EDITORIAL: Crossing an ideological divide
On the face of it, the challenge of mitigating global climate change should not be a partisan issue. Warming temperatures will play meteorological havoc in red states as well as blue. Rising sea levels will inundate the shorelines of conservative Alabama as well as liberal California. Dwindling crop yields will make food more difficult or expensive to obtain for the poorest among us regardless of their political affiliation.
And yet, the political divide on climate change is a veritable continental divide — in America anyway.
The rest of the developed world remains committed to the Paris Climate Agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Not the United States, which, courtesy of a new Republican administration, now stands on the sidelines — with Syria and Nicaragua.
Domestic climate change skepticism is almost exclusively a right-of-center political phenomenon. Despite a plethora of scientific studies confirming the planet’s rising temperatures as being a direct result of the spike in man-made greenhouse gases, right-wing lawmakers continue to contend they don’t “believe” in climate change.
That’s like not believing in gravity.
And with mounting evidence becoming harder to refute, they instead contort reason and logic into sometimes laughably ridiculous arguments. Witness York Republican — and gubernatorial candidate — state Sen. Scott Wagner’s recent nationwide skewering by an HBO host over his assertions that body heat and the Earth moving closer to the sun contribute to a warming planet.
So it was more than a tad refreshing to hear a local conservative weigh in this month in favor of acting on climate change.
Mitchell Hescox, president of the York-based Evangelical Environmental Network, said in an essay he penned for the Dispatch that his organization is “part of a growing number of faith-based, bipartisan and conservative groups dedicated to caring for our children’s health by being good stewards of the earth.”
He has no trouble reconciling science and religion: “Left unchecked, CO2 levels will continue to rise beyond the over 400 (parts per million) that God intended,” he writes.
And he has no trouble reconciling science and political affiliation. Hescox calls on Christians of all political parties to be “good stewards of the earth.”
On the one hand, it shouldn’t be a stretch for conservatives or Republicans to take a stand — let alone the lead — promoting environmental issues. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt is arguably the political godfather of environmental activism. Aided by his chief of U.S. Forest Service — and future Pennsylvania governor — Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt established five national parks, 150 national forests and other monuments and reserves on some 230 million acres of public land.
On the other hand, Hescox and company are bucking considerable societal headwinds. Researchers from Yale and Harvard released a study this month that shows U.S. religious leaders are even more politically divided than the majority of Americans — including their own parishioners.
The study, Partisan Pastor: The Politics of 130,000 American Religious Leaders, found that party registration among religious leaders is decidedly one-sided, with, for example, Unitarians and Jews overwhelmingly Democratic and Baptists and Evangelicals decidedly Republican.
Such findings add gravitas to the arguments of groups like York’s Evangelical Environmental Network, which base their convictions not on predetermined political — or religious — ideology but on an assessment of facts.
It’s an example that’s needed not just in politics and pulpits but among the public in general.