Recent polls indicate most Americans are concerned about global climate change. Yet, depending upon how the survey question is asked, twenty to forty percent remain skeptical. Many conservatives disdain environmentalism and urge a cautious response to global warming. They mirror the tragic response to the plight of German Jews, seventy years ago. Then, as now, urging caution in the face of overwhelming factual data set the stage for a holocaust.
A typical conservative approach to global climate change is the
March 2nd column by James Robison, a Texas televangelist. Writing in “A Christian Response to Global Warming,”
Robison laments, “The politics of environmentalism cloud the real issues” and claims, “The hostility toward Christianity that often accompanies environmentalism has caused many Christians to completely reject all things ‘green.’” Robison asserts, “We need to rise above the dirty politics of the "environmental movement…Disagreement, hypocrisy and controversy pollute the environmentalism landscape.” Robison uses Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth
as an example of dirty politics.
From this skeptical position, Pastor Robison suggests several maxims for his Christian followers: “God likes the earth.” “The most valuable asset of our planet [is]…people.” “When an initiative will benefit the environment and improve national security, there should be no opposition to it.” “Waste is not wise.” Robison concludes, “The earth belongs to God, but he's letting us stay here. We should leave it in better shape for the next generation. Our ability to do so depends heavily on reliable information about the environment, as well as realistic solutions to act upon.” [Emphasis added.]
James Robison’s writes in the classic conservative tradition of “damming with faint praise.” What he’s preaching to his millions of followers amounts to: “We must be good stewards but the environmentalists are whackos. We need reliable information before we take action to abate global warming.”
Regrettably, Pastor Robison repeats the falsehood that there is scientific controversy about global climate change: claiming there is no “reliable information.” The latest scientific report Climate Change 2007
contains yet more alarming evidence that humankind teeters on the brink of environmental catastrophe. There is no scientific controversy about such reports, when more than ninety percent of relevant scientists endorse them. Naysayers such as Robison who allege, environmentalists are misleading us
, generate controversy. This allows them to deny the necessity for immediate action. They’re irresponsible and, like the holocaust deniers, immoral.
In his willingness to comfort his followers with platitudes and caution against action, Pastor James Robison imitates the attitudes of American conservative preachers in the thirties. They, too, denied mounting evidence of outrage. In that case, they argued that claims the German Nazi party intended to systematically eliminate Jews were exaggerations. These naysayers pointed to allegedly reliable reports that Nazis were treating Jews “humanely”. The conservatives suggested the United States and its Allies move cautiously. As a consequence, many Jews were trapped in Germany and Western Europe. Families, such as that of Anne Frank,
were denied visas. In time, Nazis moved them out of ghettoes into death camps like Auschwitz. Before and during World War II many Americans did not recognize the gravity of the plight of European Jews.
When the world is beset by dreadful problems, there is a time for careful study and then a time for deliberate action. Reputable scientists have concluded that humanity’s future on the planet is imperiled unless we take immediate drastic steps to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. The time for study has ended. The moment for action has arrived. This is the time for the world community to come together and as a community make major lifestyle changes. It is a time for sacrifice.
It took less than ten years for Nazi anti-semitism to produce the death of 6 million European Jews. How long will it take for the effects of global climate change to result in similar loss of life? No can say for sure. What seems clear is that within the lifetime of most readers of this article, the effects of global warming will become painfully obvious: polar ice will disappear, sea levels will rise, and catastrophic weather will become commonplace. Millions will be affected. There will be worldwide consequences including sickness, starvation, and death.
Twenty years from now, James Robison may still be alive. When he and his Christian flock observe the dire consequences of global climate change, what will Robison say: I tried to get my followers to take it seriously and change their lifestyles. Or will he boast: I threw rocks at Al Gore and other environmentalists. I denied the environmental holocaust.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.