A week after last November’s mid-term elections in the United States, magazines like Time had cover stories about the Republican “breeze.” Some of these covers showed prominent Republicans beaming broadly over their historically unusual success. This motivated many writers to project what may happen as a result of this ostensible “mandate” for the party presently in power. Chief among the items flagged are issues relating to the environment. As it stands, despite an early defeat on the push for oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the current administration has succeeded in quietly rolling back numerous environmental and ecological rules. Now it seems likely that a renewed push to open up ANWR for exploration may be in the offing, as well as making more lands available for logging and loosening strictures on everything from clean air to wetlands protection.
To summarize the sentiment of many Op-Ed writers, right now “it’s not easy being green.” But then, in some Christian circles, it has never been easy to be pro-environment. In any number of conversations I have had with fellow Christians, I have discovered that even to hint that environmental policy plays a role when deciding how to vote raises eyebrows. Since being pro-environment tends to be linked with being pro-Democrat, just about every dialogue I have ever had about ecology has sooner or later swung around to the subject of being pro-life.
Obviously that issue truly is vital. However, it is unfair to suggest that those of us who allow the environment to play a role in our political choices do not ponder other important issues as well. An acquaintance used to try to settle this issue summarily by saying that since protecting a human life is always vastly more important than protecting the life of any other creature, it is simply immoral to let ecology play a role in weighing one’s vote. But, even granting the obvious premise that a human life carries with it a higher moral value than that of a tadpole, suppose one accords significant moral weight to the value of God’s creation. Suppose further that in a given instance it becomes clear that whereas this or that election may not have any short-term or long-term effect on the pro-life side of the ledger, it will have immediate and potentially irreversible effects on the pro-environment side. What should one make of such a prospect?
Can we even imagine, for instance, a scenario like this: a pro-choice president swings into power and, within months of his occupying the Oval Office, pushes forward a welter of federal initiatives designed to increase by twenty-five percent the nation’s available abortion clinics, to establish medical schools with specialized training programs in various abortion techniques, and to block efforts to provide pregnancy counseling, sex education promoting abstinence, and services that advocate adoption. Thankfully, such a scenario seems, for the foreseeable future, most unlikely. This is not to claim that on vital pro-life issues there is no difference which party comes out on top in an election. Instead, the point here is that over the past thirty years, there have been no dramatic developments one way or another in this long national argument. (Even the oft-cited role of Supreme Court nominees does not necessarily foment dramatic change. The current high court, for instance, is already 7-2 in terms of Republican versus Democratic appointees, yet significant changes from the court do not occur with any great frequency.)
The same cannot be said of issues relating to the environment. On these issues, dramatic developments and swift, decisive actions are sometimes taken, and are even now being contemplated. If certain things in the mind of the current administration are eventually carried out, their effects could well be irreversible. One cannot some day “undrill” ANWR or bring back to life a species that goes extinct due to loss of habitat. If even a few of the predictions as to the effects of global climate change take place due to ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, these effects will also not be things we can go back and fix later if one day a more pro-ecology administration comes back into power. When coral reefs die, they die. Period.
Those of us who have a Christian and theological concern for the protection and nurture of God’s creation are simultaneously concerned with many other vital issues of this day and age. And so if some day a new administration swung into power and did engage in blatant attempts to undermine pro-life concerns, many of us in the pro-ecology camp would surely join others in the Christian community in crying out. Lately, however, the news media have made clear that safeguards that directly affect the quality of the environment are teetering on the brink. So some of us who are pro-life in also this broader sense are left to wonder where the Christian outcry is about these developments. Some years ago when we were all in the thick of the Lewinsky mess, Bill Bennett asked the Christian community “Where’s the outrage?” In the face of multiple threats to the soundness and health of our Lord’s creation handiwork, I often find myself asking the same thing.