Religion goes green

April West

Tues., April 24, Texas A&M Professor of History and Lawrence University 1965 alumnus Thomas Dunlap gave a talk titled “Environmentalism as Reform and Religion.”
Dunlap is one of the country’s leading scholars on the history of environmentalism and is the author of four books. In his talk he examined the environmentalist movement’s “development as a secular faith.”
Dunlap explained that the environmental reform movement initially attempted to seek a more just society and asked people to stop and think; while it had to no religious component it used a moral language.
Environmentalism is different from most movements, he said, because unlike most it has gone on for more than 40 years.
Another unique trait of environmentalism, Dunlap said, is that it spans a wide array of people.
All social and economic classes have an interest in environmentalism. This is because environmentalism looks beyond social change to the interactions between humans and the universe.
Dunlap explained that it is not just a reform movement, because it goes to the ultimate questions such as how humans are related to the world. It is in essence a religious movement that gives many people meaning and answers.
This requires an alteration of the idea of religion from the concept of god, dogmas and creeds, to the idea of religion as the answering of ultimate questions. Environmentalism offers people a way to live a good life, or a way to avoid sin, Dunlap said.
Many believe that in terms of global warming and other such problems progress and technology will come up with a solution. According to environmentalism, Dunlap said, we need to change our ideas about where progress will get us and what it can do.
“Environmentalism is a slow-motion landslide; it is not generational. Things have changed. Environmentalism is no longer a movement but a political discourse,” he stated.
Dunlap also argued that environmentalists need to change their outlook from optimistic to hopeful, because optimism inhibits complete understanding.
“We can’t just keep going because we think we are going to win, or to just keep the dance going one more step,” he said.
Hope is the kind of perspective that the masses need. This outlook would help environmentalists talk to opponents that believe growth and technology will solve all problems.
Ultimately, Dunlap believes that admitting environmentalism serves as the religious answer to many will aid the movement. “Environmentalism must be used to understand yourself, allies and opponents,” he concluded.