Author : Michèle M. Rhodius Dip. LA, MSc UD, CMLI (Retired)
Joint Co-ordinator of Inverness Area Greens
Do you believe in Climate Change? Is Science a religion? Is proof fact or fiction?
How old is Planet earth? Have Humans existed for 6000 years or 200,000+?
Is the Bible literal or allegorical? Is Biblical Literalism really in conflict with Science
What is the psychology of Climate Denial?
Is Climate Change good for business? Is Capitalism congruent with Climate Change?
2016 was a very eventful year in the history of Humankind. It was the hottest year on record. BREXIT became a reality for the people of the United Kingdom albeit by the slimmest of majorities. Hilary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president of the United States. Democracy, freedom and equality were dealt a ruinous blow with the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. The Zika Virus burst forth in heartbreaking headlines in Brazil. The European migrant crisis continued to escalate. Terrorist attacks inflicted further bloody atrocities upon European Nations. The crisis in Syria was graphically embodied in the haunting photograph of five-year-old Omran Daqnees for a fleeting moment before life went on as before. The year was also a milestone for LGBTIQ rights across the globe. In contrast, right wing populism gained ground across both Europe and the USA. And the Paris Agreement was ‘entered into force’ on 4 November 2016 by the ratification of 128 of the 194 signatories to the agreement at the December 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In 2016 the abnormal was normalised and we entered 2017 with the western/developed world split between those of us who were utterly shell-shocked and incredulous and those who were full of hope for a better standard of living.
In the United States Donald Trump by way of Executive Order is wreaking havoc with Foreign relations, the natural environment and promoting the resurgence of fossil fuel industries. In the United Kingdom everyone is consumed with the processes of BREXIT. In Europe the focus is largely upon the migrant crisis and terrorism. Australia carries on business as usual. Russia is flexing her territorial muscles and according to Putin preparing for a “time of war”. The Middle East continues its bloody war. India struggles with the shameful rape of women and age-old endless poverty. And China is ever building, growing, and transforming herself into 21st century lifestyles.
Across the globe the principal focus of our Political Leaders is upon everything else BUT the single most important crisis facing Planet Earth and every single living species in the history of Humankind. It is as if, in not understanding the Science and/or not knowing how to deal with Climate Change, all our Political Leaders are in denial.
All those images of people on beaches with heads in the sand in 2015 are the 2017 reality. Yes, 2015, was a year of Grass Roots energy and insurgence – I could feel the vibrancy in the air, it was electric. We marched across the globe for Climate Change action in the form of the Paris Agreement and many Political Leaders listened and followed the action through with signing the Agreement in April of 2016.
The Paris Agreement is an unprecedented global collaboration and commitment. A global alliance is the only way Humankind stands any chance at all of combating the changes we have wrought upon the Eco-system of Planet Earth. The principal target of this agreement is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. This is an ambitious target and one which Scientists are currently sceptical can be achieved (Ref. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/world-flirts-with-1.5C-threshold-20260 : http://www.climatecentral.org/news/world-flirts-with-1.5C-threshold-20260 ). And NASA emphatically states that 2 degrees is too much (Source: http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2458/why-a-half-degree-temperature-rise-is-a-big-deal/ ).
The Paris Agreement goes on to state that each Party should prepare “successive nationally determined contributions” every five years which go beyond their current contributions and “reflect” their “highest possible ambition”. The Agreement is also clear that “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets” and “shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention” and should also “continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties” (Paris Agreement Articles 4 & 9). This is a clear recognition that the source responsibility for Climate Change rests with Developed Countries and that Developing Countries do not have the wealth to meet this crisis.
Undoubtedly if President Trump withdraws the US from the Paris Agreement corresponding with his stated premise of Climate Change denial or indeed retains the US “in the Paris agreement while putting a stop to the policies that make it possible for it to hit its pledge of reducing emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This would equate to ceding the race for the global clean energy economy, estimated to be a $6 trillion market by 2030. This would be a huge missed opportunity.” (Source : http://www.ecowatch.com/trump-vs-paris-climate-agreement-2216317275.html). A “huge missed opportunity” which could impede the implementation of global Climate Change action and have ramifications in total contradiction to the protectionism of America.
