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If Environmentalism were a Religion

If environmentalism were a bona fide religion, employers and others would have a tough time. Let’s be glad it’s not a religion, and avoid silly arguments that it is.

One thing you hear from proponents of carbon pollution and climate change is that environmentalism is a religion. It’s a silly argument, of course, but to show how silly something is, it is often best to take it to its logical conclusion. This post is a short, simple attempt at that exercise.

Before that, do they really mean they believe environmentalism is a religion? What they seem to mean is that it constitutes an unchecked belief in the primacy of the environment, a faith-based worldview that prefers the maintenance of the environment, that divides actions into sins and acts of virtue on the basis of how they apply to the environment, etc. So, yes. They apparently do believe it is a religion.

What results would come from recognizing environmentalism as a valid religion?

Start with employers. Employers typically have to make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs. So Environmentalists would get Earth Day (22 April) off. But is that all? There are quite a large number of days dedicated to specific environmental issues. Some are more notable than others, like Arbor Day (last Friday in April). Some wouldn’t fit the bill at all, like Bike-to-Work Day (third Friday in May), as taking the day off would defeat the purpose.

Employers also might be required to take pro-environment steps to meet the religious accommodation requirements. Now, a truck driver probably couldn’t force an employer to replace a carbon-fueled truck with a H-powered truck or an electric truck, but to the extent that they could make modest changes to reduce the environmental burden, it might be required.

To the extent that it does not present an undue hardship on the employer, an Environmental religion practitioner would have the ability to proselytize during work. Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to not supply certain drugs for religious reasons. Environmentalists might be able to use those laws or similar laws to refuse to sell environmentally harmful products.

It would also increase the cost of compliance across the business world. Lawyers cost money, and they would be needed to deal with the increase in issues related to the Environmentalism religion. Public employees may also have additional religious rights that various governments would have to make accommodations for.

It should also be noted that given the Hobby Lobby decision, which did not establish a sweeping revision, but may point to further rulings in the future, Environmentalists might gain the right to not pay for childbirth and related healthcare, if they believe overpopulation is a burden to society and an affront to their religion.

Beyond employers, other current and future laws protecting religious freedom would also cover an Environmentalist religion. School vouchers and tax credits could be used to send children to Environmentalist schools. They would be eligible to give invocations or prayers at government meetings.

There is a massive interplay of regulation that would also have to be considered. For example, if a drug company had an environmentally intensive manner for the manufacture of a drug, would an Environmentalist be allowed to violate the patent protection to have it manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner? The issues go on.

Environmentalism is not a religion, but if it were it would result in a number of changes in society that the people who currently, naïvely claim it is a religion would no doubt bitch about. The same applies to any other silly claim that some thing x is a religion.

Making Capitalism Care

Thinking about how to make capitalism sensitive to the problems it creates or compounds.

People often lament the capitalist view of economics (which itself is a corruption of the underlying mechanics, but still a better explanation than any other yet writ), claiming it imposes certain dire outcomes upon the world. These harms include social parasitism by the dominant cohort, wage slavery, ecocide, and advertising.

Indeed, Upton Sinclair, the famous socialist muckraker, said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” To expect a coal company or a Koch-head to understand the risks of pollutive terraforming (also called climate change) is like expecting a mailman to understand the Internet. Once we establish the problem, willful blindness caused by an insensitive incentive scheme, the solution seems to present itself: change the incentive scheme.

How do we make capitalism care? Or first, can we or should we? Many liberal people believe it is a lost cause. Indeed, some of their own paychecks depend on them believing that abolishing capitalism is the ticket. But for the majority, we can see both the good and bad in capitalism. We can see it in the relatively cheap foodstuffs and relatively short lines to buy them. We can travel coast to coast mostly unmolested by the state or privateers (depending on our mode of transport).

And the downside is equally apparent. Many services are encumbered with adroit legalese that burdens us with high prices for anything from mere entertainment to life-sustaining medical care. To quote the Tao Te Ching, “The more legal affairs are given prominence, the more numerous bandits and thieves.” And yet we are a legalistic society, where the capitalist aesthetic has invaded even the criminal justice system; the rich are free to go, the poor charged to stay.

