Environmentalism as religion – Are Environmentalists the secular successors of the Judeo-Christian tradition?

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.

84 thoughts on “Environmentalism as religion – Are Environmentalists the secular successors of the Judeo-Christian tradition?

  1. ‘climate science’ is a cross-denominatioanl discipline, aethesist, secular, agnostics, evenagelical, etc

    The missing Tim (harry_read_me.txt)

    “….Although I have yet to see any evidence that climate change is a sign of Christ’s imminent return, human pollution is clearly another of the birth pangs of creation, as it eagerly awaits being delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans. 19-22).

    Tim Mitchell works at the Climactic Research Unit, UEA, Norwich, and is a member of South Park Evangelical Church.

    For an enhanced version of this article, with extra diagrams and links to further information, visit the website: http://www. uea.ac.uk/~f709762/climate/en-article.htm”


  2. “Environmentalism is about beliefs”

    Also more specifically, ‘Climate Science’ itself is a system of beliefs. You can’t even attempt to do any climate science without first accepting a few things on faith.


  3. The theme is actually an old one. Once the climatogolist stopped calling it “Global Warming” and started calling it “Climate Change” where any variance in what was perceived as the normal climate was viewed as proof of their thesis, it took on all the trappings of a religion. You can never debate the issue with the rabid, because like any religion, you can only go so far in your proof of the existance of your god, and then must make the “leap of faith”. They have, so they cannot understand why all have not.

  4. The alternative to Climate Change is necessarily Climate Stasis. There have been a few long geological periods of near-stasis, but they are all over the map, from near ice-ball to tropical poles with 6 month days (dinos adapted to long polar day/night swings were found on the Antarctic coast some years ago.)

    Bring back Canute to teach these blathering fools that no one commands the tides of climate.

  5. Interesting, though I must note that nearly all Christians I know do not believe in global warming. It is really quite odd in some ways, because I believe Revelations says that the world will end in fire, and that seems like a good fit. I suspect it is because most ‘evangelical’ or ‘born-again’ Christians are conservative, and most conservatives hate anything Al Gore says. Who knows? It certainly is faith-based, but I’m not convinced it is in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Still interesting though.

  6. Interesting parallels with the Reformation albeit much faster, as I’d equate Climategate with Luther’s theses (a pre-reformation Steve McIntyre channels John Huss). I’d say we’re somewhere in the Counter Reformation about now.

    Indulgences, carbon credits, cardinals living the high life, warmists’ mansions, bookwars, inquisitions and inquiries. Fortunately no burnings at stake yet, but plenty of flaming from both sides.

  7. “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”.

    This comes from, amoung others, Jung. Below is an example of the process. The point of reference is Nazi Germany, but don’t be put off by that, the actual country is not important per se. It’s the process that is interesting, and Nazi Germany is a really good example. Here is a quote from the linked lecture:

    Nazi Germany demonstrated, par excellence, what can happen when the
    demonic forces of the collective unconscious are unleashed. Jung’s efforts as a
    pioneer in psychology were generally more inclined toward emphasizing the
    wisdom of the unconscious. However, his interest in the darker side of the
    unconscious was, he would have argued, no less in the service of wisdom, for
    to entertain one side without the other would be foolish. Human nature is
    complicated, and, as the adage goes, what we don’t let in the front door,
    sneaks around and breaks in through the back door. One could say that this is
    exactly what happened in the case of the German people.

    Click to access michael_gellert-eruption_of_the_shadow_in_nazi_germany.pdf

    OK, the mythical structure unconsciously directing the CAGW crowd is not Wotan. As per Roddy Campbell’s very cool post, it does have some parallels with aspects of Judeo Christianity.

    But the mythical structure that I think fits even better is the “Devouring Mother aspect of Demeter”. Check it out (here is the basic myth):

    Note that Hades is God of the underworld and keeper of underground riches. He is also Pluto – that is where the words plutocrat & plutocracy (rule by the wealthy) come from. Mother Earth vs Keeper of mined underworld riches…hmmm…

    and here is some more depth below. But really, just Google Demeter Devouring Mother …and have fun with it.


  8. I should provide the “source code” for Jung’s Essay on Wotan. Interesting parallels for those who have eyes to see…


    There are a number of great sites (especially this one) for the hard science, math and stats. And of course plenty of commentary to be found on the politics. What is surprising to me is no one is touching the psycholgy. I think it is about time…..

  9. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

    Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

    So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

    Genesis 3: 22-25

  10. What is really curious here is the similarity of images with hellfire Christianity:
    (1) it’s All Our Fault/Sin
    (2) if you don’t obey the priests/scientists you will Burn in Hell/AGW
    (3) a wrathful Deity in the Sky/CO2
    (4) the sky/God/ is everywhere you cannot get away from it
    (5) Mother Church / Science knows best and without adhering to Her you will go to hell / be blacklisted

    Actually, nothing of this is what Jesus actually taught. He said he came to “bear witness to truth” – just like true Science does. The c**p came in mostly with Augustine (who has the IMHO unearned title of saint/professor) who attained fame just after the Roman Emperor had taken over the Church structure (using cunning, threats, etc as well).

  11. oh yes, last point in common.
    (7) The Roman Emperor Constantine used Christianity as the glue to weld the empire together – it had been divided into four by his predecessor, which resulted in civil wars where everyone was the loser (probably also the post-Roman cool period was advancing too). So – the Club of Rome decides to use “AGW” as the chest-thumping enemy that will unite the world.

  12. and another point
    (8) demonizing your challengers by name. For instance, Hel was the Norse Goddess of Light – the word is etymologically related to Heal, Helios (Greek for Sun), Holy and Whole. And the root of “demon” ie “daimon” was I think the word used to refer to his own Higher Self with whom Socrates was in conversation.

    Church, not Jesus
    Scientaholics, not scientists

  13. I came up with ‘Don’t sacrifice my virgins for your superstitions’ about four years ago.

  14. Thanks for comments – it isn’t anything new, I know, I was just having some fun on reading my friend’s blog where she said that crazy stuff, and she is someone who would so dislike being told that she had replaced her rejected family inherited religion with a set of beliefs with no foundation in evidence that I just had to do it.

    I get some of those feelings myself, my grandmother was very low church, very protestant, walked to church, thought waste was immoral and ungodly. I rather agree, it’s the stretch to global sin and the coming of the Four Horsemen I can’t get to.

  15. I’m not sure whether belief in AGW (or Communism or Nazism for that matter, to name but two of the many abominations and absurdities large parts of humankind believed in during recent decades) has that much to do with the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular. However, the fact that most of us have been taught in childhood (and many still teach their children today) that there are phenomena that are not part of – in fact completely opposed to – our daily experience of “how thing happen” are to be believed in, and in a way are more important and fundamental than the mundane doings of the actual world around us, has softened the brains of many to a point of “anything goes”. After all, if a “God” was able to make the world in a week, and a “virgin” gave birth to “God’s son” who obstinately walked the earth even after being executed by lawful government authorities as a terrorist – in short, if your intellectual faculty has been deformed and perverted enough to call this kind of fairy tale “the ultimate truth” you have learned to close your eyes and mind so firmly against natural facts that other crooks than the priesthood have an easy game. I doubt that Germans, Italians and Russians would have so gladly kissed the feet of their Fuehrers if the imagery of Jesus (or another supernatural creature worth worshipping) had not been beaten into them from babyhood.

