The above link leads to a commentary by Dan Farber on cbsnews.com. Highlights:
"Santorum said that his remarks about Obama’s phony theology not based on the Bible referred to the president’s environmental policies, not his religious faith. He argued that the Obama administration’s environmental policies promote the ideas of ‘radical environmentalists,’ who he said elevate the Earth above man.
'This idea that man is here to serve the Earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth—I think that is a phony ideal. I don't believe that that's what we're here to do. That man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth. But we're not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. And, I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down,' Santorum told 'Face the Nation' host Bob Schieffer.”
First of all, the very idea that Obama’s policies “elevate the Earth above man” is ridiculous. It is true that Obama has - so far - opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada as far as Texas, after thousands of Americans (who Santorum would no doubt dismiss as “radical environmentalists,” because people who disagree with him don’t count as real Americans) showed up at the White House multiple times to protest the project. But it’s outrageous to conclude from this that Obama’s environmental policies are in any way radical. Rather, I think it’s clear that Obama is a fairly typical democrat. What he seems to advocate is pursuing energy independence and exploring alternative energy sources, while attempting to balance this goal with protecting human health and improving social/economic equality (with that last part explaining his administration’s desire to eliminate tax breaks for oil companies).
In short, like many Americans, Obama is hoping that we can have it all. That with a careful approach, our society can continue in much the same way as before; that we can preserve the health of the environment without compromising our lifestyle; that we can have a livable planet and exploit it at the same time.
I will probably vote for Obama again in the next election, but that doesn’t mean I’m impressed with him. As a radical myself, I wish his policies gave the natural world top priority. I wish he - and so many others - could see that it isn’t possible for us to have it all, that the very structure of our society is putting life on this planet in jeopardy, and that we must change our way of life before it’s too late. But that is not Obama’s position. Perhaps some Republicans can imagine Obama saying such things, but I have seen the man’s speeches, and I cannot. As Farber writes in the above article, Santorum’s claims are “more politically-induced rhetoric than reality.” Santorum is trying to cater to Republicans by portraying Obama as some kind of extremist. It’s all a shoddy attempt at manipulation.
The truth is that Santorum and those like him see any resistance to “the demands of the economy” as elevating the Earth above man (I would argue that Obama’s policy is not even resistance to these demands, but a misguided attempt to meet those demands from another direction). One reason for this hyperbolic view is that they equate man with man’s culture, which is why any suggestion that we change our lifestyle is met with such scorn. It’s all or nothing. You’re either on one side, or the other. This is how jealously they defend human supremacy - and that very jealousy exposes their true feelings about non-human nature, despite Santorum’s vague blathering about stewardship. No, his true perspective is that humanity and nature are opposed; we are either nature’s masters, or we are condemned to be its servants - a prospect he clearly deems unthinkable. Give nature even so much as an inch, and soon we’re all scratching a living off rocks like animals! Oh, the horror!
I have no patience for it. I don’t believe we can live sustainably without making sweeping changes to almost every aspect of our lives - but even the most moderate environmentally-minded adjustments to our society or economic system would frighten the bejeezus out of these people.
Second of all, let’s look at Santorum’s comments about these environmentalists who seem to have so cleverly bewitched our President into giving the barest consideration to the planet’s welfare.
In Oklahoma City, Santorum stated that radical environmentalist groups “purvey their reign of environmental terror on the United States of America.” Because practically begging people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on scientific evidence - or asking people to hold off on hydrofracking because of a lack of scientific evidence - is clearly on par with maddened revolutionary leaders guillotining mass numbers of people to secure their dictatorial political powers.
Seriously. A “reign of environmental terror”?
Then, in response to the Obama administration’s delay on the Pipeline decision, Santorum called it a ”capitulation to the radical environmental fringe - and in turn putting our national security and economy at risk.” I suppose Santorum makes this claim either because 1) Canada will just ship their tar sands oil to China instead, which would of course directly lead to China invading the U.S. and totes stealinz our freedumz; or because 2) the President giving credence to these deranged people ranting about climate change and oil spills will inevitably be the first step to America becoming a nest of pinko-commie tree-hugging pansy collectives where everyone is too lazy to feed themselves. Leading, once again, to Chinese takeover.
Although, it occurs to me - you know what would really put national security at risk? Widespread ecological collapse. I think that might do the trick.
Anyway, what I really want to say here is this: Santorum’s further exaggeration of the powers of so-called radical environmentalist groups is part of a broader movement among conservatives and libertarians to demonize environmental activists. It has gone so far that environmental activists risk being branded “eco-terrorists” (see this blog for further info) regardless of their methods. This, in turn, is part of the movement to demonize all activists, as seen in the state’s and even the media’s response to the Occupy protests. And this kind of rhetoric is very dangerous, for all of us. As soon as those in power decide they do not want your voice heard, you are labeled a terrorist, an extremist, a “fringe radical,” and you are no longer a human being; your rights become entirely fictional, and your reasons, your ideas, do not matter anymore. And this can happen to all activists. It doesn’t matter whether you’re peaceful or violent or a non-violent saboteur. All that matters is how fundamentally you challenge the status quo and the privilege of the powerful. Fear-mongers like Santorum are not defending democracy; they are unraveling it. In saying these things, their only goal is to protect their privilege and advance their own gain.
And the truth is, to fight for the natural world is to challenge the core of our cultural ideology (that is, that human beings have the right to exploit the Earth and all non-human life upon it without restriction). If nature is only a heap of resources to be managed, then it is not a complex and delicate system comprised of living things with value and needs of their own. If nature is only a well of resources here for our use (man is here to “husband [the Earth’s] resources,” Santorum says), then those who claim otherwise are delusional, seeing a moral claim on our behavior where none exists. Not only this, but their loyalties are compromised: these dissidents stand in the way of the state’s and the corporations’ right to take what they want. And therefore, environmentalists are accused of standing in the way of human welfare, standing in the way of us benefiting from nature’s bounty.
First, there is no recognition of the limits of that bounty - or at least, it is thought that these limits will only kick in later, that the danger is not immediate; the next generation will handle this problem, or the generation after them. Second, there is no recognition that human beings benefited from nature without destroying it for tens of thousands of years. There is no recognition that living a good life as a human being does not require all this excess, this relentless grind of energy extraction - no recognition that culture, not humanity in itself, is destroying our planet.
And lastly, there is no recognition that it is Santorum, and all those who think like him, who have things “upside-down.” Earth is primary. It was here long before us. I hope that it will be here, thriving, long after we are gone. We exist only because of the Earth - because of its laws, its shifting balances, and the web of life upon it. We are not here to manage anything. Earth is primary; man is not.
Maybe that is, as Santorum says, an un-Christian belief. Maybe it isn’t. Not being Christian myself any longer, it’s not something that particularly bothers me. I’m sure there are Christians out there who could argue either way. In any case, I doubt it is a belief I share with President Obama.
But regardless, it is time to abandon this conceit that it is mankind’s role to hold dominion over the Earth. That we should even consider ourselves its managers, however “wise,” is arrogant and foolish (how wise have we really been so far? how much wiser are we really likely to become in the future?). Human welfare is not to be achieved this way, despite Santorum’s nonsenical claims - because true human welfare coincides with the welfare of the Earth. As Farber states in his commentary, “It’s rather difficult to separate the health of the planet from the the health of the nearly 7 billion people who inhabit it.”