Environmentalism is NOT a Religion
Al Gore hit Toronto the other day, and scalpers were selling tickets at$ 200 a pop. To its discredit, The Globe and Mail decided to treat it like a Green Moonie convention with an article titled Eco-pilgrims gather to 'heed the Goracle'- Hundreds pack hall in show of devotion to climate cause. "They came in their hundreds to hear him speak, and even those left standing outside the crowded hall would not be deterred from lingering in the proximity of the Baptist prophet from Tennessee." Reporter Anthony Reinhart interviewed the usual flakes and flotsam that follow in the wake and built his article around them. "From my perspective, it is a form of religion," said Bruce Crofts, 69, as he held a banner aloft for the East Toronto Climate Action Group amid a lively prelecture crowd outside the old hall. "The religion for this group is doing something for the environment." And another: "It was not our intention to have a religious approach," ecoSanity group founder Glenn MacIntosh said, "but it was our understanding that it was that kind of movement that people were craving; that kind of spiritual connection in their gut."
When you google the words "environmentalism" and "religion" the first thing that shows up is a quote "Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists"- from the official website of Michael Crichton in a speech in 2003. The third item that comes up is David Roberts in Grist on the subject, in 2005. This theme has been around for a while but now that Al Gore is attracting crowds, the anti-gore bloggers are calling his presentations "revival meetings" and cranking up the religious analogies significantly.
John Kay in the Financial Times went so far as to describe it as the successor to organized religion and marxism. "Environmentalism now fulfils for many people the widespread longing for simple, all-encompassing narratives. Environmentalism offers an alternative account of the natural world to the religious and an alternative anti-capitalist account of the political world to the Marxist."
We are not Green Moonies. It is time to push back.
When normally sensible writers think the idea of Al Gore as tent revivalist is original and cute, we should complain.
We should adopt David Roberts' idea that "environmentalism is in our self-interest" - "Living in accord with nature, reducing our waste, using energy more efficiently, preserving ecosystem services like clean water and air, preventing climate disruption, etc.: These things will will make us happier and more prosperous. They are things people do in service of other people. People who don't do them are causing harm to other people."
We should go all Ayn Rand objectivist on them and say that I am doing this for me and my kids- we want fresh air, clean water and working ecosystems. After all, "Ayn Rand characterized Objectivism as a philosophy "for living on earth," grounded in reality and aimed at achieving knowledge about the natural world and harmonious, mutually beneficial interactions between human beings" and "that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or "rational self-interest." (wikipedia) which sound like perfectly good reasons to fight climate change.
We should become the new conservatives, the defenders of the status quo. We like things the way they are- cold winters, tolerable summers, stable water levels, cute polar bears. We are fundamentally against change, and things that cause it (like coal plants, low density suburbs and big SUV's).
Most of the people I see going to Al Gore fests are a lot like TreeHugger readers- they like technology, are generally optimistic that we can actually do something to save the planet from unpleasant change, and voted overwhelmingly in our last poll to say that they are green to "Protect the planet for future generations."
That's not religion, that's common sense.