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  • David Skewes

CLIMATE CHANGE: A Letter Expressing Concern

"We have not a hope in hell of preventing runaway global warming." So say the prophets of climate doom. Emotionally, I sit uncomfortably with this assessment. Yet where is the evidence to the contrary? Optimism seems to be an illogical response in the face of the consolidating scientific evidence. It is hoped that the December 2015 climate-change talks in Paris will bring both focus to the climate change issue and swift concrete actions. Yet I suspect that the talks will generate a mix of motherhood statements and abstract promises that will only give cover for further procrastination. I hope that I am wrong. Apparently, any agreement at the Paris talks will not be legally binding.

We could remind ourselves of one example of procrastination. If my understanding is correct, the authorities in China have planned that China's CO2 emissions will continue their rise for the next twenty years or more...to support China's economic growth and vast infrastructure needs...although with some slowing of the rate of increase of that emissions output. And China’s faith in the proposed, so-called 'clean coal' through ‘carbon capture’ is misguided. Filters will capture much of the carbon emissions. The collected CO2 emissions will then be liquefied. But the question as to where they will be stored is yet to be solved. It has been suggested that they may be stored at the bottom of deep oceans! (Incidentally, most Chinese authorities seem to be more concerned about reducing their levels of pollution than about worldwide climate change.) China is by no means the only culprit. The leaders of many countries have displayed a raft of procrastination skills.[1]

Tony Eggleton and Brian Philips made a splendid contribution to the ongoing discourse about climate change in a forum held at Pilgrim Uniting Church, Adelaide, on 4th September 2015. There are many other forums of similar merit being held around the country. The question of course is to know what the concerned rank-and-file citizen can do about the problem. Writing to politicians, although necessary, seems to have doubtful efficacy. Most politicians are bound by their Party lines and these lines are usually narrowly and ideologically scripted. Neither of the major parties seriously critiques the capitalistic paradigm...capitalism as an economic system is a major contributor to the climate change problem. Worldwide, there is an urgent need to explore alternative, more environmentally friendly, monetary systems.

In general terms I have been following the climate change debate since about 1970! Unfortunately, I now hold only a faint hope that humanity will be able to prevent hurrying increases in global temperatures. It seems to me that, according to the current research and projections, we are presently tracking for about a 4.5°C degree increase in global warming by the end of the century. It would appear that it is not an issue only of inadequate social and political will. Worldwide commerce is driven and contoured by rapacious capitalism (shareholder and speculation 'free' markets, as distinct from supply-and-demand free enterprise). Effectively there is presently no alternative potent economic model. Many of the world's corporate and political leaders, across disparate nations, are blinkered by the free-market ideology and are consequently committed to a financial system that stands shakily on an expanding and intractable pyramid of debt as a 'growth' model. This monetary model, process and experience are all that many leaders know, and as such they cannot conceive of any other system. And sadly many politicians are obliged to defend their own immediate regional or national self-interests, economic and political. So the challenges of global warming, and of the environment generally, are constantly confined to the 'do later' agenda.

Moreover, it also seems to me that even where there is an inchoate acceptance of the threats of climate change by governments and big corporations, 'business' will largely continue as usual because many of us in Western counties popularly inhabit a mental life-field which is saturated by material comforts and complacency. For security, most of us in the West cling to our excessive consumer habits and familiar related life styles. For most of us only a deep experiential upheaval will translate into lasting behavioural changes, and open a way for an existentialist revisiting of ourselves and our framing values. And of course, constantly compounding matters on the world arena is the fact that political leaders remain massively distracted by issues such as global financial upheavals, terrorism, and migrations of displaced people.

Perhaps, in respect to our climate crisis, three long transformative journeys of hope may be possible. These are:

1) The nuclear energy option. 2) Our exploration of possible alternative models of economics, together with our re-visioning the nature and purpose of money. 3) The incremental re-education of personal and collective experience through alternative schooling.

Regarding the first possible journey, nuclear energy as a provider of cheap, clean, and abundant energy could be a false messiah. Even the proposed new types of fast-breeder fission reactors would still produce a small quantity of residual waste. It is necessary that waste from current reactors be stored and secured inter-generationally for near geological timescales. And the concrete and other material components that would serve as holding structures to secure the waste would most probably decay within a relatively short time. It has been proposed that, as an alternative to concrete, SYN-roc, a ceramic material, could be used to store waste. This material could remain intact for thousands of years.

