Picture retrieved from:
So, I’m sitting here in the dark, the only illumination being the dim light from my computer monitor, doing my symbolic bit for awareness of global warming. In case you didn’t know, we have Earth Hour this evening, where various organisations have asked us to turn off our lights for an hour as a sign of our awareness for the need for action on climate change. And wondering if it’s going to do a damn bit of good.
It is, I suppose, understandable that, after the long cold winter we’ve had, people don’t seem to be as worried about global warming as they used to be. An opinion poll published in Der Spiegel today reveals that only 42% of Germans fear the effects climate change could bring, down 20% on figures three and a half years ago. Similar results are reported from
I am not an expert in climate studies, but there are a couple of things that seem clear to me. Firstly, last winter means nothing – even if it did have me occasionally wishing for global warming as, shivering, I trudged my way carefully along icy footpaths or dug my car free from deep blankets of snow. That was just weather; we will go on having warmer and colder winters – and summers. Climate change is about long-range trends, over decades and centuries and that’s where the problems start. The statistics science really needs just haven’t been kept for that long, so the scientists have to rely on secondary evidence, tree rings and ice probes and such things. And that’s one of the main things making the data so open to different interpretations and conclusions.
But there are a couple of basic facts which give cause for concern. World population has been increasingly rapidly since the beginning of the industrial age. Two hundred years ago, it was around one billion, a hundred years ago 1.7 billion, fifty years ago 3 billion, ten years ago 6 billion, and around the end of this year we’re going to crack the 7 billion mark. Now all these people produce a lot of heat just by living and consume a hell of a lot of energy – particularly if they live well (which many don’t, but the amount who do is much larger than at any stage in the past).
We are producing and consuming more energy per head than ever in history. There are ever more cars and trucks, more and more of us fly in aeroplanes more and more frequently, we have more and more appliances, all of which need to be powered. Our homes are centrally heated, many have air-conditioning. And, with the exception of solar and wind energy and nuclear power, all this energy is gained by burning stuff. Additionally, because, despite all technical advances, we’re still not very efficient at this, a considerable amount of this energy is lost at every stage of the process, the way energy looses itself most easily; as heat.
In a very simplified way, from a chemical point of view, burning stuff always comes down to the same thing. Growing things store energy by using the only ultimately free source of energy, sunlight, to bind carbon molecules with lots of other stuff. Almost all the carbon for this comes from carbon dioxide in the air, producing free oxygen molecules as a by-product. When this carbon is released by applying an initial impulse of burning, it combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and releases that stored energy as heat. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we’ve been burning everything we can get to produce energy, including vast amounts of fossil fuel, which is basically, solar energy which was stored over millions of years. And the carbon which was bound there has been released in the form of billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
Nobody can seriously argue with any of this; the discussions arise when it comes to the consequences. The opponents of global warming theories, it seems to me, argue that the excess heat and CO2 we produce are not significant on global levels and, furthermore, that the earth itself regularly goes through warming and cooling phases which are far more significant. It only takes a bit more activity on the part of some major volcanoes to produce extra levels of carbon dioxide which equal or surpass that caused by humanity and, no matter how technologically advanced we have become, we’re still not up to controlling geological events. A couple of Krakatoas are capable of producing a greenhouse effect, without any help from humans.
There is some validity in these points, yet, in my opinion, they don’t reach the core of the problem. There seems to be clear evidence that global temperatures have been rising in recent decades, it is undeniable that the polar icecaps are shrinking and that glaciers are in retreat. That inevitably means more liquid water and rising sea-levels. Rising global temperatures means that weather patterns will change. Many millions of people on our densely populated planet depend for their survival on stable sea-levels and weather systems and this stability seems to be becoming shaky. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether climate change is anthropogenic or not, the evidence suggests that it does seem to be getting warmer worldwide in the past decades. And one thing is certain, humans are not helping to cool things down. Personally, I think it’s not a bad idea for us to start doing so. That’s why I turned out the lights this evening.
And now that Earth Hour is over here, I’ll turn them back on and post this …
“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!”
