The Holy Church of Climate
While people have worshipped many things, we may be the first to build shrines to garbage.
The Wall Street Journal - APRIL 22, 2010
have made the point that environmentalism is eerily close to a
religious belief system, since it includes creation stories and ideas
of original sin. But there is another sense in which environmentalism
is becoming more and more like a religion: It provides its adherents
with an identity.
understandably uninterested in religious stories because they do not
meet the basic criterion for science: They cannot be tested. God may
or may not have created the world—there is no way of knowing,
although we do know that the biblical creation story is
scientifically incorrect. Since we cannot prove or disprove the
existence of God, science can't help us answer questions about the
truth of religion as a method of understanding the world.
particularly evolutionary psychologists, have identified another
function of religion in addition to its function of explaining the
world. Religion often supplements or replaces the tribalism that is
an innate part of our evolved nature.
religions were tribal rather than universal. Each tribe had its own
god or gods, and the success of the tribe was evidence that their god
was stronger than others.
religions have largely replaced tribal gods with universal gods and
allowed unrelated individuals from outside the tribe to join.
Identification with a religion has replaced identification with a
tribe. While many decry religious wars, modern religion has probably
net reduced human conflict because there are fewer tribal wars.
(Anthropologists have shown that tribal wars are even more lethal per
capita than modern wars.)
It is this
identity-creating function that environmentalism provides. As the
world becomes less religious, people can define themselves as being
Green rather than being Christian or Jewish.
Consider some of
the ways in which environmental behaviors echo religious behaviors
and thus provide meaningful rituals for Greens:
conservatives spend their time criticizing the way Darwin is taught
in schools. This is pointless and probably counterproductive. These
same efforts should be spent on making sure that the schools only
teach those aspects of environmentalism that pass rigorous scientific
testing. By making the point that Greenism is a religion, perhaps we
environmental skeptics can enlist the First Amendment on our side.
- There is a
holy day—Earth Day.
food taboos. Instead of eating fish on Friday, or avoiding pork,
Greens now eat organic foods and many are moving towards eating only
locally grown foods.
There is no
prayer, but there are self-sacrificing rituals that are not
particularly useful, such as recycling. Recycling paper to save
trees, for example, makes no sense since the effect will be to reduce
the number of trees planted in the long run.
systems are embraced with no logical basis. For example,
environmentalists almost universally believe in the dangers of global
warming but also reject the best solution to the problem, which is
nuclear power. These two beliefs co-exist based on faith, not reason.
There are no
temples, but there are sacred structures. As I walk around the Emory
campus, I am continually confronted with recycling bins, and instead
of one trash can I am faced with several for different sorts of
trash. Universities are centers of the environmental religion, and
such structures are increasingly common. While people have worshipped
many things, we may be the first to build shrines to garbage.
is a proselytizing religion. Skeptics are not merely people
unconvinced by the evidence: They are treated as evil sinners. I
probably would not write this article if I did not have tenure.
Rubin is a professor of economics at Emory University. He is the
author of "Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of
Freedom" (Rutgers University Press, 2002).
A religious take on climate change
About 90 people of many faiths
gather at a cathedral near downtown Los Angeles to promote what they
say is their moral duty to care for the Earth and all of God’s
By Larry B. Stammer, Special to LA Times - May
Were it not for the setting in a stately Romanesque cathedral near
downtown Los Angeles, the gathering might have been mistaken for a
Many of the 90 people present signed cards to California's two U.S.
senators urging them to support legislation to roll back greenhouse
gas emissions in the United States. Others pledged to oppose efforts
by oil companies and conservative activists in California to suspend
the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. They
signed a "carbon covenant" to oppose illegal logging and
deforestation in the developing world.
for most of those last Sunday, the underlying motivation was not
political but religious. They said they had a moral duty to care for
the Earth and all of God's creation. They
called for a widened understanding of what it means to love one's
neighbor in a world where choices made on one continent can affect
people thousands of miles away, including those in poor countries
least able to cope with climate shifts.
The gathering at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral
was yet another sign of a maturing religious environmental activism
and sophistication 40 years after the first Earth Day. At that time,
religious bodies were virtually silent about "green"
issues. Not now. Indeed, longtime environmental advocates such as
author Bill McKibben, the keynote speaker at St. John's, said that
whatever success there may be in staunching the worst effects of
climate change will depend in large part on people of faith.
"We have very few institutions — really
no other institutions than churches, synagogues and mosques — left
in our culture that can posit some reason for existence other than
accumulation," McKibben said in an interview before addressing
the group. He said overconsumption, "hyper-individualism"
and the wasteful burning of fossil fuels for energy and food
production are unraveling the planet's living systems. His latest
book, "Eaarth," asserts that the planet is already out of
balance and that only by scaling back human activities can the direst
consequences of climate change be avoided.
Marty Ostrow, co-producer of "Renewal,"
a documentary on the religious environmental movement, agreed. "What
religion has is the capacity to hold people deeply to these issues in
a way the secular movement doesn't," he said before addressing
Called an "evening of interfaith
environmental solidarity," the gathering included a ceremony
with Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Unitarian
Universalist participants. They drew on differing beliefs to find
common ground in safeguarding the natural order. "Gratitude for
the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions,"
the Rev. Peter Rood, rector of Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in
Westchester, told the audience.
One immediate concern, participants said, is a
campaign by oil companies and conservative activists to qualify an
initiative for the November ballot that would suspend the state's
2006 climate change law. Under the statute, California's greenhouse
gas emissions are to be capped at 1990 levels by 2020. That equals a
30% reduction below business-as-usual levels, according to Mary
Nichols, chairwoman of the state Air Resources Board.
But if the initiative drive succeeds, the law
would be suspended until the state's jobless rate dipped to 5.5% or
below for four consecutive quarters. That would amount to a de facto
repeal of the law, not a suspension, she said, since California has
rarely seen unemployment levels that low. The rate stood at 12.6% in
March. The air board is responsible for implementing the law.
Opponents and backers of the current law differ
about its effects on the state's economy. But those present said
their religious beliefs left no doubt where they should stand. "This
initiative, if it makes the November ballot, must not pass,"
said Allis Druffel, Southern California outreach director for
California Interfaith Power and Light. The organization,
headquartered in San Francisco, promotes energy conservation and
efficiency and sustainable energy.
Many local congregations, including Temple
Isaiah in West Los Angeles, have undertaken environmental projects.
Along with its recycling program, the congregation has installed
motion detectors to turn off electric lights when not needed, stopped
using blown foam cups and installed waterless urinals and a
solar-powered ceremonial light. "We're greening the temple,"
said Ivy B. Rappaport, co-founder of the congregation's "Green
McKibben's climate change action organization,
350.org, is planning a worldwide effort Oct. 10 to cut back on carbon
dioxide emissions. It will include building bike paths, installing
solar panels and planting community gardens. The name 350.org is
taken from the assertion by leading scientists that 350 parts per
million of carbon dioxide is the upper limit to avoid the worst
effects of climate change.
McKibben, however, said carbon dioxide levels
have already risen to 390 ppm and are increasing at the rate of 2 ppm
per year. "We're not going to solve it one light bulb at a time.
There's nothing as individuals that we can do that significantly
addresses climate change," he said. That will take major new
laws that put "a stiff price" on carbon emissions.
"But the message we want to send with
these work parties is … we're getting to work. What about you, our
leaders? What are you up to? If we can climb up on the roof of a
church and hammer in a solar panel, perhaps you could be bothered to
rise to the floor of the Senate and hammer out some legislation.
Perhaps you can do your jobs."