Why Environmentalism Became Both a Religion and a Con Game
I am a Conservationist. I am not an Environmentalist. What? Aren’t the two the same thing? No, they are not. In fact the two movements are diametrically opposed.
John Muir was a Conservationist, not an Environmentalist. He saw the wilderness as a “primary source for understanding God: The Book of Nature.” Muir did not worship Nature, as modern environmentalists do. Muir worshiped God, the Judeo-Christian God. So, here is the difference: Conservation derives from the Hebrew Bible. Mankind is to be Stewards of the Land. We are charged to husband God’s creation.
Environmentalists, for the most part, believe that the Earth’s biosphere is God. And, that human beings are destructive parasites, eating away at the life of their deity. In effect, most environmentalists are atheists searching for something larger than themselves to worship. But environmentalists see themselves as not being the riff-raff parasites that the rest of mankind are. Environmentalists believe they are the elect, the knowing, the superior beings, the priests, the Gnostics.
This notion that people are parasites really got started in the 1960’s. A couple of highly promoted bad actors started this environmental heresy. The first was Rachel Carson with her hysterical polemic about DDT and its purported harm to birds and other wild life. Her ideas proved to be, at best, problematic, but millions of people have died as a consequence of the resulting international banning of DDT. The second, and even more dangerous, problem child was Paul Ehrlich. This curmudgeon has even greater responsibility by amplifying environmental hysteria. Ehrlich should have known better. After all, he is a biology professional. But his mistakes suggest that he may not be all that professionally gifted.
Ehrlich predicted the death of the oceans due to insecticides and other chemicals washing into the sea. He did not account, as he ought to have, for the rapid evolution of plankton to adapt to these foreign substances. (The smaller the organism the faster its evolution – witness antibiotic resistance.) It was a bonehead mistake that no competent evolutionary biologist should make. More famously, Ehrlich predicted mass famine and hundreds of millions of deaths within a few years because of the so-called “population bomb.” He completely ignored the 1960’s technological “Green Revolution” which today has China and India exporting food. And, he completely missed the natural reduction in birth rates, and the consequent leveling of population, as the standard of living of Third World countries increased. Again, that process was something that population experts already knew and understood.
And then came James Lovelock with his “Gaia Hypothesis.” This is the notion that the biosphere is an environment-regulating ensemble of living organisms. In the large, the biosphere, together with its non-organic matrix, could be considered an organism, itself. The idea is interesting. Indeed, it has proven to be scientifically fruitful.
But other people latched onto the biosphere and made Gaia a god. And, with it, made environmentalism a religion. A religion, which Lovelock himself rejects as misinformed – if not dangerous. Lovelock went through his hysteric period in the early years of the ecology mania, but he has since moderated his outlook now that his predictions of imminent environmental doom have proved unfounded.
Why do people do it? Why do they fall into these overblown quasi-religious enthusiasms? I speculate that there are three complementary reasons: Ignorance, Insecurity and Hubris.
Ignorance: Back in the ‘60’s I was a graduate student in physics at one of the University of California campuses. One day I had the opportunity to sit and chat, at length, with one of our leading ecologists. Naturally, I was curious about some aspects of the so-called ecology movement that Rachel Carson had engendered. Much to my surprise, in response I received a long rant about this movement. This eminent scientist was scathing in his comments -- particularly about the sheer ignorance of the movement’s devoted followers. “Not one of them,” he said, “has even heard of a logistic equation, much less predator-prey relationships.” He concluded that harangue by dismissing the movement as nothing but political manipulation of less than astute people. Nothing much has changed since then. The true believers still believe without understanding. Environmentalism is a religion after all.
Insecurity: Most everyone is insecure about something – about many things, perhaps. Long established religions have traditionally provided a framework for ordering one’s life and for reducing this natural sense of insecurity. As we have discovered, there is something about the post World War Two world that has, at least in the West, broken these traditional religious frameworks. Something happened during the war to cause people to no longer trust religious authority. Perhaps it was the sheer evil that was manifest and undeniable during those years of horror. The Cold War amplified that developing sense of insecurity. People started looking for something new to believe in – something that, once again, would provide spiritual tranquility.
