Miriam Shaviv
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Global warming? I’m a heretic
Date: Friday, July 13th, 2007
Publication: The Jewish Chronicle

Last week, at a relatively advanced age, I finally passed my driving test. On my first time out by myself, I got stopped by the police. Apparently I had forgotten to turn my headlights on — oh dear; but for a moment, I’d wondered whether my crime was driving a car.

Why that moment of guilt? I’d just watched several hours of the Live Earth music marathon, at which the pressure was on, full-force, to reduce our carbon footprints, be good eco-citizens and buy “smaller-ass cars”. In fact, watching Australian rocker Andrew Stockdale address the “saviours of the world” in the Sydney audience and actor Leonardo DiCaprio telling New Yorkers that this is a “tipping point in our history”, it was hard not to be swept up in the environmentalist fervour. The performers seemed to be in possession of a higher truth — that global warming is humanity’s fault and our responsibility to fix. At times, they took on a distinctly evangelical tone.

It was, to my mind, but the latest example of the increasingly religious nature of the environmental movement. To quote GK Chesterton’s old cliché, when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in something, they believe in anything. In the past century, that void was taken up by ideologies such as communism or socialism. Now, as European churches empty out — with fewer than 7 per cent of British Christians attending church each week — it is filled by the new religion of environmentalism.

Most environmentalists, of course, are sincere in their concern for the planet and do much good. But there is an increasingly sizeable minority for whom the idea that the main cause of global warming is human activity has become such an article of faith that no counter-argument could possibly sway them. They are also increasingly intolerant of those with whom they disagree.

Al Gore, for example, would have us believe that humanity’s responsibility for global warming is “an inconvenient truth”. But the real inconvenient truth is that there are many respected scientists — including MIT’s Dr Richard Lindzen, a lead author in a report from the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel on climate change; Dr Reid Bryson, considered by many to be the “father of scientific climatology”; and, according to a 2006 survey, a full 41 per cent of the members of America’s National Registry of Environmental Professionals — who do not agree that the science is settled. According to a Mori poll released last week, 56 per cent of Britons aren’t convinced either.

The true believers in man-made global warming do not want to hear that. Al Gore has been saying that “the time for debate is over” since 1992. Forty climate scientists urged the makers of the Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle not to release it on DVD. Those holding dissenting views are dismissed as kooks.

But to hold on to an idea without conclusive evidence is not science — it is faith.

Novelist Michael Crichton suggested in 2003 that the beliefs of the environmentalist movement were a “perfect 21st-century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths”. There is a Garden of Eden (a state of unity with nature); a fall from grace through our own hands (pollution); a coming doomsday (environmental catastrophe); and possible salvation (sustainability). I would add that there is a revelation (that “inconvenient truth”), perhaps even a God (Mother Earth), and certainly a form of observance (“eco-friendly” practices — the more extreme of which, I believe, are sometimes motivated as much by an ascetic impulse as by environmentalism).

Regardless, discussion of global warming is increasingly couched in religious language. No less a religious authority than the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, said last year that “making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car” were a “symptom of sin”, and urged people to “fast” from flying. The Independent talks about the consequences of global warming in apocalyptic terms: this is an “ailing planet”, the “doomsday clock… ticks towards midnight”, and further temperature rises could possibly lead to “most of life” being “exterminated”. Critics of carbon-offsetting — including those from the left, who believe they do not do enough to solve the problem of emissions — compare them to medieval “indulgences”, in which sinners could buy relief from guilt. Writer Gregg Easterbrook declares himself a “convert” to global warming; those who believe in climate change but urge a more nuanced response call themselves “non-sceptical heretics”. And meanwhile the Bishop of Carlisle muddies the waters further by declaring that last week’s bad weather was due to man’s disrespect “for each other, for the planet and for God”. Is it any wonder the media have taken to calling Al “Goracle” a “prophet”?

I consider religion to be a good thing — I am a religious person myself. But I would not dream of imposing my religion on others, or demonising my secular peers. So to those who believe that global warming is our responsibility, I say — if you want to stop flying or driving, more power to you. Going green can’t do any harm. But don’t try and make me take on your religious practices, or feel that I am somehow evil if I don’t. Amen.

Miriam Shaviv is the Comment and Letters editor of the JC

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