Thursday, 28 January 2010

Jesus' Green Manifesto

With an election looming, the Greens (along with other parties) are finalising their manifestos. Sunday's set reading was the account of Jesus delivering his manifesto in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4 : 14 - 21). He is declaring that he is the one who is to usher in the year of the great Jubilee.

The 'spiritual economics' of Jubilee are closely related to the spiritual economics of Sabbath, and are delineated in Leviticus 25. Leviticus is often picked on for what seem to us as its occasional obscure legalisms, and its passing prohibition of same-sex intercourse. But here we have a complete economic programme, which has many resonances with (green) New Economics. I wonder where the Church would be now if it had poured the same energy into promoting Jubilee economics as it has into ensuring compliance with the one verse edict on same-sex relations.

The presumption of Jubilee economics is that "there is enough for all, if we learn how to share it", and that human appetites for more - always more - are not natural. We live in a world where we are taught that we have a birthright to always 'more'. The fact that we have to be indoctrinated with this suggests that greed is less natural than we suppose, and that most people are content with 'enough'. Gordon Brown wants everyone to 'aspire' to more — this is (as David Byrne of Talking Heads sang) 'The Road to Nowhere'.

In Jubilee economics, every citizen has a guaranteed stake (in a plot of land) and a responsibility to tend that land in order to be self-sufficient, with enough surplus to help the foreigner and those who fall on hard times. If the citizen falls on hard times they can sell some of their land for cash; and if matters get worse they can become hired workers with no land. But in the 49th year all the land is allowed to lie fallow - the land itself is given a break (and we relearn that the earth can provide enough even without human interference) - after which the enlarged estates are broken up and the plots returned to their original owning families. The landowner who buys land is effectively buying a lease, and the land value reflects how much of the maximum 49 year lease remains.

Imagine that instead of borrowing large sums of money to buy property, and only owning it 100% after paying it off with interest, you have a property by birthright which (if you need to) you can lease part of to financial institutions for cash - but never actually sell in perpetuity.

The Green Party's tax proposals on Citizens' Income, Inheritance Tax and Land Value Tax (see seem to me like a step in that direction, given that we are no longer an agrarian society.

The story goes on to say that Jesus got lynched by the congregation - but that was for saying that other nations were likely to 'get the message' before his own.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

money to burn

Yesterday I got a Conservative Party glossy election brochure through the door. On page 6 there's a couple of paragraphs on the environment, which they seem to think has "rather slipped off the agenda" in "recent months" - Copenhagen fuss and Daily Express front pages notwithstanding (see earlier blogs).

On reading the fourth paragraph I didn't know whether to laugh or cry :

"We will give every household in Britain the chance to save money on their heating bills and help reduce our CO2 emissions by requiring every gas and electricity bill to show what people would have paid under the lowest tariff available — and what they need to do to move on to it."

So the less you pay per unit for your gas and electricity, the less CO2 you're responsible for releasing? I suppose that might just work if you reduced your gas usage and compensated for the loss of heat by burning banknotes to the value of the money you'd saved. There's more than a few bankers who could heat their entire homes that way. There again, I've an idea that destroying banknotes is a criminal offence (whereas presumably gambling people's savings away isn't).

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Soul for sale

Notorious American televangelist Pat Robertson recently revealed that the suffering of the Haitians owes its origins to a pact the former slaves made with the Devil prior to an uprising against their French masters in 1791.

Letters from Satan himself have appeared elsewhere in the blogosphere resenting this defamation of character. He says that the deal is he only gives his converts a bad time after they've died, and keeps his part of the bargain by giving them a good time this side of the curtain. That's the deal.

Meanwhile, the soul of Pat Robertson has gone up for sale on EBay for you to do what you will with - in the form of a voodoo doll that you can stick pins in, flush down the loo or whatever (Proceeds to Médecins Sans Frontières). Accessories included with the doll are "Pat's very own Holy Bible, and Bag of money taken from real Americans!"

This morning it was removed by EBay as the seller "could not verify the existence of Pat Robertson's soul". (Well, so the story goes). But I think the product has been amended (er, how?) and is back up there again.

Personally, I'd have thought at least part of the reason for the Haitians poor infrastructure is the fact that the tiny country still carries $890 million of international debt.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Russian Roulette with the grandchildren

The Daily Express has printed a shockingly awful front page today, claiming that the current weather conditions prove that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a conspiracy. You wonder whether it's ever worth responding to these things, but on the grounds that a drip will eventually bore a hole in granite, I sent the following :

The Express 'prides itself on strong views and opinions' (unquote). Not truthful or balanced opinions, just strong ones. Unfortunately, when it comes to global warming/climate change, opinions without evidence, knowledge and understanding are just noise.

Unfortunately, the science involves collecting vast amounts of data from many different fields of study and identifying very faint patterns. Like it or not, we and our politicians are in the hands of the scientists who have access to that data and the means to interpret it. Whilst it's possible that 5% of scientists have a political agenda and perverse motivation, it seems a bit unlikely that 95% (in countries across the world with completely different political systems) share in some global conspiracy. I don't understand what they're supposed to be gaining from it if it is a conspiracy. Short term research grants? Is that worth prostituting your reputation for? And why would any politician want to believe the scientists' predictions, given that it creates enormous additional political challenges - on top of all the others? I just don't understand why it's in anybody's interest to spin such a conspiracy.

95% of scientists directly involved in climate studies seem to agree that we are faced with climate change as a result of human-generated carbon emissions. Of the other 5%, from the limited information I've seen, about half are funded by the oil and coal industry. If there is any actual evidence of conspiracy it's in the right-wing 'free market' think tanks and oil industry links to prominent 'deniers'.

I'm not hearing much dispute about the likely consequences if long range climate change is a reality (however it may be caused) - the consequences are extremely severe, not just for the physical environment but for the political chaos it might unleash. Your editorial comment asserts "if global warming is still occurring it is by no means disastrous for this country". So Africa and Latin America can go hang! Brazil and India are rapidly becoming world superpowers - what kind of strategy is that? What might be the implications of 20 million refugees from Bangladesh alone?

Even if only 10% of climate scientists were expressing alarm about AGW we ought to be seriously concerned and taking immediate steps to reduce carbon emissions in case that 10% were right. One thing's for certain, if a warming trend has been established there will be no quick fix.

A 'balanced opinion' would then report that 1 in 10 scientists believed in man-made global warming - but those odds would be more than compensated for by the extreme consequences of their being right. If I play Russian Roulette there's only a one in six chance of blowing my head off . . . but "on balance", I'd rather not play Russian roulette, thanks.

But in fact more than 9 out of 10 are warning of extremely severe consequences of inaction.

There's nothing clever or 'balanced' about playing Russian Roulette with all but one of the revolver's chambers loaded - and pointing the gun at your baby granddaughter, not your own head. And there is nothing balanced or clever about printing the irresponsible article you have done today.