The End is Nigh: How the Religious Language of Global Warming is Failing

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Okay, okay, we've heard them all by now. Because we're trying to address the threat of climate change, we're blind Al Gore followers. Cultists. 'Alarmists'. And perhaps the most loaded: we're followers of the religion of global warming. To all that, I say . . . fair enough. The Global Warming 'Religion'
Not that any one of those allegations is actually accurate. But you can draw parallels, note the references' point of origin--and admit that we've have invited some of the comparisons. For instance, in a great post, Sami notes the similarities between devout environmentalism and traditional religious practice--not flying or operating vehicles, adhering to a certain diet, embracing a distinct value system, etc. And it may piss off a few greens to say so, but some of the strongest parallels to religiosity have been invited by the green movement's methodology itself.

The BBC says in a recent piece that the green movement has long used religious language to spread its message. They note that the theologian, environmentalist, and UN climate change adviser Martin Palmer sees the green movement's use of religious imagery as a serious detriment. He says:

"In the 70s and 80s, environmentalists thought that if they presented people with the scientific facts, they would realise how desperate the crisis was and change. "That optimism started to fade in the 90s. They realised that no one is converted by a pie chart, so they started trying to motivate us through fear. "Now they are playing with some of the most powerful emotional triggers in Western culture. They've adopted the language and imagery of a millenarian cult."
It's hard to argue that we're not guilty of this, even if I wouldn't necessarily phrase it that way--and even if the outcomes we warn of are indeed predicted in scientific models. Droughts! Storms! Rising Seas! Wildfires! The end is nigh! Point is, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to draw the parallels--again, even if those very things are what scientists predict will occur if climate change continues unabated.

An Apocalyptic Strategy
And this isn't the fringe, eco-extremists either--even perhaps the most respected climate blogger there is, the scientist and ex-DOE member Joe Romm of Climate Progress, frequently cites the result of inaction on climate change to be "Hell and High Water." The BBC quotes Gordon Brown as saying of the possibility of failure at Copenhagen: "the dire consequences of failure" at Copenhagen could include a "catastrophic" future of killer heat-waves, floods and droughts. And most environmental writers, myself included, have a habit of framing every dire forecast issued by the IPCC or the NOAA of rising sea levels and temperatures as heralding some sort of imminent doom, hoping for maximum impact.

If It's a Religion, It's One That Could Use Some Converts
And yet. Today, Matt reports that the number of Americans who believe global warming is caused by man has reached a new low--it now hovers to close to just half now. Clearly, the End of Days-referencing, fear-inducing strategy isn't working. There are any number of reasons this may be, and you're bound to hear a number of them: how coal and oil industry groups have successfully spread misinformation to the public, how Americans just aren't thinking about the environment in times of economic crisis, that the cold winter has convinced them otherwise.

But here's another reason--in already-wearying times, maybe Americans have gotten tired of hearing about how the world as they know it is going to end, and there's very little they can do about it. Maybe it's easier not to believe that rising sea levels, fast-melting glaciers, increased droughts, and more severe storms are on the way. And maybe to some extent, all of our 'yelling' has to some extent driven rational people to seek an easier, more comforting explanation--that everything's just fine with the planet, that we're in the middle of a 'natural' cycle, and that's just the way things are. Perhaps our 'religiosity' has driven away potential converts.

This sort of fevered approach only makes it easier for sloppy op-eds and pundits to write off global warming a religion.

This is not to say that derision on these grounds is warranted--it's certainly never acceptable to dismiss an article covering say, a new scientific study on Arctic ice melt by flinging deragatory names. It just might be worth bearing in mind that similarities exist that we should be conscious of--and that we could all serve to take it easy on the apocalyptic predictions. Because it turns out fewer and fewer people are listening.

More on Global Warming
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Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions