God and Global Warming

God and Global Warming Even after the huge storm Sandy rocked weather records, politicians ignore discussion of global warming, uhh, climate change, uhh, whatever. With the election over, there are whispers of discussion.

There are a number of big and religious motivations to ignoring this issue.

  • Admitting that humans caused part of the problem.
  • Admitting that humans can cure the problem.
  • Admitting that humans are not able to diminish human competition and ameliorate cognitive bias without barriers.
  • Admitting that a higher power is not in control of our environment.
  • Admitting that a higher power is disinterested in correcting the problem.
  • Admitting that our moral or behavior is being observed and judged by a higher power.
  • Admitting that a higher power exists.

When loggers cleared the forests, when miners removed minerals, when fisherman depleted the waters, when oil men pumped hydrocarbons, they mostly did it for three reasons: money, belief in unlimited supplies, and meeting huge demand. It is remarkable how many writings during the industrialization of the Western World cite the belief of mankind’s inability to deplete resources—the blind faith that they can’t fish out the waters because there are just so many fish everywhere. The world just seemed so big?

Lobstermen insist that wildlife experts are wrong when they determine limits. Somehow harvesters believe they know more about their species of capture than trained scientists.  Farmers have long had a love hate relationship with their extension agent. But think of this as a musician who plays their instrument every day. It doesn’t require them to know how to make or repair their instrument much less where the materials came from or even the physics of the music they make. Some sight read, do theory, some don’t—both types accomplished, brilliant even.

With Global Warming many allow the consequence to dictate the knowledge. If it is human caused then it can be fixed but the worry is that remediation will cause economic decline. So it can’t exist. Why not just say it’s human caused but you don’t feel it is economically viable to remediate. I guess that sounds cowardly.

I was educated in resource management at college and learned of the Cedars of Lebanon that were harvested before civilization as we know it appeared, the Great Sahara desert was once a jungle, and the dustbowl era of the US was caused in large by poor farming practices. But then I found scientists and resource managers not wanting to admit that global warming was happening.

Another clue was the atmosphere. If you could walk straight up, in two hrs you would be at the top of the atmosphere. Considering how large the planet is that’s not a big strip. Not only was air pollution easily possible (as shown in photo’s of the Coal Age) but so was green housing and heat transfer across the globe.

I remember a rather vehement conversation in the 90’s  with a Wood’s Hole scientist who insisted that the warming could be caused by natural causes; that these cycles occur over time inevitably. The question was is this one of those or not. But the effect was to limit action possibly until it was too late.

For me, the obvious answer was let’s play it safe and tone down energy consumption and see. What I misunderstood was how solidly people would believe in their right to resource depletion as well as pollution.  Libertarians would spill their brains and insist that without government, neighbors would ban together and defeat polluters or buy them out. They were unable to acknowledge that when money accumulates so does power, and resource depletion has a feedback loop to greater resource depletion. It is unstoppable until another resource is available that is more profitable or the need evaporates.

In this sense capitalism becomes tyrannical because it is unable to deal with pricing without individual demand. All prices are based on availability and demand. But who will pay not to plunder the seas—the fish, coal, trees? The environment was marginalized from its choice in use. Hence, the children’s book, The Lorax, where he speaks for the trees. More importantly the unable are supposed to stop the able. Why pay for a Wilderness Area you may never visit when the wood and minerals have more obvious direct benefits?

The Christian notion of stewardship fails utterly here as did Gifford Pinchot’s near mechanical utilitarianism of the “greatest good for the greatest number.” All that did was leave wilderness stripped and bare from multiple abuse, leaving large tracts of land clean and looking like Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Pinchot did stop some resource abuse by showing visitation and conservation could be profitable.

In the end it was like Black Hills Gold, or the Ivory wars of today, and the many other myriad ecological atrocities. People cannot be contained in their lust for wealth and power. People also assume they know more about their world than they do. Evolved in small regions we have trouble grasping global ecology, big numbers, and distant causes.

Stewardship feeds on this arrogance and assumes the farmer, rancher, or miner knows what is best for the environment. It implies a faith that the world works well and they need only monitor and tweak it. It implies that man is the long arm of a higher power that has the ability to correct things if need be.

Being a steward of the Earth also mimics the belief that a higher power is steward over us. Belief in all-powerful and all-knowing higher power exacerbates the belief that humans won’t make mistakes that are too big or unrecoverable. A higher power won’t let us destroy the planet. Or if it does it’s because we are going to a better place. The apocalypse is OK because it sorts the wicked from the good and then a new better era begins.

Religious mythologies emphasize the aspect that there is ultimate justice and free will. Humans have to be capable of great evil in order for them to choose to do good. We tolerate the bad things we do because we believe that is part of the narrative and that we are being cared for. The Great Mystery is a way of letting go of the dissonance of a higher power not being comprehensible.

Noah built an arc, cities were demolished, and many other tales of redistributive justice demonstrate how strongly believers insist that a higher power will save the day, or that this world is not the important one and can be discarded.

Moderate believers, intellectual believers, and social believers fall in the middle as you might expect. They are able to reconcile the need for belief in a higher power to gain strength and status with the needs of the earth as a host for humans and everything else. They disconnect the dissonance by cherry picking their religious narrative, or making it so finely nuanced as to also be incomprehensible. Most want simple stories.

The only spiritual world view that would allow people to see nature as worthy of autonomy or consideration would be those not involving omnipotence and omniscience. Many people do this by practicing hybrids of pantheism, animism, and deism. They pray to a higher power for help but they don’t assume a higher power can or will save the day—or they live with the dissonance agonizing, or not, over why their prayers weren’t answered.

This is the difference. Moderates will pray and mimic but they also don’t believe it as presented in texts. They essentially make their own religion hybridized just as every village in Europe seemed to grow a new sect after the reformation. Individualism allows great latitude in the development of meaning. This is antithetical to the intention of big religion, which is unity over pluralism.

Fundamentalists are right to scorn moderates because they don’t follow the rules and choose not to understand the texts.

For secularists, the Earth doesn’t care whether humans survive or not. Humans must create greater meaning if they wish to feel more meaning than another animal. This also means that humans can choose to expand their tenure before extinction or contract it. To choose to be another animal means to have to consider what is best for humans in the long run because we have the conscious power to change our future. Well being is good if survival and old age count.

What then does it mean to have well being for most of us? This would be a better question than what does a higher power have in mind for me and what are my lessons in relation to it?

Jim Newman, bright and well



About Jim Newman

Jim Newman is a philosopher. When I was young I wondered what was the ultimate truth. How should I behave? What makes it all work? I was intensely curious to know what it all means. It was enlightening to realize there is no ultimate truth, but nevertheless sufficient and necessary turth, and that meaning was a meta analysis of living one’s life. In this sense my work has been living large. Living and experiencing life has made me learn many things. Building boats, motors, houses, electronics. Raising animals. Teaching. Writing. Photography. Drawing. Knitting. Sewing. Cooking. Music. Painting. Hiking. Aboriginal living skills. All material aspects of reality that seem irrelevant until you realize they allow you to experience more. My epiphany came when I read Christopher Hitchen’s “Letters to a Young Contrarian” and I felt vindicated in my many meals of sacred cow.
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