Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Environmentalism and Religion

Freeman Dyson's recent book review concludes with some insightful thoughts:

All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

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.

He's correct that environmentalism is a religion, as it binds people to set of beliefs, and these beliefs are not necessarily based on publicly available reason. I have recently been thinking about extreme environmentalists' condemnation of human life itself as "luxurious living". As Dostoevsky observed, if God is dead, everything is permissible; there are no limits to what man should do. Thus it makes sense that since not everything is permissible, in lieu of the old God, we need a new god, a new standard by which to condemn what is evidently disordered.

Dyson is also right that the debate should not be arbitrarily shut down, as he elsewhere in the article notes that the PC-faction has in Britain; there is still a lot of uncertainty in the science of "climate change." ("Global warming" is passé; it's an open secret that the globe's surface temperature hasn't warmed for a decade now.)

I just by chance ran across another discovery that should effect the "climate change" discussion. UMass Amherst scientists have established that bacteria can metabolize minerals containing carbon and reintroduce it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

According to Petsch, the bottom line is that the release of organic material from sedimentary rocks contributes approximately 2 percent of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year. While this may seem like a small amount, it is another piece of the puzzle that can be used when determining how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

Just goes to show that the science of "climate change" is anything but settled and that discussion should continue.

Freeman Dyson, "The Question of Global Warming," The New York Review of Books 55:10 (June 12, 2008). h/t Touchstone (July/August 2008)

Steven Petsch, "New Piece of Climate Change Puzzle Found In Ancient Sedimentary Rocks by UMass Amherst Researchers" Press Release, July 23, 2008.

1 comment:

Mike Flynn said...

there is still a lot of uncertainty in the science of "climate change." ("Global warming" is passé; it's an open secret that the globe's surface temperature hasn't warmed for a decade now.)

It might be interesting to learn when "climate change" replaced "global warming" in official pronouncements.