Archive for January 5th, 2011

Why You Should Care - a Lot - About Christian Environmentalism

admin January 5th, 2011

Over at Science Blogs, one of my colleagues Dr. Jeffrey Toney, author of Dean’s Corner, has been meditating on the attacks on the environmental movement by Conservative Christian organizations.  

Protecting and sustaining our environment is a core value that seems to be common sense. It never occurred to me that this value might somehow conflict with religion - after all, isn’t being a good steward of the earth a goal of numerous faiths? Apparently not.

As reported in The New York Times, there is a strong push back by Christian evangelists against environmentalism. I find this mind boggling.

This movement refers to itself as “Resisting the Green Dragon” {is such a moniker supposed to conjure images of fire breathing dragons in a prehistoric era?} and refers to enviornmentalism as a “false religion.” Is it not a science? Shouldn’t scientific data drive the conversation?

I’m not sure that environmentalism is a science.  It is based on scientific evidence, but while scientific reasoning might well lead one to the sense one should protect the environment, it is also possible that other things would lead you there - love for a specific place or experience endangered by our way of life, for example, or a religious sense of obligation to care and protect things.  As I’ve written before, my own environmentalism is certainly a product of the scientific evidence for climate change, resource depletion and habitat destruction, but I don’t think it is solely the sum of that reasoning.  The Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam, that humans are here for the purpose of repairing a damaged world is central to my thinking, as are other philosophical and theological and historical reasons. 

I’m glad that Dr. Toney is writing about this issue, because I think it is profoundly important, and it doesn’t take a lot of hard thinking to figure out why.  At this point, the leading environmental issue of this century, climate change, has powerful ideological associations, associations that will essentially determine whether we do anything to protect ourselves from the worst outcomes of global warming.  Our last election put nails in the coffin of climate change legislation in the US, nails that were already halfway banged in by the tepid support of even the left.  Toney’s argument that environmentalism should be about science is right, but it isn’t - and it hasn’t been for a very long time.

The Green Dragon movement which appalls Dr. Toney is a response to the emergence of a conservative Christian environmentalism that is profoundly concerned with climate change and resource consumption.  I had the pleasure of speaking at Mercer University a while back, along with Dr. David Gushee, drafter of the 2006 Evangelical Climate Initiative, and other evangelical Christians attempting to create a Christian cultural narrative with an awareness of how fragile our ecological situation is at its center. 

This is a fraught position among conservative Christians - at the same conference, young climate activist and writer Jonathan Merritt talked about the anger and threats that had accompanied his first tentative steps to bring his environmental and religious convictions together.  Gushee has argued that there is an emergent Christian “Center” that could be moved politically and socially on a host of issues.  But such movement, and popularizing the theological and philosophical cultural grounding that will allow people who have been raised to view environmental awareness as ideologically leftist and associated with a lack of faith or paganism is a big and difficult project.

The statistics are very clear - there aren’t enough leftists in the US to do much of anything (to the extent the US even has a left, which is another issue).  In order to make political change that will moderate the worst extremes of climate change or begin preparing us for resource depletion, traditional environmentalists must collaborate with people they haven’t always gotten along with.  As I have argued for some years, particularly in this article “Moloch’s Children” , we are going to have to choose who we concentrate our efforts on, and in some ways, attempting to move Conservative Christians may actually be more effective than moving the vast secular middle. 

Why do I think this?  Because as I say in the essay mentioned above, I distinguish between two categories of climate skeptic - the paid shills, who deserve to be properly reviled, and the rest, the ordinary people who are simply uncertain about what to believe, or reject climate change because they have been told they should.  Among this group are a large number of people who I think could be moved by our ecological crisis, if the framing was correct (I’m not sure at this point climate change is the best mover - it may be that peak energy works better):

I don’t believe that people can be easily and accurately divided into enlightment categories – I think they are mostly a distraction.  Nor do I think that the climate change debate exists in the terms that most climate activists frame it, between skeptics and activists/scientists.  There are certainly some people on both sides who come to this with a single, all-encompassing worldview that could be described that way, but mostly, I don’t think that’s accurate.  Instead, I would frame the distinction differently – that the populace is roughly divided into two groups – but not the ones you think they are. The first, I’m going to call “Moloch’s Children” – which isn’t a very nice name, but it is, I think,  accurate.   By this I mean that like Moloch, they devour their own young.  I do not claim that the Children of Moloch do so intentionally – at worst, their seeming god is Mammon.  But the reality is that the worship of consumption leads to the cannibalizing of our future and our children.  

Who are these people?  The children of Moloch consist of the great mass of Americans and other rich world denizens whose central ideology is technological progress and consumption – Moloch is their god, the overarching center of their world is the urge for more and more comfort, more and more possessions, more and more wealth, more and more technology in complete disregard of the fact that these things are not possible.   They do not realize that they devour their own future as they consume.  I realize that most of the people I am describing would fervently deny that this is true of them – but they would mostly be wrong.  At the center of their value system is something empty and deeply wrong, and that emptiness stretches out and empties their world.  They do not know what is missing from their lives, so they seek out more to fill the empty space.

