When most people think 'green' in America, they think of liberal Democrats. It's a carefully crafted image. Conservatives who deny global warming conserve energy just as much as liberals who accept it but that gets little attention. Sociologists in a new paper instead found that the idea of the 'green' Christian is the environmental trope they need to spend their time debunking.

The 'greening' of Christianity hasn't really happened, they found by statistical analysis of survey results - though most among the public were probably not aware of the un-greening of Christianity, because that was invented by the social sciences also. I live in California and around here, the only times I see organized trash clean-ups it's being done by prisoners or church groups. I've never seen Sierra Club or any other multi-million dollar environmental corporation cleaning up anything.

The sociologists got data from the 2010 General Social Survey and used structural equation modeling to make their conclusion. Structural equation modeling software is handy because it just comes right out and turns correlation into causation if you want it to - all you have to do is implement your qualitative assumptions as part of your path diagram and it can do the trick for you. Scientists and statistics experts recognize that the assumptions should be tested in observational studies before being plugged into models but, really, the people in mainstream media who are going to be jumping on the 'religious people hate the environment' bandwagon never bothered to learn that or see why leaving that part out of a sociological study can be a real flaw.

Using their model and 1,430 people the scholars concluded that Christians were less pro-environment than non-Christians and atheists/agnostics. 75% of America apparently doesn't care about America as much as Muslims and atheists and everyone else outside Christianity cares about America. Take that, Ann Coulter.

If there has been no 'greening' of religious people in America, it isn't because religious leaders haven't at least tried. Catholics signed The Earth Charter Initiative requiring a reduction in their use of energy and resources while Protestant and other Christian groups representing 75% of America have been involved in similar campaigns to protect the environment.  This behavior was said to be at odds with sociological claims stemming from the 1960s that said religion was at odds with the new environmentalism because Christianity believes in human exceptionalism. It was never considered by sociologists that the new environmentalism was instead anti-human.

"The results suggest this presumed greening of Christianity has not yet translated into a significant increase in pro-environmental attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of everyday Christians in the United States," said Aaron M. McCright, associate professor in Michigan State University's Department of Sociology, in their statement.

McCright has also determined using statistical models that women are more pro-environment than men and that a denial machine with 1/10,000th the funding and exposure of climate science somehow impacted global warming acceptance, which was revolutionary because most people think voters are bought and paid for by the opposition if an idea they like loses in an election and the opposition spent even a dollar more.

Environmental acceptance (much less action) is a mishmash of competing interests (which environmentalists exploit - such as the Wilderness Act being used to block the Endangered Species Act so that nothing gets done) because of sometimes contradictory findings - that is the downside to analyzing surveys. And, across the board, every demographic picks and chooses how it cares about the environment - that usually means in ways that are not inconvenient for them. So a non-religious person may choose to not run the faucet while they brush their teeth, which has zero real benefit to the environment but is touted as a green thing to do - and so the atheist is supposedly more green if religious people recognize tooth brush water is an environmental placebo. All of the competing messages and confusion have led to green fatigue, where no one believes anything unless it matches behavior they already like. Young Millennials, raised in a Doomsday culture, simultaneously care a lot more about the environment than anyone before and yet far less than older people. And they care about sustainable food as long as it is in a microwaveable pouch.

In this instance, McCright is not alone, he worked with John M. Clements from Michigan State and Chenyang Xiao from American University. But the paper doesn't convince no matter how many people participate. Declaring that 75% of America does not care as much about the environment as they say they do - which includes a giant chunk of religious progressives who fill out surveys claiming they care about the environment - isn't really telling a meaningful story. But going out of your way to debunk a perception that journalists would love to debunk does - if only there were non-progressive sociologists who could write about the cultural agenda of sociologists. While I am critical, if this paper doesn't make it into the New York Times, I will be surprised, so they have picked their audience wisely.

Obviously, self-reported surveys are never going to tell us who really 'cares' about the environment. While the overall right (in the American two-party system Republicans have more religious people and conservatives than Democrats today) seem to care less on surveys, being 'green' really depends on what behavior is meaningful. The left advocates action to protect the environment but then takes action against alternative energy - Republicans can't be blamed for the decline in nuclear power that led to the increase in coal and therefore America's CO2 boom.  That was all environmental activists getting their leaders in the Democratic party to make energy policy.  The increase in natural gas more recently that has resulted in lower fossil fuel emissions again was done by energy corporations, not government-subsidized alternative energy schemes. Environmental activists are against the natural gas that has knocked our greenhouse gas emissions from energy back to where we wanted them to be all along.
Academics finding statistics to validate the beliefs of their community (while science academia is left, the social sciences are really far out of mainstream America when it comes to political representation) are not unexpected but if the stereotype threat invented by sociologists truly exists, it is sociologists who are going to be turning Christians against environmental responsibility - not a Bible or a leader or a right-wing politician. As it stands, no one in the social sciences will look critically at this paper - it used structural modeling! And surveys!  And it makes religious people look selfish!

Fear not, religious folk. I may not be seeing what you see but I don't have an agenda against you either. If an actual scientific methodology can show you don't care about the environment, I will turn on you in a second. This paper just isn't it.

Citation: John M. Clements, Aaron M. McCright, and Chenyang Xiao, 'Green Christians? An Empirical Examination of Environmental Concern Within the U.S. General Public', Organization Environment July 14th, 2013 DOI: 1086026613495475