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Reimagining Modern Economic Life via Franciscan Ecosophy

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“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image…so that they may rule…’ And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’…And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” –Genesis 1:26-31

“I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”— Mikhail Gorbachev

These reflections on ecosophy are a follow-up to my previous piece on the subject. Here I wish to explore the compatibility, or lack thereof, of ecosophy to Christianity. A rather common view is that deeo ecology , otherwise known as ecosophy in academic circles is a mere return to ancient nature worship pre-dating Christianity. We are all familiar with the term “nature religion” and “earth-centered religion” defined by its relationship to the natural environment. When we encounter those similar nature religions in our time, we immediately think of pre-Christian or pagan times, concerned primarily with nature, animism, shamanism viewing humans as a non-privileged part of a more-than-human community of beings; a sort of “dark green religion.” Then the question naturally arises: are we merely re-inventing the wheel?

Some contemporary scholars look upon pagan nature religions as a protest against the modern separation of nature and the sacred, against the separation of matter from spirit, sometimes called “gnostic” religion. In nature religions, by contrast, nature is neither fallen nor a prison from which one needs to escape; it is perceived as both sacred and interconnected; it has intrinsic value apart from its utility as a resource for human beings. By interconnected they mean that our being is determined by our ecology, by the cultural environment shared with all other living beings. We are immersed in a web of life which is our true community. In politics this is the ideology of the so called Green Parties. It is alleged that this awareness existed in ancient times, but has been all but forgotten within modernity.

The protest by ecosophists or nature religionists, supposedly has to do with the perceived disconnect of man from nature, with the desacralization of nature in thought and deed. Healing the rift, so the argument goes, will require a profound shift in our collective consciousness. This is the work of the priests of the religion. Some deep ecologists call it “the chthonic imperative” and some call it “the re-enhancement of the world,” and some call it “the realization of one’s ecological Self” as distinguished from one’s “ego-self.” This reconnection with nature may take place through education, even academic education, or ritual worship of Mother Earth, and other practices.

Some of the common attributes shared by most ancient and modern nature religions are: immanence or focus on this world and its embodied physical existence, focus on the immanent dimension of the sacred, its accessibility to all humans, the emphasis of experience over belief, on living in harmony in the natural world, on the teaching of spiritual truths found in natural cycles and nature processes, on the treatment of birth, death and sexuality as sacraments (the worship of Pan, the god of nature is another throwback), on relationship over mastery, on the tendency to ignore sacred texts and institutionalized religious hierarchies, on pantheism, on the affirmation of life in its totality, on Mother Earth as a goddess (Gaia), on deep ecology, on neo-animism and bio-regionalism, on eco-feminism, eco-psychology, eco-philosophy and eco-theology.

In any case, modern science continues to reorient humanity’s understanding of and relation to earth and the larger universe. Its discoveries and inventions have fundamentally altered our conception of how the universe evolved thus far and how it will evolve in the future. Left unasked by the scientific perspective is the age old question of why the universe was created and why it continues to unfold creatively. Some assume that the universe is eternal and that in itself settles the matter. The very question asked by Heidegger in Being and Time (why is there something rather than nothing) is meaningless. To be sure, the issue of the eternity of the universe preoccupied the likes of Aristotle and his medieval admirers Averroes and Aquinas, and is far from resolved philosophically. Be that as it may, the ancients of Athens and Jerusalem and later Meso-America, perceived an eternal intelligence or Wisdom to be at work shaping the course of the visible cosmos. They believed her fruit was better than the choicest gold or silver. They sought a way of life in concert with this universal cosmic intelligence (nous) responsible for creating and sustaining all temporal things. Further, they assumed that their portrayal of an ordered cosmos helped to create one, and their liturgies somehow maintained it.

Moderns, in contrast, have become alienated from their origin in and forgetful of their responsibility toward the Wisdom of creation. Science, in the modern age, has lost sight of Wisdom and the moral vision she provides. There has been an attempt to replace philosophy, which literally means love of wisdom, with positivism or the idolization of the pre-eminence of science. Science has wed itself to the instrumentalism of market-driven technology, with an ever-accumulating body of specialized knowledge and the earthshaking power it makes possible. Even when mistakes are acknowledged, they are imputed to lack of precision, not lack of wisdom. Man-made models of nature have come to obscure modern humanity’s vision of the glory of creation.

For example, following the financial crisis of 2008, the thought of Ayn Rand, perhaps the world’s most popular purveyor of the myth of the market, saw something of a resurgence. There are influential political leaders, speaker of the House Paul Ryan is one of them, who brag about the fact that they grew up on a steady diet of Ayn Rand. In fact, sales of her novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) went through the roof as American business leaders struggled to hang on to their vanishing dream. The dystopian story’s mysterious protagonist, John Galt, along with other captains of American industry, decide to go on strike to protest government regulation, bringing the country to a standstill. The core of the novel is Galt’s 70-page speech, wherein Rand’s entire philosophy is laid out. In it, she denounces the Christian morality of love of one’s neighbor, calling it a “morality of sacrifice,” (similar to the “slave morality” of Nietzsche) while championing a “morality of life” based upon egoism and the sovereignty of the individual rational mind over the human community and the raw materials of nature.

“We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter,” she has Galt say, “a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate homes. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol, the sign of free trade and free minds, we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendor.” Can one get any closer to John’s vision of Babylon in the book of Revelation, where all wear the mark of the beast?

Former chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who joined Rand’s circle in the early fifties, helped her do research for Atlas Shrugged. In early 2010, Greenspan was asked if the financial crisis signaled an indictment of Rand’s free-market ideology. His answer is instructive: “Not at all…There is no alternative to competitive markets if you want to have economic growth and higher standards of living in a democratic society…If you merely look at history since the Enlightenment…when all of those ideas surfaced and became applicable in public policy, we’ve had an explosion of economic growth, especially in developing countries, where hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of extreme poverty and starvation…”

Greenspan and Ryan, and Rand are of course right about the explosion of economic growth resulting from global capitalism, but they appear blind to the eco-social costs of this growth. Half of the world’s 2.2 billion children currently live in poverty, almost a billion people lack access to safe water supplies, about 25 million acres of crop land are lost every year due to soil erosion, and 50% of the world’s non-human species may be extinct by the end of the 21st century. Further, global climate change resulting from “free market” industrial capitalism is threatening to make all these injustices far worse, in addition to other consequences.

