Why Christians can criticize 'Green New Deal', but can't dodge 'green' politics
Feb. 9, 2019
A joint congressional resolution for a “Green New Deal” is the latest effort aiming to apply political solutions to environmental problems. Whatever the merits of the proposal, one theologian says, Christians must think hard about what their faith says about environmental policy.
“To think that the U.S. government can be agnostic about the environment is a little like thinking it’s agnostic about faith: policies will impact the environment, for good or for ill,” Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University of America, told CNA.
“It strikes me that the Christian approach to the environment would require us to think about our policies’ impact on creation. Or, to put it differently, about whether our policies give God his due in their impact on his creation,” said Capizzi, who also directs the Institute for Human Ecology.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., have proposed a joint resolution to recognize “the duty of the federal government to create a Green New Deal.”
The non-binding resolution would not create new programs, but its passage would convey the sense of Congress and provide justification for further legislation.
The new resolution cites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, which said that a rise in global temperatures must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Though Capizzi said addressing particular policies is beyond his expertise, he said Christians are a “future-oriented people.”
“We look in hope to the coming of our savior and our reflections on how to live now should always have an eye towards their long-term impact on the world into which, in hope, we bring our children,” he said. “We have justice-based responsibilities to our children to care for the creation God intends for them as well as for us.”
As a theologian, Capizzi said, the specifics of the proposal “are less interesting to me than is the idea that politics must attend to humanity’s relationship with all of God’s creation.”
The political proposal comes as the Trump administration has worked to promote domestic gas, oil and coal production by loosening regulations including environmental protections.
Green New Deal backers cite goals including zero-net greenhouse gas emissions from power production; halting a rise in global temperatures; and de-carbonizing the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. It envisions major infrastructure upgrades to power grids and transportation and upgrading all buildings to maximize energy efficiency, water efficiency, and affordability. Other goals in the resolution include “clean manufacturing”; reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from ranches and farms; and shifting away from nuclear power as well as fossil fuels.
Critics say some efforts against fossil fuels have caused major unemployment and community displacement in parts of the country dependent on the coal industry and other resource extraction.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., whose state economy is heavily based on coal, criticized the effort, saying it “shuts everybody down.”
The resolution’s many promises include aid for both communities facing the most significant changes from climate change and communities affected by shifts away from fossil fuel use. It promises to ensure high wages and better jobs for workers currently in fossil fuel industries.
The non-binding plan promises a federal jobs guarantee, as well as other Democratic goals like a family wage, adequate family leave, paid vacations and a secure retirement as well as universal health care.
Any proposal is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. The resolution could play a role in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not give Green New Deal backers the committee leadership they wanted. She told Politico their proposal is “one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive.”
For Capizzi, environmental politics should be motivated by the goodness of creation.
“The starting point for Jewish-Christian approaches to the environment is the Hebrew Bible’s teaching that God created the world, and then, at different stages but before humans are created, we are told he viewed his creation as ‘good’.”
These things that God names “good” include “the creation of land and gathering of waters, the fecundity of the earth, (and) the creation of sea and land and flying creatures.” The creation of humans is “a part of the story of God’s creation of a universe he names as good and within which humanity lives.”
“This is the starting point for Christian reflection,” Capizzi told CNA. To this is added the “classic notion of justice” expressed in the imperative “give to each what he or she is due.”
“We are to give God his due by giving his good creation its due. We do this in our relationships as human beings, but we do this as well in our relationship with the creation of which we are a part – even if a special part.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have an Environmental Justice Program, under the conference’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. It draws from St. John Paul II’s 1990 World Day of Peace message, the U.S. bishops’ Nov. 14, 1991 pastoral statement “Renewing the Earth,” as well as encyclicals such as Pope Francis’ 2015 Laudato si'.
The bishops make some policy recommendations about environmental laws and regulations. They opposed the Trump administration’s June 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which aimed to combat climate change and global warming through reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They said they objected to a March 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump that rescinded and weakened many environmental protections.
They have backed a national carbon emission standard and other carbon mitigation goals.
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