  16. Human nature is infinitely more interesting than green nature. We are the only species with the ability to hate ourselves (and then transfer that loathing onto others).

    ‘Change’ is a mantra often heard from environmentalists and politicians alike. Modern, secular man seems to be preoccupied with a felt-need to ‘change’ – and an unquestioned conviction that change is not only possible but is only prevented by the obstacle of other people who do not share the excesses of such a felt-need (or who have different definitions of what ‘change’ would entail). Change-sickness – as a belief – is epidemic in our modern society and we are constantly overwhelmed with its symptomatic messages… in everything from Islamic fundamentalism, Environmentalism right through to adverts for L’Oriel anti-aging lotions.

    Of course the paradox – or the vicious cycle – is that the more immersed we become in this wishing for change, the less liveable our lives actually are. ‘Change’ becomes a cure for incontinent wishing for change. The real world is experienced as a wretched place because it both sabotages and excites this wishing for change in an equally maddening measure.

    In the absence of God but with a human need for belief, I think Darwin has been appropriated to fill the religious gap (especially for the more scientifically-minded). The theory of evolution stipulates the idea of a species changing to meet its surroundings (or become extinct). In many people’s minds, I suspect, this secular idea has been brought in to fit a meta-physical vacuum. The Darwinian possibility of species change provides a secular trigger for a demand for human change, an assertion of the need for change and a preoccupation with willing some vaguely defined change to happen. The fact that being human is – to all extents – fixed, is lost or discarded in this fervour. Perhaps the only change modern man really needs is to find some way of re-introducing a usable religion back into a broadened understanding of what it is – and what it isn’t – to be human.

  17. ID,

    I don’t really understand what you mean your last two posts. Philosophy and Science are the same word with different roots.

    Also, your guest poster doesn’t identify what he means by the Judeo-Christian tradition. He seems to mean the coordination between canon and feudal law; whereby the church (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Church of England, etc.) rules the people by a clerical priesthood, and the government (kings, presidents, etc.) rules the people by a secular priesthood. In either case, peoples decisions are made for them. This was the typical European model.

    In the United States, the Judeo-Christian tradition means, mainly, Protestantism (of which there are too many sects to list) which emphasizes that each person is responsible for his own choices. And in fact most denominations refute the idea of priesthoods and insist that each person find a personal relationship with their god.

    Atheists, like many people, construct a mental image of God (a strawman if you will), except that atheists tear down their own mental construction; and thereby find that there is no god. A sort of self-deluding conclusion.

    Bacon, in his half-hearted apology for atheists, said at least their faulty thinking wasn’t as destructive as superstition. But Bacon lived before the French revolution and the mass-murdering Communist regimes of the Twentieth century.

    If climate scientists act like a religion, it is one in which they would have themselves as a priesthood.

    I’ve been wrong before, though, and will be wrong again.


  18. I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening; I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.

    o Source: The Book of Lies

  19. attributed to G.K.Chesterton “When man no longer believes in god he will not believe in nothing he will believe in anything “

  20. Great post. #11, #19 thanks for the links, right on and quite interesting. Lucy Skywalker thank you for the additional points and descriptions of historical religions.

    AGW has always mystified me in the sense that how could anyone take it seriously? I just paid little attention until Climategate and then became interested primarily in the human/psychological/sociological aspect.

    The religious analogy explains a lot and is actually a bit scary and creepy in the sense that I had always thought (somehow) we had moved past blood-pagan religious strivings and beliefs. It appears many of us have not. It also explains why MSM keeps going along with Climatanity – its vague, scary, and attention-getting.

    Very interesting to see how it all plays out over the next few years especially if we get a persistent cooling trend as forecast by the sun watchers (Landscheidt; Svalgard et al) and others.

    #7 Sam – could be that devout Christians don’t believe in Climatanity because being similar in theology to Christianity it competes with their existing religious beliefs.

  21. “I doubt that Germans, Italians and Russians would have so gladly kissed the feet of their Fuehrers if the imagery of Jesus (or another supernatural creature worth worshipping) had not been beaten into them from babyhood.”

    Chris Zwarg,

    This is quite a stretch. All humans are wired for belief in things. Why are you singling out Christianity as the reason for Bad Government? I don’t think your conclusion is based on any evidence.


  22. “- We live in an awful world, a world of “filth, poverty, corruption”, which we have created.”

    That belief is pervasive and strongly held. At another blog I put forward the argument that life is better today than it was 200 years ago. The hostility and rancour that statement created was beyond belief. The blog owner accused me of being “f***ing insensitive”.

  23. There is a strong element of religion in AGW belief but there’s another phenomena built in.

    I’d call it horror movie syndrome but it’s actually an older tradition.

    Mankind feels the need to manufacture scary stuff. Scary stuff that ultimately isn’t scary because it’s too fantastical or remote.

    Religion was originally invented to explain uncontrollable events and to try and avert them. To the original penitent, death was a real and ever preset possibility. Much better to get somebody out there on your side, in the hope they could protect you.

    Along came society, and death becomes more avoidable. Oddly, mankind still likes to be scared. Ghosts, gods, monsters, aliens, roller coasters, horror movies, etc are all inventions designed to titillate even as they scare. Of course the key to a good scare is that ultimately it comes to nothing. You don’t even have to lift a finger.

    CAGW is the ultimate scary movie.

    A mega catastrophe at a suitable distance, that promises all sorts of dangers but never actually delivers. To protect oneself from this disaster one only has to believe.

    There’s the opportunity for stirring speeches, bold alliances, sex (well according to Pachauri) and more.

    Sceptics become the enemy (not CO2) and subconsciously people think they only have to defeat disbelief and the danger will be averted. It’s much easier to have an argument than it is to cut your CO2. It’s why a green journalist can justify 2 flights to interview Senator Inhofe.

    Somebody, somewhere will invent the ultimate saviour.

    And then there will be a happy ending and everyone will continue with their lives as if nothing had ever been wrong.


    The current rise in scepticism hasn’t got anything to do with increased knowledge of shoddy climate science. People just think it’s time to stop the DVD player and go do something more interesting.

  24. We’ve seen Marxism without Marx,and now Earth Mother Worship without the goddess.

    People seem to become more negative and afraid the better things become.

  25. Interesting post and comments.

    Most of us seem to forget that as humans we have nothing but belief. I question the folks who speak glibly of “facts” and “knowledge”, as if we humans were capable of experiencing such things. We’re not. Our minds are isolated from the universe, the only connections to it being our fallible senses. We rely heavily on authority and patterns. We “know” something when we think we have found enough evidence to surpass our own personal threshold for calling something “true”. Even when we’re personally reading an instrument, there are many levels of trust, rather than knowing, involved.

