Pragmatism

Posted on March 24, 2009 by ELCA World Hunger

For those of you who have been reading my posts for awhile, you probably are well aware of my proclivity towards idealism. Working for ELCA World Hunger has tempered that tendency a bit but I still find myself drifting too frequently towards the ideal (fortunately my colleague Nancy Michaelis balances me out a bit!).

At Ecumenical Advocacy Days I realized how the ideal could be a real hindrance to addressing hunger and poverty. Our ask to Congress was threefold: 1) To follow the recommendations of the scientific community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (20-40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050); 2) To protect those who are living in poverty, here and abroad, from the impacts of climate change; and 3) To consider the impacts of climate change on migration when drafting the legislation.

In all of these requests, idealism can be hindrance to movement forward. For example, if I understand correctly, cap and trade legislation is not the ideal solution to climate change. Europe has had a cap and trade system in place for a number of years and it has not yielded the results promised. One of my companions from the Nicaragua study trip, Peter Metcalf (who is studying the environment in a graduate program at the University of Montana), suggested that a carbon tax would be more effective. In the U.S., however, cap and trade has some political legs, and if anything is going to get done, it will probably be cap and trade. So do we aim for the ideal or do we just try to get something (anything!) done?

When I met with my congressman’s staffer, I could tell that she was not interested in the last two components of the ask. I know that climate change legislation will help those who are vulnerable, but I would like to see more efforts to help them. So do I support my congressman who will get something (anything!) done or do I pressure for more?

At Senator Durbin’s office, his legislative director was very amenable to our ask. “But,” he said, “you know we’ll need to get at least five or six Republicans on board with us?” Compromise. Bleck.

Now, I realize that I have very limited power when it comes to the workings of Congress. In reality, my opinion about things matters very little when it comes to decisions our government makes. I can support my congressman or not, he will still make his vote that does not take into account those who are poor and vulnerable. My senator, who is the number two man in the Senate, is subject to forces beyond his control. The ideal must be sacrificed for something (anything!) to be enacted.

I think this can happen in our attempts to be responsible citizens and compassionate people as well. I know it happens in my life all the time (I just had a great discussion with my wife about how we could conserve more water–strangely, I was all about the little things and she was pushing for drastic changes).

The real question I’m learning to ask is what is the balance between the ideal and what already is. What can a realistically seek to accomplish without setting the bar too low? How can I make sure that the ideal does not keep me from being an advocate with and on behalf of those who are poor and vulnerable? Any thoughts?

David Creech

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