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Archive for 29. June 2009

Environmental Apostasy: Agitate April 2009

  I’’ve lived in South Florida for twenty five years. After a quarter century of living in the sunniest part of the Sunshine State I can say that I have never…never…become acclimated to the oppressive heat of this   climate. There was a time when I would simply endure the summers and live for the winters, which were quite bearable. Now, however, even that consolation is disappearing. There was a time when I could expect reasonable weather sometime in late September or early October. Now I’m sweating (and cranky, my wife reminds me) well into December.  Even when some cool spells do give me respite, they are very brief.  Then, just as I’m starting to maybe enjoy living in Florida again, the heat descends like a wet blanket.

  To make matters worse, sometime around late April or early May South    Florida seems to burst into flame as the dry season sucks the moisture from the land and creates a veritable tinder box in my back yard. According to the NOAA, this year’s dry season is the second driest on record. They didn’t have to tell me. Rains that only twenty years ago used to come and go almost like clockwork have since become spotty and unpredictable, creating greater and greater water deficits every year.

  For about twenty-five years or so I have been following the phenomenon known as Global Warming.  At first there was significant debate as to the existence, extent or cause of this phenomenon.  Since then, however, a growing consensus has     developed.  Global Warming is happening and it is caused largely (though admittedly not exclusively) by human actions, including the burning of fossil fuels and the annihilation of  forests. The solution is as conceptually simple as it is economically and politically complex: stop destroying the forests and stop burning fossil fuels.  For the last quarter of a century we could have been and should have been working toward a greener, more sustainable strategy for meeting our needs.

  But we haven’t.  Instead, we’ve been bickering about whether or not global warming is real! Naysayers can point to a number of “holes” in the information that are out there about global warming, such as the margins of error delineated by using computer models, the fact that certain regions are experiencing cooler than normal weather and even some “alternative” research that suggests global warming is a myth.  By holding to their version of “science” global warming deniers can ignore the ever growing and expanding science archive that reveals their perspective as mere mythmaking.

  The fact that the top fifteen hottest years on record have occurred since 1990 is either not true, or coincidental. Measurements taken by the likes of NASA and the Goddard Institute confirming a significant warming trend since 1880 can be ignored. The top   scientific institutions in the world and the International Panel on Climate Change are nothing more than dupes of a radical environmentalist agenda to…uh…to…to what?

  In my dealings with global warming and climate change deniers and my research into alternative versions of the global warming story I’ve heard tell of a secret environmentalist agenda to perpetuate the myth of global warming.  Okay! But what is the environmentalists’ agenda in spreading this lie? What do they get from perseverating on this false issue when there are admittedly very real environmental matters on which they could be    concentrating? It can’t be funding, because the global warming deniers are never at a loss for funding sources from fossil fuel companies, automakers and neo-con think tanks.

  Of course, this agenda is not as mundane as funding opportunities for desperate    scientists, or conformity to institutional norms supposedly designed around the erroneous assumption of global warming. No! The secret agenda of environmentalists is much more insidious than that.  Why, global warming is nothing less than an attempt to…

            …dun dun duuuuunnnnnnn!

                        …TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

Environmentalism is the New Communism!

  One of the recurring themes of this absurd  conspiracy theory is that environmentalism is communism re-incarnate.  Environmentalists are intent on taking over the world and instituting a global government that will, ultimately, control every aspect of the individual’s life. In short,   environmentalism, via the myth of catastrophic global climate change, hopes to scare the entire world into acquiescing to a domination that    Joseph Stalin could only have dreamed.

    Steven Milloy, author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Ruin Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them and the founder of junkscience.com reflects this sentiment by calling environmentalists “the wannabe rulers of the world and rationers (sic) of our energy supply.”  According to a blurb for Chris Horner’s book, Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, on the Heritage Foundation website, “manipulation of global warming…is the ideal scare campaign for those who hate capitalism.” A Whistlblower Magazine article called Hysteria: Exposing the Secret Agenda Behind Today’s Obsession with Global Warming claims that “environmentalism is nothing less than the global elitists’ replacement ideology for communism/socialism.” (Communism and elitism? Hmmm?)

  Any number of websites can be cited to confirm the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s assertion that “environmentalism is    recycled communism and Nazism.” One source that continues to pop up in my myriad of web searches was Czech   Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who is quoted time and again, in this case by Charles Krauthammer, as saying “the largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity is no longer socialism.  It is, instead, the     ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism.”

  There it is.  The President of the Czech Republic said it. It must be true!

  Environmentalism is, in essence,           un-American.  It is associated with communism and Nazism, despite the fact that communism and Nazism are fundamentally different ideologies.  References to elitism and a one-world government cabal behind the environmentalist movement are straight out of Illuminati folklore. There’s a deep, dark, conspiracy to steal your freedoms for which the environmentalist movement is a front and the global warming paradigm is a scare tactic designed to get us to surrender all of the things we hold dear.

