The Religion of Gaia, Part I

Burning globeIn addition to other forms of global alarmism, the Western world is on its knees, deep in a religion which has been evolving since the early 20th century, and now claims millions of adherents. In the last century, Scientism approached global proportions but it ebbed as its limits became evident. For many, a move to secular humanism followed, but it was too general to elicit the kind of ultimate concern needed to push it much past the halls of the academy. Only Marxism ever came close to the New Religion of the 20th Century. When it crashed and burned, its remaining acolytes, left with the ashes of failure, moved in to envelop and expand the New Apocalyptic Vision: Environmentalism.

Look at this definition of religion, from a website on atheism:

Religion is the set of beliefs, feelings, dogmas and practices that define the relations between human being and sacred or divinity. A given religion is defined by specific elements of a community of believers: dogmas, sacred books, rites, worship, sacrament, moral prescription, interdicts, organization. The majority of religions have developed starting from a revelation based on the exemplary history of a nation, of a prophet or a wise man who taught an ideal of life.

This notion encompasses the practices of the religion of Environmentalism quite well, as we shall see.

Paul Tillich, described our god — that which transcends us — as our “ultimate concern.” By its very nature this ultimate concern in unconditioned by anything else including, in some cases, our own individual survival. Certainly Marxism contained this ultimacy. Believers adhered to the idea that the tenets of Marxism were inevitable and would fall into place…eventually. Scientism, on the other hand, while it strove to provide all the answers, eventually failed because it could not encompass the whole of meaning. Secular humanism, focused as it was on man as the center of meaning, simply did not contain enough of the necessary elements of a religion — especially the notion of transcendence or the idea of a faith community — to qualify as a religion, per se.

But Environmentalism does indeed meet the criteria for religious belief. It possesses a fully developed “creed, cult, and code” that Belgian catechesist Christiane Brusselmans saw as the foundational system of any religion. It is these elements which must be transmitted to each new generation.

If you have young children exposed to the catechetics of the True Believers in their state schools, then you have already been given the mandatory, frowning lectures by your kindergartners for the mortal sin of throwing that brown bottle into the trash instead of carefully rinsing it, removing the label, and placing it in its proper “Brown Glass Only” receptacle before carrying it reverently to the nearest recycling center from where it will be taken and melted down to be re-used, thus saving resources and the environment. It doesn’t matter to Eviros that this is a mythical belief, not borne out by the real world.

Here is a working definition that allows you to discern what is worth recycling and what is simply trash:
– – – – – – – –

There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource (something valuable) or just garbage (something you want to dispose of at the lowest possible cost, including costs to the environment). If someone will pay you for the item, it’s a resource. Or, if you can use the item to make something else people want, and do it at lower price or higher quality than you could without that item, then the item is also a resource. But if you have to pay someone to take the item away, or if other things made with that item cost more or have lower quality, then the item is garbage.

[Here is] one of most interesting treatments of the problem of markets and waste disposal [written] by…Peter Van Doren…

Some policy analysts justify government intervention in refuse collection by invoking market-failure arguments in the collection of recyclables. Why don’t free markets for recycling work? Well, in some circumstances they do. Scrap yards, for example, recycle iron and steel. The growth segment in the U.S. steel industry is the so-called “minimill” whose raw material is recycled. Recycling markets work fine in this sector of the economy because making steel from virgin iron and coal is more expensive than making it from recycled raw materials. In other areas of the economy involving glass, paper, and plastic, for example, the discrepancy between recycled and virgin prices often does not justify the development of markets for recycling…. [S]upport for recycling is more religious than economic in nature.

If you are a true Environmentalist, then Gaia is your goddess, and all must bow before her. Gaiaism is a fundamentalist belief system; it does not allow for any deviance from its creed. Like all fundamentalist religions, rigid adherence to its principles is required and intolerance of other viewpoints is cause for angry denunciation, even physical punishment, as some Protestants against Gaia worship — e.g., many environmental scientists — have learned.

The battle lines between Environmentalists and the rest of us are clearly delineated. The Eco-Enviros are dismissively called “warmists” by skeptics outside the fold. Enviros, on the other hand, call these unbelievers and apostates “deniers” — a much better pejorative term, drawing as it does on the unspoken [Holocaust] Denial.

Much like those who are caught up in the minutiae of religious practice, the devout fundamentalist Enviro has many proscriptions, and many religious behaviors that must be adhered to if one is to be a True Believer and worshipper of Gaia. It can be a full time job.

