Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bauckham on Bible and Biodiversity

In 2010 theologian and biblical scholar Richard Bauckham published a book called Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the community of creation. It is short (178 pages) and covers the surprisingly (to some) strong scriptural bases for taking our responsibility and privilege to care for creation seriously. I highly recommend it. Around the same time, he gave this talk on biodiversity, which summarises some of the main themes of his book. The book covers more ground than this, but the talk might give you a taste.
H/T Mike.

Below are my notes on the talk, which are generally the parts of it that struck me as interesting, new and/or put well, without trying to be comprehensive:


Introduction: We are confronted by mass extinction of species today, likely to keep getting worse. What do the scriptures have to say to this situation?

1. OT recognises biodiversity
The poetic account in Genesis 1 repeats the formulaic phrase "of every kind" or "according to their kind".

2. God delights in biodiversity
God saw that it was good. The sheer abundant diversity is one of the major focuses of the passages and God delights in that. Also in Job. Final chapters of Job are a panoramic tour of the creation in the imagination.

3. All creatures live to glorify God
Whole of creation worships God. This is the corollary of God's delight in his whole creation. Animals don't have words, or even consciousness in many cases. Simply by being themselves, they bring glory to God. Other creatures are fellow-worshippers.

In the ancient world, many people worshipped creatures. Creatures are creatures, not gods who should be worshipped. On the contrary, the creatures themselves worship God and our proper response is to join in their praise of God.

This is thus a de-divinised creation, but not a de-sacralised creation. Non-human creatures are not divine, but they are sacred to God. Creatures are our fellow-worshippers (Psalm 148), therefore don't instrumentalise them, reducing them to merely a tool to use in the satisfaction of our desires.

4. Various creatures have specific habitats
Psalm 104 is a picture of interdependence. Some creatures depend on others for their life. A first step in the direction of recognising ecosystems. Can't consider each species independently of others.

5. Human kinship with other creatures
Humans have sometimes been elevated above the natural world as though we didn't belong to it. We've tried to relate as demi-gods, rather than fellow creatures. Catastrophic results. Humans are distinctive among the creatures, but the creation narratives make our kinship with other creatures quite clear. Genesis 1 places creation of humans on the same day as creation of all other land animals. We don't get a day of our own. Genesis 2 offers a more vivid and emphatic depiction. Ontological relation signified by a play on words: 'Adam (man) from 'Adamah (ground/dirt/soil). We are earthy creatures. We belong with the earth and with the other creatures of the earth. Other creatures are not dispensable.

6. Humans and other creatures are fellow creatures in the community of the earth
A community of creatures is worth highlighting as a useful model for thinking about our place in creation. Term is not from scripture, but like many of the terms we use to talk about what the Bible teaches, I think it encapsulates a way of thinking which we do find in scripture. Most potent expression of this concept is in Genesis 9, which records a covenant between God and the earth's creatures. All the creatures of earth are interested parties. With them, we form the community sharing a common home. We have no right to evict others from the home that God has given us. Let us have no illusions about this community, which contains much conflict and violence. These are not eradicated in the Noahic covenant, but they are restrained; a price is put on life. God doesn't surrender his intention that his creatures should share the earth that he has given. This covenant is the first step towards renewing and perfecting.

7. Adam as the first taxonomist
Genesis 2: unlike Genesis 1, animals come after Adam. Naming them is not an act of authority but of understanding.

8. King Solomon as naturalist
The embodiment of wisdom. And he spoke of trees.

9. Subdue the earth
The double blessing/command at the end of Genesis 1 implies two distinct relationships: relationship to the earth vs relation to other living creatures. Humans are to subdue the earth, exercise dominion over other creatures.

In understanding these words, first note that it is not only humans which are told to multiply and be fruitful and fill, birds and fish are too. We can assume that creatures of the land are also to be fruitful and multiply.

However, only humans are told to fill the earth and to subdue the earth. Only by means of agriculture were humans able to fill the earth (to live in large portions of available land). To subdue is to take possession and till the soil to make it produce more food than it would otherwise do.

Are humans to supplant other animals? Humans are told that the produce of the earth is not intended to feed them alone, but also the living species of the earth. We are not to fill the earth and subdue it to the extent of leaving no room for the other creatures. Other creatures have a right to use of the soil. Human right is not unlimited but must respect the rights of other creatures. We are one creature among others.

