Santorum and Climate Change Theology

Rick Santorum sounds like someone applying for a job in a religious institution, not someone running to be the President of the United States.

Via the Colorado IndependentSantorum and Gingrich dismiss climate change, vow to dismantle the EPA we have the following from Santorum:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told an audience at the Colorado School of Mines where he was a guest speaker Monday at the Colorado Energy Summit.

“We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create,” Santorum said to applause from the conservative crowd.

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania argued that science has been hijacked by politicians on the left, and that climate change is “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life,” Santorum said.

In the bolded portions (emphases mine) we have the two pillars of the conservative opposition to climate change and any policies linked to it.  First:  since God gave us dominion over the Earth (check out the book of Genesis) then human have been ordained to manage the Earth and all on it, not the other way around—this leads to a logic that the environment is always under human subordination.  As such:  any notion that humanity has to adjust to environmental concerns gets the power relationship out of order.

Further, if one links the environment to a divine gift (and not just a gift, but something humanity was told to dominate as a result of that gift) means that scientific concerns about any given environmental issue can never win the conversation.  After all, Santorum said above, “we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create”—after all, nature works for us.

Now, I will allow, the notion of stewardship contains within it the idea that humanity is supposed to care for nature, but the way this idea plays out here is clearly that “dominion” supersedes concerns about “using it wisely.” Also, the care part of stewardship gives way to  a focus on usage is also key to the thinking:  all of creation has been given for our usage.  (Also:  I think one has to also keep in mind that from an evangelical point of view that a)  God is in control and can fix whatever we screw up and, b) the Messiah will be returning at some point “soon” so the need to worry about the long-term is diminished).

This is an iteration of we get to a situation in which the GOP is perceived as anti-science.

Second, the bolded portion for the last paragraph is key to the politics of this situation:  conservatives ultimately see any attempt at environment regulation as really not about the environment anyway, but about an excuse for increased government control.  Not only does this pay into general concerns about “big government” but this strand of the argument asserts that all this researchy/sciencey talk is just a ruse:  those guys aren’t really scientists interested in understanding the environment.  No!  They are Marxists in lab coats looking to fool you all into socialism!

Now, understand:  I do not consider myself an expert on climate change.  I do not even have especially strong views on the subject, although I do accept the rather overwhelming scientific consensus that we have a climate change problem.  What this means in terms of policy is another issue. However, I find it problematic when politicians hand-wave over serious issues and pretend like because, of some inherent belief that they understand topics that would otherwise require a lifetime of study to understand.  I also find the dominion claims especially problematic.  Further, while I understand concerns over taxes and regulations, that doesn’t make issues like pollution go away.

In short:  if one is going to make arguments on this topic (and seek to influence policy in this arena) I would like to see more than appeals to the Biblical creation story and fear mongering about government control.

I think that Rick Santorum is sincere (something that is helping him very much at the moment) but every time I read or hear anything that he says about why he believes what he believes he sounds like someone applying for a job in a religious institution, not someone running to be the President of the United States.

h/t:  TPM.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Environment, Science & Technology, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. I think in the first half of your article you lay out the reasons the religious right does not want to deal with climate change pretty well. What they really have is a mental bulwark against dealing with it.

    I think AGW is real, and think the changes I’d ask for in response are small … but those kind of discussions are so far from where they’re at, that we’ll never get there.

    Oh, another blocking argument on rational discussion is “it would cost a trillion dollars!” That’s a non-religious thought-stopper. “Should we do something?” “No, anythings costs a trillion, etc.”




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  2. Patrick says:

    Democrats should thank Sanatorium for his tireless efforts to ensure president Obama’s reelection. .




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  3. ernieyeball says:

    The Bible was written by human beings.
    Human beings make mistakes.




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  4. mattb says:

    Steven, on the tie to religion, there is a another line in that argument that many conservative religious individuals hold: the proposition that man can destroy the work of God (i.e. the earth) is the height of human arrogance.

    At best, if man is wrecking the earth, that can only be because it is part of a larger divine plan.




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  5. Mike says:

    This is yet another ridiculous contradiction from the human paradox that is Rick Santorum. He claims that political manipulation has has lead to the “absolute travesty of scientific research” that is climate change.

    Rather than using scientific evidence to instill doubt into the climate change argument, he uses his own political posturing to dismiss it entirely. In other words, he is doing the exact same thing he is complaining about: using politics rather than science to shape government.




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  6. Hey Norm says:

    Even if you don’t believe 100% of the qualified scientists…Santorums argument is still flawed. If humans are to use the earth for “our” benefit…who does “our” signify? Are 21st century earthlings entitled to use all the resources that we can? Or are we to CONSERVE (the root of conservatism) resources for future generations? And isn’t that what environmentalists are encouraging?
    Follow the money…Santorum is the biggest Senate recipient of money from the fossil fuel lobby…which is amazing considering he hasn’t run for the Senate since ’06. Think about that…he got enough money from oil that he is still a top-recipient 6 years after being tossed out of office. His position on Fracking is far to the right of PA Republicans, who passed a law toughening standards, and the Oil Industry itself who now admit that the natural gas exploration industry is partly responsible for rising levels of contaminants found in Western PA drinking water.




