Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Environmental correctness - a new religion?

I would call myself a secularist, who is quite happy to tolerate the existence of all the other various religious denominations – even the relatively new, secular religion - environmentalism.

Is it fair to label environmentalism as a ‘new’ religion?

Emile Durkheim, in his famous sociological text The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, defined religion as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all of those who adhere to them’. What strikes me about Durkheim’s definition is the lack of reference to God, or gods, nor does he mention spirituality, or other worlds. For Durkheim, religion is essentially the social construction of the sacred: this unites its apologists and adherents into a ‘single moral community’. The contemporary environmentalist movement has much in common with Durkheim’s definition of a ‘single moral community’.

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband MP, flanked by senior Bishops announced their campaign for a ‘carbon fast’ during the next forty days of Lent. Yes, it’s a cheap eco-friendly publicity stunt, done in order to endow everyday environmental behaviour with a sense of religious authority. Such stunts highlight the fact that apologists of environmentalist causes care less about the actual management of nature, than they do about launching moral crusades – not to alter the earth mind you, but to micro-manage human behaviour like never before.

‘Carbon emission’ is fast becoming the new original sin of our age, for which us humans must seek redemption. According to the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, for Lent we need to ‘live more simply and cherish more deeply the creation of which we are only a part’. Carbon fasting has now become a way to absolve yourself of all your 'carbon sins' - sinful rituals like driving to work, or using the dishwasher or washing machine are viewed as immoral acts to be reigned in.

William Swatos, the editor of the International Journal of Research on Religion argues that environmentalism, as an ideology, has the potential to ‘serve as an implicit religion’. Ian Plimer, a professor of Geology argued recently that environmentalism is on par with ‘Creationism’.

Peter Beyer, the author of Religion and Globalization makes the point that what we are currently witnessing is the steady rise, and rise, and ‘upsurge’, of what he describes as ‘contemporary religious environmentalism’. According to Beyer, there are at least three different styles of ‘eco-religiosity’, that he claims were born during the hazy, hippy days of Woodstock.

The author, Michael Crichton goes further, he argues that environmentalism is ‘one of the most powerful religions in the Western World’. Crichton makes a rather good point when he reminds his readers of past environmental predictions that have had serious factual flaws – like, for example the banning of DDT. Crichton aptly describes the banning as one of the ‘most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century’ – and I agree. The ban has directly caused the death of millions of African people, mainly children – all in the name of environmentalism. Environmentalism must be a religion – indeed, why else would environmentalists be in such denial over the millions of deaths they caused due to the ban?

Dr David Orrell, a Canadian based mathematician, argues that when it comes to making future predictions based on models the ‘track record of any kind of long-distant prediction is really bad’. Orrell added that ‘scientists cannot even write the equation of a cloud, let alone make a workable model of the climate’.

Instead of putting forward proposals for more investment in research and innovation, environmentalists and Church leaders appear happier to moralise about our varied lifestyles and habits – and of course, none of this desperate search for moral coherence will actually help to improve the environment.

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