Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Harnessing the power of belief

Our planet surrounded by the symbols of the most important world religions (clockwise from top): Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Christianity, the Jewish faith, Buddhism. There are many other minor religions but not room for them all!

Some scary facts

  • human population is expected to reach 9-10 billion by the end of the century

  • the planet is in the middle of its sixth mass extinction

  • climate change is the most imminent and serious threat ever faced by humanity

What can we do? Can we mobilise for a War on Climate Change? Most of us opt for outright denial that there's a problem and continue 'business as usual'. Those of us who are aware ('extremists' like myself and still a tiny proportion of humanity) can do very little apart from tinkering round the edges. Politicians can do very little either for fear of unpopularity. Industry in many cases would readily support some action (of course, others like Exxon will not) but are justifiably concerned at being put at a competitive disadvantage in the dog-eat-dog world of modern commerce.

So how do we mobilise the numbers of people we need to get moving on climate change mitigation? In times of world war, whole populations have been successfully mobilised to fight and have had to put up with major adversities (apart from the killing) like rationing: at the very least, there's going to have to be rationing of fossil fuels. But tackling climate change needs international mobilisation, and acceptance - in the rich world at any rate - that living standards will inevitably decline. Is it possible to get started on this before climate-induced disasters impact so severely on economies and lifestyles that there becomes no other option?... but by then, it will be too late because of positive climate feedbacks such as massive methane releases (from gas hydrates in the oceans and vast tracts of melting permafrost in Siberia and Canada which is already underway).

A faith solution: E O Wilson, the great American biologist, already has a partial answer. He's just published a book about it: The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion. In it he makes the case for an alliance between secular humanists and people of faith in order to avert mass extinctions.

This approach is not only brilliant; it might also be the best chance we've got. But why stop at American Christians, Wilson's main target audience? Why not all faiths everywhere?

Mobilising religious people: the problem Those old enough to remember songs of the 1960s will probably remember this by mathematician and lyricist Tom Lehrer:

All the Catholics
Hate the Protestants
And the Protestants
Hate the Catholics
All the Muslims hate all the Hindus
And everybody hates the Jews.
National Brotherhood Week, Tom Lehrer

(It was a great tune, too!) But this song serves to make the serious point that so much zeal and potential creativity is diverted into hatred and wars. Much of the news today is about just that.

Have faith and imagine...! If only humankind could harness that often-deadly energy, that zeal, passion and conviction that all faiths share to some degree and channel it into taking action to save our planet! For a start, there'd be much more cash available because there would be less need for armaments, a despicable evil industry which netted more than $1 trillion last year.

I imagine that all the world's great religions include a duty of care of the environment and the planet for the good of all. I know that Buddhists do and American Christians have begun to mobilise on this issue, noticeably over the last few months. Paganism is based on care for Mother Earth as is, for example, the 'old' religion of the Andean peoples who revered pachamama, Mother Earth and inti, the sun god.

How could it come about? It's not going to be easy. I'm sure plenty of people , religious or secular, will have ideas. How about convening an All Faiths Forum where faith leaders agree to bury the hatchet and find common ground? Who convenes it? Over to you, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews: you could work together. Could some of you get started please? Your planet needs you!

If you're religious and you think these ideas are worthwhile, please copy, print and forward this piece to your friends and religious leaders. There's no copyright. My blog is your blog!

1 comment:

Tim Weller said...

Excellent blog, once again, Bry. Well done! I suppose I think like that 'cos I wholeheartedly agree!
One factual error is this. I have heard it said, more than once, that human population is expected to reach 9-10 billion by the middle years of this century and not the end, as you have, Bry.

Tim Weller