Letters to the Editor

Fools on a planet of gold


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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Even if we have never been outside the rural village, urban centre or country in which we were born, we will admit that we have been given a beautiful planet on which to live. This is the only one we know and experience. We can appreciate its beauty whether we subscribe to a divine intelligence behind its creation or we think it is a product of some primeval, cosmic bang which evolved over time.

Everything for the sustenance of life and for purposeful living is here. From what we can see there is order governed by natural laws which we have been given the intelligence and moral constitution to understand (such as the law of gravity) and to use to our mutual benefit as people living on it.

But while we admit the beauty of planet Earth we must equally admit to our shame that we have done a poor job in preserving what we have. Because it is the only place we know, common sense should have dictated that we do our best to protect it. Yet, we have polluted its rivers and streams by allowing all kinds of industrial effluent to flow into them. Through the fossil fuel industry and dangerous emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, human activity has been contributing to the gradual warming of the Earth, which has significantly begun to negatively affect global climate. This has resulted in more powerful storms, the melting of ice caps, and dangerous rise of sea levels causing the migration of populations from coastal areas. Scientists warn that if the gradual warming trend continues into the next century life as we know it on this planet will be permanently altered for the worse. A 1.5-degree Celsius warming of the Earth may be liveable with obvious discomforts, but a two degree, or worse a three, will be catastrophic. The tragedy is that once these tipping points are reached they are irreversible as the rising sea levels today attest.

You do not have to be a scientist to know that such reports are harrowing and that something needs to be done now before the ultimate tipping scales are reached. Yet, the most disconcerting aspect of the climate change or global warming debate is a lack of consensus among scientists that human beings are indeed contributing to this phenomenon. The situation is made worse when politicians enter into the debate and believe that they know more than the scientists.

Perhaps the greatest danger that we face is that the issue has been politicised along ideological lines, especially in a country such as the United States, which the world depends on for rational approaches to the debate. There is clear disingenuity, especially on the part of Republican politicians, to even admit that global warming is taking place or to assign any responsibility to human beings. Some of the most trite, and frankly idiotic statements about the subject emanate from that camp. They would not even grudgingly admit that the burning of fossil fuels does promote a depletion of the delicate ozone layer which filters the sun's dangerous rays to Earth.

They would rather see the lives of their grandchildren upended before allowing their thirst for power to be threatened. Thus they have to support their donors, who are to a great extent the titans of the geriatric titans of the fossil industry. Of course, such idiocy has been popularised by the Republican president in office, Donald Trump, and concretised in his withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord.

One does not want to clutter the already packed agenda of millennials, but one would urge them to come to recognise the need to be particularly vigilant about climate change. Frankly, those who have just about 25 years left to live are not going to be too absorbed about the issue unless they are imbued with a moral conscience which will force them into advocating for change. In the next 50 years they are the ones who will have to live the folly of the present generation when we have longer, if not permanent, summers. They must challenge the fossil fuel industry and engage their political representatives to commit to clean and alternate energy sources.

People of faith, at least the Christian faith, subscribe to the creation of the Earth and the responsibility that has been given to human beings to have dominion over it and to govern it in ways that it can be replenished and its resources and have its benefits multiplied for the mutual satisfaction of all on the planet. The closest we may come to a theology of climate change is the recognition of human responsibility in not allowing arbitrary action on the part of man to degrade and destroy the fragile eco-systems that preserve life.

On another level, this is about regard for the neighbour. I know this sounds airy-fairy to some people, but what it does mean is that, as neighbours on this planet, I do not get to dump my garbage on my neighbour's lawn, chop down a hillside to burn coal, throw scandal bags in gullies which eventually pollute and clog up our streams and rivers, and so on. Climate change is a test of our concern for our neighbour whether next-door or living in the Amazon.

We work for the preservation of the environment not because we wish to, but because we must. If we do not, especially in the face of compelling evidence as to why we should, then we are living like fools on a planet of gold.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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