To what could a man like this object in the arguments for global warming? The rising average temperatures, the melting of glaciers and snowcaps and ice-shelves, the unusually warm weather in traditionally cold regions wreaking havoc on the hibernation schedules of various animals – the evidence is there to be seen – not just those observation, but the reams of scientific research on the subject, the vast majority of which testifies that the atmosphere is slowly growing hotter, and that we are at least partially to blame. But it’s not enough for Jim Hutson, nor millions of other men and women in the U.S. and all over the world.
I’d love for someone to tell me when was the precise moment that environmental conservation flipped from being a conservative value to a liberal one. Protection for the environment would seem implicit in the title: conservative – apt to conserve ones resources, ones traditions; resistant to change. What could be more conservative than acting to preserve and protect and, when necessary, restore the environment? The greatest environmentalist ever to serve as President of the U.S. was conservative icon Teddy Roosevelt, who assumed the office in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. In high school I learned that Roosevelt was the first truly modern president; the first president to travel outside the country during his presidency, the first president to win a Nobel Peace Prize, the first president to invite a black man to dinner at the White House (Booker T. Washington). Roosevelt placed hundreds of millions of acres of forests and other lands under federal protection by executive order – no approval from congress, no whistle-stop tours to gain the support of the people. Roosevelt did it himself, with the stroke of his pen, because he thought it the just and responsible thing to do. Total fucking tree hugger.
So how, in just over 100 years, did we get from Teddy Roosevelt to George W. Bush, who not only denies the existence of global warming, but is still chomping at the bit after six years in office to sink some oil wells into the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge? What caused powerful conservatives to abandon environmental causes, leaving no one to stand up for planet Earth but the hemp-wearing hippies? That’s actually an easy one: money. There’s no money in protecting the environment for future generations. There’s a shitload of money in plundering the environment for our immediate consumption. The real question is why did the common man give the finger to the environment and instead embrace the culture of McDonalds and the SUV? That answer runs a lot deeper than the wallet.
We know global warming exists because science tells us so. This is also how we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, that our solar system resides along one of the arms of a spiral galaxy called the Milky Way, in an out-of-the-way corner of a vast and ancient universe. This is how we know that our universe is between 12 and 16 billion years old, that the ages of our Sun and our planet Earth are perhaps ⅓ of that, and that all living organisms on our planet, including ourselves, developed over the course of those many billions of years through a slow process of evolution. Science is not infallible, but when it comes to understanding and defining the world around us, it’s the best tool we have. For men like Jim Hutson, however, science takes a backseat to something else: religion.
Jim, and people far more devoted to the rigid tenets of Christian fundamentalism than he, looks first to the Bible. He doesn’t reject science entirely – clearly it’s onto something with the whole gravity thing – just when it seems to contradict what he considers the inerrant Word of God. The Bible doesn’t say a word about evolution, or the Big Bang. It says the universe was created in six days and that man and woman were formed by the very hands of God. It says an angry God brought a flood to the entire planet, and that humans and animals were only preserved by one man taking two of everything onboard a giant boat. The only difference between this and the creation myths of the Sumerians or Ancient Egyptians is that billions of people still believe every word of the story of Genesis is literally true. The stories of the Bible contain a great deal of wisdom and truth, as do those older myths from other cultures, but to look to the Bible for a scientific understanding of the way the world works is absurd. Why can’t we look to religion for our spiritual needs, and look to science for our more practical concerns? For many religious people, especially the most zealous and devout, reconciling their faith with science is sacrilege. It’s the same sort of thinking that made men like Copernicus and Galileo enemies of the state for disproving the Biblically-based conventional wisdom of their times.
And it’s the same sort of thing that makes men like Jim Hutson believe with absolute certainty in a book that features angels and demons and miracles, but regard scientific issues like global warming with wary skepticism. Science is wrong about evolution, it’s wrong about creation, and it’s wrong about this, too. The world was made by the hand of God himself, and man was given dominion over the earth to do with it as he saw fit. While I cannot see a downside to encouraging automobile manufacturers to build cleaner and more fuel efficient cars, or protecting even more acres of forest from logging or oil-drilling, to many religious conservatives such things would amount to placing the earth ahead of themselves, which God definitely doesn’t want them to do.
Not all religious conservatives feel that way. Some are behaving reasonably and prudently, and joining with scientists to raise awareness of global warming and encourage measures to fight it. The Boston Globe’s website had the story yesterday, announcing the National Association of Evangelicals’ plan to fight global warming on Christian moral grounds. Apparently there’s hope yet, whether Jim comes around or not.