Rick Santorum's environmental \"theology\"

The other day, I was listening to reports on the Republican primary race, and I heard Rick Santorum criticize President Barack Obama's "theology." I stopped dead in my tracks. Theology? On the campaign trail? I thought Santorum was running for president, not for pope. What in the world did he mean?

Well, he went on to say that Obama believes in "some phony theology ... not a theology based on the Bible -- a different theology." When pressed later about what he meant, Santorum said he was referring to Obama's beliefs about the dangers of climate change.

Just for the record, Obama's beliefs about climate change are based in science -- as they are for most rational people -- not "theology."

Santorum went on to explain that he was talking about "radical environmentalists." That's apparently his term for those who still think the scientific method has merit and accept the current consensus on climate change in the scientific community. (Actually, this appalling anti-science attitude seems to have wide acceptance among the Republican candidates. Could the support of oil and gas interests have something to do with clouding their science?)

But Santorum went on: "This idea that man is here to serve the Earth, as opposed to husband its resources and being good stewards of the Earth, and I think that is a phony ideal." Many people think he was alluding to a theological debate between Christians like himself who believe that the command of Genesis to "subdue" the earth is paramount and other Christians who emphasize an obligation to care for the earth and replenish it.

But Santorum is a Catholic. Maybe he has never gotten further in his reading than Humanae Vitae. So I wonder if he is even remotely aware of Catholic statements on the environment. As recently as May 2011, a Vatican-appointed panel of scientists affirmed that the earth is indeed getting warmer, and urgent measures are needed to reverse the trend through a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, methane and other pollutants. Their statement linked the health of the earth with the welfare of all humankind:

"We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home.
"We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us."

All this makes clear that environmentalists are not "worshipping" or "serving" the planet or putting earth before human beings. The welfare of the planet is intertwined with the welfare of those who live here. If we care about humanity, we have to care about our planet.

Rick Santorum needs some basic environmental catechism.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here