Some classes of the proposed new-breeder reactors could have a passive capacity for self-regulation, that is, they would auto-shutdown if a systems failure were to occur. Also positively, the waste generated by fast-breeder reactors would complete its decay cycle within about three hundred years (instead of about a hundred thousand years which is apparently the case for waste from existing nuclear systems). However, fast-breeder reactors would have to be cooled by metal sodium. This material poses its own environmental risks.

The world would require about one thousand safe fast-breeder reactors in the next few years spread across many countries, some of which are presently politically unstable! In respect to the protection and maintenance of nuclear-energy plants, humanity would require good, stable, worldwide governance forevermore.

The climate change issue is pressing upon us. It is unlikely that there would be feasible fast-reactor technologies (including those with almost zero leakage into the environment) available to humanity for at least twenty years. Fusion reactors are on the horizon, although presently only on the edge of probability (e.g., single pulse systems, as have been demonstrated in California). Moreover, focussing on the nuclear energy option as the main solution to our climate woes could slow our embrace of green renewable technologies, technologies that eventually may be able to supply most of the world’s energy needs. Saline storage systems are now available to store energy derived from solar, wind, etc. technologies, in a way that is stable while also permitting the stored energy to be accessible on demand.

Regarding the second possible journey, alternative economic models could be examined. For example, Rudolf Steiner's 'Threefold Commonwealth' (sometimes called 'The Threefold Social Order' is worthy of a serious review. More specifically, the present work of Otto Scharmer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ('U' Lab, tri-sectoring) requires our keen consideration. Relatedly, the thesis in the book, 'Six Capitals' put forward by Jane Gleeson-White is worthy of our earnest attention. This thesis suggests a way to humanise economic processes while also giving due respect to the natural environment.

Regarding the third possible journey, on the educational front (schools) much could be done to prepare students to be advocates for the environment and its healing. This could be done...but unfortunately is unlikely to be done in the near future… through students being encouraged to develop a full and fluid imaginative capacity. To do this... and this approach may appear controversial to many educators and academics...the whole schooling experience requires permeation by the arts. Every subject, especially those which are presented to students in the lower school, requires to be taught through the medium of arts, including, for example, the employment of narrative, myth, drama, music, dance, and crafts. All the arts could play a significant role. Even subjects such as mathematics and physics could find positive and effective presentation through the arts. I leave this for the reader to ponder. It would require an essay to give a full account of this pedagogical approach but, suffice to say, I have employed the arts in this way in my own teaching experience with some success over many years.

Regarding the schooling process the nub of my meaning is this. What is required is that we begin to see the Earth through ripened imaginative faculties, and that we envision the Earth as far more than a composite of natural systems, in other words, that we come to see the Earth as akin to a living organism. This requires the capacity to think metaphorically and parabolically (in parables)...with a trained Imaginative logic. An education process that is steeped in the arts will best facilitate the development of such a cognitive capacity. And such an educational process engages the limbic system which promotes a felt, relational knowledge of things.

To my contemplations much of our failure to meet adequately the challenges of climate change, and indeed many of the other pressing challenges that confront humanity, is due to a deficit in imaginative cognition. We need to learn to 'imaginate'. Not wishing at all to be perversely provocative, we could even go as far as to say that that our normative scholarly paradigms predispose us to a kind of illness in thinking. Undoubtedly, some readers will respond to such a statement with confusion or outrage. These possible responses are somewhat understandable because, sadly, most of us are the products of standard schooling and hence have been contoured mentally by its procedures. We are loyal to the cognitive and experiential patternings derived from our schooling because they have become part of who and what we are. There is no space to elaborate much on this theme in this letter. However, in general, current 'education', so called, is more concerned about narrow intellectual tracks, certification, and accreditation for the job search than for the acquiring of a truly comprehensive, humanistic and life imbuing education. Education proper ought to be more than the training of students to be economically useful. Rather, it ought to engage students in a broad vision of life. Of course schools and their advocates give lip service to this ideal but despite the splendid efforts of many teachers, the teaching methodology, together with a disjointed curriculum, militates against this achievement. (Even as a training for employment it does poorly but passes itself as proficient because it possesses no alternative paradigm and can envision no other.)

I have laboured this schooling theme somewhat because I believe that the miseducation of our minds, experiences, and indeed of our souls, is a major factor in our present woes...psychological and societal, as well as environmental. It is of limited value to fiddle and refine a school system that is distancing us from our essential selves.

