Sunday, January 02, 2005

Environmentalism as a religion

I've read a couple of speeches of Michael Crichton, and this guy seems rather impressive to me. For example, in his speech "Environmentalism as a Religion"

he presents a compelling evidence that the humans have the inclination for a religion - giving their life a meaning - hard-wired in their brains, and environmentalism is just the most popular religion among the urban atheists. This religion has its

  • paradise - Crichton carefully explains that Nature is cruel and people have had to be tough in the past as well to survive; the sissy environmentalists don't realize what it really means to live in wild nature

  • sinners - most of us have been sinners, and we must undo these sins
  • judgement day - well, this is "The Day After Tomorrow", and every time it's proved that the particular day was not the judgement day, they won't abandon their conjectures but rather "edit" the expected date a little bit
  • believers, prophets, and evangelists - well, the prophets are the "consensus scientists" (which itself is an oxymoron, of course)

This religion, much like other religions, does not care much about the arguments of the "infidels" - those who are questioning the faith. But I've learned much more from Crichton's texts. For example, I used to believe that DDT was known to cause cancer - scientifically. Crichton forced me to look at this problem again, and after some web research, it seems pretty obvious that he's right and the experiments that have led to ban of DDT were most likely scientifically corrupt (they fed the birds with carcinogenic food, not just DDT).

This decision to ban DDT, that has already killed tens of millions of people, as he argues, mostly followed from a testimony of a "hysterical woman" called Rachel Carson who was apparently the Goddess of the environmentalist religion and the mother of junk science related to the health. Crichton's text also shows that many of us may be living with many other superstitions like that - about the second-hand smoke and other things. This is why I recommend you to look at his text. Crichton is a great advocate of the "obvious" general principles of science - such as its separation from politics and prejudices - but he also knows a lot of very particular facts that an intelligent reader will appreciate.


  1. Hey, u've got a very cool blog. And this last post was amazing.
    Happy New Years.

  2. hey nice blog. And I really liked this last post. It was amazing.

  3. Hi arsh! Thank you very much and sorry for the delay after pressing the "publish your comment" that you kind of obviously had to experience. ;-) Sometimes it drives one up the wall.

  4. Hey, even I thought Crichton was pretty much on the mark. Societies all do create religions. Even atheist societies. It's certainly true that some people treat environmentalism like a religion. (There are even some who treat superstring theory like a religion;-) And I certainly support the idea that science should take precedence over theology in the study of the environment.

    The environmental religionists are not the only distorters loose though. Anybody whose Ox is likely to be gored by any environmental policy is unlikely to take an objective view. Those who sell oil, pesticides, and SUVs are among them.

    Crichton is also of course right about some of the environmental havoc wrought by our ancestors (I gave more examples in another thread).

    He's on a lot less firm ground when he makes claims about DDT and global warming. It is unquestionable that DDT is very persistent in the environment and does interfere with raptor reproduction. Anti-malarial use of DDT has continued but it has lost its effectiveness because mosquitos have developed resistence. You (and he) really ought to gather a few more facts before you proclaim on that subject. It's interesting that the site you cite is a political one.

  5. Hi capitalist!

    The difference between the superstringy religion and the environmentalist religion is, of course, that the former is true and superstring theory is the language in which God *really* created the world. And who won't get it until the judgement day will spend the eternity in the hell of the spin foam! :-)

    My knowledge about the influence of DDT on raptors' reproduction is, of course, close to zero - which does not mean that I can't easily accept your statement as a fact, if you understand me.

    CDFE is a political website. It's not a good sign if one needs political websites to read such - otherwise pretty apolitical - ideas.

    All the best

  6. Yes, we've heard some talks about the SUVs already. An unnamed Hollywood star came to speak about the crime of using the SUVs, and then (s)he returned with his/her private jet back to California. ;-)

  7. lumo said... And who won't get it until the judgement day will spend the eternity in the hell of the spin foam! :-)How about those of us who don't understand either strings or LQG? Do we get some kind of limbo or is it spin-foam-hell for sure? (Which might not be too bad, since there are a bunch of things I've been wanting to ask John Baez and Lee Smolin!)

  8. I don't know for sure - there may be a difference between the atheists like John Baez and the pagans like you. Perhaps we should ask the Holy Father what will happen with you. ;-)

  9. The very first error in Crichton's talk is the fact that religion is not a cultural universal. You will have to pull yourself out of your current cultural matrix to appreciate the truth of that, but if you have stomach for the effort please read S.N. Balagangadhara, 'The Heathen in His Blindness... Asia, the West & the Dynamic of Religion', Publisher E.J. Brill, 1994.

    Once you recognize that many human cultures do not have religion, then the "inclination for religion hardwired in the brain" is so much pseudo-scientific nonsense.

    Environmentalism as a pseudo-religion may be a valid idea in America; but environmentalism existed and exists in non-religious societies.