- Walter Scott
“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”
- Samuel Johnson
As someone who has lived outside his native land for over a quarter of a century now, the question of my national identity often exercises me. My study of history has led me to be generally suspicious of “nationalism” and I find much value in the view that nationalism (or at least a particular expression of it) was one of the major roots of the frequent cataclysms of mass murder and sufferings which convulsed the globe throughout the 20th. Century. From a rational point of view it seems in many ways ludicrous to feel a particular attachment to a geographical/political/cultural entity – a country – just because one happened to be born there. And, in many cases, this quickly goes farther, to a belief that we, and the way we do things, are better than others and the way they do things.
There is much of this which can be easily explained, although understanding some of the reasons why things are the way they are often doesn’t do much about changing things which are very deep in us.
We are still, basically, primates. Ok, we’ve come a long way and are (arguably) much cleverer than our monkey cousins; we have tilled the earth and subdued it and taken dominion over everything and all that stuff. Primates are social animals, that’s the way they survive. They live together in a group, find their identity there, cooperate to make a living and protect each other. They find their status there, bickering and competing with each other for position, looking after their children and weaker members (at least to some extent), obeying and adulating some (thereby bestowing prestige), ostracising others. They tend to react aggressively to other groups of the same species – partly because they are competing for similar resources, more viscerally felt, simply because they are not-us. This is the way evolution made us; the fittest who survived.
On the way, however, something else happened – the complex story of our development led to us developing reflective (self-)consciousness, rationality. We developed the ability to examine ourselves and our behaviour, to reflect on it and change it in the light of other aspects that this development gave rise to (or helped us discover, depending on your viewpoint); religion, morality, philosophy, sociology, political science, etc. Our way of living grew complex, the groups grew larger, differentiated, developed sub-groups, combined or were subjugated; tribes formed, principalities, kingdoms, republics, nations.
Monkey business writ large, if you like – but there’s still a lot of monkey in us and it’s how we feel comfortable. Still, there is a lot of it that’s completely irrational, stuff that we should be able to go beyond.
Stuff we have gone beyond, in many respects. We have the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, even if these organisations have vast room for improvement. In
I’ve lived in
I’d have to give up my Irish passport. I couldn’t do it. It’s no big thing. As an EU citizen, I have the same rights as Germans here, with the small exception that I can’t vote in national or Länder elections and can’t be elected to the Bundestag. But something in me balked. Pushed to it, I just wasn’t prepared to officially give up my Irish nationality. From a practical point of view, this is completely illogical. The way my life looks at the moment, the chances that I’ll stay here for the rest of my life are fairly high. Apart from anything else,
I don’t believe that being Irish is better than being German or vice versa, that’s got nothing to do with it. My Irish identity would remain, no matter what passport I had. I could still cheer when the Irish soccer team occasionally win and curse when they more frequently lose. I could still retain my continuing interest in what’s going on in Irish politics and culture. Officially becoming a German, officially acknowledging that I’m at home here wouldn’t have to change anything about the feeling I have when I visit
Only it would, somehow. It’s not rational, not logical. Something about roots, about an important part of me being where I come from. Just me. So, in two years time, I’ll be sending my passport off to the Irish Embassy in
So, the US Congress has passed President Obama’s health reform legislation and around 32 million US Americans will finally get some kind of health insurance. Seen from a Western European perspective, the
I admit to finding the
It all suggests to me that a lot of the opposition to Obama’s health care proposals is of basic ideological nature, rather than actually about health coverage. It’s about complex issues of perception rather than the concrete issues on the table. There are deep roots in old American memes of mistrust in government and a frontier mentality of self-reliance. These join with conservative evangelical themes which have a deep distrust of secular liberal pluralism and a feeling of being threatened by a dangerous, unknown, possibly hostile world outside the glow of the camp-fires around which those of like-mind, those you trust and love, huddle. A world of outlaws, of people who look and think differently to you; a world where you can be cheated and robbed – either by those poorer and more desperate than you, or by those who are cleverer, more smooth-talking and educated than you, who will take your money and leave you with snake-oil. Against the poor and the desperate you can protect yourself with a gun, but what will protect you from self-secure, godless, liberal lawyers, who want to take your money and (having pocketed a good portion of it) give the rest to those too lazy and indigent to look after themselves? And, there in the back of your mind, there’s still that niggling worry, the fear that you too could loose your job, get sick; but if there’s one thing you’ve learned, it’s that in such situations, the only ones you can really rely on anyway are family and, sometimes, trusted friends, and, of course, God. In him you trust, the rest pay cash and you do too, when you need something and you have it.
