Earth’s climate … and the matter of the human spirit

There is something surreal to the climate epic that is beginning to define the fate of the planet – and the human species with it.

This was portrayed last week in the muted diplomatic exchanges that echoed along the corridors in Yokohama, marking the adoption of the IPCC’s Working Group II’s 5th Assessment Report on the impact of climate change during the 21st century.

That’s the 21st century in the Year of Our Lord – the 21st century of the Christian calendar.  It is, after all, the Christian world that ushered in the emphasis on material growth of the global economy over the past two centuries, including its neo-liberal evolution from classical thought over the past two decades.

It is symptomatic of the climate debate that its impact on human society in the future – the driving force, the dynamics, the outcome – is assessed and expressed almost totally in economic terms.  The rationale for and against short-term mitigation, medium-term adaptation, long-term generational equity, is all expressed in the context of GDP and other monetary indices.

Hardly a thought is given in official circles to the emotional dimension of facing the next generation as it scrambles for the physical security of their children, twenty years from now.

Nor to the psychological effect on humanity of far-reaching climate distortion to the planet we inhabit.

Nor to the existential angst of recognising that we, as a species, are altering the terrestrial habitat we share with all other life-forms, to our collective detriment.

The fate of the climate is, above all else, a consequence of human values – an issue affecting, and being affected by, the human spirit.

The ancient biblical injunction was to go forth and multiply, replenish and subdue the earth, and have dominion over every living thing. The Koran, a millennium later, updated things – depicting humans as vice-regents of Earth with a custodial responsibility. Eastern philosophies draw from human serenity and individual harmony with Nature – from the ancient Tao through to contemporary yogic belief.

Yet independent of our religious roots, modern nation-states of every civilizational hue are generally busy degrading their piece of the planet.

Every civilizational background, that is, except maybe for animism, which preceded all major religions, infusing indigenous peoples with a respect for, and recognition of immanence within, our natural surroundings.

Thus, at Yokohama, the touch of surrealism that seeped through the professional exchange.  See what was discussed.

The UNEP Executive Director stressed that the latest IPCC report would help people understand climate change, informing them on the prospects and risks that lie ahead.  The message needed to be made ‘loud and clear to the world’.  The UNFCCC Executive Secretary said the report shone a light on what the world needs to do to face the climate change challenge with ‘solutions based on sound science’. It would ‘underscore why immediate action is needed’, and would provide a global picture of integrated action across regions.

So much for UN officialdom and science; what of the subjective national perceptions of the impact report?

The perceptions reflected diverse worldviews.  Some delegations urged that the group should take a ‘cosmo-centric’ rather than an anthropocentric approach and include reference to the vulnerability and exposure of Mother Earth.   They argued that Mother Earth was a ‘universal UN concept’. It should therefore be included in the Summary for Policymakers.

But others opposed such reference to ‘Mother Earth’.  An expert suggested that the existing reference to ‘impacts on interlinked human and natural systems’ might suffice. The Co-Chair noted that certain aspects of the report already encompassed ‘values and world-views’ that included the concept of Mother Earth.  And he pointed out that the report could not, in any event, go beyond the concepts in the literature it reviews.

So, participants decided not to adopt the proposed amendments.

There is, it is clear, a spiritual dimension to the gathering epic of the fate of Earth’s climate. It forms a backdrop to the diplomatic niceties, like shadows on Plato’s cave wall.  With the shadows flickering behind, some 195 national delegations argue over phrases as the planet heats up.

So the question remains: is humanity striving to stabilise Earth’s climate for anthropocentric or ‘cosmo-centric, or at the least, eco-centric, reasons?

The answer may unlock the key, as time passes, to official global climate policy.

For if we cannot agree on the fundamental issue underlying it all – what we are striving for and why – then we cannot expect to have the philosophical foundation, and thus the political substratum, for a genuine global solution to the ultimate global problem.

It will, in the ultimate, be about the human spirit – our perception of the cosmos, and ourselves here on Earth.

8 Comments Posted

  1. What is very sad in these days is the fact that we (people) are affecting the climate change more than ever. We have the technology to change the weather, to manipulate with the weather and even make false and artificial clouds. Playing with mother nature isn’t a very good thing and it will come back to us sooner or later. I just hope it won’t be like in the dinosaurs days.

