NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Environmentalism A Religion?

June 24, 1996

Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt claims that the Endangered Species Act reflects a "plan of God," quotes the Bible and rejects "mankind's expansion at the expense of Creation." Babbitt is an example of the increasingly religious, apocalyptic, even messianic tone of some environmentalists.

Moderate environmentalists argue that environmental protection is justified because it benefits humanity -- for example, plant and animal species of the rain forests may provide cures to major diseases. They even claim that environmentalism is economically beneficial.<

But economists have found that the cost of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, for instance, outweigh the benefits: even the EPA agreed in 1993 that the Clean Water Act provides few direct economic benefits, although it imposes costs of $50 billion a year.

Rather than rational arguments for their case, other environmentalists have adopted religious themes -- Judeo-Christian and animist -- including humanity's guilt and the need for salvation. For example:

  • Environmentalism would only succeed when it had a religious foundation, concluded Lynn White in a famous 1967 Science article.
  • Roger Kennedy, director of the National Park Service, declared in 1994 that "wilderness is a religious concept" that should be a "part of our religious life."
  • Paul Watson, a founder of Greenpeace, said, "We, the human species, have become a viral epidemic to the earth" and the "AIDS of the earth."

Critics contend that it is not a coincidence that the green movement today is strongest in Protestant countries like Germany, Sweden and Holland. And they question how, if environmentalism is essentially religious in nature, it can be taught in the schools and supported by the government.

Source: Robert H. Nelson, "Bruce Babbitt, Pipeline to the Almighty," Weekly Standard, June 24, 1996.

 

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