We attended a lecture by Richard Cizik at the Duke Divinity School Thursday titled, “Are You a Good Steward? The Challenge to Christians in a Warming World.” After the lecture there was a panel discussion also involving Tim Profeta, Director of the Nicolas Institute for Evironmental Policy Solutions and Norman Wizba, Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life at Duke.
After 20+ years as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals government affairs and lobbying arm, in 2008 Rev. Cizik was fired as a result of his positions on climate change and other issues which are controversial in the evangelical world. Today he is the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
I’m not much interested in “policy.” To me that usually is a form of coercion. But I’m very interested in learning more about how we can be better stewards and how we might better spread the message in hopes of persuading others of the importance of urgency of the issue of stewardship. So we attended the lecture in hopes of soaking in something good.
The session did provide a lot of good thoughts for how to engage the issue, particularly in faith communities. But surprisingly, given my lack of interest in “policy,” I found the discussion of the recent history of policy-making in this area fascinating.
For many years both Rev. Cizik and Mr. Profeta were actively involved, as representatives of the interests of evangelicals, in lobbying for legislation to reduce the impact of climate change, particularly on the poor. They described how in the early 2000s a broad range of support for these iniatives existed, across party lines. Senator John McCain was a leader in the effort, for example. Even very conservative Senators like Sam Brownback were on board.
But everything changed when “An Inconvenient Truth” was released.
The effect of the movie, particularly the effect of making Al Gore the person the public now associated with the issue, was to destroy all their work. While the movie greatly energized the Democrat base, the association of the issue with Al Gore, a controversial political figure, quickly led to it becoming entirely partisan. They cited studies which show that whereas before the movie global warming was getting a reasonable amount of coverage on the major news networks, but virtually none on the cable political channels (Fox and MSNBC), afterwards coverage in the mainstream media dwindled while it skyrocketed in the partisan media. Within a few months “global warming” became almost a strictly “liberal” issue and denial of its existence became part of the conservative creed.
These days they said it is impossible to accomplish anything on the policy level due to the partisan divide. Sam Brownback, for example, no longer advocates legislation to address climate change. He simply could not have been elected governor of Kansas if he did. These days any legislation that is predicated on the problems caused by climate change is doomed to fail. In an effort to get something done they even crafted a bill using exclusively proposals from Republicans (pre Inconvenient Truth) but now couldn’t get a single Republican to sponsor it.
According to Profeta, while he was governor of Massachussets Mitt Romney was one of the country’s leading spokesmen and advocates for legislation to address global warming. Today he’s completely reversed his position (as he has on so many things) presumably to accomodate himself to the political reality. And the politicization of it has also made it impossible for Democrats to accomplish anything on the issue, even if they wanted to.
All were in agreement that regardless of who heads the next administration, we shouldn’t expect much of anything on this issue.
I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for these men to see all their work go down the drain that way.
To my way of thinking, its just one more piece of evidence for why we shouldn’t expect political solutions to these kinds of problems.