I think "vast sums of money in government handouts" is a bit overblown. The entire budget for the U.S. National Institute of Science (NIST) is about $640 million for 2008. According to this summary
, about $5 million of that was set aside for "Measurements and Standards for the Climate Change Science Program" (although NASA and NOAA probably spend a lot more). Exxon Mobil alone is making 10 billion dollars of profit (not revenue) every 3 months. Who is getting the "vast sums of money"?
I suspect this fear of environmentalists is mostly just a fear that someone will try to tell you what you should (or should not) do, and you might not like what they say. That is understandable. However, the mentaility of the lone rugged individualist "doin what I want with MY land" has always been a false abstraction even when people were spread thin, as no piece of land exists in isolation from the rest (unless you happen to live in the biosphere project
;-). It is suicidal when applied to a population approaching 7 billion armed with technology, a market-driven mythology of infinite growth, and 10 million gallons a minute
of oil equivalent fossil energy (to put this number into perspective, one gallon of gasoline provides usable energy equivalent to about 2 months worth of human physical labor. Thus, every minute, fossil fuels provide the equivalent energy of over 200 billion
extra humans working).
And why the hyperbole of "Gaia-worship-by-force"? Most enviromentalists I know are exquisitely practical in their thinking. They see systems in operation that SIMPLY CANNOT BE SUSTAINED OVER TIME and treat this as a problem to be solved. I suspect that you too would acknowledge, if asked in a respectful manner and encouraged to extrapolate things you already observe or believe, that things cannot go on this way much longer. Environmentalists look for workable solutions to this dilemma that can be applied early enough that there is some hope of having an effect before critical natural systems reach a point where they essentially fail to operate. Mostly they want to start by leveling the playing field for alternatives, or by giving them a minor start-up boost to help overcome the inertia of entrenched approaches.
As for Gaia worship, yes, environmentalists frequently look to biological systems for guidance. This is because they are the only systems known that can continue to operate successfully for extended time periods without catastrophic failure. Properly cared for farmland can be (and has been) productive for tens or hundreds of generations WITH NO EXTERNAL INPUTS except for the input of the sun and the natural distribution mechnisms of the water, carbon and other cycles. No technological solution ever devised can come close to doing this (the majority of farming done today is an industrial process for turning petroleum and natural gas into food--see The Omnivore's Dilemma
for a good exploration of this).
Again, I ask, what is the program? Because one's personal unease with the consequences being a sprawling race on a fragile lifeboat is no substitute for a workable plan.