Is Belief in Climate Change a Religious Belief?

Via on Nov 11, 2009

Tim Nicholson, from PA, printed in telegraph.co.uk

Don’t know if you follow the guys over at Freakonomics, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. I find their observations to range from entertaining to insightful. But with their newest book, Superfreakonomics, they’ve decided to throw their hat into the debate about global climate change and have run into the proverbial sh*t storm. If you haven’t been following the showdown, start here and here.

So, I just caught this little blurb from Levitt re: a recent ruling in the UK. Tim Nicholson, who works for Grainger plc, has sued for wrongful termination on the grounds of his persistent adherence to the belief that human activities are causing global climate change. He was, after all, the “head of sustainability” at Grainger, so I guess that would be part of the job description. However, it is reported that his beliefs lead him to actions that were far more wide-ranging, including, refusing to travel by air and renovating his house to be more environmentally friendly. According to the article in the telegraph.co.uk, this resulted in friction between Nicholson and his managers, including a disagreement with a manager who had ordered an assistant to personally fly his Blackberry from London to Ireland after he had forgotten it.

The recent ruling allows Nicholson to pursue the wrongful termination suit under England’s 2003 Equal Employment (Religion and Belief) Regulation. This basically means that belief in climate change (even if it results in potentially disruptive changes in behavior) is protect in a similar way to philosophical and religious beliefs. Nicholson’s response is worth quoting:

I believe man-made climate change is the most important issue of our time and nothing should stand in the way of diverting this catastrophe.

This philosophical belief that is based on scientific evidence has now been given the same protection in law as faith-based religious belief.

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.

In one sense, this seems to be a great victory for the protection of speech and actions in response to climate change. But does it do more harm than good to lump belief in global climate change with religious and philosophical beliefs? Or are these beliefs somehow essentially connected? Is belief in global climate change more than just science?

About Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is a philosophy professor at Houston Community College - Northwest. He's a father of two and husband to fellow elephant columnist, Joana Smith. As a philosopher, he specializes in Descartes, the philosophy of mind, and phenomenology. He's interested in all kinds of things, but he blogs primarily about politics, spirituality, and good, green living. Follow him on twitter @smithnd. And share your thoughts in the comments; he doesn't bite.

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5 Responses to “Is Belief in Climate Change a Religious Belief?”

  1. It's clearly more than just science. But it's very clearly not religion either. It's science and politics and economics and sociology and business, etc., but not religion.

    One's religious beliefs might affect how one responds to climate change. But that doesn't make climate change religion any more than refusing medical treatment on religious grounds makes medicine religion.

    I have no idea how this affects the logic or sense of the British law, however, which appears to cover more than just religion.

    Thanks for the very interesting article.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://Yoga Demystified.com

  2. That makse sense to me ndsmith.

    I think "ethical philosophy", or even better just "ethical believe" is a good choice of words. It's what you believe is the proper ethical response to the science. Everyone has ethical beliefs whether they consider themselves religious/spiritual or not.

    Again, it appears on the surface that the law in question above is designed to take both into account.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  3. That makse sense to me ndsmith.

    I think "ethical philosophy", or even better just "ethical believe" is a good choice of words. It's what you believe is the proper ethical response to the science. Everyone has ethical beliefs whether they consider themselves religious/spiritual or not.

    Again, it appears on the surface that the law in question above is designed to take both into account.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  4. That makse sense to me ndsmith.

    I think "ethical philosophy", or even better just "ethical believe" is a good choice of words. It's what you believe is the proper ethical response to the science. Everyone has ethical beliefs whether they consider themselves religious/spiritual or not.

    Again, it appears on the surface that the law in question above is designed to take both into account.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  5. That makse sense to me ndsmith.

    I think "ethical philosophy", or even better just "ethical believe" is a good choice of words. It's what you believe is the proper ethical response to the science. Everyone has ethical beliefs whether they consider themselves religious/spiritual or not.

    Again, it appears on the surface that the law in question above is designed to take both into account.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

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