“Are you a global warming skeptic? There are plenty of good reasons why you might be.” Richard Muller, a physicist and ex-card carrying contrarian got my attention with that opening line in an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, entitled The Case Against Global Warming Skepticism: There Were Good Reasons for Doubt, Until Now. [LINK] He goes on to list a number of reasons why he wouldn’t be surprised if you answered yes to his question and even suggests that “…global warming skepticism seems sensible.” He spends the rest of the article providing reasons to convince the deniers (a fancy word for disbelievers) that his two year study at the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project proves that Global Warming is real, and that humans are the major contributors. He hopes that the results of his research will “…cool this portion of the climate debate.”
In this commentary I plan to: give my opinion of why the dangers of global warming seems to be such a hard sell to the “person on the street”; provide resources that I found helpful in coming to the conclusion that global warming is real and that we have to take responsibility for our part in taking our environment for granted; how we can be part of the solution by being more accountable for how we buy and dispose products as consumers; and how we can participate with organizations that are already “fighting the good fight” to save Mother Earth.
CAPITALISM AND CLIMATE CHANGE
I’ve been wondering lately why global warming and climate change are not at the top of the list of our legacy to future generations. As a scientist Richard Muller arrived at his decision to “jump ship” based on his own research. For us “lay folks”, we need to make our decisions based on the scientific evidence that we believe makes the most sense to us. I believe the evidence shouldn’t have to be “proof beyond reasonable doubt” as in a criminal case. Since we are dealing with the future of our children and grandchildren it should be a “preponderance of the evidence”, the standard used in a civil trial. Or as someone suggested, we could think of our effort to reduce carbon emissions as if we were buying a fire insurance policy on our home. We don’t buy insurance because we’re certain our house will burn down, we buy it because if our house does burn down and we were not insured, our family’s financial future would be devastated. So, let’s not take chances with planet earth.
As I researched this more it became apparent that there are three major factors that contribute to the ambivalence of the public’s getting involved in saving our planet. The first two are the legitimate division between scientists who often are referred to as, the climate change campaigners, those who tend to be more convinced of the eminent danger of climate change, and often use provocative language to get people’s attention, and the contrarians or skeptics, who suggest that climate change is a hoax. The fact that they don’t agree with each other can be confusing to many of us non-scientists.
Here is an article, by Mike Hulme, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research entitled the Chaotic World of Climate Truth. [LINK] Hulme agrees that climate change is a reality, and that “…science confirms that human activities are heavily implicated in the change.” His major quibble with the climate change campaigners is what he believes is a misuse by scientists of non-scientific words to describe climate change. Words like catastrophic, chaos, tipping point. I must admit that in my fervor to get peoples’ attention, I’ve used some of those same incendiary words. Mea culpa!
The third factor is the corporations that became persons by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The irony of Dr. Muller changing sides in the debate between the two sides mentioned above is that part of his research was funded by a grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The same Charles G. Koch who is one of the prominent multi-billionaires, who with his brother David owns refineries, oil pipelines, fertilizer facilities, coal and cement transportation systems and other industrial operations. For more detailed information and references see this article published in Scientific American, entitled Who Funds Contrariness on Climate Change? [LINK] Or if you’d rather watch a YouTube video entitled, e, click here, [LINK] And if that isn’t enough—coming to a movie theater near you on March 8, 2013 is a documentary on the Brothers Koch entitled Greedy Lying Bastards. The documentary examines “…the harsh reality of climate change, as well as the perpetrators responsible for financing a complex misinformation campaign of purchased deniers.” The Guardian and the New Yorker both examined the issue of how highly funded think tanks influence American politicians.” The documentary investigates the money trail behind these groups and focus on the Koch Brothers. The review is entitled The Koch Brothers’ War on Truth. [LINK]
Even more significant is a recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) that claims, “The Kock brothers make their money from an oil-and-gas conglomerate that emits pollutants that contribute to climate change. It should not be surprising, then, that the Koch brothers are also major contributors to organizations denying the effects of climate change.”[LINK] Given that background and the obvious vested interest the Koch brothers have in presenting climate changes as a hoax, the same report points out what I believe is a reasonable strategy for fighting against organized money, i.e. to effectively organize people, and inform them of the major issues of concern for our environment. Concerned people need to be informed people, especially when they are involved in a David and Goliath like struggle.