(It is entirely common to see Internet discussions devolve to the bare legal issues and seem settled from these alone. The legality is never the whole story, though. Legal discussions are an appropriate subdiscussion, but such threads should acknowledge there is a bigger picture.)

So, it seems, we should make capitalism care about the pain it exacts from us. There is every reason to think the system can be improved in this way. After all, the care of capitalism, the sensitivity that makes it effective at all, is already fictive. Adding more lies upon the existing successful lies can improve it, if they are the right lies.

Lies is not the precise word. We already care, truthfully. But to make capitalism budge, it requires formally telling capitalism that some value now exists where capitalism did not see it before. And we have been very successful in this maneuver in the past. We, at one time, cared not for clean rivers or streams. Not even to drink from. And then we told capitalism we did.

Capitalism may develop something akin to antibiotic resistance over time, as the sensitivities we try to impose on it erode. Our waterways became somewhat less adulterated, at least for a time. Some are worse now than ever before. But only because capitalism became insensitive again, or because it was never sensitive to the particular pollution form.

The question arises, can we make capitalism care without resorting to the sorts of artificial constraints it may desensitize itself to?

Picking Arbitrary Values and Numberline Subtraction

Kids are learning subtraction with the numberline, and how their arbitrary value choices reflect the trends of society.

Society has a plethora of arbitrary values. I was inspired to see that kids are learning subtraction using the concepts of distance and the number line (LearnZillion: Solve subtraction problems using a number line). I’ll give an example if you didn’t check out the link.

  1. Pick two numbers x, y (given: 273, 834).
  2. Construct a number line with the given numbers as points:
  3. Step up or down from the numbers in hops:
  4. Add up the hop distances:
    500 + 60 + 1 = 561

So 834 - 273 = 561.

But the neat thing is that it gives children the chance to learn about making choices of where to hop. Given 105 - 35 they might hop to 55 and then to 105 or they might hop (bidirectionally) to 40 and 100.

The best choices for this sort of subtraction is, as far as I can tell, the following:

  1. For each common column, from smallest to largest, hop from the low number until that column is normalized.
  2. If the last hop increased the column count, include that column as a common column.
  3. Add the remaining uncommon amount of the larger number.

So for 123,456 - 789:

120,000 + 2,000 + 600 + 60 + 7 = 122,667

At each step we only focus on matching the single column. If we overrun the default number of columns for the smaller number (eg, 856 + 600 = 1,456), we may take more steps. But we will never add more than nine of whatever unit size we’re focused on.

So in this case we probably have a good algorithm for picking what would otherwise be arbitrary hops. Kids can still learn the method without this algorithm, and they can play around with finding their own hops.

But we find arbitrary numbers throughout the law and in our daily lives. They have economic, social, and psychological ramifications. Tax brackets tend to be based on arbitrary income levels, for example. Inflation and other factors (such as the number of people with incomes previously considered outliers increase) may invalidate those existing, arbitrary values.

We should tend to avoid arbitrary values in the law. Fines should be based on an individual’s income, as is done in some European countries. Fining a poor person the same as a rich person for a minor infraction such as speeding makes zero sense. Either the fine will be excessive for the poor person, or it will be meaningless to the rich person.

We may again face problems with arbitrary values as new technologies come along. Autonomous vehicles may be able to safely exceed speed limits, but will undoubtedly be forced to comply with limits that make little sense for years beyond the widespread adoption of such vehicles.

And yes, the federal budget. What amount should the budget be? We have endless scoring of laws and regulations from the Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget. But when we actually formulate the budget, it is entirely arbitrary. It is based on whims and beggings of special interests, or on emotional appeals for the social welfare.

I favor social welfare, but just as prison sentences should be chosen for their effect and not out of emotional reflexes, so should social welfare programs budgets.

But at least young kids will become acquainted with picking arbitrary values using the number line. Maybe they will find algorithms for picking other values that have profound repercussions on society. Or maybe they’ll just get better at picking the arbitrary ones.