There’s a kind of residual Calvinistic tinge to all of this; a feeling that, somehow, sickness is a judgement of God, a result of your own failings and that general health insurance will be “wasted” on those who have stuffed themselves to obesity and diabetes or fornicated themselves into sexually transmitted diseases or situations in which they consider terminating pregnancies. The factual grounds for obesity in poor, cheaper diets and lack of exercise, the genetic component in diabetes, that the treatment of stds (with the exception of the special HIV issue) is generally cheap and easy and that it’s a miniscule amount of the health budget in developed countries anyway disappear in the heat of emotional discussion. But, as I said, most of the discussion is about perceptions rather than facts.
Not that there aren’t enough facts to be discussed. Health care is expensive and will become more so, especially in the developed countries, with ageing populations and ever better, more complex treatments which mean that people are coping with and living much longer with chronic illness. Are there limits to what society can carry collectively in the area of health and, if so, what are they? How much do we want to spend on the basic right to health care, how do we allocate and manage the resources? Are there deeper questions which need to be asked about the moral vectors in society with regard to the major area of confluence between health care and the dynamic to maximise multi-national business profits by banking and insurance corporations and the pharmaceutical and medical-supplies industries?
These are questions hotly debated in Europe and
I really didn’t want to come back to this subject again, but the continuing revelations about abuse within the Catholic Church in
It was confirmed this week that during Josef Ratzinger’s last years as Archbishop of Munich a priest from the Diocese of Essen, who had been accused of sexual abuse of an eleven-year-old, was transferred to
Assigning the man to parish work was a grave mistake, the Church admits; the sole responsibility for this decision has been taken by the Vicar General of the Archdiocese at the time. While it is possible that the assignment might have been reported to Ratzinger’s office, there is no reason to necessarily believe that archbishop personally approved it. The archbishop was a busy man, there were nearly a thousand priests in the archdiocese at the time, such appointments were the responsibility of the vicar general.
All of this is, superficially, credible. But there is at least one misrepresentation in this statement and a number of deeper questions are conveniently ignored. Of the nearly thousand priests referred to in official church statements, a large minority would have been members of religious orders and congregations, with whom the archbishop per se had practically nothing to do. So the number of priests for whom he was personally responsible was quite a bit smaller.
The deeper questions are more serious. The church has confirmed that Ratzinger had initially agreed to accept the man from the diocese of
So, it seems at least quite likely that Archbishop Ratzinger knew why the Diocese of Essen was presenting him with a new priest. It seems probable, reading between the lines of the various Church statements, that the issue of therapy was mentioned.
The astounding thing is – if the Church accounts are true, and Ratzinger knew nothing of the man’s assignment to parish work – that in the nearly two years before he left Munich to take up his new position in Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Ratzinger apparently never troubled to enquire how things were working out with that man from Essen, you know, ahem, the one with that problem. For the Church, and Josef Ratzinger, there is no good answer to this. Either he didn’t ask, and was thus profoundly negligent in his responsibility for the children in his diocese, or he did ask, was told about the parish assignment and saw no problem – once again profound negligence of his responsibility for the children in his diocese. (The only other explanation, one that could just get him personally off the hook, is that he did ask and was lied to, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest that yet.)
