It’s Not Just World View That’s the Problem

March 26, 2014

I’ve been a longtime fan of ClimateArk.org for its gathering of news stories on climate change. I also love the implicit reference of its title to Noah and the Ark, with a little image of these in its upper left corner.

In a very beautiful VHS documentary, KEEPING THE EARTH: RELIGIOUS AND SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES ON THE ENVIRONMENT, they intersperse (Judeo-Christian) religious stories of creation with scientific perspectives, and when they get to the Noah story, they say that Noah wrote the first Endangered Species Act.

The problem I have with ClimateArk is some of Dr. Glen Barry’s (its host) counterproductive tangents. Now Dr. Barry does a really marvelous job with his website and he’s just great on that account, but he does get into these snits on his blog, sort of like I do, I guess :). His recent one is:

“God Pollution: Nature Is My Religion, Earth Is My Temple” — There are no invisible ghosts in the sky ruling over and judging us. God pollution kills, obscures truth, and slows progress. All we have and need is each other, kindred species, ecosystems, and the biosphere.

I’m a religious person whose environmentalism flows from my ardent love of God, love of God’s creation, and (if God says I must then) love of neighbor and keen desire to do right by them. I tend to wonder how Dr. Barry cannot be aware of the religious underpinnings of his tremendous love of creation and efforts to do right by it. A true atheist, it seems to me, would just be concerned about feeding his own face and perhaps being kind to a few people around him in a self-serving way, unless he/she were somehow hooked into a religious moral system in which God has been deleted from the world view, but the moral system (the ethos) maintained. Sort of the reverse of those who cling to a self-serving concept of “God,” while chucking the moral system that foundationally involves “keeping the Earth” – the people Dr. Barry seems to be railing against.

In fact, it seems to me that it is due to the Judeo-Christian conception of God as transcendent (and immanent) – which, of course, God gave us to understand through our spiritual history – that science arose. The forces of nature in this conception of God and creation are not in animistic spirit beings but are natural laws or laws of nature. In other words, physics, chemistry, biology, etc explain things, not an angry or capricious Gaia, Zeus, or tree spirits.  (No offense to the ancients, who were just doing science as best they could, trying to make sense of the world.)

But I digress. What I really object to about Glen Barry’s anti-religious spiel has nothing to do with religion, but my multidimensional (transdimensional) theoretical framework as an anthropologist. I’m not a cultural or ideological determinist or Hegelian; neither am I a material or social (economic) determinist or Marxist, nor a political determinist. I’m neither an environmental nor biological determinist, nor a psychological determinist. My theoretical assumption is that all these dimensions impact our human condition; no single one is sole determinant.

Did Islam cause bin Laden to attack us? Islam twisted to his own ideas/purposes/subconscious-issues probably played a part, but culture (ideology, religion) is only one strand among the many other interpenetrating dimensions of our human condition. Does Christianity cause people to destroy the earth and God’s creatures? It (twisted and perverted) may pay a part among the many other impacting forces, including other ideologies that entwine Christianity like a bunch of killer weeds. We of various religious faiths need to keep our gardens (and ourselves) weeded.

Totally off topic & not at all about the environment per se, but some really great movies I’ve been watching are THE PERFECT STRANGER trilogy which I saw on a Protestant TV station, purchased, & have been passing around. Check it out on YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPPwQApwBsA; and its sequel ANOTHER PERFECT STRANGER — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55pTVRyuaMk.

Let us let God heal ourselves emotionally and spiritually (like putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first, then on others next to us) so that we can truly KEEP THE EARTH — which foundationally precedes the 10 Commandments.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it – Genesis 2:15

It’s World View That’s the Problem, and other things…

March 23, 2014

I’ve had Catholic friends ask me “Do you worship the environment or do you worship God?”  And tell me jokes ending with a punch-line of “the environment IS her religion.”

