Environmentalism as Religion

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"What harm is there in saying, Lord Cæsar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?"

~ from The Martyrdom of Polycarp

A Roman imperial official posed the above question to St. Polycarp in 155 A.D. All Polycarp had to do was swear on the emperor's Genius — his personal guardian spirit in Roman mythology — perform some sacrifices for Caesar, participate in the necessary social events, and thus have his life spared. But Polycarp did not do this and for that we remember him as one of the great Christian martyrs.

Roman religion was a deeply engrained part of Roman life — it was difficult for a Christian to stay completely true to their chosen faith without appearing at least a tad bit anti-social. Sometimes, when social isolation and the threat to stability in Roman cities grew too great, Christians were killed. Not very often, but every now and again.

We live in the 21st century now. We don't persecute people because of their religion, no matter how socially awkward it makes them. Right?

Roman mythology and imperial cults have been left behind, but they have been replaced by a new religious mythology. It has begun to ingratiate itself into every aspect of American life, so that simple social activities demand adherence to the new ideology. The prime deity is none other than the Earth, or Mother Earth as adherents to the new religion call it. Adherents treat threats to their deity — quixotic as they may be — with ultimate seriousness. And the prime threat to Mother Gaia is anthropogenic climate change. This, of course, is just the most recent threat to occupy the majority of the environmentalists' (a name they happily ascribe themselves) ire. In the past it has been such things as overpopulation, deforestation, man-made global cooling, nuclear power, etc. As with any religion, there is a church — the means through which religious goals are effected. That church is the modern state, for no "sensible" country on this planet denies that anthropogenic climate change is occurring. Dissenters from the Kyoto Treaty are treated as churches in heresy — anomalies that must be re-converted to the faith.

If it seems absurd that environmentalism is a religion that has inculcated itself into much of everyday life in America — nay — the developed world, then chances are you are ignoring the reality around you.

"What harm is there in … sacrificing … [to] make sure of safety?" asked the Roman imperial official. Environmentalists demand sacrifices of people each and every day. Recycling is an activity subsidized by many levels of the government. Most people — and this is evidence of the pernicious degree to which environmentalism has ingratiated itself into the minds of most people — think this is a good thing. Is it? The promise is that recycling saves money and energy by turning waste into usable products. If this were actually the case, there would be no need for subsidization, and the act of recycling wouldn't even be sacrificial. Waste management companies would see the economic incentive in collecting trash and turning into a product that people will buy. Instead, government needs to subsidize recycling programs in order to keep them running, meaning recycling is not an efficient use of energy and resources. As a simple example, it is often better for the environment and for our pocketbooks to simply produce new paper than recycle waste paper. American citizens have to pay for this government indulgence via higher taxes and wasted time spent sorting and recycling their own waste.

This sacrifice has been beaten into the heads of American citizens by environmentalists and their state supporters so much that it has become a daily routine for most. Now, environmentalists are demanding more sacrifice. Carbon dioxide is the cause of the recent global warming, they claim, and thus we humans must cut back on our contribution of carbon dioxide. This means that environmentalists are demanding that we drive less, use less oil, and find ways to go about our daily business that use less energy than normal. For many people, this is a hassle. Environmentalists will counter that one need not make drastic changes in lifestyle to make a difference. The Internet is littered with lists of simple ways to help reduce global warming. To anyone willing to crunch the numbers, it is evident that small changes will not result in a significant decrease in carbon dioxide emissions. Only huge changes in lifestyle will result in a huge decrease in human carbon dioxide emissions.

It should not surprise us that environmentalists demand sacrifices, for any religion demands sacrifices. And like other religions, environmentalism is a human-centered one. Yes, in its purest form, it is Earth worship; its reverence is directed at something decidedly non-human. However, the beliefs and tenets of the faith concern humans and their role in natural history. Inevitably, in the modern world, this role is an antagonistic one for the environmentalists. Humans are the problem, and the solution will demand some bane to human beings. It is this simple fact that has led Peter Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace and a man who has become disaffected with the environmental zealots, to call environmentalists "anti-human."

