08 October 2009

Is Belief in Climate Change a Religion?

Is belief in climate change a religion? The answer is "yes" for Tim Nicholson in the UK, who according to the Guardian "is attempting to have his environmental views recognised under religious law" in order to claim wrongful dismissal from a job. He claims that the firm fired him due to his beliefs about climate change. Here are some more details:

In March, employment judge David Neath gave Nicholson permission to take the firm to a tribunal over his treatment. The company is challenging the ruling, arguing that environmental beliefs are not the same as religious or philosophical ones.

Nicholson, from Oxford, said his views – which compelled him to make his home more eco-friendly and do not allow him to fly – affect his entire life. In a witness statement to the previous hearing, he said: "I have a strongly-held philosophical belief about climate change and the environment. I believe we must urgently cut carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change."

He stopped working for Grainger as head of sustainability in July last year, having been at the company since June 2006. At an employment appeal tribunal in central London today, Dinah Rose QC, for Nicholson, said: "The philosophical belief in this case is that mankind is headed towards catastrophic climate change and that, as a result, we are under a duty to do all that we can to live our lives so as to mitigate or avoid that catastrophe for future generations.

"We say that that involves a philosophical and ethical position. It addresses the question, what are the duties that we own to the environment and why?"

She told Mr Justice Michael Burton – who ruled last year that Al Gore's environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth was political and partisan – that beliefs about "anthropogenic climate change" could be considered a philosophy under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.

John Bowers QC, representing Grainger, said Nicholson's views were based on scientific fact and were predominantly political. "We would say that because it is political, it is dealing with an assertion of fact," he said. "It is a scientific view rather than a philosophical one. Philosophy deals with matters that are not capable of scientific proof."

While the case itself will hinge on particulars of UK law and jurisprudence, the questions for readers here are less technical. What does it mean to say that "belief in climate change" is philosophical or religious or scientific? Should people who change their lifestyles based on their beliefs about climate change be protected under the same laws that protect freedom of religion? Does science tell us what philosphical or religious beliefs are valid?

Paging Ben Hale . . . ;-)

UPDATE: Ben's pager was apparently on this morning