10. Dominion
This second command in relation to other creatures tempts us to forget our own creatureliness and to set ourselves over against the other creatures. This is only possible if we take it out of context. Dominion is a role within creation, not over it. Other creatures are first and foremost our fellow creatures. Our distinctive role can only take place once we appreciate that. Dominion is not the only way we relate to other creatures. Dominion means a caring responsibility, not exploitation. This is widely agreed. We have a responsibility for our fellow creatures. This is a royal function and so it is worth recalling the only passage in the Law of Moses that refers to the role of a king within the people of Israel and there it is emphasised that the king is one amongst his brothers and sisters, one amongst his fellow Israelites (Deuteronomy 17.14-20). The king is not to be exalted above his subjects, and in the same way humanity is to wield authority for the benefit of other creatures.

11. Dominion begins from appreciating God's valuation of his creation.
This is an implication of the Genesis 1 six day creation account. Before we humans read of our responsibility for other living creatures, we are taken through a narrative of creation that stresses God's delight in each stage of his work. We are invited to share God's appreciation of his creation before we learn of our distinctive role within it. Our approach to exercising dominion should be rooted in that fundamental appreciation of the created world as God has made it.

12. Dominion is to be exercised in letting be just as much as in intervention
We are used to thinking of dominion as activity. In modern period, human task conceived as constant ongoing activity to transform the world into one that would suit us much better. Dominion seemed to require from us constant interfering with creation and constant attempts to change and transform it. Now, there is little left that hasn't been affected by human activity. There is a lot we would really like to preserve as it is. It is vital that we re-conceive Genesis dominion as letting be. This is clear later in the Mosaic Law in discussions of how to relate to the land and its creatures. Notice the Sabbatical institutions. First a weekly Sabbath: no work even by domestic animals. Also a Sabbatical year: fields, vineyards and orchards left to rest. So that the poor of your people may eat and wild animals. Even within the cultivated part of the land of Israel wild animals are expected to live. This is a symbol of respect for nature.

UPDATE: I took these notes some months ago while listening to the talk online at the link above. Some proportion of the above text is verbatim quotes from Prof Bauckham, though I now don't remember which parts are summaries of his message and which are his exact words. I think that all the titles at least were his own, and many of the phrases are likely to be either precisely or somewhat close to his words. If anyone has a problem with these notes as they stand, then please let me know so that I can adjust them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For Lent, how about giving up biosphere destruction?

‘Jesus said; “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”’

- Mark 1:14-15.

"Continuing to pollute the atmosphere when we know the dangers, goes against what we know of God’s ways and God’s will. We are failing to love not only the earth, but our neighbours and ourselves, who are made in God's image. God grieves over the destruction of creation and so should we. Repentance means finding creative, constructive and immediate ways of addressing the danger. It happens when God’s Spirit enables a change of mind and change of heart, prompting a turn from past wrong and a decision to change direction. For our generation, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels has become essential to Christian discipleship."

- Ash Wednesday Declaration, 2012.

This quote is from a statement released today that was composed by Operation Noah and signed by numerous Christian leaders:
  • Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town
  • Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales
  • Richard Chartres, Bishop of London
  • Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh
  • Val Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church
  • Lionel Osborn, President of the Conference of the Methodist Church
  • David Arnott, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
  • Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge
  • Ellen Teague, Chair, National Catholic Justice & Peace Environment Group
  • Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia
  • Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
The full text of the declaration can be found here and is worth reading. H/t Jason. Ash Wednesday is an appropriate day to consider our mortality, not just individually, but as a civilisation, and perhaps even as a species.
"Remember, o mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the good news."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Urban Farming

Some intriguing and inspiring footage from a group of twenty or so families deliberately moving to an area of social deprivation in order to rebuild community, dignity and hope. It also happens to be not far from where some our extended family live. You can find out more about their activities here or on Facebook.

One thought we had about considering such a model in, say, Sydney or Edinburgh, is that since property prices have not crashed in the same way (yet?), then finding a suitable package of affordable land might be considerably more difficult. This hasn't stopped one group trying to do something somewhat similar in the Sydney CBD.
H/T John.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment

"Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."

- Romans 13.10.

Last year, the US National Association of Evangelicals published a conversation piece called Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment. It is another attempt to articulate an evangelical approach to thinking about climate change, especially as it relates to the global poor. Loving the Least of These highlights three theological reasons to care about a changing climate: (a) Love God, Care for Creation; (b) Love God, Love Your Neighbour; (c) Love God, Witness to the World. Each standing alone would be sufficient to motivate Christian response, but together they provide compelling reasons to care deeply about the effects of a changing climate.

