Environmentalism: The Religion of the Twenty-first Century
Written by Cornelis Pronk
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Reformed Worldviews - Environment


A few months ago a new book on environmental policy was published, titled ‘Blue Planet in Green Shackles.’ In this provocative book, the author, Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, makes the case that policies being proposed to address global warming are not justified by current science and are, in fact, a dangerous threat to freedom and prosperity around the world. Klaus argues that the environmental movement has transformed itself into an ideology that seeks to restrict human activities at any cost, while pursuing an impossible utopian dream of a perfectly “natural” world. The supposed threat of human civilization against a fragile Earth has become an article of faith, especially in the realm of global warming activism. “The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy, and prosperity at the end of the 20th and at the beginning of the 21st century is no longer socialism,” writes Klaus. “It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism.”

A New Religion

Many people agree that environmentalism poses a threat to economic and political freedom, but from the Christian point of view the real danger it presents is that it is a movement based on false religious principles. Klaus is right when he says that for global warming activists the supposed threat to fragile Earth amounts to an article of faith.

In his recent book The Really Inconvenient Truths, Iain Murray (not the Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth Trust) claims that environmentalism is a movement of the Far Left, which has replaced Marxism as its central economic theory and replaced liberal Christianity as its motivating religious force (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2008, p.84). He quotes author Michael Crichton, one of the first to accuse environmentalism of becoming a religion, as saying:

Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists...[It] is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional JudeoChristian beliefs... There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there’s a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment, just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide--free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs imbibe (pp.84-85).

This emerging religion includes elements borrowed from ancient Indo-European pagan religions, especially its two dominant mythical cosmological forces: the weather god (Zeus, Jupiter, Thor) and the Earth Mother (Gaia, Ceres, Freya). The weather god resides in the sky and pours down rain, hail and thunder on those who do not appease him. The Earth Mother rewards her faithful followers with bountiful blessings but punishes delinquents with famine and other calamities. As Murray explains:

The atmosphere is to be protected at all costs, its avatar propitiated by the closing of power stations and silencing of internal combustion engines, so that his hurricanes are averted and his beneficent winds drive turbines. The earth is to be worshipped by the returning to her ways, shunning biotechnology and nuclear power, so that she can provide her rewards to the faithful (Ibid).

The Structure Of The Environmental “Church”

Environmentalism, like its ancient prototype, has its clergy and laity. Its high priest is former Vice-President Al Gore, referred to by his followers as The Goracle. The rank and file members of his “church” are the bloggers on Internet. While the role of a priest is to reveal mysteries and speak soothing words to the faithful, the latter (the bloggers) are expected to jump to the defense of “the faith.”  When in December of 2007 no fewer than four hundred scientists, experts in the field of climate analysis, presented a report in which they expressed their doubts about the accuracy of the theory of man-made climate catastrophe, the bloggers immediately discredited the report and reassured the faithful that their environmental creed was unassailable. They charged that at least twenty-five of the four hundred dissenters had probably received funding from Exxon Mobile Corporation making them “deniers-for-hire.”

Financial Support

No religion can survive long without a support base that will pay the bills and finance its ministries. The “environmentalist church” collects its tithes in the form of membership fees but in addition it extracts from the faithful carbon offsets or taxes that may be compared to indulgences sold by the medieval church as payment for sins in exchange for reduced time spent in purgatory. In a similar way, environmentalists, looking to cleanse themselves of their sins of emission, may purchase carbon offsets in varying amounts. The only difference is that while for now such purchases, like the “indulgences,” are voluntary, if Barack Obama becomes President of the USA and Stephane Dion Prime Minister of Canada, a hefty carbon tax will be levied, first on energy producing companies and then, despite promises to the contrary, on the general public.

The Gaia Movement

Environmentalists believe that the earth is a living, breathing organism. Back in the 1970s, Sir James Lovelock, professor at Greene [no pun intended!] College, Oxford, came up with the idea that the earth and the life it supports are a complex system that may be thought of as a single organism. He called his theory after the Greek name for the Earth Mother goddess, Gaia. As he explains in his book The Ages of Gaia,

Most of us sense that the Earth is more than a sphere of rock with a thin layer of air, ocean, and life covering the surface. We feel that we belong here, as if this planet were indeed our home. Long ago the Greeks, thinking this way, gave to the Earth the name of Gaia (Quoted by Murray, Ibid., p.92).

Lovelock defines Gaia or Mother Earth as: “A complex entity involving the earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet”. Despite much opposition from within the scientific community, Lovelock’s theory continues to garner support. At a global warming conference in Amsterdam in 2001 more than a thousand delegates signed on to the statement: “The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components” (Ibid., p.93). In his ominous sounding book The Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock says that Gaia buries organic carbon to keep oxygen at its proper level because she likes it cool and is angry with us and will eliminate those who break her rules (p.94). The cult of Gaia is growing steadily. Not that many people actually worship Gaia with rites, ceremonies and vestments, but it is a spiritual way of thinking about the world and reality. As Murray explains, “Propitiation of Gaia comes not in the form of libations or human sacrifices, but in the form of economic sacrifices performed out of fear of a non-human entity” (p. 95).

At What Cost?

