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6th December 2009 | Draft

Sins of Hot Air Emission, Omission, Commission and Promission

the political challenge of responding to global crises

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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"?
Flat-earth mentality?
Great Commission, Great Promission, Great Omission?
Global remission?
-- Achieving remission from systemic disease | Remission of sins | Sins of remission?

Produced on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, 2009)


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:

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 ((Overpopulation 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:

Systematic failure to address such questions leads to a situation in which the capacity to identify alternative strategic possibilities is severely reduced (Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital necessity, 2009).

Reframing the challenge of governance

Various approaches to these questions have been explored in previous exercises focusing on:

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 (From 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 example, 2009).

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 generation', 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 discourse -- 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:

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?

Converging Challenges
alienated relatives destined to meet -- but when?
Converging Challenges: End is Near (Overpopulation) Converging Challenges (Global Warming)
Hidden in the shadows
of collective unconsciousness
Focus of conscious
public concern
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.

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 system", 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).

Given the 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:

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 (Towards 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 land" to 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:

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 Hansen, dealing 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 Guardian, 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:

Again humanity 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".

Flat-earth mentality?

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 Guardian, 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 Undoing, 2008; The Art of Non-Decision-Making, 1997; Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives, 2009; Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge, 2008).

On the same occasion, Ed Miliband, the 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 for millions.

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:

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; All 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, 2009).

Great Commission, Great Promission, Great Omission?

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 Posey, Cultural 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 and together.

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 Guardian, 8 December 2009). This is reminiscent of the mindset that resulted in the Coalition 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 Promission".

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.

Global remission?

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:

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 remedial treatment.

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 Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005; Thomas Homer-Dixon, The 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 distribution "disease" (Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008; Emerging 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 Frank (The Underdevelopment of Development, February 1991):

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 resort.

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 globality (Metaphorical Geometry in Quest of Globality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2009; Existential 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 Maruyama, Polyocular Vision or Subunderstanding, Organization Studies, 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 Particle, with the Large 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, as speculated elsewhere.

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