I admit it: I'm no environmentalist. But I like to think I'm something of a conservationist.
No doubt for millions of Americans this is a distinction without a difference, as the two words are usually used interchangeably. But they're different things, and the country would be better off if we sharpened the distinctions between both word and concept.
At its core, environmentalism is a kind of nature worship. It's a holistic ideology, shot through with religious sentiment. "If you look carefully," author Michael Crichton observed, "you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths."
Environmentalism's most renewable resources are fear, guilt and moral bullying. Its worldview casts man as a sinful creature who, through the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, abandoned our Edenic past. John Muir, who laid the philosophical foundations of modern environmentalism, described humans as "selfish, conceited creatures." Salvation comes from shedding our sins, rejecting our addictions (to oil, consumerism, etc.) and demonstrating an all-encompassing love of Mother Earth. Quoth Al Gore: "The climate crisis is not a political issue; it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."
I heard Gore on NPR recently. He was asked about evangelical pastor Joseph Hagee's absurd comment that Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath for New Orleans' sexual depravity. Naturally, Gore chuckled at such backwardness. But then the Nobel laureate went on to blame Katrina on man's energy sinfulness. It struck me that the two men are not so different. If only canoodling Big Easy residents had adhered to "The Greenpeace Guide to Environmentally Friendly Sex."
Environmentalists insist that their movement is a secular one. But using the word "secular" no more makes you secular than using the word "Christian" automatically means you behave like a Christian. Pioneering green lawyer Joseph Sax describes environmentalists as "secular prophets, preaching a message of secular salvation." Gore, too, has been dubbed a "prophet." A green-themed California hotel provides Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" next to the Bible and a Buddhist tome.
Whether or not it's adopted the trappings of religion, my biggest beef with environmentalism is how comfortably irrational it is. It touts ritual over reality, symbolism over substance, while claiming to be so much more rational and scientific than those silly sky-God worshipers and deranged oil addicts.