Thursday, April 26, 2012

Has the United States lost its moral compass?

Has the United States has lost its moral compass?  Several recent incidents in Afghanistan make me wonder whether that has happened. The latest revelation involves some photos published in the Los Angeles Times showing American soldiers with the body parts of suicide bombers there. These photos were actually taken two years ago, but were published only now, despite pressure from the Pentagon not to do so.

Earlier incidents included pictures of American soldiers urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters and of the burning of copies of the Qur'an by US troops at an American base there. President Obama later joined the chorus that insisted the book burning had been a mistake and should never have happened.

Next, we were learned that an American soldier had gone on a house-to-house rampage, gunning down many villagers. He has since been charged with 17 murders. Was this a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, as some suggested afterward? Possibly. Since the courts still will have to decide this case, let us leave it in abeyance for the moment.

Sadly, such incidents are not restricted to Afghanistan. In 2004, American military personnel in Iraq were accused of abusing naked prisoners in the Abu Ghraib detention facility outside Baghdad, the images of which shocked the world.

These incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. The killing of unarmed civilians in Afghanistan far exceeds the number of Americans killed there. Some US soldiers have even been accused of killing civilians for sport. The incidents that I have cited are the most recent and, perhaps, the most well known.

None of these incidents should ever have happened. What motivated soldiers to commit such atrocities? How is it possible that a people who pride themselves on being religious and have as their national motto, "In God We Trust," could perform these despicable acts?

To claim it was a "mistake" or done in "ignorance, " as happened after the Qur'an burning, does not suffice as an explanation. Ignorance should not be asserted when the United Staes has been in Afghanistan for a decade already. Even if the soldiers involved were unaware of the consequences, the officers in charge should have known.  Ultimately, someone must be held responsible.
In response to the Los Angeles Times photos, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that the behavior of these soldiers "absolutely violates" US regulations and values. He added:  "This is not who we are, and it's certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there." Maybe not. But how does one explain why this and the other incidents happened?

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted that these images "don't in anyway represent the principles and values that are the basis for our mission in Afghanistan." He dismissed this incident as "an isolated event."  Unfortunately, there have been too many incidents to call this an isolated event.
Gen. John Allen, the ISAF commander, reinforced this dismissive attitude. He called this incident "a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values."  Were these soldiers truly "unfamiliar" with these values? How is that possible?

These acts cannot be dismissed as merely an aberration, and thus out of character for Americans. Nor can they be explained as just isolated events. They are closely connected and, moreover, are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. 

Ignorance is not enough to justify these acts. Ignorance can be excused, but the type of behavior exemplified in the incidents cannot. It demonstrates a total disregard for the humanity of others, specifically the that these soldiers are fighting against. These American soldiers seem to think that the enemy were sub-humans or even non-humans and could thus be treated any way the Americans wanted.

Secretary Panetta tried to justify these actions by explaining, "War is ugly." In war, as I have shown in an earlier post, one first tries to demonize the other. Only then is it possible to kill them and to commit all sorts of atrocities (see .

Even in a wartime situation soldiers must receive some training in ethics. And surely many soldiers must have received religious training at home that ought to help prepare them for what happens in war. And what about the ten commandments? Are they only useful for hanging on the walls of churches or Sunday school rooms, or are they still relevant for the daily life of people, including American soldiers on the battlefield?

Atrocities take place in every war, of course, but that cannot be an excuse either. War is reprehensible and, in this nuclear age, can no longer be justified. There is no "just war anymore." Apart from that, the war in Afghanistan should never happened. The US should have learned from the Russians; that country was their "Vietnam." They could not win, and neither can the US, as the Americans are finally willing to concede.

The war in Iraq was also wrong. I was opposed to it from the very beginning, but I was not consulted. Only now, belatedly, are some American politicians admitting this grievous mistake. Unfortunately, this is done as much for domestic political reasons than because of a fundamental critique of US foreign policy

The "War on Terror" is morally ambiguous. It represents an unjustifiable and inappropriate response to 9/11, even if not everyone is prepared to admit this. This ambiguity may help to explain some of the atrocities that have been committed by American troops. If the American public is so divided on this issue, as it is on many others, it is no wonder that so many soldiers are confused and thus perpetrate these unconscionable acts.

This ambiguity does not excuse their behavior, but it is at least a partial explanation for what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet the ambiguity of the "War on Terror" does not provide a full explanation. Perhaps a  full explanation is impossible. War does terrible things to people. It is evil, and makes people commit acts they would not do otherwise. Friends and relatives of the soldier indicted for shooting the unarmed civilians all reacted with shock and insisted they could not understand how he could have done this.