  26. Lucy Skywalker said
    July 23, 2010 at 4:21 am

    (3) a wrathful Deity in the Sky/CO2

    CO2 is treated by the AGW elect as an apparent symbol of western excess and thus a palpable “measure” of “sin” on the part of western civilization. Since western civilization is also more or less the most permissive from an individual view point, and it is our excess of individual SUVs, cell phones, computers, air conditioners, etc. that leads to “excess” CO2, the faithful in their wisdom look to a more eastern or medieval model where you have your place and you stay in it. This will be “good” for the planet, though in fact I see very few assertions that it will be good for humanity, except through the fact that by reducing CO2, they hope to stave off the thermal eschaton.

    The proposed “Cap and Trade” laws BTW are effectively Sumptuary Laws in the classical sense. Check out the term in Wikipedia or Blacks.

  27. The argument that ‘environmenatlism’ can be equated with ‘belief in AGW’ is silly, and doesn’t even begin to grasp the full ‘enviromentalist’ mindset – a vague, spongy definition at best anyway, as environmentalists range from New Age hippy types to scientists or hardheaded development managers in Central Africa or South America and everything in between. From the comfort of an armchair in (presumably) cosy England (or at least somewhere in North-Western Europe) Mr Campbell has it easy claiming that he doesn’t feel in danger, that the world around him is a-okay and better off than it ever was. I should know, being in much the same situation as he is. But Western society is as rich and comfy as it is because it is built on the exploitation of the developing world – and I’m not using the term lightly; I’m well aware that that developing world is benefitting from the trade, however: Those nice bananas, pineapples and kiwis all year round, cheap meat, easy transport, affordable comsumer products – all of these are shipped in from a long way else, where the externalities of the manufacture of these products can’t be seen by the likes of Mr Campbell, you or me.

    And we’re not talking about something spectacular like the BP spill. It’s the daily madness of toxic ‘informal’ brownfield landfield sites in numerous location in China, rampant oil spillage in Nigeria, the destruction of Brazilian and Indonesian rainforest for agriculture unsuitable for that soil. I also know that many ecologists are very worried about the increasing loss of biodiversity… what? Is that ‘bugger off home, ya bloody treehugger!’ I hear you shouting? We’re talking about serious socio-economical considerations here. Another point, I mentioned Nigeria just now, fire up Google and have a look around at the conditions of workers in the cobalt mines, material ESSENTIAL for all those fancy laptops and mobile phones. Or how those communities on the edge of the Amazon rainforest fare once the economic boom period of the deforestation-cattle farm-soyfield cycle is over, once the soil has been rendered useless and the farmers have moved on out of necessity. It’s about humans, people! In the end it’s ALL tied to the land that is available to us – how we use, how we interact with our environment, and whether we interact with it in such a manner as to not only two or three, but ten or twenty generations to benefit. Let’s not even get started on industrial agriculture and the craziness that is governmental agricultural subsidies (EU residents might know best what I mean).

    All of these issues are what a true environmentalist considers, and climate change is just one of many elements. The relationship of man and his environment is highly complex and very nuanced and as society itself grows ever more complex, so will that relationship only increase in complication, requiring careful consideration on how we use the land, water and air available.

    It reflects, in my opinion, poorly on the judgement of someone brushing all of this aside, handwaving all the problems and complications away and flinging disparaging religious arguments around like they costs nothing, cheap parlour psychology included.

  28. Eric Hoffer in The True Believer provided a brilliant critique of the mindset of the zealot, be it secular or sacred. Still, perhaps, the best word on the subject.

    Aggressive atheists assume that since religion is a harmful delusion, they could not possibly commit the same errors as the fundamentalist.

    And if you point that out, you may be accused of projection!

    Yet there it is, on full display, the same ages-old themes of apocalypse, condemnation, sin, redemption, and salvation, with indulgences thrown in for good measure.
    We may even burn in Venusian hell.

    Atheists need to study the Bible even more so than believers — not in order to know God, but in order to know man.

  29. JasonW rejects the “cheap parlour psychology” where the practise of AGW and “environmentalism” is compared to the practise of religion.

    But his discussion is really a dissertation on the “evils of man” (Western variety). He is convinced “But Western society is as rich and comfy as it is because it is built on the exploitation of the developing world” that our lifestyle (if it’s good it must not be moral) is achieved on the backs of others. He ignores the last century plus of REAL science and engineering, which has little to do with Nigeria, Indonesia or the Amazon, and he concentrates on the effects (he sees only sinful ones) of the rest of the world trying to make some money and inmprove their lifestyle (such sinful desires as the wish to drink clean water, as a requirement to live with medical services…..) by supplying product and services.

    He does not even see the implied racism (or nationism or whatever) in his belief that non-Western peoples should be able to continue their age old existence as “noble savages”.

    All I see is that “environmentalism” is NOT really about preventing pollution, or being efficient or such but IS the practise of a quasi religion, which is derived from hard prostestantism (with God replaced by ‘nature’ and SIN preserved) with a dose of Rousseau’s condescending noble savage nonsense and a massive portion of personal insecurity, the sort which drives people to need to “belong” to something.

    JasonW – you are a card carrying religious observer!

  30. A lot of thoughtful commentary here. I’d like to add a bit, if I may.

    Most people today, including many educated believers, accept the view that religion is based on irrational faith and fear of forces beyond human control, or as TinyCO2 stated it above:

    Religion was originally invented to explain uncontrollable events and to try and avert them.

    The common view is that as rationality spreads and empirical observation increases our knowledge of the world religion will come to play a decreasing role in life. This is the process of secularization, what Max Weber rather poetically called “the disenchanment of the world”. The problem with this “consensus view” of religion, if you will, is that it is too narrow. Michael Crichton seemed to recognize this in his famous lecture, but I think he, too, subscribed to the notion that religion is fundamentally irrational and based on fear.

    In 1912 Emile Durkheim published The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life which took an entirely different, and in my own view, more nearly correct approach to the nature of religion and its function in human affairs. From his point of view religion is only incidentally concerned with gods and spirits and the supernatural and definitely does not arise out of fear. He began by drawing a distinction between the sacred and the profane, that is the distinction between the things that are reverently set aside and restricted from common, everyday use and those things that are commonly handld and used in everyday life (e.g. the distinction between a Christian communion set and your melamine dishware). Religion deals with the sphere of the sacred.

    Durkheim realized that the earliest sacred objects did not involve supernatural things but rather were the symbols of kinship and group identity – the totems indicating your clan. Durkheim’s argument is far too long and involved to reproduce here, but his book traces how the symbol of the group, a grub or a bug or a plant, evolves into a mystical identity; how ancestors become mythic heroes and then gods, merging the totem and the man in a creation myth. He shows how the everday experiences of simple people are transmuted into a realization that there is a world, and a life, that exists outside of this one. He describes how the celebrations of reunion, when the scattered hunter-gatherers of the clan come together and experience the joy of seeing kin again and step out of themselves in dance and feasting and revelry, a stark contrast to the monotony of hunter-gatherer life (most of us can’t remember the details of a meal we had last month, but the Christmas Dinners of our childhoods seem to stand out in rich, glorious detail… and these memories are almost sacred to us.).

