6th December 2009
Sins of Hot Air Emission, Omission, Commission and
the political challenge of responding to global crises
- / -
Hot air omissions
Questions regarding omissions from strategic consideration
Reframing the challenge of governance
Identification of missing factors
Overpopulation as a key missing factor in climate change discourse
Questionable framing of population issues in relation to climate change
Sins of emission, omission and commission?
-- Sins of emission
| Sins of omission
| Sins of commission
Sins of "promission"?
Great Commission, Great Promission, Great Omission?
-- Achieving remission from systemic disease
of sins | Sins of remission?
Produced on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen,
Politically the issue of global warming, culminating in the United
Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, 2009), is essentially
focused on emissions engendering hot air. It has become increasingly obvious
however that what is significant to the political response is what is omitted
in framing the challenge. Rather than hot air emissions,
in political discourse it is now a question of hot air omissions.
What factors are deliberately ignored in debate regarding the challenge?
Is there a danger of groupthink -- as in the response to weapons of mass
destruction and the associated intelligence failure?
The issue of global warming is increasingly dividing the world into "believers"
and "sceptics" in a manner reminiscent of the division into religious
believers and unbelievers. Even climate change scientists are now labelled
as believers or sceptics with regard to an issue framed by some as the greatest
challenge currently facing humanity and civilization as it is known. Failure
to agree with the global consensus as framed is held to be a betrayal of
that cause -- but as yet to be criminalized.
This is however
also true of the considered response to other global issues, variously claimed
as vital to the future of humanity and the planet.
The concern here is with what might be termed the "politics of omission"
in the face of urgent issues of global governance -- as exemplified by the
UN Climate Change Conference. The question is to what extent "climate change"
will prove to be another example of this pattern.
Hot air omissions
At the time of writing, a number of dramatic global crises are the the
focus of debate within the international community. Each raises issues regarding
what may have been omitted in political presentations of the problem. Examples
include, in no particular order:
- Fresh water shortage: On the
initiative of the World
Political Forum, the Copenhagen Conference is being challenged to take
account of fresh water. The challenge is formulated as follows:
- Excluding water problems as such from the negotiations of the
UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) has
been a serious historic error on the scientific, politic and social
level. The same holds true for the exclusion of biodiversity. (Riccardo
Petrella, The Water
Challenge to Copenhagen, 2009)
- Bonus culture in the financial community: Concern
remains regarding the challenge of regulating the financial community to
avoid future crises of economic destabilization (European
Union agrees super-regulator to head off financial crises, The
Guardian, 2 December
2009). Various proposals are currently made to alleviate the problematic
consequences of the bonus culture considered to have been a factor in engendering
the crisis through a pattern of ill-considered risk-taking (Bankers
told: join the real world on pay, The Guardian, 3 December
urges banks to show 'restraint' on pay, The
3 December 2009).
The principal justification advanced by interested parties
for sustaining the bonus culture is that failure to do so would result
in loss of skilled expertise essential to generating revenue in
a highly competitive financial market. This argument fails to clarify to
which unregulated institutions people with such skills would
transfer if bonuses were not supplied, and why (given the recent controls
over tax havens) such
environments should not also be regulated to prevent a future crisis.
It also fails to clarify why others with adequate skills are not available,
especially since it was those receiving the bonuses whose incompetence
has been rewarded for engendering the financial crisis and whose institutions
have had to be bailed out with taxpayer funds.
This preoccupation is of course in the aftermath of a period in which few
politicians or economists expressed any reservations regarding the financial
derivatives, later demonstrated to be toxic, or the mis-selling whereby
the gullible were persuaded to acquire mortgages they could not afford.
On the contrary, as a feature of the culture of financial globalization
promoted through the World Economic Forum and other bodies, these processes
were specifically praised through what can only be described as hot air
Given his formal regulatory role in the UK Government,
what level of omission characterized the speech of Gordon
Brown on 20 June 2007, as quoted
by Will Hutton (High
Stakes, Low Finance, The Guardian, 2 May 2009):
This is an era that history will record as a new golden age for the
City of London," Brown intoned. "I want to thank all of you for what
you are achieving." Just weeks later the financial catastrophe burst,
creating the "great recession" and leaving the UK taxpayer with a one-sided
exposure of £1.3 trillion in loans, investments, cash injections
and guarantees to the banking system, of which over £100bn may
be lost for ever. Brown went on to hymn the City's "creativity and
ingenuity" that had enabled it to become a new world leader. In language
so purple it could make a cardinal blush, he praised London's invention
of "the most modern instruments of finance" -- the very instruments
that were to bring it and the western banking system down.
- Nuclear programme of Iran: Intense negotiations continue
within the international community with regard to the nuclear programme
of Iran and its failure to respect international resolutions on the matter.
Curiously mention is rarely, if ever, made regarding the undeclared and
uninspected nuclear arsenal of Israel. However,
for the first time in 18 years, a 150-nation resolution overrode western
objections to such criticism in 2009 (Israeli
nuclear capabilities: Resolution adopted on 18 September 2009 during the
tenth plenary meeting, IAEA, General Conference, 2009; IAEA
conference criticizes Israel's nuclear program, The Washington
Times, 19 September 2009; U.N.
body urges Israel to allow nuclear inspections, Reuters,
18 September 2009.
question is why western nations are so focused on the principles from which
they criticize Iran and so reticent to apply the same principles to Israel.
Commentary on this matter is rare, notably in western media (If
Israel can ignore the IAEA, why should anyone else listen? The
Daily Star, 2009).
- Corruption undermining democracy in Afghanistan: Much
has been made of the corruption undermining the legitimacy of the elections
in Afghanistan and of the resulting government. Corruption has been a major
consideration in envisaging the strategy of future military action in Afghanistan,
most notably by the USA and NATO. Curiously however little weight is
attached to criticism of democratic processes in western countries and
to the extent of corruption
and its impact on democracy (even within EU decision-making processes).
This is currently evident in the European Union
where promised referendums have been denied to various countries, where
Ireland has been called upon to vote a second time on an issue ("to
get it right"), and where the "President of Europe" has
been "elected" through
a process widely held to be non-transparent and following an interview
by the Bilderberg
Group (Robert Bridge, Bilderberger
and closed-door meetings: European Union gets medieval with ultra-secret
Global Research, 19 November 19, 2009). The group has been
described as a 'shadowy global freemasonry of politicians
and bankers who meet to discuss world affairs in the strictest privacy,
spawning innumerable conspiracy theories' (Ian Traynor, Who
speaks for Europe? Criticism of 'shambolic' process to fill key jobs, The
Guardian, 17 November 2009). Traynor indicates that immediately prior
to his "election" the candidate "attended the Bilderberg
session to audition for the European job". Curiously the initiator
of that group, Joseph
Retinger, was also the initiator of the EU (The
EU: Fathered by Bilderberg-Capitalism, Euro-Med, 3 August
It is appropriate to recall the accusations of corruption which resulted
in the resignation
of the European Commission in 1999.