  2. Trouble is, most people are copnstrained by economic circumstances, and can’t remove themselves from the consumerist capitalist society that surrounds them. Those who could, are mostly too damn comfortable, too timid, and always ready to proclaim their great intentions and deeply-felt philosophies, but appear rather unwilling to give up their environmentally unsustainable lifestyles, or advance an agenda for real institutional change.

    Much easier to burble like a hippie about ‘mother earth’ than be upfront and proclaim that capitalism is killing the planet and has to go.

  3. “we cannot agree on the fundamental issue underlying it all – what we are striving for and why”
    The fundamental driver for human behaviour is the need to procreate – regardless of any higher spiritual or philosophical concepts. As Malthus implied, humans will keep on procreating until they bring themselves to their knees.

    New Zealand needs to focus more on isolating itself from the rest of the world – we don’t want their pollution, their overpopulation, their financial control of our resources. Have we reached the point where there are so many immigrants here that there is no appetite for protecting NZ from external influences? Unfortunately, as we have seen many times, it is always wealthy and powerful international bullies who manage to survive best. I really don’t see much of an appetite in NZ for the average Joe to identify and eliminate such influences. John Key seems to court international control of our resources, and I can never figure out why the National party has so much support.

    New Zealand is becoming a bolthole for those who wish to escape the dangers of perceived climate change and / or economic chaos. This monied influx is a far greater threat to the next NZ generation than climate change will ever be. .

  4. As always Kennedy’s comments are perceptive and spot on. What depresses me is the extremely low level of cover of the report in the national papers and the flippant dismissal of it by our Minister for Climate Change. Even more telling was that our Government announced the largest ever opening of areas for oil drilling the day after this report showed that we cannot afford to burn even half the already known reserves of fossil fuels if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Labour seems only slightly more understanding of the need to change our ways. The conclusion seems to be that as a society we are so selfish that we are not prepared to change our pursuit of wealth for the sake of our children and grandchildren. This seems a long way from Christian teaching.

  5. These words have heart and spirit, something rare in parliament. The growth imperative is interest-based debt money. It demands exponential production, measured in GDP, from our finite Earth. Post-1970 neo-liberalism is a symptom of declining production, which is being replaced by financialisation. The elite do not need productive workers anymore when they can extract wealth from derivatives. The common people, however, are useful to carry the debt incurred by elite criminals. The only path to a steady state is one without interest-based debt money; ie sovereign money. See Positive Money NZ etc. Sadly, our policymakers serve vested interests. They are can kickers, deniers, parasites, or private central bank puppets. As such, our Public Servants are betraying their fiduciary duty. But in the end, we can only blame ourselves, because we are governed by consent, and we can withdraw our consent at any time simply by saying “I do not consent.” Let us remember that “The people are the recognized source of all authority, state or municipal, and to this authority it must come at last, whether immediately or by circuitous route.” Barnes v. District of Columbia, 91 U.S. 540, 545 [23: 440, 441]. p 234.

  6. 65 million years ago, a dramatic event changed the earths climate & apparently wiped out the dinosaurs.. are we seeing another dramatic event emerging (more slowly) that could have an equally dramatic effect on the earths climate & another mass extinction event (maybe including us)? OR are a majority of humans just ‘evolving’ into ostriches (heads in the sand, hoping it will go away) ??

    Maybe in another 65 million years the only life on earth will be microbes, insects & rodents ?

    kia ora

  7. Spot on – it is the values of individualist material consumption that dominate most societies, regardless of their avowed religious beliefs, and our success depends largely on an economic system committed to growth. It is only as we move away from this as a society that we have a change. Many believe that technology will produce the answers, and we have no need to change our life styles in any major way. Technology will contribute, but given the needs of the poorer 80% of the planet, it is being ridiculously optimistic to imagine that the world can support 9 billion people with unconstrained consumer economy. We need to wake up fast.

  8. Nice piece. An interesting thing I always notice is that people are quite happy to refer to “mother nature” when their is a catastrophe like a hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption etc, but when people talk about mother nature as a real fact in the normal course of things they are ridiculed by these very same people and everyone else.

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