    In modern life all of the groups we belong to, identify with, have symbols that we wouldn’t dream of treating casually or allow to be insulted by non-members. The group defines who we are, and it defines who is not one of us. Members of OUR group have virtues and beliefs and interests that non-members lack.

    Religion is the ideational component of group life. We believe and we act because this is how members of the group believe and act. It assumes a rightness, a naturalness… and it organizes the way we perceive the world and our place in it. People find other ways of thinking, other ways of perceiving the world threatening because it challenges their very conception of reality.

    I would submit that any system of knowing that fundamentally orders a group’s perception of the world, if reality, is in fact a religion. I would also submit that scientists in general form a cohesive, self-identifying and exclusive group with a common world view and common interests. One can get a flavor of this in Max Weber’s 1918 lecture on “Science as a Vocation” – I think Weber would be appalled at what science in general has become, let alone climate science. And yes, JasonW, it does indeed sound like Environmentalism is YOUR religion. You can’t imagine why anyone would take a different approach to the world than the one that is so self-evident to you. That is what religion does.

  31. Michael Lewis,

    thanks for your response. You are projecting a lot into my comment, including that old adage of the wishing the good ole’ days of noble savagery onto the people in the developing world, a typical cliché. The fact that _you_ immediately take that angle to my post says much more about your implied racism (or nationism) than about mine, even though you distance yourself from it (note: I’m not saying you ARE racist; for all I know you’re the nicest bloke on the block).

    Let’s clear something up here: I may see myself left of centre but until something better comes along – and I don’t know what that could be – capitalism, that is enterprising for profit for the betterment of the individual and thus society at large as postulated by Adam Smith, is the way to go. I see this as valuable for any human. However, our current system of ‘making money’, as it were, is based on corporatism, essentially distilling just the ONE side of Smith’s socio-economic theory, which stands in stark contrast to society as Smith envisioned, including the clear moral/ethical element of empathy from his writings. Corporatism is lacking the latter, and only very slowly waking up to it in the form of CSR. The fact that I focus on ‘“evils of man” (Western variety)’, as you put it, is because Western society is far and away the most dominant and resource-hungry in the world, and by being part of it, out of necessity my viewpoint. I’ve picked out specific examples of the _negative_ consequences to highlight what the concerns of an environmentalist are. Now, a true environmentalist would ask “what’s wrong here? what can we do to improve this?” Very often the answer would be “trade with these people fairly, keep up Western standards of safety, include the whole system, not just that part which economically expedient.” It’s little wonder many economics and politicians of Central, Western and Southern African countries are decrying the current system of free development aid, because it kills business. Cheap, subsidised European fruit and veggies are killing local agriculture, cheap throwaway Western clothes kill the local textile industry etc. What they want is investment, and they’re not getting it, or only getting it slowly, and with little regard to the destuction of the environment. Please, just Google ‘Nigeria’ and ‘oil spill’ for a particularly stark example.

    You say I ignore the positive effects of a century of science and engineering, and I say no real environmentalists could truly act WHILE ignoring it, and a true environmentalists adapts her/his world-view as new facts come in – the best ones take the advice of ecologists, biologists, economists. I also say that a true environmentalist has a defined moral/ethical code, which comes pretty close to Smith’s notion of ‘sympathy’. I fail to see how such a set of ethics can immediately be equated to religion, the whole point of the Enlightement (sorry for going off on a slight tangent) was that morals can be separated from religion and religious dogma.

    Robert E. Phelan,

    Durkheim’s definition of religion sounds much more like a definition of ‘culture’ – going by that definition the Texan image of the free-ranging rancher/cowboy and the lifesyle that comes with it is just as much religious as the British Royal family, the Brazilian carnival or skateboarding – all symbols of group coherence. Durkheim may be onto something, but is only loosely correlated with Campbell’s critique above.

  32. There is no Life after Death. Eternal Salvation is to religion what greenhouse gases are to greed.

  33. A most unhelpful article. Even if we redefine religion to include belief systems such as environmentalism, it tells us nothing about whether AGW is correct or not. These sorts of debates are futile. Focus on the science. Is there, or is there not, feedback, and if so of what kind, and how much.

  34. “tells us nothing about whether AGW is correct or not”


    Climate Science is not currently capable of telling us if AGW is correct or not, so why not talk about some reality, like what is actually happening? What else is there to do?


  35. Your point of view is very interesting but I think the point is that humanity is simply frightened of what’s happening in the world with all these natural calamities and that’s why people feel responsible for what’s happening and they want to change it somehow. Some people more than others and here we can talk about “pickets”. I’m sure you can’t deny some really negative effects mankind has had on the planet and nowadays people tend to be more humane. That’s why again they try to change this impact as much as they can. Environmentalism is a kind of apology as well as the revelation of fears.

  36. 47,

    Geoff — of course, that is merely your belief, unsupported by any evidence. ;-D

    (which I think, hope, was really your point. None of us knows what we cannot know.)

    Switching gears, the observation that people don’t really seek information from the news, but rather confirmation seems to have a place in this discussion. We always have to be on guard for our own tendency to seek affirmation for our entrenched beliefs.

    And the recognition that the decline in religious belief (at least organized religion) in the west and the rise of politics (particularly liberal/socialist politics) as a replacement therefor needs to be noted. CAGW particularly, and environmentalism in general, are part of the political creed that has become a “religion” for a lot of lefties. It isn’t so much that environmentalism is the religion for many folks as it is merely part of a bigger, more encompassing, left-wing catechism.

    Here in the US, political commentator Charles Krauthammer (grad of Harvard Med School and board certified physician in psychiatry) has said that the difference between Republicans (i.e. conservatives) and Democrats (i.e. liberals/socialists) is that Republicans believe that Democrats are wrong and Democrats believe that Republicans are evil. In the US, attendance at religious services (NOT socioeconomic status or education) is the best single predictor of voting. Democrats, having abandoned religious church, have increasingly embraced political church. Hence, those who oppose them they now regard as evil.

    Reading the climategate and journolist communications, it’s easy to see that the participants view themselves as being on a crusade against evil. Similar evidence abounds. This is why the demonization of skeptics as funded by ‘big oil’ resonates in the left-wing community. Corporations are already regarded as evil. Of course, evil corporate interests would be expected conspire to thwart the valiant efforts of liberals to save the planet. What else should we expect from the greedy, mean-spirited, hate-filled, racist, sexist homophobes bent on exploiting workers and raping the planet? It is a basic tenet of the lefty faith.

  37. 47.Geoff Sherrington said July 24, 2010 at 8:52 am
    There is no Life after Death. Eternal Salvation is to religion what greenhouse gases are to greed.

    Geoff, you old reprobate, you’d probably have been an Anabaptist, Quaker or some other such non-conformist in the 17th century, just to spite the powers that be. Keep in mind that atheism and agnosticism can serve as religious equivalents and many religions have no concept of personal salvation or an individual after-life at all. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are all monist religions that hold that all things are really of one substance and that our perception of difference and differentiation is really an illusion – and that when the cycles of re-birth and re-death come to an end the individual becomes merged with the One…. however THAT may be defined. The image is the rain drop: as it falls it is obviously a unitary object, an individual. When it falls into the sea its individuality is lost but its essence remains. Does the rain drop mourn its lost individuality? It can’t, because only individuals can be self reflexive.

