Skip to comments.Meteorologist Likens Fear of Global Warming to 'Religious Belief'
Posted on 12/02/2004 3:19:38 AM PST by kattracks
Washington (CNSNews.com) - An MIT meteorologist Wednesday dismissed alarmist fears about human induced global warming as nothing more than 'religious beliefs.'
"Do you believe in global warming? That is a religious question. So is the second part: Are you a skeptic or a believer?" said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, in a speech to about 100 people at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
"Essentially if whatever you are told is alleged to be supported by 'all scientists,' you don't have to understand [the issue] anymore. You simply go back to treating it as a matter of religious belief," Lindzen said. His speech was titled, "Climate Alarmism: The Misuse of 'Science'" and was sponsored by the free market George C. Marshall Institute. Lindzen is a professor at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
Once a person becomes a believer of global warming, "you never have to defend this belief except to claim that you are supported by all scientists -- except for a handful of corrupted heretics," Lindzen added.
According to Lindzen, climate "alarmists" have been trying to push the idea that there is scientific consensus on dire climate change.
"With respect to science, the assumption behind the [alarmist] consensus is science is the source of authority and that authority increases with the number of scientists [who agree.] But science is not primarily a source of authority. It is a particularly effective approach of inquiry and analysis. Skepticism is essential to science -- consensus is foreign," Lindzen said.
Alarmist predictions of more hurricanes, the catastrophic rise in sea levels, the melting of the global poles and even the plunge into another ice age are not scientifically supported, Lindzen said.
"It leads to a situation where advocates want us to be afraid, when there is no basis for alarm. In response to the fear, they want us to do what they want," Lindzen said.
Recent reports of a melting polar ice cap were dismissed by Lindzen as an example of the media taking advantage of the public's "scientific illiteracy."
"The thing you have to remember about the Arctic is that it is an extremely variable part of the world," Lindzen said. "Although there is melting going [on] now, there has been a lot of melting that went on in the 30s and then there was freezing. So by isolating a section ... they are essentially taking people's ignorance of the past," he added.
'Repetition makes people believe'
The climate change debate has become corrupted by politics, the media and money, according to Lindzen.
"It's a sad story, where you have scientists making meaningless or ambiguous statements [about climate change]. They are then taken by advocates to the media who translate the statements into alarmist declarations. You then have politicians who respond to all of this by giving scientists more money," Lindzen said.
"Agreement on anything is taken to infer agreement on everything. So if you make a statement that you agree that CO2 (carbon dioxide) is a greenhouse gas, you agree that the world is coming to an end," he added.
"There can be little doubt that the language used to convey alarm has been sloppy at best," Lindzen said, citing Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbles and his famous observation that even a lie will be believed if enough people repeat it. "There is little question that repetition makes people believe things [for] which there may be no basis," Lindzen said.
He believes the key to improving the science of climate change lies in altering the way scientists are funded.
'Alarm is the aim'
"The research and support for research depends on the alarm," Lindzen told CNSNews.com
following his speech. "The research itself often is very good, but by the time it gets through the filter of environmental advocates and the press innocent things begin to sound just as though they are the end of the world.
"The argument is no longer what models are correct -- they are not -- but rather whether their results are at all possible. One can rarely prove something to be impossible," he explained.
Lindzen said scientists must be allowed to conclude that 'we don't have a problem." And if the answer turns out to be 'we don't have a problem,' we have to figure out a better reward than cutting off people's funding. It's as simple as that," he said.
The only consensus that Lindzen said exists on the issue of climate change is the impact of the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty to limit greenhouse gases, which the U.S. does not support.
Kyoto itself will have no discernible effect on global warming regardless of what one believes about climate change," Lindzen said.
"Claims to the contrary generally assume Kyoto is only the beginning of an ever more restrictive regime. However this is hardly ever mentioned," he added.
The Kyoto Protocol, which Russia recently ratified, aims to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2010. But Lindzen claims global warming proponents ultimately want to see a 60 to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses from the 1990 levels. Such reductions would be economically disastrous, he said.
"If you are hearing Kyoto will cost billions and trillions," then a further reduction will ultimately result in "a shutdown" of the economy, Lindzen said.
