This is Erin Manning’s fourth and final guest post here. It’s been a great month. We want to thank Erin for her hard work and great pieces. This last one is no exception. Maybe we’ll do it again in the future if she’d still be interested – Matt and Pat.
One of the attention-grabbing ads which ran during Sunday’s Super Bowl was this one from Audi, featuring the “Green Police” who go around arresting people for “compost infractions,” illegal light bulbs, unlawful battery disposal, and the possession and use of plastic.
And there’s something rather weird about that, as Jonah Goldberg points out here:
It’s a fascinating commercial. They even got Cheap Trick to rerecord “Dream Police” as “Green Police” for the soundtrack. But just as the satire becomes enjoyable, the message changes. Until the pitch for Audi intrudes, you’d think it was a fun parody from a right-wing free-market outfit about the pending dystopian environmental police state.
The pitch involves an “eco roadblock.” A young man driving an Audi A3 TDI is singled out by an inspector. “We’ve got a TDI here,” he says. “Clean diesel,” he adds approvingly.
“You’re good to go, sir,” the cops inform the driver. The smiling Audi owner accelerates to happiness on the open road. The screen fades to black and the tagline appears — “Green has never felt so right.”
So, instead of some healthy don’t-tread-on-me mockery, the moral of the story is that we should welcome our new green overlords and, if we know what’s good for us, surrender to the New Green Order.
There’s a reason why, as a Catholic, I remain uncomfortable with mainstream environmentalism, and this silly “Green Police” ad helps to illustrate this reason. Mainstream environmentalism, in its zeal to protect the earth, is fundamentally incapable of putting people first. Though the images in the Audi commercial of people being arrested for choosing plastic bags or installing incandescent light bulbs are clearly supposed to be funny and over-the-top, when compared to true stories of people losing their property rights because of the presence of an endangered species, or facing heavy fines for other penalties for failing to recycle, and so on, the humor wanes just a bit.
Of course, property rights violations and fines pale in comparison to mainstream environmentalism’s biggest attack on the concept of the primacy of humanity: their unqualified support for contraception and abortion, and their never-ending quest to superimpose a kind of contraceptive imperialism on the people of the third world, who still value larger families and who tend to reject the notion that “saving the earth” requires them to embrace population control measures as draconian as China’s one-child, forced abortion/forced sterilization programs. Most mainstream environmental groups would agree with these “experts” that overpopulation is the world’s biggest environmental challenge.
The amount of time, money and energy spent trying to reduce the fertility of third-world women is astonishing, and appalling. Even in first-world countries, though, the message is broadcast: have more than one or (at most) two children, and you’re polluting the planet. Canadian writer Diane Francis may have been one of the first to voice the sentiment in public, but she isn’t saying anything the population control forces haven’t been saying privately for decades.
So what’s a Catholic to do? Embrace the anti-environmentalist side of these debates?
The problem with that is that Catholics are supposed to believe in responsible stewardship. As Pope Benedict XVI said recently in his message for the World Day of Peace:
Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees”, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development.
So it would seem that we can’t, as Catholics, accept a purely commercial view of the environment either, one that shrugs off the potential environmental consequences of our actions and insists that we have the right to exploit the natural world for our own purposes.
The problem with both views of the environment, the commercial/exploitative view on the one hand, and the “man is a disease on the planet that ought to be (mostly) eradicated!” view on the other, is that each one contains at its core a fundamental misunderstanding about the proper place of humanity in the universe. The mainstream environmentalist view puts man as no more or less important than any other living creature on Earth; he is a purely material being whose control of the planet over less-sentient creatures is a kind of oppression that can only be ended when man himself agrees to become less numerous and thus less dominant over the other forms of life on the planet. But the commercial/exploitative view also sees man, and everything else, as materialistic–it sees man as the ultimate Darwinian survivor, whose fitness means that his tendency to exploit the material world for his own profit and gain is inherently justified.
In order to have a properly balanced view of nature and the environment, and of the duties of Christian stewardship of the planet, though, we have to be aware that man is not merely a material being, and that creation itself is not the result of a random accumulation of matter, but the work (however He chose to accomplish it) of a Divine Creator. Since creation is His work and reflects His glory, we are not free to exploit and destroy whatever we choose. But since humanity is His utmost creation, created in His image and likeness, we are also not free to elevate nature, animals, plants, and the like over the right of human beings to live and to survive. The intrinsic right to life of every human being takes precedence over lesser environmental concerns; people must come first in the hierarchy of creation.