What will it take to appease Gaia? If the Kyoto Protocol is any indication, billions and billions of dollars will have to be spent--enough to ruin the economies of the USA, Canada and other nations of the free world. Of course, if it would be absolutely necessary to pay these huge amounts in order to survive, the sacrifice would have to be made. But is it necessary? A growing number of scientists and other common sense people say no, it is not. There is no hard evidence that human behaviour affects the health of our planet in a significantly measurable way. Despite the dire predictions of global warming scaremongers, the current estimates of future warming are very modest indeed. Both James Hansen of NASA, the father of greenhouse theory and Richard Lindzen, the most renowned climatologist in the world, agree that, even if nothing is done to restrict greenhouse gases, the world will only see a global temperature increase of about 1°C in the next 50 to 100 years. Hansen and his colleagues “predict additional warming in the next 50 years of 0.5 ± 0.2°C, a warming rate of 0.1 ± 0.04°C per decade.” This reassuring estimate should not lull us to sleep, however. Even if human behaviour viz a viz energy consumption has little or no impact on our climate, we should still be good stewards of the natural resources God has given us to use. I trust that all our readers will agree with the following statement issued by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a Christian think-tank: 

We aspire to a world in which advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.

The Impact of Climate Policy on the Poor

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance, said in a lecture delivered at a conference hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City, April 2728, 2007:

I believe a policy to reduce future global warming by capping carbon dioxide emissions would be economically devastating to the world’s poor. Because energy is an essential component in economic production, reducing its use and driving up its costs will slow economic development in poor communities, reduce overall productivity, and increase costs of all goods, including the food, clothing, shelter, and other goods most essential to the poor. (Climate Change and the Responsibility of Civil Society, from Biblico-Theological Aspects of the Global Warming Debate, downloaded from Internet).

What Beisner says here is extremely important. In all our discussions regarding global warming and its proposed solutions. We should not forget the potential impact on developing nations with its teeming millions of poor and underprivileged. In fact, the Bible wants us to consider them first. When the leaders of the church at Jerusalem asked Paul to remember the poor he stated that he was eager to do it (Galatians 2:10).  Beisner believes that raising the cost and reducing the availability of energy to the world’s poor is unconscionable. What the world’s poor most need, he writes,  is not the hypothetical and probably never-to-be-achieved reduction of future global warming by a tiny fraction of a degree, but economic development to make affordable the amenities we take for granted. Affordable, plentiful energy is an indispensable condition of that economic development. But forced carbon dioxide emission reductions would push energy prices higher [than they are already at present, CP], making everything produced and transported with energy–which is literally everything our economies produce– more expensive. Thus the policy would prolong the suffering of the world’s poor, who, for instance, are forced to use wood and dried dung as their principal fuels for cooking and heating--causing indoor air pollution that the World Health Organization estimates causes some 1.6 million premature deaths and many more millions of serious respiratory diseases, mostly among women and children, every year (Ibid).

The Positive Value Of Carbon Dioxide

According to Beisner, every doubling of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere brings an average of 35 percent increase in plant growth efficiency. Carbon dioxide comes mostly from our burning fossil fuels, especially coal and petroleum. But where do they come from? They are dug out or pumped up from the ground. How did those fossils get there? They are the remains of trillions of plants and animals, buried deep under layers of sediment and transformed by pressure and heat.  According to Scripture, the enormous reservoirs of oil and veins of coal were formed from sudden, simultaneous deposits of vast numbers of plants and animals in a great geological cataclysm known as the Flood of Noah. That flood came as a divine judgment on man’s sin.

But that fearful judgment did not just result in the extinction of the human race except for Noah and his family. There were also some beneficial consequences. Follow the sequence. God condemns the world for man’s wickedness. Plants and animals die and are buried. Today, we dig them up from the ground. We refine and burn them to provide energy for all our economic activities--to produce all the goods and services that enhance our lives. In the process, we release carbon dioxide that has been stored in them. The carbon dioxide enhances plant life. Since plants are at the bottom of the food chain that means it enhances all other life, too. In this way God causes good to come out of the evil man committed in Noah’s day and goes on committing today. In His wrath He remembers mercy (Hab.3:2), and in His common grace “the Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).

The God of the Earth Provides

In contrast to this positive and appreciative view of oil and other fossil fuels God has made available for our use, environmentalists tend to have a very negative attitude towards these sources of energy. To illustrate, Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States, vowed recently that one of the first things he will do if elected president, is to break the United States’ addiction to “dirty, dwindling and dangerously expensive oil” (National Post, Wednesday, June, 20, 2008).  Well, oil is neither dirty nor dwindling; there are huge repositories of it waiting to be extracted from the soil all over the world. After all, the Flood was worldwide and therefore left fossils in its wake everywhere. The problem is our leftist-leaning environmentalists, especially in the USA, who are blocking all efforts to drill for oil, even where it is relatively easy to get at. True, oil is dangerously expensive, not because there is a shortage of it, but because growing demands are driving up the price of oil and because speculators are taking advantage of the fluctuating prices.

I suspect there is also another explanation. Certain radical Islamic oil producing nations are using oil as a weapon to bring the United States and other western nations to their knees. They may succeed, but if they do, it will be God’s judgment upon the so-called Christian west, which has “rejected the word of the Lord, [therefore] what wisdom is in them?” (Jer. 8:9).  Let us who believe God’s Word, cling to it with all our heart, trusting God who assured Noah after the judgment of the flood, “while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22).

Rev. Cornelis (Neil) Pronk is an emeritus pastor of the Free Reformed Churches and the editor of the FRC Messenger. This article was printed in the FRC Messenger and is republished here with permission.