Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

God is Green: Environmentalism as the new secular religion

In 2003 Robert Bidinotto made the argument about environmentalism being the new secular religion at his ecoNot blog. It’s interesting to see that others are starting to have a similar epiphany about the new dogma, complete with its own doctrine and inquisitions.

First, Jonah Goldberg penned an article titled “The church of green: A kind of irrational nature worship separates environmentalism from the more fair-minded approach of conservationism” in the Los Angeles Times.

At its core, environmentalism is a kind of nature worship. It's a holistic ideology, shot through with religious sentiment.

Whether it's adopted the trappings of religion or not, my biggest beef with environmentalism is how comfortably irrational it is. It touts ritual over reality, symbolism over substance, while claiming to be so much more rational and scientific than those silly sky-God worshipers and deranged oil addicts.

Next up, Czech President Vaclav Klaus in Earth Times.

Klaus, an economist, said he opposed the "climate alarmism" perpetuated by environmentalism trying to impose their ideals, comparing it to the decades of communist rule he experienced growing up in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. "Like their (communist) predecessors, they will be certain that they have the right to sacrifice man and his freedom to make their idea reality," he said. "In the past, it was in the name of the Marxists or of the proletariat - this time, in the name of the planet," he added.

Finally we have Freeman Dyson in a New York book review of two books on global warming has this to say.

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.

Dyson obviously agrees with the main thrust of environmentalism so it’s interesting to see the dismay in his column about the religiosity of some environmentalists.

In all of the above quotes, however, this one by Klaus touches on a key premise: “they have the right to sacrifice man and his freedom to make their idea reality.” The key word is “sacrifice.” This is a code word for altruism, the belief that we do not have the right to exist for our own sake. Most people mouth altruism but ultimately live for their own values. However, over time we are constantly beseeched to live for our neighbors (in the form of welfare benefits) and for our international neighbors (in the form of aid to poorer countries).

As I said before, most people fortunately do not accept the hidden premises of environmentalism because “common sense” inoculates them from succumbing entirlely. However, common sense isn’t enough to prevent the infection from taking hold and causing pangs of guilt for not living green enough. The intellectual leaders of the environmental movement don’t compromise their principles. They are relentless in their quest for the ideal world where humans are reduced back to a more primitive existence (except for the anointed, enlightened few who will be allowed to have their private planes and mansions because they’re moral, you see).

Am I saying we have the right to wanton waste? No. I do believe we should be careful how we use the earth’s resources to preserve what we can for future generations and to ensure we have an environment that is healthy for us. But my premise is based on recognizing that we flourish best when we acknowledge how our actions can negatively affect our own survival.

There also is an ultimate irony here. Primitive and developing countries actually do more harm to the environment because it usually costs less to produce things if minimizing pollution is ignored. The worst polluters have been the socialist countries in Eastern Europe and now China. The more advanced capitalist economies can afford to design their production to better control emissions and have done so. This is why I maintain that the bile environmentalists spew at free market economies is not based on their poor environmental performance. Something else is at work here. Something more fundamental. Capitalism works by serving the needs and interests of the customers. The producers and consumers are both motivated by their own self-interest. And this, I maintain, is the real “pollutant” that the extreme environmentalists want to eradicate.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Its refreshing to see a fellow student of Objectivism with a blog. This issue of Environmentalism morphing into a religion was-- believe it or not-- anticipated, though not explicitly so, by Rand herself. In her essay, "For the New Intellectual," she writes about Atilla and the witch doctor. Atilla representing an agent of physical force, and the witch doctor representing an agent of coercive manipulation and guilt-- with religion. Both are brands of altruism. They use each other to use the productive; they rely on one another. This is the kind of thing that proves to me Rand's genius: environmentalism could not survive on its own as a merely physical form of altruism. The mystic element, the "don't question your sacrifice because its beyond human understanding" element had to emerge in order for it to survive as a philosophical system. It finally has.

I actually have a somewhat related post on my blog, Extremism in Defense of Liberty, right now. Check out my post about it, if you're interested.