- Complicity in torture: Debate continues within
European countries, the USA and Canada, regarding past use of "torture"
-- or complicity in torture through knowingly benefitting from its use,
or through casting a blind eye on processes of rendition involving their
sovereign air space. The
debate has been characterized over the past years by a systematic pattern
of official denial. It is only very recently that evidence has emerged
confirming a degree of complicity, questioning the veracity of the
responsible services and politicians.
Such complicity makes it extremely difficult for
such western countries to claim that they do not engage systematically
in torture when convenient -- however "torture" is reframed to
distinguish it from forms claimed to be reprehensible in condemnation of
the practices in other societies. How
do western governments prove that they do not regularly make use of such
practices when there is an array of evidence to the contrary?
- Arms trade: It remains curious that the 5 permanent
members of the UN Security Council (marked P, in the following), should
be amongst the top 11 arms exporters as indicated by the Stockholm International
Peace Research Institute: USA
(P), Russia (P), Germany, France (P), Ukraine, Netherlands, UK (P), Israel,
Italy, South Korea, China (P) (see
Wikipedia list of World's
largest arms exporters). It is perhaps also curious that those
having the World's
largest defence budgets are: USA (P), China (P), France (P),
UK (P), Russia (P).
Clearly any political discourse regarding the desirability
of disarmament, nuclear or otherwise, is severely undermined. No mention
is made of the unique opportunity Afghanistan represents to test new weapons
on a worthy opponent and to train personnel in their use on live targets
cultivating a culture of terror in democratic societies to ensure support
for such policies (in anticipation of any need to deal with internal unrest).
In relation to "hot air omission", there is an irony to the use there of thermobaric
weapons and Hellfire missiles.
Symptomatic of the political discourse is the widely publicized commemoration
of the individuals killed in the execution of such policies -- with no
indication of the number or degree of innocence of those they had previously
killed and the consequences for their families.
- Abuse by clergy: Revelations regarding sexual and
others forms of abuse by clergy, previously upheld (through what might
be said to be hot air, with the threat of hellfire) as providers of the
most trustworthy guidance to the faithful in many communities, have been
especially harmful to people of religious faith. The significant omissions
have taken the form of avoidance and cover-up of the issue within religious
hierarchies and their framing of it in terms of isolated cases. A 2,600
page report of a 9-year inquiry (Towards
Redress and Recovery: The Ryan Report, 2009; Executive
Summary) notes that thousands of boys and girls were raped and
abused in Catholic schools in Ireland over a periodi of 60 years (Henry
rape and abuse of Irish children in Catholic care, inquiry finds, The
Guardian, 20 May 2009; Madeleine Bunting, An
abuse too far by the Catholic church, The Guardian, 21
May 2009). A second report documents abuse of children
by clergy from 1975 to 2004, highlighting the mannert in which
church and security services colluded to cover up the scandal (Henry
McDonald, Irish church
and police covered up child sex abuse, says report, The
Guardian, 26 November
2009). Perhaps more significant however is the manner in which such reports
are obliged necessarily to focus on the situation in one country (although
the religious orders implicated function worldwide) and to avoid reference
to the implication of the global authority to which the clergy are responsible.
What other factors might be subject to similarly problematic cover-up from
- Existence of evil: Prior to attending the UN Climate
Change Conference, in his acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Peace
Prize, President Barack Obama asserted that: For
make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. He specifically invoked
the concept of "just
war" in order to defeat evil. Whilst the term "evil" is frequently
used in discourse, even in parliamentary discourse, this assertion would
appear formally to recognize greater substance to evil than in its rhetorical
use. Such acceptance raises the question why greater attention is not given
to it in governance itself and in other institutions -- in educational
systems and research centres. Given past difficulty in defining aggression,
terrorism, and torture, where are official efforts made to clarify the
nature of evil? Why have there been no proposals through the United Nations
for international conferences on the matter? Is
it the case, with the degree of commitment to faith-based governance, that
such clarification has been effectively "outsourced" to religious institutions
as in past centuries? However, in a multi-denominational, multi-faith society
it does not appear that such clarification has been forthcoming. More problematic
is the fact that many of those religions convinced of the existence of
evil, and responsible for its identification, have long been characterized
by the extent to which they detect evil in other religions.
The painful debate in relation to climate change focuses on evidence for
the existence of global warming and standards of proof. Seemingly there
is no need for such debate with regsard to evil. It suffices to believe
in the assertion that evil exists -- and to act on that belief (as with
the justification for UK intervention in Iraq, currently the subject of
the Iraq Inquiry). Is there any more solid proof for the
existence of evil than for the existence of al-Qaida? Where is that proof?
Is it the case that proof of the nature and existence of evil has to be
classified as secret for security reasons, as with the proof of the existence
of al-Qaida -- but not with the proof relating to climate change?
The tricky matter is that any faith-based system of governance tends to
perceive and accuse systems of governance based on other faiths as "evil",
typically using descriptors such as "satanic". Demonization is
a characteristic process of propaganda in framing "just war". The problem
is deeper when driven by the dictum: "You're
either with us, or against us" -- with "us" readily confused
with "US" in the USA. It is then used to reframe disagreement
with "us" as necessarily evil, for "we" are necessarily good. Those we
kill because they dissent are then necessarily evil, as with those that
kill us. However, just as the definition of "evil" is elusive, so is the
definition of "good" even though we associate that value with ourselves,
possibly such as to exclude the existence of that quality in others who
disagree with us. More
problematic, otherness in the form of any alternative (perceived as dissenting
from our worldview) then
becomes conflated with evil -- justifying whatever action is taken to eliminate
How are the dynamics to be distinguished from the deprecated practices
of those withdoctors who take any disaster to be evidence of evil -- justifying
their call for unprecedented resources and the savagery of any action taken
with their use? Under such circumstances it is unclear why governance does
not ensure a clarification of the nature of evil rather than cultivating
the impression that any action taken by government or its agents is "by
definition" good. The questionable framing by Obama is examined in
greater detail by Johan Galtung (A
Nobel War Prize Speech by a War President,
Transcend Media Service, 14
- Overestimation of oil reserves: It has been made clear
that oil reserves have been systematically overestimated in the World
Energy Outlook produced
annually by the competent intergovernmental authority, the International
Energy Agency (Terry Macalister,
oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower, The
Guardian, 9 November 2009). This is expected to further
constrain capacity to grow adequate supplies of food (George Monbiot, The
one thing depleting faster than oil is the credibility of those measuring
it, The Guardian, 16 November 2009).