Like all fundamentalist religions, Environmentalism is both apocalyptic and utopian: if you devoutly join in the cult and faithfully follow the credo, you will help to avoid the looming apocalypse. And in the sweet by-and-by, through meticulously cherishing poor, abused Gaia you will bring about the Final Solution to the dreaded…Global Cooling Warming.

This is a religion premised on scarcity and fear. There is simply not enough to go around for everyone. Thus if some of us have to die and others must remain unborn to achieve Gaia’s well-being, so be it. As the originator of the “Spaceship Earth” put it:

“The right to have children should be a marketable commodity, bought and traded by individuals but absolutely limited by the state.”

Next: The Religion of Gaia, Part Two

16 thoughts on “The Religion of Gaia, Part I

  1. How do the Gaia-ists explain the Five Great Extinctions that Nature so brutally perpetrated upon the innocent creatures of the world?

    All occuring long before the first proto-humans arose?

    Where are the hapless dinosaurs?

    The luckless little trilobites?

    The sad scaphognathius crassirostris-es?

    What was Gaia thinking?

  2. You can ridicule certain aspects of Environmentalism any way you like, but the fact remains that we are in the midst of the most catastrophic mass exinction event in 65 million years, and it is entirely caused by humankind. We are in the risk of losing 50% of all species until the end of this century. The current economic growth of China and India is a disaster to the planet. All 6.5 billion people cannot attain the standards of living of USA and Europe. Someone should tell this to the Mexicans, Africans and Middle-Estearners who are crossing our borders each day.

    World population is still growing, while the amount of arable land is decreasing. Oceans are being depleted of fish. Peak Oil has finally arrived. Yes, many or most Environmentalists are stupid, with their Gaia bullshit and all, but that does not mean were are not in serious trouble. Cutting gas emissions 5% or 10% is not going to do a damn thing. In the end it’s going to be a World War III about the control of diminshing resources… And it’s already begun.

    Our children will have to live in a uglier, thougher, more and more savage and ruthless world. Don’t even think about your pensions, or count on free healthcare for your grandchildren… Environmentalism is late at this point, I think’s the Survivalists’ turn.

    I’m not gladly looking forward to nuclear strikes, biological terrorism, religious wars in style of the 16th Century, gradual collapse of liberal society, all-out genocide and bloody zero-sum game of Great Powers, but they’re all in their way.

  3. If Lauri is an environmental scientist, or a PhD climatologist, then I’d like to see her work.

    Otherwise…these are simply echoes of the alarmist opinions that the former Communists/now Giaists promote. I suggest reading some from the other side of the column for a more balanced view of what *may* be going on.The truth is, no one knows because the world is a chaotic system and it does not correspond to our linear thinking.

    Essentially, the pov that “man is destroying the world” is a narcissist one. We’ve been hearing this for more than a century now, but humnan beings are simply not that powerful and the planet is far more resilient than we are.

    Species die out all the time. It is the Darwinian nature of things, and has been going on long before man’s arrival on the scene.It will continue at the same rate after we are gone.

    Peak oil is a non-issue since oil will not, in the end, fuel our energy needs. Man is creative and inventive, and oil will become irrelevant in the next three decades or so. Instead of the electric grid, we will have moved to a very different energy, distributive fuel base.

    I recommend the book, “The Bottomless Well: the Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Our of Energy”. It is too cumbersome with my arm in a sling to link it but you can find it by googling it or by going to the Manhattan Institute, which publishes City Journal.

    I also recommend the many sources they cite.
    Does anyone remember the Club of Rome? Those “experts” knew we were facing limits to growth in 1979; we’re still expanding in terms of economic growth. THe famines they predicted have not occurred, nor has there been a die off. Want the population to decrease? Make it affluent and it will fail to reproduce itself…look at the European countries and Japan right now.

    The Club of Rome also said we’d be out of oil before the end of the century. People like Jimmy Carter took up that cudgel and beat us into a recession.

    You don’t hear from Paul Erhlich or the Club of Rome any more because they were dead wrong. Algore will be just as fossilized in 20 years as they are now.

    There seems to exist in the human psyche the fearfulness of scarcity and the refusal to think in terms of abundance. This has been going on since Jeremiah, at least.

