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Roger Heppleston

Climate change is a moral issue

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Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and an adviser on climate change to the German government and Pope Francis, spoke at a recent scientific conference in Paris about climate change. Here are three quotes on what he said:

“In the end it is a moral decision. Do you want to be part of the generation that screwed up the planet for the next 1,000 years? I don’t think we should make that decision.”

“We need a global social movement …”

“ the best analogy for the transition from dirty to clean energy was the abolition of slavery, which was fundamentally driven by ethical concerns. ”

Professor Schellnhuber realises that to change public attitudes to climate change requires more than stating the scientific arguments. It requires the promotion of a new ethical imperative. Lots of scientists have reached the same conclusion, but no one says how it can be achieved. The abolition of slavery was driven by moral concerns of largely Christian nations. These days most people in Europe are non-religious and materialistic in their outlook. There is nothing in our evolutionary make up that impels us to be concerned about actions that create problems decades in advance. Behaviour for the good of all is contrary to our natural instincts. Altruistic behaviour only occurs within communities that share feelings of kinship. In transnational communities this can only be achieved by those sharing a common religion or a philosophy of life. This is why promoting a new eco-friendly philosophy of life such as Eco-humanity is necessary to save the planet for our children.

 

Pastoral Care

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Being in hospital or prison is a time of high anxiety for many and sharing fears and worries with sympathetic listeners is important.  Religious people have access to paid support from chaplains. The majority of us who are non-religious have no access to pastoral care outside our own families. The British Humanist Association is starting to address the issue.  Volunteers are being recruited to attend hospitals and prisons on a regular basis to provide compassionate support to atheists in difficult times. Their website is humanistcare.org.uk.

This is a new initiative and will take time to roll out, but it is a wonderful example of eco-humanity in action.

Training secular values

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A report published on 15th June by Charles Clarke the former education secretary and Linda Woodhead the leading sociologist of religion in the UK said that ‘religious education’ in schools should be changed to ‘moral education’. It also called for religious education in schools to be re-examined ‘in the light of contemporary beliefs and practices’. They were apparently advocating that the young should be properly trained  to understand modern secular values.

These days most Britains are non-believers. The traditional British faiths, the Church of England, Methodism, and Roman Catholicism are in terminal decline; set to be less important as a practising faith than Islam by the second part of the twenty first century. The Conservative government is in thrall to the Church of England and will not take any action that will lessen their power and authority. They wheeled out a Department of Education spokesman who made the outrageous statement that ’ religious education is vitally important  to help children develop the British values of tolerance, respect and understanding for others.’

This is despite the fact that 61% of those surveyed in an Observer poll agreed with the statement,’ These days religion is a negative influence in the world rather than a force for good’. The secular society , not religion, is responsible for the promotion of tolerance and our current moral values.  Religions still promote their own beliefs, not those of other faiths. How can anyone say that by teaching Islam in schools we are promoting British values!

What is needed is to teach the moral values of a secular society. Eco-humanity proposes four principles of behaviour.

  1. Look after yourself so that you can reach your full potential.
  2. Respect other humans. Cooperate, and support them in advancing the lot of mankind as a whole.
  3. Recognise the integrated world of nature, respect how it supports our lives and preserve its full diversity for the sake of our children.
  4. Conserve the Earth’s resources for the benefit of our offspring

Surely we can all unite behind these values, whatever your particular religious or philosophical background. If these principles of behaviour were taught in school it would not only  promote ‘tolerance, respect and understanding for others ‘,  but also underline the importance of saving the planet for our children.

 

The nones

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According to an article by Damion Thompson in the Spectator published on 13th June, 45% of people in the British Election Survey classified themselves as having no religious affiliation. They are the nones.  The decreasing importance of religion in people’s lives is a common factor across all Western Countries. Even in America religious faith is declining, albeit from a much higher starting point. 36% of 18 to 24 year olds in the USA do not claim to belong to a religious group.

If they are not religious what do these nones actually believe about supposedly religious issues such as morality, life after death and communication with God? In the modern Western secular society there is a consensus about these issues but it is not determined by any priest.

Fundamental to secularism is a belief that science can explain the workings of the natural world. The superstitious mind of the Middle Ages has now almost entirely disappeared.  People no longer believe that natural disasters are a sign of God’s displeasure.  The fear of God and malevolent spirits has largely ceased to be a factor in day to day life.

This is helped by the fact that we are living longer. In medieval times, dealing with death was a constant issue in every community. People only lived 30-40 years on average.  Life was hard. Churches preached that life on Earth is only temporary and we should be more concerned about our life after death. Fear of going to hell was truly terrifying. We still fear death but eternal damnation is no longer an issue among secularists.

The control of religion on general issues of morality has largely ceased to exist. Sunday is no longer a day of rest for religious contemplation. Despite opposition from the religious community, sex before marriage and divorce after marriage is now common place. Homosexuality amongst consenting adults is no longer seen as a sin, indeed gay marriage has just been legalised.