Americans are no more evil than the citizens of other nations. In fact, no country has the patent on either evil or good. Evil is endemic in the world today. Atrocities have been reported in every country. Thus no nation can self-righteously sit in judgment of the US and its soldiers. Their soldiers might have done the same under similar circumstances. But, let me be clear, no nation should permit such atrocities to occur.

The US needs to face the reality of these atrocities. Americans must not wait for other nations to judge them, but they need to ask themselves if they have lost their moral compass. Some Americans have already asked this question (see, although the issue cited in this article was incivility in politics, which seems tame in comparison with what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of the "War on Terror"). Muslims have repeatedly condemned the US for waging war on Islam. They also wonder why US has committed all these atrocities. This is not to exonerate Muslims who have their own share of horrible acts to live down.

I am not trying to indict the US in the court of world opinion, but I am posing a question that Americans in particular need to answer. I could point to many more examples of how the US has lost its moral compass, if any more were needed. The problem is so serious that it needs to be addressed immediately by Americans especially, but by others too, since what the US does affects many other nations. The US may have lost a lot of its authority of late, but it is still the world's only surviving super power. It should set a good example for the world today..

Does the world have to wait anxiously for the next revelation of an atrocity from Afghanistan? I do not claim to have the authoritative interpretation of why the US finds itself in this tragic situation. I have hazarded a reason or two, but these are merely guesses on my part. Yet I hope they are cogent and worthwhile. Above all, I hope that such incidents will become a thing of the past.

This post is not based on a report issued by an international commission that was appointed to examine this matter. These are personal remarks. You may do with them want you wish, but first read them carefully. And then, if you so desire, you may try to help me and everyone else who is reading this post to understand a little better why these atrocities have happened. Maybe you have a better explanation. At the moment, this is the best I have been able to come up with.

Has the US lost its moral compass? I hope not.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Global warming and ecological theology

The logo for this series on global warming

What does global warming have to do with theology? What is ecological or eco-theology? And why is such a theology necessary? These are some questions that I will try to answer in this post, which is the last in this series on global warming.

For many Christians theology and global warming have little to do with each other. American Christians, in particular, tend to be in total denial when it comes to global warming and refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for the reality of global warming or, more specifically, the contributions that humans have made to the problem. I wrote about the reality of global warming in an earlier post that has attracted an enormous readership (see

One contributing factor to this denial is that their theology does not deal with the problem. A quick perusal of most text books in systematic theology reveals that none of them discuss the environment, except tangentially when the responsibility of humans to care for creation is mentioned.

The great Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, had a great appreciation for the creation as the forum of God's activity, but their concern was with the theme of salvation, with a focus especially on human beings. This focus became even stronger in succeeding generations, leaving little interest in the rest of creation.

Karl Barth, who is arguably the greatest theologian of the twentieth century and is famous for his rejection of natural theology, does discuss creation, but with very different concerns than people have today. This may help to explain why his theology went into eclipse some decades ago already.

A study of several ecological theologies

Evangelical theologians today, with a few exceptions, have largely neglected the environment. This may be excused in part, since this topic has only recently become as important as it is. Not surprisingly, evangelical systematic theologians, who have the job of integrating the various aspects of theology, have written very little about the environment in general and global warming in particular.

There are many studies by Christian scholars in various disciplines dedicated to "A Christian View on the Environment," but that is very different from a major theological study on this crucial topic. The latter is as important as the former; it is urgently needed, especially in view of the current environmental crisis.

Any aspect of theology is always closely connected with all the other parts, and thus a theological study of the environment will be shaped by other doctrines and they, in turn, will be influenced by an ecological view.

About fifty years ago Christian theology took an ecological turn. Several prominent Catholic and Protestant theologians led the way. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich and Jürgen Moltmann deserve special mention, even if I cannot begin to outline their diverse views in this brief post.

There is an ecological theology as well that is rooted in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and in process theology, but again there is not enough to examine the contributions made by these thinkers.

The latest book by Sallie McFague

I must mention, however, prominent eco-feminists, such as Sallie McFague and Rosemary Reuther, who have examined the role of what they call patriarchal theology in shaping the views of many Christians today, especially on the role of women and the environment. One does not have to agree entirely with their views to appreciate their force. They are pleading for a fundamental change in attitudes so that both women and the environment receive the emphasis they deserve.

The most radical voice calling for an ecological theology probably belongs to Matthew Fox, who is noted for his "creation spirituality" and has even called for a new reformation of Western Christianity by nailing his own 95 theses to the same door of the church in Wittenberg where Luther hung his theses almost 500 years ago.

The concerns of all these theologians, together with many others, represent a major turning point. The global environmental crisis has given a new and different focus to theology that one ought to be conscious of, even if one is unable to follow these theologians in every aspect of their thought.

According to some sources, ecological theology (or eco-theology as it is also known generally starts from the premise that a relationship exists between religions/worldviews and the degradation of nature. It explores the interaction between ecological values, such as sustainability, and the human domination of nature.

