September 20, 2008
Quadrant claims that it is Australia's leading intellectual monthly. Is this claim justified? We can explore this by looking at Ian McFayden's Our New Established Religion in the latest issue.
This article refers to climate change and environmentalism, and it works within the conservative tradition that holds environmentalism is a religion and that greens are anti-capitalist and desire a return to pre-modernity. McFayden finishes his article thus:
Environmentalism has, in a mere fifty years, attained the hegemony, political influence and moral authority formerly accorded to the church. We have come the full circle to a pre-Enlightenment society, ruled by an officially sanctioned religion that is as dogmatic, inquisitorial and eschatological as medieval Christianity, where environmental scientists are the clergy, Green is the colour of purity and the central icon is not Jesus suffering on a cross but the image of a tortured planet dying for our sins.
I find it astonishing that conservatives can continue with this fiction in the light of both the public policy being guided by natural science and the policy embrace of an emissions trading scheme to address market failure (eg., externalities of greenhouse pollution) through the use of market mechanisms. What is being argued in public policy circles is the nature of that trading scheme. This locates us firmly within modernity and the ecological Enlightenment.
What then is McFayden's argument. He says:
What is interesting about the debate—what sets is apart from almost every other scientific investigation in the last two centuries—is that within no more than a few years, several people announced that the issue was no longer a debate at all. Despite the fact that climate scientists were still analysing data, revising models and indeed revising modelling methods, it was proclaimed publicly that there was no longer any doubt; the issue was resolved; it had been proved beyond a doubt that the world was getting warmer, humans were to blame, and the world was facing a major catastrophe as a result.
"It had been proved beyond a doubt"? was not the claim by the UN's international panel on climate change. Their talk is in terms of scientific consensus that is constantly being modified as new data comes in.
McFayden goes on to say that:
Whatever the complexities of climate and climate science, one thing is clear: there was a specific point where the theory of global warming ceased to be a scientific hypothesis to be tested over time and became an incontrovertible article of dogma. Indeed it became the critical article of faith that would finally lock all the various environmental issues together in one overarching doctrine and bestow incalculable gravitas on the religion of Environmentalism, finally establishing it as the official religion of Western society.
He argues for this by saying that "just in case this seems to be a wildly rhetorical characterisation, consider the follow [sic] features that Environmentalism shares with religions in general. Just because two different things have similarities does not mean that are not different. What is driving the establishment of an emission trading scheme is economics and the market which is the core part of the liberal Enlightenment and the liberal understanding of modernity.