June 07, 2007
Al Gore calls it, "The Assault on Reason," but his brand of environmentalism sounds a lot more like a new form of faith.
In his book "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore confesses that global warming: "offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission ; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose ; a shared and unifying cause ; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise ...
"When we do rise, it will fill our spirits and bind us together. Those who are now suffocating in cynicism and despair will be able to breathe freely. Those who are now suffering from a loss of meaning in their lives will find hope." When we rise, "we will experience an epiphany as we discover that this crisis is not really about politics at all. It is a moral and spiritual challenge."
Transcendence, epiphany, loss of meaning, hope . No, this is not really about politics, or science either, is it, Al? Al Gore's new role is prophet, calling us urgently to convert on carbons or perish, lest rising temperatures create Hell on Earth.
Environmentalism, as a movement, seems to breed such prophets. The mother of them all was Rachel Carson, whose 100th birthday we just finished celebrating. "Silent Spring," which launched modern environmentalism, began with an outright fable, a secular Eden: "There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings." But lately, an "evil spell" threatened to "silence the rebirth of new life." Many of Rachel Carson's scientific claims -- such as that pesticides were causing cancer -- were not consistent with the scientific evidence, points out John Tierney in the science section of The New York Times this week.
In a fat, rich country like America, the kind of "chemophobia" Carson championed only led us to waste money on various kinds of nonessential cleanups. In the developing world, the fear of DDT has led to massive human deaths from malaria over the last 40 years. But somehow the halos on environmental prophets remain unaffected by the human destruction their dogmas wreak.
I am not qualified to evaluate the scientific case for global warming. But three things about global warming give me pause.
1. It transforms the United States, as the world's most successful economy, into the chief evildoer in the world;
2. It justifies a massive extension of government power to regulate all aspects of our lives;
3. It makes having children a sin against the Earth. (Indeed, China recently justified its coercive one-child policy on carbon-reducing grounds.)
Arguments from nature almost never work in any other American context. Try talking about limiting people's sexual behavior, artificial reproduction or experiments on human embryos because "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature," and see what happens. Al Gore tries to tell you that it's because, in this case, the religion is backed up by solid science. I don't think that explains it.
Science is an open, nonideological endeavor, which means scientific truths are constantly being revised. Only some of these scientific truths end up entering the cultural bloodstream. Maggie Law: The amount of scientific evidence needed to establish a moral truth is inversely proportional to the degree to which this truth is congruent with liberalism's moral ends.
Efforts to cut off the scientific debate and to malign the characters of nonconforming scientists are another disturbing sign. If opposition to global warming measures is to be portrayed as an "assault on reason," then the voices of reason who oppose them must be shut down.
The thing is, for Al Gore and his followers, global warming is just such a doggone convenient truth.