On a positive note it would appear that China, for all the criticism levelled at her, is stepping up to the plate and rising to this challenge. Contrary to popular opinion China has some of the most ambitious Climate Change targets which she is currently putting into practice and “the increased carbon intensity goal means that China would reach, or potentially exceed, its Copenhagen pledge to reduce carbon intensity 40-45 percent below 2005 levels” ( Source : ‘China’s Climate and Energy Policies’ https://www.c2es.org/international/key-country-policies/china ).
Is Science a Religion? On the question of Trump and Climate Change denial the question arises – Is Science a Religion? Trump and many Americans along with him say “I do not believe in Climate Change”. Disturbingly many of these same people also do not believe in evolution and interpret the Bible literally to conclude that Humankind has only existed for 6000 years instead of 200,000 years as proven by Science. Their use of the word believe means that in the same way that they accept the existence of God without proof and have faith in the existence of God they view Science in exactly the same way as something which you either believe in or not as is your personal world perspective. Science, however, is “the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” ( Source : http://sciencecouncil.org/about-us/our-definition-of-science/ ). Evidence is the key word here because it means that Science gathers information in a logical methodical way to establish whether a belief or proposition is true or valid. This of course is not subjective, as is belief, it is objective and impartial. And astonishingly, here we are in 2017 with a significant body of people in the USA and even Europe who are seemingly unable to rationalise their religious beliefs with scientific fact.
Pope Francis, the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church, is possibly the most enlightened, scientifically aware and intelligent Pope Catholicism has ever known. His Encyclical Letter ‘Laudato Si’ published in June 2015 whilst fully accepting Creationism embraces Science and the detrimental effects Humanity is having in terms of pollution, Climate Change and a ‘throw-away-culture’ upon Planet Earth, “our home”. He states:-
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.”
Pope Francis recognises that Climate Change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” In November 2016 there was a gathering of Scientists at the Vatican, among them Stephen Hawking, and according to the Washington Post he said “there has never been such a clear need for science to guide human actions to safeguard the future of the planet” (WP Brady Dennis November 29, 2016). And yet to the likes of Donald Trump this Pope is no more than a “pawn”!
In December 2014 Islamic Relief Worldwide published ‘Islamic Relief’s Climate Change Policy’ which stated:-
“Islamic Relief is inspired by Islamic teachings, on justice and stewardship of the Earth, to recognise climate change as one of the greatest moral, social and environmental issues facing humanity today. As a matter of urgency, we will support communities to enhance their resilience by prioritising the development of climate change adaptation and risk reduction work in communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and improve learning on environmental issues amongst our staff and supporters. We also aim to significantly reduce our carbon footprint as well as undertake advocacy at all levels to promote substantial and equitable reductions in greenhouse gases.”
“The scientific evidence is overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks for people, especially poor people and vulnerable groups. It demands an urgent global response. The direct and indirect impacts of climate change are of central concern to IR’s objectives and targets, in terms of the reduction of both poverty and suffering. The IR Family has a significant contribution to make in tackling climate change.” (Source : http://www.islamic-relief.org/publications/)
This was followed in August 2015 by the ‘Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change’ published by the International Islamic Climate Change Symposiumwhich was initiated by IFEES/EcoIslam and Islamic Relief World Wide in partnership with “a team of Muslim specialists consisting of academics and environmentalists” (Source : http://www.ifees.org.uk/declaration/#home). This document recognises that “our planet has existed for billions of years and climate change in itself is not new” however “the pace of Global climate change today is of a different order of magnitude from the gradual changes that previously occurred throughout the most recent era, the Cenozoic. Moreover, it is human-induced: we have now become a force dominating nature”. The Declaration goes on to acknowledge the validity of both the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UNEP, 2005) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publication of March 2014 and states that “We are driven to conclude from these warnings that there are serious flaws in the way we have used natural resources – the sources of life on Earth. An urgent and radical reappraisal is called for. Humankind cannot afford the slow progress we have seen in all the COP (Conference of Parties – climate change negotiations) processes since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was published in 2005, or the present deadlock.”
