The fourth principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity

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The forth principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity is to conserve the Earth’s resources for the benefit of our offspring.

It has come as a shock that humans can’t just continue to dump their waste products  without threatening their standard of living. The most serious problem is greenhouse gases in the atmosphere but our rivers and seas are also becoming more polluted and the level of use of our soils is unsustainable.

To quote from The Planet Remade by Oliver Morton:

There is no serious doubt that the atmosphere’s greenhouse effect is a key determinant of the Earth’s temperature. Nor is there any serious doubt that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, or that humans have been adding to the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the past few centuries by burning fossil fuels. In 1750, before the industrial revolution, the carbon dioxide level was 280 parts per million. In1950, when the great global boom of the second part of the twentieth century was taking off, it was about 310 parts per million. Today it is 400 parts per million.

It is now incontestable that humans are warming the planet. The unanswered question is, do humans have the capability of doing anything about it? It requires vast expenditure to change to green energy sources. To quote Oliver Morton again:

The world has made huge investments in the facilities that extract fossil fuels from the ground and burn them… Leaving aside the political lobbying power that such investment can command, there would be a limit to how quickly that much kit could be replaced even if there were perfect substitute technologies at hand that simply needed scaling up. If the world had the capacity to deliver one of the largest nuclear power plants ever built once a week, week in and week out, it would take 20 years to replace the current stock of coal-fired plants… That is all before starting on replacing the gas and the oil…

To make this investment with no immediate economic benefit is impossible for any political organisation without committed public support. This is why humans need a new philosophy of life , one that can encourage sustainable behaviour and  can save the planet for our children.

Humanist values came from the Enlightenment

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Nick Cohen  on the 9th of January in an article entitled ‘ Don’t look to the Pope for Enlightenment values’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/09/hold-dear-enlightenment-values-in-iliberal-times-charlie-hebdo gave us an excellent reminder that humanist values came from the Enlightenment thinking  rather than any religious initiative.  I quote at length:

Anglo-Saxon societies have enjoyed the privilege of Enlightenment freedoms for so long our defences have fallen into disrepair. We fool ourselves into thinking we are in a post-Enlightenment world. The old battles appear dead and gone, even though all around us murderous fanatics remind us that they intend to fight the war all over again….

The pope responded to the murders of satirists [at Charlie Hebdo] by lecturing their corpses. You cannot insult or make fun of the faith of others, he said, as he came as close as he dared to blaming the victims. A man’s religion was like his mother, he added. And anyone who insulted his mother could “expect a punch…

Challenging the Vatican would have meant breaking with a clash-of-civilisations myth that runs from the white far-right way into the mainstream of politics. Judaeo-Christian culture is inherently more civilised than Islam, the argument goes. It produced democracy and human rights, while the luckless believers in lesser creeds groaned under tyrannies. Our traditions alone mean that the pope would, of course, regard religious hatred as a blasphemy.

Cultural conservatives do not want to be reminded that there is no Islamist crime so great the Judaeo-Christian tradition did not once authorise it. The Iranian judiciary murders gays and Islamic State throws them from tall buildings to delight the faithful. The Book of Leviticus would approve. It says that men who have sex with each other “shall surely be put to death”.

Assad, Iran and Hezbollah engage in the mass murder of Sunnis. Isis returns the compliment and takes Yazidi, Shia and Christian women as their sex slaves. But then Moses commanded the Israelites to fall upon their enemies and kill everyone except “women that have not known a man by lying with him”. Those they could keep for themselves.

It may be objected that the New Testament is less gory that the Old. But Christ no more forbad slavery, rape, torture and genocide than did the Ten Commandments. Christians in power engaged in orgies of persecution of one another, of non-believers, of witches and of Jews. Indeed, the true Judaeo-Christian tradition was the 1,600-year tradition of Christians murdering Jews. What civilisation Judaism and Christianity possess came from the outside. They did not reform themselves, which is why calls for a Muslim reformation so spectacularly miss the point. Civilisation came from the battering that religion took from the Enlightenment, from sceptics, scientists, mockers and philosophers, who destroyed their myths and exposed the immorality of their taboos.