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  7. mattb says:

    @Hey Norm:

    If humans are to use the earth for “our” benefit…who does “our” signify? Are 21st century earthlings entitled to use all the resources that we can?

    That’s why one needs to recognize the line of thought that says “Man cannot destroy what God created.”

    Despite hard evidence to the contrary (extinction, areas decimated by pollution) these folks believe that the good times can never end because God doesn’t want those good times to end.

    Now, to also be fair, there is a growing Christian pro-environmentalist movement who base their actions on a more “conservationist” reading of the call to stewardship.




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  8. @mattb:

    Despite hard evidence to the contrary (extinction, areas decimated by pollution) these folks believe that the good times can never end because God doesn’t want those good times to end.

    Exactly.




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  9. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Not exactly. Remember that everlasting life changes the equation. If you’ve really internalized that this time on earth is fleeting, you might not need it to be so great … though (evil grin) it is important that you have low taxes and an SUV while you’re here.




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  10. It’s the exact same logic that they use as a basis for their unconditional support for Israel: God gave Israel to the future Israelites, therefore anyone else that is inside the are of Israel is there in violation of God’s decree.




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  11. James says:

    Just out of curiosity, what about this exactly is considered “conservative”?




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  12. @James: Adherence to tradition and the notion that reason alone cannot dictate major policy, I suppose.

    It certainly isn’t about conservation of nature.




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  13. James says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Fair points. I think that if Santourm had phrased it like that I would be more sympathetic to his point. The passages you’ve flagged just strike me as a garbled mess.




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  14. @john personna:

    everlasting life changes the equation

    This is true as well.




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  15. @James:

    The passages you’ve flagged just strike me as a garbled mess.

    Well, there is that…




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  16. Rob in CT says:

    Second, the bolded portion for the last paragraph is key to the politics of this situation: conservatives ultimately see any attempt at environment regulation as really not about the environment anyway, but about an excuse for increased government control. Not only does this pay into general concerns about “big government” but this strand of the argument asserts that all this researchy/sciencey talk is just a ruse: those guys aren’t really scientists interested in understanding the environment. No! They are Marxists in lab coats looking to fool you all into socialism!

    Yes. Lots and lots and lots of people believe this.

    I’d much rather we didn’t have the problem, since I think solving it is going to be pretty hard – it’s a massive collective action problem. Tragedy of the commons, on a global scale. And like everybody else, I like my lifestyle the way it is and don’t really want to use less energy and whatnot.

    So it’s easy to just reject it, because we want to reject it. Which leads to delay, which in turn means that whatever measures must ultimately be taken are likely to be more draconian than they would be if we started now (absent, of course, the technological equivalent of magic ponies, which is possible but I’d rather not bet on it).




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  17. God says:

    Just to clarify, Rick is correct when he says I put people on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely,
    but I never meant him!
    He is not a creature of God. He is a creature of the Catholic Church which is a wholly human creation. He is also a creature of the Republican Party which is also a human construct. By the by, the Bible is also a human construct. I had nothing to with that either.




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  18. JohnMcC says:

    Nothing new about this. James Watt, Pres Reagan’s Interior Sec’ty — and some say Reagan himself — was a proponent of the Protestant fundamentalist variation on this religious theme:
    We don’t have to worry about it ’cause the 2d Coming of Christ is really soon!
    http://www.iawwai/ChristianProphecies.html




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  19. Stan says:

    Before retiring I taught in an atmospheric science department at a major research university. I did not do climate related work, but I know the underlying science and I’m familiar with the reputations of many of the scientists active in the field. Both are solid. I don’t know of any Republicans among my former colleagues, but there are several libertarians in the department who often vote Republican. They agree with my opinion of the scientific validity of present climate research and view comments like Santorum’s as disgraceful. People like Santorum and Gingrich are making their party look like a bunch of idiots. A recent article in the NY Times mentioned the increasing tendency of upscale voters to vote Democratic. There are several reasons for this, but one of them surely is the anti-intellectualism characteristic of the present day Republican party.




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  20. G.A. says:

    At best, if man is wrecking the earth, that can only be because it is part of a larger divine plan.

    The first man along with SATAN wrecked the earth, and the whole damned universe for that matter not industrial progress. Industrial progress just messes up localities and fishing areas and such.

    Now, understand: I do not consider myself an expert on climate change. I do not even have especially strong views on the subject, although I do accept the rather overwhelming scientific consensus that we have a climate change problem.

    Which one would that be? The one I described or the other one?lol…




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  21. G.A. says: