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Is environmentalism the opiate of the liberals?
Is environmentalism the opiate of the liberals?
Murray article in Sp!ked
April 25, 2008
Religion plays a vitally important role in human life. This is
especially true in America, and America’s religion has always been
In 2004, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found
that 71 per cent of Americans agreed with three central Christian
statements: ‘prayer is an important part of my daily life’; ‘we will
all be called before God on judgment day to answer for our sins’; and
‘I never doubt the existence of God’. That figure was only 54 per cent
for self-identified liberals and 52 per cent for self-identified
Liberal involvement with traditional religion has been falling for
20 years. In 1988, the last full year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency,
Pew found that as many white evangelical Protestants identified
themselves as Democrat as Republican (33 per cent each). By 2004, only
22 per cent of such Protestants identified themselves as Democrats
(compared to 43 per cent as Republicans). Among Roman Catholics,
affiliation with the Democratic Party fell from 41 per cent as recently
as 1994 to just 28 per cent in 2004.
Human nature abhors a religious vacuum. Of course there are people
who really don’t believe in any kind of higher power, but they are few
indeed and not representative of the population at large. Even in
largely secular Britain, 70 per cent self-identify as Christian. In
general, people really do feel the need to answer to some higher power.
Just as environmentalism has replaced Marxism as the central
economic theory of the far left, so too has environmentalism begun to
replace liberal Christianity as the left’s motivating religious force.
Were it not for the presence of powerful black Protestant churches in
the liberal alliance, environmentalism might have supplanted liberal
The causality works both ways: the environmental movement has taken
on the facets of religion, while the movement’s increasingly religious
tone has drawn those thirsty for spiritual gratification but averse to
There are two dominant mythical forces in the cosmologies of ancient
Indo-European religions: the Weather God (Zeus, Jupiter, Thor) and the
Earth Mother (Gaia, Ceres, Freya). The Weather God resides in the sky
and lashes down rain, hail and thunder on those who do not propitiate
him. The Earth Mother gives her faithful followers her bounty, but when
they fail her in some way, she retaliates with famine. Frequently, the
two are married.
Today, both the Weather God and Earth Mother are central to the
global warming issue. The atmosphere is to be protected at all costs,
its avatar propitiated by the closing of power stations and silencing
of internal combustion engines. Thus, his hurricanes are to be averted
and his beneficent winds are to drive turbines. Moreover, the Earth is
to be worshipped by returning to her simpler ways, with people shunning
biotechnology and nuclear power. She will reward them.
These two gods are supported by a variety of hierophants and augurs.
Shamefully, many of them are supposed scientists. A scientist who says
that the atmosphere is warming, and cites certain physical processes,
is still a scientist. A scientist who goes further, contending the
people must take certain acts precisely to avoid disaster, has become a
priest. It is no coincidence that words like ‘prophet’, ‘seer’ and
‘sage’, historically associated with religious figures, now are
routinely applied to leading alarmist scientists. The leader of the
movement, the sermoniser supreme Al Gore, is even adoringly referred to
by true believers as ‘The Goracle’.
Who makes up the rank and file of the clergy, the hedge-priests as
it were? That is where the internet comes in. The role of a priest is
to reveal mysteries, to soothe the faithful. No one fits this
description better these days than bloggers. When some new scientific
finding comes out which challenges their worldview, the blogs
vigorously defend the creed.
Take, for example, last December’s release of a report by US Senator
Jim Inhofe chronicling how no fewer than 400 academics working in the
field of climate analysis had cast doubt during the year on the theory
of manmade climate catastrophe. Despite the fact that the paper
reported the researchers’ own words, the bloggers acted to discredit
the study and reassure the faithful that their creed stood
Taking their cue from The Goracle, whose office condemned the report
on the grounds that ‘twenty-five or thirty of the scientists may have
received funding from Exxon Mobile [sic] Corp’, DeSmogBlog was first
into the fray, calling the report ‘bunk’. It contended that the list
was made up of ‘deniers-for-hire’. Forced to concede that many names
were not on the usual environmental enemies list, the blog simply
asserted that: ‘It seems fair to assume that this, too, is an
ideologically driven document with no merit whatsoever, either as a
piece of research or, even more laughably, a reliable comment on
Next up was Grist magazine, where Andrew Dessler dismissed
the report with a wave of his priestly hand. He said that the report
‘provides a long list of names of people who disagree with the
consensus, and I have no doubt that many on this list are indeed
sceptics. The question is: does their opinion matter? Should you revise
your views about climate change accordingly? Considering the source, I
think we all know the answer to that.’ Dessler observed that physicist
Freeman Dyson (a leading theoretical physicist) had made the list, but
that just as you would not take a sick child to Dyson to heal, so too
would you not take a sick planet to him either. The fact that no one
has ever been in the business of healing planets does not matter.
The list of environmentalism-as-religion critics went on. The American Prospect’s
blog simply contended that Senator Inhofe’s staff were ‘still
tirelessly plugging away at global warming denialism’, thus blaming the
messenger rather than confronting the arguments of 400 academics. The
blog also called the report ‘false’ and ‘blatantly misleading’. Former
Clinton administration appointee Joseph Romm characterised the study as
‘recyc[ling] unscientific attacks on global warming’. When the New York Times’
environment correspondent Andrew Revkin, one of the few reporters to
cover the global warming debate even-handedly, mentioned the Inhofe
study on his blog, Romm slammed him for legitimising it, calling
Revkin’s coverage ‘amazing’. Romm went on to suggest that Freeman
Dyson was not a serious scientist. That’s a bit like saying Tiger Woods
isn’t a good golfer.
The Inhofe report was released on 21 December 2007. These many
reactions were posted and disseminated to the faithful by 22 December.
No one needed to read the report to make up his mind. The priesthood
did it for us. Such is the power of America’s new environmental