I think the problem for many is a very limited view of what the environment or God’s creation is.  It seems for many the environment is things not to do much with human beings, as if we are not also God’s creation and part of the environment, but sort of demi-gods ourselves, creating our own human-built environments that are apart from “nature” or “the environment.”  The environment is therefore considered to be outside our human concern, amounting to spotted owls, polar bears, and/or rainforests — things we can more or less dispense of, things we certainly should NOT waste much time worrying about or trying to save, when there are so many human problems confronting us.  Wilderness and wild species (read “useless spaces” and “useless species”), cute and awe-inspiring and beautiful (also savage and opposite of civilized) as they are, just aren’t necessary to humans……or to God’s kingdom, if we just happen to be serious Christians.

I, however, have a very different world view.  Call me weird.  To me the environment or nature or God’s creation is all of that above, but much more — it also includes the air we humans breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the materials with which we build our homes and make our products, the chemicals the permeate our skin, the climate in which we grow our crops.  And while I use the term “environment,” I consider it a not-so-perfect word, something that means “surroundings,” and it could also be used for our “social environment” or the people around us.  “Ecology,” including “ecological system(s),” is a more dynamic term that indicates interactions and also includes humans.  We are part of earth’s eco-system, being impacted by and impacting it — now on scales much greater than ever before.  “God’s creation” is an even broader term, since it includes not only the “ecological system” here on earth, but the entire universe.

For a better world view what we really need is not so much “environmental” understanding, but “ecological” understanding, and an understanding of God’s “creation.”

And perhaps it was because many good and sincere Catholics lack adequate understanding of any of these that the first words of Pope Francis as pope — after he had asked everyone to pray for him — either did not register with them or caused a flurry of apologies away from his full meaning of:

“We must protect creation.”

Red herrings, strawmen, and fake Catholic environmentalism

January 10, 2013

I’ve been looking at some supposedly Catholic environmentalist programs and posts (I may mention specific ones later), and it is interesting most of their time is spent knocking environmentalism and environmentalists in general (or the author’s stereotypes of such) and certain very rare strands of environmentalists in particular that they assume to be the dominant strands (like “human hater environmentalists,” who, let’s face it, are busy committing suicide, being the very being they detest so much, so they are really not all that much of a problem).  Much less of the program time or post space, if any at all, is spent in inspiring people to concrete environmental actions that can reduce harms and save lives, and that time and space mostly involves promoting an appreciation for the beauties of nature — conceived of as something beyond the fringes of our human civilization, and certainly NOT the air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, chemicals that permeate our largest organ (our skin), materials with which we build our homes and products, and the climate in which we survive, thrive, and grow our food.

It’s like instead these Catholic “environmentalists” are giving their audience — which is certainly not the human-hater environmentalists, but mostly non-environmentally oriented Catholics (e.g., those who watch EWTN) — a reason not to do much to help the environment, but with a smug reassurance that they are quite superior in their belief system and philosophy to those #%#$@# environmentalists (‘cuse my French).

The comparable done with anti-abortion folks would go like this (addressed mainly to Catholics):  Catholic anti-abortionists are far superior to those non-Catholic anti-abortionists, who are surely going to hell for not being Catholic.   Their religious and philosophical takes on abortion — whether it be Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, or Neo-Pagan — are all cock-eyed and wrong, because their concept of God and man and the Eucharist are so non-Catholic, no matter how many women they may help to avoid having an abortion.  Not to mention even Catholic anti-abortionists plus all those others are a bunch of (or have a tendency to become) baby-worshippers, when only God should be worshipped.  So if you don’t happen to be anti-abortion or involved in anti-abortion activities, just feel very proud you are a Catholic.  Afterall the abortion issue is really not that bad, so you don’t have to be concerned about it much.  Just go out and hug some baby or look at a pretty picture of one, and that will do just fine.

‘Cuse my hyperbole!

Beyond Gaia….the Medea Hypothesis

November 27, 2010

Just in case you were afraid to become an environmentalist out of fear of becoming an earth-worshiping pagan — just turning off one light not in use might do a presto-chango on a person, according to the anti-environmentalists’ common wisdom…..

Gaia is now passé.  It was Medea all along — the one who killed her children in rage when Jason left her… a La Llorona figure… Mary Hamilton. 