As for past injustices, Rand’s celebration of the genocide of the native population (she calls them “impotent savages”) that once called Turtle Island home is a telling reminder that capitalism has always been wed to colonialism. In order to achieve perpetual growth, capitalist markets had to continually expand into untapped territories, there exploiting the labor and land of conquered peoples to turn a profit back at home. Today, what is exported, for profits, are not only the goods but the labor force. No wonder there are so many unhappy campers in the labor class who are now following a billionaire madman called Trump who has promised theme the moon in the well. From Rand’s and Ryan’s perspective, such exploitation was perfectly justified, since indigenous populations are not made up of free individuals, having no concept of rights or property ownership. Nor does Gaia or any of Her non-human creatures deserve the respect of properly rational individuals, since, following Lockean theories of property ownership, their value is inferior until produced for consumption in the human marketplace. The laws of the market are opposed to the Laws of the Creator.

In short, the accumulation of wealth has come to replace Wisdom as the most important aspiration in human life. Money has become the source of all value and meaning. “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money” says the wisdom of the Christian gospel. Not the beautification and celebration of Gaia and Her creatures in the Name of God, but the production and consumption of Her resources in the name of the dollar is now the normal, “the good” way of life. There is an ontological chasm separating questions of meaning and morality from those of mechanism and motion.

Economics, now considered a positive science and therefore beyond the pay grade of philosophers and theologians, was once defined as the science of morality. It stands today, rather awkwardly, at the helm of our techno-capitalist civilization. We now have, not philosopher-priests, but capital- engineers who rule over the contemporary geopolitical arena. The question arises here: is economic “science” just the purveyor of an oppressive upper class ideology? The answer may be yes, given that ecology, is widely dismissed by many conservatives as a front for socialism. Many dismiss global warming as socialist propaganda. The sense of the purpose of life has been banished from reasoned political discourse and has been replaced by tweeting and texting. We may soon have a tweeter, incapable of rational discourse, as president of the US. Next we will see democracy going down the toilet and good old fascism returning together with racism and xenophobia. The founding fathers, children of the Enlightenment, must surely be turning in their graves.

Ecology, and consequently ecosophy, is another fundamental scientific reorientation, a revolution in self- and cultural understanding that matches, if not exceeds, in importance the sixteenth-century Copernican astronomical revolution. Unfortunately, the influence of ecological science on public policy has been superficial, leading only to slightly more efficient light bulbs and hybrid gas-electric automobiles. So long as ecology remains narrowly scientific in the secular sense, concerned with how and not why, it can penetrate no deeper into humanity’s dysfunctional cosmo-political orientation. “Home,” in the individualized techno-capitalist context, means now my home or your home; Gaia–our home–has receded into the neglected background of human life.

To be sure, this eco-social crisis of our age has its roots in the rupture between religion and science, especially the science of economics. In order to reunite the how with the why, humanity must remember its proper relation to creation and its Creator. Ecosophy, I would suggest, is the fruit of such memory, the wisdom of home that, when watered, grows as a great tree from the soil of every earthly soul. Ecosophy brings economics back to its roots in moral science and theology, and enchants ecological science so as to renew humanity’s connection to a living creation. But it must not be just a resurgence of the paganism of old. The Christian religion is an especially important well to explore in relation to the contemporary eco-social crisis, since modern Western science and technology were born out of its cultural matrix. Secularity, in other words, can itself be understood by a Christian as an inevitable moment in the historical unfolding of Christ’s incarnation. Without historically situating modern Western civilization in the context of Christianity, secularity is all too easily misunderstood and identified with being modern and progressive, which eventually become inevitable and whose denial puts one at risk of being branded a medieval obscurantist.

As radical a break with the past as it may appear to be, Enlightenment secularism is evidently not best characterized as the rise of individual rationality above commonly held myths, nor as the firm grasp of scientific truths and technological powers that can replace religious delusions and magical incantations. The evidence of the inadequacy of such a triumphant characterization of modernity is legion: the isolated modern consumer is ruled over by perhaps the most deceitful, destructive, and oppressive myth of all, the myth of the market as above examined via Ayn Rand and Greenspan.

Secular philosophy’s failure to engage the market-driven metaphysics of techno-capitalism for fear of trespassing into theology has allowed the “science” of capitalist economics to upstage the Wisdom of creation. Any hope of finding orientation in these chaotic times depends upon a renaissance of the poetic science of God’s Wisdom. The human, as the imago dei, is tasked with the renewal and maintenance of the creation covenant. Genesis 1:28 calls us not so much to “subdue” and to “dominate,” but “to harness or to bind” heaven and earth, to “maintain the bonds of creation.” As the children of Wisdom, we are called upon by our Creator to be co-creators with Her in all our deeds and all our speech. To be made in the image of God is to be God’s poet, the namer and storyteller of creation.

So there are definitely two competing visions, that of the life of the market versus that of the miracle of life. The life of the market is that of ruthless competition, the struggle for existence between selfish animals, who come from dust and to dust return. The miracle of life is that of spiritual communion, the joy of co-creation amongst loving angels. The former is a morality rooted in the shallow pleasures of private accumulation, while the latter calls humanity to participate with Christ in the renewal of all creation.

The miracle of life can be understood through an ecosophic perception of the sacramentality of creation as a Theilard de Chardin or Thomas Berry understood it. Consider Gaia’s relationship with the Sun, that most generous of celestial beings. The Sun sacrifices its own body to give away vast quantities of energy to Gaia without any expectation of return. Not a single quantum of energy could be transacted between living beings upon the surface of earth without the Sun’s primordial generosity. This is what the quote by Gorbachev at the head of this article refers to. This is as true of the monetary transactions of the human economy as it is of the ecological transactions of soil and plants. Life is a gift, not an earning, a celebration of divine surplus, not a competition amidst material scarcity.

