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Climate Holy Wars
Religious Elements of Climate Change Policy Debate

Remarks prepared for a panel discussion on “Climate Policy Holy Wars: Clashing Secular Religions and Stubborn Economic Realities,” Hudson Institute, Washington, DC, December 13, 2011. Robert H. Nelson is a professor at the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland and senior fellow of The Independent Institute. He is the author of The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America (Penn State Press, 2010).

For more than 20 years, I have been writing and thinking about the character of economics and environmentalism as competing secular religions.[*] For me they are real religions, although I recognize that some people may be more comfortable thinking in terms of competing “ideologies” or “belief systems.” My basic idea in any case is that both economics and environmentalism are derived from, reflect, and advocate particular ways of thinking about the world, including core value judgments.[1] If more often implicitly than explicitly, many (not all) economists and environmentalists thus function as advocates for their belief systems and associated values (their religions). Their conflicts, as I have written about them, amount to a “new holy wars” of our time, fortunately fought in words.

Climate change is a leading arena for the new holy wars. A failure to recognize the deep secular religious differences between the economic approach to climate change and the environmental approach has created many misconceptions. Perhaps the greatest and most important is that climate change policy is a strictly “scientific” issue. Science does of course need to be significantly involved in providing a factual backdrop for the climate debate. But any resolution of climate change issues necessarily makes a basic moral and religious statement. Those who claim otherwise, that their recommended climate change policies are grounded in “value-neutral” science alone, are simply making an imperial claim for their own exclusive policy authority.

A more informed climate policy debate in the future will have to take account of the fundamental value differences that the participants have been bringing to the table. With the virtual collapse of the Kyoto framework of climate policy negotiations, as seen again just in the past week in Durban, South Africa, this is a good time to step back and revisit fundamental assumptions that have informed the climate debate in recent years. The key role of religion, including secular as well as its more traditional forms, will have to be an important element of that reconsideration. Thinking about climate change from the viewpoint of “economic religion” casts the policy issues in a different light, as compared with a framework defined by “environmental religion.”

Depending on the audience, I often find a surprising degree of agreement with my religious assessment above. I find that among economists (and policy analysts, if perhaps less predictably) there is little disagreement when I characterize environmentalism as a secular religion—it seems fairly obvious to them. When I speak with environmentalists, I get a similar reaction but the other way around—economics, it seems rather clear to them, is a secular religion. Neither group, however, is really comfortable with the characterization of their own thinking as religious (the economists are admittedly more uncomfortable than the environmentalists).

I should also say that economics and environmentalism are not always religious. Economics can be turned into a pure exercise of mathematical or other formalism; other things equal, it is not religious to say that having more goods and services is better than fewer. Similarly, other things equal, having less risk of cancer is better than having a greater risk. So I am mainly concerned with the intersection of economics and environmentalism with public policy making. Here most policy positions reflect in part the core convictions of economic religion and environmental religion.

Economic Religion

Economists believe in the idea of economic progress as an end in itself. Or rather, economic progress is not the ultimate end but is the correct path to the ultimate end—the elimination of material deprivation as an important factor in human existence, thus freeing human beings to realize their higher and better selves. As in many areas, John Maynard Keynes was more articulate about this than other economists. In 1930 in “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” Keynes wrote that rapid economic growth would soon “lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.” It will all come about, he explains, as a result of “the greatest change that has ever occurred in the material environment for human beings in the aggregate.” After this happens, and thus relieved of the pressures of economic scarcity, we will finally be “able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us” for all of prior human history.[2]

The enthusiasm for economic progress was at its greatest at the end of the nineteenth century and in the years leading up to World War I when it was widely believed in western civilization that economic progress was leading on a path to a new heaven on earth. Richard Ely, who helped to found the American Economic Association in 1885, believed that economics would provide the base of scientific knowledge to sustain “a never-ceasing attack on every wrong institution, until the earth becomes a new earth, and all its cities, cities of God.”[3] The American progressive movement has been described by historians as seeking to advance a “gospel of efficiency,” representing a “secular Great Awakening.” The leading political scientist Dwight Waldo once wrote that in the progressive era “it is yet amazing what a position of dominance ‘efficiency’ assumed, how it waxed until it had assimilated or over-shadowed other values, how men and events came to be degraded or exalted according to its dictate.”[4]