    DDT had not banned in India, where malaria was/is a problem, I have used it myself, and a ban in America affects those countries that cannot manufacture it for themselves. Moreover, for malaria, "the amount of DDT a U.S. cotton farmer would have used on a 100-acre crop in 1968 is enough to protect every high-risk house in Guyana for a year or more." It makes sense to use DDT for anti-malarial purposes only, but ban its use it in agriculture.

    Also, I'm increasingly of the opinion that neither scientists nor religionists should have any say in how the world is run (semi-joking only), only engineers should be allowed to do so. This is because both religionists and scientists see the world in terms of absolute truth. (I used to think scientists were different from religionists, but Lubos has disillusioned me.) Engineers see cost/benefit ratios. It makes sense to ban DDT in the US if its (environmental) cost outweighs the benefits, but perhaps not in tropical India. There too, its use in other-than-mosquito control should probably be regulated. Every value judgment has a context.

    Every value judgment has a context, and one reason the religionists have to foist upon us the notion that religion is a cultural universal is because then their pronouncements can pretend to universal validity.

  10. Dear Arun,

    maybe you don't call various things a "religion" because of some subtle features of that religion, but the important point of Crichton's approach is the full analogy between the flow of the ideas and thinking in different religious frameworks.

    For example, if you want to argue that Buddhism is no religion, I won't buy it in this discussion. Incidentally, if you open

    you will see "Buddhism is a religion and ..."

    It is a religion in Crichton's context because it has all these features that Crichton mentioned - holy teachings, final judgement (nirvana), life in accordance with higher metaphysical principles, and so forth.

    Next topic. Your statement that environmentalism is only a religion in America, but not elsewhere - this is mostly an outcome of your blinded anti-american sentiment. In the past and other societies, people knew even much less about the causal relations - they did not even have science before 1650 or so - so of course if they believed in any kind of environmentalism at that time, it was as much religion as it is in America today, or even more.

    Concerning the engineers. You misunderstand what democracy is. In democracy, the policy decisions are done by the people's opinion, and people's opinions are being formed by various interests and notions of the truth (both absolute as well as less absolute) - and of course that religion and science have always been important players in that sense. The ideal "technocratic" society that you're dreaming about cannot decide what is good, what is bad, and what we should do with our lives and the planet. An engineer is a citizen like everyone else, and his profession is meant to design "engines" and tell you which of the projects to create such engines can work and what do they cost. But that's not enough to make a policy decision. You just can't run a society based on engineers only. You need visions, absolute truths etc. - you need something like science (well, and perhaps religion).

    Concerning DDT, you obviously think in terms of some India-centric point of view. He was not talking about India. He was talking about the countries where the DDT ban implied many deaths - it affects Africa but not only Africa. In India, there would be more deaths too without it.


  11. I don't want to get all M(mysterious) on you:), but don't you find it interesting that once a mind like Crichtons publishes a book like, "State of Fear" that the issue in the very first chapter, along with current events, makes probabilistic determination, come home to roost?

    You know, like creating a playground for the mind to experience the possibilties. Sort of like, using predictive features of graph productions, to see what will happen when the Higg's is turned on, for introspective valutions, of those same predictions.

    Although such events as we've seen on world stage with all those deaths, I find nothing rewarding, although from the perspective of predictive abilities how such warnings would, if scientifically reduced to other factors, would help us to read the possible coming events?

    Maybe string theory is like using the knowledge of the "stranger in a strange land syndrome:)," since the order of magitiudes have restricted the capabilties to predictions? This would be referenced in Peters blog on crackpotism comments today about the standard model?

    This would mean, their would have to be a emergent property(predictively based) from string theory that could foretell manifestations in the real world?:)

    I have not finished State of Fear yet, so I'll have to see what is in store:)

  12. Micheal Crichton was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 (Front Row) and received a sympathetic hearing. The response in the UK concensus scientific press (Science Notebook, The Times, London, 01/03/03, p13)? The item was denounced as an example of the sorry state into which public scientific debate has declined, ' a culture that regards scientific facts as a matter of personal taste'. And there we were thinking that the boot was on the other foot. I've not read State of Fear; the intelligence and judgement displayed in Chrichton's fictional output are sufficient encourage me to do so, and to expect a good measure of sense in what he says.

  13. Chrichton's figures on Malaria are totally bogus. So what do you think about the rest of his science?

    Here's my documentation. From the best of what I can figure, here is where Chrichton got his "science":
    It is believed that [malaria] afflicts between 300 and 500 million every year, causing up to 2.7 million deaths, mainly among children under five years.
    [Africa News, January 27, 1999] (I suppose citing an African publication is his way of getting out of being a responsible journalist.)

    Here is what the CDC says:
    The malaria mortality rate, from an analysis of field studies, was applied to these malaria-risk populations to produce an estimate of about 766,000 deaths among African children less than 5 years old for the year 1995. This model was recently refined to account for variations in malaria transmission intensity, and about 742,000 malaria deaths were estimated for the year 2000 [2].

    NOW we know where Michael Chrichton got his figures. In fact it was this particular inaccuracy that launched me into a frenzy over the global warming denial issue last fall.
    Here's some real reading: