Thursday, April 29, 2010

The economics of climate change mitigation 101

Debates about climate have become commonplace in the mainstream media over the last five years. Whether intentionally or not, much of the ink spilt has been quite misleading (particularly in reporting the degree of disagreement amongst climate scientists over the basic claims that global climate is shifting dangerously largely due to human activity). Nonetheless, some pieces stand out as worth reading.

One of them is by Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, and he has written a very readable article in the NYT discussing the economics of action (and inaction) on climate change. Although it has a few relatively minor mistakes on the climate science, it serves as a good introduction to some of the economic issues associated with an increasingly chaotic global climate. You can find the full article here. Here is a taste:

"The truth is that there is no credible research suggesting that taking strong action on climate change is beyond the economy’s capacity. Even if you do not fully trust the models — and you shouldn’t — history and logic both suggest that the models are overestimating, not underestimating, the costs of climate action. We can afford to do something about climate change."
His conclusion?
"[...] it’s the nonnegligible probability of utter disaster that should dominate our policy analysis. And that argues for aggressive moves to curb emissions, soon."
The likelihood of such aggressive moves has been fairly low for some time. The chance of even timid moves in both the US and Australia have taken significant hits in the last week. Prime Minister Rudd has pushed back the possible implementation of an ETS until 2013; in the US, Republican Senator Graham has walked out of bipartisan negotiations days before a new energy and climate bill was due to be launched in the Senate due to reports that Democrats might try to debate immigration before the new bill.

When Krugman speaks of a "nonnegligible probability of utter disaster", what does he mean? He's talking about the (increasingly less) distant possibility that global average temperatures rise by 5ºC (9ºF) or more before 2100, disrupting the climate patterns humanity has known since the rise of agriculture. To give a small sense of the scale of this disruption, the difference in average temperatures between the last ice age and the present era of human civilisation is about 5ºC. Attempting to adapt to a climate shift of that magnitude and speed would be like trying to adapt to a train wreck as it unfolds.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Only the beloved can love

Love makes the world go around. All we need is love. If love is so important, then perhaps we can build an identity on it? Perhaps we can say that we are defined by who and how we love, that the quality of our love shows the quality of our person? Indeed, the two commands (or double command) that Jesus revealed at the heart of human obedience speak precisely of this: to love God and to love neighbour (Mark 12.28-31). If these are the most important things we are to do, then might they not be the best way of understanding ourselves? We are those who love God and neighbour.

However, the object and quality of our loves does not provide an adequate basis for founding an identity, nor can they be reliably forged into a self-justification. We are only secondarily lovers. We are first beloved. And only when we are first beloved can we then love. This is true of children: being loved comes before any attempt to love in return. And it is even more true of us as children of God: "We love because he first loved us." "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4.10, 19)

The good news is that this means that there is no anxiety in love. In loving others, we are not attempting to secure or prove or acquire or protect ourselves. If we sometimes fail in our attempts, we are not destroyed. Instead, the prior love of God for us frees our love from the constrictions that belong to fear. We are beloved; as such, we are brought out into a broad space of freedom and delight. Love is not a burdensome command that must be obeyed lest we fall into destruction. There is no need to beat ourselves up over the imperfections in our attempts to care for those around us. Love is a joyful free responsiveness to God's delight in us.

Of course, loving broken and hurting neighbours will not be all roses and smiles. Tears and suffering are also the fruit of love in a dying world. But our tears are not the price we pay in order to get some love in return. Instead, as beloved of God, we are invited into the sometimes painful privilege of echoing and sharing that divine love.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bad news for Durham, good news for everyone (else)

Or at least, for those who would like to see N. T. Wright complete some of the various writing projects he has been working on for years. The 62-year-old Wright, Bishop of Durham, has announced that he will be retiring from the See of Durham at the end of August in order to take up a post at St Andrews University, which will give him more time for writing, especially in his long postponed major work Christian Origins and the Question of God. The most recent volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God, came out back in 2003, the same year he was installed as Bishop.

UPDATE: Clayboy has posted some thoughts on why this is actually a sad thing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Brief break

No posting this week, but I'll be back again soon with a number of new ideas I've been pondering.

P.S. The previous post was #1000. A little milestone I almost missed.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pilate: brutal tyrant or vacillating weakling?

"We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, [...]
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate."

- Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

Was Pontius Pilate a ruthless dictator who would execute a potential Jewish troublemaker at the drop of a hat or a spineless pushover terrified of the Jews? Over Easter, Dick Gross has written an article in the Sydney Morning Herald claiming that the portrayal of Pilate in the canonical Gospels is not credible when compared with other historic accounts of this figure.

Murray Smith (my brother) has written an excellent reply also published in the SMH over the weekend.

History matters to Christianity. If the Gospels are no more than inspiring fables, then Jesus may entertain, stimulate or even illuminate us, but he cannot save us.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

On the eighth day

"And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb."

