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Reblogged:Pushing Back Against a State Religion

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For some time, there has been talk within Objectivist circles to the effect that, if environmentalism isn't a religion, it has enough similarities to one that it can be useful to think about it as one. The most important one is the way many people think about environmentalist predictions, practices, and policies. (See P.S.)

Environmentalism as a religion-like phenomenon came up in a recent installment of Alex Epstein's Power Hour, in which he interviewed "Armchair Economist" Steven Landsburg on why he "is not an environmentalist."

The podcast title comes from that of an essay Landsburg included as a chapter in his book, The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life. And the title of Landsburg's essay pointedly echoes that of Bertrand Russell's famous lecture against Christianity.

I recommend reading the chapter in full: "Why I Am Not an Environmentalist" can be found as a PDF file here.

Within is a letter Landsburg wrote to his daughter's preschool teacher after the following event:
At the graduation ceremony, titled Friends of the Earth, I was lectured by four- and five- year-olds on the importance of safe energy sources, mass transportation, and recycling. The recurring mantra was "With privilege comes responsibility" as in "With the privilege of living on this planet comes the responsibility to care for it." Of course, Thomas Jefferson thought that life on this planet was more an inalienable right than a privilege, but then he had never been to preschool.
The letter is hinsightful and amusing, and what I like best about it is how Landsburg, who is Jewish, likely better sees the more of the religious nature of environmentalist teaching than many, because it was so similar to his experiences raising his daughter within our majority Christian society:
I contrast this with your reaction when I confronted you at the preschool graduation. You wanted to know my specific disagreements with what you had taught my child to say. I reject your right to ask that question. The entire program of environmentalism is as foreign to us as the doctrine of Christianity. I was not about to engage in detailed theological debate with Cayley's Colorado teachers and they would not have had the audacity to ask me to. I simply asked them to lay off the subject completely, they recognized the legitimacy of the request, and the subject was closed.

I view the current situation as far more serious than what we encountered in Colorado for several reasons. First, in Colorado we were dealing with a few isolated remarks here and there, whereas at the JCC we have been dealing with a systematic attempt to inculcate a doctrine and to quite literally put words in children's mouths. Second, I do not sense on your part any acknowledgment that there may be people in the world who do not share your views. Third, I am frankly a lot more worried about my daughter's becoming an environmentalist than about her becoming a Christian. Fourth, we face no current threat of having Christianity imposed on us by petty tyrants; the same can not be said of environmentalism. My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin. [bold added]
Tellingly, Landsburg never got a reply, much less an apology.

I, for one, am grateful Landsburg published his letter. I am not an environmentalist, either. I do not recycle and have made it clear to my children that we don't and why. And I still get questions about it from time to time, even when I don't see it come up -- as it often does -- in their schoolwork.

I will keep in mind Landsberg's experience as a parent surrounded by adherents to an alien doctrine, who variously assume agreement or proselytize: It will come in handy.

-- CAV

P.S.: I was going to say "environmental issues," but I have noticed in causal conversation how quickly that balloons into ethical issues. And that makes sense when you think about it: If someone is going to command you to wash out -- and store like gold -- plastic bottles that belong in a landfill, what detail of your life is going to remain untouched once you concede that there are environmental issues? There are bona fide ecological issues, but environmentalism is an ideological movement distinct from the science of ecology. It is important to keep the difference straight from the usual political issues all the way down through ethics and to the most fundamental branches of philosophy.

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