Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Mar/09

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Environmentalism as Religion

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I’ve long thought that some aspects of modern environmentalism (particularly many of the attitudes and beliefs associated with, to use the shorthand, ‘global warming’) are in a good number of respects ‘religious’.

Here (via the Daily Telegraph) is a story that would appear to give some official support to that view:

A former executive of a top property company has been told he can claim at a tribunal that he was sacked because of his “philosophical belief in climate change”. In the landmark ruling Tim Nicholson was told he could use employment law to argue that he was discriminated against because of his views on the environment. The head of the tribunal ruled that those views amounted to a philosophical belief under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations, 2003, according to The Independent. The case is the first of its kind and could open the way for hundreds of future claims to be made in the same fashion, the newspaper reported. Mr Nicholson, 41, was made redundant while head of sustainability at Grainger plc, Britain’s biggest residential property investment company, in July last year.

There is, of course, the temptation to think that any company sanctimonious enough to hire a ‘head of sustainability’ deserves all the trouble it gets. That’s unless, of course,  the original idea behind that appointment was that it should be used as a cynical piece of corporate camouflage – in which case it can only be applauded. 

The following aspect of this story makes me suspect that’s just what it might have been….

Mr Nicholson said that his frustrations were exemplified by an occasion when the company’s chief executive, Rupert Dickinson, “showed contempt for the need to cut carbon emissions by flying out a member of the IT staff to Ireland to deliver his BlackBerry that he had left behind in London.”

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21 comments

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · March 21, 2009 at 10:14 am

    I would consider this to be good progress in the undermining of the special rights of god worshipers.

    It sounds to me like this person was fired for being a potential whistleblower; a sort of preemptive retaliation.

  • A-Bax · March 21, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Insofar as environmentalists cannot or refuse to specify conditions under which their beliefs would be shown to be false, they make clear that their beliefs are not empirically-driven, but are rather more of a kind with religious commitments.

    For example, there was a brouhaha recently when it was discovered that Antarctic ice was in fact cooling, rather than warming. Without missing a beat, environmentalists claimed that this too supported their HCWG ideas (though the exact opposite state of affairs regarding Antarctica was understood to support their ideas.)

    On is reminded of the anecdote about an easy challenge to Freudianism: Patient: “But, Doc, I wasn’t abused as a child.” Therapist: “Well, the abuse must have been so severe that you’ve repressed it”.

    The point about falsifiability and it’s relationship to whether or not a claim is properly scientific (Popper’s basic insight) is well-understood. The proponents of human-caused-global-warming via greenhouse gasses, specifically CO2 (don’t let them get away with “climate change” either…it’s a rhetorical attempt to discharge responsibility for any prediction more specific then “change”, a very low bar indeed) cannot meet Popper’s condition.

    Human-induced-global-warming-theory is at best a vague idea than might lead to testable claims. One step down, HCGW theory is a well-intentioned tautological claim. A further step down, HCGW theory is the religious substitute of choice for urban atheists. At worst, HCGW theory is a pretext used by unreconstructed Leftists to gain control of the “means of production”. (The sky is falling, cap & trade!!).

    That so many otherwise bright and scientifically literate people fail to see the disparity between with extravagant claims of HCGW theory and the bare-bones empirical evidence to support it (empirical evidence, please – computer models don’t count) is a testament to the strength and pervasiveness of wishful thinking.

  • deadpost · March 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Environmental sciences like climatology, ecology etc. are complex , chaotic systems that people find hard to understand, just like economics, psychology, sociology etc., but that doesn’t mean anyone can bullshit an answer, to support any ideology, ‘left’ or ‘right’.

    I think a lot of the problem is the sciences that deal with complex systems are the most politically charged. It sucks that it’s so.

  • deadpost · March 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Especially if someone is interested in the complex thing who is completely apolitical.

    If you are interested about say, the climate of the Ordovician period in earth’s history, and the ecology from the fossil record, people will think you are a science geek who’s very scholarly and knowledge-seeking.

    If you say you are interested in the climate patterns of the last 100 years, and modern ecology, people will think you are a hippy environmentalist and not believe that you are interested in the science.

  • Ploni Almoni · March 21, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    This is just the one millionth data point that shows that negating traditional religion doesn’t turn society into a bunch of secular Voltaires, it just turns them to other, newer, and infinitely tackier forms of religion – religious environmentalism, in this case, which is even one of the less kitschy.

    That’s one reason the Secular Right approach is doomed to fail. Ironic, that a persuasion calling itself “Right” doesn’t take into account the unintended consequences of its rhetoric of secularization.

