Essay: Real Environmentalism

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This essay is an original work by AddisonDM. Please comment only on the talk page.


Contents

Introduction

When most of us hear terms like “eco-conscious” or “environmentalism,” what do we think of? Global warming, compact fluorescent light bulbs, green (literally) reusable shopping bags? Unfortunately, these things have little bearing on real environmentalism.

So what is “real” environmentalism? It is, first of all, so different from the standard image of environmentalism that it should not even bear the same name; I suggest the term “environmental stewardship.” Environmental stewardship does not place nature above man. It does not center around tenuous science (man-made global warming) or over-the-top politically-motivated rhetoric (“We use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products.”)[1] It is, simply, based on a desire to preserve, to conserve, the world that God gave us.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. What is important here is that He made the earth and everything in it. Each time God created something, He “saw that it was good.” Thus, there is a certain inherent value in nature from the beginning, because God made it.

God also made man, and gave man dominion over the earth, commanding him to “fill…and subdue it.” The key point here is that this dominion is not unlimited. It is given to us to be good stewards of creation, much in the way that in the New Testament we are called to be stewards of the Kingdom. If what God made was good, it follows that is not our right to destroy it. We must, therefore, protect and preserve the world. This conviction is based on faith, not politics.

What’s Wrong with Environmentalism?

The most talked about environmental issue is probably man-made global warming. The focus on this issue is so pronounced that it has led to mocking comparisons of Al Gore to a prophet and the destruction of the earth by global warming to the Apocalypse.

The problem is that man-made global warming is simply not backed up by enough evidence to deserve its position as the foremost environmental issue. In the face of record cold temperatures in the last two or three winters, doubt has even been expressed that global warming is occurring at all, let alone as a result of primarily human activity. Since the science simply is not there for man-made global warming, it should take a back seat to more pressing and tangible environmental issues (these issues are noted in the following section).

Another serious problem with mainstream environmentalism is that it has become so politically charged that it is no longer dedicated to the issues alone. It seems that more time is spent arguing about global warming than actually doing anything about it (not that anything needs to be done about it). There is too much rhetoric and too much political opposition. This is partly because the environmentalists have for some reason made tenuous and controversial global warming their major issue. If the major issue were litter cleanup, no one could possibly disagree. But basic, important environmental activities such as litter cleanup are overlooked because of the political debates over controversial issues.

Issues for Environmental Stewardship

These are issues which may or may not be overlooked by mainstream environmentalism. In any case, they are, in my opinion, the most important environmental issues out there. Some of them also have a basis in Christianity, such as the waste/consumerism issue.

Litter Cleanup

This is a common, easy activity (who hasn't cleaned up litter at a local park?) but it is by no means unimportant. It is true that cleaning up litter can only go so far – as far as the discrete community in which it is done. But isn't that one less plastic bottle that will end up buried in the ground for centuries to come? And perhaps aggressive litter cleanup could actually have an effect outside the local community. The infamous “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” would undoubtedly be smaller if less litter were able to make its way to ocean-bound waterways.

Conservation

Conservation is an important environmental issue, and is perhaps most the most direct means of preserving God's creation. Conservation does not mean not using natural resources. What it means is using them in a responsible manner. It also means preventing serious damage to ecosystems, such as toxic waste dumped in rivers. Fortunately, many issues related to conservation have been dealt with in the last few decades.

Waste Reduction / Excessive Consumerism

Who hasn't driven through some wealthy town on garbage day and spotted a new-looking sofa, TV, lawn machine, piece of furniture? It looks like the stuff you buy, only it's being thrown out! And where does it go? Either in the ground, or to China[2]. All of these perfectly good items end up useless, dumped in a landfill or scrapped for parts. And yet, they could be donated, even sold, to those in need. Thus, the issue of waste reduction is not only environmental (wasted resources) but social (reduces supply of cheap used items for the disadvantaged). There should be a powerful Christian motivation here to reduce consumerism, or at least to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill.

Another detailed point must be made under this heading. There is a lot of talk about recycling, and recycling is good. But when an item is reusable (e.g. an old TV) and there is someone who wants that item, it is wasteful even to recycle it. It is economically wasteful (because the market value of the item will almost certainly exceed its scrap value), environmentally wasteful (because it takes no resources to continue using an item, while it takes at least some resources to reprocess an item), and socially wasteful as explained in the above paragraph. In short, recycling should not take the place of re-use.

"Capitalism" in Garbage Disposal

Have you ever thought about how, if you live in a town, you pay the same amount in garbage disposal taxes whether you put out a houseful of trash or just a few bags? The common flat-tax system of garbage disposal is "socialistic," because it does not promote individual responsibility. In "capitalism," individual responsibility is the flip side of individual economic freedom.

In some municipalities, "capitalist" garbage disposal exists. Sometimes humorously referred to as "pay as you throw," a fee is placed on each unit of garbage put out for disposal. An individual pays for exactly as much garbage as he produces. Therefore, there is a strong motivation to throw out as little as possible, and to compost, recycle, and donate as much as possible. Simply converting flat-tax systems to "pay as you throw" would greatly reduce waste, and reduce the strain on landfills. It would also make everyone personally responsible for the waste they produce.

Composting

Composting is not talked about a whole lot, even by environmentalists. Perhaps this is because few people enjoy spending time with their garbage (which is understandable). But composting is just as important as recycling, only it is "recycling" organic trash. Instead of TVs and plastic bottles, it is recycling lettuce scraps and moldy bread. Composting reduces the mass of garbage that will end up in the landfill, and it also keeps the organic matter in circulation. When organic trash goes to the landfill, it may take years or even decades for the matter to decompose and return to the earth. When composted, however, it is returned to the earth in matter of days.

Energy Savings

This issue is last because it is least important. The main reason we are told to save energy is to create less CO2, but since man-made global warming is by no means proven, CO2 emissions are not that big a deal. The other reason for saving energy is that fossil fuels are for the most part nonrenewable. We will almost certainly have discovered sustainable renewable energy sources by the time fossil fuels run out, however, so saving energy is good, but is far less important than the other issues outlined.

The Real Environmentalist

The real environmentalist is not stereotypical hippie driving a Smart Car, eating vegan, and conscious of his personal carbon footprint. This image has little to do with true environmental stewardship. The real environmentalist is out "in the field," picking up litter, counting his bags of trash, and donating his used goods. And perhaps most importantly, he recognizes God as the Creator, and derives his respect for nature from the fact that it was made by the Creator, who saw that it was good.

References

  1. This is a direct quote from the "sustainability" video "The Story of Stuff," which is unfortunately being shown to school children across America.
  2. Electronic waste is often shipped to China to be "recycled," i.e. crudely smashed, burned, or otherwise dangerously broken down by workers. One village in China has become known as an "e-waste village" because it is a major center of this primitive recycling business.
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