The third principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity

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The third principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity is to recognise the integrated world of nature, respect how it supports our lives and preserve its full diversity.

Humans are genetically adapted to be hunter-gatherers.  Our instincts are honed to be killers of animals and harvesters of plants.  When humans first left Africa and colonised the Five Continents we initiated a major change in biodiversity. Many large mammal species were wiped out in America, and Australia; mastodons, giant sloths, giant kangaroos, sabre tooth cats and many others are only known by their skeletal remains.  As we colonised the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans many species of bird were defenceless and disappeared, including the famous Dodo.  As little as 5000 years ago Mammoths existed in Russia, before humans killed the last of them.

When we learned to domesticate animals and cultivate plants our destruction of nature stepped up a gear. Trees were chopped down and whole environments disappeared. The landscape of Britain that we love today is completely unnatural. If left to its own devices, nature would cover most of Britain with woodland.  Wolves and lynxes would hunt wild deer in the forest. Beavers would dam rivers. Now, in the ‘countryside’ farmers plough the land and sheep graze the hills ensuring there is no natural growth in vegetation.

As a species we have become too successful. The same process of elimination of the natural world is happening right across the globe. Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Many species are losing their natural habitat; lemurs in Madagascar, orang-utans in Borneo and jaguars in South America are some of the many species threatened. Wild life is becoming restricted to small nature reserves. Even these are threatened; rhinos, lions and elephants are being shot by poachers. The reserves are being encroached on by farmers and pastoralists.  We are eliminating plant and animal diversity at an alarming rate.

Does it matter? After all we have learnt to love the British countryside as it is without wolves, forests and aurochs. There are many arguments for maintaining the diversity of nature.  Nature provides an almost infinite source of compounds that could be tested for medicinal, chemical or food usage. The workings of nature provide inspiration for physicists and chemists to develop new machines and drugs.  The workings of nature provide natural defences against floods, storms and insect infestations. However the principal reason we should preserve nature is that it is so wonderful.  Since the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century we have learned to study how the natural world works.  The more we learn the more amazing it becomes.  Recently the films made by naturalists, such as David Attenborough, have inspired us all.  We absolutely need to preserve this wonder for our children to enjoy.

Global Warming in 2015

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In 2015 global warming happened just as predicted. There have been more extreme weather events; in December, for instance we’ve had floods in Britain, Missouri and Argentina, forest fires in California, Australia and the Basque country and we‘ve even had snow in Mexico. Carbon dioxide continued to accumulate in the atmosphere and global temperatures reached one degree higher than pre-industrial levels.

What is strange is that there is no sign of any global public reaction. Green campaigners continue to try to spread the word, but there is no urgent public demand for those in command of the economy to change tack and adopt green energy policies.  A two degree rise by 2050 is now almost inevitable. We will see ,for example, the continued decline in Arctic pack ice and the demise of the polar bear, water shortages in Peru as the last glaciers in the Andes disappear and  the acidification of the oceans and its disastrous effects on the Great Barrier Reef.  There will be greater and more frequent floods, fires and droughts with consequent food shortages.

This we will have to cope with. The challenge now  is to avoid temperature rises of 3, 4, 5 and 6 degrees. If you read Mark Lynas’ book Six degrees you will get an idea of what further horrors await. This is why it is urgent to create a popular movement to change the way we live. We need to establish a new moral imperative  to save the environment. We spend billions sending scientists into space. We subsidise the exploitation of fossil fuels. Why can’t we invest instead in our children’s future and save the planet?

The second principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity

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The second principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity is:

 Respect other humans; co-operate, and support them in advancing the lot of mankind as a whole.

It differs subtly from the normal ideal of humanist interaction which is often expressed as the ‘Golden Rule’ http://www.thinkhumanism.com/the-golden-rule.html as :

People should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.

The web-site goes on to say:

Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect – qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from. And although it isn’t possible to know what it really feels like to be a different person or live in different circumstances and have different life experiences, it isn’t difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering and to try to avoid causing suffering to others. For this reason many people find the Golden Rule’s corollary – “do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself” – more pragmatic.

