Gaia, false gods, and public policy

George Weigel

I claim no expertise in climate science. I do claim a certain competence in detecting spin in the media; for I’m a card-carrying member of that clan, as I’ve committed print journalism for more than 40 years and worked in television for over 20. Thus credentialed, I rise to note that serious spin has dominated media coverage of climate change for a long time now. There are, to be sure, exceptions to this rule. Since Hurricane Katrina, though, it’s generally been all-hysteria-all-the-time in reporting and commentary on weather and climate change. This may get eyeballs onto screens and newspaper pages; it doesn’t do much for cool, calm public debate.

So when the chief scientist in the Obama administration’s Energy Department, who’s also a professor of physics at Cal Tech, challenges the spin and the hysteria, attention should be paid. That’s precisely what Steven E. Koonin does in the recently published Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters: he takes on just about every shibboleth emboldening today’s crusaders against climate change. Professor Koonin doesn’t deny that the planet is warming and that human beings have something to do with that. He does question some of the claims behind the present drive to Do Something! through massive governmental interventions.

Thus, to quote from the Wall Street Journal review of his book, Professor Koonin shows, from the scientific data, that “tornado frequency and severity are…not trending up; nor are the number and severity of droughts. The extent of global fires has been trending significantly down. The rate of sea-level rise has not accelerated. Global crop yields are rising, not falling. And while global CO2 levels are obviously higher now than two centuries ago, they’re not at any record planetary high – they’re at a low that has only been seen once before in the past 500 million years.”

Not shocked (or angry) at Professor Koonin yet? Then try his own words: “Heat waves in the U.S. are now no more common than they were in 1900…the warmest temperatures in the U.S. have not risen in the past 50 years….Humans have had no detectible impact on hurricanes over the past century….Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was 80 years ago… The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.” 

As I said, I’ve no credentials to judge the accuracy of Koonin’s assertions. I do like his against-the-grain boldness, and I certainly agree with his argument that the science – not media and activist spin on the science, but the actual data from the many authoritative reports he cites – should govern decision-making about public policy and climate change. I also have an idea of why the climate debate has become so emotionally fraught. It’s not just because of media spin and political opportunism, although both of those play their part. It’s because environmentalism has become an ultramundane pseudo-religion.  

That religion has a deity: Gaia, the Earth. It has a sacred text: Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, which began the transformation of the American conservation movement (which respected the natural environment without deifying it) into contemporary environmentalism. It has its religious holidays, “Earth Day” being the Pentecost of the new religion and the occasion for homiletics that mimic Peter in Acts 2:14-36. (A pre-K student, I’m told, brought home from school this past April 22 the revelation that “we should get rid of our cars because they’re bad for the air.”) Gaia-religion has a kind of ersatz sacramental life: I’ve been in circumstances where there are seven recycling bins, which certainly rings bells in the Catholic mind. It inculcates a moral code; some of it makes sense – How can anyone object to the fact that our highways and national parks are virtually litter-free these days? – but other parts of it veer into the worst forms of elitist, anti-natalist zealotry, as when some of the new religion’s prophets urge shrinking the planet’s human population by six billion people in the name of saving (or appeasing) Gaia. And I certainly can’t be the only person who’s noticed that carbon trade-offs are the new religion’s form of indulgences – the selling of which in the 16th century led to a lot of trouble.

Is ours a secular world? Or is it a world that’s traded authentic religion for a modern form of idolatry – one that’s corrupting our politics because it displaces reason with the kind of existential dread the ancient Canaanites once felt about Moloch?  

COMING UP: Finding Courage and Inspiration in St. Joseph

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

WANTED:
A humble servant who can be trusted to raise the divine being who will save humanity from original sin.
Duties include: loving and protecting him and his mother from great danger.
Special skills: must be a proficient carpenter.

Few people would readily apply for the job that St. Joseph faithfully accepted — adopted father of Jesus. But, if we look, we see people all around us every day who are taking on great risks for God’s will. 

