There is an interesting article in the NY Times Ideas section today about Environmentalism as a Religion. It points out that environmentalism has the concept of guilt and sins (leaving the water running and the lights on), the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox (green) than your neighbor, and new heresies include failure to compost or refusal to go organic (I would add questioning global climate change). It has Satan figures (evil corporate chief executives), prophets (Al Gore), and even a belief in an imminent apocalypse if we don’t change our ways.
While the article points out that “environmentalism as a religion” is not a new idea, it does provide a nice short summary of the concept. To what extent is this idea true, and if so, is that a bad or good thing?
I recently came across a commentary written by the christian author Brian McLaren about the concept of economic recovery. He brings up some interesting questions about what we mean by the term “recovery”. When a drug addict hits rock bottom and starts on the path to recovery, we usually mean that this person is reforming their ways, learning from their past mistakes and moving forward to a better life without their former addiction. We don’t mean that they are trying to reestablish their more tolerable state of drug dependency similar to what they were experiencing a few months before hitting rock bottom.
Yet when we talk about economic recovery, there is disappointingly little talk in the national media about learning from our past mistakes and moving forward to a better life without the former addiction to the illusory phantom wealth from complex risky financial mechanisms, excessive debt,and unsustainable speculative bubbles. Instead, the goal of economic recovery seems to be to return to how things were a few years ago before the bubble bursts, plus or minus a few minor regulation changes. It has become a call to get back to our former addictive economic high without addressing the root problems with our addictions, with the hope that we won’t end up back in the gutter again next time. Brian McLaren goes on to discuss some of the addictions we need to face and recover from: material greed, weapons, carbon fuels, quick and easy answers, etc. This struck me as an interesting way to frame these discussions in the national debate.
by: Mike Ignatowski on December 19th, 2009 | Comments Off
Wind Turbines of Copenhagen by Daniel Greene
A few days ago Dave Belden asked us to “Imagine a time when the Eco-Crisis is Over: Then tell us How we Got There“.
There are two aspects of “how we got there” – a structural/legal one, and a cultural one. To look at the structural/legal one, it may be good to start by considering a quote from science fiction writer William Gibson, “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed”. Where can we look to find a society that is close to already achieving what Dave has asked us to consider?
Perhaps the best place to look is Scandinavia, which includes Denmark and its capital city Copenhagen. The city of Copenhagen is considered to be one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world. Its carbon footprint per person is about half of that in the United States (details by country here), and yet its quality of life is ranked better than that in the United States by some measures. How do they do this? They have a strong national policy for long-term environmental planning, and they use taxes to adjust price incentives. Denmark has very high taxes on cars to discourage car ownership, and the highest home electricity prices in the world. They use some of this tax revenue to provide incentives to promote wind power and energy conservation.
But there’s also a cultural change that needs to happen – a change in attitudes.
During the health care debates many religious organizations chose to speak out not by endorsing any specific piece of legislation, but by endorsing some basic ethical principles that should be addressed by any legislation up for consideration. Typically, such principles included the goal of making affordable health care available to everyone, and making sure that such health care was not denied because of previously existing medical conditions. I think this was a very good and effective approach.
We have not yet had a similar major debate about economic reform in our country despite the recent economic crisis. Many people are starting to suspect that it won’t happen unless there is a grass roots movement to push for it. I believe that religious organizations should speak out on this issue too in a manner similar to their participation in the health care discussions. But what are the basic ethical principles of economic reform that should get wide support in the religious community? We’ve been having some discussions about this within my congregation and came up with some suggestions to get this started.
I attended Catholic Mass while visiting family members this weekend, and I was intrigued by the following statement from the pulpit - “this is the 33rd Sunday in ordinary time”. The phrase ordinary time as used here refers to a particular segment of the church calendar year (i.e. It’s not advent, lent, etc.). But it raised the bigger question about whether we’re living in “ordinary times” in a larger historical sense. Would we classify the last 6 months as an extraordinary time in history, or as more of an unremarkable ordinary time? Have we lived through a temporary lull this summer between recent storms of change, and what will come next? Perhaps. How would you classify the last half of this decade?
The people I discussed this with typically thought we were living in extraordinary times in general, and have been doing so for their entire life. That led to the humorous observation that we often believe an extraordinary period of human history began roughly at the time of our own birth. Such is human nature.
Such views are a characteristic of exponential rates of change. The most recent period of history will always seem to be experiencing much more substantial rates of change than previous times, and will therefore seem to be an extraordinary time. Make no mistake about it; we are living in a time of exponential growth, exponential rates of scientific and technological development, and perhaps exponential rates of social change as well. We are living in extraordinary times.