The carnage of World War I shattered this faith for many leading western intellectuals and the many terrible events of the 1930s and World War II were even more disillusioning. Still, economists have been perhaps the leading holdouts for progress. They no longer speak with the religious zeal of the progressives and commonly adopt a posture of rigorous analytical neutrality. Yet, when asked why he entered the economics profession, William Baumol replied that “I believe deeply with Shaw, that there are few crimes more heinous than poverty. Shaw as usual, exaggerated when he told us that money is the root of all evil, but he did not exaggerate by much.”[5] In advising professional economists on the role they should play in government, the former U.S. budget director and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Charles Schultze, said that they should be “partisan efficiency advocates,” advancing the highest cause of the economist, the efficient use of the resources of society.[6]

In the nineteenth century there were solid grounds for believing that economic progress was transforming the human condition on earth for the better and it seemed reasonable—at least until World War I—to think that this might continue indefinitely, leading eventually (Keynes was optimistic it might be a mere 100 years or so) to a virtual heaven on earth. Economic historian Gregory Clark reports that there was no large improvement in the living standards of the great majority of the people living in England until 1800. Indeed, for the world as a whole “the average person in ... 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 BC.” It was not until the nineteenth and twentieth century that there occurred “the first break of human society from the constraints of nature, the first break of the human economy from the natural economy”—the moment when very large numbers of people first overcame the state of material deprivation that had always previously characterized human ­existence for the great majority.[7] An average person today lives better materially than a member of a royal family a few hundred years ago. It does seem almost like a miracle. Economists are the leading advocates today for a continuation on this 200-year path of economic progress.

Such a course of economic progress involves the radical transformation of a more traditional society. What is less efficient must be routinely cast aside in favor of what is more efficient. The market is the most effective instrument of progress because it makes these decisions the most ruthlessly, without political or other social constraints. That is a main reason why most economists today—having seen that socialism is actually a conservative force by allowing politics to block the rapid pace of change necessary to maximum progress—strongly favor a market organization of the economy.

But what if the very processes of social transformation themselves involve large costs—at some point conceivably becoming greater than the benefits of progress itself. Perhaps material progress itself, like most things, and contrary to economic religion, is subject to diminishing returns. Could we perhaps have even reached this point today? I am not making this argument but in concept it is certainly within the realm of possibility. Economists, however, implicitly dismiss it as a matter of their faith in progress. They generally make no effort to demonstrate it scientifically.

Some economists have taken up the study of “the environment,” creating a new field of environmental economics. When I speak next of environmentalists, I am excluding this group. Most environmental economists are still believers in economic religion who are now trying to introduce greater consideration of nonmarket environmental factors into the main body of economic thought and analysis. The goal is to further advance the cause of progress with improved economic science.

Environmental Religion

In significant part, the rise of environmental religion arose as a backlash against economic religion and its powerful faith in progress.[8] One environmental philosopher even once wrote an article on “why environmentalists hate mainstream economists.”[9] It was not the only such backlash. In the twentieth century the doctrines of the mainstream Protestant denominations were thoroughly infused with modern, progressive themes. To the surprise of these denominations, which had assumed that they were part of the vanguard of religion, they steadily lost out in the last part of the twentieth century to evangelical and fundamentalist branches of Christianity that had less “progressive” beliefs and assumptions.

It is perhaps not so surprising that progressive economic religion has faced a crisis of faith. Progressive religion was really part of the millenarian tradition of Christianity that, while expressed in much different ways in the modern age, has seemingly been as strong as ever (Marxism was the clearest example). But Christian hopes for an imminent coming of the Kingdom of God on earth, and now secular progressive hopes of a related character, have always been frustrated historically. It is a very old story.

At one level, environmentalism has simply spoken up for all the losers, human and nonhuman, in the headlong pursuit of rapid economic change—of progress. When the losers are in the human category, the resistance to change is often described as a form of “NIMBYism” (not in my backyard). For environmentalists, it is no longer enough simply to argue that a new power plant or highway is necessary at a particular location because it advances the greater cause of national economic “progress.”

Environmentalists, one might say, are demanding that the benefits of progress have to be weighed against the full costs—including those typically ignored by economists—in each specific case. Going forward should not be a matter simply of religious faith.