  If, as you are reading this, you are experiencing the bitter taste of McCarthyism, you are not alone. In this case, however, the commie hunters are not elected and appointed    government officials (thank God). Instead, the environmentalist conspiracy theory has, at its roots, the same free market capitalist edge as the Red Scare of the 20’s, and McCarthyism in the fifties.  Research on Global Warming poses a threat to long held assumptions on the primacy of free markets to deliver the greater good.  If the possibility of global catastrophe can be traced to capitalism, then that blows a big hole in the “greater good” concept. 

  Also, policies to deal with global warming will, undoubtedly influence the corporate bottom line, and open polluting industries to dreaded regulation. This will not be tolerated any more than will fair labor policies or living wage laws. This may explain why major corporations who have a stake in climate change policy, like Exxon/Mobil, fund fuzzy science that offers a spin against the global scientific consensus.

  And the best way to silence sensible ideas? Label them “communism” or “socialism” or even “Nazism/Fascism.” It doesn’t matter if these labels make sense, so long as the PR sticks. Then any time someone, even the former Vice President of the United States,

makes a stand, all we have to do is defer to the President of the Czech Republic for reassurance that we are right and they are wrong.

Environmentalism is a New Religion

  The second major claim to explain the myth of Global Warming is that environmentalism constitutes a practice of religion.  As a new belief system, it evangelizes to gain a greater following and thus greater power for the environmentalist movement.  This has been especially successful among our scientific elite (just about all of them, apparently).

  The most common proponent cited for this claim is the late novelist Michael Crichton, author of Jurasic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and other science based fictions.  His novel, State of Fear (which to be honest I have not read) is offered as a compendium of the environmentalist plot to convince the world that disaster looms.  According to Barnesandnoble.com, Crichton destroys the case of the environmentalist assertions on global warming.  Many who have commented on the novel agree.  As is typical of Crichton’s novels (and I am a fan of Crichton), he blends thrilling fiction with enough science to give the plot credibility.  Yet, we must remember, Crichton is a fiction writer.

  Crichton is the main proponent for the environmentalism as religion paradigm.  “Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists,” he claimed in a speech. When asked to explain why he believes that environmentalism is a religion, he falls back to his college studies of anthropology for a definition of religion.  He claims that, anthropologically speaking, environmentalism offers a collective set of beliefs, has leaders, asks its “followers” to contribute to the belief system by making changes to their lifestyle and embracing a total worldview of what is good and what is bad.  He states that environmentalists have advanced a mythology of a naturalistic Eden which does not match reality.  This Eden has been lost to industrial development, so environmentalists offer a way to salvation through sustainability. 

  That’s a brilliant application of anthropological paradigms! Except that it’s not exactly anthropological.  I’m a sociologist, with a sociological understanding of religion, but what is the anthropological definition?  It is not as described by the medical doctor (not an anthropologist) Michael Crichton. Anthropologists admit that there is some variability in definitions of religion, but suggest that to qualify as a religion, an institution must have a religious ideology, or belief in the supernatural, an odd concept for urban atheists; religious rituals such as prayer or meditation; and a religious social organization, or a hierarchy of experts who interpret supernatural dogma. 

  Though one could conceivably suggest that many environmentalists do have a     religious fervor, and a spiritual/idealistic relationship with nature, they do not have a cohesive ideological acceptance of a supernatural order as would participants in a religion.  Indeed, environmentalists are often representative of many different religious beliefs from atheism to Wicca, from Paganism to Protestantism. 

  As  a participant in environmental activism I’ve never submitted to any rituals for invoking the supernatural.  Any prayer or meditation that takes place is individual. Yes, I’ve participated in Earth Day festivals that have featured many activities that might be construed as religious; but these were not             pre-established theo-environmental practices, but rather activities used to provoke interest in the cause. 

  And the hierarchy of environmental institutions is not based on some shamanistic expertise in understanding religious dogma. Indeed, I’ve often found myself “nominated” for board positions based on nothing more meritocratic than the fact that I consistently showed up for meetings.

  It’s clear that environmentalism does not pass anthropological muster as a religion.  Of course, by Crichton’s definition, any institutionalized belief system could be defined as a “religion.” The Republican Party is a collective set of beliefs, with a leadership and a following that is encouraged to embrace a total world view of good and bad and fit their lifestyles accordingly. One might even say that the Republican Party also has a concept of an Eden and a way to salvation such as a free market and salvation through capitalism.  The same could be said of the Democratic Party, or the Libertarian Party or, for that matter, global warming deniers. How does Crichton, by his own      standards, justify labeling environmentalism a religion and not Globalwarmingdenierism?

  Another problem with Crichton’s definition is his claim that the religion of environmentalism is an anthropological response to atheism.  Religion, according to Crichton is an anthropological constant, something that human beings need.  If we do away with formal religion something must take its place.  That something is environmentalism.  “I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form.” So by suppressing religion and embracing environmentalism we are reproducing a cultural imperative.

