Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Does "green" oppose "religious?"

In this article,

the journalist notes that the Gideon will not be found in the "green" hotels of the future. Instead, "An Inconvenient Truth," former VP Gore's environmentalist manifesto will be in each room.

It is not clear to me whether this conclusion represents the actual state of affairs or whether the journalist was using a writing devise to propel his story. It may be that both are to be found or that "An Inconvenient Truth" will not ACTUALLY be found but that the ideas contained therein have permeated the hotel's designer's thinking. For the purposes of this post, it doesn't really matter.

There has been a trend among Evangelical Christians to "capture" environmentalism as a Christian duty. Similarly, there is a trend among Traditionalist Christians to include "stewardship," a byword for a range of obligations to others, including caring for the environment, in the affirmative duties required of every Christian. I imagine there are similar movements among other religious groups.

It may be too early to tell whether these movements have had meaningful impact on moving mainstream America into the environmentalist camp. The trendiness of environmentalism may have more to do with Hollywood and academia than religious teaching. Nonetheless, there is a discernable movement towards environmentally sound living... as long as it doesn't cost us anything.

This is the rub... that living in a way that truly honors our place in the environment requires sacrifices that I really don't think Americans will make without being compelled to do so. All of the preaching and writing and doomsaying will get a general nod of approval... then we will all jump in our SUVs and drive 90 miles a day to and from work.

At its best, socio-political movements drive politics which crafts economics to compel behavioral changes. IF America moves towards a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way of life, it will be because taxation and permit fees drive the costs of living in an unsustainable way up to the point that no other rational choice is available.

The rub is that such economic disincentives to waste burden the middle-class and poor more than the wealthy. The Los Angeles crowd that preaches about fairness, justice, and sustainable living will not cut out their flights back and forth across the country to attend openings. The rich will not drive better cars or limit the building of mansions on virgin turf. The markets for true "luxury" goods will barely be dented by the moves of the larger society.

The real question for environmentalism is not whether America is ready to accept a sustainable lifestyle but whether they can sell the real economic losses to the lower classes, knowing that the rich will not be so burdened. Unless the audience is receptive, the politics will not move and the economics will not drive far enough to make a difference.

So... Add "An Inconvenient Truth" to the repetoire of the hotel reading materials, but keep the Gideon handy... without preaching from every sector that can reach Middle America, the environmentalist movement cannot succeed.


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