Contrary to Rand’s racist ideology, the native populations of pre-conquest America understood the meaning of the Sun’s splendor deeply enough to ritually organize their lives on earth to reflect the same patterns it was performing in heaven. Extravagant potlatch celebrations were held in honor of births, weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. Natives would gather together for great feasts gifted by wealthy families, and to sing and dance in honor of their divine ancestors. These ceremonies provide evidence that not barter, as classical economists assume, but gifting was the earliest form of exchange. Potlatch celebrations were outlawed by both Canadian and US governments in the late 19th century, and remained so until 1951. As modernity unfolded, traditional sacraments were increasingly considered to be culturally constructed symbolic performances, rather than theurgic events opening an economy between creature and Creator. Skepticism of inherited norms and revealed truths steadily increased as individuals turned to their own reason and values for guidance concerning ultimate matters.

Weber famously argued that it was the downplaying of communal ritual among the Protestant laity that first made possible the disenchantment of the world, the formation of the private modern subject, and the subsequent rise of techno-scientific capitalism. God, even if not quite dead, had all but fled the realms of space and time. Free of the sacred places and liturgical calendars of traditional sacramental religion, the modern individual no longer mirrored the celestial economy of angels, but remade the earth in his own fallen image.

Potlatch was practiced by native communities as a form of ritual participation in the divine effulgence of creation. Sharing in Gaia’s bounty, they lived like the Sun, for glory rather than for greed. The Great Economy is “reflected in God’s Sabbath delight, a celebration of all life, an affirmation of the right of all to be and to thrive.” The profane economy of the market, on the other hand, reflects the sinful nature of an alienated humanity, more interested in its own shortsighted pursuits than the flourishing of all creation. Reintroducing theologically grounded and ecologically sensitive morality into the norms of the marketplace will require an initially painful reorientation of modern human life, the crucifixion of the old to make way for the new. In order to come into alignment with the Wisdom of creation so as to participate in God’s ongoing artistry, everything from our scientific understanding of life and energy to the time-anxiety underlying our socio-economic commitment to work must be re-imagined.

Ritual practices like potlatch break down the dichotomy that normally exists between work and play. The Jubilee year and Sabbath commandment provide Biblical parallels to potlatch. On the 7th day of creation, God rested. Our human “holy days” call us to rebalance creation by making time for rest and re-creation. In Jesus’ time, Genesis was understood as the pattern of world history: the 6th day was considered the human age, the time when Adam is called to work with the Wisdom of the Creator to bring about the completion of the creation, so that all may rest on the 7th day. The completion of creation on the 7th day is the coming of the Kingdom wherein God becomes “all in all,” bound up in relational joy with creation.

In order to imagine, and to co-create, the Great Economy of the Kingdom, it is first necessary to free ourselves from the anxieties of the world of working. This, I submit, is best outlined in Franciscan spirituality which advocates enjoying and praising nature rather than the exploitation and the rape of nature. Anxiety makes the problems of the market apparent to us, but uncovering their solution requires that we release ourselves from its world-distorting grip. Unlike the anti-religion of the market ruling over the world of working, wherein “time is money” as Ben Franklin famously quipped, Christianity calls us to observe the birds of the air and the lilies of the field living without toil: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Time needs to be found to smell the roses.

Play, like the perception of Wisdom, opens up a non-ordinary reality, allowing us to transcend the everyday world of work. The idea is not to transcend work entirely, but to recognize its relativity in regard to all the other experiential realities that are engaged with during a full 24-hour cycle of earth’s rotation (sleep, dreams, etc.), or the full span of a mortal life (birth, love, near death, death, spiritual vision, etc.). Work will always be necessary for survival, but the question remains: why survive? If not to play, then for what? We are back to the question of the purpose of the universe.

Ritual performance, and the creative efflorescence it encourages, is at the existential core of our lives, and indeed is the beating heart at the center of creation. We might sometimes reflect and recall that the purpose of all our science, technology, industry, manufacturing, commerce, and finance is celebration, planetary celebration. That is what moves the stars through the heavens and the earth through its seasons, as Dante intuits at the end of his journey in the Divine Comedy. The final norm of judgment concerning the success or failure of our technologies is the extent to which they enable us to participate more fully in this grand festival.

The meaning of the world and the order of the cosmos must be enacted, or imaginally bodied forth. The human imagination, the Seal of creation, does not receive the world’s meaning ready-made, but must participate in its making: The meaning of earthly life soon dissolves unless we are willing to play, to make imaginally present what would not otherwise be so. Imagination is the soul’s temple, the holy of holies within which immanence and transcendence meet and give birth to worlds worth living in. In this way, everyday is made holy, and all our work becomes a form of worship. Religion, science, art, and indeed, culture in general, are all born out of playfulness. Humans may not be the only creatures who play, but surely only we take play seriously enough to die for it. Perhaps Socrates had something like that in mind when he said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Contrary to this vision of creation rooted in play, biologists since Darwin have tended to understand evolution primarily as a vicious competitive “struggle for existence” amidst scarcity, where only the fittest survive. More recently, the work of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis has entirely transformed Darwin’s picture of the biosphere, a picture that perhaps reflects the economic conditions holding sway in 19th century England more so than the natural conditions of earthly life. Lovelock’s Gaia theory has shown that life is necessarily a planetary affair, constituted by a massively interconnected web of biotic and abiotic feedback loops. Margulis’ research on the bacterial basis of all life and her theory of the origin of species via symbiogenesis reveal that lateral gene transfer (gene gifting) and cooperative symbiosis are the primary engine of evolution.

