coal and oil industries, can provide energy in a much cheaper fashion through cleaner sources like wind energy, solar energy, and geothermal energy. One example was a solar plant that his business had invested in that can provide enormous amounts of power for free to the public. He had great confidence that ingenuity can provide for energy needs and the need for jobs. This theme in his speech was the most exciting. To me, the most promising environmental protection ideas are those that focus on how the public and business can benefit and that uses the incredible innovative potential of the free market.
Finally, I realize that some of this stuff may seem like typical environmentalist rhetoric and that the promise of new energy sources seem too good to be true. I’m not sure if the free energy from the power plant in Southern California is possible. Plus, we know from experience that solutions always engender new problems. I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s tongue-in-cheek observation that scientists are to be respected because they’ve solved all of our problems and are now working to solve the problems that have resulted from the solutions.
I need to learn a lot more about the issues that RFK talked about from other perspectives before declaring my allegiance to all of his solutions. But his command of facts about current environmental issues and his enthusiasm about the technological possibilities were enough to convince me that his message definitely needs to be heard.
This weekend, I’m fortunate to be at the Phi Theta Kappa international convention in Grapevine, Texas. As the lead advisor for the chapter at my college, I headed down to the Lone Star State with 5 students on Thursday. Last night, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. addressed the convention. The speech wasn’t particularly well-organized, but it was quite passionate and provocative. I want to start with my critical reactions to parts of it, and then move on to my positive responses in my next post.
RFK Jr. was mostly nonpartisan while being a tenacious advocate for his cause. Given that, you would expect that the Bush administration’s very pro-business environmental policies would get some flak. (RFK would say pro-exploitation and pro-polluter, and I’d agree in general.) But there were a couple times where he veered into broader indictments of the Bush Administration that went beyond the scope of the topic and seemed like they were based on simplistic logic. For example, he argued that the opening of natural resources to exploitation was part of the same moral breakdown that allowed for torture, wiretapping, and secret prisons. Also, in his mind, our wars in the Middle East are purely about oil. I was unhappy with Bush for all of those things, but I think that RFK painted with too broad a brush here (especially in the first case, where I really don’t see the underlying connection at all).
Secondly, if I may paint with a broad brush myself, it’s interesting how the Bush years seem to have become for liberals what the 1960s are for conservatives: the era where America lost its bearings. RFK told a story of when he went abroad as a boy and people were very pro-America, wanting American leadership. He also used the examples of Eisenhower’s trips to the Muslim world and the world’s sympathy after 9/11, and implied that the Bush Administration “bullied” rather than led. There’s certainly some truth to this narrative, in my opinion. But just as the idea of virtuous pre-1960s America falters on the reality of widespread de jure and de facto segregation, so the liberal mythology of Bush’s fall from grace whitewashes the follies of the past (think of the CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, for example).
Third, RFK made a foray into the spiritual side of his environmentalism. He attacked the idea that environmentalists worship nature, which is sometimes used to scare people into thinking that environmentalism means paganism. Instead, he argued that God speaks to us through his creation, echoing Paul in Romans 1. That was about as far as I could go with him, though. He argued that creation was the best way to know God, while traditionally-minded Christians would have to say that Christ and the Scriptures offer us clearer knowledge of God (to those better versed in theology than I: am I right on this one?). He also argued that great spiritual awakenings tended to happen in the wilderness, taking a liberal view of God’s revelation by citing the examples of Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, the Jews (in what I thought was a misreading of their punishment in the desert as cleansing after slavery), and Jesus. Although he did not show the grasp of world religions that he did on environmental matters, I actually enjoyed this part of it quite a bit. For me, there is something inherently compelling about hearing people talk about their sense of spirituality, even if it’s based on premises that I believe are false or faulty.
But whatever those faults, I would be extremely unfair to RFK if I didn’t emphasize that the great majority of his presentation focused on his area of expertise in environmental protection. I’ll discuss this in my next post.