Ballot Box with the world

This post is part of a series summarising some of the arguments in my new book Why Progressives Need God.

Here I address the greatest threat we face, destruction of the environment.

Over the past 50 years we have been increasingly aware that modern industrial society – the kind of society we regularly vote for – is destroying the essential ingredients of human life on earth. We are doing it in a variety of ways, any one of which will kill off the human race if left unchecked: extinction of species, soil erosion, air pollution and, most dangerous of all, climate change.

Governments have been talking about these things for half a century. Top government ministers attend international conferences. But the situation continues to deteriorate, and in some cases it deteriorates at an increasing rate.

Capitalist governments want to give the impression that they are taking climate change seriously. In reality, they are strongly committed to the values that make it worse.

To take one example, in December 2015 at the end of the COP21 Climate Change conference in Paris, all 195 countries agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C. This agreement, though it left every country to decide for itself how to implement it, was hailed as a great step forward. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said:

Instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today. What we are looking for is not difficult, it is doable and therefore we should come together and do it.

Yet within a week he had granted 93 licences for fracking, which adds greenhouses gases to the atmosphere. Nobody was surprised. We all know that this is how governments operate: grand speeches while the world’s media are attentive, followed by business as usual. It is as though we live in parallel universes: while climate scientists imagine that reality consists of physical things like air, water, plants and animals, governments seem confident that it really consists of economic statistics.

What the most powerful governments are yet to admit is that all our environmental problems are caused not by their failures, but by their successes. The things they have been trying to do are the wrong things to do. They should not look for less destructive ways of doing the same things. They should do different things, things more respectful of the world’s goodness.

For people who don’t believe in God, our natural environment seems to be an accidental result of automatic processes. From this perspective the world is not designed for us, so it seems logical to see whether we can improve on it with new techologies.

We now know that our attempted improvements have made our conditions worse, and threaten our very survival. It would have been better if we had carried on relating to the world with an attitude of trust in the way it has been designed.

To overcome our environmental problems we do not need to reject all technology. What we need to reject is the cult of new technology – the belief that our problems can be solved by ever-changing technologies giving us ever-more artificial lifestyles. This disastrous cult has been promoted by western governments for a long time.

Christians should resist it. Christians (and others) should insist that those physical things we are destroying have been given to us, for our well-being, by a god who has designed us to flourish in the environment provided for us. They are what we really need. When we destroy them we cannot replace them.

There is a proper role for technological creativity. However, what we urgently need to do now is to stop doing all this damage and give nature enough time to correct our errors. We need to elect a government that finds better ways to make sure our needs are met, ways that respect the goodness of nature.