The Wolf at the Door

Climate change is an emergency, but it’s a slow one. The amount of carbon we’ve released—and continue to release—into the atmosphere is wreaking untold changes on our planet. And yet years of prophesied doom has given the warnings a bit of a boy-who-cried wolf aspect. We’re supposed to be in danger, but things seem pretty normal, right?

And then I saw the unprecedented smog in Beijing, and I felt that the sci-fi dystopias of the distant future had suddenly arrived now. From the BBC:

Schools in Beijing are closed and outdoor construction halted after the Chinese capital was issued with its first ever pollution “red alert”.

At 07:00 local time on Tuesday, the air pollution monitor operated by the US Embassy in Beijing reported that the intensity of the poisonous, tiny particles of PM 2.5 was at 291.

The World Health Organization considers 25 micrograms per cubic metre to be a safe level.

The photos could be in Blade Runner. The wolf isn’t at the door, it’s in the house, and we’re hoping it will go away if we keep our eyes screwed tight.

Climate Change: Blog Action Day

blue-marbleToday is the 3rd annual Blog Action Day, with a focus on the need to take action on Climate Change. Last year’s topic was poverty, which I participated in. A day such as this fills me with an odd combination of excitement and ambivalence. I love the idea of engaging millions on a vital subject for a day, but I feel like a day such as this can lead us to mistake a flash flurry of activity for something that will effect change.

For starters, talking about “climate change” is bizarre. Exactly how and when did we settle on this consensus to rename “Global Warming” to “Climate Change?” This name shift reveals a fundamental disinterest in the facts and much greater interest in political lines in the sand. Because let’s be honest – a movement with so little conviction in its core tenet is a little unsettling.

Also, the climate debate really needs to move away from whether or not the climate is changing (and in which direction) to whether or not we are living sustainably on this planet we call home. Hint: we aren’t. We are consuming resources faster than they can be replenished, and we have built a way of life that is insanely and fundamentally dependent on a single non-renewable resources. In engineering terms, our system is designed on a single point of failure that is guaranteed to fail. (I’m talking about petroleum here if you haven’t caught on.)

This is where the discussion would likely turn to “alternative energy,” which will be necessary as our oil supplies start giving out on us. But before we go any further down that path, let’s clear up two things:

  1. No combination of alternative energies is going to allow us to run what we’re running the way we’re running it.
  2. Ethanol is a pipe dream. There isn’t enough arable soil on the planet to feed our gas tanks, never mind leaving some for, you know, feeding people. The sooner we stop talking about running our cars on ethanol or biodiesel, the better.

It’s not about what’s happening to the climate. It’s about whether the way we’re living on the planet is such that humanity might have a future. Climate change is merely a part of this much larger issue. As a Christian, my tradition has language such as stewardship to indicate that the earth isn’t our possession, but rather a gift from God that has been entrusted to our care. Christianity also has language such as sin to describe the shameful way we are handling this trust, and repentance to describe what we must do in the face of all this: change our ways.

We must turn from the way that leads to death from the way that leads to life, not only for ourselves, but for those who are the weakest of all—those not yet born.If you are reading this and aren’t a Christian, please find language and resources in whatever form of life you’re in to name the problem of how we’re living in suicidal denial here. It isn’t a moment too soon to start.

And I’ll give all of us one simple task we can do towards this end: if you live in a city, live in a neighbourhood where you can get to your place of work and get the daily necessities of life without a car. Walking would be preferable, but transit is good too. If this is simply impossible in your context, find out why and change it. Learn about how we build our cities (and how that needs to change) from Andres Duany. Take some tips from Jim Kunstler on Some Ways to Plan for the Future.

Wherever you are, live more locally, use your car less, and slow down. Let’s not live on the planet like tenants who are trying to get kicked out. Let’s live like we mean to stick around for a while.

Ethics and Climate Change

Colin Beaven of No Impact Man (who I introduced here back in December) has a fantastic post up titled “What I’d say if I was wrong about climate change.” It’s a very positive piece which celebrates the changes and initiatives that have taken place in response to climate change, pointing out that these things would still be good even if climate change would turn out to be false.

It also reminds me of a comment I left in a post here over a year ago debating the validity of the claims of climate change, where I said the following:

[Apart from the debate over the truth or falsity of climate change,] I would still come to the conclusion that we need to fundamentally change our living arrangements, for reasons of morality and justice. Our part of the world is, by and large, exploiting the rest of the world in order to maintain its opulent standard of living. I believe in a God who in Jesus has called us to lives of radical love for others, which it seems does not include a life marked by conspicuous over-consumption at my neighbor’s expense.

It just so happens that this is the kind of life-style that will bring about a change in global warming, if it is occurring. I am convinced that it is. But more importantly, I am convinced that, as always, following the way of Jesus is the best way within this world.

One of the interesting things about all of this is that it reveals the need to think more deeply in the areas of ethics and justice; to move beyond a merely consequentialist conception of ethics to… well, I’m not quite sure, to tell the truth. We live in a society that is used to thinking in terms of cause and effect, and it’s difficult to think otherwise.

As a Christian who has heard enough smatterings of Hauerwas, I do think that ethics is always already theological, and I think we should be honest about this fact and work out our ethics in coversation with the stories and traditions that tell us who we are. For Christians, this includes our belief that love (agape) will have the last word in history. Out of this story, I can only say that the activities of greed and consumption at the expense of my neighbors in the world are to be deplored, whether or not they are producing climate change.