There is an important aspect of exponential curves that we cannot forget though. If they continue, the rate of change in the coming decades will be even greater than it is today. There is every reason to believe that this in fact will happen. So while we are living in extraordinary times compared to previous history, it is likely that the historical impact of the coming decades will be even more significant than what we’re experiencing now. This means that our “call to action” to engage in helping to direct positive change will continue to grow in importance.
During a meeting of the NYC Network of Spiritual Progressives group this week, the topic of discussion turned to economic reform. The original NSP “Covenant with America” dealt with this topic in a general way by promoting a new bottom line in our values system, and in a specific way by promoting the Social Responsibility Amendment for corporate behavior. The discussion at the meeting focused on our disappointment that very little has happened in terms of economic reforms as a result of this past year’s economic meltdown. In fact, some of us were wondering if this is a topic that we could legitimately express anger over. Fortunately, I’m beginning to see some indication that the momentum is finally starting to build for economic reform.
I went to my first “Tea Party” rally this past weekend in the city of Kingston in upstate New York . It was a small rally of about 200 people held on the same day as the big Tea Party rally in Washington DC. I went to watch, listen, and talk to some of the people there. Yes, I witnessed a good deal of anger and fear on display, with much of the anger directed at Obama. There was also a small counter protest of people holding up signs in favor of health care reform. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few people from each side willing to cross over and have conversations with each other. I’ve always been a strong proponent of the need for such civil conversations and I joined in a few of them. It soon became apparent, though, that most people needed some training and practice at having such conversations. The participants generally approached the interactions with the intent of scoring as many debate points as possible on every topic that came up. The discussions usually degenerated into emotional arguments with neither side really listening to the other. To hold civil discussions with people you strongly disagree with, my experience suggests that you need to take an alternative approach. If I may make some suggestions…
Van Jones earned his law degree from Yale. As an African American he would have been heavily recruited by many major law firms with offers of large salaries, but instead chose to go work with the minority communities in California. He was asked to speak at the first conference for the Network of Spiritual Progressives. I have a tape of it, and his speech was one of the highlights of the event. Van Jones wrote a nice commentary praising the NSP that appeared in the Huffington Post in 2005. More recently he has become very active in the environmental movement, and combined it with his earlier social work by promoting green job programs for poor minority communities.
In 2008 the Unitarian Universalists asked him to be the key note speaker at their annual General Assembly conference. I had the privilege of listening to him give that speech in person, and remember it as one of the most thought provoking and inspiring speeches that I have ever heard. I wrote a brief summary of his talk here. I was thrilled almost beyond words when Obama asked him to serve in the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He was one of the few people I looked towards as a hero. I was heart broken at what happened in the past few days though.
- ‘Peace Rose’ by Peter Kuper
I had the pleasure of attending the recent Woodstock Peace Economics Forum, held in the town of Woodstock NY (yes, it’s THE Woodstock) on the 40th anniversary of the original Woodstock concert. The theme seemed to be “Turning Swords into Wind Turbines.” There was a lot of interesting talk about the impact of the military on our economy, environmental issues, and the state of activism in general.
While some participants seemed to have been stuck in old arguments and rhetoric that hasn’t changed much since the 1969 concert, there were some interesting new facts and approaches. Economist Robert Pollin gave the following information from a recent study about the impact of federal spending on job creation. If $1 million were spent by the government in various different ways, the study concluded how many jobs would be created. As usual, the real figures are very eye opening. How many jobs would be created if the government spent $1 million on:
The Military – 11 jobs
The Green Agenda – 17 jobs
Education – 23 jobs
Child Care – 40 jobs
These are only the immediate impacts. The long term benefits on job creation for spending money on better education could be fairly dramatic, but that was not projected in this study.
There was some interesting historical discussion refuting the idea that the military spending in WWII was necessary to pull us out of the Great Depression. Some economists have convincingly argued that government spending such massive amounts of money as they did during WWII would have pulled us out of the Great Depression almost no matter what it was spent on. In fact, there were many other projects where the money spent would have produced much bigger economic benefits.
So if anyone still tries to claim that massive military spending is needed for the economy and for job creation, you can tell them that the facts just don’t support that.
One of the comments made during the presidential primary debates last year has remained stuck in my memory to this day. It came from Joe Biden, who was recalling some “folksy wisdom” from his father. His father had a saying that went something like this: “Don’t lecture me about the moral values you claim to have, just show me your budget so that I can see what your real moral values are”. As I recall, Joe Biden was making this comment in reference to our national budget, but I shuddered when I think that this commentary applies equally well to my own personal budget. If our moral values were to be judged by looking at our personal budgets, how well would any of us fare?