Climate Change, Faith, and Happiness
I have been reading, and just finished the book Beyond the Modern Age, by Bob Goudzwaard and Craig Bartholomew. I will be writing a review soon, but considering our political debate about climate change and economic growth, there is something that they write in the concluding chapter that I wanted to share. It's a rather lengthy excerpt, but it is a word we need to hear. I want to note up front that the authors are evangelical Christians with a Reformed orientation. Both live in Canada, which may explain why they are not caught up in the current right wing turn, but it is also a good reminder that evangelical does not mean Trump supporter, climate denier, or devotee of laissez faire economic theory.
So, with regard to climate change, economics, and happiness, they first offer a reminder that we "need to openly, even forcefully challenge the powerful illusion in modern societies that technological progress can save us. A spiritual battle must be fought against worldviews that do not start with respect for what has been given us to take care of and preserve."
With that I plunge into this paragraph addressed to Christians in modern Western societies (like the one I live in), together with people of other faith traditions:
God willing and they themselves willing, they can lay bare the deeply secular roots of the present illusions of our age. With the support of a growing number of experts, they can help build the capacity to break through the public lie that more material consumption in already rich countries will lead to more happiness. Precisely the opposite is true. This means that the message is primarily positive, not negative. The shadow side of the message is that the more rich nations continue down the path of unlimited material expansion, the more they will plunder the earth, overburden the climate and vulnerable ecosystems, and engage in a rat race for the final dregs of the world's depleted energy reserves, even if the price is war in remote areas. But the positive side is that a greater measure of peace, of shalom for all, can come through the timely acceptance of levels of economic saturation in material consumption and disposable income. Remarkably, more realistic horizons for all of our economies will emerge as a result -- as the concrete examples cited above already indicate. I t may sound strange, but in the end working and consuming less in the industrialized nations will do more good for their inhabitants, their children, and the environment -- not to mention for people suffering in other parts of the world -- than endlessly trying to work harder, produce more, and consume more. The principle of enough, of saturation, is an underdeveloped concept in economics and politics. But it can indeed open a door where other efforts have failed. [Beyond the Modern Age, p. 264]
We have been told that happiness is to be found producing and consuming more, but we're discovering that such a path is not sustainable and its not making us happy. Instead, we're burning out and destroying the environment. This is, the authors suggest, a spiritual problem, which requires people of faith to face and engage.