Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

God is Green: Part 2

The Wall Street Journal had an editorial by Bret Stephens titled

Global Warming as Mass Neurosis. He touches on how the message of the global warming crowd has strong elements of religiosity to it. Instead of God saving us, we'll find salvation by sacrificing ourselves to a false theory.

Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism. Take just about any other discredited leftist nostrum of yore – population control, higher taxes, a vast new regulatory regime, global economic redistribution, an enhanced role for the United Nations – and global warming provides a justification. One wonders what the left would make of a scientific "consensus" warning that some looming environmental crisis could only be averted if every college-educated woman bore six children: Thumbs to "patriarchal" science; curtains to the species.

A second explanation is theological. Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." That's Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.

And surely it is in keeping with this essentially religious outlook that the "solutions" chiefly offered to global warming involve radical changes to personal behavior, all of them with an ascetic, virtue-centric bent: drive less, buy less, walk lightly upon the earth and so on. A light carbon footprint has become the 21st-century equivalent of sexual abstinence.

Finally, there is a psychological explanation. Listen carefully to the global warming alarmists, and the main theme that emerges is that what the developed world needs is a large dose of penance. What's remarkable is the extent to which penance sells among a mostly secular audience. What is there to be penitent about?

As it turns out, a lot, at least if you're inclined to believe that our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect. In this view, global warming is nature's great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.

Stephens doesn't use the word but there is a key concept behind this antipathy towards the West in general and specifically towards capitalism: altruism, the belief that we don't have the right to exist for our own sake and our own happiness. Because capitalism is based on the profit motive it is considered morally inferior to socialism where everyone is supposed to live from everyone else. Therefore I have a quibble with his use of the word neurosis in the title. The problems inherent in the behavior of the global warming advocates are not psychological. They're philosophical.

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