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Commentary

Fire and Brimstone


     
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Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses, and he opposed to it his “scientific” doctrine of dialectical materialism. Marx had it exactly backward. There was little scientific about Marxism, but it did spread across the world with the force of a new religion. Claiming scientific sanction made the religion more attractive to a secular age.

Marxism came complete with sin and redemption, the sin being exploitation of the masses, the redemption through proletarian revolution. After the end of class struggle we would finally live in full harmony with our essential nature.

Al Gore is now offering us yet another religion in the name of science. In his version of environmental religion, Americans have sinned against nature, which is punishing us with global warming, and now we must take steps to avoid greater disaster. Gore claims that science confirms his warning.

Let’s hear what some real scientists say about global warming. The May 16 issue of Science magazine contains a number of articles reviewing the scientific knowledge of climate change. In the lead article Richard Kerr writes that “many climate experts caution that it is not at all clear that human activities have begun to warm the climate, or how bad greenhouse warming will be when it arrives.”

Benjamin Santer, of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, points out that there are numerous “caveats” in the much-cited report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Noting the press’ acceptance of global warming, Santer says: “It’s unfortunate that many people read the media hype before they read the [actual IPCC] chapter.”

But Al Gore prefers the media version. He has apparently converted Bill Clinton. At a White House round table in July, Clinton stated; directly at odds with the Science magazine report; that “it is no longer a threat, but now a fact, that global warming is for real.” Clinton predicted fierce heat waves, floods and droughts, a spread of infectious diseases.

In Gore’s environmental religion, global warming is only one among a host of manifestations of what the Vice President calls “dysfunctional civilization” that is “driving us to destroy the earth.” Consumption, he laments in his confessional, Earth in the Balance, creates “a numbness that prevents us from feeling the pain of our alienation from our world.”

The wages of sin in the Bible are virtually the same as those of global warming. We read there that God visits “famine,” “pestilence,” and “fiery flame” on the “rebellious” Israelites, who have been “prodigal in your excesses.” The Bible says that “inhabited cities shall be deserted and the land shall become a waste. Thus you shall know that I am the Lord.”

In Al Gore’s environmental religion, Americans have sinned against nature. We must now take steps to avoid Divine punishment.

That’s also what Gore thinks will happen if we don’t curb consumption today. If he thinks we have angered Providence, that’s his privilege, but why is he so little challenged when he says he has the sanction of science?

In December 1997 the nations of the world will meet in Kyoto, Japan to try to negotiate a new global-warming treaty. Some European countries are pressing hard for binding commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions below 1990 levels. The ground rules prescribe that such reductions would apply only to economically advanced nations, leaving China, India and other developing countries free of any greenhouse restrictions.

According to many estimates, it would eventually cost the U.S. more than $100 billion a year to meet the greenhouse reduction targets under discussion. This sum is about the same overall magnitude as the OPEC oil price shock experienced from 1973 to 1980, years in which our economy suffered from severe stagflation. In short, the Clinton Administration is suggesting we should burden ourselves with large costs at the same time that China, a potential economic competitor, bears no such burden. Environmentalists are asking for a huge transfer of wealth from the U.S. to the developing world. All this in the name of a secular religion.

I am not knocking religion. I believe people need it, even secular religion. But beware of religion disguised as science. In the near triumph of Marxism in the 20th century we saw how dangerous these pseudo-religions can be.

Wanting to protect the environment is one thing. Embracing the apocalyptic environmentalism Al Gore preaches, and that the media buys as science, is something else.


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.

The New Holy WarsNew from Robert H. Nelson!
THE NEW HOLY WARS: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religionin Contemporary America
“Economics and environmentalism are types of modern religions.” So says this analysis of the roots of economics and environmentalism and their mutually antagonistic relations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Questions about the proper relationship between human beings and nature have led to the growth of these public theologies, or secular religions, even while both avoid mentioning their derivation from Western Judeo-Christian sources. So while environmentalists regard human actions to warm the climate, expand human populations, and increase economic growth 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. Learn More »»






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