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Steve Gottlieb : Capitalism, religion and global warming

Global warming is the earth’s response to unrestrained capitalism. Everybody gets to make, buy and use whatever they want without regard to how it affects the sustainability of the environment and everyone in it. Drilling in the Gulf, the Arctic or anywhere, hydrofracking in New York, Pennsylvania or anywhere, turning food like corn into oil that can be burned, all make carbon based fuels that contribute to global warming.  

The growing list of minor chores that we once did with cranks, like grinding coffee, requires more power for which more carbon based fuel is burned. Planning buildings without regard to natural cooling requires maximum use of power hungry air conditioners. This is capitalist freedom to do whatever we want. And the earth is fighting back.

The earth is attacking our food supply. There are fewer fish in the oceans. Storms swamp fertile lands, and drought turns areas hungry for water into deserts. We need water to drink. Farmers need water to grow. But the water supply is too much or too little. And still we dawdle.

The earth is attacking our homes. Supposedly ignorant and uneducated Pacific islanders know there’s global warming and rising seas – their homes are being flooded. Some are already refugees in other countries. The rest will have to move. A sea rise of just a few feet will make much of both coasts and our largest cities uninhabitable. Some land may still peak above water but roads, railroads, highways, utilities and subways, will be unusable. They will no longer function as cities. Millions of Americans will become refugees. And still we dawdle.

From an economic perspective, the unrestrained ideologically obstinate capitalism that powerful Americans preach, makes the problem virtually unsolvable. It’s obvious from all the information we get, from daily news, from what we observe, that powerful businesses are the problem. It’s powerful business that drives the push to burn and consume fuels, to drill, frack, pump, pipe and haul carbon-based fuels, and business that resists efforts at conservation. Never mind that a few small companies are trying to make money with small scale improvements, the businesses that are the problem swamp the businesses that want to fix it.

From a legal perspective, judges apply the law written too long ago and turn to the political system to stop this environmental rape of humankind. But paralyzed politicians can’t bring themselves to override the capitalists, and administer the strong medicine that years of denial make necessary.

From a demographic perspective, this is a world of seven billion people, doubling in population all too frequently, introducing children to a world that will starve and burn them to death if they are not first killed in war, a world in which, however innocent, they, the people, the children, everyone is the problem because they need to be fed, clothed, and housed.

From a religious perspective, this is plainly God’s judgment on our selfishness and waste, our unwillingness to consider the impact on our neighbors, let alone our children. Every core religious value is involved – stewardship of God’s creation, the ability to sustain life, the right to life, and civilization. Strange it is that so many of those who most loudly lay claim to represent the religious in America ignore the greatest moral challenge facing human beings.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.