Friday, April 11, 2014

Anglicans should stop driving cars and flying to meetings, NOW!

It is a little difficult to take Archbishop Desmond Tutu seriously these days. However I would not like to stand in the way of those who wish to take him seriously. In this case, on divesting one's lifestyle away from reliance on fossil fuels.

Accordingly I look forward to reports from those who do take him seriously that they are selling their cars, forswearing off flying to meetings (Who are Anglicans? "We meet") and refusing to use electric heaters until the cessation of all coal, natural gas and diesel fired power stations contributing to their national power grids. It goes without saying that no fires will be lit by Anglicans taking Tutu seriously.

Let's be clear: oil companies are not to blame for oil usage, nor coal companies for burning coal. Nor are investors in these companies. The blame lies solely with consumers. With you and me and our use of cars, purchases from supermarkets of products delivered to them by trucks, turning on heaters in the middle of winter, and buying tools, BBQs and other steel or iron products from hardware stores.

In one way Tutu is right: we could solve the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change at a stroke if our consumption habits change. But he blames the wrong people for the problem and thus asks the wrong people to change.

This, by Tutu in his Guardian article, is just nuts, very difficult to take seriously as a contribution to effective action on the matter:

"People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change."

The real truth is far from pleasant and way too personal. It is this:

People of conscience need to break their ties with consumption habits with contribute to the injustice of climate change.

I look forward to your reports via comments of your changed consumption habits ...

Incidentally, Tutu's contribution seems to miss the point that a very simple way to change the climate would be for the human population to radically reduce itself. We are in the state we are in as much as anything because we have grown the global population to a point almost unimaginable (say) 100 years ago. We could reduce our numbers by having less children, knowing the consequence will soon be billions of elderly people without sufficient work force generating the income to support them as they age towards death. Anyone up for that?


Father Ron Smith said...

I wonder, Peter, if you appreciated Bishop Desmond Tutu's other passion for justice - for the LGBT community - you would have bothered to put him down on this particular issue?.

Perhaps the good Bishop might really be pointing a finger at those people who seem to be able to easily take off from their normal pastoral duties to attend world meetings of the GAFCON and Global South.

Caleb said...

It's a catch-22. Obviously we need to stop population growth at some point for the sake of the planet. And the best way to do this without massacring people is to reduce poverty... when countries develop, birth rates drop (for various reasons). Assuming we're not over-populated already, we could solve over-population by solving extreme poverty.

But can you imagine 7 billion people driving cars and flying? The earth is barely coping with the rich's resource consumption, let alone if everyone else started doing it like us. Which shows a couple of things: firstly, over-population is not absolute but depends on how many resources the population members use, and, secondly, over-consumption by the rich is actually a more pressing threat to the environment than over-population among the poor.

So the ruthlessly rational thing to do is probably to avoid developing the poor world until we can figure out how to do development/industrialisation in a way that uses less of the world's finite resources.

Of course, this is morally reprehensible, but it reveals that the situation we're in at the moment (us consuming as many resources as we do) is already morally reprehensible.

So the moral thing to do is probably to figure out as quickly as possible how to be a developed country in a more sustainable and less resource-gluttonous way, and develop the poor countries in that way at the same time as converting ourselves to that way.

Actually, the rational self-interest course of action is probably not too far away from the moral course of action. Because, assuming the whole world eventually becomes developed, the more people there are, the less we can consume and let the world survive. So if we want to maximise the amount we can eventually consume, we should work to get the poor countries' birth rates down as soon as possible - once the rates come down, the population will plateau, but it's a question of what level it plateaus at. And of course we can't do the necessary development to bring the birth rates down while being developed is such a drain on resources.

So I guess it's pretty clear what we should do; it's just very difficult. And the problem is that we're currently not acting either through morality or rational self-interest, but through irrational, short-sighted, misguided self-interest (or the interests of rich corporations which we mistake for our self-interest).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Archbishop Tutu is rightly revered for his commitment to the struggle against apartheid and he is an eloquent proponent of change for the GLBT community.

His expertise and experience in those areas does not protect him from rational inexactitude in other areas.

