Environmentalism and religion…

Bryan Appleyard writes,

“Environmentalism, whatever the truth of its diagnosis, is a cry from the soul of the modern man. We want more but we do not know where to find it. Science’s effectiveness seems undeniable, yet its actual effects on the world are dangerous, disgusting, destructive. So the environmentalist tries to turn the effectiveness to more benign ends. He attempts to soften and control science. He attempts to humanize it by forcing it to co-operate with the organic systems of the planet.

As a substitute for religion, as a metaphysic, however, it is inadequate. Its obvious defect is that it offers only survival. The environmentalist may enthuse about the peace of mind he may attain through correctly green behaviour. But, at base, his reasons for that behaviour are purely practical. There is no transcendant rationale. It is a religion of catastrophe. We can only undo the harm we have done; we can aspire to nothing higher. All that we have achieved is as nothing before the mute, alien spectacle of nature. And that remains, as in the bleak vision of mechanical determinism, all that we can ever have, even in the Green paradise.”

In a sense, he is right about the lack of a transcendant rationale to environmentalism. I follow the site http://www.peopleandplanet.net regularly. It is educative in what it says about where we will head if growth and consumption remain our primary goals. But there have been times when I have wondered why is it they base their arguments on data, numbers, extrapolations, just the way growth-mongers do. At least to me, morally, there is no necessity for a justification. And when there is a moral justification, why base your case on numbers and projections? At its core, the idea of continuous economic growth and the marketing fuelled consumption road is wrong. And to base your case on numbers and projections is to leave yourself open to rebuttal from a different set of statistics. Take the case of the debate about the melting of glaciers. Environmentalists carry out a study and declare that the rate of melting has increased drastically. Then another science journal declares that the results of a study by another group of eminent scientists indicate that such fears are misplaced. Which study does one believe? I suppose, depending on the one that appears more reliable, the personalities you respect more. Or maybe, there are other reasons.

However, the point is that there is actually something like an absolute moral highground, which the environmental movement (and the world at large) seems to have forgotten. In the desire to prove their case, they seem to have missed the idea that people could as well be shamed into action, and do not always have to be incentivized into action, whatever the economists may say.

And ultimately, incentives are temporary. Circumstances change a bit, incentives will no longer work. On the other hand, where there is an “absolute truth”, a belief/faith independent of what the numbers say at a given point in time, we can be certain that our choices will not be temporary.

And it is in that sense that the loss of religion and faith will probably be our downfall.


Posted on June 10, 2005, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. this is an extremely well written piece. You should submit it to a magazine. Well done.
    (BTW, the first two paragraphs by Bryan Appleyard are brilliant. It is the most compelling argument for the cause that is environmentalism. i should start tracking his writing. )

    • Thank you. 🙂 I can’t seem to write longish enough articles that can be submitted to a magazine. But I think I do need to make a beginning. Let me see if I can think this through more!!

      Am reading this book called “Understanding the Present: An alternative history of science” by Appleyard. It’s quite interesting, at places insightful. I am halfway done, and so far, it’s been good, but not great. Occasionally, a few passages strike a chord, as this one did.

      As an aside, if you haven’t read Small is Beautiful, I would recommend it. It is simple, very insightful, and most of all powerfully honest. Schumacher also wrote “A guide for the perplexed” which is somewhat more confusing and less agreeable. But again, it is his honesty that makes it so.

  2. I agree, birdie….

    And yeah, I’m slowly catching up on LJ 🙂

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