Yet despite the declining influence of religious morality there is no evidence of any less ‘goodness’ around. Charity and generosity of spirit hasn’t disappeared. Indeed we have become a more tolerant caring society, concerned for all peoples whatever their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Morality seems to be determined by consensus across society. This consensus has emerged independently in many countries practising Western democracy. It seems to be based on feelings of egalitarianism and fairness combined with a rational view of the world.  It is maintained both by law and peer pressure.

The nones apparently have no need for religion or any set of religious beliefs. There are however dangers in being a none.

In the last two hundred and fifty years the secular society, in which science and industry has thrived, has delivered a massive increase in health and freedom from want in the western world. However, having no priests, the values of the secular society are not explicitly trained on to the next generation. Religious beliefs have survived centuries through training the young. Secularists are careless of their heritage. There is apparently no co-ordinated attempt to train secular values in our schools. There is a risk that at any time these fragile values could be tossed away in reaction to the political situation of a moment. Hitler after all was voted into power in a secular Germany  before he created his racially biased police state.

One danger is if the increasing population of immigrant communities with no tradition of secular behaviour, fail to adopt these secularist values.  Islam may become the biggest religious organisation in the UK in the second part of the twenty first  century. Islam, Catholic and many other religious faiths are supporters of   non-secular values of discrimination against women and homosexuals. It is a scandal that these religious groups are supported by a supposedly secular government in training these negative values onto the next generation.

Another danger is that the lack of any concern for the future has gone too far. Climate change is coming yet most people are relatively unconcerned because  they do not see it as a direct imminent threat.  We live in a materialistic world where everyone is striving to do their best for themselves and their children. Issues that are decades away have relatively little impact on their thinking.

This is why we need a new philosophy of life to be actively promoted, one that maintains the values of a secular society but also saves the planet for our children.

 

An Ecomodernist Manifesto

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18 Western Scientists have published their views on climate change and the future  on their website http://www.ecomodernism.org.. The introduction to their Ecomodernist Manifesto  states:

To say that the Earth is a human planet becomes truer every day. Humans are made from the Earth, and the Earth is remade by human hands. Many earth scientists express this by stating that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans.

As scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens, we write with the conviction that knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene. A good Anthropocene demands that humans use their growing social, economic, and technological powers to make life better for people, stabilize the climate, and protect the natural world.

 In this, we affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse.

These scientists affirm that there is a technological solution to the problem of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere. However they also acknowledge that there is currently no consensus as to how this is to be achieved.

They also make the point that we cannot turn back the clock and revert to a self-sufficient lifestyle. Over 50 % of us now live in urban areas. We are all dependent on the extra food supplied by the massive increase in agricultural efficiency that has occurred over the last 250 years.  There is simply not enough arable land on the planet for us to survive using the old inefficient farming methods.

They believe that the continued application of capitalism, science and humanistic values that has delivered so much health and alleviation of poverty in the last two hundred and fifty years can also solve the problems of the next 100 years. The current economic system just has to be controlled with the purpose of lessening its effects on the nature and the environment. In this they are taking a position opposite to Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything and the Green Party, who indentify capitalism as one of the causes of  global warming.

However, both the left and right, of those who accept climate change as a problem, give no hint as to how the solution is to be achieved. It is evolution, the competitive struggle between humans and communities of humans that drives society forward.  And evolution is blind; it has no purpose or direction. It is true that of all the species in the animal kingdom, only humans have the capability of altering the course of evolution.  However the over- exploitation of the planet will only cease if all peoples of the world are able   to unite  behind the great purpose of saving the planet for our children.  This will only happen with the world-wide promotion and acceptance of an eco-friendly philosophy of life.

We ignore climate change at our peril

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Human behaviour is determined by our shared memes. Just as other animals, we are bound to an ongoing struggle for survival in evolutionary competition. The process of evolution has no inbuilt mechanism for taking precautions against dangers that are decades away. To solve the issue of climate change requires coordinated international action. There is no world organisation in place that can force change and our current organisations have limited scope for cooperating to resolve long term issues. If human memes don’t change we will inevitably pursue our own short-term interests until we reach the limits in population and wealth that the Earth can support.

Individual action by people or governments will not be effective enough. We can stop it only if everyone wants to stop. That is not just scientists, New- Age travellers and the liberal middle classes but American red-necks, Indian peasants, Chinese communist party members, African subsistence farmers, the urban poor of Mexico City and all the peoples of the world. In short it will only happen if human behaviour as a whole changes. It sounds impossible, but history shows there is just one chance. Humans are able to demonstrate altruistic behaviour to members of their own communities. The most obvious example of this is soldiers fighting for their country. Unfortunately, few are able to regard the population of the whole world as part of their community. There are too many examples of poor regimes, corrupt officials, violent and self–destructive behaviour for many of us to behave altruistically for the benefit of the whole of mankind. There is one type of community, however, that has a proven ability to appeal to a wide variety of national groups and that is a religion or philosophy of life. Buddhism, for instance, spread from India to China and on to Japan, communism spread from Russia to China and Christianity from Europe to Latin America, Asia and Africa. Moreover religions and philosophies of life have a proven record of persuading their followers to fast, give money to good causes and to make other personal sacrifices according to the customs of the movement. In addition, their congregations have maintained common rules of behaviour that are defined by their doctrines.

