Don't persecute the climate change believers

A British judge rules belief in climate change deserves the same workplace protection as religion or philosophy

Published November 5, 2009 7:05PM (EST)

Manna from heaven for the climate skeptic brigade: A British judge has ruled that a man can sue his employer for unlawfully termination based on his "green views" on the grounds that environmental beliefs deserve the same legal protection as religious or philosophical beliefs.

The case is complicated, but not for those who believe human-caused global warming is a hoax, and that environmentalists who urge action restricting greenhouse gas emissions are just trying to impose their anti-capitalist Marxist agenda on society. They are cheering: See, we told you global warming was a religion!

The backstory: Tim Nicholson, head of "sustainability" for the property firm Grainger PLC, says he was attempting to come up with a "carbon management" program for the company, but couldn't get Grainger to give him the necessary information to determine the firm's carbon footprint. He claims he was eventually fired because of his belief that action needed to be taken to stop global warming. Grainger contends that "that Mr Nicholson's redundancy was driven solely by the operational needs of the company during a period of extraordinary market turbulence."

In 2003, the UK enacted a law that prohibits discrimination against employees for "religious or philosophical beliefs." In his ruling, Justice Michael Burton declared that "a belief in man-made climate change ... is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations".

Oddly, Grainger's lawyer had been arguing, reports the Daily Telegraph, "that adherence to climate change theory was 'a scientific view rather than a philosophical one,' because 'philosophy deals with matters that are not capable of scientific proof.'" Which would seem to be saying that it would be OK to discriminate against an employee for views based on science, but not on religion or philosophy. Which is just plain weird.

Nicholson's own reaction to the verdict seems nuanced and reasonably clear-headed.

I'm delighted by the judgment, not only for myself but also for other people who may feel they are discriminated against for their belief in man-made climate change. This is a huge issue and the moral and ethical values that I have in relation to the imperative to do something about it, but crucially underpinned by the overwhelming scientific consensus, mean that to have secured protection in this way is, I think, a landmark decision ... It's a philosophical belief based on my moral and ethical values underpinned by scientific evidence and that's the distinction [with it being a religious belief] I think. The moral and ethical values are similar to those that are promoted and adopted by many of the world's religions. But one of the key differences I think is that mine is not a faith-based or spiritual-based belief: it is grounded in the overwhelming scientific evidence and it's the combination of that scientific evidence with the moral and ethical imperative to do something about it that is distinct from a religion.

But who's got time for nuance? Belief in global warming is now officially a religion is the shorter takeaway for the climate skeptics. I expect to hear Senator James Inhofe declaiming on this topic before the week is done.

An interesting sideline to this case. Justice Michael Burton, reports the Daily Telegraph, is the same judge "who last year ruled that the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore was political and partisan."

The Telegraph grossly misrepresents Burton's 2007 ruling. A parent had been trying to stop "An Inconvenient Truth" from being distributed by the Department of Education to secondary schools. Burton declined to do so, calling the film "broadly accurate." He did, however, enumerate nine errors that he said he had found in the documentary and that teachers should be aware of.

Whether or not Burton's citations were truly "errors" has been contested. But I was intrigued to see that one of the supposed errors, in Burton's view, was that "the receding snows of Kilimanjaro are due to global warming." Burton declared that "the scientific consensus is that it cannot be established that the recession of snows on Mt Kilimanjaro is mainly attributable to human-induced climate change."

Well guess what? Just this week, a new study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documented that "the melting on Kilimanjaro is accelerating and that in a few years there may be no ice left."

The lead author of the study, Lonnie Thompson, said that the scientists looked at ice cores from the glacier covering the top of Kilimanjaro that "represent almost 12,000 years of history, since the glaciers first formed on Kilimanjaro," and that "the top, most recent layer shows evidence of melting and refreezing, in the form of elongated air bubbles -- a pattern that is not seen at any other time in the glaciers' history.

"So in the 11,700-year history, we don't find that type of melting having been preserved, and it would be preserved and you should be able to see it in the bubble structure," he said in an interview.

Sounds like bad juju to me. The spirits are angry. Maybe it's time to start praying. Or at least cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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