Energy is not compulsive work, but “Eternal Delight.” Nor is God’s ongoing creative artistry tyrannic or compulsive, but Genesis’ acts of creation must be read in concert with the wisdom of Proverbs and the passion of the Gospels. God did not create the world out of nothing, but beget it and suffered it with Wisdom. Lacking such an ecosophic perception of the true nature of reality has left modern humanity ignorant of why Gaia is the way She is ever hearing, but never understanding…ever seeing, but never perceiving. This ignorance hardly stopped us from learning how many of Her seemingly isolated parts worked, and how we might manipulate them for our own profit. Cunning power became our knowledge.

As a St. Francis clearly perceived the Great Economy is in our midst and it does not reside in accumulated wealth. Wisdom, too, is all around and he who has ears, let him hear. If the heart be reached, not through reason, but through imagination, then healing humanity’s eco-social wound must begin there. Enlightenment conceptions of the “state of nature” must be entirely re-envisioned, such that Gaia’s values become the soil out of which the human soul imagines its own. To be made in the image of God is not merely to be capable of thinking His plan after Him, but to be co-creator with Christ of the Kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven.

In conclusion, I wish to suggest that ecosophy should not be a mere throw-back to pagan “nature worship” as a way to reconnect to the sacred (all well and good in itself), but it should be more; it should be the culmination of a genuine Christian Franciscan spirituality which remembers God’s creation and through nature finds the way to a new imaginative journey such as the one begun by Dante “in the middle of the journey of our lives” which ends, in the last line of the Divine Comedy, with “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Let those who have ears, let them hear.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Green Planet

Wildfires in Turkish tourist regions are the highest recorded

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forest fire

Turkish fires in tourist regions are the hottest in history, due to which thousands of tourists evacuated as the nation fights over 50 blazes from the Aegean Sea resort. On Thursday, according to satellite data given to the Guardian, the heat intensity of flames in Turkey was four times greater than anything in the nation recorded. At least 4 people have been slain by blazes that spread across Antalya, causing a fleet of boats to rescue thousands of vacationers from their hotels.

The conditions in and throughout the country were tinder-dry at sites for scores of additional blazes. Turkey’s 60-year temperature record had been broken the previous week when Cizre, a town in the south-east, registered 49.1C.

The pictures of damage in Turkey on social media add up to fears about the increasing fury of extreme weather in a climate-disrupted world after fatal heat waves in America, floods in Europe and China, and Siberian fires.

The popular Aegean resorts surrounded by slopes, forests, and agricultural areas turned to ash are reported in local media. In the province of Bodrum, Muğla, 80 hectares (197 acres) of land and air were torched. In the summer, wildfires are typical in Turkey, but the blazes have been extraordinary for the last two days. The EU Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service satellite analysis shows a heat intensity of around 20 gigawatts on Thursday, up 4 times the daily maximum for fires.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service stated “these figures are not as large as the past 19 years. He continued that the fire smoke near Antalya was now moving to Cyprus. Residents in the cities concerned said that reporters never saw such a thing. Ibrahim Aydın, a farmer, said he was almost killed while fighting the flames, and he lost all of his cattle. “All I had on the floor was burnt. He said Daily Sabah, “I lost lambs and other animals.” “This was not common. It was like hell.

The firemen fought over 50 blazes around the country. Dozens of the smoke were admitted. As the news spread, #PrayForTurkey appeared on Twitter trend with devastating photos and maps that displayed over two dozen around the country. Government ministers secularized, however, that the reason may be incendiary assaults by the Kurdish separatist PKK movement. Wider climatic trends that are rising fire hazards in Turkey and abroad have been noted in a few domestic studies. Climate scientists have long foreseen that increasing temperatures and variations in precipitation due to human emissions will impact the Mediterranean worse. According to the latest study of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the future wildfire danger in Southern Europe is expected to grow.

Levent Kurnaz, The Turkish climate scientist, stated current climatic conditions for easy inflammation were established. “There is very hot and dry weather. This helps begin fires. Our minor error leads to a major calamity,” he tweeted.

Singer Dua Lipa bemoaned the fact that the world must understand that climate change is read in Turkish response to wildfires. Dua sent prayers to Turkey on Friday via Instagram where flames were devastated by wildfires. “Pray for Turkey”. We weep on our wretched world.

She added, “We have to face the facts. PROTECT OUR MOTHER. Turkey I’, with you.”

The trend is expected to continue this year. The World Weather Organization stated that severe heat in Italy, Greece, Tunisia, and Turkey is reaching the entire Mediterranean region, with forecasts of temperatures even higher than 40C. It has called for measures to avoid difficulties with health and water supplies.

It is anticipated that the heat waves in Southern Europe will last into next week, with certain projections that it might be some of the worst on record. In the weeks ahead, the Turkish weather bureau has little chance of reprieve. The temperatures of Ankara and numerous other locations will be over 12C next week than the norm in August. Southern Greece was already affected by wildfires, requiring rural evacuations outside the western port of Patras. In Bulgaria and Albania, Blazes are also documented. In North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, and portions of Romania and Serbia, high-temperature warnings were issued. In Italy, Portugal, Spain, and portions of North Africa, the EU has issued its highest fire-risk alert. Further east, on Thursday in Lebanon, a big fire broke out, killing one person.

In tourist regions, villages and some hotels were evacuated, and the film showed people fleeing through fields when flames closed in their houses. In Antalya’s Mediterranean resort zone and the Mugla district of the Aegean resort, Pakdemirli claimed flames are still blazed. There were four people killed by wildfires on the south coast of the nation. On Friday, following the evacuation of dozens of communities and hotels, firefighters fought burns for the third day. We can hope that part of the fire would be contained this morning, but although we cautiously claim it is improved, we can still say it’s controlled. The wildfires broke out somewhere else in the region, with more than 40 winds and high temperatures in Greece during the previous 24 hours. On Tuesday, a pine forest north of Athens was burned and more than a dozen residences were damaged before the fire came under control. In the hilly north of Lebanon, fires burnt vast areas of pine forests this week, killing a firefighter at least and causing several inhabitants to evacuate

“Right now, the risks are quite significant; if these temperatures persist we might begin to see more fire over the following weeks.”  