Twenty years later, in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to all bishops advising them that all cases of sexual abuse of minors must be forwarded to his then-office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and that the cases were to be subject to pontifical secret. Many canon law experts have stated that this secrecy order would not prohibit bishops and religious superiors from reporting suspected crimes to the police. The Irish bishops have, however, stated recently that many of their number misunderstood the letter on just this point and, while the Irish bishops may not the brightest group of men on earth, there is no major reason to believe that they are substantially denser than their colleagues in other parts of the world.
The deeper question is, of course, whether this misinterpretation was due to the stupidity of some bishops or whether it was actually planned for. One is reminded of Cardinal Connell’s explanation of the concept of mental reservation with respect to economy with the truth in the dealings of the
The facts coming to light in the past weeks force me to the conclusion that the pope has no interest in genuinely dealing with this matter in an open way, of sincerely apologising on behalf of the church for all the suffering that has been caused by the way the church failed to remove abusers from positions in which they could continue their perverse cruelty and by the way it has treated those abused with browbeating, ignorance and contempt. The fact that the
Monsignor Lombardi is very wrong here; there is no need to drag the pope into such questions. He’s already right there in the middle of them.
(Sources: Der Spiegel, Irish Independent, Irish Times)
S**t, nearly a week gone by and I haven’t posted anything on the blog!
I knew this kind of thing was going to happen when I started this – it’s one of the main reasons I hesitated so long about beginning it in the first place; the fear that it would mutate into another chore, an obligation to be regularly fulfilled.
I’m not going to try to fool myself on this, there is a certain obligation involved, both to myself and the thousands (J) of readers out there in cyberspace impatiently waiting for my latest pearls of wisdom. I was aware of this when I started and mentioned it in my first post.
So what’s my excuse? The usual one, the one we all use; I didn’t have the time.
I hate that excuse. Yes, there was quite a lot to do in the past week, including two days laid up dealing with a tummy-bug, but, when I think about it, it was just ordinary life. Work, household chores, appointments to make and keep, etc. All the good things which “had” to be done; family, friends, people to meet, people to keep in touch with. Newspapers and articles and books to be read. The odd TV programme to be watched. That new, trial beta version of the next big thing on the global social network scene (at least that’s the hope of its developers, some of whom I’ve been getting to know a bit – and they may well be right!), which an on-line friend of mine invited me to get involved in, which is interesting and exciting (and, hey, there’s another hour gone before I even noticed!).
So, I just didn’t have the time. Rubbish. I had just the same amount of time as I’ve always had, the same amount of time as everyone has; twenty four hours every day. I could have written this yesterday evening, or the evening before. To be really honest about it, there were just other things I did instead. Because they were, at the time, more important to me. If we’re going to be straight about things, the excuse, “I didn’t have the time,” doesn’t make sense. What we’re really saying is: I didn’t do that (fill in the appropriate activity) because there were other things which ranged higher on my particular personal list of priorities. We don’t say this of course to others because we are afraid that they might find the particular formulation hurtful or insulting. But this is not necessarily, or even usually, the case. We can only live our lives by continually setting and reorganising our priorities, by making choices. Even the things that we “have” to do are the results of deeper, more fundamental choices which we make, or have made – like taking responsibilities for others (and ourselves), working on and cherishing the relationships which are important and vital for us, living out the consequences of various commitments which we have made.
Finally, this evening, this blog reached the level on my scale of personal priorities which got me writing this. And now that I’m nearly finished, I can allow myself the innocent pleasure of looking forward to the good feeling I’ll have when I’ve posted it in a few minutes and can relax for the rest of the evening. I did have the time after all!
(Thirty seven years ago this week, Pink Floyd released one of the greatest albums of all time. Here’s their take on “Time” from “Dark Side of the Moon.”
A friend of mine fulfilled a dream yesterday evening. After a many months’ work, at the age of forty, she had her first gig as a singer with a rock band in a bar.