Interspersed with vignettes from a pastor, a scientist and a development worker, the publication speaks into a social context in the USA where many evangelicals are deeply suspicious of climate science and/or of the most commonly proposed policy responses to it (it is worth carefully distinguishing these, as they are very different issues, far too often conflated). As such, it is somewhat minimal in its goals, simply speaking to those who might accept that humans play some role in the climatic changes we have already witnessed and so bear some kind of responsibility for trying to minimise the ill-effects of these on those who bear least responsibility and yet are most vulnerable to them. Similarly, the impacts focus on the bottom end of the projected range of changes (i.e. the most optimistic scenarios combining the rosiest outlooks on both emissions reduction and climate sensitivity). Higher possibilities are acknowledged, but the effects are not mentioned. This has the result of keeping the focus on the global poor, since the report explicitly assumes that rich nations will have the means to adapt successfully to the coming changes. The problem with this approach is that it invites the response: "if we can adapt because we're rich, oughtn't the focus be on adaptation rather than mitigation, and on growing the economies of the two-thirds world so that they can afford adaptation too?" Without some sense of the impossibilities of adapting to the changes that are possible, even likely, on our present trajectory, then the immediacy of the ethical response is dulled.

Let us be clear: taking into account presently agreed and aspirational emissions targets, we are still most likely on track for a four degrees plus world within the expected lifetime of my daughter. That is, a world that is on average at least four degrees Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. Over land, that means far more than four degrees (since land warms faster than oceans). The ecological, economic, social and political changes likely to be associated with such a pace and scale of climatic alteration "would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt" (IPCC, AR4, WG2 TS 5.2). That's putting it mildly.

Unless we acknowledge the full scale of the threats we face, we will continue to live in a fantasy - one with dire consequences for God's creation, our neighbours and the church's witness.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The sin that dare not speak its name

Guest post by anonymous
I have asked Byron for permission to remain anonymous since I fear the backlash (personal and official) that may occur if I put my name to this post.

There is a grave sin openly celebrated in our nation (perhaps especially in Sydney) that makes me feel queasy. At certain times of year - and this is one of them - its advocates feel they can come out of the closet and proudly flaunt their unfortunate condition. Criticism is difficult to raise in polite company, especially amongst educated people. To speak out is considered ignorant at best, hate-filled at worst. Yet the Bible is clear and so we must be too. It would be cruel to remain silent.

This perversion is aggressively defended by highly organised and well-funded lobby groups. Some political parties treat it as a normal and desirable pattern of life, and most teach it is necessary to at least tolerate it. I know that every political party has strengths and weaknesses and that no party is perfect, but I still struggle to understand how a Christian can in good conscience vote for any party that openly and brazenly supports a sin so roundly and straightforwardly condemned in the Bible.

Advocates want to teach our children to embrace it and indeed in many schools it is put forward as perfectly natural, even necessary for a well-functioning society. I personally know of parents who have had the courage to question the ideology being taught in our classrooms and who, as a result, have subsequently been slandered and ostracised - or perhaps worse, condescendingly patronised as backwards and ignorant.

From my study of history, I realise that this abomination has been tolerated by the elite of some societies, but I am not aware of any civilisation that has embraced it so wholeheartedly as ours.

It was not so long ago that the church's teaching of such things carried more weight and a man would have been ashamed to admit such desires in public. Parents would have warned their children against it with serious and hushed voices. The tables are now turned and it is those of us who still hold to the conservative position embraced by the church for centuries who are shunned. I was sickened to discover that is possible to buy children's books that celebrate what ought to be anathema.

And worst of all, many churches now overlook members who ought to be disciplined - preferring perhaps to avoid controversy - or even teach inclusion of this most egregious wrong, claiming that the cultural conditions of the biblical authors blinkered their vision, that they had not seen the great good that could result from accepting such desires as part of God's blessing upon humanity.

Don't get me wrong; there is such a thing as natural and healthy desire. But not every desire is healthy. Some are simply corruptions in which we mistake our true needs for manufactured false wants. Whether cursed with corrupt genes or seduced by an iniquitous lifestyle I cannot say, but those ensnared in wickedness are not to be despised. They are to be pitied and helped, not attacked. We must try, as the saying goes, to love the sinner while hating the sin. Let us remember that none of us are without fault. I am sure they make all kinds of positive contributions to society in other ways. And they are not beyond repentance. With the help of God's Spirit, they can begin afresh and discover healing.

