The Environment Contains No "Right" and "Left": Navigating Ideology, Religion, and Views of the Environment in Contemporary American Society

By Levasseur, Todd Jared | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Environment Contains No "Right" and "Left": Navigating Ideology, Religion, and Views of the Environment in Contemporary American Society


Levasseur, Todd Jared, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Abstract: This paper explores, analyzes, and investigates how the political ideologies of American citizens and their elected representatives interact with views put forth by corporate media to help shape various ideologies about environmental issues in contemporary America. I specifically enter into this area of exploration by focusing on one variable, the variable of religion. Therefore, in this paper I seek to help elucidate broad patterns and understandings of environmental issues in America as they have developed since the beginning of the modern environmental movement, focusing especially on the role religion has and is playing in this process. The paper is driven by identifying two major groups in American society, Liberal/nurturant parent, and Conservative/strict father, and how the core values of each group influence their ideological approaches to religion, environmentalism, and politics. The investigation is undertaken in the larger context of worsening climate change, suggesting that the interplay of religious, political, and environmentalist ideology of the past few decades presages further ideological shifts in the coming decades about our changing biosphere.

Key Words: ideology, environmentalism, religion, ecology, framing, social construct, climate change, conflict

I sit to type this paper over the 2012 Autumnal Equinox weekend, pausing to reflect on the cyclical change from days of longer sunlight to days of longer night. At the same time, members of American society are doing their own reflecting, becoming more engrossed with the home stretch of the 2012 Presidential election. The blogosphere is working overtime to give "real time" updates and analyses of blunders and there are broken promises, charges levied, opportunities missed, and daily polling results. There are also new series on television vying for attention; both College and Professional football have resumed; Hollywood is offering seasonal blockbusters; and the economy, always the economy, dominates the concern of average American voters and citizens. This reality in which I undertake my own professional effort can be read backwards, exchanging the candidate's names every four years, for decades, with the onset of the internet and cable news being the main difference. Yet, the complexities of approximately 330 million people being centrifuged around American politics and forms of media belies a major shiftthat is underway; a shiftthat begins in earnest in the early 1900s and which is still largely offof the American radar. It is a shiftthat, indeed, reflects some heightened concern, as will be explored in this paper, but the larger pattern is still apparently yet to be taken seriously. This is the literal shiftof the earth's climate and the planet's attendant biogeochemical cycles.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the move towards systematically transporting Homo sapiens in America by the combustion engine of the automobile, humans (and historically, Americans, as we are responsible for approximately 25 percent of the world's consumption and its biggest per capita user of nonrenewable forms of climate-changing energy) have entered into a Faustian bargain with ecosystem functions that dwarf our understanding in their complexity and interlinked operations. The greenhouse gases humans have and are releasing into the atmospheric and oceanic commons are driving the earth through a variety of interlinked tipping points. Two are of major concern, and highlight the severity of the problem from an evolutionary survival fitness perspective: (1) the oceans are rapidly becoming more acidic, threatening the collapse of almost every major aquatic food chain, possibly within the coming twenty years; and (2) the rapid summer melting of the North Pole ice cap in the Northern Hemisphere's summer months. Predictions of this ice cap's viability from climate models just ten years ago suggested that climate change would not prevent severe threats to the North Pole's ice coverage until the turn of the century, in 2100. …

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