Image credit: Saint Julia of Corsica, found on DeaconLaz.org (artist unknown)
When I posed the question of whether leading by green example can be passive aggressive preaching, I was surprised when commenter Joey claimed that I had eluded that I was a "member of a religion." To me environmentalism is anything but a matter of faith, but rather a question of sound scientific understanding that material resources, and the Earth's ability to support life, are both limited. And that it's in our own self interest to live within our planetary means. But it proves how much attention I've been paying to headlines—as Kristin already reported, a UK court has determined that belief in global warming is indeed akin to a religious or philosophical conviction. Depending on who you talk to, this could either be good for environmentalism, or very, very bad indeed. As Kristin pointed out, Tim Nicholson, who brought the case against his former employers, had indeed changed his lifestyle considerably to reduce his impact, and the changes (including giving up flying, eating little meat etc) are in many ways akin to the type of actions some religions advocate to appease their particular deity.
Commenters on Kristin's post tended to lean toward reading this as a positive development—after all, why should someone be discriminated against for their beliefs, even if those beliefs are based on science rather than theology?
On the other hand, commentators in the UK are less sanguine. Catherine Bennett, over at The Guardian, writes a seathing blog post entitled Welcome to the Age of the Eco-Martyr: God Help Us, asking just how green one has to be before one's convictions are considered a belief system, and pointing out that the chances are good that the more extreme you are, the more likely a payout will be.
I personally find the whole debate worrying in the extreme. Besides the question of sending out a dubious message about environmental 'belief', it's yet another example of a focus on individual sacrifice and piety as a sensible goal for us greens, as opposed to the fundamental systemic shift toward a saner, fairer society that I believe we need. (I also wonder what happens when Jeremy Clarkson argues that it's his 'belief' that global warming is a crock of sh*t, that man has 'dominion' over the Earth, and he is duty bound to tear up the Salt Plains of Botswana to wake up the masses...)
To those who argue, as some did on my post about preaching, that supporting political action on climate change—or any other environmental issue—is 'enforcing' our beliefs on others, it is not. It is advocating for a sensible, robust approach to legislating the impact that each of us has on each others' ability to live on this planet.
You want to use up more of the Earth's resources than me? Fine—but I believe that what you pay should reflect how much your actions cost the rest of us. Of course, how we do that fairly and effectively is a matter of debate. I may advocate a gas tax. You may oppose it. I may argue for or against cap n' trade. You may do the same. These are not matters of faith, they are matters of politics.
We're all interconnected, and our actions impact each other. That's not religion. It's an observable fact.