Thursday, February 8, 2007

Environmentalists have embarked on a secular crusade

"Kathy" Kersten, not the same as St Blog's "Cathy of Alex", the Strib's lonely conservative editorial page columnist, nailed it today, confirming something that I first noted in 1978:

[....Snip ] Robert H. Nelson, a professor of environmental policy at the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland, has often rubbed shoulders with environmental true believers. In his view, contemporary environmentalism, in its extreme forms, has become a "secular religion." Nelson likens it, in important respects, to Christian fundamentalism of the sort derived from the Protestant Calvinism of America's Puritan ancestors.

Today's "environmental gospel" is best understood as "Calvinism minus God," says Nelson. In essence, it retells the biblical creation story in secular dress: Human beings were created in harmony with the world, but then were tempted into evil. Now they spread corruption and depravity, and, as a result, face disaster and perhaps the end of the world.

As environmental true believers see it, the Earth was originally a pristine Garden of Eden. Then the Fall intervened. Human beings embraced science and technology, and pridefully disrupted God's Creation. At the same time, human greed led to material addictions -- an echo of the Puritans' deep skepticism about money and wealth, Nelson points out. Today, many environmentalists regard an excess of consumption as one of the modern world's greatest sins, he says.

The result? Human beings now face retribution -- flood, famine, drought and pestilence. These, Nelson notes, are the "traditional instruments of a wrathful God imposing a just punishment on a world of many sinners."

Only a great moral awakening can save humankind. Who will redeem us? God's holy, self-appointed instruments -- his environmental prophets.

The environmental gospel has a strong appeal, especially for contemporary men and women who are turning away from traditional religion. The green crusade satisfies the universal human hunger for meaning. At the same time, it asks little of believers: no tough commandments about forgiving your neighbor or not coveting his wife. Instead, it offers rituals like recycling and (for those who aspire to sainthood) biking to work. The larger society will pay the serious costs of redemption.

There are more sensible approaches to environmental problems than the environmental gospel. Without viewing human beings as inherently wicked, or environmental problems as a righteous clash between good and evil, citizens and leaders could tackle environmental issues as public policy challenges whose solution requires a careful weighing of scientific data and the costs and benefits of various responses.
Star Tribune

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