  • aaaaaaa · March 22, 2009 at 2:47 am

    http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2007/03/06/39509/legal-qa-religion-and-belief-discrimination.html

    Q How will the definition of religion and belief change?

    A Regulation 2(1) of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (the regulations), defines religion or belief as “any religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief”. The explanatory notes to the regulations state that the reference to “similar philosophical belief” does not include any philosophical or political belief unless it is similar to a religious belief, but the Equality Act 2006 amends this definition by removing the word ‘similar’. Under the new definition, “belief means any religious or philosophical belief”. This change will, therefore, considerably widen the scope of what might be regarded as a philosophical belief as any genuine philosophical belief, including political beliefs, will be covered.

    Thanks for letting us know that environmentalism is a political belief.

  • Mr. F. Le Mur · March 22, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Michael Crichton has a nice rant about Environmentalism as a Religion: “We know from history that religions tend to kill people, and environmentalism has already killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s.”

    “Thanks for letting us know that environmentalism is a political belief.”
    Perhaps a political belief becomes a religious belief, therefore deserving official protection (for some mysterious reason), when it’s in concordance with the political beliefs of the officials doing the protecting.

  • aaaaaaaaa · March 22, 2009 at 8:51 am

    What? My point is that the law protects political beliefs as well as religious beliefs, so the fact that environmentalism is protected by it doesn’t tell us which one it is.

  • Susan · March 22, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Most people are raised in one religion or another, even if only nominally. When they abandon or lose their faiths, I suppose they have to fill the void with something. I know people who’ve replaced Catholicism with Communism. Or Episcopalianism with environmentalism. If you’re born and bred to be a true believer, you need a belief.

  • Jay · March 23, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    So, does this mean the government can’t pass carbon taxes or impose other restrictions on businesses to ‘fix’ climate change due to the First Amendment prohibition of establishing a ‘state’ religion?

  • outeast · March 25, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Hmmm. The ardour with which the right-leaning tend to reject climate science out of hand has often struck me as near-religious. I’m disappointed to find such vapidity here, though.

  • rxc · March 25, 2009 at 6:51 am

    I was not raised with any religious training whatsoever. The only moral “training” was to be given a good whack when I did somethiing wrong, like lying or snitching small amount of change from dresser drawers. I don’t have any voids to fill, and have not turned to Communism or environmentalism. I live a moral life based on applicaion of the golden rule, and I resent people who use their “beliefs” to try to control/constrain my personal life choices that have no impact on anyone else. I use the scientific method (observe, develop theses, develop falsifiable predictions, run experiments to test theses, revise theses to reflect observations of experiment) and critical thinking to evaluate all of the charlatans who are trying to sell their snake-oil to the public these days.

    I am terrified about the religious types, including the extreme Christians, the extreme Muslims, and the extreme environmentalists who all want us to conform to THEIR visions of how life on this planet should be lived, for it to be “moral”. I don’t really care what other people believe, as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves, and do not try to use them to influence others – when they do, I consider that they have consented to have their beliefs subjected to strict scrutiny, of the type that is applied to scientific theses. This means that those beliefs will be challenged, often harshly and without consideration of their “feelings”. They will feel offended by what I say to them in response to their calls to live their “moral” life. They need to get used to this, because I don’t intend to stop, till they give up trying to control me.

  • A-Bax · March 25, 2009 at 8:50 am

    outeast: Large claims require large evidence. The right-leaning don’t “reject climate science”….they are simply skeptical of the conclusions of (some) within that science, and extremely wary of the public policy proposals made by Leftists in that name of said conclusions.

    Quick question for you: Why has the term “global warming” been replaced by “climate change” in Lefty discourse? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that there has been no warming for at least 6 years or so?

    I repeat: Until global-warming enthusiasts spell out what sorts of data could refute their claims, their claims are not scientific. If both X and not-X are understood to support claim Y, then claim Y is not scientific. Period. Full-stop.

  • Susan · March 25, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Outeast, I’m pretty sure that the right’s objection to climate science isn’t an objection to science but an objection to a political agenda thinly disguised as science. Manmade global warming/climate change enthusiasts have the habit of pointing to anything as proof of their beliefs. A rainy spell? Climate change! A drought? Climate change! Unseasonably cold? Climate change! Unseasonably hot? Climate change! And the phrase “global warming” morphed into “climate change” because its proponents were finding it difficult to sell the notion of “global warming” when there was five feet of snow on the ground.

    The last ice age ended 12,000 years ago. That’s a blip in the history of the planet, which has undergone something like five extinction level events in 4 and a half billion years.

    We may well be on the way to another ice age, but I don’t think me unplugging my refrigerator and reusing toilet paper will prevent it happening.

