Doug Edmeades: Environmentalism, the new god candidate

Welcome to our new-age 'ism' - environmental-ism and its babies, organic-ism, green-ism and vegan-ism. They seek to control mankind not to set it free, writes Doug Edmeades.

The Amish in America are a good example of a closed society, opposed to growth and trapped in a time warp.

The Amish in America are a good example of a closed society, opposed to growth and trapped in a time warp.

OPINION: "From Stellin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." I'm sure you know the author. Winston Churchill was forewarning us about the danger of two 'isms' – Marxism and Communism. He intuitively saw the dangers of these political movements. They seek, as the great philosopher Karl Popper concluded, not to free people to live life to abundance, but to control them in bondage.

Lloyd Geering, in his book Christianity Without God, predicted that as people become more secular in their thinking they are inclined to leave their god behind and seek other more relevant gods.

He suggested that the environment was a likely god-candidate.

As things have evolved, he was right - welcome to our own new-age 'ism' - environmental-ism and its babies, organic-ism, green-ism and vegan-ism. These ideologies have all the key characteristics of 'isms', – they seek to control mankind not to set it free.


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We humans are inclined to do this – to create gods and ideologies - when we get frightened because we cannot find immediate answers to our questions. Put yourself into a pre-science age and try to explain what lightning is? What about thunder and rainbows?

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We hate not understanding and when we do not understand we get frightened and when we are frightened we are inclined to make up suitable and comforting gods and god stories to reassure ourselves that we are safe and heading in the right direction toward our salvation. The Ismatics who perpetuate 'isms' love fear and uncertainty.

Science is different. It seeks to explain the world around us and the explanation changes as new evidence is found.

The development of our concept of atoms has changed and changed again since the idea was first proposed by the Greeks back in antiquity. Science, as this example demonstrates, is not constrained by ideology or belief. It evolves based on evidence. It is not a set of fixed beliefs – it is not an 'ism'.

So, two decades into the 21st century, we find ourselves lined up along the parapets re-enacting in a modern setting one of the oldest philosophical debates. Progress based on evidence or idealism based on fear. Too dramatic? I do not think so.

Just this week I heard one environmental extremist declare, "Mankind is definitely the worst thing to happen to the planet." This is right up there with David Cunliffe's declaration, "I'm ashamed to be a man."

We can, if generous, grasp what problems such comments allude to, but they are hardly rational solutions. One of the symptoms of 'isms' is sloganism.

The Labour Party's recently released freshwater policy demonstrates another characteristic of 'isms'. Labour seeks to achieve some idealised water quality goals by controlling one section of society by capping farm inputs like fertiliser use and stock numbers.

David Parker's description of the policy demonstrates the underlying draconian attitude. "… if you are going to turn an ordinary piece of pasture into a feedlot or a low intensity farm into a high intensity farm… you will need a resource consent – and sometimes you will not get it."

I had thought that our environmental policies were to be based on outputs not inputs. If we have the technology to farm intensively and at the same time meet the required environmental goals, lets' go for it.

This output-based approach also embraces openness - it leaves the future path open to innovation – indeed it encourages innovation to develop new tools and technologies in order to meet new challenges.

Some are using environmentalism to impose their own 'isms' onto society.

I have no problem with food-technology research directed toward developing foods from plants – diversification has always been a consequence of innovation. But to use this situation to impose veganism onto society is morally bankrupt. T

here are important evolutionary reasons why homo sapiens eats cooked meat! And let us not forget that plants rich in proteins – legumes – require higher fertiliser inputs than grain crops.

These new 'isms' can be bewitching but they are rarely holistic – considering the whole system.

'Isms' are dangerous because they require a commitment to a set of beliefs that are intractable. They are not open to scrutiny or debate and every new circumstance or fact encountered must be molded to fit the ideology. They are closed, they are opposed to growth and trap society in a time warp.

The Amish in America provide a good example. The organic ideal of farming like our grandparents is another.

That is why the debate between farming and environmentalism is so polarised. Environmentalism, in its extreme expressions, seeks to impose rules, limits and caps to achieve environmental goals that are typically based on idealism rather than evidence.

Farmers will, sometimes reluctantly, choose well-reasoned equitable environmental constraints but they instinctively demand the freedom to either choose the best science-based remedies for their farm, or even better, develop their own innovative solutions to achieve the desired goals. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I have argued elsewhere that science is under threat because that well-placed historical confidence in the importance of science in the development of humanity has, and is being, undermined by ideologically driven 'Ismatics', hell bent on imposing their value system, their god, their irrational reasoning on human progress.

From the Enlightenment to the postmodern PCism of today an iron certain has descended. Save the planet, sure, but what about humanity?

Dr Doug Edmeades, MNZM, is an independent soil scientist and managing director of agKnowledge. He is happy to hear from readers:

 - Stuff


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