You won’t see Roadmax replacing Lady Gaga any time soon at the top of the hit parade. They’re a group of middle-aged people doing something for fun, because they enjoy it, and are prepared to put work and discipline into their pastime, taking time from all the other things that life demands and offers to put their dream into reality. They played two sets, maybe an hour and a quarter all together, rock classics from Credence Clearwater Revival, Born to be Wild, Good Golly Miss Molly, Paranoid, Rockin’ all over the World (come to think of it, that’s a John Fogerty song too) and some of their own stuff. The full bar (many of those present friends of the band) rocked and, if they weren’t paid anything for the evening, a hat was passed around and a nice little sum came together to help them realise their next, absolutely necessary purchase; their own PA.
I can feel especially happy for Anja because I know what that feeling is like – to stand in front of an audience, your heart beating hard, and then letting it go, the music you and the others have worked on for so long finally meshing, bringing you together to make something good, something beautiful and then you’ve got the crowd with you and you’re spinning that dream, making that space carried by rhythm and melody, outside of time, free and structured, the combination of all kinds of paradoxes which music so necessarily and effortlessly (unless you’re one of the ones who had to do all the practicing) is. I know that feeling; the excitement, the buzz when it works, the band is one and you’ve managed the bridge which was such a bitch in practice and, oh yes, you got that high note and held it and the crowd is rocking to the beat as you relax enough to turn and grin to someone else in the band and then you get wonderfully lost in the song again as it carries you and you carry it to the last chord and then there’s applause and cheers … Yes! Okay, you’re not Bono and there’re only seventy or eighty in the audience and you fluffed one or two chords but, right now that doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter at all.
Music gives the lie to the niggardly reduction of everything to economic factors which so rules our world today. Of course there’s a multi-billion dollar music industry worldwide, but that’s just lots of people trying to make a living, a few earning astronomically high sums of money and quite a few more ripping everyone off. But that’s life, in the end it has nothing to do with music itself. Whether you make it, or just enjoy it, it’s the proof that there’s much more to life than just what anything costs and whether you can pay for it, whether as an individual or as a society. And, in this vein, perhaps the economists and accountants and management consultants and human resources people should remember where the word “performance” originally came from. Music won’t solve your problems but it can make you feel better and would you really want to be without it? Something so utterly useless and so absolutely, vitally necessary – the union, sublimation, transcendence of freedom and form; in a word, beauty. Rock on, Anja!
It’s snowing again, a real snow-storm settling in for the night. Somehow, I’m not really surprised; this winter set out in North-West Europe to show us what weather can really do and it’s not quite finished yet. Yet it doesn’t really bother me – it’s more like the last, flailing blows of a punch-drunk boxer who doesn’t know that he’s beaten and that the towel is shortly going to come flying into the ring. The sun is already up when I leave for work in the morning and the equinox is only a couple of weeks away. And for those who posit that this winter proves that global warming is only a myth, the answer is very simple; global warming is about world climate – one hard winter is simply weather; spectacular, miserable, depressing, but still just weather.
This evening none of this can really get to me anyway. Maybe it’s just the promise of spring around the corner, maybe it’s the fact that it’s Friday evening and the weekend’s ahead, that I only have to work for another week and then I have a week off, during which I’ll be flying to
In an online discussion this week, a friend of mine complained eloquently about the moral bankruptcy of the political, the controlling classes worldwide. He’s right of course, but my reaction was, somehow, to think of Voltaire’s Candide and his conclusion with regard to the big questions of life; il faut cultiver notre jardin. Not that the big questions aren’t important, or that it isn’t a major problem that most of us are resigned and disengaged most of the time. But the starting point is with each one of us, in the here and now. Tasting, experiencing, cherishing every moment which, as it flashes into now, is the only thing which really exists, the only thing which really matters, as we live it grounded in our own centre. Archimedes claimed that, with a lever and the proper fulcrum, he could move the world. That fulcrum is our own centre and the lever is now.
“Komm, Lass uns leben, Lass uns leben, Lass uns leben immer mehr, Komm, Lass uns leben, Lass uns leben, Zu leben ist gar nicht so schwer [Come, let’s live, let’s live, let’s live more and more, come, let’s live, let’s live, it’s really not so hard to live],” sings the German singer-songwriter, Marius Müller Westernhagen.
Life is good.