Home > COP 15 > Seán McDonagh on COP15, 3/3

Seán McDonagh on COP15, 3/3

5. How far can we trust science and technology to resolve the climate change crisis? Should we take into account the limits of science and technology?

We need good, accurate and independent science. This is more and difficult to access, as in recent decades Corporations have colonized the Science Departments of many of our Universities, especially in the area of the biological sciences and Chemistry. They now decide what is taught in biology, chemistry, and even geology. While science is important – if one takes seriously that we live in a finite world, then we cannot continue to have exponential levels of economic growth. Science will not save us. We need to live in a more sustainable way, which ultimately springs from our moral and religious values. Pope John Paul II was very clean on this in a document published on January 1st 1990, entitled, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation.

It is important to remember that technological solutions, which appear almost miraculous at one period, often have a sting in their tail. The best example is, of course, ChlorofluoroCarbons (CFCs) which were discovered in the early part of the 20th century and were considered a great break- through in the field of refrigeration. They were stable, non-inflammable and non-toxic chemicals. Five decades later, scientists in the Antarctic realized that they were responsible for destroying the Ozone Layer of the atmosphere.

6. Would link in their depth the climate change crisis and the recent financial and economic crisis?

There are links, but there are profound differences. The links revolve around theories which see no limits to creating money for a few, and exploiting natural resources. In the financial world, bankers though that they had discovered some magic, mathematical formulae which would minimize, or eliminate risks, and create enormous wealth ex nihilo. They were profoundly wrong. Capitalism in its various manifestations, discounts the natural world altogether from its calculations. In doing so, they have promoted plunder of the natural world, and a cavalier attitude toward dealing with the waste produced by our industrial societies. Both are externalities which do not have to be accounted for and, after all the market will take care of everything. It hasn’t, and it will not. What you get is impoverishment of the majority of people, especially in the Majority world and destruction of the earth.

But there are profound differences. As we have seen, it is possible to bail out the banks and recapitalize them with taxpayers money. When humans bring about irreversible ecological changes, such as is happening with the increase of greenhouse gases, it is impossible to bail out the environment. If Copenhagen does not come up with a robust treaty that will see a peaking of greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, then there is no possibility of keeping the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. No amount of money will be able to repair the damage for the 30 million Bangladeshis who live in low-lying areas in their country. Melted glaciers in the Andes will mean no water for the 10 million inhabitants of Lima, Peru. These are just two examples among thousands of others. Everyone on the planet will suffer, but the poor will suffer most.

7. Are a good response to the climate change crisis on the one side and the care for the development of poorer countries not contradictory?

Care for the Earth and care for humans are inextricably linked. Human beings are not able to access energy directly from the sun. We need plant life and other creatures that eat plants. We cannot survive for more than a few minutes with fresh air, for a few days without water and a few weeks without food. We are directly dependent on the natural world, though we often forget this in our economics and even our theology. If we destroy habitants were plants or other species grow, then human well-being will diminish. If we pollute water, our tears will be toxic. The late Fr. Thomas Berry was fond of repeating that, you cannot have well human beings on a sick planet. 

Greed is the vice which facilitates the plunder the planet. It is the same vice which controls and exploits other human beings for our own good. We need to create institutions which do not allow powerful, rich individuals, corporations or nations to plunder the earth and, in the process, enslave other human beings.

Categories: COP 15
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