This suggests the
need to ask what other statistics of significance to governance are similarly
"massaged" -- as suggested
in 2003 when the European Commission was faced with allegations regarding
corruption in its statistical agency (Eurostat)
raising the interesting question as to whether vested interests, including
some member states, were involved in massaging real European data into
imaginary forecasts on which policies had then been "authoritatively" based.
- Swine flu: Considerable concern has been expressed regarding
the potentially pandemic proportions of the global outbreak of swine
a new strain of influenza A virus subtype H1N1. A vaccine has been produced
and has been made widely available. Concerns have been widely expressed
about the side-effects of the vaccine itself, the degree of obligation
to be vaccinated, and the fact that many (notably in the medical profession)
refuse to be vaccinated -- if given the choice. Further concerns have been
expressed about the complicity of governments, pharmaceutical companies
and the World Health Organization in engendering a degree of panic response
-- seemingly totally disproportionate in comparison with other causes of
death. Some recall the last swine
flu vaccine panic in 1976, when the vaccine
caused more deaths than the flu itself. Many claims are made about the
false information variously disseminated and the motivation for doing so.
The challenge for government and politicians lies in the extent to which
they are perceived to be complicit in a campaign of misinformation -- a
politics of omission -- and how they can demonstrate otherwise following
the assertions variously made. Of potentially greater significance is the
manner in which handling of swine flu can be seen as a test of public response
to politically-defined urgency in the future, with government placed in
the position of the classic tale of The
Boy Who Cried Wolf (Entangled
Tales of Memetic Disaster: mutual implication of the Emperor and the Little
Boy, 2009). To what extent is climate change to be seen in this
- Unemployment: A major consequence of the financial crisis
of 2008 has been a massive rise in unemployment. It is curious that the
main solution envisaged is one of making available jobs -- even in the
case of those who have acquired the expertise of a Master of Business Administration.
In contrast to "job centres", there is little evidence of initiatives
to facilitate the capacity of individuals (including MBAs) to engender
employment on their own initiative. This is an approach on which many in
developing countries are obliged to depend, as well as the desperate obliged
to sell their bodies or their organs. Engendering employment is not part
of the skill set of any MBA programme and it is unclear where this skill
set is cultivated -- and why the possibility does not figure in political
Quest of a Job vs Engendering Employment, 2009). There is no "Master
of Employment Creation"
These issues are not necessarily closely interlinked, although they are
prominent in the complex of issues which national and global governance
is obliged to address. Aside from extent of hypocrisy and double standards,
frequently raised by non-western countries, they suggest that framing climate
change in terms of "emissions" may well be used as a fig leaf to
disguise other agendas -- including those deemed hazardous to political livelihoods
Debate as a Psychosocial Hazard: development of safety guidelines from handling
other hazardous materials, 2009).
The most obvious candidate agenda is the commercial interest in promoting
geoengineering as a viable Plan B when Copenhagen fails to deliver (Geo-engineering
Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization (GOATS) 2008). Similarly,
the World Summit on Food Security (Rome, 2009), failed to deliver binding
aid commitments, and did not set a target date for the eradication of hunger
currently experienced by 1 billion people. It is to be expected that Plan
B in this insistence will be further genetic modification of foodstuffs,
primarily for the benefit of certain commercial interests and irrespective
of problematic side effects -- as with geoengineering.
Questions regarding omissions from strategic consideration
The questions to which these omissions give rise include:
- why is the systemic interlinkage between
problematic issues not clarified to a greater degree, rather than
presenting each in isolation?
- which issues significant to debate on any one issue are omitted
- how do significant factors get designed out of consideration?
- who is responsible for neglecting significant issues in any supposedly
coherent systemic response?
- when are omitted factors liable to undermine the efficacy of any supposedly
- where is the range of potentially significant factors taken into consideration
- what presentations of information are required to hold the network of
interrelated issues such as to facilitate debate?
Systematic failure to address such questions leads to a situation in which
the capacity to identify alternative strategic possibilities is severely
the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital
Reframing the challenge of governance
Various approaches to these questions have been explored in previous exercises
- credibility of governance:
- remedial capacity:
- group think and intelligence failure:
- unstated factors:
- designing around omission:
- civilizing governance:
Identification of missing factors
Much is made by governments of the vital need for databases and surveillance
for security purposes -- defined in terms of crime and terror. Little attention
is given to the need for corresponding databases on perceived problems and
advocated solutions. There is no "Interpol" for the global problematique
nor for the global resolutique, whatever their importance to global security
ECHELON to NOLEHCE: enabling a strategic conversion to a faith-based global
brain, 2007). In fact political discourse would seem
to apply the "divide and rule" principle to separating those issues
and initiatives which are distinguished into bureaucratic niches and ensuring
the incapacity of those services to process any information that is not within
a narrowly predefined mandate.
The technology of course exists to hold in systematic form the complete
set of challenges of governance -- as previously demonstrated with the
databases of the World
Problems Project and the Global
Strategies Project. The challenge
is to use such facilities, as Wikipedia has demonstrated, to elicit
preoccupations and advocated responses prior to political discourse regarding
what should be included in any strategy of governance (Global
Solutions Wiki, 2009).
Such transparency would increase the credibility
of political discourse in a period when it is increasingly suspect and is
virtually unable to prove it's case for developing a generic methodological
argument to promote the detection of missing factors vital to any appropriate
simulation of the challenges of governance. This was the approach taken in
an earlier experiment (Towards
a Generic Global Issue Statement: evoking an instructive pattern of unquestionable
responses, 2009). That experiment used the controversy of "racism"
as a template for the purpose (Racism
There is a case for applying a similar method to the above-mentioned text
of the World Political Forum (The
Water Challenge to Copenhagen, 2009), using "water" as
a template to highlight the systemic status of a missing factor. The approach
had previously been used with the statement regarding Australia's
Low Pollution Future: Launch of Australian Government's White Paper on the
Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (2008). It was "adapted" through
that process to frame hypothetical arguments for Australia's
Low Population Future: Launch of Australian Government's White Paper on the
Population Reduction Scheme (2008). The point to be made is that
Australia does not have a water shortage problem, rather
it has a water demand problem resulting from excessive exploitation of limited
water resources by unchecked and ever-increasing numbers of people. The same
might be said of the inability elsewhere for populations to live sustainably
within available resources otherwise claimed to be inadequate.