What am I talking about? What is the sin that dare not speak its name? I am referring, of course, to the love of money, which is a root of all kinds of evil. Tolerance is cruelty. Repentance is possible. Healing is promised.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dried up, drowned out

Climate change is a moral issue.

The lifestyles of (most of) the richest 10% or so of the globe comprise the vast majority of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. This includes anyone with an annual income above about £10,000. These extra emissions are raising CO2 levels, thereby creating a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, legacy for countless generations to come. Carbon dioxide continues to affect climate for thousands of years. Our actions are significantly decreasing the habitability of the planet for humans and presently existing ecosystems. The ones who suffer the most are those who have done least to contribute: the poor, the young and unborn, and other species. Given that we've known about this issue for decades, there is really little excuse for continuing to pass the buck to those who come after or indulging in delay while we hope for a techno-fix to appear. The basic atmospheric chemistry was grasped in the 19th century; since the 1950s we've suspected a problem; since the 1970s we've had a pretty good idea that it was likely a problem; since the 1980s we've had solid evidence; since the 1990s, alarming evidence; and over the last decade the outlook has only grown bleaker.

We enjoy unnecessary luxuries at the cost of others' suffering, livelihoods and lives. That's a moral problem. Another way is possible. Let us embrace it with joy.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?

With all the discussion surrounding climate change and its causes, effects and responses, it has become common for people to speak of "carbon pollution". Some object to this phrase, for a variety of reasons.

First, some think that the failure to specific that we are talking about carbon dioxide makes "carbon" a highly ambiguous modifier of pollution, and so quip that if carbon is pollution, we should all be getting rid of our diamonds (not to mention the carbon in each of our body's cells). However, in the context of contemporary political debate, to speak of a "price on carbon" or "carbon pollution" is an entirely understandable and acceptable shorthand. The context makes clear that we are concerned with mitigating the deleterious effects of an enhanced greenhouse effect from rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Granted, in certain circumstances this needs to be spelt out carefully and fully to avoid confusion, but in the daily cut and thrust of political debate, "carbon" is sufficient (and also manages to include a couple of the other non-CO2 GHGs, such as methane (CH4), though I suspect this is more happy accident than by design).

Second, and more importantly, some reject the phrase because they do not believe carbon dioxide ought to be classified with other harmful substances. This may be (a) because they think carbon dioxide is natural and pollution is unnatural; (b) because they believe that only substances that are directly toxic to life ought to be called pollution; or (c) because they think that carbon dioxide is harmless.

Regarding (a), this common position is based on a couple of basic scientific and philosophical confusions about the nature of pollution. Many naturally-occurring substances are classified as pollutants: mercury, asbestos, arsenic, just to name a few of the better known ones. Furthermore, almost every substance can be harmful in certain doses. Pollution is a relative term. Nothing is a pollutant in itself, but substances pollute when too much of them is found in an inappropriate location. Remember, it is possible to die of water poisoning, or oxygen poisoning.

Regarding (b), critics say that calling CO2 pollution implies that breathing ought to be regulated, as we exhale CO2 with every breath. Defenders sometimes reply by pointing to the possibility of carbon dioxide poisoning (which has historically caused a number of deaths). Yet the direct physiological effects of elevated carbon dioxide levels can be overstated in an effort to justify the use of the term "pollutant". I have seen research (can't find the link at the moment) that suggested that there would be no observable direct effect upon human physiology until over 1,000 ppm. Pre-industrial levels were about 275ppm and we're currently at 390 ppm, with the most commonly-cited goal of aiming to stabilise at 450 ppm (though this is considered by many climate scientists to still be highly dangerous; the last time the earth had CO2 concentrations above 400 ppm, sea levels were approximately 25 metres higher). So 1,000 ppm is a long way off and would mean we'd already burst through all kinds of very nasty threshholds (though remember that reaching 1,000 ppm by 2100 is not outside the realm of possibility if large positive feedbacks kick in). In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for CO2 of 0.5% by volume, which equates to 5,000 ppm, a level of atmospheric CO2 so staggeringly high that the last time they were anywhere near there was over 400 million years ago (for reference, dinosaurs don't appear in the fossil record until 230 million years ago). Well before we got anywhere near 5,000 ppm other effects of carbon dioxide would have wiped us out, so worrying about shortness of breath from global CO2 concentrations is a bit like worrying about how a bullet hole in your head might make it difficult to comb your hair. This is a red herring.

