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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

More than morality
October 14, 2009 - 4:20pm

For a while now, I've been hearing that climate change is, among other things, a moral issue. The basic argument centers on the truth that the people who will suffer first and worst as the planet heats up are ones who had little or nothing to do with creating the problem. People living in marginal settings -- in semi-deserts, on unprotected coastal plains, in the Arctic -- are already seeing increased incidence of droughts, wild-fires, storm surges and ice melt. Coincidentally or otherwise, the countries and cultures which have put the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past century or so are relatively sheltered from the impacts. Only relatively, and only temporarily, but long enough to allow an extended state of denial.

Now, according to The Guardian (UK), the Archbishop of Canterbury -- the head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion worldwide -- has raised the stakes a little bit. Rowan Williams, speaking at Southwark Cathedral, has described us (well, he meant his flock, but I think we can extrapolate) as being addicted to "fantasies about prosperity and growth, dreams of wealth without risk and profit without cost". As a direct result, he says, the human soul has become "one of the foremost casualties of environmental degradation". Thus, taking steps to actively mitigate climate change is necessary for us to become fully human again.

This isn't the first time Williams has spoken about climate change. Earlier this year, he pointed out that God had no "safety net" for the human race which, as a result, faces a whole range of doomsday prospects (of which climate change was one, but only one). He also criticized the deniers of climate change, saying that humanity faced being "choked, drowned or starved" by its own stupidity.

I guess that's one of the advantages of being a major religious leader -- you can decry the stupidity of the human race and people take you at least somewhat seriously. By comparison, that's never worked for me. Not even once.

But when our culture treats political reality as if it trumps physical reality and the economic environment as more immutable than the ecological one -- when our response to reports of rising sea levels threatening to overwhelm South Pacific islands is to jet right down and see them before they're gone -- maybe "stupidity" is too mild a term. Maybe an all-out religious assault on the root of all evil (not money itself, but the unbridled love of money) is entirely overdue.

And if, as Agence France-Presse reports, Barbara Boxer's Environment and Public Works Committee will take up climate change legislation later this month, maybe we can hope for a number of Episcopal (US Anglican) leaders -- along with all those college and university presidents who signed the PCC -- down in DC lobbying for responsible action. (Wouldn't that be a nice change from what passes for politics-as-usual?)

After all, if the latest accounting by Germany's Advisory Council on Global Change (see, I'm an equal opportunity Europhile) is to be believed, we have far less time to act than previously estimated. (More on that later -- I just started reading the report, myself.)


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