WAYS TO CONFRONT GLOBAL WARMING
In an ideal world the best way to look for solutions to the dangers of global warming would be to ask the right questions and discuss both sides of the questions without the pressure of outside vested money interests. Here’s an article entitled The Productive Way to Address Global Warming. [LINK] It acknowledges the uncertainties on both sides and focuses on the risks, and the best sources for the most reliable and unbiased information. “Certainly not politicians, attack-dog journalists and shock jocks…certainly not those with vested interest to deny any human-caused global warming.” It asks questions like, “How sure should we before we act? … What if we do nothing, or not enough? … “
Although we’re not living in an ideal world where we can dialogue on the same level with those who don’t agree with us on global warming, we can still keep the right questions in mind and take advantage of the opportunities we have to make a difference. There are things that we can do for the common good as individuals or as part of a small group, as well as strategies that are more effective as members of large organizations. There are dozens of websites that provide opportunities for us to put our values into actions. Here’s an article on a website that deals with recycling, and answers the question, Why is it Important to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle? [LINK] To boil the article down to a quote, “Theoretically recycling is important because it will reduce the amount of resources we have to use to create products. Whatever we don’t recycle has to be buried into the ground. We are running out of places to bury things.”
Here are a few personal examples of working as individuals or with small groups. My wife Jane and I live on the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix Arizona, a retirement home with over six hundred elders. We both are on a recycling committee. The goal of the committee is to raise residents’ awareness of the importance of recycling and assist and advise the administration in their efforts to make our little space here on earth, as environmentally friendly as possible.
Another example, this morning I opened my email and there were a half a dozen postings from organizations asking me to sign petitions supporting their position on global warming issues. One of them was a request to sign a letter to President Obama from the Sierra Club, an organization which was founded by John Muir in 1892. [LINK] After thanking the president for the bold steps he took for the environment in his Inaugural Address and State of the Union speech to congress, the letter went on to ask his backing of one of their many campaigns to protect the planet. I felt that signing the letter to the president had as much impact as marching in the 1960ies. Although I can’t get out and march for good causes as I used to, I feel that my voice can be heard just as well through the technology of the internet
At another level there are well established organizations that are already involved in projects that promote environmental justice that we can be part of. Whether the organization is secular or religious based, they often have similar ethical rationales for their interest in saving our environment.
Having lived in the in Arizona for almost 45 years, I’ve developed a respect for the beliefs and practices of the Native American Indians. From the very beginning of my days at Arizona State University one of my colleagues, John Redhorse and my Native American students taught me more about their traditions and spirituality than I could have learned from any text book. My time on the reservations, participating in Sweat Lodges and Talking Circles, and listening to the words of shamans, strengthened my own faith tradition. I was particularly impressed with their love and respect for mother earth. Here are two references to Native American website that center on our relationship with our planet. The first one is, Honor the Earth. [LINK] Their programs are built on their belief that a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economics, social and political relationships that are based on systems of conquest towards systems anchored in relationships with one another, and with the natural world. Their mission is “…we are committed to restoring a paradigm that recognizes our collective humanity and our joint dependence on the Earth.” That fits well with my values.
- To educate the public on environmental problems in Native American Communities.
- To explore the values and historical experiences Native Americans bring to bear on environmental issues.
- To promote conservation measures that respect Native American land and resource rights.
Again, it’s interesting that Native Americans from different parts of the US not only share common values with many of us, but because of the unjust ways they have been treated over the years, have a better understanding and stronger relationship with mother earth than we do. I suspect that Indigenous peoples all over the world share similar values and are equally more sensitive to their environment than most of us.