- Mark 16.2

The earliest Christians were Jews, for whom the weekly Sabbath represented the goal of creation, the seventh day on which God had rested, the day divinely sanctified as a promise of the ultimate rest of all creation. As Augustine noted, the account in Genesis which culminates on the seventh day includes a breaking of the pattern of the other six days. They all have morning and evening and go on to yet another day, but the seventh day has no evening, no end.

And so each Sabbath held out the hope of something beyond the week, towards which the week continually strained. Yet each weekly Sabbath would give way once again to the start of a new cycle of seven. No particular Sabbath brought the cycle to its close. Each week would lead to another, much the same. And one week would join to another. And Summer would give way to Autumn to Winter and so it goes. But each Winter leads to a Spring. Each night is followed by a dawn.

This natural cycle of days, and weeks and seasons might serve as a lesson for us. Nothing is to be taken with deadly seriousness since no Winter, no matter how cold, will fail to eventually give way to Spring. No night, no matter how dark, will lack a dawn. Perhaps we need to learn to see all of life in the light of these cycles of decay and renewal, of darkness and light, and to appreciate the fact that the failures of one generation are not final, but may always be renovated and restored. And by the same token, we must come to accept that the achievements of a day, however glorious, will pass away into night.

Indeed, the symbolism of Easter, with its eggs and flowers, and as a festival of Spring (at least in the northern hemisphere where it began) might be taken to refer to the endless renewal of hope after despair, that, generally speaking, death-like experiences are succeeded by new possibilities.

But into this cycle is thrown the spanner of resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a symbol of the endless renewal of life after decay, of another generation rising up to take the place of those who pass away, of the transience of darkness. For it is not, primarily, a symbol at all. The resurrection of Jesus is an event, in fact the event that makes events possible. The resurrection is an interruption of the world's order, a new beginning, not the first in yet another cycle, but a new history bursting in upon the old, new wine that ruptures any attempt to contain it amidst the old.

Very early on the first day of the week, the women travel to the tomb, but already God has acted. They arrive after the event. The new world has already begun before they awoke. The Sabbath they kept has not passed away into yet another week. This is not just the first day, but the eighth day of the week. Neither nature's cycles nor history's patterns know anything like this. There is now something new under the sun...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Augustine on the hope of the Sabbath

"Give us peace, Lord God, for you have given us all else; give us the peace that is repose, the peace of the Sabbath, and the peace that knows no evening. The whole order of exceedingly good things, intensely beautiful as it is, will pass away when it has served its purpose: these things too will have their morning and their evening.

"But the seventh day has no evening and sinks toward no sunset, for you sanctified it that it might abide for ever. After completing your exceedingly good works you rested on the seventh day, though you achieved them in repose; and you willed your book to tell us this as a promise that when our works are finished (works exceedingly good inasmuch as they are your gift to us) we too may rest in you, in the Sabbath of eternal life.

"And then you will rest in us, as now you work in us, and your rest will be rest through us as now those works of yours are wrought through us."

- Augustine, Confessions

Holy Saturday falls upon a Sabbath. The work of the Son of Man is complete and he rests from his labours.

But this Sabbath, like all those before it, has a sunset and an evening.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Ode to Christ crucified

By the tree of the cross you have healed the bitterness of the tree,
     and have opened Paradise to humans. Glory be to you, Lord!
Now we are no longer prevented from coming to the tree of life;
     we have hope in your cross. Glory be to you, Lord!
O Immortal One, nailed to the wood,
     you have triumphed over the snares of the devil. Glory be to you, Lord!
You, who for my sake have submitted to being placed on the cross,
     accept my vigilant celebration of praise, O Christ, God, friend of humans.
Lord of the heavenly armies, who knows my carelessness of soul,
     save me by your cross O Christ, God, friend of humans.
Brighter than fire, more luminous than flame,
     have you shown the wood of your cross, O Christ.
Burn away the sins of the sick and enlighten the hearts of those who,
     with hymns, celebrate your voluntary crucifixion. Christ, God, glory to you!
Christ, God, who for us accepted a sorrowful crucifixion,
     accept all who sing hymns to your passion, and save us.

- from the Byzantine liturgy for Holy Friday

Holy Friday, also known as Good Friday in English speaking countries, is a very difficult event to remember rightly in common worship. There is so much to say, and yet silence and tears are often the most apt response. Sorrow and love flow mingled down.

For on this day the Gospel narrative reaches its climax and the narration slows to a snail's pace, or to the pace of a man stumbling under an impossibly heavy burden. It is at once darkest tragedy and yet, mysteriously, also deepest triumph. Here is sin and human failure. Here is death and hell and destruction. Here is one man's faithfulness, even in anguish. Here is damnation - and salvation.

Behold the man upon the cross! Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Behold the Son, in whom the Father takes delight! Behold our death in his death! Behold our life in his unconquered love!