    48.michel said July 24, 2010 at 9:03 am
    A most unhelpful article. Even if we redefine religion to include belief systems such as environmentalism, it tells us nothing about whether AGW is correct or not. These sorts of debates are futile. Focus on the science. Is there, or is there not, feedback, and if so of what kind, and how much.

    Michel, you’ve missed the point completely and illustrate it nicely. This is going to tick off a lot of people here, including our most excellent host, but the truth is that determining whether AGW is “correct” or not, if there are feedbacks or not, is totally irrelevant, because you are laboring under the delusion that the world you are living in is “real”. This is a point Pops alluded to in a comment above. Science is just one way of “knowing” the world, but it rests, as do all other ways of knowing, on unproveable and ultimately irrational assumptions. Those assumptions include the beliefs that the information of our senses is reliable and that the world operates in a regular, patterned fashion and that these patterns can be understood through observation. We take our observations and group them into categories that summarize everything we know about them and dictate how we are to relate to them. I need a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean here, so please bear with me…

    The first is a stupid question: Can you prove that the world, in its entirety, was not created six and a half minutes ago? I’ll save you some time. The answer is no, you can’t. From our perspective, the world looks like it has been here a very long time, but epistemologically, we can’t prove that it has. Assume for an instant that it really was created six and a half minutes ago: it would mean that the Big Bang never took place; man and apes did not evolve from a common ancestor; Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha never lived; the Protestant Reformation and the American Revolution never occured and neither did the Civil War; Africans were never enslaved in the Americas; a million Armenians and six million Jews weren’t murdered in 20th century holocausts; Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa never lived; prisoners on death row are being punished for crimes they never committed; your mother didn’t give birth to you; if you were having sex six and a half minutes ago, you didn’t consent to it. In other words, everything we know about the world, about reality, would be wrong. Most of us don’t choose that option: we live as if the world we experience is in fact the world as it exists. (Note: not everyone does: Creationists push the time-line back a little further; Intelligent Designers push it back to before the Big Bang, arguing for a Prime Mover, Grand Architect, what have you…). This is the world science lives in.

    One of the essential elements of science is a belief in empiricism, going out and gathering measurements and observations directly from the world. We take these observations and measurements and group them into categories. We beieve that these categories reflect reality. In the 1930s the part-time anthropological linguist and full-time fire safety engineer Benjamin Lee Whorf noticed that industrial fires seemed to ignite most often in empty rooms… specifically, the empty drum room. Workers who would never dream of causing a spark around volatile chemicals nevertheless believed that because the drums that once contained those volatile chemicals were now empty, the room where they were stored would be a real good spot to sneak a smoke. Whorf argued that the categories that shape the reality of our world, that we share with others, are in fact linguistic artifacts and that speakers of other languages in fact structure their fundamental categories differently. They really don’t live in the same world we do. Here in America, the terms “yes” and “no” can be considered fundamental categories; just take a look at the way we use them: “Just say ‘NO’!”; “Yes, we can!”; or that sequence in Meatloaf’s Paradise By the Dashboard Lights… but in Chinese you can’t “Just Say No”. The language contains no word for “No” (or “Yes”). Those idiots who get a Chinese character tattooed on their forehead hoping to be perceived as making a deep philosophical statement simply look stupid in Chinese eyes. “Just say no” has no Chinese meaning and when explained (at some length, I might add) just sounds crazy. Categoprization is not a reflection of reality, it is a culturally dictated interpretation of reality.

    Categorization implies that there is a regularity, a pattern to occurrences in the world. This is especially true for science: if there are no patterns then scientific laws are impossible and science can’t exist. The fact that we do recognize patterns and can use them to predict future events means that the world really is patterned and scientific laws exist, right? Well… no.

    Phenomenologists suggest that reality is actually chaotic and that humans, bombarded with tens of thousands of stimuli at any given time, ignore most of them and select those that correspond to a “template” – a grouping of perceptions that corresponds to a category we have been taught to recognize. That brings me to the story I call “Bob and the Bear”. In the bad old days of the late 70’s an exotic animal market sprang up after dark on the corner of Lin Shen North Road and Nan King East Road in Taipei City. One could find parrots and pangolins, monkeys and martins and, of course, those damn cobras, which you didn’t really need to buy because every garden seemed to be infested with them. One night I was surprised to see a large puppy chained up amidst the more exotic fauna. I went over, scratched his ears, rubbed his tummy, let him gnaw on my hand in mock ferocity. I considered purchasing him to rescue him from whatever fate was in store for the other animals (dogs are man’s best friend, right?). Then I really, really, really took a closer look at his paws. What I had categorized as a large puppy was in fact a small bear cub. Let’s just say that our categorizations determine our actions, those actions have consequences, and sometimes, the categories are wrong. In essence, this is exactly what Thomas Kuhn in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions was talking about… a fundamental change in the definition of categories.

    Why is this stuff about religion important? Because the elements of a culture are often mutually reinforcing although they also contain internal contradictions that result in change. Science grew out of the Judaeo-Christian and Classical Greek traditions, but there has been substantial change and it is making a bid to be the hegemonic perceptual paradigm of the West. The child has become the rival of its parent and even the ancient Greeks, recounting the overthrow of the Titans by the Olympians, knew what that meant.

    AGW and climate science are but one aspect of a struggle of ideas. AGW is part of a basket of categorizations that are mutually reinforcing: categorizations about what is real, the nature of man and the nature of good and evil. Reality is not “real”, it is constructed… but as William I. Thomas put it: “What is considered real is real in its consequences.” The consequences of a belief in AGW are, to my mind, horrific. Thinking that empirical evidence will convert the ungodly is wishful thinking, much like Josh’s otherwise wonderful and really funny cartoon about Tamino seeing the light over at Bishop Hill’s. Just not gonna happen.

  38. An interesting opinion piece with which I largely agreed until the part about there being no poets and thinkers or freedom in the past – the golden age being a myth. What past? How far back do you have to go to support this assertion – before Homer and Herodotus, Aristotle, and Plato? Freedom may be a myth even today, but the idea of individual freedom to make moral choices, and the essential equality and human rights of the individual are fundamental to the earliest years of Christianity and proved very attractive to women and slaves in the highly patriarchal and slave-based society of Ancient Rome.

    Another point re religion and belief: some of the earliest thinkers to reject a belief in God because such belief leads to evil were Epicurus and Lucretius. Interestingly, they both supported the idea of extraterrestrial, materialistic (atom-based) life forms. This is interesting because the most enthusiastic believers in extraterrestrial life today are modern materialists who reject traditional (or any) religion. Yet the logical arguments for a belief in God and a belief in extraterrestrials both rest on the same kind of probabilistic tenets, indicating that atheistic beliefs often mirror religious beliefs.

