Santorum’s Anti-Environmentalism

Exclusive: Now topping many Republican presidential polls, ex-Sen. Rick Santorum is taking aim at what he calls President Obama’s “false theology” – not “based on the Bible” – which supposedly elevates the environment of the Earth above man’s needs, a charge that Sam Parry disputes.

By Sam Parry

On “Face the Nation” last Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused President Barack Obama of embracing a “phony ideal” of environmental theology that puts protection of the Earth above man’s desire to extract its resources, while grabbing more power for the government.

“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth …  it’s just all an attempt to centralize power, to give more power to the government,” the former Pennsylvania senator said.

Smog over New York City in the late 1980s

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to know where to begin.

First of all, I happen to know a lot of environmentalists, having worked in the environmental movement for nearly 15 years. I’ve not only worked with “professional” environmentalists inside the Beltway, but I’ve traveled around the country meeting with thousands of local environmental activists from Miami to Seattle and many cities and towns in between.

I have never met anyone who considered their environmental advocacy a form of religion. Sure, many environmentalists take protecting the planet very seriously and have changed many aspects of their lives to reduce their own personal impact on the Earth’s livability. And many environmentalists enjoy spiritual moments when they are outdoors exploring nature’s beauty.

But who among us isn’t awed and humbled by the breath-taking beauty of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite? Who among us isn’t refreshed by a hike in the woods on a warm fall day or a day of kayaking in a coastal marsh or wetland? Who among us hasn’t been calmed by a quiet summer sunset or a clear, moonless night away from city lights with a million stars in the sky?

Caring for nature is not some bizarre “phony ideal” or religion. And most environmental activists I’ve met are very normal people with kids and jobs and bills and mortgages. Many environmentalists come to the movement out of a deep traditionally religious faith and want to do their part to preserve “the miracle of God’s work.”

The modern environmental movement is not an effort to “elevate the earth above man.” It’s simply an effort to ensure that we all have a safe, clean environment for our kids and our communities; to protect our natural resources so that humans can continue to survive off the earth’s bounty; and to ensure that future generations can enjoy serene moments of quiet communion with the great outdoors.

The American Right has long tried to portray environmentalists as weird hippy counter-culture extremists. But, from the beginning of American environmentalism in the late 1800s, it has traditionally been a movement that strives to achieve balance with market industrial forces that, unrestrained, level forests, pollute the air and deplete natural resources faster than they can be naturally replenished.

President Abraham Lincoln is credited with laying the foundation for our National Parks system when, partly in response to the development accompanying Americans spreading west, he signed legislation giving Yosemite Valley to California under the condition that it be preserved for recreation and public use.

President Teddy Roosevelt created the National Forest Service, signed the Antiquities Act into law, and protected 230 million acres of public lands at a time when the American frontier had recently been declared closed.

The 1970 Clean Air Act was passed and signed into law by President Richard Nixon when many American cities were enveloped in smog. (Some still are.) President Nixon also signed into law major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 – which formed the foundation for the Clean Water Act – shortly after Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969.

Even President Ronald Reagan – whose environmental legacy is widely criticized by activists – designated more than 10 million acres of wilderness areas, signed the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986, and supported a strong Montreal Protocol treaty to begin phasing out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals.

I don’t remember anyone accusing these Republican presidents of believing in some “phony ideal” of environmental theology. The other big fallacy in Santorum’s rant – which echoes almost daily throughout the right-wing media and blogosphere – is that environmentalists somehow believe in stronger clean air standards or support global warming action in order to “centralize power” or to “give more power to government.”

Again, having been in the environmental movement for most of my adult life, I have never been in any meeting with any colleague or grassroots activist where anything like this has ever been discussed or even contemplated. This is just not what environmentalists think about.

The truth is that most national environmental organizations spend a lot of time working directly with companies – from Wal-Mart to McDonald’s, from timber companies to utilities – to collaborate on win-win solutions that protect the environment and the bottom-line of the companies.

And, right-wing sound bites aside, most environmentalists understand that strong environmental standards are very difficult to win without at least some support and input from regulated industries. The art of crafting any legislation – environmental or otherwise – is a balancing act between all the stakeholders. This is politics 101.

The right-wing’s simplistic and myopic notion that environmental standards exist merely to centralize power in the federal government misses the larger point that many industries play a very active role in developing and implementing national environmental standards.