  4. That was an excellent essay on the fallacies recycling. The same exact argument can be made against electric and hybrid cars as well. Consider how much more the cost of a hybrid car is over the cost of an equivalent performance 4-cylinder diesel version. Use the extra cost as an indicator of the extra energy used in producing and maintaining that hybrid vehicle, and you come up with the same conclusion, that a diesel car with the same fuel economy and performance is the better environmental option.

    To bad every environmentalist I have ever encountered either has never taken a basic physics class, or if they did, must have slept through it. The issue here is the second law of thermodynamics, “it takes energy to create order, and it takes energy to maintain order”. And you can show mathematically that there is going to be a point for society where any recycling effort is going to end up using more energy than it saves.

  5. wildiris–

    Long time no see!

    You are right about the lack of physics education in the general public. I struggled through a watered-down version in college — one which concentrated on theory and gratefully skipped most of the Math (I admit to being innumerate, though I love the elegance of mathematical constructs).

    Recycling already uses up more energy than it saves. That’s why many communities don’t let their taxpayers know that most “recyclables” end up in the land fill. THey’re trying to meet citizen demands but no one wants to buy trash glass — trash and garbage being defined as something no one will pay you for. So the municipal taxes go up for a “service” which doesn’t exist, because people won’t tolerate not having a robust recycling program in their city.

    In our poor rural county, there is lots of room for landfill materials, so northeastern communities pay us to take their trash. It lowers *our* taxes. It’s harder to fool a farmer about such things, and the farmers around here think recucling is a joke.

  6. Why thank you,Dymphna. As Orwell wrote, it is sometimes the duty of an honest citizen to simply re-state the obvious.
    To appear relevant, the enviro-zealots need a cause, preferrably that cannot bite back, and one to distract them from from those things that actually do threaten them. They found one and avoid the other.
    Perhaps you err in thinking Marxism crashed and burned. It only crashed and reformed, as it will do again when environmental religions wane. You cannot burn narcissictic character. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

  7. Dymphna

    Not that have I much sympathy for North American Protestant Fundamentalism, I think your analogy may be a little.

    Other than that, you got it on the head.

  8. Lauri,

    I absolutely disagree that our future is bleak. If humans are allowed freedom and opportunity there is NO limit to what we can do. If the enviromentalists/leftists will get out of the way and let capitalism work the earth will be cleaner and more prosperous than ever before. And don’t dare say capitalism causes a dirty planet. Look at the various economic systems around the world. Which has the cleanest enviroment? Hint, not communism or islam. And about limited resources – we have an entire UNIVERSE at our feet!!! There is no limit, period.

  9. Environmentalism is a religion. I have worked with environmetalists who were as fanatical as any other religious fanatic. I remember one Environmentalist in particular who was going to sweat lodges, worshiping a godess, and smoking pot. The day after Bush was declared the winner of the 2000 election, she came to work in tears. She was sobbing. She kept saying over and over that we would not survive and we would all die in an environmental disaster because Bush bacame president. I tried to reason with her, but it was impossible. One cannot reason with a fanatic.

  10. Dymphna, Rohan-

    We should be terraforming Mars, already, to make sure that we do not put all of our “eggs” (genotype) in one “basket” (Earth), because the Universe has a lot of wandering debris (meteors, comets, etc.) that could swing into our orbit any day now and say sayonnara to this civilization in a second.

    Lauri, Sir Henry-

    Keeping human destructiveness, meanwhile, to a minimum is only common sense.

    It is locally suicidal to pour heavy metals into the air or waters, to overfish ocean populations to non-replenishment levels, to hunt whales at all (their large mammalian brains need research and respect not Japanese dinner tables), to over-tax the water tables by uncontrolled population growth (because they are such slowly-renewing resources) is a form of demented exploitation (mainly in Third World countries, which have had explosions of birthrates thanks to foreign medicines and visiting doctors from First World countries who keep their natural mortality rates out of balance with their environments) .

    We should be good stewards, and strive to leave a better world than the one we luckily inherited.

    Fighting the irrationalism of every extreme is part of this struggle, whether they are Islamic jihadists or (far down the scale of seriousness) “eco” anarchists.

    I marvel at the fact that, before Pasteur, only a century and a half ago, the bacterial theory of disease was unknown, and mankind was at the mercy of squalid, superstitious lunacy -about health care or the natural causes of illness- and about almost everything else.

    Our progress in the past two centures gives me hope for the next two.

    We can paralyze ourselves with fearful unknowns, or work with the knowns we have, and take heart about all of the multifarous darknesses we have dragged ourselves out of so miraculously.

