Crossing the Aisle

Crossing the AisleWhen we recorded this podcast, I complimented Jisung and the Sense & Sustainability team on their cultivation of thoughtful, nuanced public discourse, which is, unfortunately, all too unique — especially on the topic of climate change.

These worthy efforts stand in heightened relief during an election season marked by the binary, simplistic, black-and-white discourse of political campaigning.

The emblematic low point: Mitt Romney’s climate laugh-line at the Republican National Convention.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet . . . My promise is to help you and your family.”

Journalists, bloggers, pundits and Facebook users decried the disregard, the denialism, the downright poor taste of this comment. But the implicit dichotomies of people versus planet and economy versus environment are, perhaps, even more disturbing.

This is a prime moment to recall fruitful examples of, and ongoing possibilities for, productive exchange and even alliance building among strange bedfellows.

The evangelical climate movement — what I call climate care — is one such example.

In 2006, much to the surprise of onlookers from both sides of the aisle, evangelical leaders launched an advocacy effort on climate change with an announcement in the New York Times and Christianity Today: “Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative emerged amidst public perception that evangelicals marched in lockstep with the GOP, which, under the Bush Administration, maintained entrenched opposition to action on climate change.

Yet these high-profile evangelical leaders stood up and stepped out, challenging dominant stereotypes.

They went on to partner with non-evangelical, even atheist, scientists; politicians red, blue and purple; and leaders from the mainstream environmental movement.

In thought and action, these climate care leaders cross the chasms of persistent binaries: liberal / conservative, secular / religious, human / environment, material / spiritual, science / faith.

As I write in Between God & Green, such dichotomies may provide good soundbite fodder, but they ultimately limit the ways we understand and respond to issues.

[C]learly, religion and environment are not inimical, nor are scientists and evangelicals or political liberals and theological conservatives on definitively opposing sides. Synergies between them are apparent and increasingly intersect on climate change.”

We can reject the unhelpful, black-and-white language of the season and instead heed the lessons, and embrace the hopefulness, of the climate care story.

To investigate and re-investigate our own dichotomous thinking is an urgent necessity. Maintaining tired frames needlessly limits us to half truths, half solutions and missed opportunities to build alliances on the issues that matter most.