Economists have long advocated doing benefit/cost analyses but they have always been selective in what they count as a benefit and a cost. The psychic losses associated with the demolition of an old building which detracts from the “historical character” of an area, for example, have seldom been considered in the social cost calculus (while the new building clearly counts on the social benefit side). All the various psychic costs of rapid social change itself (most people are risk averse and don’t like such change) have been ruled out as legitimate costs for most economic calculations. The large human importance of belonging to a “community” is almost impossible to factor into economic benefit/cost calculations, even as it is one of the most important elements of the human experience.

But it has been on the nonhuman side that environmentalists have been most critical of the results of “progress” and its economist defenders. J. R. McNeil is a professor of history at Georgetown University and the author of Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World. McNeil wrote there that “communism aspired to become the universal creed of the twentieth century but a more flexible and seductive religion succeeded where communism failed: the quest for economic growth. Capitalists, nationalists—indeed almost everyone, communists included—worshipped at this same alter because economic growth disguised a multitude of sins. ... It continued to legitimate, and indeed indirectly to cause, massive and rapid ecological change” to the great detriment of the non-human creatures of the earth.[10] For some plant and animal species, it meant their complete extinction, a veritable nonhuman “holocaust” in the eyes of some environmentalists.

I have described environmentalism in various writings as a new secular form of “Calvinism minus God.”[11] Rather than more goods and services, the rituals of environmentalism typically celebrate less consumption—lower the heat, drive fewer miles, use less water, live in smaller homes, have fewer children, etc., etc., all this as a matter of religious principle, not of utility maximizing. Rather than simply a more efficient way to get rid of solid waste, the act of recycling has become another ritual for environmental religion—in some ways analogous to eating kosher food in Jewish religion, if now have a new symbolic meaning. The old Calvinist sense of human beings as being corrupted and depraved creatures on the earth has been revived among some leading environmental figures of our time. David Brower, who was for many years the executive director of the Sierra Club in the 1950s and 1960s, spoke regularly of the human presence as being a “cancer” of the earth—just as cancer cells begin to grow uncontrollably until they destroys their human host, so the exploding populations of human beings over in the past two centuries are now doing this to the whole earth.[12]

The implication (Brower does not draw this out) is that the earth would be better off without any human beings. There is even a small branch now of utopian environmental literature that dreams of an earth without human beings.

In economic religion, nature is seen as a “natural resource,” providing the food, wood, metals, and other material foundations for a rapidly growing economy. In environmental religion, by contrast, nature is seen as something to be protected from the adverse impacts of human actions. John Calvin had once written that in nature a good Christian can encounter the direct handiwork of God (put in place at the Creation), thus opening a mirror into the mind of God, stimulating powerful feelings of religious awe and wonder. Environmentalists today see the experience of wild nature in similar terms, a place where a person can go to feel a powerful sense of spiritual inspiration—another aspect of “environmental Calvinism.”[13] That is why we have to go to such lengths to protect wild nature—implicitly, we our protecting a key surviving means of access to the divine. Again, this is altogether outside a utilitarian framework, or that of economic religion.

The cathedrals of economic religion were power plants, superhighways, space travel, and giant dams such as Hoover and Grand Coulee. Progressive pilgrims traveled to feel inspired by these dams that symbolized the taming of nature for human progress. For environmentalism, in contrast, the new cathedrals are wilderness areas, symbolizing the opposite set of values. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines a wilderness as an area “untrammeled by man.” In place of good and evil in Christianity, secular economic religion substituted “efficient” and “inefficient” (efficiency being the measure of progress and thus of movement along the path of economic salvation). In secular environmental religion, the new ethical standard instead became “natural” and “unnatural.”

Implications for Climate Policy Debate

It has long been predicted that a warming of the earth, to the extent it occurred due to increasing greenhouse gases, would have the greatest effects at night, in the winter, and towards the poles. These are the times and places where cold weather is experienced at its fiercest. Throughout human history, the cold was something to be survived and avoided. Only human ingenuity and the use of fire, shelter, and clothing made it possible to live in the coldest climates. It might thus seem that a warming of the earth’s climate specifically occurring mostly in the night, in the winter, and toward the poles would be a welcome development. Of course, we know that for many people this is not the case. It is interesting to ask why.

