Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is Environmentalism the New Legalism?


By Jeff Bruce

To jog our memories, here's a quick definition of legalism from the ever-useful dictionary.com.

le-gal-ism
-noun

1. strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, esp. to the letter rather than the spirit.
2. Theology.
a. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
b. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
3.(initial capital letter) (in Chinese philosophy) the principles and practices of a school of political theorists advocating strict legal control over all activities, a system of rewards and punishments uniform for all classes, and an absolute monarchy.


Living in the Bay Area, I am acutely aware of the growing infatuation with all things green, eco-friendly, sustainable, organic, or endangered species-saving. However, I didn't realize the depth of this obsession until today.

As I was driving to work, I heard a local radio personality announce that on selected days this winter, it will be ILLEGAL to burn firewood in the Bay Area. Initially, I found this hard to believe. But sure enough, the internet (which does not lie) confirmed it to be so.

Read the following from the folks over at Spare the Air.

In July of 2008, the Air District passed Regulation 6, Rule 3: Wood-Burning Devices to reduce fine particulate matter air pollution from wood smoke.

Don't Burn Wood during Winter Spare the Air Alerts

Under this regulation, it is illegal to burn wood, firelogs, or pellets in your fireplace, woodstove, or outdoor firepit on days for which the Air District issues a Winter Spare the Air Alert. The 2008-09 Winter Spare the Air season runs from November 1 through February 28.


What does this mean? It means that whenever the sentinels of fine particle matter over at Spare the Air are so inclined, they can - by enviro-fiat - make it against the law for you to use your chimney. Presumably, they could make it illegal every single day this warning is in effect. And when is this warning in effect? From November 1st through February 28th. This period of the year is better known as winter, and it is generally the time when you'd want to use you're formally-legal wood-burning receptacle.

Recall the definition(s) of legalism above. I submit that this example squares quite nicely with definitions 1 and 2b. Of course this is more than legalism; this is legalism with teeth, since you are now breaking the law if you don't abide by the rule. And now I turn the conversation over to you. Is environmentalism the cool new way to be a legalist?

7 comments:

theologyandculture said...

That is dumbfounding.

Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame) wrote a book called "State of Fear" a couple years ago. It caused quite a splash, because he (a naturalistic-minded person) was strongly critical of Environmentalism as a *religion*.

You can read a lecture of his with that same title on his official website. For Reformed people, his basic thesis is the same as presuppositional apologetics; namely, that it all boils down to a person's epistemology. Environmentalism, just like adhering strictly to the scientific method as a whole, is a religion with just as much faith as Christianity.

Postmodern philosopher Derrida is famous for quipping "Everything is a text," meaning hermeneutical principles of interpretation are applied to *every* dimension of life, not just written documents.

Mark Twain said "There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." The identical statistics that Environmentalists use can similarly be used to disprove the theory.

And I'm not a conservative anti-Environmentalist. I'm an extremely progressive conservative, and like Michael Crichton, question it purely based on the politicization of the scientific data. But we should be careful stewards of God's creation nonetheless.

-Aaron

Brian said...

At times I am truly unable to decide how to comment. Is the author serious or attempting sarcasm? Unfortunately, in this case, I can only assume you are serious. That is truly sad and frankly, childish.

First, you attempt to equate legalism with a health law put into effect last June is nonsense. I assume you also are opposed to all traffic laws and water standards. No? Then you must be complaining only because it interferes with your self centered desires.

Thinly veiled whining does not advance any conversation. If you have legitimate issues with this law then not only clearly articulate it but also have the consideration to show why there is a law in the first place.
(see- http://www.baaqmd.gov/enf/woodsmoke/woodsmoke_portal.htm)

As a one time long time resident of the SF Bay I am keenly aware of its phenomenal natural beauty but also the real problems with overpopulation.

Andrew Faris said...

Brian,

I think Jeff's point is more about the extremes of environmentalism than this particular law. Maybe it would be good to occasionally not burn wood, but this measure seems to go pretty far.

You yourself, by the way, have asserted quite a bit without much argument, including a total failure to show how traffic lights are analogous to wood-burning laws. Maybe it's just me, but my guess is that the major reason for air quality hazards is overpopulation and all the cars that come with it - not burning wood, which we've been doing since, well, forever.

Hey, but thanks for being gracious at least...

Scott said...

The day after Obama won the presidency, a hard right (conservative Christian) co-worker of mine came into the workroom and said "where are the styrofoam cups? I have to use styrofoam all day to make up for the election!" I have to say this idiocy that declares a concern for the environment some sort of bizarro liberal enemy (to Christianity, to conservative principles) the most strange of all the strange nonsense one hears from the Fox news crowd, of which, I guess, some here are proud to be a part of. Thank goodness Andrew weighs in with some common sense, but the other comments (Derrida--are you kidding me?) are frightening. Here's a thought: even though your mom and dad might have burned wood in the fireplace to their heart's content, it is just possible that science--ooh, bad word, I know--tells us that the state of our atmosphere--especially in certain urban areas, maybe--makes this a destructive thing to do, and one that, if we don't do it, will help the earth. Good grief, why is that a problem for you?

