It is something of a cliché on the right to observe that the character of the environmental movement is generally religious rather than political or ecological — it has a deity, festivals, dietary laws (if you really cared about Gaia, you’d be a vegan!), an apocalypse narrative, etc.
And it also has its sacraments of reconciliation. It was no surprise, then to read this headline in the New York Times this morning: “This Earth Day, We Should Repent.”
If your interest is in human flourishing — say, how to balance economic dynamism with concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions — then that involves a series of scientific, economic, and political questions, tradeoffs, and compromises. If your interest is in penance, then you are not part of a social-reform movement — you are part of a cult.
The Times essay, by former UN official Hugh Roberts, is pretty fruity, e.g.:
Of course, there will be objections. For instance: Anything even remotely resembling repentance must be an oppressive relic of Christianity and so should be disqualified. This would be a momentous argument. First, it would prevent us from ever being truly sorry about anything. Second, it would disqualify many of the main tenets of secular Western society, which are clearly borrowed or repurposed from Christianity. The idea of a universal, linear movement toward salvation is uniquely Judeo-Christian.
Now we seek to remake a supposedly inhospitable world with knowledge. We glorify work, “the sweat of the brow,” and our “fortunate faults,” such as avarice, in the ancient belief that they enable our redemption. What is this? The attempt to remake Eden by the means of the fall?
If you are in the market for some truly sophomoric rhetoric about green penance offering you a more “authentic life,” then today is your day.