Adam Graham
Why I'm not an environmentalist
By Adam Graham
February 7, 2010

At a Christian conference I attended this weekend, a fellow attendee suggested conservative Christians don't want to be identified with the environmentalist movement because it is identified with liberalism and that we have missed our great commission to be green. The idea is that only our petty labeling stops us from working with others for the good of all mankind.

I must disagree. I don't identify as part of the environmental movement because I don't view the movement as all that noble.

Certainly, we ought to have clean air and clean water. Who likes polluted streams and unbreathable air? Likewise, we ought to treat God's creatures with respect and kindness. I remember how angry was when on a visit to the Columbus zoo, a crowd of kids were infuriating the gorillas, teasing them until they would slam themselves into the glass. I'm all for banning cockfighting and dogfighting and making them felonies. William Wilberforce opposed cruelty to animals and so do I.

But I won't identify myself as an environmentalist, and I can't support the agenda of the groups that identify themselves as environmentalists, for the following reasons.

1) Environmentalist Initiatives May Not Benefit the Environment

I lived in Montana, where we suffered greatly in the Clinton years. The Clinton Administration failed to allow loggers to manage our forests, leading to a build up of fuel, which sparked great wildfires. This was because of the demands of environmental groups with insane policies like "let it burn."

In my last trip to Glacier International Park before leaving Montana, the air was so full of smoke, I could hardly breathe. We couldn't make it past the visitor center and left on a very downbeat note.

Other initiatives raise questions. We are told the Earth is warming when three decades ago we were told it was cooling. We're being told the air we exhale is a pollutant against all common sense understanding of how plants use Carbon Dioxide.

I remain unconvinced that much of the changes called for by the environmental movement are even necessary.

2) Environmentalism Is About Control

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has even admitted that the goal of his department was to coerce us out of cars. Environmentalism is about controling what cars you drive and even where you live. The focus of much of urban planning is on shoving people into high density urban housing and making them take the bus when most people want to live in a single family home and to drive.

Environmentalism demands an increasing role for the state in lording it over the lives of citizens and also demands increasing expenses, and in many cases, for efforts that aren't even environmentally sound and cause people great expense.

3) Environmentalism Hurts People

As a whole, environmentalism forgets about people. While a bureaucrat in Washington, DC or San Francisco decided it was a great idea to let wildfires burn, its the folks in Montana who had to wake up smelling like hell in the morning. It's the folks in timber towns like Eureka, Montana, who suffered from double digit unemployment as a result of the closing of lands to logging.

When I moved to Idaho, I was earning less than $11.00 an hour as my family's sole breadwinner and was required to register my old junker for emissions and it failed. I spent more than $200 fixing the car until it passed emissions. Then that car died. I had to get another junker and spent another $70 getting that one passed. The emissions testing hurts poor people who need to be able to drive and can't depend on the city's buses.

In rural Idaho, wolf populations are out of control. Meanwhile, much of North End Boise is so busy worshiping wolves, they don't care that people's livelihood is being endangered by a wolf population far larger than the state ever agreed to take on.

Further, environmentalism's tragic policy of banning DDT has led to tens of millions of deaths around the world as malaria has made a comeback without the protection of DDT.

Most churches try to focus on the warm fuzzy aspects of environmentalism, like recycling and energy conservation, and stay neutral on the hot button stuff the environmentalists we're supposed to ally with do to hurt people. Even in this lies danger.

4) Environmentalism Lends to Pharisaic Attitudes

One of the few times someone on the left complimented me was when I mentioned I'd been walking to work. In environmentalism, that is a virtuous act. Taking the bus, eating organic foods, recycling, and driving a hybrid are all virtuous to environmentalists.

There's a danger when the church begins to engage that type of mindset. When one begins to view oneself as morally superior for how you get to work or how you obtain the food you eat, you've become like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, who claimed moral superiority for outward works never included in scripture.

This reminds me of the story in Matthew 15, where the Pharisees chided Jesus for his disciples eating with unwashed hands. Certainly, the Pharisees had a hygienic point, but it was not a sin issue. Jesus told his disciples what defiled someone was those things which came out of their heart, but "to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." (Matthew 15:20) To those who would get hyper Pharisaical about environmental dos and don'ts, it seems likely that Jesus would say, "To drive an SUV does not defile a man."

There's a second danger of becoming like the Pharisees: losing sight of the main thing. Jesus noted the Pharisees paid the tithe on their garden herbs (Philip Yancey's paraphrase) but "have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, and faith." (Matt. 23:23)

Environmental stewardship is a mandate to each individual on their own. If a church begins to think planting trees is more important than the child prostitute in Thailand, or the urban ministries, or feeding the hungry in their own community, then they've neglected the weightier matters of justice and mercy.

Many churches have avoided this danger. The Vineyard of Boise is heavily involved in community beautification through their Tend the Garden program. They also feed the homeless. They provide assistance to those in crisis pregnancy situations. They have an excellent men's ministry. They have integrated the environment into their ministry without hurting their other efforts.

Churches can recycle or adopt a highway, but should be cautious about embracing labels like "environmentalist" because those labels have been defined in a way that hurts people, as environmentalism believes people don't matter. That doesn't mesh with a God who created us in His image and came down to dwell among us and die for us.

© Adam Graham


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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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