    Just since the insights of Newton, Lister, Volta, Edison, Curie, Marconi, and their thousands of brothers and sisters, we have discovered the composition of the stars, found the cures for age-old terrors (polio, smallpox, the plague, typhus, rickets, dysentery), mastered flight, invented film, radio, and tv, developed computers, opened up space travel, and created frozen pizza.

    As Monty Python sang:

    Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

    Unless you’re on a cross already, cheer up.

    It helps the endorphin levels, and they, in turn, help the world.

    In the words of Groucho Marx:

    A black cat crossing your path signifies that an animal is going somewhere.

  11. Baron, it’s been ages since I’ve responded to you, but this post of yours takes the cake.  It’s so wrong-headed I’m going to be hard-put to illustrate more than a representative sample of the errors.

    Paul Tillich, described our god — that which transcends us — as our “ultimate concern.”

    Tillich is a theologian, not an environmentalist.  Tillich’s definition of “ultimate concern” has even less relevance to the philosophy of environmentalism than the Christian concept of God has to the Muslim.  This sort of dichotomy ought to leap out at anyone used to wrestling with such issues, especially you.

    However, it is not surprising to see you making this mistaken assertion.  You are yourself very closely involved with “ultimate concerns”, so you assume that others must be also.  While you may be right about a few on the fringe, your use of such a broad brush is neither accurate nor warranted.  You have gone from perception to projection.

    This is a weakness.  You would do well to guard against it.

    But Environmentalism does indeed meet the criteria for religious belief. It possesses a fully developed “creed, cult, and code” that Belgian catechesist Christiane Brusselmans saw as the foundational system of any religion.

    The characteristic of religion is dogma.  Objectivism qualifies (the writings of Rand are taken as gospel by many, despite contrary facts) but you have given no proof that environmentalism has one (dogmatic individuals don’t count).  The axioms of environmentalism as I observe it are common sense:

    1.)  Human existence requires certain things, such as clean air, pure water, nutritious food, shelter from extremes of temperature, protection from excessive UV radiation, and so forth.
    2.)  Some niche environments on Earth provide for human needs much better than others.
    3.)  We do not fully understand the underpinnings of these environments:  what climate, geography, species, and other elements are required to maintain their existence.
    4.)  The best way to guarantee that they continue to exist is not to disrupt them carelessly.
    5.)  Careless disruption of the environment (salination in ancient Babylon, laterization of soils in Central America, extinction of trees on Easter Island, overfishing of the cod at the Grand Banks) has led to disaster for humans time and time again.

    If there’s a universal dogma of Gaia, why has James Lovelock himself reversed his position on nuclear energy?  Such flexibility is not characteristic of religion.  Just because you don’t understand the logic behind the conclusions does not make them ipso facto theological.

    The essence of environmentalism is stewardship; what dogma there is forms a “Reader’s Digest condensed version” for those who haven’t the time or intelligence to learn the details.  You seem to have mistaken the latter for the former, and decided that it is a competitor to your own religion and thus something to be reviled and fought.  You would do well to learn from the Pope on this matter.

    If you have young children exposed to the catechetics of the True Believers in their state schools….

    Then you have also given those same children similarly oversimplified accounts of many, many other things because they are too inexperienced to understand fully even if they had the patience to listen.  You can no more teach graduate-level ecology to typical 8-yr-olds than seminary-level theology or even formal logic.  You expand on the basics as they grow and learn… if you have also expanded your knowledge.  If you haven’t, you could mistake it for dogma.

    Your example from Econlib is a polemic, not an analysis.  Munger attributes to dogma what is more easily explained by failure of imagination (why ship all the trash when only the yard waste posed a legal disposal problem? why mix the two streams and create a problem that did not have to exist? why not chip the yard waste locally and use it to replace pine straw?) and the law of unintended consequences.  Besides, the existence of an unused resource has led to the creation of markets before; the situation he describes may well be temporary.  Similar laws regarding construction waste have led to a technology to convert it to useful materials and energy.

    If you are a true Environmentalist, then Gaia is your goddess, and all must bow before her.

    You’re projecting again.  Gaia is a metaphor, not a thing; I do not even find it a useful metaphor.  Some may have reified Gaia, but it is as much a figment of human imagination as the Norse and Hindu pantheons, Allah and JHWH.