See Related Article:
John McCain's 'Global Warming' Hearings Blasted by Climatologist -- 11/19/2004
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This looks quite interesting. (and is therefore pinged so I can find it again when I have time to read it all)
..."...Once a person becomes a believer of global warming, "you never have to defend this belief except to claim that you are supported by all scientists -- except for a handful of corrupted heretics," ..."...
Words spoken in the true manner of religious fanatica---like the flat-earthers and the Islamists do. Facts do not matter when there are priests involved.
Great article, I'll be sending it to all my commie friends.
And creationists and the space exploration fanatics etc. Lot of relilgious frenzy these days
Been saying this for years. Trivial examination of the "global warming is caused by fossil fuel consumption" case shows it is only an exercize in curve fitting. The curve fits don't, besides. It is just baloney. The Mann "hockey stick" results being fabrication is just the last straw.
Thomas Sieger Derr
Copyright (c) 2004 First Things 147 (November 2004): 5-7.
Global warming has achieved the status of a major threat. It inspires nightmares of a troubled future and propels apocalyptic dramas such as the summer 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow. Even were the Kyoto treaty to be fully implemented, it wouldnt make a dent in the warming trend, which seems to be inexorable. Doom is upon us.
Except that maybe it isnt. You might not know it from ordinary media accounts, which report the judgments of alarmists as "settled science," but there is a skeptical side to the argument. Scientists familiar with the issues involved have written critically about the theory of global warming. The puzzle is why these commentators, well-credentialed and experienced, have been swept aside to produce a false "consensus." What is it that produces widespread agreement among both "experts" and the general public on a hypothesis which is quite likely wrong?
The consensus holds that we are experiencing unprecedented global warming and that human activity is the main culprit. The past century, we are told, has been the hottest on record, with temperatures steadily rising during the last decades. Since human population and industrial activity have risen at the same time, it stands to reason that human activity is, one way or another, the cause of this observed warming. Anything wrong with this reasoning?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. The phrase "on record" doesnt mean very much, since most records date from the latter part of the nineteenth century. Without accurate records there are still ways of discovering the temperatures of past centuries, and these methods do not confirm the theory of a steady rise. Reading tree rings helps (the rings are further apart when the temperature is warmer and the trees grow faster). Core samples from drilling in ice fields can yield even older data. Some historical reconstruction can help, toofor example, we know that the Norsemen settled Greenland (and named it "green") a millennium ago and grew crops there, in land which is today quite inhospitable to settlement, let alone to agriculture. Other evidence comes from coral growth, isotope data from sea floor sediment, and insects, all of which point to a very warm climate in medieval times. Abundant testimony tells us that the European climate then cooled dramatically from the thirteenth century until the eighteenth, when it began its slow rewarming.
In sum, what we learn from multiple sources is that the earth (and not just Europe) was warmer in the tenth century than it is now, that it cooled dramatically in the middle of our second millennium (this has been called the "little ice age"), and then began warming again. Temperatures were higher in medieval times (from about 800 to 1300) than they are now, and the twentieth century represented a recovery from the little ice age to something like normal. The false perception that the recent warming trend is out of the ordinary is heightened by its being measured from an extraordinarily cold starting point, without taking into account the earlier balmy medieval period, sometimes called the Medieval Climate Optimum. Data such as fossilized sea shells indicate that similar natural climate swings occurred in prehistoric times, well before the appearance of the human race.
Even the period for which we have records can be misread. While the average global surface temperature increased by about 0.5 degrees Celsius during the twentieth century, the major part of that warming occurred in the early part of the century, before the rapid rise in human population and before the consequent rise in emissions of polluting substances into the atmosphere. There was actually a noticeable cooling period after World War II, and this climate trend produced a rather different sort of alarmismsome predicted the return of an ice age. In 1974 the National Science Board, observing a thirty-year-long decline in world temperature, predicted the end of temperate times and the dawning of the next glacial age. Meteorologists, Newsweek reported, were "almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century." But they were wrong, as we now know (another caution about supposedly "unanimous" scientific opinion), and after 1975 we began to experience our current warming trend. Notice that these fluctuations, over the centuries and within them, do not correlate with human numbers or activity. They are evidently caused by something else.
