Welcome to the age of the eco-martyr.God help us



Don’t we all? Or intend to, anyway? Give us an eco-renovation, but not yet. That’s religion for you, isn’t it? We stray, occasionally, particularly where the smellier food waste is concerned. Even St Tim, one notices, does not disclose what part, if any, the car plays in his “low carbon lifestyle”. Or specify how cold it has to be before he turns on the central heating. Indeed, following his court victory , the great martyr admitted that, just five years ago, he walked in darkness. “I flew abroad on holiday and for work, drove fast cars and had no knowledge of or concern about carbon emissions.”

Not unlike St Paul, Tim then went on a journey and had an epiphany. After a 6,000-mile jaunt to New Zealand in a 50-year-old Morris Oxford, the young quantity surveyor asked himself: “How could I continue to live in a way that would increase the already dangerous high levels of CO²?” Not going on any more 6,000 mile car journeys was just the first step on his road to an exemplary, low carbon lifestyle in which, he reveals, he does not eat much meat.

Following his conversion, St Tim went to work for Grainger plc, which describes itself as “the UK’s largest listed residential landlord”. On the face of it, this seems about as sensible a scheme as a campaigning feminist taking a job in a lap-dancing club. Was the epiphany of the gradual variety or was it more of a missionary thing? One recalls that St Paul was specifically instructed, during his conversion, to go and preach to the contemporary of Grainger plc: the Gentiles. Writing about his court victory, St Tim said: “I hope that in practice it will encourage people who share my beliefs to speak up about climate change in their workplace and seek practical measures to cut emissions.”

In practice, it seems likely that his achievement in getting climate change classified with the supernatural will do more planetary damage even than a 6,000-mile trip in a 50-year-old Morris Oxford. Some wonder if St Tim has not been possessed by the spirit of Christopher Monckton. For short of the collective apostasy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is hard to imagine a more rewarding episode for sceptics who have always said that environmentalism is a matter of faith, not facts. For them, the most effective way of discrediting the movement is to depict it as an alliance of gullible consumers and doomy, secular preachers, who rant about sin, self-scourging and the apocalypse because they can’t produce any evidence. Disparaging analogies with religion, implying that it has no science worth challenging, have followed the movement almost since it began, finding their most elegant expression in a well-known speech made by the late Michael Crichton. “Environmentalism is the religion of choice for urban atheists,” he said in 2003. “Increasingly it seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief.”

Too many environmentalists have helped make his point. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was so liberal with panic that the same Michael Burton, in a court case funded by sceptics, found nine “inaccuracies” that, he said, made it unacceptably “partisan”. For instance, in attributing the melting snow on Kilimanjaro to anthropogenic climate change, Gore went against the scientific consensus (David Miliband has made the same mistake). One wonders if this experience contributed to Justice Burton’s suggestion in the Nicholson case, that environmentalism is as much a viewpoint as a rational respƒonse to physical evidence.

As for Nicholson, he could have been designed to embody the common objection that the green movement is populated by affluent, I’m Not a Plastic Bag-carrying caricatures, who think it meritorious to advertise their eco-friendly tat or Cameronesque affectations. Does his “we don’t eat much meat” generally inspire admiration? Or unworthy thoughts along the lines of Orwell’s, when he raged against the middle-class cranks who, he argued, were putting working people off socialism? “If only the sandals and the pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt,” he wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, “and every vegetarian, teetotaller, and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!”

By chance, Orwell identifies at least three of the possible types who, following Burton’s ruling, may take the opportunity to make a nuisance of themselves under the pretext of the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) 2003 Regulations. Lawyers are already crowing over the procession of vegetarians, humanists, feminists and – why not? – climate change sceptics, who are expected to find that their deeply held beliefs have been callously disrespected.



But even without Nicholson, this dismal outcome was predictable once the Labour government had chosen to enhance the place of religious faith in public life, instead of making a stand for secularism. Once it had encouraged religious people to believe that workplaces should take account of their myriad spiritualities, it had, in spirit of fairness, to extend a similar right to cause mischief to people who strongly believe in non-religious stuff.

The difficulty with a belief such as environmentalism, Burton said, is testing the “genuineness” with which it is held. So, probably, the more extreme the protestations, the better the chance of a pay-out. That’s something for future green martyrs to bear in mind. Haven’t we all heard voices telling us to buy local produce where possible? Aren’t you hearing one, right now, saying that, for green believers, Earth Day is right up there with Christmas and Easter?

In fact, one wonders if it would not have been more prescient of Professor David Nutt, after being sacked by Alan Johnson, to say that his beliefs on the decriminalisation of drugs were dictated by an undeviating adherence to the shamanistic practices of Carlos Castaneda and thus privileged, like all similar codswallop, by the 2003 act. The counter-argument that he should, in that case, have found a job somewhere more congenial is, as we know, far too rational to be worth entertaining.