“To be entrusted by God to raise up God’s son was no small task,” said Mike W., a Catholic Charities employee.

Nearly 26 years ago, Mike accepted God’s will into his life when he and his wife Diane started their family of six children, four of whom are adopted, both domestically and abroad. “No small task,” indeed.

When the couple got married, they didn’t set out to have a large adoptive family. They got pregnant right away with their daughter Maggie, but then couldn’t get pregnant again for four years. They had friends who had adopted children and they encouraged Mike and Diane to consider it. ⊲

“I was apprehensive at first,” Mike said. “Though there were examples of other families around us and we had even talked about the idea of adopting while we were dating, making the decision for our own family at that moment was a process.” 

“However, we realized God looks for a willing heart. We saw where God was at work and we wanted to join Him in what He cares about, bringing the orphan into a family.”

The couple opened their hearts to God’s will and interracial adoption when they adopted Ian. Two years after God blessed them with Ian, they welcomed Jaden, who is their biological son. The two boys are best buddies, both tall and enjoy sports together.

Diane befriended the pregnant mother of their fourth child at church when the mom decided she was not in a place in her life to parent her child. Diane was able to be at the birth of Olivia. Before her birth, the nurse asked the birth mom what she wanted to name the baby and her birth mom said it wasn’t really her place because she was Mike and Diane’s child. After some coaxing from Diane, the birth mother said she wanted to name the baby Olivia. Diane stood in disbelief as this was the very name she and Mike had chosen weeks before. It was a moment of confirmation for everyone that this was God’s will too. Mike said it reminds him of the powerful moment God told adoptive father Joseph that Mary would have a son and she should call him Jesus.

“There is a need for adoption and orphan care and we are thankful the circumstances in our lives led us in this direction. Some aren’t called to adoption, but we were called to it personally. God showered us with grace that we could feel, that this is what God called us to do and we are beyond grateful for the opportunity to be family for each of our kids.”

MIKE W.

“Giving the adoptive father that power to name the Son was meaningful,” Mike said.

At this point, Mike and Diane had four children under the age of eight — two biological and two adopted — but Mike said God wasn’t done with them yet. The couple decided they would adopt internationally two more times, so Nikki and Jaxian were adopted from the same orphanage in China. 

The kids are thriving, and a listener can hear the proud father smiling when he talks about his kids and their interests — whether it’s playing piano, soccer or football, or singing in concert, or mission work, or coffee barista work.

That’s not to say their lives aren’t complicated. At one point the kids attended five different schools and during COVID homeschooling, the family had five teenagers in the house at once. The challenges that come with a large adoptive family means there is a demand for a supportive network of friends and family. 

The family takes in all that life brings as part of the adventure and the parents don’t shy away from challenges. Four years ago, they purchased a piece of land in Arvada with a run-down home that could have been featured on a TV renovation show. 

The realtor tried repeatedly to talk the couple out of buying the home and Diane’s father, a construction framer by trade, walked in the home and turned right back around and walked out, Mike said. But the couple saw great potential and could envision turning it into a wonderful home for the family of eight.

Everyone in the family has played a role in the transformation from wielding the sledgehammers for demolition to moving rocks in the yard and planting a garden. That willingness to take risks to follow God’s will is a spirit that is shared among the family. Mike sees it reflected in Joseph’s faith and actions as he took on the risk of God’s will, brought Jesus into his household and taught him a skill as a carpenter — all just to please the Lord.

“We have a saying in our family, ‘see the need, meet the need,’” Mike said. “There is a need for adoption and orphan care and we are thankful the circumstances in our lives led us in this direction. Some aren’t called to adoption, but we were called to it personally. God showered us with grace that we could feel, that this is what God called us to do and we are beyond grateful for the opportunity to be family for each of our kids.” 

Courage in Action
Mike and his family try to live out the virtues of St. Joseph. When you listen to the Lord for your calling, please consider that the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal helps fund more than 40 ministries, like Catholic Charities, to help bring Christ to those in need. Put your courage into action with the appeal: archden.org/givenow