I believe in Ecology but is it a deeply held faith?

I was interested to see reported in the press this Sunday (7th April 2103) a number  of stories with a range of headings such as those from the Sunday Times’ “Sorry, boss, you can’t deny me my fertility rites” and inside, “Vegans can milk equality rights”  as they reported on the latest update to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s  guidelines to Religion or belief in the workplace.

The Mail on Line seemed particularly interested in vegans going by their use of capitals in their headline http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2305225/New-human-rights-rules-tell-employers-VEGANS-druids-rights-Christians-workplace.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

What struck me though was that ecologists now seem to be covered by the act and are  to quote one of the examples cited in the guidelines to the updated act, “able to tell colleagues that they are irresponsible to drive to work”.  Again as an ecologist, you are able to tell your employer that you refuse to fly as you believe that this will harm the planet.  This latter I find particularly amusing, as most ecologists and conservation biologists I know, seem to fly all around the globe at the slightest provocation and the choice of international conference venue seems to depend on its remoteness and beauty, and not on how easily delegates can get there by rail and/or ferry.  In fact, I am one of the few ecologists I know that does actually refuse to fly.  I have not flown since my eldest daughter got married in Australia in 2002.  In fact, slightly tongue in cheek, the closest thing I have to a bible is The Man in Seat Sixty-One http://www.seat61.com/, a site I recommend to all those, who like me, like to travel in style and comfort, and not as a sardine.

On a serious note however, how do you prove that you are a bona fide  ecologist ?  If you are a member of a religious organisation you can direct your boss to the relevant baptismal entry or get your local minister or priest to vouch for you as a card-carrying Christian.  Presumably as a fully paid up member of the British Ecological Society, I can claim that I am indeed an ecologist, but does that mean I believe in ecology in the same way that atheists don’t believe in gods or people with religious beliefs believe in their god(s)?



Indeed, should I have the same rights as people with deeply held religious (non)beliefs to claim special privileges in the work-place.  As an atheist and an ecologist, I would seem to be doubly blessed to misuse a metaphor or two.   What about all those non-professional ecologists out there, people who care passionately about the health of the world’s ecological health?

mother earth cartoon

How do they prove that they are ecologists?  It all seems a bit odd, or, even over the top to me.  Why ecologists in particular?

Why not entomologists? After all we as a group, amateurs and professionals alike, dedicate an enormous amount of time and passion to our favourite groups. And as that great geneticist Haldane, is famously reported as saying, (incidentally in a footnote of Hutchinson’s famous religiously titled 1959 paper) and I quote verbatim “There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles”

In conclusion, yes it is encouraging to know that ecology is being taken seriously by the Equality and Human Rights Commission http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/ but should ecology be regarded on a par with religion?  Or for that matter should people with dietary preferences also have those rights?   If so, how many other scientific or other disciplines, should be treated as articles of faith?  Where do we stop?

Hutchinson, G.E. (1959)  Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals?  American Naturalist, 93, 145-159  https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/srachoot/ecoevo/HomagetoSantaRosalia.pdf


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6 responses to “I believe in Ecology but is it a deeply held faith?

  1. That’s interesting. In Spain we have a word for ecologists (“ecologistas”), people who want to save the environment, and ecologists (“ecologos”), people who studied ecology and work on it. I find the distinction very useful as not all ecologists are ecologists and vv.


    • aeon

      Same in some other languages, e.g. German and Russian. Wonder why the English speaking parts of the world have a name for “naturalists” to distinguish them from “real” scientists, but then mix up ecologists (as in environmental activists changing their behaviour and possibly the world) and ecologists (as in scientists studying the ‘households of nature’ and doing statistics).


  2. Pingback: Off to the other side of the world | Deep thoughts and silliness

  3. That’s an interesting one. On the one hand I don’t see why Christianity should be a privileged religion, if Christians get holy days off then Jewish people and Pagans should too, and I do believe there are plenty of convictions that can be just as deeply held as religious beliefs, feminism or veganism for example. On the other I do think there are circumstance sin which strong beliefs shouldn’t be protected – if they trump safety, for example if someone’s religiously mandated jewellery or clothing could catch in machinery, if protecting someone’s right to a belief would contravene someone else’s right not to be discriminated against for who they are, for example if a Christian passionately believed gay people couldn’t be good parents or that Black skin was the mark of Cain, or if a belief would require the job to be changed beyond all recognition (eg a vegan in a supermarket not selling meat). I also don’t think belief should be a licence to harass your co-workers who don’t share that belief – if ecology is a belief, and because of that it’s fine to lecture people on car use, presumably it’s also acceptable to lecture them on the importance of finding Jesus, whereas if wanting to produce fewer carbon emissions is simply a life decision like any other talking about it doesn’t really open the door to proselytising in the workplace.

    I’m not sure whether I’d consider being an ecologist or environmentalist a belief – on the one hand environmental damage is an observable, measurable fact so it’s a question of accepting rather than believing in it, but it’s possible to accept the evidence without wanting to do anything about it (indeed I know of a few people who rather revel in the idea of humans being buggered as a species) – I think where belief comes in is the conviction that we should do something to mitigate the damage. For me personally this belief probably is on the same level as a religious belief, but I’m not sure if it should be legally protected. And considering environmentalism a belief rather encourages people like a certain member of my family who leaves all her appliances on 24/7, doesn’t recycle and runs the heating or air conditioning with the windows open but reckons she’s a better environmentalist than me because she venerates the spiritual in nature (and indeed sometimes picks rare bits of it in order to venerate it better). And I think I’d better stop there before I just start bitching.


    • Thnaks Jules

      pretty much what I think – as an atheist I find it hard to see any reasons why religious beliefs should allow people to break what is the law for others e.g avoiding wearing crash helmets, killing animals in a less than humane manner, or expecting special treatment e.g. getting Fridays off and expecting exams to be rescheduled etc. etc., but I see no reason why you shouldn’t be allowed to wear a cross at work for example. As a tolerant (I think I am, but no doubt others would not, given the preceding sentence) humanist I do feel that people should have the right to express their beliefs (as long as they don’t harm anyone else or force me to adhere to them). So for example, I don’t cater specially for vegetarians or vegans when they visit, unless they cater for me (a dedicated carnivore) when I visit them. Rights are I think, a two way system.


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