What, then, is the cause of the current warming trend? As everyone has heard, the emission of so-called "greenhouse gasses," mostly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, is supposed to be the major culprit in global warming. This is the anthropogenic hypothesis, according to which humans have caused the trouble. But such emissions correlate with human numbers and industrial development, so they could not have been the cause of warming centuries ago, nor of the nineteenth-century rewarming trend which began with a much smaller human population and before the industrial revolution. Nor is there a very good correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and past climate changes. Thus, to many scientists, the evidence that greenhouse gasses produced by humans are causing any significant warming is sketchy.
The likeliest cause of current climate trends seems to be solar activity, perhaps in combination with galactic cosmic rays caused by supernovas, especially because there is some good observable correlation between solar magnetism output and terrestrial climate change. But that kind of change is not predictable within any usable time frame, not yet anyway, and, of course, it is entirely beyond any human influence. The conclusion, then, is that the climate will change naturally; aside from altering obviously foolish behavior, such as releasing dangerous pollutants into our air and water, we can and should do little more than adapt to these natural changes, as all life has always done.
That is not a counsel of despair, however, for global warming is not necessarily a bad thing. Increasing warmth and higher levels of carbon dioxide help plants to grow (carbon dioxide is not a pollutant), and, indeed, mapping by satellite shows that the earth has become about six percent greener overall in the past two decades, with forests expanding into arid regions (though the effect is uneven). The Amazon rain forest was the biggest gainer, despite the much-advertised deforestation caused by human cutting along its edges. Certainly climate change does not help every region equally and will probably harm some. That has always been true. But there are careful studies that predict overall benefit to the earth with increasing warmth: fewer storms (not more), more rain, better crop yields over larger areas, and longer growing seasons, milder winters, and decreasing heating costs in colder latitudes. The predictable change, though measurable, will not be catastrophic at allmaybe one degree Celsius during the twenty-first century. The news is certainly not all bad, and may on balance be rather good.
There is much more, in more detail, to the argument of those scientists who are skeptical about the threat of global warming. On the whole, their case is, I think, quite persuasive. The question, then, is why so few people believe it.
Part of the answer is that bad news is good newsfor the news media. The media report arresting and frightening items, for that is what draws listeners, viewers, and readers. The purveyors of climate disaster theories have exploited this journalistic habit quite brilliantly, releasing steadily more frightening scenarios without much significant data to back them up. Consider the unguarded admission of Steven Schneider of Stanford, a leading proponent of the global warming theory. In a now notorious comment, printed in Discover in 1989 and, surely to his discomfort, often cited by his opponents, Schneider admitted:
To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.
This sort of willingness to place the cause above the truth has exasperated Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, who is one of the authors of the science sections of the report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body responsible for an increasing crescendo of dire warnings. In testimony before the U.S. Senates Environment and Public Works Committee, he called the IPCCs Summary for Policymakers, which loudly sounds the warming alarm, "very much a childs exercise of what might possibly happen . . . [which] conjures up some scary scenarios for which there is no evidence."
This brings us to the second part of the answer, which concerns the political and economic consequences of the policy argument. The IPCC is a UN body and reflects UN politics, which are consistently favorable to developing countries, the majority of its members. Those politics are very supportive of the Kyoto treaty, which not only exempts the developing countries from emissions standards but also requires compensatory treatment from the wealthier nations for any economic restraints that new climate management policies may impose on these developing countries. Were Kyoto to be implemented as written, the developing countries would gain lots of money and free technology. One need not be a cynic to grasp that a UN body will do obeisance to these political realities wherever possible.
The Kyoto treaty would not make a measurable difference in the climateby 2050, a temperature reduction of maybe two-hundredths of a degree Celsius, or at most six-hundredths of a degreebut the sacrifices it would impose on the United States would be quite large. It would require us to reduce our projected 2012 energy use by 25 percent, a catastrophic economic hit. Small wonder that the Senate in 1997 passed a bipartisan resolution, the Byrd-Hagel anti-Kyoto resolution, by 95-0 (a fact rarely recalled by those who claim that Americas refusal to sign on to the treaty was the result of the Bush administrations thralldom to corporate interests).
