Environmentalism as religion – Are Environmentalists the secular successors of the Judeo-Christian tradition?
Posted by Jeff Condon on July 22, 2010
This is a guest post from Roddy Campbell. It’s a little risky, even for the Air Vent but I think it has a lot of truth in it. It offers an explanation of the views of the enviro-scientists who pervade the climate science community.
With the extraordinary rise of fears of global warming in the last few years, real fear of Armageddon for the human race and the planet as expressed in An Inconvenient Truth, the IPCC Assessment Reports, the media, it seems that the previous terrors of acid rain, pollution, food shortages, nuclear power station leaks, holes in the ozone layer causing cancer, intensive cannibalistic farming creating Mad Cows, and so on are trivial by comparison. The list of scares in the last fifty years is very long, but none had the truly global nature of seas rising by tens of metres, icecaps melting, temperatures rising by ten degrees, widespread migration and starvation, even Holland under water let alone the Maldives.
I happen to believe that all of this is rather unlikely, but that is irrelevant. The question is, why do people want to believe in scares, in impending doom? I was reading a friend’s blog last October, and she wrote: “Why do people keep saying the planet is in danger? The planet is inert, it doesn’t give a s___, it’ll just adjust to no ozone, more carbon or whatever. It is not in danger (unless Mercury comes at it like a billiard ball) it is man who is in danger. We are facing the end of humanity & frankly we probably deserve to go.”
And, about her teenage children
“…….these poor darlings have reached young adulthood in a world of filth, poverty, corruption….”
There are three ‘beliefs’ (feelings?) in there which I think are quite generally held.
- We live in an awful world, a world of “filth, poverty, corruption”, which we have created.
- We are in danger, by consequence of our reckless behaviour, “We are facing the end of humanity”.
- We deserve it, “ ….. frankly we probably deserve to go.”
We live in an awful world – a statement of fact, which can be measured, and the facts as I see them indicate quite the opposite – on almost all measures we live in a pretty good world, and not just those of us in Notting Hill. If you use life expectancy as a proxy (it says nothing about happiness or non-physical quality of life, but does take account of starvation, disease, wars and most other nasties) it’s better than it’s ever been, everywhere. Ditto poverty. So why do people like to go on about how bad things are?
We are in danger – rather subjective, I don’t feel in any danger – as world population has nearly trebled since 1950 to 7 billion we are better off than ever before. I think one would, with good reason, have felt in rather more danger in 1900 given what happened in the C20th. I can’t see what threatens me, or mankind – oh yes I can, global warming. At last, a threat that is quite out of our control, an unseeable untouchable invisible danger.
We deserve it – because we have caused it by our immoral, reckless, selfish behaviour.
In 2003 Michael Crichton gave a speech in which he said: “Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.”
In our largely secular European society, where belief in God seems rather old-fashioned, even weird (I write of course from a European perspective), people will turn to another belief set, and it is interesting how environmentalism mirrors many of the structures of Judeo-Christian beliefs. We are a fallen people – we have eaten from the tree of knowledge, and because we can do what we like, we do. We over-consume, over-pollute, drive other species to extinction, pour chemicals on the earth, live badly, create mountains of poisonous waste, farm other species in foul battery conditions, fill them with anti-biotics and over-eat unnaturally. We have fallen from grace, and there is a judgement day coming – we will suffer God’s wrath in the form of rising seas drowning us, disease, hurricanes and tempests, starvation, all the Biblical Plagues of Egypt.
These mythic structures – grace, harmony with nature in Eden, fall from grace into a state of sin – mirror religion. How can we be saved? By salvation through sustainability, by walking not driving, by voluntarily cutting back on consumption and waste, by eating organic food happily produced, by holidaying at home, by recycling, even perhaps by not washing. And by forcing these forms of behaviour on others, because whether or not we believe, we must be made to behave as if we do. We must confess our sins. Carbon must be taxed, the more heavily the better. We must picket coal-fired power stations even if that means our lights go out.
As I said above, none of this is true – pesticides don’t cause cancer, landfill is not evil, concepts of finite resources are misguided, species are not callously being driven to extinction, recycling can use more chemicals than not recycling – but it’s not about arguable facts, it’s about belief, faith, much as belief in Jesus Christ is. There never was a Garden of Eden – life in bygone days was nasty, brutish and short. Children died, painfully. Colonialists exterminated indigenous populations whether by violence or disease. Children were sent up chimneys. There were no poets, no thinkers, no freedom. It was awful, as far from Eden, and always was, as you could get.
But that doesn’t matter, because it’s not about truth, or reality. Environmentalism is about beliefs, you are a sinner if you do not believe, if you fail to go to the bottle bank, if you drive an unnecessarily over-powered vehicle. Try it – go back to nature, to Gaia, and see how you like it. Strangle a rabbit.
And global warming has taken it to a whole new level, the danger perceived is so immense, so terrifying, literally the wrath of God, of the climate system, will be unleashed upon us unless we repent and learn how to live in harmony with our planet, our God. Believe in some kind of natural equilibrium (which doesn’t exist, and never did, ask the dinosaurs), deny the Selfish Gene, the most natural thing of all, deny that Nature is red in tooth and claw. Petition the powers that be, pray for the poor people of Tuvalu as the rising floods destroy their country, damage we have caused by our sins. The End of The World is Nigh, we have only a short time in which to repent, and even that might not be enough as we surely deserve punishment from an Old Testament God.