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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The GOP should rethink ecology

Photo: Flicker/James B Currie
With the presidential election ratcheting up the volume, the Democratic and Republican parties are lobbing more and fiercer attacks.

One Democratic critique is that the GOP doesn’t give a damn about the environment. Many Republicans are helping their opponents by, well, not giving a damn about the environment. 

Speaking at the GOP convention in Tampa, Virginia’s governor and chairman for the party’s Committee on Resolutions Robert McDonnell said that “the EPA is now the Employment Prevention Agency!”

The governor’s sentiments, echoed by other Republicans, is rooted in the party’s ideology of small government—which I often support, even if I do work for the government. In his speech to the convention, Representative Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, put it this way: “I'll take [the freedom offered by the American Dream] any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.”

I don’t know if I’m the sort of government planner that Rep. Ryan is referring, but, again, I understand why people of goodwill make such statements. Sometimes we regulators can overstep our bounds. Sometimes we move too slow to help people build their business. Sometimes we forget the humanity of the people that we are meant to serve. But very often we help when no one else will or can.

In other words, an ugly anti-environmental, anti-regulatory platform is not helpful and it will certainly not help the GOP in places like Ohio—a battleground state—that has many residents suffering from the ills of hydraulic fracking. As noted in a previous post, fracking is messy, poorly regulated means of releasing natural gas that is buried deep in shale deposits below some of the most beautiful parts of America. It’s also being blamed for contaminating peoples' drinking water. This is just the sort of situation where the private and public sectors need to partner to provide jobs, benefit from resources, while protecting innocent people and the environment.

Of course, there are Republicans that do care about God’s creation. These men and women may not receive attention by the media, but they exist and always have. They truly seek to conserve the greatness of America—and that includes its natural environment and heritage.

One group on the forefront of this battle is ConservAmerica, founded in 1995 “to resurrect the GOP's great conservation tradition and to restore natural resource conservation and sound environmental protection as fundamental elements of the Republican Party's vision for America.”

President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite 
ConservAmerica provides wonderful resources on its website, including sobering quotes by the great Republican conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt. This is one of my favorites: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”

The website also includes a letter to Gov. Mitt Romney that you can sign (which I did). It urges the presidential hopeful to do the good work of caring for God’s creation. ConservAmerica deserves our support, much like Democrats for Life, the members of which oppose their party’s intensely pro-abortion platform.

Politics is an ugly business. And it can be a disturbing one for people of faith, those of us who seek a higher authority and a different kind of kingdom than those built by men. But the kingdoms of men do require our assistance because we and our children must live in them. That means that we must be present in the world to baptize it with the Gospel of Christ, the Lord of life, a term that Rep. Ryan used in his excellent speech.

And so as part of preaching and living the mysteries of the Triune God, we Catholics enter the political fray to keep the greedy and the selfish and the ignorant from harming the innocent. Sometimes this is the work of regulators like me, sometimes it’s the work of women and men of good will in the free market—but it is always the work of Disciples of Christ, who seek to build communities, foster relations, and nurture and protect all life as we journey together to God.


  1. Nice piece Bill. I really like your last paragraph.

    If we are to love our neighbor, shouldn't we embrace the goals of the Common Good?

    Solidarity, distributism, subsidiarity, and ecological conversion of the economy-from exploitation to cultivation-all in equal measure, could build a new society.

    The technology is ready.

  2. Very well put. If only your words could get some attention from the mainstream media... I am a fellow professional working for a natural resources agency in a different state. I am also a fellow Christian (although not a Catholic) who has become extremely disallusioned with both major political parties (especially the GOP given it's doggedly anti-ecological/environmental stance) and other Christians who aren't willing to value God's creation (i.e., the natural world, natural ecological systems/processes, biological diversity). Kudos for your clear, brave words, and I wish you continued strength in your effort to state your (our) case. Godspeed.

    1. @Anonymous: Thank you for your kind, thoughtful words. The post has been getting some good traffic. Feel free to share. And we'll keep praying for each other as we work for our governments and, hopefully, make changes for the good. God bless!

  3. Hi Bill. "Ugly" seems a bit unfair. Democrats should rethink ecology as well. Many environmentalists on the left appear, in my personal opinion, to place excessive emphasis on the role of centralized government authority and planning. In addition, many on the left appear to have usurped the environmental movement for the primary purpose of advancing leftist political causes, often which are environmental causes in name only. This is occurring at local, state, national, and global levels. Many in the GOP will not, at this time, promote environmental causes until the risk of turning over power to oppressive political and economic ideologies has passed. Finally, many on the left have become radically secularized, thus removing God from creation, and placing the healing of the planet exclusively on the shoulders of Godless government laws and regulations. Most importantly are people who are poor, and all those who are unemployed, underemployed, or working too many hours to make ends meet. People need fuel TODAY, and they need it this winter, and next year, and the following years. We cannot delude ourselves with fantastic claims that alternative energy is here, ready, and accessible to everyone. It is not. Millions of people rely on oil and gas to heat their homes... Without it they will die. They rely on fuel for travel to and from work. They rely on the affordable energy that contributes to making their clothes, food, and medicines. Developing sustainable energy sources requires a vibrant economy, and an economy where people are employed and making decent wages, and it CANNOT occur before that. So, in many respects, the GOP has it right. As for regulations, there is plenty of room for improvement. Many projects cost far more in time and many than the should due to excessive government regulations. As an environmental consultant (and former state and county employee), I know there are many wonderful government staff who work with these regulations, however, the regulations themselves often reach the point of absurdity. There is tremendous redundancy and inefficiency in the regulations. Even projects to restore the environment, such as restoring wetlands, often use more time and money on permits and site plans than the restoration itself. We can do better. We need a more efficient, more effective government agencies that do not exceed their authority granted by the Constitution and natural law. We need energy policies that are realistic, strategically timed and implemented, and that put people who are poor or struggling first.

  4. ...time and *money*

  5. Bill, one last point if I may... In New York, all levels of government environmental agencies are losing staff and other necessary resources to protect the environment due to the poor economy. A strong, healthy economy, where government doesn't borrow too much (its expensive to pay it back), is required to support environmental programs as well as social programs. So I know this isn't popular, and I don't want to be a cheerleader for any party, but the GOP approach of supporting jobs, balanced budgets, and a strong economy is required to have the ability to protect the environment. Poor countries often can't afford to protect the environment. Even state regulators depend on a strong economy. We can't protect the environment or help the poor if we're broke. As for fracking, if all we gain by stopping it is having the gas obtained at some other location, we haven't gained anything, we're just moving it from one place to another. The same with oil. Let's work together to get everyone back to work, balance budgets, grow the economy, and raise the kind of economic resources we need to restore the environment.

    1. Bill: Thanks as always for your excellent comments. I am in full agreement with most everything you're saying--as always. My critique of the GOP (specifically some of the wording in their platform but most especially the words and tone of many of their speeches) is meant as a fraternal correction because I have so much in common with their principles. And I am sure there will be a post just as critical, if not more so, as I listen to the speeches in Charlotte.

      As always, I appreciate you keeping an eye on me!

      God bless,
      Bill P.

    2. Thanks, Bill for your blog and for listening.


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