The President’s appeal to religion in the fight against climate change: Didn’t work before, won’t work now
In the State of the Union speech earlier this week, the President’s heart was in the right place. His pronouncement that he would act on climate via executive order if the congress doesn’t act is precisely what we need, in the face of the urgency of the issue and inaction by a broken legislative system.
His recent statement, using the religious language in this regard, however, was uncalled for, and can only be counterproductive.
On his second inauguration, Obama said the U.S. must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in order to “preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
Some environmentalists speculated that Obama might be hoping to reach out to devout Christians — many of them Republicans — in the hope of building a wider consensus.
Now this is certainly not an original idea. Appeals to Christianity in the fight against environmental catastrophe have been going on for quite some time, an often been met with ridicule on the parts of those they are supposed to convince:
Evangelicals are simultaneously assaulted and wooed: You’re a hateful bigot until the very instant you abandon the unborn, capitulate on marriage, and embrace environmental activism. Then, you’re celebrated as tolerant and even courageous.
At times, the effort was almost transparently pathetic (who knew it was more pro-life to buy a Prius than to protect unborn children?) and other times downright malicious.
So, is it a surprise that such efforts thus far have been by and large unsuccessful?
Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) religiously unaffiliated Americans, 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics, and half (50%) of white evangelical Protestants agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change.
More than one-third (36%) of Americans believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls the end times.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of white evangelical Protestants believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of what the Bible calls the end times, compared to roughly 1-in-5 Catholics (21%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (15%).
So why is the President playing up the religious language? Why does he think something that has already been tried and failed may work better this time? It becomes even more puzzling when we remember that he knows from first-hand experience that this tactic is a double-edged sword and can backfire on him, by giving ammunition to those who disagree with him. Doesn’t the President realize that his appeal to religion will strengthen the hand of the climate change deniers?
Pointing to scientific consensus is the only winning card advocates for action on climate change have, and they should not be shy about using it, rather than religious appeals that can only distract from the main problem.