Our only hope to save the planet for our children is that a new philosophy of life could enthuse people to adopt an ecologically friendly lifestyle.

What could sound duller than the Soil Association?

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I listened to Helen Browning, the charismatic Chief Executive of the Soil Association, on Desert Island Discs and discovered that the dull name was a cover for a very important organisation. I realised I knew nothing about the work of the association to prevent the degradation of our soils, promote organic food and  abrogate the threat to our future food supply.

I looked up their web site and found:

The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of far-sighted individuals who were concerned about the health implications of increasingly intensive farming following the Second World War. They were particularly worried about the loss of soil through erosion and depletion; the decreased nutritional quality of intensively produced food; the exploitation of animals in intensive units and the impact of large-scale intensive farming  on the countryside and wildlife.

Today, they are the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. They have over 150 staff both based in offices in Bristol and Edinburgh and working as certification inspectors across the country.

Here is an unsung and unheralded organisation supported by practical people working for the good of us all. Born from a group of farmers who believed in operating farms in alliance with nature rather than with industry, they have developed standards for eco-friendly farming.

For 50 years they have been working to the third principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity: ‘Recognise the integrated world of nature, respect how it supports our lives and preserve its full diversity for the benefit of our children.’

The gay marriage vote in Ireland

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The    Irish leader Enda Kennedy said that as a result of the vote in support of gay marriage on 23rd May that:

With today’s vote we [the Irish] have disclosed who we are. We are a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people who say yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love and yes to gay marriage.

Despite the propaganda of the Catholic Church and money poured in by American right-wing religious groups, common humanistic values  prevailed. This is an amazing result in a country that until a few decades ago the Catholic Church held sway over all moral issues.

The world is realising that there are humanistic values of fair play, decency and respect for other individuals that have evolved naturally despite resistance from the established churches. The values of the old religions are becoming less relevant in this modern world. It is now the secular society that is more concerned to create a more caring and compassionate world. Now, these new humanists need to learn from religions on how to value and cherish their cultural heritage and teach these new found humanistic ideals to future generations.

These same humanistic values that have proved popular in Ireland form a large part of the moral basis of Eco-humanity.

Oil companies and evolution

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Oil companies are also stuck in an evolutionary battle of survival of the fittest. Evolution is blind and unable to anticipate long term problems. Oil companies know that the current rate of burning fossil fuels is unsustainable; it will eventually cause climate change which will prejudice the lives of our children and damage the world’s economy.   An example is shown in the quotation in a Guardian article about Shell published on 18th May:  ‘….. under its own [Shell’s] forecasts the Earth’s temperature will rise nearly twice as much as the 2C threshold for dangerous climate change’.

Yet what can the oil companies do? They are incapable of changing direction because the laws of capitalism mean that they are engaged in a relentless competitive battle. They are all increasing their reserves of fossil fuels, even though they know that to burn them completely will ensure disastrous global warming.   For example, Shell has just taken over the  BG Group (British Gas) to increase its ability to extract fossil fuels. Shell know that  in 30-50 years time we will all be worse off as a result of burning fossil fuels and that their company will be adversely affected as a result. However they are stuck in the same relentless day to day battle of survival as the rest of us. If Shell stop competing with other energy companies now, they will simply loose business and risk their own extinction in the short term.

The only way to stop the oil companies from polluting the planet is for the consumers to stop using their products. This will only happen if we unite in a common ecological objective to save the planet for our children.

Sacrificial Behaviour

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Richard Dawkins has conclusively shown that there is no such thing as a sacrificial gene that would induce humans to sacrifice their life for the good of others. So why do suicide bombers exhibit sacrificial behaviour for the sake of Islam?

It is due to memes; by identifying someone as one of our own we unleash feelings of kinship. Natural caution can be overridden by instincts which are related to family protection. Humans have the ability to divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Hunter–gatherers regarded their own community as ‘us’ and acted violently against others. There is no group size limit to this human behaviour and in modern times dreadful acts of violence against millions of people have been perpetrated once this feeling of communal kinship is aroused in hateful opposition to another group of humans.

There is another factor however in Muslim Jihadist behaviour. The Qu’ran teaches that life on Earth is temporary; eternal life only starts when you die. There are rewards for those who sacrifice themselves for their religion. In a much quoted passage the paradise available after death is described in much detail:

There will be two Gardens containing all kinds of (trees and delights); In them (each) will be two Springs flowing; In them will be Fruits of every kind, two and two. The Fruit of the Garden will be near (and easy of reach). In them will be (Maidens), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; Like unto Rubies and coral. Is there any reward for Good – other than Good?

This old religious trick, pretending that humans by some means survive death, has also warped human behaviour in the West. It has created a society in which some people are more concerned with their afterlife than the effect they have on other people in this world.  The cruel acts of Nuns in the Irish Magdalene Laundries are a case in point.

Surely it is time to wake up and subscribe to a philosophy of life dedicated to improving our existence on planet Earth.  We should discard this human fantasy of life after death and concentrate on saving the planet for our children.