  • Joshua Zelinsky · March 25, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I’m not going to comment on the issue of global warming per se(except to note that I’m continually puzzled by the fact that most Secular Right readers seem fine with pointing to the scientific consensus on evolution but all of sudden act differently when it has to do with global warming) because this article highlights a much more interesting issue:

    According to the other piece on this topic in the Telegraph( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/5016185/Sacked-executive-can-sue-for-unfair-dismissal-over-his-green-beliefs.html ), the company claimed in defense that Nicholson’s beliefs were based in science and fact and thus not religious. It is ironic that beliefs based on no evidence whatsoever get protection while beliefs based on reason and evidence do not. This gives an incentive for people to claim their beliefs are irrational. Nicholson’s claim that his environmentalism is religious may in fact be a legal tactic rather than a sincere description. In any event, there’s a clear perverse incentive when a system encourages people to argue that their beliefs have less rational basis.

  • A-Bax · March 26, 2009 at 5:29 am

    Joshua Zelinsky, re you comparison of global warming with evolutionary theory:

    1) There is not a “consensus” regarding HCGW-theory, and even if there were, science is not driven by consensus, but rather by the evidence supporting it, its explanatory power, and above all its predictive success. HCGW-theory has only ambiguous empirical support, leaves major events unexplained (e.g. medieval warm period, little ice-age), and has had close to zero predictive success.

    2) Evolutionary theory is accepted as the background framework for biological theory not merely because a bunch of people we call scientists “accept” it, but rather for its stunning achievements in both explanation and prediction. Is evolutionary theory a sacrosanct dogma, that can’t possibly be overturned by evidence? No….it is an empirical theory that could possibly be refuted should certain kinds of evidence appear (evidence that ID’ers have been seeking, but have yet to find.)

    I hopes this helps you with your puzzlement over why it is that HCGW-enthusiasm remains a sort of embarrassment, and evolutionary-theory a triumph of human ingenuity (from a properly scientific point of view).

    Peace.

  • A-Bax · March 26, 2009 at 5:41 am

    Joshua Zelinsky :

    Joshua Zelinsky
    It is ironic that beliefs based on no evidence whatsoever get protection while beliefs based on reason and evidence do not. This gives an incentive for people to claim their beliefs are irrational. Nicholson’s claim that his environmentalism is religious may in fact be a legal tactic rather than a sincere description. In any event, there’s a clear perverse incentive when a system encourages people to argue that their beliefs have less rational basis.

    This dead-on accurate. Nice work.

  • outeast · March 26, 2009 at 5:55 am

    Answers to the questions addressed to me:

    Why has the term “global warming” been replaced by “climate change” in Lefty discourse? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that there has been no warming for at least 6 years or so?

    No. Both ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ are in use and both have been in use for as long as I can remember. ‘Global warming’ is accurate but potentially misleading, since it refers to the global energy budget but warming will not be and has not been uniform. I don’t know of a single climate scientist (other than a handful made from straw) who has claimed that warming will be uniform or consistent – natural variability (ie weather) means that linear warming is just not going to happen.

    I repeat: Until global-warming enthusiasts spell out what sorts of data could refute their claims, their claims are not scientific. If both X and not-X are understood to support claim Y, then claim Y is not scientific. Period. Full-stop.

    Climate is complex, and changes can manifest in different ways; at times, the system responds in ways that were not foreseen because of poorly understood mechanisms (such as cloud pattern behaviour, ocean heat sink behaviour) or hard-to-obtain data (such as the scale of Asian particulate emissions). These are details, though: the theory rests on the core principle that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses cause increases in the Earth’s energy budget combined with the fact that such emissions are rising.

    Your demand/statement is analogous to those made by the anti-evolution crowd, who like to crow that evolution is not a scientific theory because nothing can falsify it… a position that even Popper himself rather famously – and mistakenly – endorsed. Popperian falifiability is a good rule of thumb akin to Koch’s Postulates: useful but limited. Would you argue that evolution is false because scientists are unable to accurately predict evolutionary paths, for example, or because both rapid evolutionary change and the preservation of primitive forms of life are explicable through natural selection? You’d be making much the same mistake as you are now!

    Manmade global warming/climate change enthusiasts have the habit of pointing to anything as proof of their beliefs. A rainy spell? Climate change! A drought? Climate change! Unseasonably cold? Climate change! Unseasonably hot? Climate change!