See http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-there-wont-be-a-bailout-for-the-earth-2143876.html :

Now there is a radically different theory that is gaining adherents, ominously named the Medea hypothesis. The paleontologist Professor Peter Ward is an expert in the great extinctions that have happened in the earth’s past, and he believes there is a common thread between them. With the exception of the meteor strike that happened 65 million years ago, every extinction was caused by living creatures becoming incredibly successful – and then destroying their own habitats. So, for example, 2.3 billion years ago, plant life spread incredibly rapidly, and as it went it inhaled huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This then caused a rapid plunge in temperature that froze the planet and triggered a mass extinction.  

Ward believes nature isn’t a nurturing mother like Gaia. No: it is Medea, the figure from Greek mythology who murdered her own children. In this theory, life doesn’t preserve itself. It serially destroys itself. It is a looping doomsday machine. This theory adds a postscript to Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. There is survival of the fittest, until the fittest trash their own habitat, and do not survive at all.  

But the plants 2.3 billion years ago weren’t smart enough to figure out what they were doing. We are. We can see that if we release enough warming gases we will trigger an irreversible change in the climate and make our own survival much harder. Ward argues that it is not inevitable we will destroy ourselves – because human beings are the first and only species that can consciously develop a Gaian approach. Just as Richard Dawkins famously said we are the first species to be able to rebel against our selfish genes and choose to be kind, we are the first species that can rebel against the Medean rhythm of life. We can choose to preserve the habitat on which we depend. We can choose life.

We can choose life.  We can.  We can resist the Medea impluse in us & replace her with Jesus on our inner altar.  We can.  Please don’t be afraid to choose life.

How Sinful Are Environmental Harms?

October 29, 2010

In the discussion in my last post, the topic came up about how sinful environmental harms are compared to other sins.

I’m no moral theologian, so these are only my poor assessments.  I would say that intentially killing a person through the usual means — abortion (when the mother’s life is not at stake) or holding up a gas station and killing the attendant, or perhaps even killing a loved one in a fit of rage — would be worse than causing pollution which unintentionally kills people or causes miscarriages and birth defects.

Although one environmental case sticks out here I heard years back in our campaign to ban and regulate leaf burning.  A man had the habit of burning fall leaves in his yard.  His next-door neighbor asked him to stop, since they had a teen daughter with severe asthma who got very sick every time he did that.  The neighbor persisted as there wasn’t any leaf-burning ban, and one day the daughter came home from school while he was burning leaves.  She never made it to the front door, but collapsed and died in her yard from a severe asthma attack.  Still not as sinful as having an abortion or killing a gas station attendant, but pretty sinful.

And there are companies who knowingly do things that are dangerous and could cause death — such as the fish company I read about 30+ years ago that added something way above the allowed limit (I think sodium nitrite) to make a rotten fish smell okay to make a sale, causing the a family who ate it to get serious stomach problems and their son to die.  (BTW, the company owner got off the hook with a $200 fine.)  And companies knowingly putting toxic stuff in toys, or pollute rivers that cause harm or death — those I think are fairly serious sins.

Then there’s us regular folks (not nefarious company owners) who go about our lives emitting various pollutions and causing toxic harm, including aborting babies through that pollution.  This would not be as serious as killing a gas station attendant, but neverthess sinful, IF WE UNDERSTAND THAT OUR ACTIONS CAN KILL or ARE KILLING OTHERS.

This final caveat is the clincher.  I think most people just don’t know they are harming others through environmental harms, and even the most informed environmentalist would not know ALL the harms he or she was causing.  And even all the scientists put together may not know the “God-only-knows” harms we are causing.

We just do the best we can with our limited time, talents, and treasures to find out these harms and reduce them as much as feasible.  We follow the precautionary principle of prudence — ready to assume that we are harming others even if the science has not yet reached 95% confidence….as the U.S. bishops have suggested.

But there is this other environmental sin — opting to disregard not just emerging science but also science that has reached 95% confidence, and insist to self and others that they are not causing harm.  I’m thinking of the climate change denialists — some of them on a campaign to dissuade others from mitigating climate change; and all the other harms from doing the same things that cause global warming…like profligately driving one’s internal combustion engine Hummer well above and beyond the call of duty & family, emitting not only greenhouse gases but various other pollutants that cause local harms & deaths and acid rain (which causes death from lung problems, as well as killing lakes, forests, and harming soil and property), and ocean acidification.

