By Steve Randall, Larry Ely and Rob Crowner
“So I want to start with Genesis 8, verse 21 and 22. ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.’ I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be
for His creation.” – U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R), chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy, denying global warming.
The pages of New Yorker magazine and other publications have for
decades featured the final crisis of human civilization as farce. Cartoon
images of religiously inspired ascetics carrying terse placards announcing
the end time provide comic relief in a world full of real troubles by invoking
our common sense scientific rationality. But the quote from Rep. Shimkus
illustrates something else in the pronouncements of some pundits.
For Shimkus, explaining human history as an act of providence is both
inspirational and politically convenient—where rapid action to prevent
accelerating climate change is highly irksome to politically influential
corporate constituents. At this critical moment, selective quotes from
Scripture do not inspire confidence in our representatives—particularly
given other contemporary prophets who, unlike Shimkus, see global
warming and Middle East wars as sure signs that, indeed, the end is near.
Miraculously, Scripture supports all points of view, however contradictory.
Climate scientists, by contrast, use geophysics, measurement and
continuous confirmation through time to model the speed and impact of
global warming. They conclude that severe environmental consequences
are imminent —not indefinite— byproducts of our carbon based and ever
expanding consumer economy. In fact, there is not much time, perhaps
a Biblical seven years, for policy makers to confront an urgently needed
transformation of society if the worst consequences of global warming are
to be avoided.
Members of Congress increasingly avoid the hard choices. They have
three prevarications. Some, like Shimkus, try to avoid science by invoking
religion. Others attempt to use science against itself by exaggerating
doubt as scientists debate and refine their models. This has prevented
urgent change ever since tobacco companies recruited a scientific minority
to foment confusion about smoking and cancer, and continues today
via companies fearing profit loss in carbon reduction. Finally, lack of
decisiveness can be attributed to “the art of compromise”—endlessly.
We are reminded that New England town meeting embodied the religious
intentions of our Puritan founders, but slowly, perhaps, Town Meeting
became more rational than Congress. Still, emotional response, biased
opinion posing as objectivity, and endless compromise may yet surface as
we debate Town Manager Musante’s proposed solar installation atop an
We do not have limitless choice. Panels on landfills, panels in sight of
backyards, and panels on roofs—these and much more will be required
even just to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Polluted land,
like the old landfill, must be utilized and unpolluted land should not be
wasted. Both time and land are in short supply. Fortunately there are
sound reasons to believe the old dump can be fortified and may be made
even safer by the solar installation.
We applaud Town Meeting's vote for solar energy — phase one of the
process. It would otherwise be unfortunate if debate about the risks of
engineering this array should be used as a delaying tactic. Defeat of the
proposed solar installation could embolden opposition and stultify other,
even more far reaching transformations: 1) the North Amherst village
center featuring clusters of solar buildings, 2) shifting from wasteful
passenger cars to buses, carpools and bike paths, and 3) reducing sprawl
by eliminating big box shopping and exurbs.
This article originally appeared in the Amherst Bulletin on May 27, 2011. Original PDF here. Steve Randall, Larry Ely, and Rob Crowner, are all Green-Rainbow party members and lead the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project, advancing green transportation and planning projects in the Connecticut River Valley, in Western Massachusetts. "In Close Proximity" is the name of a regular column they write for the Amherst Bulletin.