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!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A day at the seaside... without fossil fuel

Val outside a medieval house, en route to the sea. Nice place for a picnic.Have you noticed how, when you drive somewhere reasonably local in your car, it seems an impossible distance to imagine doing on foot or by bike. Yet when you do try it without the car, you're quite surprised at how short a distance it actually is. I have the good fortune to live within a few miles of the nearest sea but oddly, my wife Val and I had never actually tried cycling there instead of using the car... for exactly the reasons I just mentioned: it seemed like a long way to go.

The headland at Penychain. Lots of interesting geology here if you like that sort of thing: flow-banding, brecciation and a possible lava dome. Well we tried it yesterday and - surprise! - it wasn't. Getting there was incredibly easy because it was mostly downhill. Being there was fun as the day was warm and sunny and there were cliffs to explore, beaches for paddling, seabirds and landbirds to see and flowers to enjoy. And, oddly, it was easy cycling home. We had both expected it to be hard.

We have another advantage here in rural north Wales: there's a network of little-used very minor roads. So you can, with care, choose a route which is both scenic and almost devoid of cars. Because it's cars which, for me, make cycling so generally unappealing. On our chosen route, we were passed by one car and only had to cross two main roads.

Happily, many people nowadays can turn to cycling as a means of getting around because there are more and more cycle routes which avoid roads as much as possible. Also, there is something rather special about happy days out in which the only CO2 you add to the atmosphere is from your respiration. Very satisfying!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who are the 'criminals' really?

The blog (in blue) below is from MarkLynas.org, posted today. I agree with almost everything he says except his comment on the 'real criminals'. Please read on and see what I mean:

'Plane Stupid' protest puts short-haul flights under the spotlight
News from last week suggests that at long last a direct action campaign against climate change is really beginning to kick off. On Sunday 24 September twenty-six 'Plane Stupid' protesters established a temporary climate camp - not in a field next to a power station this time, but on the taxi-way of East Midlands Airport. The airport - called a "climate change factory" by the demonstrators - was chosen because it specialises in mega-polluting short-haul flights, which could easily be replaced by train travel.
Whilst there they listened to a Baptist minister preach from a makeshift pulpit that, at a time when 160,000 people are dying from climate change impacts every year, "flying is a sin". The Rev. Malcolm Caroll's former parish was in nearby Nottingham. The activists managed to stick it out for 4 hours before being removed by police, and all 26 were arrested and charged with aggravated trespass. Needless to say, the real criminals - those operating the airport and the airline companies - continue with business as usual, protected by the full force of the law.
A few days later, the Met Office issues a press release: September was the warmest on record in the United Kingdom "by some margin". Is anyone listening?

I disagree that the 'real criminals' are the plane operators. Of course they are part of the problem. But surely the people to point the finger of blame at are those who actually fill the planes on their cheap package tour holidays. They don't have to do it. They can choose not to. But they don't, either because they don't know what they're doing is crazy or because they don't care. It is the task of we enlightened people who eschew flying for frivolous purposes to - somehow - get through to the 'frequent flyers' and encourage them to take their holidays locally.