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Humanists care about the natural world, which we all depend on and which will have to sustain our descendants. Because humanists have no belief in a supernatural force that will solve our problems for us, they know humans must take sole responsibility for sorting out environmental problems. Some religious people think that God created the world and gave humans "stewardship" over it. This is not a belief shared by humanists, who believe that human beings evolved and go on evolving, along with the rest of nature. Others on the far fringe of the religious right see no reason to protect the environment, since the rapture is expected soon:

[M]any Christian fundamentalists feel that concern for the future of our planet is irrelevant, because it has no future. They believe we are living in the End Time, when the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire. They may also believe, along with millions of other Christian fundamentalists, that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

Humanists are unlikely to subscribe to "deep green" beliefs about the intrinsic value, or even superiority, of nature. Rather, humanists have a scientific view of the world, and would not automatically blame science and technology for environmental problems. Indeed, it was and is scientists - mainly biologists and ecologists - who notice and monitor environmental problems. The rise of Christian fundamentalism in America has been indirectly responsible for much of the lasting damage that has been inflicted on the national -- and indeed world -- environment. You might recall in 1981, when President Reagan's first secretary of the interior, James Watt, told the US Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ:

"God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back," Watt said in public testimony that helped get him fired. Today's Christian fundamentalist politicians are more politically savvy than Reagan's interior secretary was; you're unlikely to catch them overtly attributing public-policy decisions to private religious views. But their words and actions suggest that many share Watt's beliefs.

If you doubt it, consider that nearly half of Congress in 2003 earned nearly perfect approval ratings from the nation's three most influential Christian right advocacy groups, while simultaneously receiving flunking grades from the League of Conservation Voters. The environmental effect is real. Today's NYT reports, for example, that the US currently ranks 45th of 146 in protecting the environment:

Countries from Northern and Central Europe and South America dominated the top spots in the 2005 index of environmental sustainability, which ranks nations on their success at such tasks as maintaining or improving air and water quality, maximizing biodiversity and cooperating with other countries on environmental problems. Finland, Norway and Uruguay held the top three spots in the ranking, prepared by researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities. The United States ranked 45th of the 146 countries studied, behind such countries as Japan, Botswana and the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and most of Western Europe. The lowest-ranking country was North Korea. Among those near the bottom were Haiti, Taiwan, Iraq and Kuwait....

The rapturistas may not have to wait long. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told an international conference attended by 114 governments in Mauritius this month that he personally believes that the world has "already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere" and called for immediate and "very deep" cuts in the pollution if humanity is to "survive". What is especially notable about Pachauri's comments is that he is a Bush guy, appointed to his post after Exxon complained that his predecessor was too "aggressive" on the issue. In sum, if you care about the environment, you must dethrone the fundies.

Originally posted to Nanovirus on Mon Jan 24, 2005 at 08:54 AM PST.

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