  That’s an interesting theory from which we should be able to hypothesize that environmentalists are self identified atheists.  If this hypothesis proves to be untrue, however, then the theory is burdened with trying to explain why people who already profess a religious belief need to embrace environmentalism at all. So when we see organizations such as the Environmentalist Evangelicals, The Evangelical Environmental Network, Old Testament Ecology, The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, just to name the first few that popped up when I did a Google search to test Crichton’s theory, one must question the scientific validity of the celebrated author’s claim.

  In fact, many established religions have what could be called an environmentalist component in that they recognize the natural world as being spiritual or godly.  Therefore, followers are expected to revere the natural world.  Nature and ecology is often incorporated into their belief systems.  Buddhism, Shinto, Daoism as well as most indigenous religions are known for their reverence of nature. This contradicts Crichton’s assertion that environmentalism is a religion in and of itself and that it is somehow a replacement religion for “urban atheists.”

  Regardless, Crichton’s misguided concept of theo-environmentalism is not uncommon among the pundits and the blogosphere. The false concept of a theo-environmentalism has been reinforced by conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh (imagine that). Of course, their version of theo-environmentalism is a radical, misanthropic religion. One article, The Truth About the Destructive Religion of Environmentalism claims, “the bottom line: the most consistent, dedicated environmentalists want you, and everyone else, to die.  It’s as simple as that.” Really? Environmentalist parents, like me, even want our own children to die?

  So what is the spin, here? The insinuation being made when claims makers point their fingers and pronounce heresy on the New Religion is that environmentalism is anti-Christian.  In the United States, to label something anti-Christian is a silencing technique akin to the label communism.  In fact, if we remember our Cold War history, communism was often preceded with “godless,” as in “those godless communists.” That something like environmentalism could be both godless and communistic means that it is lacking in any legitimacy.

 Pseudo-Science

   Pseudo-scientific alternatives to global warming then become legitimate paradigms for those who love America or those who are Christian.  Claims are made that there has been no change in any of the indicators of global warming or even that the earth is actually cooling. Other claims makers suggest that global warming is the result of natural cycles of heating and cooling. These explanations have little, if any scientific validity, yet drape themselves in the vestment of science to offer credibility.

  The science on global warming is clear and unmistakable.  The earth is getting warmer and human actions are the largest part of the cause. Unfortunately, the science is also more complex than the layperson’s understanding of science.  The global climate is impossibly complex, so the science of global warming is attenuated by margins of error that can be misread or misrepresented (by both sides of the debate, to be honest), or other vagaries inherent in studying dynamic systems. With so much complexity and uncertainty it is     understandable, even healthy, that people have doubts about the science.  Alternative  explanations are less burdened with such margins of error or vagaries. They are, therefore, more attractive to the scientifically uninitiated.

  Global warming science is neither communistic, nor religious.  When the theory was first presented in the seventies it met with the requisite scientific skepticism.  Indeed, there were those who believed that the Earth was actually heading toward a new ice age.  Through the years global warming has been tested and re-tested using a variety of approaches, from global temperature monitoring, measurements of ocean levels, ice core samples, tree ring analysis, satellite imagery, field work and yes, computer models.  These tests have been improved and duplicated. Computer models become more accurate as more climatological variables are understood and added to the algorithms.  And the results from this science become increasingly more accurate.  The results remain, essentially the same.  Global warming is real and is largely a human made phenomenon.   Today, this is the consensus of the world scientific community.

  Despite the almost unanimous acceptance of global warming among scientists, however, the claims made by global warming deniers appear to be accepted by an increasing percentage of lay people in the United States. A Gallup Poll done this year found that though a majority of Americans still accept the global warming thesis the majority is waning.  Meanwhile, increasing percentages of Americans feel that global warming is exaggerated.  These numbers follow party lines, as more Republicans are skeptical of global warming than are the least skeptical Democrats. Yet even among Democrats increasing numbers accept the claims of exaggeration.  (It must be noted that believing global warming is exaggerated does not equate to accepting that global warming is not real, nor does it confirm the thesis above)           

  Skepticism is a good thing.  To be honest, the skeptics are often correct when they believe that global warming claims are exaggerated.  It is not uncommon for environmental  interest groups, for instance, to advance global warming claims by using the most ominous predictions from scientific models that have an admitted margin of error. Environmentalists are not immune to questionable claims making practices.  Let’s face it, the famous movie The Day After Tomorrow is just as fictional as is State of Fear and takes the same kind of poetic license with science.

  Silencing scientific discourse, however, by equating it with political and religious extremism or apostasy is dishonest. If we are to have a real, critical discussion about global warming and the consequences then we must get past the claims of the conservative punditocracy.  The scientific community can help by making the science more accessible to the lay person. The rest of us can help by calling the global warming deniers to task on their absurd claims and forcing them to defend their pseudoscience using real scientific methods.