A better line of reply to those who believe the term "pollutant" ought to refer only to substances that are directly toxic to life is to speak of ocean acidification. Rising CO2 levels are leading to falling oceanic pH levels as the oceans and atmosphere reach a new gas exchange equilibrium. These startlingly fast (from a geological or ecological viewpoint) changes in ocean pH are already having measurable detrimental effects on a wide variety of marine life and are projected to become much worse as concentrations rise. This is a direct physiological harm of carbon dioxide that does not rely on complex human social changes and so alone justifies calling this dangerous substance a form of pollution. Nonetheless, it is directly dangerous only to certain critical forms of marine life.

And so we reach (c), which is, I suspect, what really drives this discussion. The quibbles above are really just extra confusions muddying the waters. The truly vital issue is whether the climatic effects of rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are on balance harmful or not. Considering all the likely indirect effects - increasing heat waves, droughts, floods, extinctions, sea level rise, habitat loss, surface ozone pollution, ocean acidification, public health problems, and so on (not to mention the likely knock-on effects of increased food stress, water stress, migration and conflict) - our present trajectory of substantially CO2-driven climate change will almost certainly be disastrous on human health and well-being, indeed is potentially catatrophic. So I have no qualms about labelling CO2 a pollutant when we are talking about the volumes of it currently being dumped into the atmosphere (and these enormous quantities mean it is facetious to reply with a comment about breathing or soft drinks, as some do in order to ridicule the idea of CO2 as a pollutant). If you think these impacts are implausible, then you would obviously have a problem with calling CO2 a pollutant. The physiological point becomes a distraction. But rather than having a conversation about definitions, it is far more honest and direct simply to have the debate about the impacts of climate change. This complex and evolving scientific debate continues with much energy in the peer-reviewed literature, though it must be acknowledged that, with the exception of a handful of fringe figures, the mainstream debate is not between those who think impacts will be bad and those who think they will be minor, but between those who think that impending climate changes spell human misery on a scale never before seen and those who think it is much worse than that. The debate is not between climate change being bad vs neutral (or even good); it is between disastrous and utterly catastrophic. There are many more publishing climatologists who are worried about the fall of civilisation and even the extinction of humanity than there are who believe the impacts will be minor or even beneficial. In this context, even if the outcomes resulting from complex causal chains involve other factors as well (not least human social, economic, political and cultural systems), nonetheless, calling carbon dioxide a pollutant is quite logical - as is taking action to slash our emissions as quickly as we can.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

An excellent (and brief) theology of climate change

"Reading the Bible in the context of climate change gives a vision of hope in God’s faithfulness to creation, a call to practise love and justice to our human and other than-human neighbours, and a warning of God’s judgement of those who fail to do so. In this context, closing our ears to the voices of those most vulnerable to climate change would be nothing less than giving up our claim to be disciples of Christ."

- "Hope in God's future: Christian discipleship in the context of climate change".

This 2009 report from the Joint Public Issues Team of the UK Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches is probably the best brief theological treatment of climate change I have seen. I particularly appreciate its insightful discussion of hope in §2.2, as well as its handling of neighbour love in §2.4-5.

Regarding the former, the report affirms that God's faithfulness is greater than humanity's brokenness. Ultimately, there is nothing we can do to thwart God's redeeming purposes for his creatures. The wording in the report is carefully chosen, as I discovered when I pressed one of the authors in conversation. While the panel agreed that human failure has the capacity to cause us and the other creatures on our planet very serious and lasting harm, there was disagreement over this harm extended as far as the possibility of total self-destruction. Either way, when relating human responsibility and destructive capacity to divine promises of faithfulness, if the result is something other than a grace-filled sending into service of God and neighbour, then we're doing it wrong. Any theology that results in either frenetic desperation or apathetic passivity is thereby seriously deficient.

