What Would Happen if Environmentalists Learned to Laugh and Play Cards?

Can we schmooze and trade business cards and crack jokes and slap backs and form partnerships? Or will we keep alienating potential collaborators with a brand of green fundamentalism?
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A question for the eco-friendly: Can we see those outreached hands? They're there, waiting for us, just beyond the fog of our prim, finger-wagging islands. Surveys show that three out of four U.S. voters favor regulating carbon dioxide emissions; some conservatives are reminding their kin of the word, "conserve"; and faith leaders are framing climate change as a moral issue: the first chapters in Genesis call us to nurture the Earth, not destroy it.

Can we schmooze and trade business cards and crack jokes and slap backs and form partnerships? Or will we keep alienating potential collaborators with a brand of green fundamentalism that anathematizes hunters, fishermen, Bible-believers and meat-and-potatoes lovers, driving them into the fold of the Rev. Jack Hibbs, pastor of the Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, Calif.: "Environmentalism is nothing more than a pagan worship system"?

I saw the outreached hands during the week of April 22 at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care. Matthew Sleeth, an evangelical physician and co-founder of Blessed Earth, spoke during the Sunday service at the National Cathedral, where representatives from several prominent seminaries signed a "stewardship alliance" pledging ecological education. We then walked through the rain to an award lunch for writer and activist Wendell Berry. Author Bill McKibben and NASA scientist James Hanson gave plenary remarks on Monday at nearby Saint Sophia, with breakout sessions offering perspectives from Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalians, Baptists, Jews, as well as scientists and policy makers -- and there was Mitch Hescox, CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, freely announcing his GOP affiliation, and Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson, who organized logistics for General David Petraeus in Afghanistan and saw the military harm of oil-dependence. Anderson echoed his Feb. 3 statements before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, where he praised our chief executive for not approving the Keystone Pipeline: "Frankly, as a political conservative and as a long-time registered Republican, I don't often agree with President Obama, but on this matter he absolutely got it right. I strongly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because it will degrade our national security." The pipeline would only deepen our nation's addiction to oil and intensify CO2 emissions.

Is the fog clearing? Do we see the hands? They stretched again during a Tuesday march and again on Thursday during an EEN-sponsored day of prayer. It was a microcosm of what must happen to battle climate change. It's time to crawl off our islands and buddy-up with people who say their rosaries, salute the flag and bowl.

But I wonder. Do we even know we're unlikable? People can count the hairs in our up-turned noses -- and it's a turn-off. One example is PZ Myers, a University of Minnesota biologist who cogently argues for the reality of climate change on his blog, Pharynglia, then ruins it with its subtitle: "Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal." Please remember, Dr. Myers, that 40 percent of all Americans go to church and many more respect religion. You've just bolstered Hibbs. And do a fly-over above the former Soviet Union and China. "Godless" leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao ZeDung did not exactly rig the landscape for a Sierra Club brochure.

Another is Van Jones, author of "The Green Collar Economy," in which he successfully reasoned against oil domination: green businesses will create more jobs. Then ... the nose hairs, the disdain, the turn-off: Jones devotes pages on the superiority of Native American spirituality to Christianity's alleged environmental hostility. Read Saint Basil the Great, Van. The venerated fourth-century church father said this: "A single plant, a blade of grass or one speck of dust is sufficient to occupy all your intelligence in beholding the art with which it has been made." Throw in quotes from Saint Francis of Assisi as well as countless others.

Listen in on the chatter from the prim fog. You'd swear there's agreement with a warped syllogism: 1) Religious people launched the Spanish Inquisition; 2) the individual before me is religious; 3), therefore, this innocent-looking homemaker personally authorized persecution and murder. And there's the salvos on Galileo at the mere mention of Roman Catholicism. It was a nasty business, to be sure, but that was a long time ago stuff's happened since then. The Church has become a powerful ally. Remember the pope's appeal to the recent Durban conference on climate change: "I hope that all members of the international community can agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations."

Will we see the hands? Or will we wander through the prim fog that engulfed the environmental movement at around the turn of the 20th century, when two of its founders -- the mystical John Muir and the utilitarian Gifford Pinchot -- refused to speak to one another after the latter supported sheep grazing in forest preserves. Both gave much from their own enclaves. They could have given more if they shook hands despite their disagreements on important issues, such as the Hetch Hetchy dam project.

We do not have luxury to wallow in their mistake today. Too much is at stake. It's time to lower our noses and team-up. And who knows? We may become pals with a VFW member and have a blast at a hockey game.

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