The Children of Moloch cross political, religious, cultural and ethnic lines.  That is, there are plenty of climate skeptics who believe that the climate probably isn’t changing and even if it is, we can just fix it with more free enterprise.  But there are equally many people in the same camp who believe that yes, climate change is a big problem, and someone really should do something about it, but not me, and nothing that impacts my mutual fund statement.   It is possible to be a devout Christian and still hold prosperity, comfort and your game cube at the center of your world in practice, while going to Church on Sundays.  It is possible to be a radical leftist athiest and still hold those same values at the center of your world.  Every shade of middle ground runs through the center.  Moloch knows no political bounds.

The truth is that if you could meaningfully divide the world up into climate skeptics and climate believers and use that information politically, then we’d already be acting on climate change.  The fact is that you can’t – the vast majority of people who believe we should do something about climate change believe that we shouldn’t do anything very difficult, expensive or inconvenient – pretty much what the skeptics believe.  They are different in that if it doesn’t cost them anything substantive, they’d be happy if the problem went away.

The second group I’ve called several things over the years – anti-modernists, sustainability folk (before that term came to mean “people who buy green prada”)…  For this purpose, though, I call them “People of the Center” – that is, anyone who has something other than Moloch at the center of their world: a hope for the future, an investment in the past, the love of a G-d, the love of humanity in general, an ethical paradigm that actually trumps the desire for more –  and thus perceives, sometimes instinctively, sometimes after long study, that we cannot go on this way, and must find something else. 

And this category too crosses all political, cultural and religious lines.   There are devout Christian homesteaders in this group, and indigenous native farmers, radical leftists and radical rightists.  There are aging hippies and crunchy cons.  There are Quakers and Amish, Hasidic and Liberal Jews, Moslems, Buddhist Nuns and Catholic Nuns, Neo-Pagans and Athiests.  There are people who believe that climate change is no problem at all, or not their problem, but who deeply and profoundly believe they are called by their faith or taste or commitment to another principle to live ethically.  There are people who believe that climate change is everything and come to the same conclusions.  And in the end, what matters here are the ends- the conclusions and the life that follows them.

Here, then, I see the people who are already beginning to live the life necessary.  They may think I’m a complete raving loon on the subject of climate change – but they recognize the need to grow their own food.  They may not care at all about peak oil, but they know they need to cut their energy use and energy budget.  They could be, on the right political grounds, supportive of far more radical political changes than most of the moderate people who accept climate change, because their basic premise is that the future is worth preserving.

The truth is that even without acceptance of climate change, tens of thousands of people recognize the essential emptiness of our center and are looking for a better way.  The truth is that even if we disagree on peak oil, or on the face of the financial collapse, we have things to speak about.   Even if we fight over important (I do not claim they are not important, just perhaps not as important as preventing the worst outcomes of our future) issues that are simply secondary – the traditional battleground issues of left and right, for example, we can recognize their secondariness. 

Even if we have nothing in common except our commitment to creating a future for human beings in the world, we can work together at least in some measure – and I would argue that the People of the Center have more in common with one another than they do with the Children of Moloch, regardless of  their opinions on gay marriage and health care funding.

Christians whose primary ideology is Moloch or Mammon and those who recognize that the way of life they live cannot go on are now associated with each other, but there’s nothing ideologically necessary in that association, and the emergence of the Christian Center and a language of Christian environmentalism is part and parcel I think of creating a culture in which it might be possible for those anti-modernist people of the center to ally.  It won’t be easy or simple, but it may well be the best bet we have.

This is why even if you don’t think Christian environmentalism has anything to do with you, even if you have thought up to now that all evangelicals are alike, you should rethink.  It is important that we begin to explore the common ground held by middle peoples - and provide aid and support to those beleaguered by blowback -  our lives depend on it.


Ask Your Garden Questions Thread!

admin January 5th, 2011

Ok, I did this with food storage and preservation, and the response was overwhelming - I didn’t actually respond to the half of them.  I haven’t forgotten about it, though, and some of the questions are going to come back in the next couple of months as posts.  I’m hoping to do better this time, though, so go ahead, ask me anything about your garden.  I’ll do my best to answer!


Independence Days Update: Seed Catalog Days

admin January 5th, 2011

It has been a while since I’ve done one of these - so much going on, but little preserving or growing as yet.  I’ll start the earliest seeds very soon, though - mostly perennials for first year flowering (some will flower in the first year if you start them early enough), onions and leeks and some plants that require winter stratification.  Right now, I’m immersed in seed catalogs, dreaming and planning. 