And whether the threat to the primacy of the human person comes from a push for commercialism that forces people from their land and livelihoods, or whether it comes, not from “Green Police” arresting plastic-bag users, but a more sinister effort to control the fertility of third-world women, the problem is the same. Without understanding humanity’s true place in the universe, a proper respect and concern for the environment becomes increasingly difficult; it is as dangerous to have a godless exploitative view of humanity and nature, as a godless environmental view of them.
February 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm
Perfect! I've been looking for a good descriptor of the Carpet-bomb-Africa-with-condoms mentality.
February 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm
Great post Erin! Hope you come soon!
February 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Whoops. I mean back soon.
February 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm
Thank you for this wonderful post. I think it is great to be aware that we have responsibilities as a Catholic, but that we don't have to go to an unbalanced extreme and be part of the "green trend" because the Catholic moral teachings will continue to hold to the importance of the dignity of the human person yesterday, today and tomorrow.
I think what is sad is that the Audi commercial is that they still don't get it. They are advertising a car that is green, but they will improve it in a year, and advertise the new one, constantly trying to get you to buy something that you actually don't need. I recently observed an interaction between a mother and her three-year-old as they saw a stove that wasn't theirs. They little girl asked her mom why theirs didn't look like that and the mother explained that it was a newer model. The girl then started chanting about their own stove "Throw it away! Buy a new one! Throw it away! Buy a new one!" This is the story of our culture and a huge part of many of our environmental factors.
I would consider myself concerned with the environment, but when I needed a vehicle and my father was trying to sell his SUV because he wanted to drive something else, I realized that it would be much more economical to use a 10 year old SUV for what driving I needed to do and walk what I could, rather than to buy a newer, greener car. I might be one of the only people that my environmental major/master/phd friends know that is single and owns an SUV, but I walk to the grocery store whenever weather permits or I carpool when necessary and I walk to Church and work almost always.
But the bottom line is that it is about more than saving money or saving the environment. There is something beautiful about this simpler way of life that I think is part of what Christ wants us to be living. Of course, everyone must discover how they can live simplicity in their family situations, but I think that a spirituality that embraces simplicity is an essential part of what we are called to do as Catholics. That might mean not using plastic bags if you are a mother buying groceries for a large family or buying a green car if you really must drive quite a bit, but whatever the response is, it shouldn't be done because it is new and trendy, or because some green police told you to, but because it is an honest response from the depths of your soul, brought before Christ in prayer, and intended as a change in lifestyle that is done with meaning and purpose.
February 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm
Always such angst about being somewhere in the middle.
I think it is time, Erin, that you rename your blog. May I suggest one of the following.
"Commie Con" (That's what Rod Dreher's blog should have been named anyway.)
"Conservative But Not Enjoying It"
"Embarrassed By Conviction: The View From The Middle Of The Road"
February 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm
I think the angst comes from people's reaction to you when you act in a Catholic stewardship/ environmentally sound manner, but they they try to co-opt your behavior and attitude into either extreme camp. Or, for example, when people named "Old Gray Mare" bash you for a perfectly balanced article. Sheesh. Who put ethanol in your Wheaties this morning?
February 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm
Or try to add a little humor? Do we always have to think the worst of everyone? I'm just sayin'…
February 10, 2010 at 4:34 pm
It is an intellectual weakness of an unfortunately common variety to classify mild criticism or even good-natured ribbing as "bashing"
I applaud Catholic Environmental stewardship.
I deplore Environmentally hating/raping strawmen almost as much as I do human hating eco-nuts.
February 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm
Some of the confusion, on the Christian side of this debate, seems to arise from the fact that we were told to "have dominion" over nature.
But dominion doesn't mean destruction or even misuse. If we remembered that "dominion" shares a Latin root with "dominus," Latin for lord, and if we then remembered that a proper lord does not abuse his lordship, but rather dedicates his life to leading, protecting, and providing for it, things might come into a bit clearer focus.
