(currents)

The Holy & the Hawks

In one of the unlikeliest coalitions Washington has seen in years, the religious right, defense hard-liners, and environmentalists have joined forces to save the planet.

By Keith Kloor

 

One man drives his Toyota Prius on God's behalf. The other drives his to fight terrorism. Although both men are longtime Washington, D.C., insiders, adept at working the corridors of power on Capitol Hill, the dissimilar worlds they belong to have almost never intersected—until now.

Richard Cizik is the political point man for the conservative-leaning National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Its 45,000 churches and 30 million members make it one of the country's most influential religious advocacy groups. Cizik, by his own description, is a “pro-Bush conservative Republican” and a devoted foot soldier of the religious right hell-bent on stopping abortion, same-sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research.

James Woolsey is a former CIA director (under President Clinton) and a foreign policy hawk who had long advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He also served as an ardent supporter of President George W. Bush's “preemption” policy during the run-up to the Iraq War. Since 9/11, Woolsey has worked as a security consultant to businesses and state governments.

Lately, however, both Cizik and Woolsey have become consumed by one burning issue: the U.S. addiction to fossil fuels. To Cizik, “pollution from cars and power plants is destroying God's creation.” In this light, he and a growing chorus of conservative evangelicals are adding environmental degradation to their list of holy causes. In 2004 the NAE adopted an expressly ecologically minded charter for the first time in its 63-year history. It urged government to “encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats.”

Woolsey's motivation, by contrast, is summed up best by the rear bumper sticker on his 50-miles-to-the-gallon hybrid: osama bin laden hates this car. National-security experts consider the world's petroleum infrastructure—especially in the Middle East—to be highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. “So Bin Laden would rather we stay dependent on the Mideast for oil,” Woolsey explains. Any major hits on Persian Gulf refineries or oil pipelines, he notes, would likely cause oil prices to soar, sending the U.S. economy into a tailspin.

His concern is shared by a widening cadre of prominent military hawks (many of them veterans of the Reagan and first Bush administrations) who, post-9/11, also want to stop sending billions of dollars in annual oil proceeds to the Middle East courtesy of America's gas-guzzling SUV fleet. Nearly 60 percent of the petroleum in the United States is imported, much of it from Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, whose governments fund radical Islamic schools and mosques that have turned into breeding grounds for anti-American extremists.

While there may be different alarm bells going off for hawks and evangelicals, this hasn't stopped the two groups from allying with leading environmentalists to champion a slew of innovative energy proposals—from plug-in battery hybrids to the development of alternative biofuels—that would break America's oil habit. They've teamed up to produce policy blueprints, taken their case before Congress, and sent pleas to President Bush. Their partnerships cut across ideological and political lines. For example, one formal coalition, called Set America Free, includes analysts from the Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank; environmentalists from the liberal-slanting Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and Gary Bauer, the religious conservative activist and 2000 Republican presidential candidate.

What's uniting this motley bunch? The catchy slogan many of them throw around is “energy independence”—shorthand for the replacement of foreign oil with homegrown, nonpolluting sources of fuel and technology. But each is motivated in different ways. The hawks cite national-security imperatives; greens point to the environmental benefits; and Christian evangelicals, like Cizik, quote biblical mandates (“Genesis 2:15 instructs us to be stewards of the earth, that we have to ‘watch over it and care for it,' ” he says).

“It's an unusual and pragmatic coalition,” admits Deron Lovaas, a transportation expert with the NRDC, who is the group's representative on Set America Free. “But we all share the same goal, which is to reduce oil dependence.” He and other environmentalists are hopeful they will help broaden their constituency beyond nature enthusiasts and public health advocates, even though the evangelicals and hawks are struggling to bring more of their brethren along.