All this is important for Eco-humanists. However there is an additional injunction to co-operate with others for the good of the universe as a whole. Whilst all people are respected, the community of those battling for the good of the planet need to be encouraged and supported. Here the important concept is community. This is something that has been lost in our modern materialistic world with its individually centred aspirations. If Eco–humanity is to work, appropriate ecological behaviour has to be developed and encouraged through peer pressure in a community. We will need to learn from and help each other if we are to save the planet for our children.

The Paris Climate Change Conference

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The Paris Climate Change Conference appears to have been an exercise in face-saving by politicians. After the disaster of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, diplomats seem to have thrown in the towel.  They have realised that the issue of reducing global carbon emissions is impossible for politicians to resolve; there are simply too many vested interests at stake.

The resulting agreement recognised that climate change is an issue that needs addressing but left it to the conscience of each nation to devise their own programme. There were no targets, no recommended technologies and no binding timescales. The ‘aspirational’ aim of limiting the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees, shorn of any concrete programme of achievement, is simply dishonest. We are already at 1 degree above the pre-industrial level.

The worst act of the Conference however was to congratulate itself on its final resolution. They have criminally given the impression that the world has an effective programme to combat climate change. The implied message was that people can relax, the worst aspects of climate change will be avoided. The reality is that nations of the world are continuing to do exactly what they had planned before. India is continuing to build coal-fired power stations. Just a week after the conference the UK government approved  mining by fracking in National Parks.

To quote George Monbiot in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/15/killing-planet-george-monbiot):

As the website climateparis.org explains, even if every pledge nations brought to the talks were honoured (and already governments such as the UK’s are breaking theirs), by 2030 the world will be producing more greenhouse gases than it does today. At that point we will have 14 years to reduce global emissions to zero, to stand a fair chance of preventing more than two degrees of global warming.

If the Paris agreement’s “aspirational” aim of no more than 1.5 degrees is to be achieved, other estimates suggest, carbon emissions must fall off a cliff soon after 2020. The festival of self-satisfaction with which the talks ended was a “mission accomplished” moment, a grave case of premature congratulation.

The reality is that combating climate change will only happen when the people of the world want it to happen. It would be better if humans could act out of a love of nature and a desire to protect the environment. It looks at present, however, they will only be motivated to act when disaster strikes. By then it will be too late. This is why eco-humanity is so important. We need to unite around a philosophy of life for the good of us all, to save the planet for our children.

 

 

The atmosphere of hope

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Tim Flannery, the chief commissioner on the Australian Climate Change Commission, has just written a book misleadingly called The Atmosphere Of Hope.

Despite its title, it offers a bleak view of future life on this planet. I quote from his Guardian article: Seaweed, coffee and cement could save the planet (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/20/climate-crisis-future-brighter-tim-flannery):

Enough atmospheric greenhouse gas now exists to push global average temperatures to 1.5C (2.7F) above the preindustrial average, even if all emissions stopped today. At 1.5C of warming, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will be dead, many coastal areas will be covered by the rising sea, and the impacts on extreme weather will go from serious to devastating.

He goes on to say that whatever is agreed in the forthcoming climate change conference in Paris, it is all but impossible for humanity to avoid breaching the 2 oC barrier, which is the level which threatens ‘global civilisation’. His hope seems to be limited to keeping the rise in global temperatures to 3 oC by 2100.

His optimism is based on developing natural carbon capture technologies in the period after 2050. He mentions seaweed cultivation and using coffee grounds or cement to absorb CO2 amongst many other technologies. None of the technologies has yet proven  practical.

Scientists have done all they can to warn us of the effects of climate change. Tim Flannery is muddying the picture by using the word hope in this context. The technologies to avoid climate change are practical but expensive and often have environmental downsides. Hard choices have to be made which will affect living standards. People have to be enthused to act in an ecological way that may be against their immediate interests, but, will eventually save the planet for their children. Evolutionary competition is the force that is preventing people and states from cooperating to save the planet. We need to frustrate the natural forces of evolution. The only way of halting climate change is if people in general commit to a green philosophy of life and implement it with a religious fervour.

