Green Watch

A Cult of Climate Change?

Elites in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., are flailing in a stream of allegations and revelations of sexual misconduct. Some of the most vocal proponents and funders of women’s rights groups—like Harvey Weinstein, a major Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood supporter—are being exposed as hypocrites in their treatment of women as sex objects.

Perhaps the most shameful example of elitist hypocrisy, though, involves climate change.

Entertainment elites are famous for championing environmentalism with an evangelistic zeal. The most recent example of this came in early June, when President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, citing the disastrous potential effects of staying in the agreement—nearly 2.7 million lost jobs and 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs by 2025, diminished average household income by $7,000, and “close to $3 trillion in lost GDP.” Many on the thespian Left howled in outrage.

“Today, our planet suffered,” Leonardo DiCaprio tweeted in response. “It’s more important than ever to take action.” “There has never in US history been such a destructive megalomaniac in the [White House],” added actress Bette Midler. “Thank you to US press and other numbskulls who put him there.”

The bovine Michael Moore was typically vulgar: “USA to Earth: F— YOU.” He tweeted,

Trump just committed a crime against humanity. This admitted predator has now expanded his predatory acts to the entire planet.

Almost immediately a cluster of stars moved to agitate against the Paris withdrawal. Bolstered by a sympathetic media using phrases like “speaking out”—designed to cast them as heroic warriors selflessly looking out for the helpless Earth—their words soon permeated the airwaves.

“The truth is that the citizens of the U.S. do not need Donald Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Accord,” actor Edward Norton announced at an event in Poland in late July. Norton, like many of his peers, seems to consider himself a climate change guru. He is also the UN’s “Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity,” a position he maintains with druidic gravity. It’s vital that “people realize that they are not separate from the web of life,” Norton said solemnly in his interview following the UN designation. He continued:

Biodiversity is not just about the spiritual or the intrinsic value of all the amazing species that live on Earth. It is also about many, many of the fundamental pillars of our economy that are woven into biodiversity health.

If climatology and global warming theory were settled sciences, this activism might be considered admirable. After all, it’s hard to fault someone for hysterics if they genuinely believe the world might be coming to an (avoidable) end.

But climate science isn’t settled, and global warming remains an unanswered question. The narrative that human carbon dioxide emissions drive global warming has failed to yield convincing scientific evidence—despite gobs of government funding—let alone academic consensus. That isn’t to say it can’t be true – only that scientists have a very long way to go towards understanding how humans interact with and affect the Earth’s climate before we can claim it as fact.

To this end, science-lovers should promote healthy skepticism and not chase an elusive consensus—or we risk cultivating a myth of ideological pseudo-science.

Dr. Richard Lindzen, professor emeritus of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), notes in the Daily Mail that sources claiming that the Earth is breaking global temperature records admit only a 38 percent certainty in their findings. “Seventy per cent of the Earth is oceans, we can’t measure those temperatures very well,” Lindzen says. Scientists at places like NASA “can be off a half a degree, a quarter of a degree…. Anyone who starts crowing about those numbers shows that they’re putting spin on nothing.” But adherents have grown increasingly fanatical about climatism, even as the evidence supporting their claims has waned. Lindzen continues:

As with any cult, once the mythology of the cult begins falling apart, instead of saying, oh, we were wrong, they get more and more fanatical….

So why do so many entertainment elites cling to global warming theory, and seek to silence skeptical opinions?

To many on the Left, global warming theory is a political issue, not scientific; so it’s subject to different pressures and expectations than scientific ideas. The scientific method, which bounds and defines science, is not ideological. It cannot be, since skepticism is an integral part the process – and skepticism precludes a blind attachment to ideological beliefs. Politics, on the other hand, has no such inherent limits.

Perhaps climate change devotion should be viewed in religious terms, not scientific. It can be argued that many of the most fervent believers in global warming theory bear resemblance to a kind of mystical climate change cult, complete with a priesthood and theology.

We’ll call it “climatism.”

Cults revolve around unique access to a kind of special knowledge that sets members above the ignorant. Administration of that knowledge is almost invariably authoritarian, since it must be protected from outside criticism.

As the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry defines it, a cult contains certain social aspects that set it apart from mainline religious denominations. Key among these are:

Submission: “Complete, almost unquestioned trust in the leadership,” who are seen as gifted with special spiritual insight;

Salvation: Salvation from evil is obtained only by association with the group and belief in its “special knowledge” and teachings;

Indoctrination: The group’s teachings are “repeatedly drilled into the members” as it concerns their “special knowledge,” which separates them from the rest of the (ignorant) world; and

Love bombing: Members show “great attention and love to a person in the group” for being a member of the ‘in’ group.

The foundation of climatism is its own special understanding of environmental doom—that resource consumption is destroying the planet. The key to this doom, though, is its preventability: If humanity’s access to carbon-based fuels were not a threat to Earth, there would be no need for human action. In a stroke, we establish humanity’s guilt for endangering itself, as well as the need for salvation from an apocalyptic disaster through human action—inevitably by government.