Most of the European countries that have ratified Kyoto are falling behind already on targets, despite having stagnant economies and falling populations. It is highly unlikely they will meet the goals they have signed on for, and they know it. Neither will Japan, for that matter. The European Union has committed itself to an eight percent reduction in energy use (from 1990 levels) by 2012, but the European Environment Agency admits that current trends project only a 4.7 percent reduction. When Kyoto signers lecture non-signers for not doing enough for the environment, they invite the charge of hypocrisy. There is also the obvious fact that adherence to the treaty will hurt the U.S. economy much more than the European, which suggests that old-fashioned economic competitiveness is in the mix of motives at play here. The absurdity of the treaty becomes obvious when we recognize that it does not impose emissions requirements on developing countries, including economic giants such as China, India, and Brazil. (China will become the worlds biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in just a few years.)
A third reason why global warming fears seem to be carrying the day goes beyond these political interests; it involves intellectual pride. Academics are a touchy tribe (Im one of them); they do not take it kindly when their theories, often the result of hard work, are contradicted. And sure enough, the struggle for the truth in this matter is anything but polite. It is intellectual warfare, entangled with politics, reputations, and ideology; and most of the anger comes from the side of the alarmists. People lose their tempers and hurl insults"junk science," "willful ignorance," "diatribe," "arrogant," "stupid," "incompetent," "bias," "bad faith," "deplorable misinformation," and more. Consider the fiercely hateful reaction to Bjorn Lomborgs 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. He challenged the entrenched and politically powerful orthodoxy and did so with maddeningly thorough data. His critics, unable to refute his statistics, seem to have been enraged by their own weaknessa familiar phenomenon, after all. Or perhaps, with their reputations and their fund-raising ability tied to the disaster scenarios, they felt their livelihoods threatened. In any case, the shrillness of their voices has helped to drown out the skeptics.
Finally, there is a fourth cause: a somewhat murky antipathy to modern technological civilization as the destroyer of a purer, cleaner, more "natural" life, a life where virtue dwelt before the great degeneration set in. The global warming campaign is the leading edge of an environmentalism which goes far beyond mere pollution control and indicts the global economy for its machines, its agribusiness, its massive movements of goods, and above all its growing population. Picking apart this argument to show the weakness of its pieces does not go to the heart of the fear and loathing that motivate it. The revulsion shows in the prescriptions advanced by the global warming alarmists: roll back emissions to earlier levels; reduce production and consumption of goods; lower birth rates. Our material ease and the freedoms it has spawned are dangerous illusions, bargains with the devil, and now comes the reckoning. A major apocalypse looms, either to destroy or, paradoxically, to save usif we come to our senses in the nick of time.
It is clear, then, given the deep roots of the scare, that it is likely to be pretty durable. It has the added advantage of not being readily falsifiable in our lifetimes; only future humans, who will have the perspective of centuries, will know for certain whether the current warming trend is abnormal. In the meantime, the sanest course for us would be to gain what limited perspective we can (remembering the global cooling alarm of a generation ago) and to proceed cautiously. We are going through a scare with many causes, and we need to step back from it, take a long second look at the scientific evidence, and not do anything rash. Though the alarmists claim otherwise, the science concerning global warming is certainly not settled. It is probable that the case for anthropogenic warming will not hold up, and that the earth is behaving as it has for millennia, with natural climate swings that have little to do with human activity.
Thomas Sieger Derr has been writing on
environmental ethics for many years. He is Professor of Religion and Ethics at Smith College and the author of Environmental Ethics and Christian Humanism.
**we have to figure out a better reward than cutting off people's funding**
As long as the government is buying research, then people will figure out how to sell research. The truth of the research is irrelevant -- it's its marketability. Even beggars figure out where their beggarliness is marketable. It's a catch 22. The government wants to buy good research, but researchers want sell their research in order to make it good.
Approximately 99% of all the mass contained within the entire Solar system is in the Sun-- that's everything, including four gas giants which are almost big enough to be stars in their own right... so you want me to believe that driving an econo-box is going to influence the Earth's temperature?
Look for this good, honest man to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged colleagues, and soon.
Global warming is a 5 Billion dollar a year industry. You want to put them all out of a job?
Evolution is based on observed facts which would make it a scientific theory rather than a religion.