    Do you get your climate science from anywhere other than the mass media? Read something like RealClimate and you’ll see the bloggers there again and again stressing that it is almost impossible to attribute isolated weather events to climate change. There are papers out there exploring whether or not events such as Australia’s drought are linked to climate change by examining historical records, weather patterns, energy budgets etc (conclusion for that specific instance: likely a contributory factor) but your characterization is way off the mark. Dismissing the science of climate change because of the overinterpretive tendencies of the ignorant is absurd. Judge climate science by the IPCC report, not the Toronto Star.

    [I]ts proponents were finding it difficult to sell the notion of “global warming” when there was five feet of snow on the ground.

    That’s an indictment of the cognitive biases of the nonscientist, not of climate scientists… Weather is hugely variable: neither a winter’s day at -20 not a midsummer peak of 38 say anything at all about climate change, any more than how much cash you have in your pocket says anything about your real wealth.

    I don’t think me unplugging my refrigerator and reusing toilet paper…

    We were talking about climate change, not milankovich cycles. The costs of collective inaction are likely to be colossal… but you are unfortunately quite right that the immediate costs to the individual of individual (altruistic) environmentalist lifestyle choices absolutely swamp the extremely negigible impact of those choices. Individual inaction is rational. This is why a laissez-faire attitude is not an appropriate response: collective action is needed because sufficient individuals will never be motivated enough to make a globally signioficant difference. Of course, I don’t expect that conclusion to get much traction in a predominantlty libertarian environment – but it has no bearing on the robustness of climate science.

    A-Bax claimed that ‘The right-leaning don’t “reject climate science”… they are simply … extremely wary of the public policy proposals made by Leftists in the name of said conclusions.’ I’d be more convinced of this if the right leaning were accepting the science and then proposing policy; what I tend to see, though, is a rejection of the science because the conclusions are politically unpalatable.

    Sorry for the overlong comment. I now return you to your scheduled programming.

  • A-Bax · March 26, 2009 at 9:02 am

    One final comment, and then I’ll give it a rest:

    outeast :

    outeast
    Answers to the questions addressed to me:
    Climate is complex, and changes can manifest in different ways; at times, the system responds in ways that were not foreseen because of poorly understood mechanisms (such as cloud pattern behaviour, ocean heat sink behaviour) or hard-to-obtain data (such as the scale of Asian particulate emissions).

    Well-said, and absolutely right. Climate is indeed complex, and there are many poorly-understood mechanisms within it. Along with the role of cloud-pattern behavior and ocean heat sink behavior, I think we could add the effects of solar activity (specifically cyclical patterns of solar flares) into the mix.

    Where I, and many others, get off the bus is here:

    outeast :

    outeast
    These are details, though: the theory rests on the core principle that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses cause increases in the Earth’s energy budget combined with the fact that such emissions are rising.
    <

    Huh? How did we go so quickly from an acknowledgment of the complexity of the system and an admission of the myriad poorly-understood mechanisms within it to the claims that CO2 “causes increases”, and that “such emissions are rising”? (Leaving aside the fact the emissions are not, in, fact rising. At least not since 6-7 years ago, but that’s a separate criticism.)

    Let’s also leave aside the fact that water-vapor is the biggest greenhouse gas of them all (dwarfs C02), and that human-activity only accounts for a small fraction of the CO2 output (which, again, is itself only a small fraction of the overall volume of greenhouse gases.)

    How do you get the from the correlation to the causation? There is just as much evidence to suggest that increased CO2 levels are the RESULT of increased temperatures, not the cause. Additionally, there is just as much evidence that a 3rd factor (solar activity) is the cause of BOTH the rise in C02 levels and temperature.

    Al Gore, the UN and most global-warming enthusiasts have not shown that human contributions to C02 levels is the primary factor driving climate changes. They have asserted this, and presented various correlations and computer-modeled predictions based on their assertions.

    Given the enormous complexity of earth’s climate, and the even-more complex interactions with the stellar climate, the claim that minor contributions to a minor greenhouse gas is the fundamental driver of climate patterns is astonishing and requires HUGE amounts of evidence to support it.

    That evidence is not there. Until it is, the theory of HCGW is merely one idea among many, and not something that any sort of public policy (let alone big-time public policy) should be based on.

    Peace everyone. Thanks for listening, and as promised, I’ll now give it a rest.

    Thanks.

  • A-Bax · March 26, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Yikes, sorry for the posting error. The bit begining with “well-said” is me.

  • Susan · March 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Outeast, I’m well aware that isolated weather events don’t constitute the case for global warming/climate change. My point is that many people believe this to be true because they get their information from the media, which does promote–as you yourself pointed out–a great deal of hysterical doommongering on that score. Which is very convenient for anyone using manmade global warming/manmade climate change as a front for some other agenda.

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