Global warming action manifests as penance and policy. Population growth (particularly in the Third World) is a “humanitarian disaster,” asserts the former head of the eco-group Friends of the Earth, so people need to stop having so many babies. Ecologist Kenneth Watt made the bold prediction in 1970 that, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil”; so government needs to restrict oil and natural gas consumption. Emissions from gas-consuming vehicles are contributing to global warming, so people should “buy more fuel-efficient cars” and “drive those cars less,” one journalist writes; but the government should impose “a price on carbon dioxide, or rais[e] gasoline taxes” in order to encourage skeptical buyers.

Placing the common good before your individual greed is, in other words, proper penance for contributing to the planet’s demise.

As conservative journalist and historian Michael Barone put it, the global warming cult has “[a]ll the trappings of religion”:

Original sin: Mankind is responsible for these prophesied disasters, especially those slobs who live in suburbs and drive their SUVs to strip malls and tacky chain restaurants.

The need for atonement and repentance: We must impose a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, which will raise the cost of everything and stunt economic growth.

It even has a bizarre form of “indulgences” for eco-sinners: carbon offsets for private jet-fliers and SUV drivers.

Climatism also requires a priesthood of sorts to ensure proper policies are put in place: enter the environmental elites. Like mystical Roman haruspices, scores of the rich and famous play at soothsayers in a bizarre sect that enforces allegiance to Mother Nature. And as these elites are the blessed few who can divine right from wrong, they feel charged with steering the ship of state for the good of the Earth – dropping nuggets of wisdom in the circles they deign to grace.

But this climate clergy isn’t held to its own standards.

Railing against over-consumption from the plush seclusion of their coastal manses, many of the wealthiest eco-driven elites are quick to condemn gasoline-powered SUVs and the people who drive them. Airplane travel, manufacturing, coal mining, and meat consumption are all fair game for finger-wagging patricians who don’t have to suffer the policies they extol.

Much of the lecturing by the environmental elites is reminiscent of the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, notes conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson in National Review. Swaggart, a Sunday morning televangelist in the 1970s-80s, “loudly condemned the sins of the flesh, while he privately indulged his worldly appetites.” The demands of the climate change elites, however, are far more onerous—and hypocritical—than the Rev. Swaggart’s calls for sexual restraint.

This hypocrisy is especially galling in the entertainment industry. In his Oscar award acceptance speech in March 2016, outspoken environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio thought it necessary to urge Americans to “work collectively together and stop procrastinating” on the issue of “the big polluters.” He proudly calls himself a “CarbonNeutral citizen” because he humbly sponsored the creation of the Leonardo DiCaprio Forest in Mexico in order to offset his carbon dioxide emissions.

DiCaprio’s cries for action might be better received if he abided by them himself. He could have quoted Augustine of Hippo:

“O Lord, make me chaste – but not yet!”

Like so many members of the environmental peerage, DiCaprio regularly flies on private jets, rents palatial yachts (including the fifth-largest in the world, owned, ironically, by an Emirati oil tycoon), and maintained a crisp, green lawn amidst the worst drought in California history.

He isn’t alone. Actor Mark Ruffalo also offers his own proverbs about the need to “go green” and promises to divest himself of investments in polluting companies… in three to five years.

Robert Redford, who sits on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes fracking is killing the planet. Fracking, he says, creates “devastated communities and plummeting property values.” Yet the facts seem to say otherwise. In North Dakota, a fracking boom has led housing prices to skyrocket, unemployment has dropped to the lowest in the nation, and labor participation rates are breaking nationwide records. Curiously, Redford—who owns three houses, drives (gas-powered) SUVs, and flies in private (gas-guzzling) jets—publicly opposes a plan by the Pacific Union College in California’s Napa Valley to build a revenue-boosting “eco-village” because it would interfere with the region’s “rural heritage.” At the same time, he’s been quietly selling development lots in Utah’s Sundance Preserve for a couple million dollars apiece intended for vacation homes at his Sundance Ski Resort – never mind the rural heritage concerns.

Note how rarely wealthy environmentalists decry the hypocrisy of their peers. Despite their eco-unfriendly lifestyles, do-gooders like DiCaprio are rewarded with media attention and praise for their activism because they’re part of the “club.” They’re more likely to receive gushing admiration than criticism because they share in the group’s “special knowledge.” It’s do unto others what you don’t want done to yourself.

Ultimately, alarmism presents more problems than solutions. Real science develops out of open discourse, not coerced consensus, and is always subject to questioning. As longtime science reporter Phil Berardelli notes in our series Sacrificing Scientific Skepticism, the best thing for advancing climate science is “allowing scientific inquiry to proceed independently, unhampered by preconceptions.”

If environmentalists truly want to get to the bottom of climate science, they should be the loudest voices for free debate and inquiry – not accusing dissenters of being “climate deniers.”

After all, the future of the Earth depends upon it.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is the Director of Policy Research at Restoration of America. He was formerly Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. Ludwig is a native of Orange County, California,…
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