To me this is a pretty grave sin, but I’m not sure how it stacks up against killing a gas station attendant or having an abortion for non-life threatening reasons — still less than these sins, I suppose.

So you take this retired physicist or engineer with a nest egg to carry him in good style for many decades (I understand many climate change denialists come from these ranks — an army of people who think they know better than the vast majority of actual working climate scientists), getting 300 other people deny climate change and go on emitting the same or even more greenhouse gases, which eventually leads to the death of 10,000 people when climate hysteresis or runaway warming is triggered (which it may be if we persist on our current path), killing off a large chunk of humanity or even all life on planet earth, as some working climate scientists suggest could happen…

v.

…a hapless woman having an abortion because she was caught in the Pakistani flood (likely enhanced by global warming), has nothing, and needs to be there to help her 7 other children survive.

Perhaps that abortion is still a worse sin than that of the climate denialist, even though it is one life lost v. a tremendous loss of lives when we slip into climate hysteresis or runaway warming as on Venus (for more info on this see esp pg. 24 of http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/AGUBjerknes_20081217.pdf )

However, I’m thinking that climate change denialist is perhaps almost as guilty as Cain, and for similar reasons — killing, then denying it.  It’s certainly worse than people with no clue at all causing death through their environmental harms.

So, anyway, please don’t have an abortion, and please don’t kill gas station attendants or loved ones in rage, and please also reduce environmental harms.  That is my plea.

“Save the Trees & Kill the Children” – what?

August 19, 2010

Heard a song on the Christian station the other day — I usually listen to the old folks Protestant Christian station with the old hymnal songs, but they had some talking going on, so I switched to the Christian rock & roll station.  I was dumbfounded by the lyrics — “philosophies that save the trees and kill the children.”  How wrong-headed and wrong-spirited can a Christian radio station get?  It wasn’t Catholic, so that might explain it in part.

I tracked it down to the song, “While You were Sleeping,” with the lyrics speaking about the Bethlehem birth, then the Jerusalem crucifixion, and then the verse:

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children

Hear it on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rqhG2yT-58

That old environmentalism=baby-killer saw rears its ugly head again.  As if somehow saving trees leads one to run out and kill children.  And what does this guy have against trees; does he want us to chop down all trees in order to save the children.  How does that save them?  Esp if we’re so busy chopping down all the trees, we just won’t have time to save the children.  Not to mention a total lack of any understanding whatsoever of ecological realities and how God has made it so that the ecosystem provides viability and sustenance for us.  Or, does he think God should send manna from the sky, and we should chuck the rest of God’s (to him, horrible) creation.  Sounds a bit like arrogant presumption, you know, to which the devil temped Jesus out on the desert.

And why can’t we save the trees AND save the children?  What’s so wrong with that?

Another issue, is that WE ARE NOT SAVING THE TREES!! — not by a long shot.  We are destroying them by the groves.  To the detriment of the children of future generations.

But the next verse sort of clarifies his view:

And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night.

If the world is ending tonight, why worry about saving the trees and the birds and the bees.  Just be sure to destroy as much as possible of all life on earth (except the children, of course)  before God gets a chance to do so thru His natural laws that will destroy life on earth in about a billion years when the sun gets way too hot on its path to self-destruction … assuming a comet doesn’t strike and do it sooner.

I feel insulted, socially constructed as a baby-killer, just because I’m an environmentalist.  If we weren’t jumping headlong into destroying the environment through many means, including over-logging and global warming, I wouldn’t have been so upset with this song.  But since we are, then we need everyone (as JPII instructed us in 1990) — including the songwriter here and that rock & roll Christian radio station, with its less than inspirational music, and its audience — to join forces in SAVING THE TREES (and other life forms on Earth) in order to help SAVE THE CHILDREN.