The dreaming and planning is the more acute right now because so many of my other enterprises depend on this - particularly the bedding and native plant sales.  I’m hoping to have all the information about my seed starting CSA up within a week or two, allowing people to choose their plant varieties from a good, wide list (oh, heavens, I’ll have to buy more seed varieties…how…terrible!).  I’m also totting up what seed I have left from last year and making garden plans.  I’ll put the CSA information up as soon as I can get it all together.  I’m also plotting open farm days for plant pickup, and where I might do drop off in Albany, Schenectady and other local spots.

All six of the senior does seem to be settled now, with breeding due dates from early April to early May.  The junior does (last year’s babies) will be bred in February for July kidding.  Among other things, I’m curious if the reason we’ve had so many singles (when Nigerian Dwarves are generally famous for multiples) is that we’ve been breeding out of season.  Someone suggested to me that they had more babies in season, even though they breed well year round.  Curious to experiment - not so much because I want more babies, but because singles are actually harder to deliver than twins or triplets since they tend to be bigger, with much bigger heads. 

I’ll breed the rabbits in February as well for spring kindling.    I’m also awaiting my poultry catalogs, since I need to replace a lot of my older layers. I’m also thinking of purchasing an incubator - we’ve had uneven results from setting hens, particularly with the duck eggs, and I’m looking for greater control and consistency.  If you have one, do you recommend it?  Which one?  Also, has anyone tried crossing Speckled Sussex and RI Red chickens to produce a sexable (males are white, females speckled or red) dual purpose bird?  I’ve used Sussex in my crosses before, but not in this combination, and have had it recommended to me.

There’s a lot of management of food this time of year - making sure that the apples that go wrinkly get used first, and that any carrots that go soft go to the rabbits and goats.  Some of the squash that don’t keep as well are coming to the end of their season and need to be cooked or dried or frozen.  I make some applesauce and can it now and again, but mostly this is a quiet time, and the jars proliferate like mad on the shelves as they get emptied out.

Besides the seed and poultry catalogs, there are the bee catalogs.  From one thing and another last year, while I spent much of the winter planning to, I never got bees.  This year, Eric asked for them for a 40th birthday present from his Mom, so now we’re getting our act together. I’m not sure his Mom was totally ecstatic to give him tens of thousands of bugs for his birthday, but she’s convinced he really does want them!

The big project right now is cleaning out and decluttering.  Oh, and recluttering. Our decision to adopt more kids made me realize that I should probably stop getting rid of all the stuff Asher has outgrown - for so many years I kept every size clothing from newborn to well, now 18.  I was thrilled when Asher finally outgrew it and I could get rid of most of it, but of course, the odds are good that at least one if not both of the kids we adopt will be smaller (even if not younger) than Asher - the kid is huge, with 2 inches and 1 lb being all that separate him from his 2-years-older brother.  I’ve given away a lot of the 2-4t stuff, but I’m saving what I’ve got left, and stopping putting away all the board books and the younger kid books.

The first home visit won’t be for a few weeks, but my goal is to get the room any new kids will move into basically set up, not to presume too much, but just because we’ve got the space and I might as well move what’s going to be in there anyway in earlier.  I don’t have beds for kids - I’ll have to keep my eye out on Craigslist for some bunkbeds or something - but I already have the dressers (bed and a dresser for each kid is required) left over from Eric’s grandparents, and I can move some of the extra kids’ books and beanbag chairs and things in to the room.  I have to buy a door, though - for some reason that front room never had one.

The room the kids will be moving into had been a guest room and my sewing and yarn space - I have *tons* of yarn, since a store near me went out of business and the proprietor (a friend) sold a lot of it to me for 10 cents on the dollar or less.  I’ve barely been knitting this past year - I spent so much time sitting in front of the computer that it was hard to organize myself for sedentary activities, but cleaning out and moving the yarn around has me excited to knit again, and lord knows, the kids can always use more hats and mittens!  Particularly since Asher likes to wear mittens in the house, which doesn’t exactly contribute to ease of location later.

Ok, onwards:

Plant something: Nada

Harvest something: a few greens out from the snow during the warm spell, mint, rosemary and lemon verbena from overwintered indoor plants.

Preserve something: A few jars of applesauce, dried some willow bark, froze some extra squash.

Waste Not: Well, I’m working on using up all that yarn!  Otherwise, the usual managing stores and feeding things to other things.

Want Not: Replaced two winter coats - Eli’s because he’s grown *again* - his coat was fine in October, but his wrists were hanging out by December and Isaiah because of an irreparrable zipper.  Got everything from after holiday sales.  Also stocked up on spices.

Eat the food: We’ve been letting the kids choose meals and help cook, so we’ve eaten a lot of good stuff lately.  I forgot how much we all love stuffed cabbage.   We made shishkebabs with grilled marinated root vegetables and tempeh, and more conventional ones with chicken, and rice pilaf.  I’ve also been trying recipes from cookbooks for my “31 Books” series over at the Science blogs site 

Build Community Food Systems: Have arranged some talks and projects - I’m also plotting open farm days - thinking of having one in April, one in May and one in July.

How about you?