The method could be fruitfully applied to the editorial published "in
56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages" on the occasion of the
first day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen
climate change conference: 'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this
The Guardian, 7 December 2009). Substituting "overpopulation" for "climate
change", an early sentence then reads Unless we
combine to take decisive action, overpopulation will ravage our planet, and
with it our prosperity and security. Of course it also reads well if
one substitutes "water
shortage", "food shortage" or "energy shortage".
However in such cases it is "overpopulation" which trumps them
all. Humanity can adapt resiliently to climate change if there are less people,
but not if there are more -- many of whom are expected to die as a result
of such shortages (as they are already doing).
Overpopulation as a key missing factor in climate change discourse
In what follows it should be stressed that the assertion here is not that
overpopulation is a primary factor in climate change. The assertion
is that the relation of overpopulation to the challenges
of climate change is effectively (if not deliberately) ignored in such
whether or not it is in fact of no significance as some constituencies
argue and believe. As
such this constitutes a primary example of omission in such discourse about
hot air emissions -- effectively rendering political discourse into a process
of hot air omission.
The argument has previously been developed from the following perspectives:
- Overpopulation as exemplifying a controversial
topic for political discourse: There is clearly a case for exploring
the manner in which highly controversial topics are handled, before
endeavouring to engage in such discourse. Faced with incompatible belief
systems, the issue is how, rationally, to hold the variety of perspectives
and concerns, respecting the weight attached to them by different constituencies.
This may be understood as the challenge of the politically "hazardous"
debate between distinct worldviews (Overpopulation
Debate as a Psychosocial Hazard: development of safety guidelines from
handling other hazardous materials, 2009; Guidelines
for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews, 2006).
- Strategic consequences of avoidance of the overpopulation factor:
Whether in the case of climate change or the range of existing and foreseeable
resource constraints, there is a need to discover how avoidance conditions
and determines both political discourse and the viability of strategic
Change and the Elephant in the Living Room, 2008; United
Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference: exploring the underside of climate
- Overpopulation as exemplifying a topic to be designed
around, rather than addressed: Avoidance may well be politically
unavoidable to some degree. The challenge is then how to take account
of it (Institutionalized
Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally
inconvenient truth, 2008). If such is the case, the question is
whether there is some relevant strategic art to be discovered (Lipoproblems:
Developing a Strategy Omitting a Key Problem, 2009).
- Overpopulation as exemplifying a a boundary to effective
action: There is a case for recognizing the manner in which a range
of poorly recognized factors undermine achievement of strategic objectives
and implementation. Overpopulation is indicative of the challenge (Recognizing
the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action: constraints on ensuring
a safe operating space for humanity, 2009)
Questionable framing of population issues in relation to climate change
Curiously, in the days immediately prior to the UN Climate Change Conference
two indications regarding the significance of population growth for climate
change have been published:
Slower population growth... would help build social resilience to climate
change's impacts and would contribute to a reduction of greenhouse-gas
emissions in the future.
However the timing of this unprecedented
acknowledgement ensures that the link cannot be effectively considered
in either the climate change models on which the Copenhagen negotiations
are based or in the months of negotiations preceding the event.
Were the implications of the link too "hot" to handle? (Maria Cheng, UN:
Fight climate change with free condoms, Associated Press, 18 November
2009; Ben Webster, Birth
control: the most effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, TimesOnline,
19 November 2009; (Natasha Gilbert, Curbing
population growth crucial to reducing carbon emissions, Nature,
18 November 2009).
Such considerations can usefully be seen in the context of the decades
subsequent to the interdisciplinary consideration of world dynamics that
gave rise to The
Limits to Growth (1972) study in which the population factor had
been included. Thereafter that systemic approach was successfully marginalized
as irrelevant, if not deprecated, as described by Graham Turner (A
Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality,
CSIRO, 2007). By whom and why?
alienated relatives destined to meet -- but when?
|Hidden in the shadows
of collective unconsciousness
|Focus of conscious
|Brothers differently engendered
by the unmentionable "other end"?
Sins of emission, omission and commission?
As noted above, calls to subscribe to the global climate change consensus
are now framed in religious terms with its "believers" and "sceptics" --
and even with what what might be recognized as religious hysteria.
Michael Crichton (Environmentalism
as Religion, Commonwealth Club,
San Francisco, 15
September 2003) argued that:
Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice
for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the
beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact
a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs
and myths. There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity
with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result
of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there
is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed
to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability.
is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is
its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the
right beliefs, imbibe. Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming
doomsday -- these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly
conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all
I know....Increasingly it seems facts aren't
necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief.
It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you
are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side
of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.
As a "belief
climate change science is effectively trapped in the pattern of which science
had previously accused religion -- with the huge irony that appeals are now
being made on behalf of science to religion (Suzanne Goldenberg, Al
Gore's Inconvenient Truth sequel stresses spiritual argument on climate, The
Guardian. 2 November 2009). Such an emphasis on faith is of course consistent
with the faith-based governance variously promoted by the Abrahamic religions
(Future Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003).
current influence of faith-based governance and the classic distinction between
sins of omission and sins of commission, this suggests the value of using
such language to distinguish between:
- Sins of emission: These are of course
the primary preoccupation of the campaign against climate change -- as
brought to a focus in the UN Climate Change Conference. Should this then
be understood as analogous to a Parliament
of the World's Religions in its effort to formulate a Global
on emissions by different countries and industries are used to
distinguish the greatest "environmental sinners" (Chuck Colson, Environmental
Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God, OrthodoxNet.com
Blog, 17 September 2009). The USA
is typically cited with such terms, as with coal burning. So understood,
these are fruitfully framed as sins of commission (The
Catholic Church has confessed it is one of the biggest carbon emission
sinners in Australia, The Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2009).
summarized by Nathalie Rothschild ('We
need a supernatural being to punish eco-sinners', Spiked,
8 September 2009), the atheist president of the British Science
May, has suggested that:
-- 'religion had historically played a major role in policing social
behaviour through the notion of a supernatural 'enforcer',
a system that could help unify communities to tackle environmental challenges' (Leading
scientist calls on religious leaders to tackle climate change, Guardian,
7 September 2009)
-- 'religion may have helped protect human society from itself in
the past and it may be needed again...A supernatural punisher
may be part of the solution' (Maybe
religion is the answer claims atheist scientist, Telegraph,
7 September 2009)
-- 'punishment was much more effective if it came from 'some
all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful deity that controls the world',
rather than from an individual person' (Fundamentalism
will damage society, says top scientist, Independent, 7 September
It is of course also useful to understand "emissions" metaphorically as
the emission of hot air by politicians and others. Many have used
this metaphor in relation to global summitry, as previously discussed (Conversion
of Global Hot Air Emissions to Music Aesthetic transformation and instrumentalization
of vaporware, 2009; Globallooning
-- Strategic Inflation of Expectations and Inconsequential Drift,
Especially problematic are various forms of spin and disinformation (Credibility
Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering, 2008), notably as highlighted
by Barbara Ehrenreich (Bright-Sided:
how the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America,
2009; see review).