Recent years have offered a case study in the Arctic. As the climate warms and ice recedes in the summer according to the longstanding pattern, the area of open sea in the Arctic Ocean is now growing. As The New York Times reported, advocates of stronger measures to limit climate change have “cited the [Arctic] meltdown as proof that human activities are propelling a slide toward climate calamity.”[14]

For an economist, however, focused on direct impacts on human beings, the increasing area of open sea of the Arctic hardly seems calamitous. Sea level rise would be minimal because the Arctic is ice and no land; the new volume of water released by melting would approximate the former volume of ice. Some other consequences might seem positively heartening. Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in searching for an ocean passage to India and many other explorers followed. Now, a northwest passage might at last be at hand, shortening travel times and otherwise cutting shipping costs between the east coast of the United States and China and other Asian countries.

Yet more economically consequential, the Arctic may contain trillions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves. With a warming climate and the opening of Arctic seas, this potentially immense petroleum wealth might become newly accessible to human discovery and exploitation. Indeed, concerns are now being raised that there are no well-defined property or other international systems of rights to define the possession of Arctic petroleum reserves. Russia has been making aggressive claims and statements. There might be the possibility of a real calamity here but not the one raised by environmental observers.

When the environmental critics of current climate policies go beyond general statements, the one “calamity” to which they specifically point in the Arctic is the fate of the polar bears. There are at present about 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic regions. The precise impact on polar bear populations of shrinking Arctic ice fields in the summer is difficult to predict but some investigators suggest it could be a loss of up to two-thirds of the bears by the mid twenty-first century—and in the worst case this might happen even more precipitously. From an economic perspective, however, the main direct economic impact on human beings would be a loss of hunting—about 400 polar bears a year are now hunted. In short, the direct negative consequences for human economic welfare of shrinking Artic ice in the summer would seem to be trivial compared with the potential positive economic consequences.

Moreover, I submit that—and while no “scientific” proof can be advanced—the current situation in the Arctic offers lessons for thinking about climate change and global warming across the world as a whole.[**] Human beings have spread over the earth because they are the most adaptable species. At least within the range of warming considered most likely for the next 100 years, the adaptations required by global warming would probably be significant but not fundamentally different in degree from other adaptations within recorded human history. Human beings live very well now in Arizona, an extremely hot environment by all past human standards. Indeed, the necessary adaptations to climate change would probably be considerably less than required in the past to deal with the consequences of the single most disruptive force in human history—warfare among nations, tribes, and other groupings internal to the human species.

Thus, for the next 100 years at least (time that can be spent developing new and superior adaptive strategies), the economic consequences of global warming for the world as a whole should be well within the capacity of human beings to deal with them. One can never be sure but it does not seem likely that there is any major world human “calamity” in prospect—rather, large scale but hardly catastrophic economic readjustments.

Like the polar bears in the Arctic, however, many individual plant and animal species have much weaker adaptive capacities than human beings. Global warming holds out the prospect of a large scale biodiversity reshuffling for the earth. At least some species will go extinct. At least some other species will find that their competitive evolutionary prospects are enhanced. For a large number of people, like the changes now taking place in the Arctic, all this is seen as ecologically “calamitous” on a worldwide scale. But why? If it is not at heart because of the economic consequences for human beings, why would a large change in the ecological order of the earth be regarded as calamitous?

This is where core values and environmental religion come into play. Many people believe it would be morally wrong—a virtual evil to put it bluntly—for human beings to change the ecological character of the whole earth. But, then again, why? Why is this powerful moral judgment being made with respect to a changed earth? In the past, human beings committed heroic efforts to transforming nature for human benefit.

I submit that the fundamental objection to climate change is not to the economic consequences but to the very fact of the resulting large scale ecological change itself—to the biodiversity implications for the many plant and animal species such as polar bears in and of themselves. It is a moral objection in principle to any large scale human reordering of the ecological workings of the earth.[16] Ultimately, it is an objection to the idea that human beings are now “playing God” with the earth. Even for environmentalists who say they have renounced traditional religion altogether, their powerful emotional reactions to climate change suggest a visceral biblical antipathy to challenging the authority of God.

