The Christian Right is why the US won’t deliver on climate change
American democracy is in crisis. That’s why the US can’t be counted on to act responsibly on the world stage with any consistency
Young Earth creationism, scientists portrayed as part of an anti-Christian conspiracy, environmentalists viewed with extreme suspicion. Growing up as an evangelical within the world of the US Christian Right, and attending Christian schools, I know first-hand how extreme they are, and how aggressive in their defence of “alternative facts”.
Understanding this is important while COP26 (the twenty-sixth annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is under way in Glasgow. Because the Republicans who just won off-year elections (which bodes ill for the midterm congressional elections in 2022), along with ex-president Donald Trump, represent the culmination of a decades-long process of radicalisation in their party driven by the thoroughly authoritarian Christian Right.
This isn’t your grandparents’ Republican Party. At least ten GOP members who were elected to office just this week attended Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on 6 January. Aiming to keep president-elect Biden from taking office by pushing outright lies about supposed election fraud, that rally culminated in a violent insurrection against the federal government. Christian symbols and prayers were a ubiquitous feature of the events of that notorious day.
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God will solve the climate crisis
The Christian Right’s views on the environment are extremely worrying. Consider, for a moment, the following actual quotations from national-level US legislators – all Republicans – on climate change.
Illinois representative John Shimkus, in the Year of our Lord 2010, cited a literal interpretation of the Noah’s ark story as evidence that concern over climate change was misplaced. “I do believe that God said the Earth would not be destroyed by a flood,” Shimkus said.
In office since 1997, he retired last year and was replaced in the House of Representatives by another Republican, Mary Miller. A born-again Sunday-school teacher and Christian homeschooling advocate, Miller achieved instant infamy when she declared “Hitler was right” about the importance of indoctrinating children in an impassioned speech at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.
Miller, as you would expect, is opposed to what she calls “radical ideas like the Green New Deal and other extreme environmental legislation”.
Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma (in office since 1994) infamously carried a snowball on to the Senate floor in 2015 as a ‘gotcha’ meant to ‘disprove’ global warming. Oh, and he’s also compared the federal Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo.
“God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous,” is something he said in 2012.
Michigan representative Tim Walberg said this about climate change, in 2017: “As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
I grew up surrounded by this sort of rhetoric, and worse. For example, assertions that we don’t need to act to save the environment because Christ will be returning soon anyway.
To be sure, as the destruction wrought by climate change becomes more and more difficult to deny, Republicans turn increasingly to economic arguments as they attempt to keep us from seriously addressing the issue. But their attitudes, and those of their voter base, remain the same.
Democracy in crisis
Despite a majority of Americans disagreeing with them on almost everything, Republicans hold disproportionate power in the US for structural reasons – and the current Democratic leadership has not seized this moment to press through reforms that could make US politics more fair and democratic.
Republicans regularly support racist voter suppression initiatives at state level, and they have pushed through a slew of such measures in reaction to President Biden’s election. As a result, because the president is elected indirectly by the states via the electoral college rather than directly by the people, Republicans can – and, these days, often do – win the presidency while losing the popular vote.
The Democratic Party is the only major party in which most elected members at least make an effort to pursue pro-environment policies. But they are likely to lose control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.
It is also entirely possible that the Democrats will lose the presidency in 2024. Trump himself may end up back in office; he remains the authoritarian figure to whom rank-and-file Republicans look for leadership. Even if he doesn’t, another Republican president may well initiate the US’s withdrawal from the Paris accords (again), as Trump did, and for which Biden publicly apologised at COP26.
American democracy is in serious crisis. As long as that’s the case, the US simply cannot be counted on to act responsibly on the world stage with any consistency.
Today’s Republicans, who have essentially merged with the Christian Right, are willing to reject any science that stands in the way of their agenda
I don’t know how to solve the problem of getting reforms that would make the US more democratic, given that the Republicans – who stand to lose power in such a scenario – currently hold enough power to prevent most of the necessary reforms from being passed.
Today’s authoritarian Republicans, who have essentially merged with the Christian Right, are clearly willing to choose power over democracy and to reject or ignore any science that stands in the way of their agenda.
But the first step, it seems to me, is to raise awareness among the public, at home and abroad, in the hope that public outcry and pressure may start to make the kind of difference that leads to better political outcomes.
Undoubtedly, it will take more than a functioning, democratic United States to resolve the climate crisis. However, without a functioning, democratic United States playing its part, it seems unlikely that the world will be able to resolve the climate crisis at all.
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