According to Bill McKibben of the New York Review Daily when reviewing the ‘Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change’ :-
“… as the reality of climate change has grown steadily more apparent, all the thoughtful branches of humanity have begun to recognize that their philosophies and theologies need to be reconsidered in light of this new fact. Religion may be particularly prone to this rethinking: an understanding of God as all powerful and beneficent badly needs squaring with the reality that we are systematically dismantling our planet. The only ways out of this hole are to deny that it is happening, to insist that if it is happening God will intervene to prevent it, or to realize that as agents with free will we must take steps to rein ourselves in. The latter is obviously the mature course, and one that religious leaders across a variety of traditions are adopting.” (Source : http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2015/08/24/climate-change-warning-islam/)
It would seem, therefore, that where some religious followers are confused in their understanding of both religion and science and seem unable to differentiate between belief and scientific evidence their religious Leaders are intelligently rationalising religious beliefs with scientific fact. The problem at hand is that these Followers are not listening to their Leaders and in one particular case is fallaciously questioning the intellect of a Leader!
It should be noted that all the major religions and philosophies of life published a Climate Change Declaration or Statement in 2014/15 including Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Humanists. Many wrote initial statements in 2009 corresponding with the Copenhagen Climate Conference and all were calling for action.
It is also worth noting that for those of us who are Buddhist or Humanist or Atheist there is no Omnipotent God who can save Humankind and Planet Earth rather WE are totally responsible for our actions and must mitigate the consequences of those actions.
The psychology of Climate Change denial Climate Change denial is complex. There are powerful global corporations, together with the politicians who support them, who accumulate huge wealth from these investments and are therefore determined to protect their business by disparaging the validity of Climate Change. As previously mentioned there are those for whom their religious belief is to varying degrees in contradiction with Science. Recent scientific research is uncovering a variety of psychological reasons for Climate denial ranging from “cognitive dissonance” to “system justification” to “identity protective cognition” to personality types and gender. I will return to Climate Change denial psychology in a future Blog.
Is Climate Change good for business? Another question which arises out of Trump’s presidency (and, yes, I know there are a multitude!) is the question whether Climate Change is good for business. Of course, as all Greens know very well, the fossil fuel industries cannot continue with business as usual pumping CO ² into earth’s atmosphere via the use of their products. Obviously, this means that their fat cat profits and very corporate existence are under threat and their survival tactics are becoming increasingly unscrupulous. The Trump administration has put NASA under threat of scrapping it’s Climate Research Program, American Scientists are under attack and, indeed, federal scientists at both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture have been placed under a ‘Gagging Order’ blocking them from communicating with the public and the press. “Climate information has been deleted from federal websites and administration officials have clamped down on communications at federal scientific agencies”. Climate Scientists are under increasing pressure and litigation is becoming more aggressive ( Source : https://insideclimatenews.org/news/16012017/climate-change-noaa-donald-trump-lamar-smith-global-warming-hiatus ).
Across the globe Corporate coal, oil, gas, and timber rape Planet Earth in the pursuit of profit and personal wealth at the expense of Rainforests, natural environments, biodiversity and vulnerable communities and all because Capitalism and GDP govern our economic systems. Growth is the God of consumerism and according to the economics of capitalism is exponential. It is utterly reprehensible that the Club of Rome’s book ‘The Limits to Growth’ published back in 1970 has been buried in the depths of obscurity by governments worldwide. This book details a study commissioned by the Club of Rome and carried out by an international research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT) into “the effects and limits of continued worldwide growth” (book back cover). The team study the “fundamental limits to growth in global population, agriculture, resource-use, industry and pollution” (book back cover). The MIT researchers simulated these variables in a “large scale computer model” and concluded that “only by a concerted attack on all the major problems at once can man achieve the state of equilibrium necessary to his survival”. The closest modelling we have to this today is the Ecological Footprint which was originally developed by PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under (William) Rees’ supervision at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990–1994 ( Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint ).
I will return to Ecological Footprinting in a future Blog.
So what can we, at the grass roots, do? Well, we can march as indeed we have been doing, and we can agitate and lobby at all levels of the political hierarchy – from global leaders to national and local politicians for a Climate Action Plan. Such a plan would embrace actions and transitions at every level of Society from global to nationwide to local neighbourhood to individual.
My next Blog will focus upon a Climate Action Plan.
Source : http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
Climate Change Blog Series :
- Climate Change 2017 – Michèle Rhodius
- Climate Action Plan – Michèle Rhodius
- The Psychology of Climate Change Denial – Michèle Rhodius
- Climate Change and Christianity in Scotland – Anne Thomas
- Ecological Footprinting – Michèle Rhodius