As the dishevelled figure of George W Bush was helicoptered off the White house lawn on January 20th, 2009, the world breathed a sigh of relief. With outgoing approval ratings of less than 22%, this was truly a failed President. Famously simplistic in his rhetoric and policy, George Bush had overseen a period of American history that began with an illegal war and ended in an economic crisis that enveloped the world. Nestling between these two bastardised bookends was regular torture of 'foreign combatants', the aggressive undermining of the UN, and a complete disregard for national or international climate policy. Bush had many undesirable traits, but his stubborn commitment to an authoritarian Christian sense of 'right and wrong' must rank among them. The oppressive, sexist and brutal principles of Iranian Ayatollahs, or the fundamentalist fervour of violent Islamic movements such as Al Qaeda are roundly and deservedly condemned. But here, in charge of the United States of America, was a man who believed he was carrying out God's will on earth (and frequently said as much in speeches). Combine this with a political ideology that favoured pre-emptive military action over multilateral negotiation, and it isn't difficult to understand why so many in the Arab world perceive George Bush as having led an Imperialist Crusade against Islam in the name of Christianity.
His religious zeal impacted on more than his approach to the Middle East, however. His distrust of 'science' was often cited as one of the reasons that he clung so doggedly to a belief that climate change was not America's problem to deal with. It is well documented that many on the Christian Right in America believe Darwin's Theory of Evolution should be taught 'alongside' Creationism in school science classes. Bush was one of them. Infamously refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Bush can reasonably be said to have put the fight against climate change back by about a decade.
But if Bush's disregard for evolutionary science stemmed from his religious upbringing, it seems unfair to blame his unwillingness to engage with climate change on his Christianity. In the UK at least, NGOs like Christian Aid have been at the forefront of the environmental movement, holding high-profile demos and events (http://www.christianaid.org.uk/issues/climatechange/march/index.aspx) and endorsing models for international climate change mitigation that blow the EU's farcical Emissions Trading System (essentially a cap-and-trade market with no cap) out of the water (http://www.ecoequity.org/GDRs/).
We are even seeing the emergence of organisations like 'Operation Noah', a faith-based organisation which campaigns exclusively on the climate change issue. In Cardiff, a boat owned by one of Cardiff's Christian groups is being transformed into a 'Noah's Ark'. Under the slogan: "Save Creation At Copenhagen", local children will process on to the 'Ark' wearing animal masks, costumes and bearing images of human communities who will be most at risk from climate change. Intriguingly, Operation Noah manages to seamlessly combine a rejection of evolutionary science with a forthright conviction for securing the Earth's future based on climate science:
"It is more than fitting that Cardiff's young children are at the
forefront of this event. The decisions taken this year at Copenhagen
will determine whether the Earth , their home, will be a safe place or
not in the decades ahead. We have an obligation to them, to worldwide
humanity and to God's marvellously complex and diverse creation to act
now. We need nothing less than an industrial revolution for
sustainability and we look to our leaders to act like Noah – to listen
and to lead." (Mark Dowd, Operation Noah Campaign Strategist)
While many climate change campaigners would probably rather jump on board the Atheist Bus than the Creationism Boat, environmentalism is also a movement that takes its supporters where it can find 'em. "Tackle climate change first - and argue about Creationism another day" captures the prevailing sentiment.
It isn't clear, however, whether Operation Noah's admirable commitment to preventing dangerous climate change is matched by the practicality of their proposed solutions:
"Good for Noah, the first Biblical environmentalist, who read the
signs of the times and inspired by God, found a way to save humanity
and all creatures. As the real significance of climate change is
appreciated, jump aboard Operation Noah's climate campaign as together
we seek to be an ark to the future!" (Minister David Pickering, Chair of Operation Noah)
Whether a big wooden boat ends up being the most appropriate means of tackling climate change of not, the underlying message is clear: In the eyes of evangelical Christians, Creationism and Environmentalism are not incompatible. George W's Christian dogma is implicated in many of his worst policies - but his disregard for climate science probably wasn't one of them.