 

When Richard Cizik unfurled a banner at the annual antiabortion march last January in Washington, D.C., he was met with quizzical looks. His placard proclaimed stop mercury poisoning of the unborn. “People were kind of scratching their heads as they walked by,” recalls Cizik, whose official title is vice-president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

At the rally Cizik sought to show that pollution violates the “sanctity of life,” which is a popular evangelical term that translates into protecting the rights of unborn fetuses. So he and Reverend Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, who helped carry the banner, also distributed fliers that cited government studies showing that one in six babies is born with harmful levels of mercury. The leaflets urged Christians to speak out against the Clear Skies Act, a (currently stalled) Bush administration proposal that would loosen regulations for coal-burning power plants, the major source of mercury emissions.

“You need a hook,” explains Cizik, referring to his grand strategy for educating conservative Christians about environmental issues. “I say that care for the environment is a ‘pro-life' concern. So mine is the abortion hook.” One of Cizik's pet environmental causes is mercury pollution. Since the major route of human exposure is through the consumption of fish, this has major implications for pregnant mothers. “You ask people about global warming and their eyes glaze over,” says Cizik. “But when they learn the fish they eat has neurotoxins that produce brain damage in an unborn child, that gets their attention.”

For conservative evangelicals, however, the environment has never ranked high as a priority. That's why the mercury banner at the antiabortion rally drew befuddled looks. “We still need to do a lot of work educating folks in the community about this, so much of what we're doing is planting seeds,” admits Ball, who has been sowing the evangelical ground with green messages for the past decade. In 2003 one such seed sprouted into the mainstream, when his “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign sparked a nationwide debate over fuel-efficient cars.

Ball's Evangelical Environmental Network website (www.creation care.org) is also full of fact sheets on a host of environmental issues, from air pollution to endangered species. The site includes tips for creating a healthy home environment (by avoiding the use of toxic cleaners and solvents) and promotes organic gardening. The advice is tied to biblical passages pertaining to proper diets, personal cleanliness, and safe homes.

It's hard to believe anyone could quarrel with such wholesome notions, but Cizik is taking heat within his own camp. “For four weeks in a row the senior senator from Oklahoma [Republican James Inhofe, a rabid anti-environmentalist] has chosen to refer to me by name, as part of ‘the liberal, enviro whackos who are sidling up to pro-abortionists and pantheists,' ” Cizik recounted indignantly when I visited him in his Washington, D.C., office in the spring. “I can only suspect that he feels threatened by our [the NAE's] advocacy,” Cizik says, his gaunt face squeezed tight with anguish. “But he hardly needs to go ballistic against us, because we are hardly his enemies. We are his conservative friends, fellow pro-Bush Republicans.”

Cizik, who has a sharply angular frame and hollowed cheeks after shedding 40 pounds on a major health diet, has grown used to facing friendly fire. A month before Inhofe's rant, he held a global warming seminar for NAE members, at which prominent scientists spoke about the ecological threats from climate change. Within 24 hours James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization, an influential conservative Christian group, blasted the NAE for caring more about plants and animals than people. Fumes Cizik, “These are our friends! We've collaborated with Focus on the Family for years on the pro-life cause.” In truth, the attacks were not unexpected. Cizik himself prefers not to be called an environmentalist. “We prefer the term creation care.”

Cizik doesn't have anything against established Greens, like the NRDC. But he knows what he's up against. “Those who want to discredit us will smear us with being left-wing environmentalists,” he explains. In the socially conservative worldview of many evangelicals, environmental groups are perceived as secular liberals who would rather worship trees than God.

“If we can create a coalition of hawks, tree huggers, sodbusters, do-gooders, and Christian fundamentalists, then we have a pretty good share of the country.”

Then there is the matter of priority. The religious right wants to keep the focus on outlawing abortion and getting conservative judges confirmed by Congress. Cizik, though, has come to view global warming and other environmental issues with equal urgency, and is unafraid of warning evangelicals about standing on the wrong side of history. “It was to our eternal . . . ” he says, struggling to find the right words, “it was to our discredit that evangelicals didn't join [Dr. Martin Luther] King in the civil rights movement. It was forever a black mark on us that we weren't part of that. And I dare say—I could be wrong, I'm not a prophet—in a few years people will say, ‘Were the evangelicals engaged in the environmental issue?' And again, it will be to our discredit if we are not.”

