Southern Tier, Post 49
Day 54, Post 49, Final Post for Southern Tier... I'm sitting in the Amtrak strain station in Jacksonville, with my panniers beside me and my bike locked to a bench outside. In 2.5 hours I will board the Miami to NYC "Silver Meteor", which is one of two trains (I think the other is the Silver Bullet) that accepts bikes as luggage for $20. How cool is that? Assuming train service survives Trump's draconian budget (I've read that his budget will force the cancellation of Amtrak service to dozens of smaller cities in red states), Amtrak seems to be slowly realizing that making trains bike friendly will increase their business. Well, they will get more of my business for sure! Shipping a bike plus gear and flying to a destination can be a lot of work. Getting on a train - even for an overnight trip - is much more convenient, and better for the environment (less carbon).
The "Southern Tier" has loomed large on my bucket list for several years, and I am delighted I finally managed to do it. Although I have been in the south before in limited ways, this trip took me to places I had never been before. I had so many new experiences - biking through the deep southwest near the border, spending 21 days crossing Texas in communities I had never before visited, riding across Louisiana bayous and levees, riding along the Gulf coast of Mississippi and Alabama, crossing the Florida Panhandle in its entirety from western to eastern border, and cycling through the Bible Belt.
I could write more about any of these experiences, but the topic that has been on my mind for some time has to do with my thoughts about Christian Evangelical perspectives on Climate Change. I first encountered a viewpoint that puzzled me in East Texas, when I met a friendly town commissioner who was quite adept at describing the history and cultural attributes of his town Navasota. Thinking there might be an opening for a deeper conversation, I asked him if he had noticed changes in the climate over time, to which he replied, "Sure, but God's always been in charge of that so I'm not worried about it. And I sure don't think government should be in charge of the climate". I didn't press him, but I took his comment to mean that humans don't influence the climate, or if they did, God - and not government - should, or would, fix it. I was uneasy by his response, perhaps because in every other way I liked this guy and found him intelligent. The conversation got me to thinking.
I realize that I live among others who are invested in trying to understand the world as it is through the lens of science. I see myself as privileged to live in age where so much of what we enjoy are manifestations of science - the engineering sciences that undergird our infrastructure and modes of transportation, the computer sciences that undergird our entire communications and entertainment lives, the medical sciences that allow us to live longer than humans have ever lived before - these are but a few examples of how science is with us everyday. Obviously I share the perspective described in the New York Times article cited below - "...a worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible, ....a kind of pragmatism, an empirical outlook that continually — if imperfectly — revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone."
Before this trip, and before Trump won the Presidency, I simply assumed this is what all intelligent people thought and wanted. Which, of course, made it very difficult for me to understand why any thoughtful person would reject climate science - a science that grows out of the very same successes and traditions mentioned above. After all, we need to be intellectually consistent, don't we? Well, it ain't necessarily so. Cycling through the Bible Belt taught me something else. People believe all kinds of things that are neither logical nor based on scientific fact.
I came to see that my "...worldview clashes with the conservative evangelical war on facts." The Times article goes on "...An analysis of resolutions and campaigns by evangelicals over the past 40 years shows that anti-environmentalism within conservative Christianity stems from fears that "stewardship" of God’s creation is drifting toward neo-pagan nature worship, and from apocalyptic beliefs about "end times" that make it pointless to worry about global warming."
So what happens as the climate crisis deepens? To a secular, fact based and scientifically oriented individual like me, the worsening of this problem to the point of crisis is inevitable -- and not because I'm an alarmist, but simply because science tells us that unless some very dramatic things happen in the way we use energy, our climate will become less and less hospitable to human life. As for me, I think a difficult future is already unavoidable. But I'm not alarmed, nor am I frightened. I just think we humans missed our evolutionary calling. That's life. We're hardly the first animal to make that mistake. Our numbers, our patterns of consumption, and our energy technologies have evolved faster than our understanding of the living environment in which we apply them. And unless we change more quickly than I think we will, that's how the story ends.
And in that process, religion let us down. It didn't save us, it helped destroy us. I think the traditional Evangelical perspective (that God intends humans to have dominion over nature) is the exact opposite of what a true Christian view should be. My argument is that if God created the universe, then he created the physical laws that make it what it is. And if adding carbon to the atmosphere (air) warms it up (an easily demonstrable law of physics), then God is offering us a genuine opportunity to address those qualities of the true status quo in the most radically Christian way possible. What better way to address greed if not by thinking about - and tempering - our desire to sell, harvest and use energy? And what better way to address faith if not believing that we can actually do that? Faith applied is not about doing what is convenient, it's about doing what is difficult. And no doubt, protecting our environment is, and always will be, difficult. And time is running out.
One inspiration: The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society
Another inspiration: Across the West, Hispanic evangelical pastors are invoking environmental activism in their Sunday sermons. https://nyti.ms/2ogEBnj
Pic 1, Sent to me from a friend in Texas.
Pic 2, Fast food, fast prayers. What's next?
Pic 3, In case you missed this one, too.
Pic 4, The Bible Belt.
Thanks for following my trip!