    The moralistic structure of the eco-religion is not specifically derived from Christian ideas of sin and punishment, as Confucian philosophy also developed into a political and moral system which had a strict social and moral code and grave punishments for transgressors. Under the Chinese dynastic rulers it became quite absolute and hegemonic, just as Christianity did for a period, and Confucianism continues to shape modern China as the Chinese have no tradition of questioning authority – i.e. today the Communist party.

    Without a respect for the equality of human beings and basic human rights, such codes become totalitarian, which describes the fanatic quality of environmental movements today, as human beings are less important than some ideal version of the earth purified of human contamination.

    Stan, I was not aware of the reasons why the Democrats regard Republicans as evil, not wrong. Thanks for the insights!

  39. Robert E. Phelan said “Geoff, you old reprobate, you’d probably have been an Anabaptist, Quaker or some other such non-conformist in the 17th century, just to spite the powers that be. ”

    Not so. I can see no place for any religion. I can see no reason why so many people have to do the equivalent of schoolgirl mass hysteria and align themselves with a “religious” movement. Mostly, it shows the power of brainwashing and evil threats on children from the day they are born – threats that last a lfetime, then end in dust. And nothing more, I believe.

    Stan wants proof that there is no life after death. He has no proof that there is. On the balance of probability, and given enormous progress in understanding of science, I know where I’d put my money if a proof was possible. The matter is not of importance. Scientists need evidence, not unsubstantiated belief, be it mine or others’.

  40. The problem with the post was the logic. The most you can prove by this line of argument is that AGW believers have many of the characteristics of believers in established religions. However, whether they do or not has no bearing on the really critical question of AGW, which is, whether climate feedbacks in response to forcings are negative, neutral or positive, and how large they are. The answer determines climate sensitivity to rising CO2. Now, this question has an objective answer in the real world, which is independent of anything about the believers and skeptics, the movement, the surrounding propositions that they believe.

    The post seemed to be trying to discredit AGW by arguing that it has much in common with religious beliefs. It may; that does not mean it is wrong, or that it is right either. It is simply irrelevant to the important question. A belief or disbelief in evolution may be the same. People may take up similar attitudes on vaccination. Makes no difference, a waste of time. Either vaccination works and lowers the risk of bad health events, or it does not. Whether its opponents and proponents strike religious attitudes in their debates is irrelevant.

    Skeptics need to keep their logic in order, and stay focused on the real issues of fact, and not get enmeshed in all this irrelevant silliness and personality oriented stuff that clouds the discussion all the time. Just focus on climate feedbacks, would be the right course. That is the heart of the matter. Once you get to the bottom of that, all the other stuff will evaporate.

  41. 56:
    But it does seem to shed some light on the seemingly irrational deification of the Gores of this world, and the demonization of any non-believers. I’d love to see the separation of THIS church from the state…

  42. Re: michel (Jul 25 05:18),

    The most you can prove by this line of argument is that AGW believers have many of the characteristics of believers in established religions.

    This is a very myopic viewpoint. In fact, this can explain how there can be a “consensus of millions” on the dangers of AGW CC, without most of the consenters actually ever having examined the concept in any scientific detail.

    Most of us here would likely agree that the catastrophic aspects of warming are based on precious little real evidence. However, the concerted and exaggerated alarmism has created an ideological structure within which a consensus can be formed (without genuine evidence) to further the aims of the CAGW activists. Understanding this structure allows for a rebuttal of the existence of a true scientific basis for the “consensus” and evens the playing field for those involved in the real scientific effort.

  43. Michel 56:

    That would be rational wouldn’t it? However, thankfully, human beings are not (wholly) rational. For example the joy of bringing a child into the world is not experienced through the ratio-nality of measuring the childs birth weight. On the contrary, this experience is emotional, primal, irrational or pre-rational. The example provided above may be apt, maybe not, but I would challenge you to ask yourself if you have ever done anything irrational and enjoyed it.

    So people are irrational, especially when it comes to their primary (primal) concerns.

    Now to the point. Ratio-nality is really about objective measurement. Bias is antithetical to objective measurement.

    One of the (implicit perhaps) purposes of this post and comments seems to be to ferret out possible sources of, and explanations for, bias. Bias exists, it (at least potentially) informs the behaviour all actors in this drama. It’s “part of the project” to deal with it.

    If we think of investigating CAGW and it’s public policy implications from a project management perspective, we would include many processes as “in scope”. Understanding Bias would necessarily be in scope (just like security is always in scope in an IT project). Other things in scope would include auditing the observational record (data collection, sampling, etc), auditing the paleo work, and of course as you correctly state, understanding “whether climate feedbacks in response to forcings are negative, neutral or positive, and how large they are” (which I might phrase differently to something like -understanding other factors including, but not conceptually limited to, feedbacks; with an emphasis on hydrology) ;-).

    As a final point here, the climategate files appear to demonstrate a pattern of bias in the community that may have prevented or “crowded out” quality work on feedbacks via misallocation of time, people and money resources. This parallels the way CAGW over-emphasis has crowded out other, potentially more demonstrably beneficial, environmental initiatives.

  44. In a legal trial, one of the recognized ways to impeach the testimony of a witness is to show that the witness is biased. In a scientific world where no one audits or replicates the work of others and scientists routinely accept the conclusions of other scientists at face value (perhaps we should stop calling them scientists), the possibility of bias becomes extremely important. We are routinely told that the science says X, but all we really know is that some alarmist scientist purportedly did a study and he has now announced his conclusion. Since no one ever checks his work, the possibility of bias of the scientist becomes extremely important. The potential for mischief (deliberate or not) was demonstrated repeatedly in the contents of climategate’s leak.

    It would be nice to think that “the science” is all that matters in the end. Unfortunately, since the wholesale abandonment of the scientific method in climate science, real science has become extremely rare. Given the dominant bias we see at present, I have no confidence that “science” will emerge with a definitive answer. I think it more likely that climate scientists will become a laughingstock and the general public will conclude that the clowns are simply too incompetent to be relied upon for making policy.

  45. OK, nice little “secular sermon.” But it really belittles the immense wisdom, beauty, and timlessness of Christianity to compare it to the simplistic run-of-the-mill pagan “religion” of environmentalism, where the only “worry” is not the relationship between God and man, but the silly concept that we may harm the Earth. Pathetic comparison.

  46. DT 26 – no mention of priesthoods in my piece. My familiarity with J-C tradition would be individual and Protestant. Priesthoods and structured religion may have been brought in by others in the comments.

    Dana 50 – I agree. We undoubtedly have more power to despoil. I might argue that our duty not to, most vigorously expressed by environmentalists, to care for the world that we are boss of, also mirrors Biblical instruction?

    Michel 56 – perfectly fair points, but I wasn’t trying to ‘… discredit AGW by arguing that it has much in common with religious beliefs.’ I was, if you like, positing that some (non-science based) adherents of CAGW have arrived there via environentalism substituting explicit religious belief in their lives, with CAGW as the Daddy of environmental fears.

    RomanM 58 has put it better than I just did, with reference to getting a clear view of the science.