 

James Woolsey, by dint of experience and intellect, can, without missing a beat, pivot from a discussion on Mideast instability to the viability of converting prairie grass into ethanol. The former CIA director and Rhodes scholar has pursued an arcane interest in alternative energy for 25 years. “I originally came at this from the national-security path but over the years have also become a committed environmentalist,” Woolsey tells me during a tour of his 35-acre Maryland farm near Annapolis. (He grows hay, mostly as a hobby; by day, he is a high-profile vice-president with Booz Allen Hamilton, an international consulting firm.) His heavy travel schedule and boardroom-packed days have left his owlish face with a wan complexion. But on his farm he seems rejuvenated by the outdoor air. A devotee of clean energy, Woolsey proudly shows off the solar panels on the roof of his family's Cape Cod. “We should not have slacked off in the 1980s on renewable technology,” he says. “We'd be in a lot better shape today if we had continued improving on it.”

In recent years a confluence of forces has spurred another round of hand-wringing over America's energy policy. Terrorism jitters and rising world demand for energy have driven the price of oil to more than $60 a barrel, sending ripples through the U.S. economy. At the same time the continuing war in Iraq and tensions with Iran and Syria underscore the volatility of the Middle East, the source of two-thirds of global oil reserves. A number of petroleum experts and even government reports have recently concluded that the world's oil wells are running dry, prompting Pentagon consultants to warn of an all-out scrum among countries for the dwindling supply in the decades ahead.

“It's what I call the perfect storm,” says Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative hawk with the Washington-based Center for Security Policy and a member of the Set America Free coalition. He has been outspoken about the need to wean America off foreign oil. “There is a combination of compelling national-security and economic issues that make this an urgent matter.”

The prominent security hawks—which include Robert “Bud” McFarlane, once President Reagan's national security adviser, and C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel for the first President Bush—have not been shy about wielding their clout. Last March, in a letter signed by Gaffney, Woolsey, and several dozen other foreign policy experts, the coalition urged President Bush to “launch a major new [energy] initiative” emphasizing domestic development of biofuels derived from agricultural and animal waste.

It's telling that they made no mention of the Republican-sponsored energy bill in Congress (backed by President Bush). But instead of slamming it, Gaffney and his allies have touted their environmentally friendly energy alternatives in op-ed pieces and in meetings with legislators. As this issue of Audubon went to press, the energy bill's fate remained uncertain, but behind the scenes, Woolsey and his fellow hawks were twisting arms to add stronger fuel-economy and renewable-energy provisions.

For his part, Woolsey is down on hydrogen fuel cells (they're decades away) but high on plant-based energy sources, such as switchgrass, that, unlike corn, require little fuel to convert into ethanol, while also acting as a global-warming-reducing carbon sink. (Midwestern farmers are excited by the potential and eager to get aboard the biofuel train.) Last year the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy—Woolsey's a member—proposed a 10-year, $1.5 billion research and development program for pioneering commercial production facilities.

Perhaps surprisingly, the hawks are not all keen on the Bush administration's plan to ramp up domestic oil production, especially in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “I'm not for it, because it's just a drop in the bucket,” Woolsey says, “and because I think the trans-Alaska pipeline is very vulnerable.”

That there is suddenly a powerful convergence of interests between evangelicals, military hawks, and environmentalists has not been lost on leaders of the respective camps. “I think it's a marriage made in heaven,” says Cizik, who believes, in particular, that hawks and many religious evangelicals—especially those who belong to the NAE—come from common conservative stock.

Woolsey is also tickled to have members of the influential religious right embrace clean energy and broader environmental issues. “If we can create a coalition of hawks, tree huggers, sodbusters, do-gooders, and Christian fundamentalists supporting these initiatives, then we have a pretty good share of the country.”

 

 


© 2005 National Audubon Society
 

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