Monday, January 24, 2011

Government and Environment

January 24, 2011

At a recent board meeting of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, there was much celebration of a marvelous capital gift to endow a faculty position at Yale called the H. Boone and Violet M. Porter Chair in Religion and Environmental Stewardship. During worship we heard a sermon from a student combining a Divinity degree with one in Forestry who made all kinds of points about culture change and population growth and how they would affect the children in the room when they are forty. He connected concern for the environment with prophetic concern for fighting racism, poverty and any number of other evils. He ended with a suggestion that students could work together on building community gardens and the like.

I found myself thinking, as I often do when confronted with the magnitude of the environmental crisis that seems to be coming our way, that any practices of environmental stewardship I might adopt on a personal level, while spiritually useful and a reminder of what is really important, don’t make a dent in what needs major governmental and regulatory attention. I value recycling and notice how much it has lessened the amount of trash we produce at home. I remember a sermon from Walter Smith some years ago in which he wondered how long it had been since some of us had felt earth rather than concreted under our bare feet, and I like to make a point of finding times to do just that as a personal way of staying literally and physically grounded. But when it comes to the kind of environmental shifts that our pointed towards in Jared Diamond’s Collapse and any number of sermons, I believe that addressing the complex network of issues that make for proper concern for the environment is a proper role for governments at the highest levels.

I worry that in the current debate about the role of government in this country, a mood that opposes regulation, especially when it interferes with what sounds like a belief in our God-given right to make profit at any expense, will mean that we will fail to do what we need to do today in order to provide for those who follow us tomorrow. While I know that there is a healthy debate about what effects there might be from climate change, I sense a kind of wishful thinking in some quarters that we really don’t need to worry about that now. It sounds like the idea that we can fight two long and breathtakingly expensive wars without having to pay for them.

Al this leads me to be doubly grateful for those who work on all of our behalf to understand the issues facing us and to lobby our government at every level to pay attention. I’m also grateful for our Earth Stewards at All Saints’ who organized an opportunity for responsible disposal and recycling of our no-longer-used electronics.

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