Integrated schooling

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On Thursday 5th November the Guardian published a story about integrated schooling in Oldham, where there were serious race  riots in 2001 (http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/nov/05/integrated-school-waterford-academy-oldham). Breeze Hill School (almost totally Asian) and Counthill School (dominantly white) were both closed and combined in the new Whitehead academy in 2010. Integration was handled with caution. Care was taken to account for community sensibilities and  the full start was delayed  until 2012.

The results of this real-time social experiment have been monitored by Miles Hewstone, Professor of Social Psychology at Oxford. It is widely accepted that it is very easy to generate social antagonism between 2 groups which have a separate identity. In Oldham residential, school and religious separation between white British and Asian groups was some of the most extreme in England. But would integrating schooling help?

Miles Hewstone has a theory that positive contact will improve respect and cooperation between  groups. The results after 3 years are modest. It has not been helped by the fact the school itself has to cope with severely disadvantaged children and has routinely failed Ofsted inspections.  The two ethnic groups still socialise in separate spheres. However, measures of inter-community trust have improved and there have been no instances of racial violence between the pupils. Hewstone believes there has been a permanent boost to tolerance and understanding between the two groups.

In July, the prime minister made a speech on extremism that ended with a call for action to tackle ethnic segregation: “It cannot be right … that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths.” He mentioned two cities where segregation was particularly marked. The first was Bradford, the second was Oldham. Cameron was careful not to lay the blame on any one community. Housing was an issue, he said, as was education.

This from a government that has sponsored the development of faith based schools. It is clear that religion is a major issue in creating a divided society and by supporting faith based schools the government is fuelling community antagonism based on religion and culture.  If Hewstone is right positive efforts have to be made to integrate communities, not divide them. We need only look at Northern Ireland to see the damage that can be done by continuing to educate communities in separate religious establishments.

Re-wilding

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I listened to George Monbiot promoting his new book Feral which advocates the re-wilding of Britain. It was an inspiring talk for all those interested in promoting nature in all its diversity.

Monbiot explained that , far from being a natural environment, Britain’s National  Parks and most of the countryside are  controlled to be largely treeless  with very little biodiversity. This is achieved by sheep and deer grazing supported by the EU’s Common Agricultural policy. According to Monbiot, sheep rearing is not economic without the EU grant to keep land available for agricultural use. Much of the land is not owned by farmers but rich investors.

Left to its own devices the land would revert to woodland as in pre-Neolithic times. There would be a rich variety of plant and animal life, which would be further enhanced by the reintroduction of some predators like the lynx and the wolverine. Targeted re-wilding in British National Parks and wildlife conservation areas would provide some redress for the deforestation occurring in the rest of the world and save a little more of nature’s natural wonder for our children.

Assisted Dying

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Religious leaders gained a rare victory this week in the House of Commons; they managed to persuade MPs to reject Rob Marris’ private members bill about assisted dying. This would have allowed people with six months to live to take a lethal medication. A similar measure passed in the Lords last year before running out of Parliamentary time.

The religious leaders were clever they didn’t base their arguments on the ‘so called’ sanctity of human life. Nor did they make the mistake of trying to impose religious beliefs on the non-religious majority. The crucial argument appears to be the supposed vulnerability of ill patients  being pressured into committing suicide by relatives who don’t have their interests at heart.

The BHA has issued a splendid document showing the misinformation propagated by religious groups at the time of the Lords bill http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BHA-Report-In-Bad-Faith.pdf. In this they state:

‘Being elderly does not make you stupid, automatically vulnerable, or unable to speak for yourself. It is           patronising to assume that elderly people will easily be persuaded to die. Such attitudes expressed by religious groups demonstrate a   profound lack of respect for elderly people.’

We surely have the right to determine our own fate. MPs are still relatively young and do not know the fear of the process of physical deterioration of both mind and  body leading to death.  Feelings of pity and protection to the elderly have been misapplied. We all die but we all want to die with dignity.