Facts aren’t necessary – Environmentalism is about Belief

by Michael Trigoboff, Ph.D.Computer Science Dep’t, Portland Community College

Philosophers Michael R. Nelson and Kathleen Dean Moore seem to think that everyone who disagrees with them on scientific issues related to global warming is evil. I am more of a scientist then either of them and I disagree with them, but not because I’m evil.

I’m skeptical that increases in CO2 are causing global warming because I have doubts about the computer models this claim is based on. I have a Ph.D. in Computer Science and 30 years of experience as a software engineer. I know something about how the models work, and lack confidence that they are a strong enough basis for this claim.

Ice Age Ending

There’s a religious aspect to this issue that deserves consideration. Calling your opponents “evil” is a tactic from the world of religion, not the world of science. Here’s a quote from a speech by Michael Crichton:

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 cannot 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.

One way to paint skeptics like me as evil is the use of the term “denier.” This term, with its echoes of “Holocaust Denier,” paints skeptics as Nazi sympathizers. Speaking as a Jew who grew up in NYC in the 1950’s and knew people with the numbers from the Nazi concentration camps tattooed on their arms, it’s an obscenity for the “believers” and their rhetorical allies to abuse the memory of The Holocaust in this way.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere. The CO2 cycle has two parts: emissions into the atmosphere, and removal from the atmosphere by geological and biological processes. We could reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by either reducing emissions or speeding up removal.

The removal side of the CO2 cycle has possibilities. The growth of plankton in the ocean is limited by the amount of available iron. Adding iron to the ocean produces large blooms of plankton. Plankton make their calcium carbonate skeletons by pulling dissolved CO2 out of the ocean water, which in turn pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere. When the plankton die, their skeletons filter down to the ocean bottom forming limestone, effectively trapping the carbon. Iron is cheap and plentiful. The effect was discovered as a result of dust storms, which deposited iron-bearing dust into the oceans, which means that it already happens in nature.

But the “believers” are only willing to consider emission reduction. Speeding up the removal side of the CO2 cycle goes against their religious beliefs. They raise questions about potential unanticipated side effects. But that’s true of anything that humans do. Just recently, large windmills have been shown to cause subsonic noise that disrupts the sleep patterns of anyone unfortunate enough to live near them.

I don’t believe that the connection between CO2 and global warming has been established. I have good technical reasons for not trusting the computer models. I don’t share the religion of the “believers.”

Calling me “evil” because of these things is an act of religious intolerance.


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