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The Green Life: Is Environmentalism a Religion?

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November 09, 2009

Is Environmentalism a Religion?

Nature lover A recent U.K. court ruling determined that environmentalists could be given the same workplace protections as religious observers. The Employment Appeals Tribunal case involved Tim Nicholson, who claimed he was laid off from his position as head of sustainability at a U.K. property firm Grainger because of his belief that "man-made climate change is the most important issue of our time," reported the Telegraph.

The judge's ruling that "a belief in man-made climate change... is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations" could protect an employee's right to recycle paper or compost his or her lunch. It also raises questions about whether environmental beliefs are science-based or faith-based in the eyes of the law.

Nicholson praised the ruling but clarified that his belief "in man-made climate change is not a new religion, it is a philosophical belief that reflects my moral and ethical values and is underlined by the overwhelming scientific evidence."

However, some scholars argue that environmentalism does have all the characteristics of a religion. University of Maryland professor Robert Nelson told the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty that "environmentalism is a secular religion, and one that sees modern science and economics leading not to heaven on earth but, perhaps, to hell on earth, the punishment for human beings trying to assume God-like powers."

Some religious leaders, while not granting environmentalism status as a religion unto itself, have placed "creation care" under their faith's jurisdiction. Last year, the pope declared that polluting the environment is a sin.

Conservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir may have seen faith and environmentalism as intertwined. Muir said, "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."

--Della Watson

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