Whereas most religions seek the betterment of humanity, environmentalism is unique in that it seeks the opposite. The sacrifices that it demands be made will result in severe harm for those who need help the most. In the developing world, environmentalists see an excellent area for proselytization and a place to implement their policies — for existing infrastructure is hard to change, but poor countries provide environmentalists with a tabula rasa. They preach the need for solar and wind power in the developing world. These two forms of energy, however, are not reliable or powerful enough for a world that is looking to industrialize. Imagine, for example, a modern factory of any type running completely on solar or wind power. Difficult to imagine? Of course. If the environmentalist vision of the developing world is allowed to take root, billions of people who can benefit greatly from industrialization will be condemned to poverty for the rest of their life. It's sad that rich, Western environmentalists are so quick to demand this sacrifice of others. That the people they demand it of are the ones who will be harmed the most by it is downright reprehensible.

Finally, like many religions, there is a strong emphasis in environmentalism on the end of the world. Fear mongering and predictions of the apocalypse are the primary evangelizing tools of environmentalists. In the past we've endured warnings about overpopulation, nuclear holocausts, and now a global climate disaster. And like the apocalyptic predictions of other religions, those of environmentalism have never come to pass. But luckily for them, people have a short memory, and fear is a powerful persuasive tool. By the time it is clear that anthropogenic climate chance not only won't cause the end of the world but also isn't even happening, no one will remember the hyperbolic claims made by environmental zealots. Instead, we will be entertaining their latest apocalyptic fantasy.

It should be clear, now, that environmentalism constitutes a religion in every sense of the word. The fact that environmentalism is a religion does not bother me. If progressives (who constitute most of the movement) find their lives empty of meaning absent a real religion and thus decide to channel energy into Earth-worship and all that it entails, that is their business. When they try to use the violently coercive powers of the state in their favor, it is fitting that reasonable people challenge the basis for their beliefs.

In the case of environmentalists, it is fairly easy to show that their beliefs are informed by faulty logic and are perpetuated by out-and-out zealots. The claim of environmentalists is that carbon dioxide is causing us to experience unprecedented warming. Unfortunately, every element of this assertion is patently false. First, the warming humans are experiencing right now is not unprecedented. During the Medieval Warming Period, which occurred between 800 and 1300 A.D., temperatures were higher than they are today. More importantly, the fundamental assumption of environmentalists concerning global warming — that carbon dioxide causes warming — is false. If one examines the timeline that Al Gore used in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which showed the impressive correlation between carbon dioxide levels and global temperature, one encounters a telling fact. Changes in global temperature precede changes in carbon dioxide levels by about 800 years. Carbon dioxide cannot be the cause if it follows what it is presumed to affect. Why does this phenomenon happen? When global temperatures rise, the seas get hotter, and carbon dioxide dissolved in the water starts to escape (gasses are dissolved more easily in liquids at lower temperatures). Because of the vastness of the oceans, it takes hundreds of years for ocean temperatures to rise. And finally, even if one does accept the environmentalist belief in carbon dioxide as the causal variable, one still has to deal with the fact that humans are responsible for a very small percentage of total carbon dioxide emissions. Volcanoes, animal flatulence, and rotting vegetation all contribute heavily to the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humans currently account for about four percent of total carbon dioxide emissions, and carbon dioxide makes up about 0.038% of the atmosphere. Our effect on Earth's climate is extremely minimal at best. All this evidence against global warming, plus more, is documented very well in the recent British documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle."

Thus far, despite the apparent falseness of their beliefs, environmentalists have been extremely successful in achieving their goals. They have convinced the American people to sacrifice at the altar of Mother Gaia, and they have turned the already ignoble state into an even uglier beast — their church, the effecter of their religious goals. If allowed to continue, they will destroy the American economy and doom billions of people in developing countries to perpetual poverty. Secularists are quick to call for a wall of separation between church and state. It is time that environmentalism be held to the same standard.

March 21, 2007