Jeffrey Bruce said...

Scott and Brian,

I'm not trying to be anti-environmental for the sake of being anti-environmentnal and I don't want to senselessly trash the planet God has given us dominion over. I'm asking a question about how environmentalism effects laws, public policy, etc. This law seems quite restrictive to me. I could of course be wrong, and perhaps fine particle matter is really horrendous and restrictions need to be put in place for the common good.

I'm trying to figure out how zeal for the environment is affecting our culture, and whether or not this zeal is beneficial for society at large.

blessings

Scott said...

Jeff:

Sincere blessings to you as well.

"I'm trying to figure out how zeal for the environment is affecting our culture, and whether or not this zeal is beneficial for society at large."

How could the answer to your question be anything but "yes"? Zeal for the environment...trying to make that into a negative is pretty darned hard.

That doesn't mean that every single idea every single person has for ways to protect the environment is valid. But much too often...ESPECIALLY from our Christian brothers and sisters...the knee-jerk reaction to an opinion or theory put forth by a significant majority of the scientific community is to criticize it, and usually by strange (and bogus) claims that somehow caring for the environment has become a "religion" that rivals Christianity (or any other religion). This is theologyandculture's view, but I would point out to theologyandculture that the hard core Christian can only quote Mark Twain so long before you run out of gas (his definition of "damn lies" pretty much starts with the New Testament.)

One can care for the environment with passion and accept what science tells us--about wood burning in urban areas, about global warming, etc--and still love God and accept the Word. Really you can.

theologyandculture said...

"..much too often...ESPECIALLY from our Christian brothers and sisters...the knee-jerk reaction to an opinion or theory put forth by a significant majority of the scientific community is to criticize it, and usually by strange (and bogus) claims that somehow caring for the environment has become a "religion" that rivals Christianity (or any other religion)."

I pointed out that Michael Crichton, who is not a Christian, delivered lectures on the politicization of Environmentalism. Crichton, summa cum laude of Harvard, lecturer at Cambridge and MIT, argued that it is essentially a religion. I was only pointing out that other scientists, especially non-Christians, are critical of environmentalism. I've never heard a Christian say that it is a religion, but they certainly could justifiably say as much.

His speeches can be found here:
http://www.michaelcrichton.net/speeches.html

I used the Mark Twain quote to point out specifically that statistics have nothing to do with truth. They are merely "facts," and "facts" can be manipulated to communicate whatever we want. (Half-truths have all the "facts" straight, but they are still lies.)

One can care for the environment with passion and accept what science tells us--about wood burning in urban areas, about global warming, etc--and still love God and accept the Word. Really you can.

I concluded my post calling myself a "progressive conservative," and I am speaking here idealogically, not only politically.

For example, I am an old-earth creationist. I, personally, re-interpret God's Word (his Special Revelation) in light of scientific discovery in creation (God's General Revelation), and find nothing in conflict with science and Genesis 1-2.

Similarly, I lean toward an Old Testament "minimalist," because much of the "scientific data" goes against what we understand the Bible to be teaching. The Bible isn't wrong, but perhaps our pre-conceived notions of what the Biblical text considers itself to be is wrong.

Finally, I am concerned with environmentalism, because it is God's creation, and we are called to be good stewards of it. However, in the same way that you argue "you can accept science and God's word" (with which I agree), I want to propose to you that a person can believe in stewardship of creation and also fight against the radical politicization and lies of a lot of environmental fanaticism.

"I'm trying to figure out how zeal for the environment is affecting our culture, and whether or not this zeal is beneficial for society at large."

How could the answer to your question be anything but "yes"? Zeal for the environment...trying to make that into a negative is pretty darned hard.

Therefore, Jeff's question of whether 'zeal for the environment' is manifesting itself in healthy ways is a legitimate and important question. So, the answer absolutely can be anything but "yes." This close-mindedness is exactly the problem.

Science is all about open-mindedness. It is about asking questions. It is about developing and testing hypotheses. However, the environmentalists are not accepting of any shred of open-mindedness on this issue- you either get on board, or you are demonized.

We as citizens, and *especially* as Christians, need to cultivate a critical eye toward the media. This has been called a "hermeneutic of suspicion." Scripture teaches that the heart is corrupt and sick; why should we, then, not apply a critical eye to what we are fed by our fallen world?

In closing, if you are a Christian, I will charge you to learn to have a more gracious and irenic tone.