Regarding neighbourly love, the report very helpfully (though not uncontroversially) uses the category of neighbour to include a number of groups containing many members we have not met (and most likely never will prior to the resurrection). First, it includes our brothers and sisters in distant lands (Africa and Pacific island nations are highlighted), who are already being negatively affected by changing climates and sea levels, and for whom the future seems to hold the threat of far worse. Second, we are also neighbours to future generations, the young and as yet unborn. These begin with but extend well beyond our own children. In this context, our children are the symbol and most immediate instantiation of our obligations to the future, but our horizon must be lifted beyond one or two generations since our actions today will have major consequences for centuries and even millennia to come. Third, the report welcomes the community of creation as our neighbours and so implies that the sphere of our moral life extends beyond the human. Section §2.5 has a very useful summary of scriptural teaching concerning other creatures and whether we are comfortable with the application of the term "neighbour" or not, the underlying claim of their bearing moral significance ought to be entirely uncontroversial.

With these considerations in mind, the more one learns about the science of climate change, the more the commands to love our neighbour and seek justice invite us to see our present behaviour (personally and socially) as a gross violation of the responsibility to care for those in whom our Father delights.

The document emphasises the necessity of repentance in response to climate change. This is undoubtedly correct, yet let us remember that our climate predicament is not rooted in only greed and apathy, but also in a tragic failure of vision. In embracing an economy based on the combustion of fossil fuels, we exhibited a form of ignorance. We can debate the relative innocence of this ignorance in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, but it has been increasingly clear for at least five decades that our failure of foresight is culpable. Carbon-intensive energy production has shaped our habits, assumptions and aspirations in just a few short years to the point where living without them has become unthinkable. But unless we learn to think anew then they will make our planet unliveable.

Let me end with another sobering quote worth pondering.
"In encountering biblical warnings about the consequences of failing to love and deal justly with those in need, it is hard to escape the conclusion that in continuing to emit carbon at rates that threaten our neighbours, present and future, human and other than human, we are bringing God’s judgement upon us. Even here we should not despair: that God judges rather than abandons us is a sign of God’s grace and continuing love for us. But in our encounter with God’s word in the context of climate change we should be clear that, while we have grounds for hope in the future God will bring if we act in accordance with God’s love for all creation, we also have grounds for fear of God’s judgement if we continue to fail to respond to the urgent needs of our neighbour."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

What is successful protest?

“Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success, namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

- Wendell Berry.

If success means the preservation of the status quo (as it often implied by discourse surrounding the term "sustainability"), then this is both impossible (philosophically and pragmatically) and undesirable. Yet if success is feeling good amount myself while the world burns, then this is a failure to connect with the plight of my fellow creatures. Berry points to something else as success: the preservation of spiritual qualities that cannot otherwise be preserved. This implies a "push" rather than "pull" reading of protest; protest is not performed in order to pursue an as yet unrealised objective ahead of me, but is the expression of qualities of heart and spirit which cannot hope to be preserved without protest.

Protest is thus spiritually conservative.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Peak when? We've already passed it

ArsTechnica: When is peak oil? We've passed it. Welcome to the downslope.

CP: How much of recent global warming has been caused by human activities? Most likely more than 100%. How can we have caused more than 100% of something? Without human activity, it is likely that we would have experienced a slight cooling trend and so our activities are primarily responsible for both overcoming this natural trend and the observed warming.

NYT: A case study in overfishing - the collapse of jack mackerel in under a decade. A single super-trawler theoretically has the capacity to catch more jack mackerel annually than the most optimistic estimate of the global sustainable catch. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated (based on 1998 data, now hopelessly out of date) that global fishing fleets "are 2.5 times larger than needed." The latest estimate of total global subsidies for fishing fleets (back in 2003) was US$25 billion to $29 billion per annum (mainly in fuels). Let us therefore choose between fish and the fishing industry; we cannot save them both.

Physorg: Wheat can't stand the heat. A new study published in Nature Climate Change found that "a 2.0 Celsius increase above long-term averages shortened the growing season by a critical nine days, reducing total yield by up to 20 percent."

NASA: Greenland, the world's northern mirror, is rapidly growing dimmer, with some areas seeing a drop in reflectivity of almost 20% in a few years.

Stephen Leahy: Toxic pollution is a public health problem on a similar scale to malaria. A new study claims that more than 100 million people have their productive life span shortened by an average of 12.7 years. Some of the causes may be encircling your finger, resting in your pocket or illuminating your eyeballs right now, though the victims may well live on the other side of the world.

Onion: Scientists reveal how to achieve sustainability overnight, though wisely leave open the policy questions.