Global warming/Kyoto treaty = UN's nutron bomb to bring down the USA and the productive in general.
Global Warming....Making Greenland Green Again!
Absolutely- it's all about shackling and penalizing Western economies, while giving a free pass to the worst polluters.
I also suspect that if you looked closely enough, you will find a UN-oil-for-food level scam a-borning in the trading of pollution credits- a way for the elites to skim millions of dollars off the top while pretending to help.
Evolution is based on observed facts which would make it a scientific theory rather than a religion.
Are you saying the good doctor (Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen) is wrong?
Based on your post you are.
Exactly what I was thinking when I read this article. But the aim of the religion of evolution is much larger and more dangerous to the planet than the global warming crock. Many are the same bozos believing both.
I've said the same thing for several years. A meteorologist I am not.
You left something very important in that statement. Evolution is based on a complete misinterpretation of observed facts. Which makes it a crock, just like global warming.
Don't forget the abortion enthusiasts, whose religion teaches them that a new human being is created when, POOF!, a pregnant woman decides not to kill her pre-born baby. There is no science whatsoever to support the POOF Theory but they believe it with a passion.
Re Creationists: If the term simply means a belief that God created the heavens and the earth, then I'm a Creationist. If it means that God created the heavens and the earth pretty much the way we see it today but only 4500 years ago, then I am not.
What I choose to believe: God created the heavens and the earth many millions of years ago. The things studied in sciences that we call physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc., is HOW He did it.
Actually global warming is NOT based on any facts, only computer models. Computer models are like novels. They can say anything that you want them to say. In fact I would go so far as to say that global warming belongs in the science fiction category. Evolution is based on fossil records, and fossils are pretty obvious facts.
If you would like to amuse God, tell him of your plans.
"Evolution is based on fossil records, and fossils are pretty obvious facts."
NO it is not, because if it were only about "fossils" evidence, then E's would have to conclude that there is a reason for the missing LINK they continue to espouse.
Now science does in fact tell us that this earth's age is completely unknown and there is no specific evidence to tell us exactly how many millions of years ago it was created.
If the E's were really after truth and not a blind ideology, then they would take the time to learn exactly what was penned in the original Hebrew before man monkeyed around with the translation of the original language.
The Bible does not say the earth is 6000 years old, it is a tradition of man that says that the Bible says that.
The example of anthropogenic global warming is quite instructive: even though it is a plainly a proper scientific theory in Popper's sense--it is easily falsifiable by numerous conceivable observations, indeed has been falsified by data pointed to in the article--it has become what might be called 'sociologically unfalsifiable'. Its adherents won't accept as valid any countervailing evidence and vilify critics.
Whatever its merits as science, the neo-Darwinian concensus, has become 'sociologically unfalsifiable' because it now functions as an atheistic creation myth for radical secularists. "Evolution zealots" are those for whom it has become such a dogma, not those who simply believe it is the best currently available account of the origin of biological diversity: folks like Dawkins who attacked Gould for applying dynamical systems theory to evolutionary biology because it removed the gradualist element, or like those who disrupt talks about reverse transciptase because the existence of such enzymes unseats the uni-directional connection between DNA and RNA.
Except for the contradictory "facts" that appear every few days and are conveniently ignored or twisted to fit the "theory". Every time they find a new species that doesn't fit the Lucy time line, they throw it out as an aberration. That makes it a little hard to consider it science.
I too think that the global warming models are bunk, but not for the reasons you propose. There are many settings in which accurate models exist at large scale, but not at smaller scale: For instance modelling sand being dumped onto a pile. On a long time scale and in terms of coarse measurments (the average diameter and height of the pile) a model of the pile as a continuously growning cone (familiar from freshman calculus texts) is completely predictive. In detail, however, even over short times, the granular pile is not well-modeled by the continuous model (we've all seen sand build up in a spot, then suddenly make a land-slide on one side of the pile), and indeed the behavior of such measurements as height above a particular point, cross-sectional measurement along a given line, are all competely unpredictable by any known model.
