The Third Road

Three tracks Richmond VA

Book Release

Priests in a hurryThis week we release the second section of the book A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits. It is the first half of Chapter 1 — For the Christian in an Hurry: The 300-Year Party. The document is a .pdf file that can be downloaded at no cost here. (The Table of Contents for the complete book is available here.)

Three Roads

In last week’s post I described the proposed Green New Deal, and discussed how Christians can respond to this initiative. I have reflected further on this important initiative, and it seems to me that three roads open up to us. They are:

  1. The sensible, cautious and realistic road advocated by leaders such as Nancy Pelosi.
  2. The “reach for the stars” road contained with the Green New Deal.
  3. The road of adaptation.

Let’s spend a few moments thinking about these three roads so that we can decide which is best for the Christian community. It’s important.

First Road

The first response is to be “sensible and realistic”. The politician who probably best represents this point of view is the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (1940-)

Her approach reflects the philosophy of Otto von Bismarck when he said,

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.

Or, as we engineers like to say,

Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

This approach to political decisions makes sense when considering normal issues such as health care or trade programs. Using this approach, initiatives such as carbon capture or the use of solar energy may be “attainable” in the human/political sense. In such situations we are negotiating with other human beings. But, political attainability is of little value when faced with an existential issues such as climate change. No amount of “small ball” legislation will enable us to reverse our current trajectory. We can negotiate with other human beings, but we cannot negotiate with the laws of physics and thermodynamics. They don’t care what we think or what we want.

Second Road

Franklin Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945)

The second road is to take radical, bold action. People in this camp, the Green New Deal sponsors, believe that climate change presents a profound challenge that can only be addressed with drastic action. As the second apparition said to the indecisive Macbeth,

Be bloody, bold and resolute.

The analogy is with the New Deal implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s in response to world-wide economic recession. He did not just tinker around the edges, he came up with a bold vision and then used his influence and authority to implement that vision.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (1989-)

The person who has become the human face for this option is newly-elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and her colleagues are the ones who sponsored the ‘Green New Deal’ Resolution.

Leonard Pitts (1957-)
Leonard Pitts (1957-)

In a Miami Herald editorial entitled Requiem for an American Vision, Leonard Pitts says that the resistance to the Green New Deal indicates that “something vital has seeped out of us”. He notes that criticism of the idea, whether it is from the right or the left, “is simply too big an idea”.

His critique resonated with me. Before I came to the United States I had always been attracted by the nation’s “can do” spirit. But now, that spirit seems to have disappeared. We see it not only with the response to the Green New Deal, but also with regard to the California high-speed rail debacle — dubbed the “No consultant left behind program”. Not only do we not reach for the stars when it comes to addressing climate change and its attendant ills, we cannot even build a railway using 50 year old technology.

The Third Road

Three roads used to illustrate the choices that we face in an Age of Limits.
The two roads just described — moderate response or full-on attack — are what most people would consider as being our only options.

But there is a third road. Those who travel on it basically accept that there is little that we can do to change our current trajectory. To re-iterate a theme of this site — we face predicaments, not problems. When faced with a predicament, we accept the situation, adapt as best we can and develop systems that are resilient (as distinct from efficient). This is not to say that we should not support “green” initiatives. But we need to recognize that those initiatives can only slow the pace of change and/or ameliorate the consequences. They are not going to cause the predicaments to go away.

The Christian Response

In these posts I always try to consider three questions. The first is, “What should the Christian response be?” The second is, “What’s the theology of all this?”

I suggest that the first road — that of being sensible and of achieving goals that are politically possible — should be discarded out of hand. Not only will it fail to make a serious dent in our climate change trajectory, it could create a feeling of, “Well, we have taken care of that problem, we have done what we could”. It could create a fatal, air of complacency.

The second road — the Green New Deal — has four things going for it.

  1. In spite of the cautionary statements made at sites such as this, it just might work. Age of Limits issues are inherently complex, we all see through a glass darkly, so this approach may pleasantly surprise us.
  2. By presenting climate issues in such stark terms, this approach does at least raise the topic as being urgent and existential, one that cannot be ignored on the grounds that, “they will think of something”. At the very least, it will force the idea’s opponents to think, at least for a brief second, about the realities of physics, thermodynamics and ecology.
  3. If the climate does deteriorate to such an extent that nothing can be done, then people will, to some degree, have been prepared for what is to come.
  4. The Green New Deal is the one program that might, just might, mobilize the nation (and the world) to take drastic action.

The third road — that of Acceptance — is actually the one that is truly realistic. No matter what actions we take, climate change is taking place, and its consequences are increasingly serious. In spite of its boldness the Green New Deal approach is, unfortunately, too little, too late. So we need to work within out communities on programs of acceptance, response and adaptation.

It is the approach that Augustine and other church fathers followed in the early 5th century. They did not attempt to revitalize the western Roman Empire. They accepted the loss of that empire, and focused their efforts on building a new City of God.

I suggest that we choose a combination of the second and third roads. That we work toward the ambitious goals outlined in programs such as the Green New Deal. At the same time we understand that such a program may fail, so we simultaneously quietly work on adaptation.

Realistically (a word that seems to crop up quite a lot in the context of these discussions) we probably cannot simultaneously work toward two such separate goals. But it might be worth a try.

Author: Ian Sutton

Ian Sutton is a chemical engineer who has worked in the chemical, refining and offshore oil and gas industries. He is the author of many books, ebooks and videos.

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