Origins of Environmental Religions

Origins of Environmental Religions
July 12, 2007

Jay Lehr, Ph.D.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (jlehr@heartland.org) is science director at The Heartland Institute, an... (read full bio)

Conventional religions have been under attack for some years from liberals who have drifted into secular humanism and away from any devout belief in God. But as Margaret Mead discovered long ago, no culture has ever existed without some belief in a supernatural being. In today's world, the worship of the "environment" has filled the bill perfectly.

Green religion competes with old-style religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. Environmentalists passionately believe its stories and predictions to be as accurate as fundamentalists view the Old and New Testaments or the Koran. While the old religions encouraged charitable activities toward others, the new Green religion grants dispensation by bicycling to work, recycling beer cans, and voting for the most "progressive" candidates.

When one observes the ubiquitous environmental movement overpowering all of society today, one might easily confuse it for a single spontaneous social movement or a mystic awakening, inspired perhaps by man's impact on the natural world or our constant increase of knowledge and awareness. But that would be wrong. When one looks under the surface, one sees specific and self-interested constituencies, each milking a popular movement for all they can get.

First, we have leftist intellectuals and their sock puppets, the politicians, who seek to run the lives of those they see as less intelligent and less capable than themselves. This is the "ends justify the means" crowd, who dominate governments from the lowest and most local level up to the U.S. Senate and the United Nations. For them, environmentalism is just a convenient end to justify the means they have long supported for other reasons: central control, more regulation, higher taxes, more power for them, less freedom for everyone else.

Next are journalists, tempted away from duty to report objectively on the news by the promise of ad revenue, circulation gains, and even Pulitzer Prizes to be won by accentuating the negative and eliminating the positive. "The end of the world" is still the best front-page banner headline ever concocted to sell newspapers, and the Green religion provides grist for this mill every day of the week.

Surprisingly perhaps, next up are capitalists who realize they can profit from any and all activities in vogue at the time. Al Gore, being more capitalist than most people give him credit for, charges $200,0000 to deliver his famous PowerPoint presentation and stands to make millions of dollars for himself and his friends by selling "carbon credits," the very credits he himself buys to offset his enormous "carbon footprint."

Then there are scientists, mostly working for the government or universities heavily reliant on government grants, who are willing to "exaggerate a little" in order to keep the research funds coming for what was, just a decade ago, an obscure corner of the physical sciences department.

Another group joining the Green church, rushing to catch up with the rest, consists of the laity of the older religions. Observing that they are losing members to the new movement, they seek to borrow or accommodate the new faith's ideas and rhetoric into their own catechisms, unaware that this is like welcoming a virus or cancer cell in hope of escaping its disease. The Green church does not recognize that man was created in the image of God, a central tenet of Christianity, or that service to others should come before service to plants, animals, and minerals. Who, then, benefits when the leaders of an established religion preach environmental creeds and redemption?

The man who has served as the catalyst for the emergence of Green religion is Al Gore. He is a modern version of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, who as a young man from New Jersey became lost in the woods of New York and came home with a tale of golden tablets that were later to become the basis for the Book of Mormon. Today, Gore appears to be the new messiah, his Academy Award-winning propaganda movie serving as the new religion's Bible, shown without balance or qualification in government schools across the nation--schools, ironically, that would never dare to show similarly unbalanced movies about Christianity or some other religion.

Global climate models now substitute for gospels, stories about what might happen if we continue to sin, or go forth and sin no more. But these models, when run backwards, do not validate the past, and when fed accurate information do not in fact predict Armageddon.

Green religion has so completely eclipsed conventional religions that it is politically correct to mock conventional conservative religions, but utterly forbidden to attack environmentalists or their dogma. To deny the most extreme forecasts of "global warming," for example, is tantamount to being a holocaust denier.

While dissent to the tenets of the new religion exists in all quarters--politics, journalism, business, and science--thoughtful and well reasoned debate is increasingly rare. The cost of dissent, measured by lost votes, lost journalism rewards, lost profits, and lost research grants, is simply too high. The smart folks sit out the battle, allowing passion and intensity to trump facts and thoughtful analysis.

We've seen this pattern before in the history of the world's great religions. Centuries ago, great scientists such as Copernicus were executed for teaching that the Earth revolved around the sun rather than the reverse, as taught by the prevailing church. Today, only mildly less radical sentences are handed down to scientists who do not march to a politically correct drumbeat.

On the other side of the coin we are seeing capitalists and socialists alike getting rich trading worthless carbon credits in a system of no value to the environment but of great value to governments and corporations. We are seeing virtually every corporation throughout our capitalist economy market themselves for all the warm and fuzzy. environmentally friendly "green" things they do, while investors, workers, and consumers unknowingly pay a steep price.

While history proves conclusively that capitalism is mankind's finest economic system, the new Green church has no use for it, and indeed is fundamentally and radically opposed to it. Capitalism is based on the premise that if given freedom to choose what to make and what to buy, people will spontaneously become richer and happier. No altruism and very little government force is required to make it work.

Environmentalism is based on the opposite premise, that unless the means of production are brought under collective control--socialism--a capitalist system will lead to the ruin of us all. History tells us that all collectivist systems that distribute wealth without concern for ownership or effort are doomed to failure. Yet the liberal intellectuals among us have never stopped believing that, given their chance to be in charge, they will make it work next time. Environmentalism is giving them their chance.

Leaders in the nuclear power industry are hyping the "threat of global warming" in hopes of receiving subsidies and credits because nuclear power plants do not produce greenhouse gases. Oil companies try to win favor by investing in wind, solar, and biofuel sources of energy, even though they know these alternative fuels cannot compete with petroleum supplies, and that petroleum supplies are sufficient to last for centuries. Even the coal industry bellies up to the government subsidy trough, seeking government largess to help it turn coal into liquid fuel.

Believers in individual freedom and capitalism ought to be opposed to Green religion. The men and women to whom capitalism has given control over considerable resources, however, appear to be every bit as ethically challenged as those who are campaigning for socialism. Their focus on personal profit, so powerful a force for good when channeled by the institutions of capitalism, makes them willing accomplices to the murder of the greatest economic system ever discovered by man.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (lehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (jlehr@heartland.org) is science director at The Heartland Institute, an... (read full bio)