Much has been made, and will be made, of the emission
of e-mails between climate change researchers and whether this is indicative
of any "massaging" of data to reinforce the desired consensus.
This could be construed as a sin of emission reminiscent of the "dodgy
to confirm the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There are
already echoes of the slogan "If you are not
with us, you are against us".
Whether or not data massaging took place, the incident has been, and will
be, used by political sceptics to undermine the evidence for global warming.
Disinformation is another sin of emission.
With respect to the population factor, there is considerable irony in the
fact that this is appropriately understood to be engendered by carbon
"emissions" of another kind. Such emissions may also be appropriately
said to engender exponentially increasing quantities of waste -- emissions
beyond the absorptive capacity of the environment. More generally it may
then be said that humanity is indeed faced with an "emissions
those emissions are to be distinguished.
- Sins of omission: According to Catholicism
an omission is
a failure to do something one can and ought to do -- doing good. In considering
the challenge of climate change and how to act in response to it, this
would appear to apply to the omission of factors such as water, biodiversity,
and population. If such omission happens advertently and freely, it is
considered a sin. Any understanding of sinful omission is especially relevant
to the role of religion and faith-based governance in promoting unchecked
population growth, regardless of its consequences (Root
Irresponsibility for Major World Problems: the unexamined role of Abrahamic
faiths in sustaining unrestrained population growth, 2007).
For Catholicism the degree of guilt incurred
by an omission is measured like that attaching to sins of commission, by
the dignity of the virtue and the magnitude of the precept to which the
omission is opposed as well as the amount of deliberation -- or "premeditation".
Presumably factors such as population were indeed omitted "advertently
by the scientific communities concerned -- and to a lesser degree by the
politicians they advised, given the early acknowledgement of such factors
by the Limits to Growth study (as noted above). Using that language,
it is therefore appropriate to speak of a "sin of omission" in
the case of climate change. There is of course the possibility that the
factors were omitted inadvertently -- out of ignorance -- by some scientists
and by some politicians, possibly encouraged by groupthink.
The sins associated with emissions (above) notably include those of omission
but merit analysis in terms of the other sins identified by critical
thinking -- especially in a collective setting (Societal
Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory, 1980; Daniel Schacter, The
Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, 2001).
Of particular interest is the deliberate omission of information -- justified
by the desire to avoid public panic. However, at what point does withholding
information on certain factors constitute a sin of omission? Given the
examples of "hot air omission" cited above, it would appear that humanity
is indeed faced with an "omissions problem", however these are to be distinguished.
In avoiding recognition of this, humanity might indeed be described as
having its "head in the sand".
- Sins of commission: In religion
this is understood as some form of transgression of the will of God or
the gods, as revealed in the moral code laid down by a particular religion
-- effectively an unethical act, or doing evil. Translated into the current
global environmental context, and the challenge of climate change, that
God might be understood by some as Gaia.
The "will" of God would then need to be understood
in terms of the necessary systemic or cybernetic control processes which
sustain the environment -- echoing the sustaining processes of the biblical
Garden of Eden for those of religious persuasion. From that perspective,
it might be said that humankind is now engaged in a second "fall" from
Unfortunately any such edenic metaphor also suggests the possibility that
"climate change" may well be a "fig leaf" to avoid
confronting the "sin of commission" engendering the
challenge of overpopulation. This might be considered implicit in the misdirected
focus on numbers at the UN Climate Change Conference -- 2 "degrees"
through cap-and-trading (although 1 would be better), rather than 2 "children"
per family (although 1 would be better).
religions differ in their understanding of the nature of
sin. Catholicism distinguishes between mortal
sins, potentially resulting
in eternal damnation and venial
sins. In Islam, the unforgivable sin of shirk is
denial that Allah is the only god. Judaism also recognizes national sin,
whereas neither Christianity nor Islam have any sense of collective sin.
All such notions merit consideration in relation to respect for the global
environment as the embodiment of any understanding of omnipresent deity,
if only in the form of Gaia. Early examples of this framing are now evident
(Ruth Gledhill, Priest
offers festival-goers the chance to confess their green sins, The
Times, 30 August
2007). Ulrich Beck (World
Risk Society, 1999) argues that "We are all
Curiously the political world, notably at the international level, is confronted
by a challenge of "commissions" in the form of inducements offered
to decision-makers with respect to major contracts (or in the form of "cash-for-questions"
to parliamentarians offered by lobbyists). Such commissions (as a feature
of "business as usual") are supposedly to be distinguished as more
honourable than the "corruption"
that is currently of such concern in Afghanistan.
The disproportionate presence
of representatives of commercial interests at global conferences, such as
that on climate change, is an indication of the challenges (and opportunities)
faced by policy-makers in reaching any decision. It is extremely difficult
for policy-makers to prove that they have not succumbed to such inducements
-- as in the case of the oil
lobby's promotion of climate change scepticism.
Proposals for a geoengeineering remedy to global warming by interested industries,
enthusiastically supported by eminent sectors of the scientific community,
will be especially suspect in this respect. Such a remedy may well prove
to be the ultimate sin of commission -- as blinkered technological fixes
have previously demonstrated (Geo-engineering
Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization (GOATS), 2008).
Action on climate change is currently framed in terms of the urgency of getting
governments and people to "commit" -- of eliciting "commitment" to
a collective remedial initiative with language reminiscent of the well-worn
patterns of missionary calls for conversion. Unfortunately those sceptical
of the hot air representation of spirituality by the Abrahamic religions
will not readily buy into political agendas borrowing missionary zeal so
questionably -- effectively a sin of commission. Such "atheists" expect
a more existentially challenging formulation before they make a genuine commitment
-- as is the case in interpersonal relationships. As with any marketing pitch,
with which many are necessarily familiar, the urgent sincerity of any pleas
for commitment ring hollow and are tainted by omission -- perhaps to be well-named
as the "Blair Syndrome of Governance" (cf Urgent
Need for Blair as President of Europe: maximizing early collective learning
in anticipation of future crises, 2009).
