Long has it been noted by conservative commentators that environmentalism is a religion, in which Earth becomes a deity, carbon emissions become sin, and environmental activism is the pursuit of paradise through good works.
But no longer is climate-change alarmism a cult of the hippie left. It has grown into a full-fledged establishment, a church, if you will, complete with funding (separation of church and state need not apply here), dogma, and clergy. Unlike the religions of old, there is no “wall of separation” between this church and the state, and that means a portion of our taxes ($39.14 billion were earmarked for energy and the environment in 2015) are really a tithe to the church.
Such an intertwining of faith and government merits a discussion of how the religion of environmentalism practically impacts us all: namely, how it is draining our wealth in an effort to buy us salvation.
Since Al Gore is too obvious an example of sanctimonious climate change pulpiteering by the climate change clergy, here’s Elon Musk at his unveiling of the Tesla Model 3, explaining our crimes against Mother Earth and asking the well-off to buy his guilt-assuaging (and truly brilliant) car. By his warm-up, one might expect a short session of self-flagellation with the “hockey stick” he would peel off the giant graph behind him (see minute 1:10).
Tesla is making money, of course, but not without a little government subsidy to grease the wheels of environmental progress, including, according to the Wall Street Journal, $7,500 from federal taxpayers directly subsidizing the purchase of electric cars, and Tesla’s sale of “zero-emission vehicle credits” to competitors who don’t meet federal standards for fuel efficiency.
Subsidies are one of many methods of bringing cash into the Church of Environmentalism, including private investment and research grants, but the most jaw-droppingly outrageous cash-raker is the carbon indulgence. As the Journal notes, “Tesla looks more like a classic of the reverse income redistribution of green crony capitalism, in which middle-class taxpayers subsidize billionaires who make products to satisfy the anti-fossil-fuel indulgences of the upper classes.”
How the Coffers Overfloweth
The whole cap-and-trade scheme enforced in some states and lobbied for nationally is really a mega-system of mandated purchase of indulgences—not the kind official Roman Catholic dogma has promoted, but the abused kind. This is the kind where, in the Middle Ages, people traded indulgences on outrageous claims of salvation from eternal damnation and permission to commit certain sins. In this case, trespassing companies pay more through carbon credits (by order of the state) to cover the sin of carbon emissions.
But if you, as either a business or an individual, feel your mandatory tithe via state and federal taxes isn’t high enough, you can chuck a little more into the coffer through organizations such as CarbonFund and TerraPass, which have websites through which you can “calculate” your carbon footprint and then pay to have the organization fund projects that allegedly “cancel out” your carbon emissions.
Popular personal finance blogger Mr. Money Mustache recently demonstrated his eco-righteousness by explaining how he calculated, and then paid, $979 worth of carbon emissions from himself and his family.
If you’re like me, you’ve made some improvements over the average rich world resident, but your life is still plenty gluttonous, and unsustainable if everyone on the planet lived that way. What can you do? You can erase your footprint with a few clicks.
Companies like TerraPass and CarbonFund have popped up to efficiently channel money into projects that soak up or prevent CO2 emissions…Heading to CarbonFund.org, I am filling up a shopping cart with the energy use from my household.
He then goes on to confess his environmental transgressions, each with a numerical value assigned by the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies: “I’m going add all of that up to get final bill: $37 + $5+ $17 + $20 + $900. $979 to erase not only my own family’s footprint, but the equivalent of an entire human lifetime of trips to the equator.” The blogger boasts the instant gratification of receiving a “cute little certificate” by email shortly after submitting his indulgence fee—er, carbon offset contribution.
Although these voluntary donations from individuals and businesses do not reduce any state penalties for environmental trespasses (although one could argue its tax deductibility somewhat accomplishes this), they buy indulgences to ease their guilt, then spread the guilt around by virtue-signaling to make us all more pliable about having more money extracted from our wallets to fund their church.
Exploiting Class Tension Among the Layfolk
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising church cleric in Congress proposes turning this voluntary sale of indulgences into a method for calculating eco-sin taxes as a mandatory section on our federal tax forms. Lower tax brackets would have to cover this with “credits,” however, because it’s not Joe the Janitor who loads up his “shopping cart” at carbon offset websites. It’s the people who can afford to literally pay for their eco-sins: uber-wealthy celebrities, beltway elites, and upper-class soccer moms and dads living off high-income vocations (doctors, lawyers, etc.).
These people can afford to shop at Whole Foods, buy only “environmentally sustainable” clothing, install solar panels on their roofs, buy Teslas, and tack on the virtue-signaling bumper stickers. That brings us to an important point, on which the future of private wealth (i.e. keeping what you earn) hangs. Joe the Janitor can’t afford to pay for the carbon he puts in the atmosphere by simply going about his life: taking a shower, driving to work, buying groceries, and pretty much everything else he does.
But the abuses of Mother Earth cannot go unrectified. So who will do penance for working-class Joe and his ilk?
According to leftist philosophy, there is only one way to make it right: use the power of the state to confiscate more wealth from the upper and middle classes to finance the appeasement of Mother Earth. The way to fund the CoE’s sacraments always includes higher taxes. Business taxes, tariffs, income tax, carbon taxes—whatever supernatural combination of policies and funding mechanisms it takes to “solve” global warming, or at least keep the environmental establishment and all its projects well-funded and its clergy satisfied with levels of activism.
If it has nothing else to show, the Church of Environmentalism is incredibly effective at funding itself. Through conspiring with government, indoctrination via the education system, virtue-signaling by its members, and widespread campaigns by both public and private organizations to shame us for our gluttonous consumption, they extract money from our wallets to fund our collective salvation. The stated end of their collections may be salvation from climate change, but the practical end is nice, too: a handsomely paid clergy (global warming evangelists Bill Nye and Al Gore make $55,000 to $75,000 and more than $100,000 per speech, respectively).
Since even with indulgences the wealthy cannot finance all the church’s sacraments, the middle class will bear a large share of the burden. That won’t stop middle- and working-class congregants from decrying the rich as demons ravaging the earth and demanding justice: Tax them! Fine them! Seize their houses, seize their yachts!
Nowhere are class distinctions more needed than by the Church of Environmentalism, for it is the tension among them that leads to social unrest and, ultimately, implementing and funding the church’s ordained climate policies.
Do not be mistaken—this is not some terminal project in which the need for funding will expire once global warming is “stopped,” or an environmental paradise is ushered in. Even if the private market somehow manages to address all the current clergy grievances despite its heavy regulatory burden, the list of works required for salvation will never be complete, and they certainly cannot be fulfilled by only the innovation of private parties, or small, voluntary works like planting trees in the neighborhood. The Church of Environmentalism is forever—and forever bound to the state and all its compulsory power.
Call it penance, tithe, fee, or tax, the new age religion of environmentalism will land us all in taxation purgatory.