The new Senate Climate Bill fails in many ways

May 20, 2010

I’ve just discussed how cap and trade, which is at the heart of the Senate’s new American Power Act bill, will fail to reduce greenhouse gases fast enough to avert serious harms, possibility even allowing us to tip into runaway warming, in which all life on planet earth will die.  And also how fee & dividend would be a much better choice.

Now I’ve heard that some Catholics, including a bishop, claim the bill fails the moral test of aiding poor countries to adapt to climate change — see here

My thinking on this is that these are 2 separate issues (a bill to reduce our GHGs and our need to help the poor adapt).  Whether or not a climate bill ever passes Congress and gets signed into law, we MUST aid the poor in their adaptation to problems largely cause by us, the rich of the world.  Furthermore, we MUST reduce our GHGs whether or not a bill ever passes.  Those are 2 moral imperatives, which can be combined into one bill or put in 2 bills, but which we must ourselves implement, no matter what the government does or fails to do.

A serious misconception is that it is up to government to solve global warming.  No, it is up to all of us to solve this problem since we are causing it, and the government can lead, follow, or get out of the way (and the government is in our way as it stands right now with tax-breaks and subsidies for coal and oil, and allowing big energy to suppress many solutions).  It would surely help if the government could facilitate our efforts (instead of hinder them), but if it doesn’t, that does not in any way at all absolve us from our moral responsibility to stop killing people and help the people we are harming.  The principle here is “Thou shalt not kill” and “first do no harm.”  It has to do with fundamental, first order, negative rights on the part of the victims, such as the right to life, and our fundamental, first order obligation to meet those rights.  It has to do with stopping our sins of commission.  The risk spending eternity in a place a lot hotter place than an globally warmed world.

After that, we can think about charitable actions and positive rights, such as “save the earth” and “help the poor” in situations in which we are not ourselves harming the earth or the poor (like stopping a friend from polluting, or helping Haitian earthquake victims).  Which has to do with overcoming our sins of omission.

Solutions: Cap and Trade bad, Fee and Dividend good

May 18, 2010

Just finished Chapter 9 of STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN — James Hansen’s (top climate scientist at NASA) book about global warming written for laypersons.  I highly recommend it to all.

Chapter 9 is about solutions, and Hansen thinks Cap & Trade is ineffective and only lines pockets of the rich.  Cap & trade means that energy companies will have caps on how much carbon they emit, but if they emit more, they can buy permits on the “carbon exchange” to pollute, while others emitting below that cap can sell permits to the exchange.  In theory it will favor companies that emit below their caps & encourage all companies to emit less GHGs….but there are many many loopholes and problems with it.  The Kyoto Protocol did not work, and neither will cap & trade within our country work, at least not fast enough to avert serious runaway conditions.

Hansen contrasts C&T with Fee & Dividend, in which a fee is levied on each barrel of oil or ton of coal as it comes out of the well or mine, or into port, then 100% of that money is divvied up among all Americans, and deposited in their banks each month, and for those without accounts given back as debit cards.  It is a much more simple solution without hardly any bureaucracy compared to what C&T will require.

Those who use that dividend money to become more energy efficient/conservative will end up gaining financially, but those who do not, can then use that money to offset their higher bills.  This can start out as really low fees and very slowly be ratched up over the years and decades, giving people enough time to adjust and implement low carbon solutions (many of which save money in and of themselves).  In other words we can still be using the same amount of energy or even more, but the lower carbon forms of energy will be favored and eventually opted for.  In this F&D system it is the rich and profligate who would will be net losers, and the poor, frugal, and efficient will be net winners.

I’m thinking that to keep it within Church teaching, some of that money should be diverted to the poor in poor countries so they can also mitigate AGW and adapt to its harms.  We the rich break it, we buy it.