It says in Deuteronomy 28 that “you must never worship other Gods.” If you disobey this command, you will be “destroyed because of the sin of forsaking Him.” God will send disease among you, ... fever, infections, plague and war. He will blight your crops. All these devastations shall pursue you until you perish.” The calamities now foreseen by environmentalist as a result of a warming climate are often the same that God warns he will visit on the sinners of the earth in the Old Testament—environmental calamites today such as the flooding of the earth, terrible hurricanes and other natural disasters, famine, pestilence (malaria will return to the US), and so forth.

I do not think it is a coincidence. Environmentalists show strong (secular) evangelical propensities. They are now recreating old biblical parables in a new secular language. Thinking that they have renounced traditional religion, many environmentalists have actually ended up coming back to something surprisingly similar to the old version. It is wisely said that human beings cannot live without religion and we are today seeing new evidence of this fact.

Consider a 2010 op ed by Al Gore in the New York Times. Gore wrote that unless we change our ways to stop climate change, we “face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.” We already see that “seas are rising. Hurricanes are predicted to grow stronger and more destructive. ... Droughts are getting longer and deeper. ... the severity of flooding increases. The seasonable predictability of rainfall and temperatures is being disrupted, posing serious threats to agriculture. The rate of species extinction is accelerating to dangerous levels.” Gore here sounds like a virtual environmental Billy Graham; we have sinned and we will soon be severely punished if we do not reform our wayward selves.

I do not want to be misunderstood here. I am not suggesting that the temperatures of the earth have not warmed over the past 150 years by a degree or so (Centigrade). I am not offering any judgments about the role of human actions in causing this warming. I am not saying that human beings should not be concerned about the social and economic adjustments that will be required by rising world temperatures. I am definitely concerned myself and, other things being equal, I would prefer a stable world climate.

But of course other things are not equal. As China and India keep reminding us, halting climate change might also mean slowing their rapid growth towards the living standards that we have become accustomed to in Europe and the United States. I seriously doubt, moreover, that Europe and the United States will be willing to accept any significant declines in their own living standards in order to accommodate the greenhouse emissions of China, India and other developing nations.

The results, however, are not likely to be calamitous from a human economic standard. There will even be some significant human benefits in some places and circumstances of warming temperatures. If climate change is calamitous, it is in the moral and religious terms of environmental religion. There I agree. If human beings are playing God with the earth, extinguishing many species in the process, and if we believe this is a terrible evil, then climate change is in fact ethically calamitous.

Environmentalists could be right, depending on the exact future extent of climate increase and the ecological consequences, and the religious framework in which such events are seen. The problem is that the “climate alarmists” are unwilling to make this case. Perhaps they think that not enough of their fellow human beings will share their abhorrence of our current playing God with the earth’s climate. Because they are so confident of their own moral and religious principles, however, they propose to save us from ourselves.

The specific political tactic is to claim that future human calamities will result from climate change, even when this is far less obvious than that there will be large scale ecological changes. By exaggerating the impacts on human beings (and certainly the degree of confidence that we can have in any future predictions of such), environmentalist hope to save the nonhuman species of the world—and the human species as well from committing a new ecological holocaust (as they see matters) with all its awful moral implications for human beings.

This is the message of the recent “climategate” disclosures. Climate scientists have enough integrity that they have not deliberately fabricated data or otherwise committed scientific fraud. But many of them have been determined to save human beings from their own worst instincts and moral failings, whatever it takes. In the process, though, they have alienated large numbers of people who do not like being given religious instructions, especially by people who disguise all this as “science” and do not candidly acknowledge—and in many cases perhaps do not even themselves fully recognize—their own religious zeal and its sources.

So we may need to start over again on climate change policy. It is a moral and religious question as well as a scientific question. Until we face this fact explicitly and honestly, our climate change policy debate will be leaving out a large part of the picture. That is not likely to get us very far.

[*] I worked for 18 years from 1975 to 1993 as a senior economist in the Office of Policy Analysis of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior. The more time I spent there, the more I realized that public policy making was often about the resolution of a clash of competing core values. Economic benefit-cost analysis and the politics of interest group conflict had significant roles to play in Interior Department decision making but were less important than commonly thought. Moreover, as I increasingly recognized, the values clashes at Interior reflected a fundamentally religious element, although the two key religions, economics and environmentalism, belonged to the category of “secular religion.”