Again, however, the evident collective incapacity with regard to major projects
(especially on a global scale) makes it appropriate to acknowledge that humanity
has a major "commissions problem" (Recognizing
the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action, 2009).
Given the faith-based framing of climate change, there would appear to be
a case for a functional exploration of any traditional set of seven
deadly sins and the vices leading to such sin in the case of the environment
a Logico-mathematical Formalization of "Sin": fundamental
memetic organization of faith-based governance strategies, 2004).
Politicians of faith have already taken steps in this direction (Nicholas Schoon, Gummer
identifies the seven deadly environmental sins, The Independent,
22 July 1993). Environmental sins of politicians have also been widely recognized
(Katharine Mieszkowski, Bush's
seven deadly environmental sins, Salon, 8 November 2008).
Sins of "promission"?
The term "promission" does not exist in English. The English term "promise"
derives from the French, but the term is only used
in French to refer to the promised
land (La terre de promission)
as originally cited in Genesis 12:7. And yet political discourse
is primarily about the "promised
be reached by pursuing an advocated strategy. Promises are made to electorates
with respect to reaching that desirable place if the political party or politician
is endorsed. An electoral manifesto might then be said to be a document of
promission. With its associations to the "promised land", the
term is clearly consistent with faith-based discourse.
What then might be the
sins of promission? These are unfortunately only too evident in the failure
to fulfil what is promised, as the following indicate:
- broken electoral promises: These are typically a focus
of opposition parties in the light of the electoral commitments of the
party elected. There is however then no equivalent to the breach
of promise with respect
to marriage or the breach
of contract. Much has been made of the breach of commitments in various
European countries to hold referenda on the Lisbon Reform Treaty. As an
electoral commitment, the broken
pledge of George Bush with regard to further taxation was a significant
factor in the 1992 presidential campaign.
- broken pledges to developing countries: Summit meetings
of the G8 and G20 have been widely noted for their broken pledges, especially
to developing countries (Ronald Labonte, Promises
Kept and Broken, Right or Wrong, International Development Research
Center, 2004; G20:
Pledge by pledge, BBC News, 27 September 2009). The issue
has been raised with respect to the recent summit on food security,
to achievement of Millennium
Development Goals and to aid (Richard Owen. World
leaders at UN summit vow to aid farmers in bid to help starving [though
past record of assistance has been dismal, Times
Online, 16 November
2009; Thalif Deen, Development:
broken aid promises dim hopes for MDGs, IPS
News, 6 December 2009; Nigel Morris, Britain's
'broken pledges on aid costs poorest nations £9.5bn, The
Independent, 29 July 2004).
- broken commitments on human rights: Amnesty International, Broken
Commitments to Human Rights (1 May 1995, EUR/39/01/95). The biblical
notion of the promised land continues to be fundamental to the claim of precedence
by Jews on lands settled by Palestinians.
The Puritans who disembarked in Massachusetts in 1620 believed they were
establishing the New Israel. Indeed, the whole colonial enterprise was
believed to have been guided by God; promised land imagery
figured prominently in shaping English colonial thought with
pilgrims identifying themselves with the ancient Hebrews. The New World
was seen as the New Canaan -- justifying the claims of precedence over
the indigenous peoples (Roy H. May, Jr., Manifest
Destiny: America the New Israel, 1997; F. B. Meyer, Joshua:
and the Land of Promise 1893). November
2009 witnessed the promise of Barack Obama to put an end to the US government's
200-year history of neglect and broken promises (many enshrined in treaties)
towards the Indian tribes of the USA. The pattern has been repeated in
South Africa and Tasmania.
- breaching the social safety net: Under conditions of
national financial constraint, safety
nets in the form of long-standing
social security commitments (including pensions and health care) may well
be set aside or otherwise rendered ineffective (Brink Lindsey, Social
Insecurity, Cato Institute,
the Safety Net: the harsh impact of social security penalties,
Australian Council of Social Service, 2001).
- broken commitments on affordable housing: The
mis-selling to hundreds of thousands of people of high-risk
mortgage loans, through questionable lending/borrowing practices,
was enabled by promises for affordable housing. This led to the subprime
mortage crisis and triggered the financial crisis of 2008. Approximately
80% of U.S. mortgages issued in recent years to subprime borrowers were
adjustable-rate mortgages. The process resulted in multiple foreclosures
and repossessions, rendering unprecedented numbers homeless.
Such sins of promission are of great relevance with the official
indication in November 2009 that there is little chance of a "legally
binding agreement" emerging
from the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Emphasis has
been switched to the possibility of a "politically
binding agreement". Commenting upon this, Lumumba D-Aping, chair of the G77
group of developing countries, noted: Tell me of any politician who delivers
a politically binding agreement. The chief negotiator for the EU indicated: It
is a Catch-22 situation. People are waiting for each other so it is difficult
to blame anyone. Such an agreement might be said to be only of value
for public relations purposes -- as with any electoral promise.
In endeavouring to identify sins of promission a case could be made for
including inappropriate "compromise". As argued by James
with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world
of elected politics
(Suzanne Goldenberg, World's
leading climate change expert says summit talks so flawed that deal would
be a disaster, The
2 December 2009). In Hansen's view:
This is analagous to the issue
of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston
Churchill...On those kind of issues you cannot compromise.
You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce
it 50% or reduce it 40%.
Any dysfunctional political compromise between the parties with incompatible
views on climate change might also be explored in the light of the:
Compromise (Italian: "compromesso storico")
most commonly refers to the "accommodation" between the Italian Christian
Democrats (DC) and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in the 1970s, after
the latter embraced eurocommunism under Enrico Berlinguer. The 1978 assassination
of DC leader Aldo Moro put an end to it.
- Belgian Compromise:
The possibility of an agreement might be sought in
the light of an analysis in the Principia
Cybernetica regarding this special Belgian approach to problem
solving (now of greater relevance given the nationality of the new President
of Europe, a practitioner of that art). Typical solutions derived in this
way are such that complex issues are settled by conceding something to
every party concerned, through an agreement that is usually so complicated
that nobody completely understands all its implications.
might be said to be faced more generally with a major "promissions
problem" however its various forms are to be distinguished.
In one sense humanity might be understood to be fundamentally "compromised".
In the days immediately preceding the Copenhagen summit, an extraordinary
mix of metaphors and imagery seems to have emerged -- triggered by almost
religious schism between the climate change believers and the sceptics (reinforced
in their convictions by the e-mail scandal). The front page headline in
The Guardian highlighted the chorus of condemnation against "flat-earth"
climate change sceptics (Damian Carrington and Suzanne Goldenberg, Gordon
Brown attacks 'flat-earth' climate change sceptics, The
4 December 2009). With only days to go before Copenhagen
we mustn't be distracted by the behind-the-times, anti-science,
flat-earth climate sceptics, Brown
told the Guardian. We know the science. We know what
we must do. We must now act and close the 5bn-tonne gap. That will
seal the deal.