Oh did I step on some creationist toes? What contradictory facts every few days? I don't know of anything in the fossil record that doesn't fit evolution. If you have some every few days, you should have hundreds of verifiable fossils that disprove evolution. I doubt that you do, (and please don't point me to some creationist web site) You're grasping at straws to discredit the theory that best fits the facts - evolution.
with all due respect, your statements are completely false. And at this point I modify my rule of not arguing with drunks and idiots because they are irrational to add creationists to the aforementioned categories. Believe what you want, but don't try and justify it on the evidence because there ain't any.
Uhh no it isn't. It's based on computer models. Satellite data show no global warming. The temperature curves that purport to show global warming have been doctored only to show those segments that fit the (false) hypothesis.
"I don't know of anything in the fossil record that doesn't fit evolution"
Which fossils fit evolution? All the sea creature fossils at the top of some mountains? All the dinosaur fossils jumbled together in heaps as though buried quickly in a mudslide? Creatures don't die and normally get fossilized, it requires something to happen quickly to preserve the creature especially those in the sea.
Also about the age of the fossils. How is that determined? The age of the rocks or layers they are found in? How are ages of the rocks and layers determined? The age of the fossils found in them? It seems circular to me.
What about Carbon dating? I believe that assumes the loss of carbon has been consistent over time. I remember visiting Liberty University where they have some dinosaur bones on display. I believe it was a T-Rex but I could be wrong. The display told how they sent the bones to 2 different carbon dating services but did not tell them what the bones were from. They were told it was 6000 and 10000 years old. Once the carbon dating services were told it was dinosaur bone they demanded to recalc the date because they would have dated it differently if they had known it was dinosaur bone. I may have some of the story wrong because it was a while ago but I thought it was interesting.
How long before the true believers run this guy out of Boston?
BTW, there's nothing wrong with computer models per se: if someone ever makes a computer model based on the only last 150 years of data and general physical principles that correctly retrodicts the little ice age, the subsequent warming, and the warm period before the little ice age, I'll be interested in seeing what it predicts.
Reread the article closely, it applies to you. Even if you won't ever admit it.
They find it alarming that it gets cold in the winter. Equally alarming is that it gets hot in the summer. Too much time loving "Nature" under the flourescent lights of Starbucks has turned them into hot house flowers.
The models are BS read this link The global warmers set the models to suppport their hypothesis. You can make a computer model to predict anything you want and cover it with all sorts of buzzwords, but it's still BS.
This question can be answered by reading any good college freshman biology text. Get one. Read it.
Evolution, like G.W. is not just junk science, it's an orthodox scientific religion. All non-believers will be shunned in their "community".
Excellent Article. Do you have an online source?
Remarks to the
By Michael Crichton
September 15, 2003
I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.
We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we're told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.
As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism. And in order not to be misunderstood, I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment. I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrying into the future. I believe the world has genuine problems and I believe it can and should be improved. But I also think that deciding what constitutes responsible action is immensely difficult, and the consequences of our actions are often difficult to know in advance. I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. But I think we do not recognize our past failures, and face them squarely. And I think I know why.
I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.
And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.
Am I exaggerating to make a point? I am afraid not. Because we know a lot more about the world than we did forty or fifty years ago. And what we know now is not so supportive of certain core environmental myths, yet the myths do not die. Let's examine some of those beliefs.
There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden?
And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony with the Eden-like environment? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge almost immediately set about wiping out hundreds of species of large animals, and they did this several thousand years before the white man showed up, to accelerate the process. And what was the condition of life? Loving, peaceful, harmonious? Hardly: the early peoples of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare. Generations of hatred, tribal hatreds, constant battles. The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety.
How about the human condition in the rest of the world? The Maori of New Zealand committed massacres regularly. The dyaks of Borneo were headhunters. The Polynesians, living in an environment as close to paradise as one can imagine, fought constantly, and created a society so hideously restrictive that you could lose your life if you stepped in the footprint of a chief. It was the Polynesians who gave us the very concept of taboo, as well as the word itself. The noble savage is a fantasy, and it was never true. That anyone still believes it, 200 years after Rousseau, shows the tenacity of religious myths, their ability to hang on in the face of centuries of factual contradiction.
There was even an academic movement, during the latter 20th century, that claimed that cannibalism was a white man's invention to demonize the indigenous peoples. (Only academics could fight such a battle.) It was some thirty years before professors finally agreed that yes, cannibalism does inbdeed occur among human beings. Meanwhile, all during this time New Guinea highlanders in the 20th century continued to eat the brains of their enemies until they were finally made to understand that they risked kuru, a fatal neurological disease, when they did so.