[**] The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, officially released by the British government in November 2006, argued otherwise but its conclusions—much in contrast to most previous economic studies—were based on extreme and economically inappropriate assumptions. See William D. Nordhaus, “A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” 45 Journal of Economic Literature 3 (September 2007). In many books and articles, a leading student of the economic impacts of climate change, Robert Mendelson of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, has in fact argued that much of the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere would in fact experience economic benefits from a modestly warmer climate. Empirically, since the development of air conditioning, the largest population movements in the United States have been from colder to warmer parts of the nation, suggesting a preference for at least a somewhat warmer climate. See Robert Mendelson, “The Peculiar Economics of Global Warming,” The Milkin Institute Review (Second Quarter, 2000), 31-37.


[1]This includes three books, Robert H. Nelson, Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991); Robert H. Nelson, Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2001); and Robert H. Nelson, The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2010).

[2] John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” (1930) in Keynes, Essays in Persuasion (New York: Norton, 1963), pp. 371-72.

[3] Richard T. Ely, Social Aspects of Christianity and Other Essays (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1889), p. 73.

[4] Dwight Waldo, The Administrative State: A Study of the Political Theory of American Public Administration (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1984; first ed. 1948), pp. 19-20.

[5] William J. Baumol, “On my Attitudes: Sociopolitical and Methodological,” in Michael Szenberg, ed., Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 51.

[6] Charles L. Schultze, “The Role and Responsibilities of the Economist in Government,” American Economic Review (May 1982), p. 62.

[7] Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), pp. 195, 1, 33.

[8] My first examination of environmental religion was in Robert H. Nelson, "Unoriginal Sin: The Judeo-Christian Roots of Ecotheology," Policy Review, (Summer l990). Many more professional and popular articles have followed. Besides The New Holy Wars, see Robert H. Nelson, “Environmental Religion: A Theological Critique,” Case Western Reserve Law Review (Fall 2004).

[9] Bryan G. Norton, “Thoreau’s Insect Analogies: Or, Why Environmentalists Hate Mainstream Economists,” Environmental Ethics (Fall 1991).

[10] J. R. McNeil, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World (New York: Norton, 2000), pp. 334, 336.

[11] One of the earliest times was in a Forbes magazine column, Robert H. Nelson, “Calvinism Minus God,” Forbes (October 5, 1998).

[12] David Brower, Comments cited in John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971), p. 83.

[13] See Robert H. Nelson, "Environmental Calvinism: The Judeo-Christian Roots of Environmental Theology," in Roger E. Meiners and Bruce Yandle, eds., Taking the Environment Seriously (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993).

[14] Andrew C. Revkin, “Arctic Melt Unnerves the Experts,” The New York Times, Science Times, October 2, 2007.

[15] Andrew C. Revkin, “Grim Outlook for Polar Bears,” The New York Times, Science Times, October 2, 2007.

[16] See Robert H. Nelson, "Unoriginal Sin: The Judeo-Christian Roots of Ecotheology," Policy Review (Summer l990); Robert H. Nelson,"Environmental Calvinism: The Judeo-Christian Roots of Environmental Theology," in Roger E. Meiners and Bruce Yandle, eds., Taking the Environment Seriously (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993); Robert H. Nelson, "Sustainability, Efficiency and God: Economic Values and the Sustainability Debate," Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Volume 26 (1995); Robert H. Nelson, "Calvinism Minus God: Environmental Restoration as a Theological Concept," in L. Anathea Brooks and Stacy D. VanDeveer, eds., Saving the Seas: Values, Scientists and International Governance (Maryland Sea Grant College, 1997).

Robert H. Nelson is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the latest book, The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America. He is also of Environmental Policy in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University, and he has been Staff Economist for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs; Visiting Senior Fellow, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Member of Economics Staff, Office of Policy Analysis, U.S. Department of the Interior; Federal Executive Fellow at the Brookings Institution; Chairman of Interior Department Task Force on Indian Economic Development; and Staff Economist, Twentieth Century Fund.

From Robert H. Nelson
THE NEW HOLY WARS: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America
Questions about the proper relationship between human beings and nature have led to the growth of the secular religion of environmentalism. While environmentalists regard human activity as immoral challenges to the natural order, economists seek to put all of nature to maximum use for the production of more goods and services and other human benefits.