At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty writes that
…one impulse in lifestyle environmentalism is to make more basic modern commodities and goods more expensive — more like luxury goods. That way fewer of them will be produced. The externalization of costs onto the future will be disrupted by being priced in, somehow. The Prince Williams [sic] and Pete Buttigiegs of the world will likely not have to reduce their consumption. New, sin-style taxes on unclean energy and more stringent regulation of beef will be navigated rather easily by the rich. They can afford to be ‘minimalist’ and buy experiences, can’t they? Meanwhile these same measures drive the less fortunate to look for yellow vests, pitchforks, or at least the nearest populist running for office.
The ascetical impulse is, he writes, “is hard-wired in our culture.” He goes on to say that,
The West is built on the idea that human sin brought death into the world, and that it still does. We know greed is a sin. Modern abundance can be a source of dysfunction — think hoarders — and shame. America’s high-income earners are drowning in cardboard boxes from online shopping. And there is a certain plausibility to the notion that this abundance is unprecedented and its true costs will be borne by the environment or posterity itself. Most of us vaguely suspect that a little self-denial heals not just the individual soul, but the world around us.
Asceticism is hardwired into Western culture because our culture is fundamentally (if increasingly less so) Christian.
For the Scriptures and the fathers of the Church, asceticism is not an anthropological afterthought. For example, far from being a response–or what is worse, a punishment–together with procreation and labor (Genesis 1:28), fasting is part of humanity’s original vocation (2:16-17).
Marketers–economic and political–Dougherty have of late taken to exploit our ascetical inclinations. They do so not to foster human flourish or Christian holiness but for material gain and votes. They are able to do this because they “understand this desire and how poorly thought out” is our understanding of asceticism.
While “it’s quite true that thoughtlessness has costs,” the secular ascetical solutions to environmental challenges are as thoughtless as littering. It is, he says “a myth that plastic straws are a serious environmental problem, or that paper ones are a very good solution.” More importantly, “There are far better ways of reducing the amount of waste, pollution, and plastic that goes into the ocean.”
But it is morally thoughtless and politically dangerous, to tell “those less fortunate than you that the great advancements of food production, air-conditioning, and air travel will have to be withdrawn from them for their own good.”
Yes, doing so “may provide a momentary thrill for our modern-day preachers of simplicity but it is, itself, thoughtless. Fewer children, less protein for them, more deaths from heat exhaustion, and less travel isn’t a morally superior future; it’s just a parsimonious and more impoverished one.”
In fact, it is vicious and Christians and others of goodwill who care for the neighbor, especially those mired in poverty and suffering under tyrannical regimes, must challenge the Prince Harrys and Megan Markels and the Pete Buttigiegs and Sir Elton Johns of the world to rethink policies that protect their lifestyles at the expense of the poor.
Want to save the planet? Then enrich the poor.