It is to GK Chesterton that we attribute the line, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing. He believes in anything” (although we can’t seem to pin this line down in his works). The point is, mankind is inherently religious, and when the true God is not worshipped, false gods will take his place.
As Vincent Miceli said of the First Commandment: “It was as if Moses had written: ‘Atheists are not godless men; they are men addicted to false gods’.” We will all bow down to something, be it self, sex, money, power or whatever. If it is not the God of the universe, it will be some god of our own choosing.
A number of years ago the late sociologist Robert Nisbet noted that environmentalism had become the third great redemptive movement in human history. It is a religious worldview that has its own concept of the fall and salvation. The first two, said Nisbet, were Christianity and Marxism. Indeed both Marxism and radical environmentalism have become pseudo-religions. Both have notions of sin, guilt and redemption. Both have sacred texts and venerated leaders. And like all false religions, both have their fair share of zealots.
While Marxism may be in the wane in much of the world, environmentalism has in many ways replaced it as a new secular religion. Now having concern for the environment is vital, and we all need to do our bit to be good stewards of planet earth. But it is when radical environmentalism takes on religious dimensions that we need to be wary.
This is especially the case when the radical greens are quite happy to embrace agendas which are totalitarian, even in the name of saving the planet. Too often we see radical greens acting as the new coercive utopians, just as the Marxists were. Both have been happy to trample on freedom and democracy in the name of their religious vision.
The old joke about radical environmentalists being like watermelons – green on the outside, red on the inside – may have some truth to it. Many radical greens are happy to see the same coercive state intervention and heavy-handedness as did the socialists and Marxists.
And this totalitarian impulse is driven by hefty doses of hysteria and hyperbole. Consider just one recent example. Columnist Andrew Bolt reports on a British Bishop who has actually compared scepticism about global warming with paedophilia! I kid you not. Here is what the good Bishop actually said: “[Austrian paedophile] Josef Fritzl represents merely the most extreme form of a very common philosophy of life: I will do what makes me happy, and if that causes others to suffer, hard luck. In fact you could argue that, by our refusal to face the truth about climate change, we are as guilty as he is…’’
Bolt makes this reply: “Of course, the Bishop is also arguing that men who imprison and rape their daughters are really no worse than leading scientists who dispute the causes and dangers of global warming, which is further proof that this cleric is as stupid as he is hysterical.”
But such reckless claims are far too common among the radical greens. Talk about zealots and true believers! Charles Krauthammer wrote an excellent column on this recently, warning about the new green religion. Entitled “Environmentalists Pick Up Where Communists Left Off,” he begins by declaring his hand on the global warming debate:
“I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier. I’m a global warming agnostic who believes instinctively that it can’t be very good to pump lots of CO2 into the atmosphere, but is equally convinced that those who presume to know exactly where that leads are talking through their hats. “
He explains, “Predictions of catastrophe depend on models. Models depend on assumptions about complex planetary systems – from ocean currents to cloud formation – that no one fully understands. Which is why the models are inherently flawed and forever changing. The doomsday scenarios posit a cascade of events, each with a certain probability. The multiple improbability of their simultaneous occurrence renders all such predictions entirely speculative.”
And the danger is this: “Yet on the basis of this speculation, environmental activists, attended by compliant scientists and opportunistic politicians, are advocating radical economic and social regulation. ‘The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity,’ warns Czech President Vaclav Klaus, ‘is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism’.”
Indeed, science is transformed into religious zealotry: “If you doubt the arrogance, you haven’t seen that Newsweek cover story that declared the global warming debate over. Consider: If Newton’s laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown, it requires religious fervor to believe that global warming – infinitely more untested, complex and speculative – is a closed issue. But declaring it closed has its rewards. It not only dismisses skeptics as the running dogs of reaction, i.e., of Exxon, Cheney and now Klaus. By fiat, it also hugely re-empowers the intellectual left.”
He continues, “For a century, an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class – social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies – arrogated to themselves the right to rule either in the name of the oppressed working class (communism) or, in its more benign form, by virtue of their superior expertise in achieving the highest social progress by means of state planning (socialism). Two decades ago, however, socialism and communism died rudely, then were buried forever by the empirical demonstration of the superiority of market capitalism everywhere from Thatcher’s England to Deng’s China, where just the partial abolition of socialism lifted more people out of poverty more rapidly than ever in human history.”
Green issues have resurrected the moribund left: “Just as the ash heap of history beckoned, the intellectual left was handed the ultimate salvation: environmentalism. Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but – even better – in the name of Earth itself. Environmentalists are Gaia’s priests, instructing us in her proper service and casting out those who refuse to genuflect. (See Newsweek above.) And having proclaimed the ultimate commandment – carbon chastity – they are preparing the supporting canonical legislation that will tell you how much you can travel, what kind of light you will read by, and at what temperature you may set your bedroom thermostat.”
Enter the coercive utopians: “Just Monday, a British parliamentary committee proposed that every citizen be required to carry a carbon card that must be presented, under penalty of law, when buying gasoline, taking an airplane or using electricity. The card contains your yearly carbon ration to be drawn down with every purchase, every trip, every swipe. There’s no greater social power than the power to ration. And, other than rationing food, there is no greater instrument of social control than rationing energy, the currency of just about everything one does and uses in an advanced society.”
But Krauthammer does not just warn about the extremists. He offers sensible alternatives:
“So what does the global warming agnostic propose as an alternative? First, more research – untainted and reliable – to determine (a) whether the carbon footprint of man is or is not lost among the massive natural forces (from sunspot activity to ocean currents) that affect climate, and (b) if the human effect is indeed significant, whether the planetary climate system has the homeostatic mechanisms (like the feedback loops in the human body, for example) with which to compensate. Second, reduce our carbon footprint in the interim by doing the doable, rather than the economically ruinous and socially destructive. The most obvious step is a major move to nuclear power, which to the atmosphere is the cleanest of the clean.”
As I have said before, we all have a responsibility to properly look after this planet. But worshipping it is not the answer, nor is the erosion of our freedom in the name of green salvation. While the left is happy to push for more statism and more power for themselves, the sensible environmentalist will know that as with all things in life, there are tradeoffs. There are costs and benefits which must carefully be weighted.
While we may need some of the green prophets of doom to shake us out of our complacency, we also need prophets of common sense and balance to help keep things from getting even worse, as the coercive utopians seek to exploit this situation for their own totalitarian ends.