The Corner


‘Climatism’ and the Apocalypse

Rangeley Lake in Maine, August 23, 2005 (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The argument that some strains of environmentalism (in particularly in the area of climate change) have strongly religious characteristics is not a new one, but not all religions are the same: The defining characteristic of (again) some aspects of the current climate change crusade (I use that word deliberately) tie into a specifically millenarian religious tradition, something that is now attracting the attention it deserves.

Here’s Josef Joffe, writing in Commentary:

Relate Climatism to Judeo-Christianity, and the psycho-structural analogies abound.

First, you need a prophet like Isaiah who rains damnation on the wayward. “Woe to a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers! They have forsaken the Lord and turned their back on him” (Isaiah 1:4). Greta, and Gore before her, replicates the language of the Good Book. Today, penitence demands renouncing the obscene material pleasures that doom our planet with megatons of noxious gases.

Second, invoke the apocalypse, as in the Revelation of St. John (Revelation 13:13), where God will “make fire come down from the heavens.” Religion, pagan or monotheist, is shot through with cosmic angst attacks…

That last point is, of course, true, but there’s no getting away from the way, regardless of any pagan antecedents, that, in the West at least, the specifically religious notion of ‘excess’ (as well as its flip side, an ostentatious insistence on asceticism) and the threat of an imminent judgment day comes from within the Judeo-Christian tradition. The source of this narrative’s remarkably persistent psychological appeal is a different, if related, question and a topic for another time. Spoiler: The answers to it aren’t pretty.

But back to Joffe:

Third, if you “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15), Armageddon will yield to hope and salvation. But deliverance demands sacrifice, an idea going back to the earliest days of humanity. You could once expiate your sins by burying your baubles. Today, you must trade cars for bicycles. Stop gorging on meat whose production destroys forests and poisons the atmosphere with methane. Shrink your carbon footprint by using trains instead of planes. Ditch plastic in favor of hand-knitted shopping bags.


Inspired by Aristotle and David Hume, the philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote: “All theories are hypotheses; all can be overthrown. The game of science has no end. Those who decide that scientific propositions are final retire from the game,” leaving behind “pseudo-science or faith.”

Read the whole thing, not least for what Joffe has to say about the Green New Deal.


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