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The problems of climate change, part 1

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In recent years, increasing evidence has shown that the world is warming. Scientists’ research tells us that the cause of global warming in recent decades is most likely to be a large number of greenhouse gases released as a result of industrial production and everyday life habits.

Due to the huge environmental disasters it can cause on a world scale, global warming has also attracted the attention of governments, media and people in various countries. In order to avoid irreversible environmental disasters due to global warming caused by human activities, governments have convened multiple international conferences under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

For the man in the street, global warming seems to be just an abstract concept, something far removed from him. In his view, how to deal with global warming falls within governments’ responsibility and he has nothing to do with it. Global warming, however, is something that is really happening and will affect everyone’s life on the planet.

Food, clothing, housing and transport can be affected directly or indirectly by global warming. As members of the global village, we ordinary people should also understand some basic concepts about global warming and actively respond on our own initiative.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the global average temperature from 2016 to 2020 was the warmest one ever recorded – approximately 1.1°C higher than in the period from 1850 to 1900 (the base period for temperature changes relative to the industrial revolution), and higher than in the 2011- 2015 period. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) predicts that by 2100 the global temperature will increase by about 1.4-5.8°C and the global climate will undergo huge changes never seen in the last 10,000 years.

Climate change is closely related to human society as the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, hurricanes and heat waves increase. The Global Risk Report 2020 issued by the World Economic Forum underlined that environmental issues such as extreme weather events, failure to respond to related problems, and natural disasters are considered high-risk events with high probability of occurrence and greater impact.

With a view to actively responding to the climate crisis and achieving sustainable development, and to helping people fully understand the socio-economic impact of future temperature increases, scientists are carrying out a great deal of research. This theoretical and empirical evidence is of great importance for the implementation of adaptive strategies to allocate resources to ensure public safety from natural disasters.

The normal metabolism of the human body requires a constant body temperature between 36~37°C. When the human body is exposed to a high temperature environment for a long time, the metabolic function of the body decreases: the blood supply to the central nervous system decreases as the blood vessels in the skin expand; the actual volume of fluid circulating in the blood vessels becomes thinner as water loss increases, and the internal body temperature gradually rises.

When the temperature of the human body exceeds 39°C, it is not only a sign of some ongoing disease, but this temperature can cause heat-related illnesses such as exhaustion, heat cramps and heatstroke. With water loss, the body’s water and electrolytes can become unbalanced; blood viscosity and cholesterol levels increase; blood vessels dilate; blood circulation accelerates; the heart and lung systems overload, which in turn causes cardiovascular events (such as heart attack and stroke), thus increasing the likelihood of death.

It is worth noting that there are also significant differences in the impact of heat-related illnesses on different groups of people. The elderly, children and outdoor workers are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and accidental injuries than the rest of the population.

On days with high temperatures, older people with reduced physical function and poor health or chronic diseases are more likely to suffer. For the impact of heat-related illnesses such as stroke, kidney and respiratory diseases, the risk of death is 10.4% higher than on days with a temperate climate. Considering the accelerating ageing of population, the health risks caused by climate change in the future could be more severe in a geometric-sequential form.

Increased exposure to heat caused by climate change can also damage the health of unborn children. On the one hand, heat can directly lead to faster delivery, shorter pregnancies and lower birth weight.

A paper published in 2020 by Alan Barreca and Jessamyn Schaller in Nature Climate Change examined over 56 million births in various counties in the USA between 1969 and 1988. The results of the study showed that on days when the maximum temperature exceeded 32.2°C, the birth rate increased by 5%, the number of pregnancy days decreased by an average of 6.1 days and some births occurred as much as two weeks earlier.

A paper published in 2009 by Oliver Deschenes, Michael Greenstone and Jonathan Guryan in the American Economic Review found that the warm weather experienced during pregnancy (especially in the second and third quarter) had a worrying negative impact on the baby’s birth weight. The authors predicted that, by the end of the 21st century, the average birth weight of white babies would decrease by 0.22% (7.5 grams) and the average birth weight of black babies would decrease by 0.36% (11.5 grams).

On the other hand, high temperatures will affect the yield potential of major crops, threaten food security and increase food prices, thus indirectly affecting health issues such as nutrition (also considering the obvious decrease in available water on the planet), immunity, and the birth of infants and the growth of young children.

Health is one of the important elements of human capital. Many research findings confirm that exposure to high temperatures during the foetal period has a significant negative impact on an individual’s cognitive abilities and long-term human capital accumulation. In 2019 the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management edited a paper by Ram Fishman, Paul Carrillo and Jason Russ in 2019, based on a group of employees in an Ecuadorian education department born between 1950 and 1980. The temperature has a negative impact on the level of education and income in adulthood: for every 1°C increase in the average monthly temperature during pregnancy, the probability that a person receives secondary education will decrease by 0.2% and the level after adulthood will decrease by 0.7%, with women being the most affected (0.86% compared to 0.59% for men).

Finally, high temperature will also have a great impact on workers’ productivity. When the human body is exposed to a high-temperature environment, the increase in internal body temperature will stimulate the nerve centre, leading to self-protective fatigue, decreased strength and muscle endurance, thus reducing productive efficiency.

A paper published in 2018 by Peng Zhang, Olivier Deschenes, Kyle Meng, Junjie Zhang in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management used the detailed production data of 500,000 workers from 1998 to 2007 and adopted the fixed-effect model of data to study the effect of temperature on the total factor of firm-level productivity (TFP) and the influence of input and output factor. It is demonstrated that the productive efficiency of both labour-intensive and capital-intensive firms shows sensitivity to high temperatures: compared to a standard of 10-15.6 °C, when the maximum daytime temperature exceeds 32.2°C, TFP will be reduced by 0.56%.

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Green Planet

The Only Way to Stop Global Warming

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One way exists to stop global warming, but the mutual feedback cycles that are now accelerating global warming might already have achieved enough speed of increasing temperature so as to prevent even that one way from working, and therefore the planet might already be doomed. Since the only way to stop global warming hasn’t yet even been proposed (much less tried), I shall now publicly propose it here, in accord with the adage “Better late than never.”

