Ethics & Public Policy Center

God, Man, and Green at Yale

Published in Weekly Standard on July 25, 2007


A half century ago, William F. Buckley, Jr., created quite a stir when he published God and Man At Yale, bemoaning the junior status accorded the Almighty within its ivied walls. Today a new phenomenon is sweeping the Yale campus, especially at Yale Divinity School, where in the mid-1940s I studied theology and social ethics.

Yale has not escaped the many moods and causes dredged up by the countercultural zeitgeist. None has been more colorful, flamboyant, or intense than the current green revolution. This is dramatically manifest in the current issue of Reflections, the official quarterly of the Divinity School. It’s theme and title is “God’s Green Earth: Creation, Faith, Crisis.” The cover carries Giovanni di Paolo’s the Expulsion from Paradise (1445), a bright painting depicting a nude angel expelling an equally nude Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Thumbing through the 76 pages of 10.5 by 7.5 inch glossy paper, I was struck by the dramatic, indeed apocalyptic, tone of virtually all of its twenty articles. Among the titles:

“Daring to Dream: Religion and the Future of the Earth”
“The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: Religion and Environmentalism”
“Earthkeeping and the Bible”
“Avoiding the Great Collision: ‘We Can Save What is Left'”
“Environmental Justice and a New American Dream”
“Everything that Breathes Praises God”
“Eco-ethics and Global Citizenship: A View from Central America”
“Green Discipleship”

One article calls for a “new species identity.” Another warns that “If Christians inadequately understand the ecology of God’s desire for humanity, then they stutter before the fullness of their gospel.” And an author wonders whether the “world economy can be tamed” to restore “the natural world.” Then there were the misty poems:

Owl in the black morning, mockingbird in the burning
Slants of the sunny afternoon declare so simply. . . .
Of the mockingbird and the owl, the waves, and the wind
And then, like peace after perfect speech, such stillness.

I could go on and on, but this may be sufficient to suggest that Yale Divinity School is promoting a new Pantheism, the belief that “nature is God,” a worldview popular in the eighteenth century and long held by many tribal peoples who are persuaded their god speaks to them through volcanoes, earthquakes, and lightening.

Reading this version of Yale’s new green creed, including it’s veneration of all living things large and small, recalls a limerick I wrote two years ago:

I love all trees and buzzing bees
And great things like the Seven Seas.
Everything global
Makes me feel noble
But I still have a problem with fleas.

Of course, this outburst at Yale was merely a reflection of a wider epidemic of greenism among American elites. Mind you, most Americans believe that we should use, conserve, and develop the natural bounty of the earth so we can bequeath its blessings to future generations. Everyone wants cleaner air and supports reasonable efforts to achieve it. But that is not enough for the new greens, who see catastrophe everywhere around us. Alarmists like Al Gore are right. However, they often exaggerate the danger and ignore verifiable evidence. One basic fact is that the earth has been undergoing dramatic climate changes for billions of years with no participation by humans. And it is by no means certain that air-born carbons produced by humans increase global warming.

Of course, every reasonable effort should be made to reduce harmful carbon emissions from fuel production and consumption. Along with the substantial efforts already underway to achieve this in the petroleum and coal industries, we should invest more in solar, wind, and water power. Don Quixote tilted at windmills, but we can use them to increase clean energy.

But for the extreme environmentalists, this is not enough. Recently, British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, with Al Gore at his side, offered a $25 million prize to anyone who can come up with a way to blunt global warming by “removing at least a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the Earth’s atmosphere.” The Wall Street Journal noted that the judges chosen to determine the winner all “hail from the Apocalypse Now crowd.”

In their zeal, the extreme American environmentalists have overlooked, or even condemned, the best source of clean power–nuclear energy. The most efficient way for the United States to produce more clean energy is to build new nuclear power plants. We now operate 103 such plants that produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, all built before the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 that stuck such fear in professors, politicians, and the press. In fact, the accident produced only one casualty. Dr. Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, is fond of saying the he was that casualty–because the widespread apocalyptic assessment caused him to have a heart attack!

The false perception of Three Mile Island has virtually stopped America from building any new nuclear power plants for 25 years, while Britain, France, Germany, and India have forged ahead. Since their beginning, nuclear plants have caused no fatalities except for Chernobyl, the massive meltdown at the Soviet-built power reactor that in 1986 killed at least 56 persons.

And nuclear power plants are clean. They throw no pollutants into the air in contrast to coal plants that produce large quantities of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

America’s demand for electricity will increase 50 percent by 2025. Since we cannot depend on foreign oil, we must embark on a vigorous effort to build new nuclear energy plants that are safe, efficient, clean, and whose fuel is not dependent on imports from abroad.

Two bits of good news. President George W. Bush gingerly mentioned the need for more nuclear energy in his recent State of the Union address. And more down to earth, the Tennessee Valley Authority has just requested permission to build two new nuclear power reactors and to restart the one at Browns Ferry, Alabama, which had been shut down for 22 years. When Browns Ferry first went on line in 1947 it was the largest nuclear power plant in the world.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and editor of The Apocalyptic Premise.

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