First published on American Thinker: http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/12/environmentalism_as_fundamentalism.html
Most environmentalists I know consider themselves non-religious, even anti-religious. A few subscribe to “new” religious denominations such as Unitarianism, which I have heard described as “church for atheists with children.” None, as far as I know, would take kindly to being described as practitioners of fundamentalist, Bible-thumping, “ol’ time religion”.
The irony, here, is that contemporary environmentalism and fundamentalist religion have so much in common.
Take the most basic assumption of contemporary environmentalist doctrine. Individual environmentalists and environmental organizations, alike, hold that the one and only way to solve the problems they address is to “protect” the environment. Who they would protect it from, of course, is us, based on the further assumption that everything that goes wrong with the environment — desertification, species extinction, invasion by non-native plants, etc. — is the result of human misuse or overuse or just plain use of “nature” or the ecosystem, or whatever you choose to call our surroundings.
This assumption has become so all-encompassing that we now even blame ourselves for occurrences we used to call “natural” disasters.. Hurricanes are our fault (a result of Global Warming). Weather too hot — our fault. Too cold — ditto. There are even plenty of people who say earthquakes and tsunamis are our fault; also caused somehow by Climate Change.
Such a line of reasoning leads inevitably to the conclusion that the only way to solve any and all environmental problems is to somehow get us humans to use less, produce less, and reproduce less. So, at environmentalists’ behest our government creates such things as wilderness areas and nature preserves, on the theory that nature-left-alone will heal its human-caused wounds and help sustain at least a part of the planetary life-support system. In some countries, Canada, for instance, there are areas into which humans are forbidden to even set foot. More radical environmental groups, such as Earth First! (which I played a small part in helping to form) are pushing for similar measures in the U. S.
You’re not paying attention if you haven’t recognized this as simply a rerun of the biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
This congruence of environmentalism and fundamentalism isn’t a coincidence. It can be traced to the fact that John Muir, “the spiritual father of the environmental movement” who founded the Sierra Club, the first environmental group, was a Calvinist. Calvinists, who first coined the word “fundamentalist” to describe themselves, held that the original sin for which humans were punished by expulsion from Eden, is a defining characteristic of what it means to be “human.”
As a good Calvinist/fundamentalist/environmentalist, Muir was a frothing misanthrope, referring to humans as “the Lord Man” and writing, “Man is always and everywhere a blight on the landscape.”
So, as modern day green fundamentalists engage in a ritual re-creation of the expulsion of “the Lord Man” from Eden, one could make the case that they are indulging in a religious exercise rather than applying a practical effort to solve environmental problems.
Using an approach derived from fundamentalist religion to deal with real world problems (and there are plenty of environmental problems that are real and serious) has a huge downside. First, it dooms us to deal with practical problems with an approach that treats them as invariably a matter of good versus evil, of “us” (the righteous Earth Savers) against “them,” the heretics and devils (Global Warming Deniers, capitalists, one percenters, Republicans,…)
Because this makes those issues a matter of winning and of defeating devils rather than solving problems, we spend more time proselytizing, evangelizing, and battling in the arena of politics than we do learning to live sustainably within our surroundings. Evidence that this is the case is provided by the fact that environmentalists measure their success in terms that really have nothing to do with the ecological problems they supposedly set out to fix. Among those terms are:
• the number of converts (members, supporters, and devotees) groups are able to evangelize, and the amount of contributions they are thus able to attract
• the extent to which they are able to convince the rest of us to blame the villains, demons, devils, satans, they blame — capitalists, free enterprisers, private land managers, meat eaters, the 5 % of the world’s population who live in the U. S. and use 25% of the world’s resource, and…
• the extent to which they are able to inject their doctrines, prejudices, and policies into the rules by which our society operates.
Does this approach of using religious-style rituals, exorcisms, and crusades work to make the environment any better, healthier, more sustaining?
To true believers that question doesn’t even make sense.
Religious truth is a matter of faith. It can’t be falsified by experience or fact. Can you prove via experience, facts, or science that God didn’t make little green apples, that Buddha wasn’t truly enlightened, or that Islam isn’t the religion of peace?
In the same way, and for the same reasons, it is just as impossible to debunk the charge that we are the cause of global warming, climate change, species extinction, or whatever.
This is why using environmentalist dogma to guide the creation of legislation and regulation violates the separation of church and state. It is also why doing so can lead us to results that are just the opposite of what we intend. If environmental policies can’t be proved wrong by experience, facts, or science, there is no way to prove that they don’t work, even when their results are absolutely disastrous.
This fatal flaw isn’t limited to environmental policies, it extends throughout liberalism. The reason it is impossible to prove (at least to liberals) that wealth redistribution doesn’t solve the problem of poverty, no matter how much poverty rates increase under those policies, or that Obamacare doesn’t create the best health care system possible, no matter how much rates increase or how many people end up without insurance as a result of those policies, is because liberalism, as well as its offspring, environmentalism, is a matter of blind faith, not reason.