As always, in regards to the climate-change issue, time is our enemy. After about fifty years or so of procrastination, indifference and political ineptitude in disrespect to the climate change challenges, humanity finds itself at a crossroad. However, we do not give up. As part of our constructive response to what now looms as inevitable climate change is our attempt to mitigate it while planning for a human future which will find itself on a much warmer Earth and one compromised by enormous weather instabilities.

According to some climate scientists, the Earth is already half way to its warming limit (article in New Scientist, August 2015.) The slowdown in warming, since about 1998, was a hiatus due in part to the heat absorbing Decadal Oscillation in the North Pacific. This process has now begun to reverse. Heat is now being released.

It is not realised generally that ice melting on and around Greenland, together with Antarctica meltings, will most likely cause an eventual global sea level rise of several metres. This will probably occur even within a 2°C increase in net global temperatures (oceans and atmosphere). This sea level rise will probably result in a forced migration of peoples and species, cultural dislocations, economic and political upheavals, and conflicts over territory, food, and water. And surprisingly, perhaps even more challenging for the planet’s life domain will be the demise of algae that clings to the bottom of sea ice. This algae is a first primary source in the oceanic food chain.

Even more disturbing for the Earth and Humanity could be the disruption to the ratio of fresh and saline waters around Antarctica. This disruption would also slow, if not stop, ocean currents that convey heat from the tropics to the poles, making for huge temperature differentials between these regions. This slowdown would most likely power super-storms. (Such storms could occur even with a 1.5°C net rise in global temperatures.) Indeed, the tropics could become so hot and humid that they would be virtually uninhabitable.

Some of us may consider such bleak scenarios as speculative, improbable, and perhaps even the purposefully misleading conceptual constructions promoted by a devious New World Order. However, the following ought to compel our attention. There is a well-researched, well-documented, threefold layer of evidence that may be grasped pictorially as three lines of alignment. The rise of our use of fossil fuels parallels the rise in CO2 [2]concentrations (as a consequence of emissions i.e. above the base CO2 levels otherwise produced naturally) in our atmosphere[3], which in turn parallels net global temperature rises (since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution). So, clearly, most of the warming since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been humanly induced.

There are about 30,000 land-based heat monitor stations across the world that measure temperature rises in the immediate atmosphere. The graphs that display fossil fuel use and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere demonstrate parallel upwards curves over time since the Industrial Revolution. The graph tracking average global temperatures across the same period shows a similar pattern—despite fluctuations attributed to the influences of variables such as El Nino and La Nina, sunspot cycles, ocean currents, volcanic ash in the atmosphere, and so on. In other words, taking a relatively long view, that is, of about the last 120 years, the pattern of temperature rise (net) is clearly evident. When temperature fluctuations are averaged out, an alignment with the identified upward curves in fossil fuel use and CO2 concentrations is revealed.

We require an immediate, worldwide, international plebiscite on the climate change issue. How could this be implemented? And, when this receives a mandate for action...as it surely would...could world leaders agree on a strategy for concerted action (i.e., shared assessments, choices and responses)? The 'cap and trade' response is an inadequate solution.

Has humanity missed its best proximate future? Do we really care enough? For example, many of us in the Western world continue to take pleasure in holiday air flights...the author of this letter included!

How may people of religious faith respond to this challenge? We could deride, ignore, or dismiss the challenge, or just hope for the best. Or we could accept the now inevitability of climate change and selectively join the dialogue and concrete actions to mitigate its consequences. In this and in all matters we are to imbue ourselves with courage and creative imagination. We are to stand firm in the conviction that God (however we may conceive of God) will remain faithful to humanity in the demanding times immediately ahead.

"Lo, I am with you always, even in your souls, to the close of the earth cycles."

(The words attributed to Christ Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verse 20.)

David Skewes,

21st September, 2015

______________________________________________________________

Notes:

[1] Together with ever weakening aspirations, i.e. prevention → mitigation → adaptation (→ endurance?).

[2] More alarming is the release of methane gas from warming Arctic regions. Methane as a greenhouse gas is 300 times more powerful than CO2. (300 times over the first 10 years of release: 30 times over the first 100 years.)

[3] Before global industrialisation carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was at a level slightly less than 300 parts per million (ppm). After 1940 CO2 began to rise steadily and today is still rising. It will continue to rise even if there were concerted worldwide action to reduce further emissions! (to arrive at 600ppm by late twenty-first century?). Yet sections of humanity seem intent on allowing CO2 emissions to rise for many years to come!

Increases in CO2 concentrations may be calculated by comparing current levels with past levels as discerned from bubbles of atmospheric gases trapped in glacial ice, rates of tree growth, rates of coral growth, and historical weather records.

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