Recently, for example, the major automakers helped craft and endorsed the Obama administration’s tough new fuel economy standard that will require passenger cars and trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The rhetoric also ignores the reality that smart regulation actually leads to innovation and improved business efficiencies. The Clean Air Act, for instance, is credited with helping launch a $300 billion environmental technologies industry in the U.S. that employs 1.7 million people.

Finally, the right-wing attack against the Obama administration’s pursuit of stronger environmental standards misses the larger point that none of these standards are happening in a vacuum.

For instance, the 1990 Clean Air Act specifically called on the EPA to reduce mercury and hazardous air toxic emissions. Twenty-one years later, after much delay and many legal battles over rule-making, the EPA finally pressed forward and finalized tough new standards that were published in the Federal Register last week.

But, to listen to many right-wing politicians and talking heads, you would think that the EPA sprung this on industry without any warning or authority. The truth is utilities knew these rules were coming and the Obama EPA was legally required to move forward on this rule.

Politicians aren’t often very good at telling the truth – especially when they can score cheap political points by kicking “wacky” environmentalists around. But these right-wing attack lines, parroted by the latest GOP presidential frontrunner, also serve to divide the country on an issue that not too long ago was part of a proud Republican legacy on environmental stewardship and conservation.

Sam Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.

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18 comments on “Santorum’s Anti-Environmentalism

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    The whole paradox is that, somehow, the American public has been duped into believing that their nemesis is “Big Government”. It’s always a canard to draw attention off the “Big Money.” Reagan’s tripe was always, “Too much big government regulation”. I’d like to know what part of “Big Government” ever hurt a blue-collar worker. Yet, these are the very people voting to preserve corporate hegemony over our society. What we are witnessing is the blossoming of neo-fascism: a gargantuan propaganda machine, corporate control of the political process, a constant barrage of manufactured threats to the “homeland”, script currency, collusion between religious and political organizations (reference: Hitler’s Concordat with the Catholic Church) and police brutality. Krupp, Thiessen, Bayer, BMW, and even Ford and GM were making money on the Nazi regime, not to mention the banking industry. “Big Business”, not “Big Government”, is the enemy, but they have become one and the same. That’s fascism, plain and simple. But when you’re dealing with a public that has never been educated even to the level it would take to analyze a newspaper clipping, what would you expect? Theocracy is all about the elimination of “critical thinking”. It works, and the results in America are plain to be seen.

    • To F. G. Sanford: Truer words were never spoken. You took them right out of my mouth.

      Communism: control of business by the government
      Fascism: control of the government by business

  2. David J. Hart on said:

    We did not inherit the earth from our parents. We hold it in trust for our children.

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  4. Hillary on said:

    Did not God tell us in his Bible that Man shall have dominion over all things on this Warth.

    Thy will be done !

  5. Jym Allyn on said:

    It is very unlikely that the majority of currently elected Republican officials will let Santorum be the 2012 Presidential Nomination despite the gulibility, stupidity, and innate bigotry of the TeaBag swamp.

    (The Google created meaning for “santorium” is appropriate and deserved.)

    A Santorum nomination will likely decimate the rest of the Republican electorate as non-Fundamentalist Republicans stay home rather than shame themselves by voting for Santorum and the overwhelming majority of Democrats vote in force to put a stop to such Republican stupidity.

    Don’t stop warning people about Santorum even though intelligent comments to his supporters will fall on deaf ears. But if the Party tries to replicate the John Birch induced type of nomination that doomed Barry Goldwater, the anti-Santorum vote should send a message to the rest of the country that there is still hope for the USA.

  6. Jym Allyn on said:

    (The Google created meaning for “santorum” is appropriate and deserved.)

  7. Morton Kurzweil on said:

    Why are we responding with a reasonable argument about the environment to the insane delusions of Santorum and the rest of the religious extremists who base their knowledge on the back to the womb safety net of insecure and paranoid infants?
    This form of madness is the safety net of security in predestination and a n inability to handle the stress of reality.
    Respect for such fanaticism under the guise of morality and ethics does disservice to the vast majority of religious followers of all faiths who seek a better life for everyone.
    The nuts who need to defend their God against all others has created a God in his own image and deserves no respect.

  8. The only thing I have in common with Rick Santorum is growing up Roman Catholic. Any commonality ends there.

    The funny thing is, I remember being taught that Genesis references to ‘dominion’ were to advise us that we are to be good caretakers and responsible stewards; which seems to be the opposite of whatever delusional lesson little Rickie learned.