The way to stop global warming (if it still can be stopped) is to ban purchases of stocks and of bonds — i.e., of all forms of investment securities (corporate shares and even loans being made to the corporation) — of enterprises that extract from the ground (land or else underwater) fossil fuels: coal, oil, and/or gas.

For examples: in 2017, the world’s largest fossil-fuels extractors were, in order: 1. Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia billionaires); 2. Chevron (U.S. billionaires); 3. Gazprom (Russia billionaires); 4. ExxonMobil (U.S. billionaires); 5. National Iranian Oil Co. (Iran billionaires); 6. BP (UK billionaires); 7. Shell (Netherlands billionaires); 8. Coal India (India billionaires); 9. PEMEX (Mexico billionaires); 10. Petroleos de Venezuela (Venezuela billionaires); 11. PetroChina/CNPC (China billionaires); and 12. Peabody Energy (U.S. billionaires). (NOTE: U.S. billionaires, allied with Saudi, UK, Netherlands, and India, billionaires, are trying to absorb, into their team, Russia, Iran, Mexico, Venezuela, and China, each of which latter nations had actually nationalized their fossil fuels, so that those nations’ Government, instead of any billionaires, would own those assets, in the name of all of the given nation’s residents. Though Russia ended its side of the Cold War in 1991, the U.S.-and-allied side of the Cold War secretly continued, and continues, today. Consequently, the U.S.-led team failed to achieve total conquest of the Russia-led team, and is now increasingly trying to do that: achieve total global hegemony, so that the entire world will be controlled only by U.S.-and-allied billionaires. This explains a lot of today’s international relations.)  All fossil-fuels extractors compete ferociously, as producers of a basic global commodity, but the proposal that is being made here will affect all of them and all countries, even if it is done by only one country.

Why Investing in Fossil-Fuel Extractors Must Be Outlawed

It needs to be outlawed (in some major country, perhaps even just one) in order to save our planet. Here’s how and why doing that in even just a single country might save the planet (this is a bit long and complicated, but avoiding global catastrophe is worth the trouble, so, you might find it worth your while to read this):

These companies exist in order to discover, extract, refine, and market, fossil fuels, in order for these fuels to be burned — but those activities are killing this planet. Buying stock in, and lending money to, these firms doesn’t purchase their products, but it does incentivize all phases of these firms’ operations, including the discovery of yet more fields of oil, gas, and coal, to add yet more to their existing fossil-fuel reserves, all of which are discovered in order to be burned. Unless these companies’ stock-values are driven down to near zero and also no investor will be lending to them, all such operations will continue, and the Earth will therefore surely die from the resulting over-accumulation of global-warming gases, and increasing build-up of heat (the “greenhouse-effect”), from that burning.

To purchase stock in a fossil-fuel extractor — such as ExxonMobil or BP — or to buy their bonds or otherwise lend to them, is to invest in or fund that corporation’s employment of fossil-fuel explorers to discover new sources of oil, gas, or coal, to drill, and ultimately burn. Such newly discovered reserves are excess inventories that must never be burnt if this planet is to avoid becoming uninhabitable. But these firms nonetheless continue to employ people to find additional new places to drill, above and beyond the ones that they already own — which existing inventories are already so enormous as to vastly exceed what can be burnt without destroying the Earth many times over. To buy the stock in such corporations (or else lend to them) is consequently to fund the killing of our planet. It’s to fund an enormous crime, and should be treated as such. To invest in these companies should be treated as a massive crime. 

The only people who will suffer from outlawing the purchase of stock in, and lending to, fossil-fuel extractors, are individuals who are already invested in those corporations. Since we’ve already got vastly excessive known reserves of fossil fuels, discovering yet more such reserves is nothing else than the biggest imaginable crime against all future-existing people, who can’t defend themselves against these activities that are being done today. Only our government, today, can possibly protect future people, and it will be to blame if it fails to do so. The single most effective way it can do this, its supreme obligation, is to criminalize the purchase of stock in fossil-fuels extractors, and to bar loans to them. Here’s why (and please follow this closely now):

The IMF says that “To limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius — the more conservative of the goals agreed to by governments at the 2015 climate change talks in Paris — more than two-thirds of current known reserves, let alone those yet to be discovered (see Table 1), must remain in the ground (IEA 2012). Obviously, then, what the oil and gas and coal companies are doing by continuing exploration is utterly idiotic from an economic standpoint — it’s adding yet more to what already are called “unburnable reserves.” Thus, waiting yet longer for a technological breakthrough, such as fossil-fuels corporations have always promised will happen but nobody has ever actually delivered (and such as is exemplified here), is doomed, because if and when such a real breakthrough would occur, we’d already be too late, and the uncontrollably spiralling and accelerating feedback-loops would already be out of control even if they weren’t uncontrollable back then. We’d simply be racing, then, to catch up with — and to get ahead of — an even faster rise in global temperatures than existed at that previous time. Things get exponentialy worse with each and every year of delay. Consequently, something sudden, sharp, and decisive, must happen immediately, and it can happen only by a fundamental change becoming instituted in our laws, not in our technology. The solution, if  it comes, will come from government, and not even possibly come from industry (technological breakthroughs). For governments to instead wait, and to hope for a “technological breakthrough,” is simply for our planet to die. It’s to doom this planet. It’s to abandon the government’s obligation to the future (its supreme obligation). The reason why is that what’s difficult to achieve now (preventing the murder of our planet), will soon be impossible to achieve.

On 13 November 2019, the International Energy Agency reported that “the momentum behind clean energy is insufficient to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population,” and “The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change.” Obviously, we are all heading the world straight to catastrophe. Drastic action is needed, and it must happen now — not in some indefinite future. But the IEA was wrong to endorse “calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else,” which is the gradual approach, which is doomed to fail. And it also requires agreement, which might not come, and compromises, which might make the result ineffective. 

