Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth
and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
They will perish, but thou dost endure.Psalm 102:25
It is remarkable that those who consider the evolutionary doctrine of eternal change good news for modern man, when seeking an alternative to the Biblical doctrine of creation, suddenly become crusty conservatives, dedicated to the proposition that nothing in the natural order shall ever change. Neither the tiger nor the snail-darter may succumb to evolutionary pressure. The annual mean temperature shall be unchanged.
And since, according to the same voices, man occupies no privileged place in the universe, an idea said to be laden with hubris and vainglory, ought we not accept a changing, warming climate as a boon for Eskimos, mollusks, and polar bears, who might reasonably be said to prefer a warmer climate even if this means discomfiture to human-kind generally?
But not to worry. In a broad sense the doctrine of a changeless world, now so beloved by progressives, is foredoomed. We know that at some point the continents were ripped asunder, creating the Atlantic ocean, and that at some time in the past the Appalachians were under water. And change has continued in historical times. It would be a very fine thing to be able to visit the site of the Battle of Salamis, the great sea battle in which the Greeks, having lured the Persians into the narrow Salamis channel, destroyed the Persian Fleet. But one cannot really visit the site of the Battle of Salamis, for the Aegean has risen to widen the channel and cover one of the islands that made the channel narrow. It would also be a fine thing to stand at Classis, the port of Ravenna on the Adriatic, there to see the Byzantine fleet at anchor in the harbor. But Classis, like the Roman port Ostia, is no longer on the sea, which has receded several miles. One may also wonder what Land’s end, the westernmost of the Scilly Isles in Cornwall, may have been like, but it can no longer be visited because the stone walls that lined its fields now march off into the Atlantic. And what of Greenland? One can now only speculate as to what the wheatgrowing civilization that flourished in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the climate suddenly warmed and the ice melted, must have been like. The ice returned; the Greenland colonies died.
The earth is always changing and not one of the changes mentioned above can be blamed on the internal combustion engine or man-made CO2. But the strict scientific evidence that the earth is warming I leave to those who know. There are things at work here other than the facts. One is the hostility of the American left to certain kinds of freedom represented by the automobile, especially the suv. For American liberals the miserific vision is Joe six-pack in his pickup on his way to a nascar rally, or, worse, Wednesday evening prayer meeting. He should be using public transportation, drinking Perrier or white wine, and on his way to an elevating lecture.
And this hatred of the automobile is rooted in a deep ambivalence about technology generally. Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance is a thoughtful book by an intelligent man. It is nonetheless too much a reprise of the wisdom of the sixties, which urged, and often achieved, a Rousseau-like return to nature, and which in the writings of Theodore Roszak (Making of a Counter-Culture and its Youthful Opposition, 1969) and Alvin Toffler (Future Shock, 1970), damned reason, Aristotle, Baconian science, and Cartesian philosophy as having separated man from nature. Roszak and Toffler were variously vulgarizing a tradition that derived from Eliot and Maritain, and by another route from Ruskin. Mr. Gore has said nothing on this topic that was not said with greater effect by these gurus of his youth. Nevertheless they have a point, and an important one. The machine, technology, is the realization of the Cartesian dream through which abstractive intellect dominates nature, often thoughtlessly and destructively. Cartesian science then causes alienation from nature, its abuse, and perhaps even global warming. Mr. Gore’s solution is the creation of a kind of cosmic stasis through a global Marshall Plan, a world-wide project calculated to control or end change.
Certainly our alienation from nature is destructive, but the march of technology, which is as John Paul ii noted, irreversible, probably cannot be rendered manageable by Mr. Gore’s world-wide, globe-saving system. Mr. Gore knows that this will be impossible to achieve, at least apart from a global tyranny of unexampled proportions. But there is nothing wrong with offering impossible solutions that spur thought and action.
Forget CO2. Anybody who has seen smokestacks billowing heavenward, soap suds in the creek, empty beer bottles on the median, curbs littered with old tvs and unusable sofas, knows that the world is being overrun with pollutants and polluting objects. In the face of this, even if Gore’s solution is morally and practically flawed, one must do what one can do. Gore rejects this adaptive solution—too little too late—in favor of draconian measures, but the adaptive solution has this in its favor: it is rooted in a clear moral imperative and is something everybody can do, now. Anyone can recycle where it works and use a bit less. Not everything the Green folk say is, on its own terms, unsound. Newman pointed out, as we entered the new moral world he so presciently foresaw, that God often allows things doubtful in themselves to do the partial good they can do before allowing them to die. Probably environmentalism is such a thing.
As for not allowing one’s life to be dominated by technological abstractions, one might make it a rule to watch only those television shows that lift up the heart, convey useful information, or provide insinuation-free entertainment, a rule that would give Americans much more time for good works.
But it should at the same time be noted that while Christians would do well to accept whatever truth there is in Green-ism, we are not free to believe in stasis, in a changeless world. We are told that the cosmos has a purpose and a pattern and an end, and that this purpose is in God’s hands, not in ours. We know that the world is not eternal and that in the end nature, too, will fail. Whether this failure is to be induced by human folly or simply brought about by God, or by both, whether the end of our time comes tomorrow or in a million years, is unclear, but we are told with authority that the journey of this precious earth will end in what might be called ecological catastrophe, with waters becoming wormwood, a third of trees, a third of the earth and all green grass burned up (Rev. 8:7, 11). The New Creation is born not of the progressive, wise use of nature, morally necessary as that may be, but out of the failure of the old; by the power and wisdom of God, who makes all things new. The New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God.