    His comment mis-characterizing “…a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth” sounds like a non-sequitur to me, because stewardship does NOT demote anyone to a status below the earth we live on. Very simply, if we don’t take care of the place where we live, then our irresponsibility will result in not being able to live here anymore.

    End of story – really – that would be the end of the story.

    • rosemerry on said:

      Sick Rantorum (sic) is not anything like the catholicism I was raised in.
      As for “big government”, if the USA had a democratic system, and the population voted for what they wanted (as opposed to the lies of corporate and lobby candidates), the people would not distrust the “reps” as they now do. Political interference in the “redistricting” means constant gerrymandering, and incumbents are overwhelmingly elected, so nothing can change. For anyone to pretend Obama is pro-environment is a demonstration that legislatoon in the last three years has gone unnoticed!

      • charles sereno on said:

        I’ve no pretensions to being a wordsmith but I haven’t yet heard — “San(a)tor(i)um.” With a catchy first name, who knows?

  9. Richard Lee Dechert on said:

    Hillary above highlights the fact that Santorum’s delusional denial of human-induced global warming and its increasingly adverse impacts on our planet is reinforced by Dominion theology and its fossil-fuel funders. An alarming case study of doctrinal and political pathology. See “Santorum and the ‘Green Dragon’: Faith-Based Attacks on Environmentalism Nothing New from the Religious Right” at
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/santorum-and-green-dragon-faith-based-attacks-environmentalism-nothing-new-religious-right>.

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  11. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    The MSNBC evening hosts didn’t handle the Santorum quote properly. They thought it was a challenge to Obama’s commitment to Christianity, rather than environmental philosophy. I appreciate the guidance to the point that as a right-wing religious extremist, Santorum wants most of all to establish a theocracy in the USA, so democracy will have to go. He and his ilk seem to think that time can be turned backward all the way to the Garden of Eden before the fall, and then we can proceed as if Satan had not sold Eve on the advantages of disobedience. Speaking only within the Judeo-Christian tradition, I have to wonder how Santorum expects to defeat Satan this late in the game, and on a global scale, when in fact Satan is sitting, warm and hydrated, in Rick Santorum’s mouth.

  12. Well, we have Ann Coulter: God gave man dominion over the earth. “The earth is yours. Take it. Rape it!” Google will give the exact quote. Then we have the beloved James Watt former, Secretary of the Interior to a Congressional subcommittee no less: The environment is of little concern; the world is going to end soon anyway (meaning the second coming of Christ). Interesting fact: The arctic ice core was virtually prehistorically clean until the Romans’ extensive copper and lead mining at their height. The pollution was trapped in a layer of the ice core. After the demise of the empire, the core returned to its near pristine level. What does any objective person conclude from this little piece of evidence may be happening after centuries of the industrial revolution?

  13. citizenpaine on said:

    Since the landslide Reagan election over Carter in 1980 we have been bombarded with oil and gas propaganda. Reagan’s Secretary of the Department of the Interior James Watt soon after the election made his infamous statement that we should not worry about the environment because Jesus would soon bring about the end of the Earth

    On his first day in office, Reagan said get those things off my roof referring to the solar energy panels installed by Carter on the roof of the White House.

    Ann Coulter’s quote about how God’s promise to make humans the keepers of Earth really means we are blessed by God if we rape, pillage and plunder the Earth until it is dead is just a continuation of the same idea.

    Now Rick Santorum takes up the doomsday cult mantra claiming that Obama and his cabal of “Radical Environmentalists” represent a world view based on a “different” theology and not based on the Bible. Obviously he also believes that protecting our atmosphere is a fools errand that Obama and his minions have at the top of their “Devil’s to-do list”.

    Funny how Satan according to Santorum is trying to trick us into saving the Earth. Why would he do such a thing?

    Perhaps Rick Santorum is really Rick Satan-orum or short for Satan’s Quorum. Satan might just get his wish to fool us all and end humanity.

    Reagan was making films in the 1950′s against social health care calling it the creep of communism. Now republicans are attacking all government funded social services while they defend billionaires rights to not pay taxes for oil wars which benefit their stock holdings in fossil fuel companies.

    If the republicans could, they would nuke Iran and clean up on the profits.

    What’s a little bit of radiation going to do to Satan?