I have reached out to Carbon Tracker, the organization that encourages investors to disinvest from fossil fuels. Their leader, Mark Campanale, declined my request for them to endorse my proposal. He endorses instead “a new fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty supported by movements calling to leave fossil fuels in the ground.” When I responded that it’s vastly more difficult, for states (individual governments) to mutually pass, into their respective nation’s laws, a treaty amongst themselves (since it requires unanimity amongst all of them instituting into each one of their legal systems exactly that same law), than it is for any state ON ITS OWN to institute a law (such as I propose), he still wasn’t interested. I asked him why he wasn’t. He said “I’ve chosen a different strategy for my organization.” I answered: “All that I am seeking from you is an ENDORSEMENT. I am not asking you to change your ‘strategy’ (even if you really ought to ADD this new strategy to your existing one).” He replied simply by terminating communication with me and saying, without explanation, “We don’t always agree.”

Here is that “treaty supported by movements calling to leave fossil fuels in the ground”. As you can see there, it was posted in 2012, and as of now (nine years later) it has been signed by 8 individuals, no nations (and not even by any organizations). Mark Campanale isn’t among these 8.

Carbon Tracker is secretive of the identities, and size of donations, of its donors, but its website does make clear that it’s a UK organization that has designed itself so as to be as beneficial for tax-write-offs to U.S. billionaire donors as possible, and “Our UK organisation has an Equivalency Determination (‘ED’) which allows it to be recognised by the IRS as a 501(c)3 US Public Charity.  We have held the ED since February 2016 and is maintained annually by NGO Source on behalf of our major US donors.” In short: it’s part of the U.S.-led team of billionaires. Perhaps this organization’s actual function is that (since the nations that have nationalized their fossil fuels haven’t yet been able to be taken over as outright colonies or vassal-states controlled by the U.S.-led group) the residents inside those outside countries will be paying the price (in reduced Government-services, etc.) from a gradual transition to a ‘reduced carbon’ world. (Everybody but those billionaires will be paying the price.) This mythical aim, of a ‘reduced-carbon’ ‘transition’, would then be a veiled means of gradually impoverishing the residents in those nations, until, ultimately, those people there will support a coup, which will place U.S.-and-allied billionaires in charge of their Government (such as happened in Ukraine in 2014). This appears to be their policy regarding Venezuela, Iran, and several other countries. If it is additionally influencing the ‘transition to a low-carbon economy’, then it’s actually blocking the needed change in this case (which isn’t, at all, change that’s of the gradual type, but is, instead, necessarily decisive, and sudden, if it is to happen at all). However, Carbon Tracker is hardly unique in being controlled by U.S.-and-allied billionaires, and there are, also, many other ways to employ the gradual approach — an approach which is doomed to fail on this matter. A few other of these delaying-tactics will also be discussed here.

Some environmental organizations recommend instead improving labelling laws and informing consumers on how they can cut their energy-usages (such as here), but even if that works, such changes, in consumers’ behaviors, are no more effective against climate-change than would be their using buckets to lower the ocean-level in order to prevent it from overflowing and flooding the land. What’s actually needed is a huge jolt to the system itself, immediately. Only systemic thinking can solve such a problem.

Making such a change — outlawing the purchase of stock in, and prohibiting loans to, fossil-fuel extractors — would impact enormously the stock-prices of all fossil fuels corporations throughout the world, even if it’s done only in this country. It would quickly force all of the fossil-fuel extractors to eliminate their exploration teams and to increase their dividend payouts, just in order to be able to be “the last man standing” when they do all go out of business — which then would occur fairly soon. Also: it would cause non-fossil-energy stock-prices to soar, and this influx of cash into renewable-energy investing would cause their R&D also to soar, which would increasingly reduce costs of the energy they supply. It would transform the world, fairly quickly, and very systematically. And all of this would happen without taxpayers needing to pay tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars, or for governments to sign onto any new treaties. And if additional nations copy that first one, then the crash in market-values of all fossil-fuels corporations will be even faster, and even steeper.

As regards existing bonds and other debt-obligations from fossil-fuels extractors, each such corporation would need to establish its own policies regarding whether or not, and if so then how, to honor those obligations, since there would no longer be a market for them. Ending the market would not be equivalent to ending the obligations. The law would nullify the obligations, but the corporation’s opting to fulfill those obligations wouldn’t be illegal — it would merely be optional.

This would be a taking from individuals who have been investing in what the overwhelming majority of experts on global warming say are investments in a massive crime against future generations, and we are now in an emergency situation, which is more than merely a national emergency, a global one, so that such governmental action would not be merely advisable but urgently necessary and 100% in accord with the public welfare and also in accord with improving distributive justice.

The only way possible in order to avoid getting into the uncontrollable feedback-cycles (feedback-loops) that would set this planet racing toward becoming another Mars is to quickly bring a virtual end to the burning of fossil fuels. That can happen only  if fossil fuels become uneconomic. But common methods proposed for doing that, such as by imposing carbon taxes, would hit consumers directly (by adding a tax to what they buy), and thereby turn consumers into advocates for the fossil-fuel industries (advocates on the fossil-fuels-companies’ side, favoring elimination of that tax upon their products). In this key respect, such proposals are counterproductive, because they dis-incentivize the public to support opposition to fossil-fuel extraction. Such proposals are therefore politically unacceptable, especially in a democracy, where consumers have powerful political voice at the ballot-box. Any carbon tax would also anger the consuming public against environmentalists. Turning consumers into friends of the fossil-fuels extractors would be bad. What I am proposing is not like that, at all. Investors are a much smaller number of voters than are consumers. Everyone is a consumer, but only a relatively tiny number of people are specifically fossil-fuel investors. To terminate the freedom those investors have to sell their stock, by making illegal for anyone to buy  that stock, is the most practicable way to prevent global burnout (if it still can be prevented). This needs to be done right now.

How was slavery ended in the United States? It became illegal for anyone to own slaves — and the way that this was done is that it became illegal for anyone to buy a slave. The same needs to be done now in order to (possibly) avoid runaway global heat-up.