    JAE 61 – I was nervous that some might interpret what I wrote as belittling Christianity. Not so. There is no comparison of Christianity with environmentalism in my piece. In fact I am observing that the absence of Christianity, for example in my friend’s life who wrote the blog I use as the hook for the piece, might give rise to her substitute belief set. As one of my very greatest friends, a hard-core Evangelical, emailed me after reading this post ‘Interesting. The Bible says we’re built with a spiritual desire to seek God’. Or, as Augustine and CS Lewis put it, a God-shaped hole. It is my suggestion that that God-shaped hole can draw people to environmentalism rather than God, and in a similar way.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  47. HotRod,

    are you Roddy Campbell? I’d love to yours (or any of the commenters) opinion on what I’ve written. I personally feel that you’re making it a tad easy for yourself by – simplistically – applying the same argument to _all_ environmentalists. What you write may be true of some, there’s no denying it – yet the very same argument can be applied to hardcore libertarians and radical free market advocates, some of the more, er, “fringe” climate change sceptics or adherents of any extreme, non-religious ideology. In fact, the key word is ‘ideology’ – going by your definition that term is interchangeable with ‘religion’. And I say it again: It is overly simplistic, making it easy to point fingers, but it not reflecting the reality of the highly diverse environmental movement.

    Again, any thoughts on this are highly appreciated.

  48. Jason, sorry, I was logged in under my pseudonym on that pc, didn’t notice. And have to admit that I skipped your comment before, reading on Blackberry, probably sub-consciously on purpose (!) but I shouldn’t have. I must have speed-read the ‘cheap parlour psychology’ jibe!

    My general answer, from the comfort of my Notting Hill armchair, is to agree with you that these are matters of concern, and then to retreat, Lomborg-like, to stats.

    May I trivially restate your points to: We are

    1 abusing our power over other humans (cobalt mines working conditions)

    2 despoiling the planet (rain forest etc for agriculture)

    3 not taking sufficient notice of the ‘trust’ that we hold the globe in for our successors

    Firstly, in my defence, yes I did gloss over the ‘We live in an awful world’, but deliberately. My basis for zipping past it is probably best exemplified by The Sceptical Environmentalist, which I am sure is not perfect but which found that nothing is anywhere near as bad as people like to make out, on any major environmental front. I mentioned using life expectancy as a proxy, but you can use a number of others, and I would expect most to show that things are improving, not worsening. Which is not to say that they are good, or even how good they are, just that they are pretty ok by comparison, statistically.

    I am no expert, but I am not clear that the semi-permanent ruination of land has any real basis in fact – see American dust bowl, or Africa. I’m not sure (more locally) that my farm in Kent, England, has been badly affected in bio-diversity terms by the decades of subsidised chemicals poured on it to produce subsidised food.

    I am cynical about the number of times I’ve been told, on any local, continental, or global scale, that we are doomed, sure, environmentally. And yet with 7bn of us a smaller % is starving than ever before, etc etc.

    Nor am I opposed to environmentalism, although I am sure my piece read like I might be. (I am often opposed to environmentalists, as so many of them talk more bollox to the pound than any other type I’ve ever come across. There was a study recently in the UK, gvt funded, which showed that UK organic farming was bad for bio-diversity, on balance. I could have told them that.)

    I quite agree about Trafigura-type behaviour (see recent UK press). To some extent there are rules and behaviours in place now that weren’t 20 years ago – Nike factories in Vietnam etc. Of course more should and could be done.

    Re ‘we are trustees’ – yes we are, I’m not sure what that means in policy response though. Which is not to say it should be ignored, but the concept shouldn’t enforce notions of sustainability that have no basis in evidence, but do resonate with environmentalists, good people, and politicians.

    Example – should they build coal power stations in South Africa? Discuss, with reference to the trade-offs between current benefits and costs, and future ones. Do not write on both sides of the paper at the same time. Then sell your answer to South African voters in townships.

    I was having dinner with an aid economist last week. She drew me an aid function for politicians. f(aid) = votes. Is all. Some of the same applies to environmentalism/sustainability.

    Is that some answers to what you wrote?

    Now to tackle your attacks on me! Disparaging religious arguments? No, my disparagement (?) was to environmentalists. Cheap parlour etc? Yes, guilty as charged, but I would refer you to my comment #62 – it is Christian psychology, established in the Bible and by thinkers since, that man has a God-shaped hole, Crichton too. For those unable, for whatever reason, to let God in, is it so unrealistic that they behave as I have posited?

  49. HotRod – 62 (Roddy Campbell): So you’re HotRod? Makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.

    My avocation the last few years has been studying the background of the American Revolution, which—I’m sure most people know—grew directly out of the philosophy of the English dissenters and Cromwell’s revolt. Americans owe the British a great debt for this philosophy, among for a great deal of other things.

    That this philosophy of individual freedom and natural rights grew out of Protestantism and no other religion—not even the much promoted “scientific” Atheist religion—indicates the depth of the critical understanding that went into it. Unfortunately, too many people would rather accept hand-me-down thinking than to go to the trouble of thinking for themselves.

    It is this laziness, I think, that leads many people to accept such shallow science as that put out by AGW proponents. Along with a desire to be thrilled by the possibility of global destruction, of course. I’ve noticed that during thrilling moments I not only don’t have to think, I can’t. Maybe it’s just me.


  50. Calling it a religion is quite wrong. What it actually is, its a political movement, with an ideology, and a set of beliefs about the world which support them. It is not a religion. It is more like Marxism than any religion.

  51. Michel – 67: If this was addressed to me, you could be right about Atheism not being a religion. But Atheists preceded Marx by centuries. Thomas Paine, a Deist—he invented a Deist religion (the Theophilanthropists)—called them fanatics lacking fidelity, probably from his experience with them during the French revolution. He believed their fanaticism should be “combated by reason or morality” and their infidelity “by natural philosophy.” I’m not so sure a belief based on reaction to a belief in God, rather than by critical thought, can ever be open to reason or ever be able to observe the laws of nature objectively.

    The reason I call it a religion is that they have a faith-based belief system, which they would press upon everyone else should they obtain the power to do so. As they have already done so in certain countries. As believers of a certain other religion yet today would do, and has done, if they could.

    This is straying too far off-topic. And as I’ve already said, I’ve been wrong before. And am able to believe that I may yet be wrong.


  52. DT, no, not directed at you. At the original post. The issue is, AGW is not really in the same category as what we are used to calling religions, but it is in the same category as what we are used to thinking of as ideologically driven political movements. Marxism, but also lots of varieties of conservatism too. It does not help to call it a religion, it gets the emphasis in entirely the wrong place. It is an ideology driven political agenda, based on a false account of the world.

  53. er…. I never said it (it? neither environmentalism nor AGW) was a religion. That is in the eye of the beholder. You might say I invited it, but I didn’t say it, and don’t think it. I pointed out aspects in it that mirror J-C beliefs, and suggested that it provides a substitute, as Crichton did far better and far earlier. Similarly I never said that … actually I can’t be bothered.