Presumably Brown is referring specifically to the science
of climate change -- failing thereby to take account of the other sciences
that might claim to understand other facets of the challenge. On the other
hand he may be referring there to the "science of ignoring", well-known
in political circles (cf Unknown
The Art of Non-Decision-Making,
the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives, 2009; Institutionalized
Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge, 2008).
On the same occasion, Ed
UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, described the sceptics
as "dangerous and deceitful". He declared:
The approach of the climate saboteurs is to misuse data and mislead people.
The sceptics are playing politics with science in a dangerous and deceitful
manner. There is no easy way out of tackling climate change despite what
they would have us believe. The evidence is clear and the time we have
to act is short. To abandon this process now would lead to misery and catastrophe
In the event of failure, it will clearly be convenient for the believers
to blame the sceptics for delaying critical decisions by casting doubt over
"the science" at a time when momentum is claimed to be gathering towards
a historic agreement. This has of course been the pattern in religious
discourse down the centuries.
The language of mutual accusation is remarkably reminiscent of religious
discourse at the time of any schism. The believers are notable in their self-righteousness
with no sense of doubt concerning the merits of their cause. Unfortunately
for Gordon Brown, he was equally lacking in doubt with regard to the global
financial system prior to the recent crash -- as noted earlier. He might
then have also declared: We know the science. Who
might he then have accused of having a "flat-earth mentality" in
offering his praise for London's invention of "the
most modern instruments of finance" --
the very instruments
that were to bring it and the western banking system down?
Use of the "flat earth" metaphor in relation to the current global condition
has been much confused by the work of Thomas
L Friedman (The
World Is Flat, 2005). This received the first Financial
Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2005.
The "business as usual" of the globalization agenda was understood there
as intimately associated with a process of "earth flattening" -- a process
presumably corresponding to Gordon Brown's thinking. More relevant
to climate change, Friedman has followed it with Hot,
Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- And How It Can
Renew America (2008).
The metaphor is especially confusing in a context of faith-based governance
-- recalling the obsolete mindset of religions in their tardy recognition
of the discovery of the global form of the world by science. Its
controversial use has been criticized (Irresponsible
Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality-- in response to global governance challenges,
2008; In Quest
of Optimism Beyond the Edge, 2008; Memory Challenges
at the Edge of the World, 2008). The metaphor is however more interesting in helping
to understand the cognitive challenge for believers in relation to emission,
omission, commission and promission:
- emission: A "flat earth" offers the sense that those on it are similarly
upright, necessarily right, and that any alternative orientation is necessarily
wrong. It is the place of groupthink. There are no bounding horizons and
therefore a sense of lack of constraint -- with the implication that those
thinking otherwise would necessarily fall off the edge. (Edward de Bono, I
Am Right-You Are Wrong: from Rock Logic to Water Logic, 1992). There
is little sense of systemic neglect.
- omission: From a "flat earth" perspective,
what is omitted is necessarily "over the horizon" and therefore "out
of sight, out of mind" -- perhaps
even an "underworld". It is necessarily unmentionable (Global
Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid", 2003). There
dwell those of alternative orientation, perhaps appropriately to be described
and deceitful", and possibly "demonic", for their disagreement with
the consensus of the "good". The adherents of the different Abrahamic
religions have this perception of each other -- frequently using labels
such as "satanic" -- inhabiting as they do quite different parts of
a globe whose flatness is an illusion to which they variously subscribe.
- commission: In this case a joint enterprise is promoted
to take its adherents from one place on the "flat earth" to a
place of hope -- an imagined promised land. The commission implies comprehensive,
unquestioning adherence to the enterprise by the community if it is to
be successful. It is an exercise in hope.
- promission: This is the hopeful articulation of life
in a better place. On a "flat earth" it is necessarily distant,
perhaps only to be seen as a mirage. As such it is conducive to betrayal.
Promises made by hope-mongering leaders on the quest may not be fulfilled.
An ultimate battle with unbelievers and sceptics may be necessary to reach
it (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt
response to systemic negligence, 2004).
In the case of Gordon Brown, there is irony in implicitly appealing for
recognition of globality from a flat earth perspective in which everyone
is expected to sing from the "same hymn sheet" -- a mode characteristic
of his Christian religious conditioning as a "son
of the manse". This excludes
the possibility of the polyphony of a richer music appropriate to a change
of climate (A
Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006;
Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic
discord through polyphony? 2007). The mode locks thinking into
oversimplistic geometry inadequate to requisite complexity of any viable
response to global challenges (Metaphorical
Geometry in Quest of Globality -- in response to global governance challenges,
Great Commission, Great Promission,
In his sequel to the documentary An
Inconvenient Truth (2006) Al
Gore has adapted his fact-based message into a book Our
Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (2009). This engages
with the Christian, Muslim and Jewish perspectives (Suzanne Goldenberg, Al
Gore's Inconvenient Truth sequel stresses spiritual argument on climate, The
Guardian. 2 November 2009). It's publication has been timed for impact
at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
In a context of faith-based governance, it is however appropriate to note
the fundamental injunction of the Great
Commission in the Christian tradition
to spread the teachings of Christianity around the world through missionary
work. As a driving commitment it bears comparison with the Aleinu as
the fundamental expression of duty in Judaism and with the commitment
of Islam to extending sharia through jihad.
Through these mutually competitive injunctions each of these Abrahamic
religions stresses an early historical understanding of a global perspective.
In doing so, however, they ignore insights relevant to a
larger global understanding from other cultures, such as those of India,
China or from indigenous peoples (Susantha Goonatilake, Toward
a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999; Darrell
and spiritual values of biodiversity: a complementary contribution to
the Global Biodiversity Assessment, 1999). The question is how
such injunctions can respond to any global challenge, both separately
Of particular interest is the promise implicit in any global commission
responding to a global crisis like climate change -- as framed by its
believers and articulated by such as Al Gore and Gordon Brown. An indications
of this is the confidential "Danish
text" formulated by a secret "circle of commitment" including the
USA and the UK (John Vidal, Copenhagen
climate summit in disarray after 'Danish text' leak, The
8 December 2009). This is reminiscent of the mindset that resulted in the
of the Willing for intervention in Iraq. The promise of the purportedly
crucial agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference might then
be understood as corresponding to a "Great
The concern with respect to any Great Promission, presented to the nations
of the world in this way, is the possibility of a Great Omission from the
Great Commission. What indeed might be omitted -- deliberately or inadvertently
-- from comprehension of the commission and its promise? How
dangerous might be that omission for the fulfillment of any Great Commission?