Here is a typical prayer a shaman might say at the end of a Sweat Lodge:
Great Spirit, Sacred One!
Put our feet on the holy path that
leads us to you, and give us the strength and will
to lead ourselves and our children
past the darkness we have entered.
Teach us to heal ourselves, to heal others, and heal the world.
I mentioned the Sierra Club above and its request for signatures, here is an example of one of their projects called the Beyond Coal Campaign, [LINK]a nationwide grassroots effort to “…eliminate coal’s contribution to global warming no later than 2020 and replace the existing coal infrastructure with a clean energy economy fueled by wind, solar, and geothermal.” The campaign is working to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants, retire and replace the existing fleet of coal plants. If you check out their web page above, you’ll see that they are involved with a number of other campaigns at the same time. Take your choice!
An organization that has only been around since 2007 but has become worldwide, is 350.0rg [LINK] Its Mission is to build “…a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.” I particularly like their Fossil Free Global movement to challenge the fossil fuel industry in a fight for the planet and our future on it. They have an activists’ guide that provides specific ideas, tactics and resources to help volunteers organize locally. Check it out above.
One final organization Thrive, that has one of the most inclusive and insightful websites I’ve seen. It has one section with 12 sectors ranging from Environment [LINK]to Spirituality [LINK] . Not only does it deal with global warming and climate change, but it has a vision of what our purpose and place is on the planet we’re trying to save. They believe that “Humans experience their spiritual nature as so interconnected with all species and with life itself, that war, deprivation and corruption become faint memories of a bygone era in the evolving consciousness of life on planet Earth and beyond.”
Now if you are serious about learning more about the context in which the Thrive’s authors developed their world view, I’d suggest watching the video The Thrive Movie, narrated by their founder, Foster Gamble, whose family was part of the famous Proctor and Gamble international conglomerate. It’s an unconventional documentary that exposes how our world really is by “following the money”. It uncovers global consolidation of power in most parts of our lives. It weaves together advances in science, consciousness and activism, and offers real solutions, which empower us with unparalleled and bold strategies for recovering our lives and our future. If you don’t believe me, here is a review that appeared in Odyssey Magazine:
“Thrive is more than a documentary relevant to the times. It is more than a well-researched and alarming insight into who really controls how the world works. It is a recipe and blueprint for how we can, each and every one of us, thrive in the way that the rest of nature does – easily, naturally and with expansive grace. For this last point alone, it is more than worth the time to see.”
I think I should mention that the movie is a little over two hours—but it’s free [LINK]
THE NEXT POPE’S TO-DO LIST
Every day since Pope Benedict XVI became Pope Emeritus, there have been over five thousand members of the media in the Vatican vying to come up with some insider information about the top candidates and the most important issues that the next occupant of the Chair of Peter will need to handle. This article, Abortion, Priest Celibacy among Hot-Button Issues Facing Next Pope, [LINK] seems to have capsulated what most of the issues that other pundits have identified. The hot-button issues it includes are: 1) Sex Abuse, 2) Vatican Money Laundering, 3)Homosexuality and Gay Marriage, 4) Curia Secrets and Intrigue, 5) Ordination of Women and Priest Celibacy, 6) Abortion. They don’t suggest that these are the only hot-button issues, but apparently they believe that these are the most important and urgent ones that the new pontiff will have to deal with.
I beg to differ! Not that these issues aren’t important, but as I said in a previous commentary, “it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as the ship is sinking.” If I were venting a cardinal for the job I would certainly want to know his position on Global Warming. So, in my next commentary, I will review the positive steps the Vatican and the Bishop conferences the United States and Australia have taken to sustain our environment, and what the Church can do to insure a sustainable world.
A Delicate Balance
Pollution of air and water threaten more and more the delicate balance of the biosphere on which present and future generations depend and makes us realize that we all share a common ecological environment.
The Pope John Paul II in AmericaI (St. Paul: Wanderer Press, 1987), p. 130