More recently still the gentle Tasaday of the Philippines turned out to be a publicity stunt, a nonexistent tribe. And African pygmies have one of the highest murder rates on the planet.
In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die.
And if you, even now, put yourself in nature even for a matter of days, you will quickly be disabused of all your romantic fantasies. Take a trek through the jungles of Borneo, and in short order you will have festering sores on your skin, you'll have bugs all over your body, biting in your hair, crawling up your nose and into your ears, you'll have infections and sickness and if you're not with somebody who knows what they're doing, you'll quickly starve to death. But chances are that even in the jungles of Borneo you won't experience nature so directly, because you will have covered your entire body with DEET and you will be doing everything you can to keep those bugs off you.
The truth is, almost nobody wants to experience real nature. What people want is to spend a week or two in a cabin in the woods, with screens on the windows. They want a simplified life for a while, without all their stuff. Or a nice river rafting trip for a few days, with somebody else doing the cooking. Nobody wants to go back to nature in any real way, and nobody does. It's all talk-and as the years go on, and the world population grows increasingly urban, it's uninformed talk. Farmers know what they're talking about. City people don't. It's all fantasy.
One way to measure the prevalence of fantasy is to note the number of people who die because they haven't the least knowledge of how nature really is. They stand beside wild animals, like buffalo, for a picture and get trampled to death; they climb a mountain in dicey weather without proper gear, and freeze to death. They drown in the surf on holiday because they can't conceive the real power of what we blithely call "the force of nature." They have seen the ocean. But they haven't been in it.
The television generation expects nature to act the way they want it to be. They think all life experiences can be tivo-ed. The notion that the natural world obeys its own rules and doesn't give a damn about your expectations comes as a massive shock. Well-to-do, educated people in an urban environment experience the ability to fashion their daily lives as they wish. They buy clothes that suit their taste, and decorate their apartments as they wish. Within limits, they can contrive a daily urban world that pleases them.
But the natural world is not so malleable. On the contrary, it will demand that you adapt to it-and if you don't, you die. It is a harsh, powerful, and unforgiving world, that most urban westerners have never experienced.
Many years ago I was trekking in the Karakorum mountains of northern Pakistan, when my group came to a river that we had to cross. It was a glacial river, freezing cold, and it was running very fast, but it wasn't deep---maybe three feet at most. My guide set out ropes for people to hold as they crossed the river, and everybody proceeded, one at a time, with extreme care. I asked the guide what was the big deal about crossing a three-foot river. He said, well, supposing you fell and suffered a compound fracture. We were now four days trek from the last big town, where there was a radio. Even if the guide went back double time to get help, it'd still be at least three days before he could return with a helicopter. If a helicopter were available at all. And in three days, I'd probably be dead from my injuries. So that was why everybody was crossing carefully. Because out in nature a little slip could be deadly.
But let's return to religion. If Eden is a fantasy that never existed, and mankind wasn't ever noble and kind and loving, if we didn't fall from grace, then what about the rest of the religious tenets? What about salvation, sustainability, and judgment day? What about the coming environmental doom from fossil fuels and global warming, if we all don't get down on our knees and conserve every day?
Well, it's interesting. You may have noticed that something has been left off the doomsday list, lately. Although the preachers of environmentalism have been yelling about population for fifty years, over the last decade world population seems to be taking an unexpected turn. Fertility rates are falling almost everywhere. As a result, over the course of my lifetime the thoughtful predictions for total world population have gone from a high of 20 billion, to 15 billion, to 11 billion (which was the UN estimate around 1990) to now 9 billion, and soon, perhaps less. There are some who think that world population will peak in 2050 and then start to decline. There are some who predict we will have fewer people in 2100 than we do today. Is this a reason to rejoice, to say halleluiah? Certainly not. Without a pause, we now hear about the coming crisis of world economy from a shrinking population. We hear about the impending crisis of an aging population. Nobody anywhere will say that the core fears expressed for most of my life have turned out not to be true. As we have moved into the future, these doomsday visions vanished, like a mirage in the desert. They were never there---though they still appear, in the future. As mirages do.
