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November 4, 2009

The religion of environmentalism

On an NPR-broadcast BBC news program yesterday I learned about a British guy who is suing his former employer for philosophical discrimination, based on the legal precedent of religious discrimination. The philosophy in question was centered around Climate Change and his relatively radical environmentalist ethics. Now, I don't know his whole ordeal, and I can't say I support his legal actions, but I was intrigued to think of environmentalist philosophy as a spiritual/religious ethic. The plaintiff said "my belief is underpinned by moral and ethical values comparable to many of the world's is crucially underpinned by ...overwhelming scientific evidence..."

One listener ("J.R." of Boston) responded to the story to criticize this guy's actions saying environmentalism was in no way similar to any of the world's faith-based "religions" which rely on faith in the unknown, whereas Climate Change has a scientific basis. [This is the best I could do to transcribe what was said:] "Religion is based on blind belief that notions established by others are purported to be the word of a higher being and that your own well-being will be enhanced by following and making offerings to those bringing you the Word. Climate Change is based on scientific evidence. How we are causing damage, how to avoid doing so, and the consequences of not making changes are not a matter of faith..." That is a terrible comparison. I can agree that religion is faith-based, but to deny a spirituality grounded by science is sad. And having to follow and make offerings to the ones bringing (i.e. interpreting) the Word? That statement really narrows it down to the blind leading the blind. [I'm not attacking religion here, but the choices of words used to describe Religion in such a myopic way.]

My thoughts? How cool it is that the ethics of environmentalism have a proof-driven, scientific basis! And it could be argued that there is plenty of unscientific faith and sublime wonderment in nature and environmentalism. For example, compassion toward animals is purely an ethical thing. A stance against pollution is comparable to a stance against murder or, more generally, a stance against Evil.  I love the thought of environmentalism as a spiritual, religious movement. It makes perfect sense. Everything one does to benefit the environment is a religious act; going on a hike (or a bike ride) is a pilgrimage...

A BBC article on the story can be found here

The radio "programme" that includes the quotes above can be heard
here (at ~14 minutes)

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