Once it’s done, those firms will go out of business. (First, these firms will increase their dividend-payouts to their stockholders while they lay off their explorers, but then they’ll cut their other costs, and then they’ll fold. But the objective isn’t that; it’s to make their products uneconomic to produce, market, and sell; and this will do that, even before all of those firms have become eliminated.) All of today’s existing economies-of-scale in the fossil-fuels-producing-and-marketing industries will then be gone, and will become replaced by new economies-of-scale that will rise sharply in non-carbon energy, as R&D there will be soaring, while the fossil-fuels producers fade out and fade away. 

This is the only realistically possible way to avoid global burnout. It must be done. And even some top executives in fossil-fuels extractors harbor personal hopes that it will be done. For example:

Shell CEO Says Governments, Not Firms, Are Failing on Climate Change

On Monday, 14 October 2019, Reuters headlined “Exclusive: No choice but to invest in oil, Shell CEO says” and reported:

Ben van Beurden expressed concern that some investors could ditch Shell, acknowledging that shares in the company were trading at a discount partly due to “societal risk”.

“I am afraid of that, to be honest,” he said.

“But I don’t think they will flee for the justified concern of stranded assets … (It is) the continued pressure on our sector, in some cases to the point of demonisation, that scares asset managers.”

“It is not at a scale that the alarm bells are ringing, but it is an unhealthy trend.”

Van Beurden put the onus for achieving a transformation to low-carbon economies on governments.

He didn’t suggest any specific policies which governments should take, but he did say “that not enough progress had been made to reach the Paris climate goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.” Furthermore:

Delaying implementation of the right climate policies could result in “knee-jerk” political responses that might be very disruptive to society, he said. “Let the air out of the balloon as soon as you can before the balloon actually bursts,” van Beurden said.

He is, in a sense, trapped, as the head of one of the world’s largest fossil-fuel extractors. He doesn’t want to be “demonised,” but he is professionally answering to — and obligated to serve — investors who are still profiting from destroying the world. Though he acknowledges that consumers cannot initiate the necessary policy-change, and that investors aren’t yet; and though he doesn’t want government to do anything which “might be very disruptive to society,” he does want governments to “Let the air out of the balloon as soon as you can before the balloon actually bursts,” and he’s therefore contemplating — and is even advising — that governments must do the job now, and not wait around any longer to take the necessary decisive action. 

Here’s what that type of governmental action would be (and unlike the Paris Climate Agreement, it doesn’t require an international consensus — which doesn’t actually exist among the nations), and therefore I am asking readers here to give me an endorsement of it, so that I can publicly move forward with pushing for it. Please send the endorsement to the.eric.zuesse@gmail.com, with “ENDORSEMENT” in the Subject line; “Investing in fossil-fuel extractors must be outlawed” as the message; and indicate any appropriate identifiers of yourself that are especially relevant to the matter (so as to impress your Senators, etc.). In addition, after that, push, on your own, by urging your Senators and Representative to draft a law to ban purchases of investments in fossil-fuels extractors.

Why is this the ONLY way? No other proposals can even possibly work: 

The “Bridge Fuels” Concept Is a Deceit

The concept of “bridge fuels,” such as methane as being a substitute for petroleum, is a propaganda device (another delaying-tactic) by the fossil-fuels industry and its agents, in order to slow the decline of those industries. For example, on 16 November 2019, Oil Price Dot Com headlined “Why Banning Fossil Fuel Investment Is A Huge Mistake”, and Cyril Widdershoven, a long-time writer for and consultant to fossil-fuel corporations, argued against an effort by the European Investment Bank to “put more pressure on all parties to phase out gas, oil and coal projects.” Widdershoven’s argument is that “experts seem to agree that the best way to target lower CO2 emissions in the EU is to substitute oil and coal power generation in Eastern Europe with natural gas.” He says, “Even in the most optimistic projections, renewable energy options, such as wind or solar, are not going to be able to counter the need for power generation capacity. If the EIB blocks a soft energy transition via natural gas, the Paris Agreement will almost certainly fail.” 

The unstated “experts” that Widdershoven cited are, like himself, hirees of the fossil-fuels industries. Furthermore, this go-slow approach is already recognized by the IMF and IEA to be doomed to fail at avoiding global burnout.

Furthermore — and this is perhaps the most important fact of all — government-support has largely been responsible for the success of fossil-fuel corporations (especially now for natural gas), and, if fully replaced by government-support going instead to non-fossil-fuel corporations, there will then be a skyrocketing increase in R&D in those non-fossil-fuel technologies, which skyrocketing R&D, there, is desperately needed, if any realistic hope is to exist, at all, of avoiding global burn-out. 

So, to each reader of this, I ask: If this is not what you propose, then what do you propose? Your endorsement is therefore requested. Please send the endorsement to the.eric.zuesse@gmail.com, with “ENDORSEMENT” in the Subject line; “Investing in fossil-fuel extractors must be outlawed” as the message; and indicate any appropriate identifiers of yourself. I shall then try, again, but this time with emails that will have all of those signatories, not merely myself, as the person who is requesting action (or at least requesting the person’s reasons for continued inaction). And keep on pushing for this, on your own, in any way you can.

Sincerely,

Eric Zuesse

P.S. In January, I had sent this (the above emailed letter) to (and never received any answer from any of) the:

Dear EU Climate Commissioners:

Re: He [Timmermans] said right wing countries like Canada, the USA and Brazil were preventing the EU from reiterating the Paris Agreement requirements in the COP conclusions.

What is needed is a method which (unlike international agreement on carbon-trading credits) won’t require agreement among nations, which are too corrupt to take the necessary collective action to avert catastrophe. Here’s the solution which could be implemented by, say, the EU, or even just by Germany, or just by India, or just by China, alone, if not by any of the far-right countries (such as U.S. and Brazil), which action, taken by any one of them, would create the necessary cascading-effect among all nations, that could transform the world and perhaps save the future (and please do follow closely the argument here, and click onto any link here wherever you might have any questions, because this is a truly new idea, and every part of it is fully documented here):

[That message was then followed by the letter that’s printed above it here, and no one responded to it.]

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

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