The environmental movement seemed to provide the needed solace. Emotional peace may be given through participation in something larger than oneself. But, I note that few of the true believers, being mostly city dwellers, have any real experience of the wilderness.
For those who have experienced it, the gift of wild nature can induce spiritual grace. John Muir felt it. I have felt it. I have felt it in many lonely places around the world. I have been changed by it. I have felt this spiritual tranquility on remote white water rivers, on mountain glaciers, while hiking across Muir’s Sierras, when diving to narcosis depths of the sea, while surfing imposing waves. But Nature didn’t care what I was experiencing, what I was feeling. Nature is utterly indifferent. Nature is dangerous. A momentary lapse in the wilderness and Nature will likely kill you. There is no empathy in Nature. No intelligence. No awareness. Nature is not a caring god. Nature is not even a god. Nature just is. Gaia just is. My companions on these many excursions were savvy, alert, and extremely cautious. Despite some very close calls, we survived. That said, we always sacrificed to the River God before putting in!
Hubris: In the early years of Christianity there were Gnostics. These were Christians who claimed special knowledge about Jesus and what he really taught. Gnosticism eventually was suppressed. Its followers were rejected from the Christian community, in part because of their smug, arrogant, airs of intellectual superiority. While Christian Gnosticism may have died out, the type of people who adopt Gnostic superciliousness remain all too common. In the first half of the twentieth century Marxism was their fashion, and still remains so with a Globalist twist. In the second half, the Gnostics adopted Environmentalism. Doing so made them into superior beings, don’t you know.
Unfortunately, Gnostics are easy marks for the con. A skilled confidence man knows that the best way to hook a victim is through the victim’s vanity. The environmental movement is a con. Its leadership preys on the ignorance, insecurity, and hubris of its followers.
The environmental con takes many forms. In recent decades man-caused global warming is the con game. That scare was deliberately manufactured in the 1980’s. Its purpose was, and is, to cripple the US economy, foremost, and the economy of Western Europe secondarily. This program has had considerable success. Many have bought into the con and the economy is hurting. In particular, some who have knowingly promoted the con are politicians who seek to accumulate power and wealth. Using the scare tactic of climate runaway, stupendous resources have been wasted on misguided attempts to reduce carbon dioxide: solar power, wind power, alcohol fuels, suppression of coal, gas, oil and nuclear energy production. Millions of jobs have been lost through unneeded environmental regulations. Fortunately, Nature did not cooperate with the conmen and politicians. The world did not heat up, as predicted. Belief in global warming is rapidly diminishing, as it should.
But there is always another con, and each new con means further loss of freedom. For half a century the environmental movement has been the primary tool of those leaders who wish to suppress individual freedom and individual initiative. The erosion has been slow, but it has been steady. Most adults, today, have never experienced the freedom that I, and others of my cohort, once enjoyed. Not having that experience they simply don’t know what they are missing. Consequently, they are easily preyed upon by those who would impose further restrictions – for the benefit of mankind, of course. It’s a con: Trade your freedom for a better environment. Trade your freedom for a sense of security. Trade your freedom for a belief that you are doing good by protecting the environment. Trade your freedom for a sense of moral superiority. Trade your freedom and then live in poverty. That’s all right, say the Gnostics, people are parasites, they get what they deserve.
Poverty: There is the source of real irony. True care for the environment, true care for nature, is a rich man’s game. Only the prosperous have the resources to protect the natural world. Only those living in comfort believe that it matters. Only those with wealth – the middle class and more - can be stewards of the land. Impoverish America and the land will be despoiled.
Poor people care little for Nature. Poor people struggle just to live. They don’t have time for environmental diversions. The environmentalist con takes away freedom and replaces it with diminished prosperity. Carried far enough, political environmentalism ultimately will drive people into impoverished serfdom and, with the greatest irony of all, it will wreck the environment.