The day the world went mad
George Monbiot is a columnist in The Guardian newspaper. Last Thursday he wrote a piece entitled The Day the World Went Mad, and suggested we all remember the date – 29th August 2012. I have a lot of time for Monbiot and believe that, in fact, there have been several milestones on the route to global insanity.
Thursday, however, was extraordinary. Following news of record melting of the Arctic ice sheet, Tory MP Tim Yeo urged that the UK Government get on with the building of a third runway at London's already-huge Heathrow airport in order to ward off Britain's 'slide towards insignificance' on the world's stage. (Another well-respected Guardian columnist, Simon Jenkins, encapsulated the bullish attitude of Yeo's party to this economic and environmental folly.) Let's encourage more and more planes to take to the skies when we should probably be thinking along the lines of 'essential' flights only. (And one dog per household, incidentally, among many other necessary measures.)
I make no apology for all these references to a newspaper that did especially well last week in highlighting the issue that is far more important than any other and yet is consistently ignored by most politicians; by most people. In Australia there is still a debate about whether anthropogenic global warming is a reality, let alone a big, big issue that should be being addressed by all politicians, working together regardless of party label. Germaine Greer on Q&A last Monday twice alluded to the coming catastrophe – a hotter planet that will have even less chance of producing enough food for its billions of people – but not a single panellist, member of the audience or tweeter reacted. Many probably didn't get it, I'm sure, but I detected the uncomfortable foot-shuffling of a wobble of ostriches in the studio.
Then, the irony of the fact that the climate-science-denying Republicans' Convention in Tampa was interrupted by tropical storm Isaac was completely lost on Mormon-Mitt Romney who mocked Barack Obama:
'President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.'
As if the two are mutually exclusive. Perhaps he should go get a reality check among the people of Colorado, who recently lost everything in vicious wildfires, and Midwestern farmers whose crops have failed in the intense heat.
Every Friday, there's a regular slot on Steve Austin's Mornings programme on 612 ABC Brisbane on topical ethical issues. Austin discusses them with Scott Stephens, editor of the religion and ethics page on the ABC's website. Stephens always recommends articles for listeners to read. Last Friday he enthused about an opinion piece by Clive Hamilton based on a speech he had given at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney the previous day, the 29th. Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University, and the piece was entitled The church and the ethics of climate change. Despite the Catholic Church's endorsement of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and its own strong statement of the ethical argument – 'Failure to mitigate climate change will violate our duty to the vulnerable of the earth…' – Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, remains firmly embedded with the climate science deniers. I have heard Cardinal Pell described as having one of the foremost intellects in the Catholic Church in Australia, but a few months back evolutionary biologist (and well-known atheist) Richard Dawkins made mincemeat of Pell's defence of creationism on Q&A.
Hamilton's point is that…
'We all become wedded to our beliefs and change them only grudgingly in the face of new evidence. We are more reluctant when the evidence contradicts beliefs deeply held... We owe a greater allegiance to the truth, and must put aside any personal discomfort the truth causes us.'
This has resonance for many more people than politicans or cardinals. Read the article – stick with it, it's quite long – and then you might like to follow up with his book (right), which, in my humble opinion, should be compulsory reading in schools across the land.