    Good night all! Off to bed to continue reading the superb Michael Lewis book – who else could make a CDO meltdown into a thriller, I ask myself. He used to sell me bonds in 1985.

  54. Ask yourself which of the following things the die hard defence of the Hockey Stick and MBH98 most closely resembles, and you have your answer to the question, whether AGW is a political movement, a religion substitute with essential elements of religion in it, or an individual reform movement.

    1) The Soviet denial of Katyn and the Western Communist Party defences of and denials of the Purges.

    2) The doctrine of transubstantiation or justification through faith.

    3) Vegetarianism or veganism.

    If you want to understand AGW as movement, look to radical political movements of the last century. Like them, it focuses on one particular variable in society to the exclusion of all others. That variable is fossil fuel consumption. Not class, not inequality, not debates about the role of the state, not market versus regulation. Not racial composition of society. Fossil fuel consumption. It is not a movement which is based on spiritual or divine consequences of our actions and states of mind. It is not a series of ethical or practical prescriptions for individual actions which will either be better, or will lead to better outcomes for us individually.

    Like the great 20C political movements, there are some core factual beliefs about the world which have to be defended at all costs, despite the evidence against them. The Ukraine famine and the purges were denied or justified, Katyn had been a Nazi atrocity, the Hungarian working class, and later the Czechs, had requested fraternal assistance from their comrades to the East. MBH98 is good statistical treatment of sound data.

    We are talking an attempt to restructure society by political action around changing how one particular variable operates. A movement which has an account of how we got here, where we are, and where we are going, that is supposed to be factually based. The Hockey Stick is most illuminating. Its here that we find out what we are dealing with, and its ideologically driven politics with a Party line. The defence of the Hockey Stick is probably the closest thing you can find today to Holocaust Denial, and it happens for the same reason. You cannot defend Nazism and admit the Holocaust happened at the behest of the Party. Just as you could not be a committed Communist and admit that the purges and the Gulags were carried out by the Party. Similarly, you cannot be a card carrying member of the AGW movement and admit that the Hockey Stick is garbage. You will be expelled.

    If you keep thinking about it in religious terms, you won’t get it. It is much more like a political party than anything else.

  55. “The joys of heaven are for most of us, in our present condition, an acquired taste” and the same can probably be said for climate change belief. So why the need and has environmentalism really taken the place of religion? I won’t go into the whole definition debate but it strikes me that what religion and climate change has in common is the following:

    A strive for “eternity” and/or to “prolong” life. It is a reluctance to accept that “this is it”, to accept the “full stop”. You get born, you live and you die. Full stop. We don’t like that, so we chose to believe in a heaven or rebirth etc. The Earth has gone through numerous climate changes over time. Species has come and gone and it will inevitable happen again. Full stop. We don’t like that so we believe that we can somehow keep the status quo and we will go on living through our children’s children. Makes me think of the “serenity prayer” or rather W.W Bartley’s rewrite:

    For every ailment under the sun
    There is a remedy, or there is none;
    If there be one, try to find it;
    If there be none, never mind it.

    A desire to be part of a community, a part of something “bigger” (“No man is an island…” as papa Hemingway would say)

    A desire to be the “best version of you”, to feel good about yourself, to feel whole (fill the hole), to feel complete. Some find that in “God”, some find it in recycling milk bottles, some find it in charity (often, but not always, in combination with some sort of religious belief) and some seek it in relationships with other people. The world is full of people chasing rainbows, hoping that there will be a pot of gold at the end of it. Unfortunately, in my opinion “The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish”

  56. Roddy – “There were no poets, no thinkers, no freedom.”

    What about the father of poetry, Homer? Greek Philosophy?
    The song of Solomon, the Psalms, the ancient Chinese ‘book of songs’?
    It’s quite extraordinary, this statement of yours…..& do you believe we are more ‘free’ now?
    You appear to exhibit ‘belief’ in much the same fashion that you are attacking in others…..pots & kettles spring to mind.

    The ‘Garden of Eden’ is a biblical metaphor for the world before man’s ‘creation’. The Bible is littered with metaphor, are you so naive to assume this is taken literally by all judaeo-christians? That is a very missguided opinion.

    As for nasty, brutish, bygone days, you seem to project this across the full expanse of history as if -prior to the late 20th century- we lived in a perpetual dark-age from ancient times to the present…….Quite apart from the complete ignorance of this statement, one cannot project today’s mores on the past in any meaningful fashion. Humanity a thousand years from now will call our present age a barbarous one.

  57. “If you keep thinking about it in religious terms, you won’t get it. It is much more like a political party than anything else.”


    When a person devotes their heart, mind, and soul to an idea, their belief in that idea is a religious one, even if the idea is political, especially if that idea is used to block out other traditionally religious ideas.


  58. Michael #67

    While I agree it has some of the same traits as a political movement, it shares one very big trait with religion. And that is regardless of any argument you can make, the answer is always “It’s God’s Will”. In other words anything that happens, is blamed on AGW. Weather gets hot – AGW. Weather gets cold – AGW. More hurricanes – AGW. Fewer Hurricanes – AGW.

    It shares the trait of faith. Logic, science and proof no longer plays a part, it is all faith based.

  59. orkneylad – do forgive me some hyperbole in the ‘no poets…’ quote! I think you take me too literally there, rather as you suggest I might believe all Jews and Christians take Genesis literally (I said ‘mythic structures’).

    Yes, I think we are more free now, more choice for more people.

    ‘Humanity a thousand years from now will call our present age a barbarous one.’ – quite agree. And I call Dickensian London pretty barbarous by comparison with now.

  60. Roddy – Isn’t there enough ‘climate hyperbole’ sloshing about already? 😉
    ..but yeah, ok, forgiven if you go read some Catullus by way of penance.


  61. Environmentalism is definitely a belief-driven mandate for action. whether that makes it a religion or a political movement is an interesting question. Nevertheless, either conclusion leads to the same result, which is ruinous policies, promoted for seemingly virtuous reasons.

    One aspect of environmentalism that seems to be little discussed is the idea that mankind is the enemy of the earth. i.e. that it is mankind’s very existence that is the cause of environmental degradation and thus the implied solution is to reduce (or even better eliminate) man’s earthly footprint. I find this idea profoundly depressing since it’ logical conclusion is species suicide.


  62. Hosea 4
    4 “Don’t point your finger at someone else
    and try to pass the blame!
    My complaint, you priests,
    is with you.*
    5 So you will stumble in broad daylight,
    and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.
    And I will destroy Israel, your mother.
    6 My people are being destroyed
    because they don’t know me.
    Since you priests refuse to know me,
    I refuse to recognize you as my priests.
    Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,
    I will forget to bless your children.
    7 The more priests there are,
    the more they sin against me.
    They have exchanged the glory of God
    for the shame of idols.*

    8 “When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin!

  63. This new Climate System God is threatening to punish Holland for the sins Chinese have done. Looks like a safe God to commit sins against – his aim is half a globe off the mark. 🙂

  64. China is the worlds biggist poluter the dragons the #1 ruiner of the enroment despite the way eco-wackos oten like to blabber about them riding their bicycles all the time

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