Despite our comfortable materialistic lives, there are many who ask: Is that all? They want a meaning for life and yearn for a spiritual life. Some follow the traditional religions, others embrace paranormal beliefs and many follow a variety of spiritual paths.
A new religion has been invented: Environmentalism. The rise of environmentalism parallels in time and place the decline of Christianity and socialism. This environmental religion is terrified of doubt, scepticism and uncertainty yet claims to be underpinned by science. It is a fundamentalist religion with a fear of nature. It has its own high priests such as Al Gore and a holy writ, such as the IPCC reports. Like many religious followers, few have ever read and understood the holy books from cover to cover.
Like many fundamentalist religions, it attracts believers by announcing apocalyptic calamities unless we change our ways. Its credo is repeated endlessly and a new language has been invented. Logic, contrary data or questioning are not permitted. Heretics are inquisitorially destroyed.
It states that now is the most important time in history and people are told that humanity is facing the greatest crisis in the history of time. We must make great sacrifices. Now. This religion uses thinking out of the Judeo-Christian tradition: If the world has been destroyed, then we humans are to blame.
This new age religion tries to re-mystify the world, a world that its adherents neither experience nor try to understand. The apocalyptic doomsayers promote their new religion with seven second television grabs. A disunity between religion and science is created. The science that derived from the Enlightenment and which bathes in doubt, scepticism and uncertainty is willingly thrown overboard.
Contrary facts are just ignored. Enthusiastic reporting by non-scientists is undertaken. They report new science with alarmist implications yet there is no reporting of contrary information. Non-scientific journalists and public celebrities write polemics that encourage public alarm.
The environmental religion produces widespread fear and a longing for simple all encompassing narratives. It offers an alternative account of a natural world with which adherents have little contact.
Environmentalism embraces a myth of the Fall: the loss of harmony between man and nature caused by our materialistic society. It searches for the lost Eden, which probably never existed. In the ‘good old days’ there was only struggle, starvation and unemployment, not harmony with nature. Environmental evangelism has ritual and language that have substituted substance.
Over historical, archaeological and geological time, there have been thousands of global coolings and global warmings. Global coolings have always depopulated the Earth. We are the first humans ever to fear a warm climate.
Environmentalism exacerbates disease and food shortages and destroys economies. It is a highly flawed religion. Its morality and ethics are questionable.
When the environmentalists recognise the religious aspects of their stance, then real discussion with other scientists becomes possible. Until then, they are just like the creationists who claim that their stance is scientific when their very foundations are religious and dogmatic.
The contradictory religion of environmentalism has given people a purpose in life and, despite ignoring all the contrary science, this religion provides some of the stitches that hold the fabric of society together.
Traditional religious life and practice is experience. Traditional religion tries to make sense of what’s happening to us now and gives us the mechanisms whereby we can have hope for a meaningful life, in spite of its disappointments. Religion gives us the mechanism to cope with failure.
Environmentalism cannot provide for these needs.
This is an edited version of a speech given by Ian Plimer at the IQsquared debate ‘We’d be better off without religion’ on Sydney on August 20, 2008. Ian Plimer is Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at The University of Melbourne and Professor of Mining Geology at The University of Adelaide.