A lord may use the resources of his lordship. He ought not to abuse them, however, and he ought not to take from them what he does not need. This is why I stopped hunting almost 25 years ago. I didn't need the meat, I didn't need the fur…and I couldn't see any justification for causing the pain and suffering that I was inflicting, without those needs–in fact, I was glad I didn't need those things, because the episode that made me stop was…awful. (And before someone jumps on me: I know that some hunting is necessary, such as in the case of keeping deer populations down, and I don't condemn it all, though I'm glad I don't have to do it myself, and for myself, I cannot kill things for "sport." It's not fun, not if you understand what you're doing.)
To be clearer about it: Christ is our model for lordship. He used creation while He was here on earth, but did not abuse it. If Anne Katherine Emerich is to be believed, He slaughtered the pascal lamb Himself…but with reluctance and repugnance.
And then replaced all future lambs with Himself.
Now that's an Example for dominion over nature.
February 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm
I think that you are right in identifying the human factor. As Catholics, we have two reasons to care about the environment.
The first is that we were given dominion over the earth, but as Catholics we understand dominion to be a responsibility, not a gift. God has made us responsible for creation, and we must live up to that responsibility.
The second is our charge to care for the poor. The poor always suffer the worst of environmental degredation. The poor are the first to be deprived when resources become scarce. Therefore, we have the responsibility to protect the environment because we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters.
This is the fundamental difference between a Catholic environmentalism and the dominant secular environmentralism. The dominant secular environmentalism sets the environment and people at odds. Humanity is the source of environmental harm. Therefore, this secular environmentalism can't help but embrace human destruction. There is an inherent misanthropism to it. Meanwhile, Catholic environmentalism is driven by the sanctity of human life. We must protect the environment because it is necessary to protect human life. Any environmental protection policy that is contrary to human life is therefore contrary to Catholic environmentalism.
This is what sets Catholicism apart in many ways: the fundamental valuing of the human person. This is why Catholicism cannot embrace the dominant secular environmentalism any more than it can embrace the pro-choice ethos.
February 10, 2010 at 6:39 pm
The Environmental Stewardship comment will bite us in the backside when trying to explain to Catholic why they shouldn't use the Pill.
With all of the confused, modernized, nuanced Catholics in the pews and colleges, this just ain't going to end well anytime soon.
February 10, 2010 at 8:45 pm
I think it was a great post Erin 🙂 I am always terrible at explaining to people that I dont' have a problem "going green", I have a problem with being an extremist. I want our planet to be clean and healthy, but I don't want it to come at the cost of human lives
February 10, 2010 at 10:22 pm
🙂 Erin, you are beyond awesome! Wonderful stuff, this past month!
February 10, 2010 at 11:24 pm
Paladin, thanks so much! 🙂
Old Gray Mare, a commenter on my blog pointed out that Catholic social teaching doesn't fit into the neat political boxes labeled "right" and "left." The challenge is to try to think with the Church first, and one's party second, I think.
February 11, 2010 at 12:02 am
Care for the environment is an important topic and you covered the basics well. Hopefully, you can return to it periodically.
February 11, 2010 at 12:23 am
Old Gray Mare, calling someone a Commie is not a "common variety" of mild criticism or good-natured ribbing. Perhaps the two of you have a history of which I am unaware and in which universe your characterization of your comment is in fact true, in which case I take back MY criticism of your comment. Otherwise, I stand by my defense of Erin's article as being very clear on the issue, and not full of angst at all.
February 11, 2010 at 12:38 am
A commenter said…
I stand corrected.
February 11, 2010 at 1:32 am
Lori, as far as I know I don't know Old Gray Mare (or maybe as far as Internet identity goes, she ain't what she used to be, so to speak). But she appears to want to pick a fight with me over this, which is pretty silly.
Old Gray Mare, do you really think that there's no such thing as legitimate concern for the environment? That's not what the Church says–nor does the Church say that all environmental concern is communism in disguise.
What, really, is your issue here?
February 13, 2010 at 7:10 am
The Holy Father has addressed this issue in the most profound way out of the entirety of these last few decades of "environmental awareness."
Ultimately, we must not be stuck in a 'wilderness is where evil dwells' mentality; at the same time, closeness with God is the only light.
The commercial/exploitative view, as you put it, would consider that in all cases, profit comes before preservation. Simply standing with the poacher in Tanzania because "humans always come first" is counterproductive, and frankly, a presentist evil which denies future generations the full bounty and beauty of Creation.