Okay, so, the preachers made a mistake. They got one prediction wrong; they're human. So what. Unfortunately, it's not just one prediction. It's a whole slew of them. We are running out of oil. We are running out of all natural resources. Paul Ehrlich: 60 million Americans will die of starvation in the 1980s. Forty thousand species become extinct every year. Half of all species on the planet will be extinct by 2000. And on and on and on.
With so many past failures, you might think that environmental predictions would become more cautious. But not if it's a religion. Remember, the nut on the sidewalk carrying the placard that predicts the end of the world doesn't quit when the world doesn't end on the day he expects. He just changes his placard, sets a new doomsday date, and goes back to walking the streets. One of the defining features of religion is that your beliefs are not troubled by facts, because they have nothing to do with facts.
So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn't give a damn.
I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.
I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigeous science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won't impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependant on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.
Most of us have had some experience interacting with religious fundamentalists, and we understand that one of the problems with fundamentalists is that they have no perspective on themselves. They never recognize that their way of thinking is just one of many other possible ways of thinking, which may be equally useful or good. On the contrary, they believe their way is the right way, everyone else is wrong; they are in the business of salvation, and they want to help you to see things the right way. They want to help you be saved. They are totally rigid and totally uninterested in opposing points of view. In our modern complex world, fundamentalism is dangerous because of its rigidity and its imperviousness to other ideas.
I want to argue that it is now time for us to make a major shift in our thinking about the environment, similar to the shift that occurred around the first Earth Day in 1970, when this awareness was first heightened. But this time around, we need to get environmentalism out of the sphere of religion. We need to stop the mythic fantasies, and we need to stop the doomsday predictions. We need to start doing hard science instead.
There are two reasons why I think we all need to get rid of the religion of environmentalism.
First, we need an environmental movement, and such a movement is not very effective if it is conducted as a religion. We know from history that religions tend to kill people, and environmentalism has already killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s. It's not a good record. Environmentalism needs to be absolutely based in objective and verifiable science, it needs to be rational, and it needs to be flexible. And it needs to be apolitical. To mix environmental concerns with the frantic fantasies that people have about one political party or another is to miss the cold truth---that there is very little difference between the parties, except a difference in pandering rhetoric. The effort to promote effective legislation for the environment is not helped by thinking that the Democrats will save us and the Republicans won't. Political history is more complicated than that. Never forget which president started the EPA: Richard Nixon. And never forget which president sold federal oil leases, allowing oil drilling in Santa Barbara: Lyndon Johnson. So get politics out of your thinking about the environment.
The second reason to abandon environmental religion is more pressing. Religions think they know it all, but the unhappy truth of the environment is that we are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems, and we usually are not certain how best to proceed. Those who are certain are demonstrating their personality type, or their belief system, not the state of their knowledge. Our record in the past, for example managing national parks, is humiliating. Our fifty-year effort at forest-fire suppression is a well-intentioned disaster from which our forests will never recover. We need to be humble, deeply humble, in the face of what we are trying to accomplish. We need to be trying various methods of accomplishing things. We need to be open-minded about assessing results of our efforts, and we need to be flexible about balancing needs. Religions are good at none of these things.
How will we manage to get environmentalism out of the clutches of religion, and back to a scientific discipline? There's a simple answer: we must institute far more stringent requirements for what constitutes knowledge in the environmental realm. I am thoroughly sick of politicized so-called facts that simply aren't true. It isn't that these "facts" are exaggerations of an underlying truth. Nor is it that certain organizations are spinning their case to present it in the strongest way. Not at all---what more and more groups are doing is putting out is lies, pure and simple. Falsehoods that they know to be false.
This trend began with the DDT campaign, and it persists to this day. At this moment, the EPA is hopelessly politicized. In the wake of Carol Browner, it is probably better to shut it down and start over. What we need is a new organization much closer to the FDA. We need an organization that will be ruthless about acquiring verifiable results, that will fund identical research projects to more than one group, and that will make everybody in this field get honest fast.
Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better. That's not a good future for the human race. That's our past. So it's time to abandon the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of environmentalism, and base our public policy decisions firmly on that.
Thank you very much.
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