So here is Hansen’s very astute critiques of Cap & Trade (pp. 212- 219):

  1. They pretend “cap” is not a tax, but it is — it will increase the cost of carbon energy.  Therefore gov will keep the cap high and the increase in carbon energy costs low (so people won’t rail against it), and the effect will be people will go on polluting as usual.  And there will be cheating and wheeling and dealing among energy companies.
  2. The “cap” is actually a “floor.”  Emissions cannot go lower than this floor, bec price permits on the market would crash, bringing down fossil fuel prices and inspiring more pollution.  Altruistic individuals may buy an efficient vehicle, but this would just allow others to buy more polluting vehicles, so such altruistic actions would have no effect on the gross emissions.
  3. Offsets (like having some country plant trees somewhere) cause actual emissions reductions to be less than the cap targets.  The estimation is that with these offsets the emissions reductions will be less than half of the target.  There is also a lot of cheating in this offset scheme, though I think it perfectly okay to give energy efficient or recycled items or offsets as Xmas gifts, rather than things that entail more pollution.  Offset should be gifts, not trading items.
  4. Wall Street trading of emission permits and their derivatives creates a danger of failures and taxpayer bailouts.  The added costs of trading goes to line the pockets of people and companies like Goldman Sachs, with us picking up the tab.

So that’s it in a nutshell.  So why isn’t gov into this much better and more effective scheme of Fee & Dividend?  Do you know how much oil & coal spend on lobbying?  They don’t really want us to use less fossil fuels and save life on planet earth, if it means their fossil fuel sales will shrink down (seems they don’t really know what the word “diversify” means).

If you like neither C&T nor F&D, then how about joining the Green Tea Party (I don’t know if one exists, but it should) and campaigning to get rid of subsidies and tax-breaks to oil and coal, and maybe make oil pick up part of the Middel East war tabs to boot.  GOOD LUCK with that!

May God please intervene with tremendous miracles and get us on the right track here.

Solutions: the Little Way of Environmental Healing

May 18, 2010

There have been point source environmental problems and those that involve only one set of chemicals (that have alternatives) that are easy to solve, and only require the government to regulate those few industries and help them get on the right track.

Other problems, such as global warming, require each and every person on planet earth, especially the rich (that includes even the poor in America) to put forth efforts to mitigate.  There is no silver bullet to solve global warming, only many many tiny actions in daily life, and a few bigger actions.

According to St. Therese of the Child Jesus, no good deed is too small to offer to God.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta said even a small deed offered in love makes it infinite.  My mother told me after church one day that the preacher said doing small good deeds is like throwing a pebble in a pond — the ripples go out and out beyond where we can see them.  We touch one person’s life for the good, and that person goes on to do good to others, and they go on to do good to others.  The ripples go out and out.

Same way, we offer our tiny acts of energy/resource efficiency/conservation to God with the hope that our “drop in the bucket” will amount to some good.  We don’t have to know how much good that amounts to, but we trust God will take it and multiply it like the loaves and fishes.  See my “Little Way of Environmental Healing” in left column.

Actions need to be done at all levels — individual, household, business, school, church, and at local, state, national, and international government levels.  Below is a link to suggestions for personal actions.  My next will discuss at the the larger level, the problems with Cap & Trade v. Fee & Dividend.

The Personal Environmental Solutions page is in  the right column at http://catholicecology.wordpress.com/personal-solutions-to-environmental-problems

Please feel welcome to post your own solutions under that page.

Extreme Enviro Problems v. Enviro Extremism, Part II

May 18, 2010

So various strands of environmentalism, whether against or within Church teachings, do NOT determine whether extreme environmental problems are happening.  Hatred for “cap & trade” and fear of pantheism spreading does not determine whether or not climate change is happening.  I would hope all peoples whatever their fears, beliefs, or dislikes would put down their gripes against each other and pull together to solve serious environmental problems, because what scientists are finding while everybody’s busy fighting with each other is that extreme conditions are projected if we follow a business-as-usual (BAU) path of not mitigating climate change.

Here is what I know about the worst case scenarios of global warming, which is what I think policy-makers and people concerned about life on planet earth should be striving to avoid — as in “hope for the best, strive to avoid the worst.”  And the worse case scenarios just keep getting worse, while even the best case scenarios should be plenty enough to warrant our complete efforts at mitigation down to 350 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 or well below 2C warming.  For those who don’t know about global warming (or are confusing it with the stratospheric ozone hole), you can get good info here.   

