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What Lifts Must Not Separate

December 24th, 2010 by dk

Tomorrow most of us will observe the holiest of our calendar’s holi-days, so now is the right time to proclaim my opposition to carbon offsets, a cap-and-trade system for regulating industrial pollutants, and biofuel bumper stickers.

Systems that pit haves against have-nots are so September 10th. I’m not yet ready to agree with Christopher Hitchens and others who argue that religion hasn’t been worth all the trouble it has caused, but if he added certain strains of the environmental movement to his list of impeachables, I might be persuaded. “Green” has become for some a new religion.

I’m comfortable with religion. It’s been a huge part of my life. The rigor it demands has helped me ask better questions, think deeper thoughts, become a better person. But not better than you; just better than I may have been.

I believe in God, but I don’t believe — and I won’t use my belief as evidence — that the differences between us matter a whit. The variance between the hideous and the resplendent amounts to nothing more than a cosmic rounding error. Each has worth that is exactly equal. I could be wrong in that belief, but it is what I believe.

We naturally focus on our differences, while overlooking an infinitude of sameness.

I have six younger siblings. I would ask about each when my mother returned from the hospital. Her answer was always the same: “Ten fingers and ten toes.” I wanted to know what was unusual — the news. She was happy with usual — the same. Her digit-count gently corrected an inquisitive grade-schooler.

She could have replied, “Seventy-seven organs, wrapped in a skin” or “ninety-nine percent oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus (in that order),” or “a zygote formed from two sets of 23 chromosomes, forming approximately 3 billion base pairs,” but Wikipedia hadn’t been invented yet.

We’re all more alike than different. And whatever slight differences exist mustn’t be used to define or declare superiority. Wars are fought to settle those arguments, but the victors outlast their victims by only a few short years — another rounding error.

Your bumper sticker proclaiming your allegiance to a particular fuel may explain my sudden craving for french fries, but it won’t convince me that you’re better than others. The guy on the bike sees your sticker and covets only the bumper, so he could brag “one less car.” And the woman walking past wonders if the bike’s steel came from China.

Pietism promises no winners — only more rounds of competition, producing more and more losers. It provokes in us an uneasy fear.

Luke’s nativity angel takes a different tack: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you ….”

Stop there. It’s good news, brought directly to the working stiffs, asking only that they take notice.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed that this wet blue marble we call home is showing its fragility. Or, more precisely, its indifference to the narrow range of conditions humans require for comfort and sustenance. The earth is not imperiled, only our place on it.

So “saving the planet” is in fact a more limited mission, and a self-serving one at that. Emphasizing differences and heightening fear make for lousy behavior-modification strategy.

“… Good tidings of great joy …” changed the course of civilization over the past two millennia. Along the way, there have been missteps. And yet, we’re repeating them.

Carbon offsets function as modern day indulgences. Indulgences the first time prolonged the Medieval Crusades and hastened church corruption. They succeeded only in the short run. The long-term consequences continue. Ask any jihadist.

Congressman Peter DeFazio rightly decries the “cap-and-trade” system being contemplated for similar reasons. Allowing industrialists to swap pollution credits would create a shadow economy of losers and winners, beggars and benefactors. Do we really want the geniuses on Wall Street dreaming up credit-default swaps for polluters? They could create a futures market that puts a price on our future, singular.

We share one future. We’d better work together. The good news must come to all, or else to none. Luke’s angel is explicit about those “good tidings of great joy.”

“… which shall be to all people.” Amen.

Don Kahle ( writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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  • 1 Robert Beal Dec 25, 2010 at 10:14 am

    “The environment” — e.g., wilderness — has inherent value. Appealing to that value — e.g., Save the Whales — is one of the most successful civic efforts.

    However, environmentalism can be counterproductive when it diverts attention from social justice.

    With the emergence of resistance to global corporatism and hypercommidification — e.g., fair trade — and now with climate activism, environmental advocacy is increasingly a complement to social justice movements.

    Here in the wealthiest country on earth, the purest melding of those two issue arenas would be in what Jimmy Carter advocated 35 years ago — my word, downsizing. (That would not include mining our topsoil to fuel our Priuses.)

    This season is indeed a good time to reflect on the seemingly overwhelming inertia exerted by materialism, individualism, and nationalism.

    P.S. Thanks again for the great party, gotta love Boston.