The Gaia Napa Hotel

The Bloomberg media services company recently reported on the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa, less than 40 miles northeast of San Francisco, a self-described “eco-friendly property,” equipped with low-water-use toilets and showers and paved in recycled stone. If the owners can find a market for their hotel services, then who are any of us to complain. A quick check showed rooms priced as low at $149 a night. While this is high by Midwestern standards, for a hotel near San Francisco, this rate is reasonable.

Bloomberg also reported that this environmentally-conscious hotel had replaced the Gideon Bible, that is traditionally found in hotel rooms, with a copy of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. It is difficult to conjure up a more fitting metaphor for the transition of the environmental movement from a reasonable concern for stewardship of the environment to a religious faith. The “Tree Huger”web site even considered the Bible replacement to be a “nice touch.”

Since the story came out, the hotel claimed that the Bibles haven’t been replaced. According the hotel’s web site, “Contrary to an erroneous news report, Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa is continuing the long tradition, first established in 1899, of placing a Gideon bible in all our hotel guest rooms. In addition, we are placing the book of Buddha’s Teaching for Buddhist travelers.” Now whether the Bibles were always there or hastily brought in to deal with popular criticism is something that is difficult to determine from a distance. We should grant the benefit of the doubt and assume that the hotel managers were not so foolish as to discard Bibles. However, of the name Gaia for the hotel and the message behind Gore¬ís An Inconvenient Truth. that the time for debate about global warming issues is over, are implicit signs of the descent of the extremes of the environmental movement to cult-like status.

Gaia is the Greek goddess of the Earth. In its mildest form, the Gaia Hypothesis is almost trivially true: that life on the Earth can be considered as an interlinked system, complete with self-regulating feedback loops. In its more extreme form, the Gaia Hypothesis views the Earth as a living organism, perhaps even with a consciousness of it own. The personification of the Earth and the environment, implicit in giving the Earth system a name and consciousness, re-enforces the cult like worship of the Earth which views humans an interlopers. From this perspective, every creature, but humans, are a part of nature. Only humans can deliberately upset the natural balance. Only humans can be evil. However, it is the capacity of humans to choose to be either good or evil that makes humans unique and immeasurably more valuable than the remainder of creation. It is this moral capacity that makes us stewards and not subjects of the Earth or Gaia.

The issue of climate change is an important one. We are in the processes of assessing the extent to which human actions affect climate. Some believe that immediate action is necessary. In an effort to compel such action, we are told by Al Gore and others that the debate is over and the scientific consensus favors immediate action to alleviate global warming. Concede for the moment that such a broad scientific consensus exists. This is does not mean that the debate is over. Science is inherently skeptical, always willing to question, and perpetually provisional. When we suspend skepticism or when we discontinue debate we move from the realm of reason to the realm of faith. Ironically, some environmentalists use the credibility and authority to science to suppress the very processes that make science credible and authoritative.

By all means visit the Gaia Hotel in California and enjoy your stay while studying An Inconvenient Truth. But recognize that humans are unique to the world and that this uniqueness is measured by the extent that humans have the capacity to act morally and question authority.

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