Briefly it is our carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that stay up in the atmosphere and let sunlight shine through, but block some heat from radiating back out, so the earth gets warmer.  This warming then wreaks all sorts of havoc.  Some might claim it is good for agriculture in the north, along with increasing CO2 fertilization, but the predictions are this will only modestly increase crop output up until 2050, after which it will greatly decline.  Net food production is expected to decline, and already is in some areas through droughts and other AGW-related effects.

All it took for me to get on board mitigating climate change 20 years ago was the idea of increasing droughts and famines in Africa, and the thought that I may be causing people’s death — and maybe that’s what did it for JPII, since he came out with his “Peace with All Creation,” in which he admonished that it is everyone’s responsibility to mitigate global warming (find it on Catholic Conservation Center link on the right).   Add to that the other global warming effects, and the Christian call to act gets even stronger, such as heat deaths (over 20,000 died in Europe in summer 2003); increased storm intensity (if Katrina was not enhanced by global warming, then we only have worse to expect in the future), sea rise, increased floods and severe precipitation events, tropical disease spread into new areas, and so on.  Since 1990, I’ve honed in closely on scientific studies on climate change, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see which way the wind has been blowing — in the direction of “it’s worse than we thought.”

A few years later about 1995 (the year studies started reaching .05 significance or 95% confidence on AGW) I learned about positive feedbacks.  Our warming causes snow and ice loss, revealing dark land and oceans, causing greater heat absorption and warming, causing greater snow and ice loss, causing greater warming, causing greater snow and ice loss.  And also how the warming we are causing may melt ocean and tundra methane hydrates — methane being a 23 times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, before it degrades into CO2 within 10 years — a portion of which can last in the atmosphere up to 100,000 years (see “How long will global warming last?”).     So our warming melts hydrates, releasing methane, which causes more warming, which releases more methane, which causes more warming, causing more release, causing more warming, causing more release.  In other words, there is not just this simple linear relationship between how much GHGs we people emit and the amount of warming.  Rather it is more like we may be triggering a really big and deadly warming that spirals out of our control by the initial warming we cause.

 A few years after that I learned that the end-Permian extinction, during which 95% of life died, was most likely caused by such a great and vast warming, and so too several other great warming extinction events since.  One of the knock on effects of great warming I learned here was that oceans become more anoxic (oxygen depleted) which causes certain bacteria to change methane into hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas, which they think may have knocked out nearly all the remaining weakened life that had to that point survived the great warming and its effects.  When I learned all that and up until 2008 scientists chastised me for using the term “runaway warming” for such events, since that could only be used for the situation on Venus — where is it so hot now with all its oceans long ago boiled away that no life at all can exist there at 450C temps — hot enough to melt lead.  They told me that wouldn’t happen on earth for a billion years when the sun would become very hot on its way to self-destruction.  So I asked them, what word can I use, and they said “hysteresis.”

Then December 2008 I got a copy of Dr. James Hansen’s American Geophysical Union lecture — see esp. pg. 24 of   http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/AGUBjerknes_20081217.pdf .  It seems runaway warming is possible in this warming event due to the warming we are causing; he wrote:  “If we burn all the coal, there is a good chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect [which means death to all life on earth].  If we also burn the tar sands and oil shale, I think it is a dead certainty.”

Just the other day a study comes out that claims the earth may be too hot for humans by 2300, and they are just referring to heat stress, and not the near total agricultural collapse that would happen well before that — if we follow a BAU path.  Sees news article here, based on the scientific study here.

Of course no one should yell “fire” in a crowded theater — UNLESS THERE IS A FIRE.  And it is quite prudent to have the audience file out as quickly as possible in an orderly fashion so as to reduce fatalities from both the fire and a stampede.  

The problems are extreme.  They call for strong and sensible action, not some wacky new religion or killing off people — that will only cause a big fight and more people will be burnt to a crisp in the burning theater.

Where is the Catholic Church in this?  We’ve heard from the Holy Fathers and bishops.  It’s about time it got down to the parishes and the pews.  All I hear is dead silence as the theater of life burns.

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RESOURCES on AGW info for starters — I’ll get into solutions big and small later:


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