Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Rebuttal : Green lobby must be treated as a religion

I felt a compelling need to respond to John Kay’s piece, “Green lobby must be treated as a religion”, from the Financial Times earlier this week. (To be clear, I’m simply responding to the most salient portions.)

Environmentalism embraces a myth of the Fall: the loss of harmony between man and nature caused by our materialistic society. Al Gore recounted the words of Chief Seattle, as his tribe relinquished their ancient lands: "Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother?"

Perhaps one component of the environmental community does. “Environmentalism” captures a wide group of people. Environmentalists include animal rights types, members of many faith traditions (Christian, Buddhist, etc), as well as a core group of SCIENTISTS, who are the ones who have done most of the heavy lifting until recently. Many within the environmental movement (most by my experience) are actually scientists who would find Kay’s allusion silly, if not stupid.

 Environmentalism embraces a myth of the Fall: the loss of harmony between man and nature caused by our materialistic society…This lost Eden never existed.

Interestingly, as a long-time member of the environmental community, Kay’s reference is the first I’ve heard of this claimed Eden. I’ve never heard claim to a notion of a “fall” in this context, except by the members of the environmental community that come out of a religious tradition. That’s independent (or at least only a subset) of “environmentalism”.
Humans have burned and eaten the environment since time immemorial.

Not a debated point. However, what’s at issue is not that we are “eating and burning”, but the massive scale that humanity is doing so now.
The first Americans crossed the Bering Strait and killed every tame animal they saw.

My inner snark wants to dwell on the semantics of “every”, but I will resist getting too twisted up in this strange claim.
Chief Seattle sold his heritage for a life of luxury and his eloquent speech may have been penned by a television scriptwriter.

This is an amazingly foolish thing to say, and quite off topic (a life of luxury?). One point to make clear, Chief Seattle’s famous speech wasn’t written by Seattle. It was written by a Dr. Henry A. Smith. At best, Dr. Smith was the only transcriber of the event, suffering it with only some embellishment. Smith wrote this account, though, in the 1880’s (from notes he took from the 1854 speech. Not likely any television scriptwriters around.). 15 seconds with Google could have prevented this asinine comment.

The litany of environmental degradation had to confront the manifest fact that many aspects of the environment were steadily improving, with cleaner air, rivers and seashores.

Another statement that I find disturbing. I guess that “less toxic than in the 1970’s” is “steadily improving” to Mr. Kay (for instance, one of the rivers that feeds Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga caught fire June of 1969. Is that really the point of reference you want use for the claim of “improving”?). “Steadily improving” requires a reference point, and the point at which the trend starts its upward migration is a rather dismal one. Considering that the environmental health of the world’s waterways is still weak, in an incredibly precarious way, this statement is quite foolish. Improving from deadly to almost able to survive is progress, if not acceptable.
…the world is warming up, which is plainly true

Agreed (of course).

…but that this warming is our fault, which is less plainly true.

Except to scientists who studies atmospheric and environmental science and are not employed by an industry “think tank”/PR group (yes, I hold contempt for such folks). I haven’t seen a peer-reviewed article in ages that refutes that global warming is human caused. The evidence within the glacial record, amongst several other pieces of evidence, is quite clear.

Environmental evangelists are therefore not interested in pragmatic solutions to climate change or technological fixes for it.

I’d love to see some substantiation of this claim. As an environmentalist who not only is, but works on a team with like minded individuals, this is obviously ignorant blather.

They are even less interested in evidence that if we were really serious about reducing carbon emissions we could do so by large amounts without significantly affecting our economies or our lives.

Actually, most members of the environmental community have been arguing this point for years. Not only are we interested, but are quite committed to it. Yes, there are some people who think that all humanity should revert to a hunter/gather society, but that’s hardly all-inclusive of the environmental community. As an aside, I do get quite a bit of pleasure pointing out that many companies taking leads in this area are quite productive. Toyota is wonderful example.

Business should treat the environmental movement as it treats other forms of religious belief.

If one equates “science” to “religion”. Some do...

The social impact of religions and ideologies, for good and ill, does not depend much on the factual accuracy of their stories.

Of course, if the facts line up behind the ideology… I do find it interesting he chooses to break apart “religions” and “ideologies” here.

The injunction to be careful of the impact of our actions on the air, the earth and the water is well taken.

Is it? If, in order to maintain the status-quo, you need to resort to claiming mountains of peer-reviewed scientific research is some strange adherence to a non-existent religious system, is it “well taken”?
The danger of environmental evangelism is that ritual, gesture and rhetoric take the place of substance.

This final claim is mind-boggling. The mountains of “substance” in support of human caused global warming are not substantive?

I’ve believed for some time that many economists cling to their religion of “the market system”. They cling desperately to these theoretical, abstract constructions that are completely disconnected from natural systems. Though I value the contributions many economists make, and the insights they provide, such nonsense as this published in the Financial Times is simply foolish. This piece is counter-productive, only serving to make the business community look ridiculous. Mr. Kay has written many interesting and intelligent works over the years (particularly in business structure and strategy); this is not amongst them. Had he committed his considerable intellect to this work, he may have had something valuable to say. However, his off-hand manner and complete disregard for facts and scientific evidence greatly detracts from his reputation and the quality of work normally present in the Financial Times. Quite a pity, really.

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