From any belief perspective, understood in relation to global understanding,
the omission might bear comparison to shirk in
Islam as the most fundamental form of denial. The use of the term in English,
in shirking obligations, is also suggestive.
Achieving remission from systemic disease:
A global crisis, such as global warming, can be understood as a systemic
disease. The planetary environment is faced with a challenge to its health.
This raises the question whether it may be useful to consider how the planet
might recover from such a disease following the treatment implicit in any
Great Commission emerging from the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
A relevant term used to describe such recovery is "remission" as in the
case of cancer and other potentially terminal diseases. Remission is then
to be understood as a period of time when the incidence of global warming
is responding to treatment or is under control. The expression used is "in
remission". There are different types of remission:
- Complete remission would mean that there are no longer
any signs or symptoms of the disease. This could then mean that global
warming had been contained, or that its problematic consequences are still
present to some degree.
- Partial remission is indicative of a condition
when the signs and symptoms of global warming are reduced to some degree,
with a noticeable decrease of sources engendering global warming. (A remedy
for global warming might offer the opportunity for a "Mission
banner, like that of George Bush on 1st May 2003 on the USS
Abraham Lincoln -- with its partial success in Iraq indicated by
an equivalent to the uncontrolled subsequent
suicide bombings there)
A remission in the human body can last anywhere from several weeks to
many years. Complete remission from global warming might then go
on for years and over time be considered as a successful cure. However the
remission may be temporary, with the recurrence of the process of
global warming. Another remission may then be possible with further
Of relevance to any global crisis like climate change, following remedial
treatment, is the degree of extension of the life of civilization thereby
achieved -- in the form in which it is currently known. Also of relevance
is the quality of that life following such treatment. As with "loss
of hair" typical
of chemotherapy, loss of biodiversity may be an only too evident consequence
of the remedial treatment of the globe required by global warming.
Remission from a planetary
disease does not necessarily mean the life of civilization and the planet
has been saved -- avoiding collapse and death (also termed "die-off" in
the case of the planet). The planet may be successfully treated for global
warming -- but environmental systems and civilizations may collapse from
other causes, as noted by several authors (Jared
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005; Thomas
Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization,
2006; Karen A. Cerulo, Never Saw It Coming: cultural
challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006).
Remission of sins: The "sins" of
hot air emission, omission, commission and promission described above might
be fruitfully understood, changing metaphor, as "diseases" characteristic
of an information-based society or a knowledge-based society. They are the
diseases that prevent appropriate engagement with the challenges of the planet
and of global civilization. Fundamentally global civilization may be faced
with a "memetic disease" --
whereas the Roman Empire, as analyzed by Homer-Dixon, was faced with an energy
and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the
development of cures and preventive measures,
Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009).
At least in terms of the Christian perspective of relevance to faith-based
governance, there is the possibility of "remission of sins".
The question is whether and how this fundamental process is meaningful in
respect of the sins described above. Is it appropriate to speak of a remission
of sins with respect to humanity and a global civilization? How does humanity
achieve "forgiveness" for planetary wrongdoing? What form does the necessary
"repentance" need to take for that remission of sins to occur?
The difficulty in a global society, riven by a clash of faith-based
civilizations, is that each faith subscribes to some equivalent of the Latin
phrase central to Christian doctrine, Extra
Ecclesiam nulla salus -- meaning "Outside the Church there
is no salvation", nor any remission of sins. As understood here in relation
to the global environment, this exclusive phrase is unfortunately also characteristic
of any way of knowing -- including the belief systems characteristic of the
many sciences and other disciplines variously held to be relevant or irrelevant
to the challenge of global crisis.
Sins of remission? Curiously there is
a degree of ambiguity relevant to the understanding of remission with respect
to global challenges. The "penance" considered fundamental to any
remission of sins is indicative of acknowledgement and payment of obligations
-- echoed in the process of payment of remittances,
namely the transfer of funds by a foreign worker to a country of origin.
A quantitatively more problematic "sin" of remission is that associated with
the remission of profits by multinational corporations from the developing
countries in which they are active -- as noted in the past by Andre Gunder
Underdevelopment of Development, February
By my calculation, this loss of capital from South to
North has been on the order of US $100 billion per year. The flow was over
US $ 500 billion from 1983 through 1986. $ 200 billion were through debt
service, over $ 100 billion through capital flight, $ 100 billion through
the 40 percent decline in the South's terms of trade, and $ 100 billion
through normal remission of profits and royalty payments. Since then, this
South to North capital flow has been another $400 billion or so.
Arguably, for humanity to achieve remission from its currently diseased
condition, there are obligations in relation to the natural environment
to be acknowledged -- and dues to be paid, if not debts. The extreme public
indebtedness of many countries might even be considered as indicative
of what is due to the planet as a whole.
On the other hand there is a sense of remission of dues, namely when any
such obligations are absolved -- as in the remission of sins. This is currently
most evident in efforts to achieve the forgiveness
of debt in the case of Third
World debt. In theology an indulgence is
the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have
already been forgiven. Is it appropriate
to compare the carbon
emissions trading approaches to climate
change with the
abusive sale of
indulgences -- as "sins of remission"? (Global
Market in Indulgences: extending the carbon trading model to other value-based
challenges, 2007). Should the past failure to forgive the
debt of developing countries, and the recent willingness to forgive the debt
of banking institutions and major corporations, also be considered as "sins
of remission"? In the light of such comparisons, it remains necessarily
unclear how indulgent Gaia will prove to be as the effective lender of last
Global remission: Again it would seem that humanity is
faced by a major "remissions problem". Achieving any form of global remission
therefore calls for a reframing of the cognitive challenge of engaging with
Geometry in Quest of Globality -- in response to global governance challenges,
Embodiment of Externalities: radical cognitive engagement, 2009).
Is there a mysterious potential convergence of Abrahamic and other perspectives
in relation to the global environment -- currently obscured by what can
best be described as "subunderstanding"? (Magoroh
Vision or Subunderstanding, Organization
2004). As a cognitive challenge, is the subtlety of their relationship
mirrored in comprehension of quarks as
the fundamental constituent of matter -- whose nature is only known through
their composite manifestation in hadrons?
Current pursuit of the God
Hadron Collider at CERN,
may not be the waste of resources it would otherwise appear to be -- leading
instead to more fruitful engagement with nonduality and colliding values,