    If you find that statement offensive, you would probably have vilified Thomas Jefferson for being a deist.  In my book, that is well on the road to being un-American.  The claim neither picks your pocket nor breaks your leg, and you should be able to shrug it off (exactly as Muslims can’t).  If you can’t deal with people who don’t agree with your theology to fight a common enemy, if you feel compelled to demand that your natural allies must give up their own rights and liberties to aid you in protecting yours, you are only weakening yourself and thwarting your goals.

    Your gratuitous attacks on those who have read even the layman’s abbreviations of the science showing the fact of man-made global climate change — as you have not — are one more example of shoving away those who you should be your natural allies.  Think about it for a minute:

    What’s one of the chief sources of man-made greenhouse gases?  Burning oil.

    How would you reduce those emissions?  Burn less oil.

    What’s the best way to neuter the money weapon and disentangle US politics from the House of Saud?  Burn less oil!

    Yet you dogmatically reject this strategy, because using less oil is “their” position and “we” must oppose “them”.

    Put away the gun while you still have some foot left.

  12. Engineer-Poet —

    You might want to read the post header more carefully: this essay, you’ll notice, has Dymphna’s byline, and not mine.

    When she wakes up I’ll let her know about your comment, in case she wants to respond.

  13. engineer-poet-

    You might also want to check out the latest engineering advances which render carbon emissions inert and no longer a threat, since these molecules can be “scrubbed” out of the atmosphere with specially-coated metallic vanes (like huge venetian blinds erected in remote landscapes) and then the “fixed” carbon is able to be safely recycled.

    “Carbon emissions”, now being a technologically-solved “problem”, makes scares about burning oil, etc., moot.

    All this new science needs is implementation.

    Search: “carbon sequestration” & “klaus lackner”

    It’s good news.

  14. Profitsbeard:

    You might also want to check out the latest engineering advances which render carbon emissions inert….

    I have been following these for some time.  Not to get too far OT, but:

    1.)  The capture technologies all have substantial energy costs (the lowest appears to be chilled-ammonia absorption, which requires about 10% of the plant output power to operate).
    2.)  The scheme you describe for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere had no published energy requirements as of the latest round of press releases.  The applicable maxim is “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
    3.)  The permanent sequestration schemes of Lackner involve reaction with e.g. serpentine, which will require handling several times as much material as the original coal (not gonna fly).
    4.)  None of these are applicable to mobile emitters.

    “Carbon emissions”, now being a technologically-solved “problem”, makes scares about burning oil, etc., moot.

    Recent experience has made me very, very cynical about claims like that.  In 2000 the US had the PNGV in full swing, preparing to deliver 80-MPG full-size hybrid cars to the US market in just a few years; the PNGV hybrid technology would have been ready for conversion and even retrofit to PHEV.  One of the first actions of the Bush administration was to cancel PNGV and substitute a hydrogen “Freedom Car” program.  This pushed the delivery date to around 2020, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that hydrogen will never be a practical motor fuel.

    The Bush administration is run by oil interests.  Is it reasonable to think that this shift in emphasis was deliberate obstruction of the most realistic near-term alternatives to oil (PHEV R&D was barely squeezed into the 2005 energy bill at the last minute), or is that tinfoil-hat thinking?  Could these brand-new “solutions” (anything without published energy requirements, let alone pilot plants, isn’t a solution) to carbon emissions be more propaganda than proposal?

    Example:  The Wabash River (Terre Haute, IN) coal-fired electric plant was repowered with an oxygen-blown coal gasifier and gas turbine back in the ’90’s.  This both increased the output and efficiency and radically cleaned up the plant; it would only require some minor changes (steam-reforming the syngas to hydrogen and pumping all captured acid gases down wells) to make the plant carbon-free.  Yet there has been no such followup project on the sort of fast track we need.  Why?

    We had plenty of technology options available 3 years ago (when I bought my Passat TDI), but they are just beginning to be available from Detroit.  I see more excuses for going on with Business As Usual than solutions, and even R. James Woolsey is on the same page with me.

    I didn’t mean to go on at such length.

    All this new science needs is implementation.

    We can’t even get the old science implemented.  If we built our new powerplants as IGCC, we could pump CO2 into old oil fields and recover oil we couldn’t get any other way.  This would slash air pollution, sequester carbon and cut oil imports.  This would be great for the USA and bad for OPEC.  Why hasn’t it been a priority, especially since 9/11/2001?  The only explanation I have is that Bush is in bed with the KSA, who made his fortune and has him dancing to their tune.

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