Earth Day offers time to ponder politically-neutral nature of environmentalism.
With the Green New Deal and climate change grabbing headlines, we celebrate Earth Day today at a time when the occasion’s cause is particularly politically-charged.
However, while environmental issues are often seen as cause for political division, in reality, concern for the natural world is one topic that should provide common ground for those on both sides of the aisle since it impacts individuals of varied political stripes, often in confounding fashion.
For example, those in rural areas, who we often think gravitate toward Republican and conservative positions, have a vested interest in finding ways to address the impacts of climate change on farming, such as severe weather, droughts, and floods. Conversely, city-dwellers, who frequently support more left-leaning candidates, are concerned with issues such as pollution, public transportation, and smart-city planning. No matter where we live, all of us have a shared concern for access to nourishing foods and maintaining a sustainable level of quality of life on the planet.
Environmental issues often shun political convention. As scientist Katherine Hayhoe said, thermometers are not liberal or conservative. Rather, environmental issues reside at the intersection of moral imperatives: for example, we can look into the eyes of our children and know our responsibility to leave the Earth better off for the next generation. We also must acknowledge the need for economic practicality, which has largely fueled the rise of alternate energy such as the windmills that are so prevalent in this region. So each generation needs to ask itself some hard questions. Simply put, environmental initiatives thrive when we find initiatives that are morally correct, locally appropriate, and practical.
Indeed, Earth Day itself is a reusable item of the highest regard. The event was begun in 1970 largely as a day of education about environmental issues. This was at a time of heightened awareness in these topics as evidenced by the passing of the Clean Air Act the same year and the Clean Water Act in 1972. While the day’s mission of environmental awareness has remained constant, related issues have changed over the years, from vanishing wildlife areas to ozone-layer depletion to public health and, now, climate change.
In our current political climate, maybe now we should think that the environmental is best viewed as a moral topic, not a political issue. For example, the Bible instructs us to love our neighbor as ourselves. How we can put that principle into action? Addressing climate change and engaging in sustainable agriculture are ways we not only preach, but also practice, a love for others — including the whole of God’s creation—around us.
As we mark Earth Day, it is appropriate to ponder the theoretical common ground we have, no matter our political leanings, and to understand the importance of being good caretakers of that literal common ground we called Earth.
Forrest Clingerman is a professor of religion and philosophy at Ohio Northern University. He has researched the area of Christian theology and environmental ethics, and he has written extensively on the topic.