In this series of thoughts on why people have rejected climate change, I explore some of the many reasons but perhaps this is the most controversial. I suggest there is a link between religion, God and ‘belief’ in climate change science. This I’m sure is a provocative theory, and here are my thoughts on it.
As a species, more powerful than any other, humans feel insignificant. In the scheme of the cosmos, the billions of years of Earth’s existence, hundreds of millions of years of evolution and countless calamities such as ice ages, earthquakes, and volcanoes, we feel powerless. Even for atheists, people simply don’t feel that they can possibly have any impact on such a major thing as the Earth’s climate. There are so many ‘forces of nature’ that are far greater than what humans are capable of exerting. And for most people who have some form of belief in a supreme being such as God, surely, the enormity of changing the climate is beyond them.
Associated with this feeling of actual insignificance, is the physical experiences we all have which makes us have a sense of being small, a ‘grain of sand’, here on earth but for a brief moment. We have learnt that the entire presence of humans in the timeline of Earth’s history is just a tiny blink in time. Even a simple trip across the world on an aeroplane gives an overwhelming sense of the enormity of the world, its oceans and skies, compared with the smallness of people.
Perhaps the best clue for the connection between religion and climate science (for some people) is in the use of the word ‘belief’ when they say “I don’t believe climate change is caused by humans“. While religion is a matter of belief and of faith, science is not a matter of belief. Climate science is established through what is known as the scientific method with which we acquire objective knowledge based on empirical data, not on faith or belief. It is the same scientific method that has given us medicine, cars and aeroplanes, computers.
Another association of climate change with God is best summarised by a short conversation I once had with a man I met at a wedding dinner table. Once again, as soon as I explained the work I did, the man sitting next to me (yes he was Caucasian, and over 50) had a simple explanation of climate change and the force of God; saying that “if climate change is happening and humans are going to be wiped out, then perhaps that’s how God is planning it, that’s how it’s meant to be. Perhaps that’s how human existence is meant to end, and other species will take over”. As we were at a wedding celebration, I didn’t have the heart to ask him what he would do if he was diagnosed with a life threatening but treatable disease. Would he take any action and seek treatment to save his life, or would he simply accept that perhaps that’s the way God meant to be!
2 Responses to The psychology of rejection: 4
This all reminds me of a book by James Baldwin, titled “The fire next time” in which the author is urging America to examine the injustices of its race relations at the time (the reference being a religious one to Noah’s ark and the warning given prior to the deluge, inference being that the falling waters enabled man to get away with it; next time it won’t be water, but fire). Baldwin looks at the place of religion in the race relations of the day and basically attacks the injustices of civil rights in America of the mid twentieth century.
In suggesting a link between religion, God and ‘belief’ in climate change science, you are touching on a point of sensitivity. So much so that I don’t think it has been articulated enough. The point I am making is that mankind in general has drifted so far away from the conscience of the natural environment that we have even come to view aspects of the natural environment as alien to our existence! Religion and environment are linked quite closely. I would quite confidently venture that all religions assert the protection of the environment as a good and moral thing, even as they might encourage man to exploit his dominion over most things nature. Therefore by pointing out that there is a ‘psychology of rejection’ as far as mankind, religion and the environment are concerned, I ‘believe’ (pun intended) that the key issue is one of alienation. Alienation from the environment, from religion, and all this happening as we become more knowledgeable but less certain about our existence, our place in this world and human values in general. It is an issue of great importance.
Why alienation? We as humans have alienated ourselves from what is natural, and yet what is natural is what has existed for the majority of time. As you say, humans feel insignificant despite being the most powerful species, what with the known impact of events and processes billions of years old such as ice ages, earthquakes, and volcanoes. There was a time when most people in what is currently thought of as the western world were staunch believers in a God and practiced a form of structured religion. Nowadays, such practices are merely the dying relics of a time gone by, as we apply the finishing touches on the death of religion as it once was understood. In its place has come another deity; the love of consumerism. This ultimately is what costs the natural environment, is what costs the ‘social fabric’ of communities and societies at large such as through loss of religious values and practices, and is the source of changing human behaviour (increasingly anti-social practices such as bullying in schools, drug trafficking and others). These social ills have come at the expense of the environment. There are so many ways in which we could discuss industrialisation and consumerism and the effects that they have brought onto man, but let’s leave this discussion as a high level sharing of thoughts.
In case you were interested, Baldwin was not a Caucasian over 50.