Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A moral climate

Michael Northcott came to Cheltenham last evening, to address a Cheltenham Inter Faith meeting. His talk was based upon his 2007 book, "A moral climate: the ethics of global warming."

Professor Northcott comes across less as an academic (he is Professor of Ethics at Edinburgh University) than as a campaigner. Not that I have anything against a passionate speaker, but I emerged from the normally tranquil setting of the Friends' Meeting House feeling rather shell-shocked.

Or should that be "Shell shocked"? The first part of the Northcote fusillade was aimed at the oil companies. "Shell paid my school fees... but oil and blood have often intermingled," he told us. Tar sand extraction was "an unbelievably filthy process." And he had brought along the images to prove it.

Professor Northcott's thesis is that inequity is the central feature of the climate crisis; that those who suffer are least responsible, whilst those who are the cause are least affected. The climate, he says, is a global commons, and commons are not traditionally managed by either markets or states; yet the atmosphere is now being "enclosed" by the carbon emissions trading procedure. Climate change cannot be resolved by emissions trading: we have to "keep it in the ground".

The faiths can contribute two things towards meeting this challenge. First, the dimension of healing and restoration (in Christian terms "resurrection"); and secondly their sense of posterity: again, as a Christian, he pointed to the Communion of Saints: we worship God in churches which are traditionally built with graves - containing the bodies of the Saints - all around them. "I am a hopeful person," he concluded (albeit with a rare note of hesitation in his voice).

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