by Tom McBride

The climate change narrative is a tale of impending catastrophe. There are three main actors: greenhouse gases, floods & fires & famines, and Generation Z. The latter is young and scared furious about the world they will inherit and insist that something be done to reverse the heating of the planet. Yet a prominent environmental lawyer said not long ago that even if every environmental law were perfectly enforced, it wouldn’t be enough to reverse the growing concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere. Tony Blair has observed that only by cutting back national economies can our current climate change be arrested, and no nation wants to go first and alone. 

What can help? What can motivate humankind to do something? The typical answer is self-interest: we will do this for ourselves or for our grandchildren. We want the planet to be livable for us. But there are limits to self-interest as a motivator. Lots of people won’t ever know their grandchildren or great grandkids. They live for today. People might wake up in their self-interest when they get flooded, but by then it may be too late. Anything else besides self-interest? 

History teaches that religion is a great collective motivator. People have killed other people by the millions in the name of religion. People have built temples and mosques and cathedrals in its name. They have composed music and told stories and written divinely inspired stuff of all sorts. Great artists have painted and sculpted in religion’s name. Could religion power a mass effort to save the globe? 

Well, greenhouse gases are what they are, and natural disasters are what they are. But what about the third major actor in the drama: Gen Z and Millennials? In fact, they are in Europe and North America not very religious. They poll as the most secular generation ever. They may be spiritual but not religious at all. Do not expect them, then, to save the planet by singing a Christian hyman such as “This Is My Father’s World” and interpreting it as a call to reduce carbon footprints. Their motives will be humanistic and self-interested, just as nearly all our reasons are when it comes to the climate crisis. 

But wait. Maybe there’s another way—another religious way. Have we forgotten about New Age? Maybe the first New Age philosopher was Spinoza, though he lived over three centuries ago and was much more profound than the pop gurus of the New Age. Spinoza recommended a new sort of religion altogether, with ideas so, shall we say, stimulating that it got him banned from orthodox religion altogether. Spinoza was a secular Jew and a great thinker.

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