Anglicans flying to global meetings continues on all fronts. I do not think any particular front is worth commenting on more than another. But as long as we do fly or drive to meetings (as I myself do) we ought not to be commenting on the search by oil companies for more product to keep planes and cars moving.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
After a series of disagreements with you on other matters, it is good to be able to agree with you on most of what you write above.

As someone once said, if development means every African gets to own a Toyota car, the world will be in big trouble. (But why should they own Toyotas like 'us'?)

We do need to find a better way forward but I want to put the weight of responsibility on the consumer.

IBM was once a wealthy typewriter making corporation. When consumers stopped buying typewriters they went out of that business.

We could say to Western society, 'On yer bike ...'

Jean said...

Well keeping to the topic at hand... : ) ...

To a degree climate change has become an issue of social injustice more so on an international level (e.g. those most effected are developing countries with the greatest contributors being developed countries). For example in our back yard and now under our duristriction Kiribati's future is threatened by rising sea levels. Yet developing countries are also the ones with the least resources to deal with the consequences.

I think Archbishop Desmond Tutu did say in the article that He did not mean exchanging your car for a bicycle so he obviously isn't implying anything too radical Peter in terms of personal sacrifice, except for us to act when and as we can to use alternative forms of energy and reduce our consumption of fossils fuels as our conscience propels us to.

In this way it is a little bit like fair trade, it takes personal sacrifice to buy something a little more expensive, or choose to bike to work, than it does going to the $2 shop, or driving the car. If our convictions lead us to these things we can but do our best to live up to them.

Many NZ companies already have policies regarding climate change and minimising travel etc.

In terms of reducing investment in oil companies, or those using fossil fuels I guess that's harder. If one invests then one is encouraging more exploration and potentially more damage to the environment, yet presently we a certain supply of oil etc. The suggestion by Desmond Tutu that such companies but some of their profits into investigating other forms of sustainable energy seems a positive way forward. Solar power is developing in leaps and bounds at the moment. And is used a lot in developing countries who have no other access to electricity.

Kurt said...

I don’t own a car, and I never have. I rely on public transportation. Here in NYC that’s fairly easy, since we have a 24-hour subway system, extensive bus routes and are a hub of the Northeast Corridor of our national train network. I take trains to destinations outside of the region when I can, rather than fly. Sometimes, of course, one has no alternative but to take a plane.

Efficient, inexpensive mass transit goes a long way to help the enviornment.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Undergroundpewster said...

The end game of Tut-Tut's reasoning is that the world would be better off without people. People making this argument never take it seriously enough to commit themselves fully to it.

I once was driving along minding the speed limit when a faster driver rode on my bumper for a while before passing me up and high tailing it down the road spewing out all kinds of excessive green house emissions. As she passed, I saw one of those WWJD? bumper stickers on her car. I thought to myself, "Walk".

Anonymous said...

I think private and public initiatives have to go hand in hand.

For instance, for over half a century in the city where I live, all new development has been predicated on the assumption that people will drive everywhere. To cut down on driving is possible, but only to a point. Massive redesign of this city would be necessary if we were to make it a goal to significantly cut tailpipe emissions.

Your point is well-taken, Peter - we, the consumers have the power in our hands. But we need help from the policy makers and city planners, and they need to give us a lead, because there is always resistance to change, especially when it forces us to adjust habits that have taken decades to form.

Tim C.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for helpful comments above!

A downside to post quake development in Christchurch is that new housing areas are opening up on the outskirts of Christchurch for building replacement houses for those lost to the quakes. Some of these areas are 10km-20kms from the centre of the city. Our population is too small to seriously entertain mass transportation such as a light railway network. Car remains king ...

Caleb said...

I think the responsibility is both with the consumers and the social systems that condition consumers to buy and think in certain ways. Both need transformation, and neither will be able to significantly change without the other. (Sorry to go back to disagreement, but as a sociology graduate I couldn't let slide a comment implying individual change is the predominant answer to any social problem!)

On the subject of individual or structural responsibility for climate change, this video was interesting.

Peter Carrell said...

I am happy with structural change as well as individual change but that still proceeds from voters choosing wisely at elections and between elections pressing the government of the day to lead structural change in the right direction.

What I am not happy with is pressing the 'gummint' to do something about it while I am unwilling to change my personal habits of fossil fuel consumption.