The last part of the definition about human domination is admittedly negative. This attitude stems from a now famous 1967  article by the historian Lynn White, entitled "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis."

White concluded that many environmental problems could be traced to the Christian notion that God gave this earth to humans for their use, and specifically directed humans to exercise dominion over the earth and all of its life forms. Some non-Christians have used White to blame Christianity for all the environmental problems the world faces today. Their argument, while not justifiable, has become widely accepted.

In reaction, Christian theologians have formulated various responses. One is the stewardship model that is preferred by evangelicals, while eco-feminism and creation spirituality are the models that are often chosen by liberal Christians. But are these responses enough? Or do we need to look for alternatives?

A new work on ecological theology by Ernst Conradie

Ernst Conradie of South Africa views ecological theology as an attempt to retrieve the ecological wisdom in Christianity as a re­sponse to environmental threats and injustices and, at the same time, to reinvestigate, rediscover and renew the Christian tradition in the light of the challenges posed by the environmental crisis.

He shows that contributions to ecological theology need to cover a wide range of theological sub-disciplines, including ethical theory and environmental ethics, biblical hermeneutics and exegesis, systematic theology, historical theology and various aspects of practical theology and missiology.

He and his group have already published extensive bibliographical surveys and done many studies that help to outline the contours of environmental theology, placing it in the context of a Christian theology which has, unfortunately, sometimes misinterpreted the biblical message and thus needs to be changed.

In an age of environmental despair they signal hope for the earth. In this connection, they closely examined the works of some noted theologians: John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, Karl Barth, Douglas John Hall, Jürgen Moltmann, Bram van de Beek, and Arnold van Ruler. Unfortunately, I have been unable thus far to discover much more about the impressive work in theology done by Conradie and his co-workers.   

I must admit that I feel very uncomfortable with the pantheism of Teilhard de Chardin and the panentheism of Sallie McFague, not to mention the mysticism of Matthew Fox. Yet these theologians have grappled with issues of the environment, something most other Christian theologians have yet to do.
The stewardship model is still very attractive to me; after all, this is what I grew up with. But it carries with it the enormous baggage of a concept of dominion that has prevailed in various guises, including the secular, for about two millennia. While this concept needs to be understood in context, as has been noted by others, much of the critique of it is deserved. It is based on a theology that places undue emphasis on humans as the peak of creation and the exclusive focus of God's saving activity.

What is the role of humanity within creation? What is the extent of salvation? And does salvation also include the creation? These are only a few of the many questions that an environmentally focussed theology must first answer. Then will Christians be able to deal with environmental problems in a theologically coherent way.   

Perhaps it is time to admit that the old answers are not sufficient in an age when global warming threatens the world in which we live. Global warming is the number one environmental problem today. It too can be dealt with, but like all environmental problems it will require a concerted effort on the part of people everywhere, whether believers or not. Christians too must do their best as well. A re-examination of Christian theology is one place to start.

A new examination of the meaning of salvation

This does not imply the wholesale rejection of many traditional doctrines as Matthew Fox has done, but it does imply a willingness to review some doctrines so that there can be a change in emphasis. The concept of dominion has led some people not only to disregard the environment but even a few to propose that society should be ruled exclusively by biblical principles. This extreme view has been labelled "dominion theology."

Stewardship is still a useful metaphor to describe the human role in creation. It pictures humans as caring for the world that God has made. But it is too easy and too tempting to fall into the trap posed by the concept of dominion, which continues to lurk in the background. There are both good stewards and  bad stewards. Bad stewards are those who misuse the power given them for their own ends.

This is how many Christians behave when it comes to the environment. Moreover, they are often unwilling to admit their culpability. They hide behind a screen and loudly deny any responsibility. One can see this most clearly in the issue of global warming, which many Christians claim is only caused by natural factors.

Humanity has misused God's creation. Creation too needs to be saved. It is waiting eagerly for that day, as Romans 8:18-25 explains. Salvation extends beyond the needs of human beings. The creation too will be transformed and made new (Rev. 21:1-2, 5). That promise extends to the environment, which now already must begin to enjoy the benefits of what Christ has accomplished.

All of creation needs to be restored to its original intended state. Origen had formulated that as part of his doctrine of universal restoration in which everything, including the devil, is saved. He was condemned for this teaching, although apocatastasis, as this doctrine is termed, still has adherents within the Orthodox Church today, and can be found as well even among non-Orthodox thinkers such as C.S. Lewis.

But one does not have to subscribe to Origenism to accept that salvation includes all of creation, which very much needs restoration and healing. If this is the case, then Christians must be prepared to re-examine their whole theology, since all the different parts are connected, as I noted previously.

Anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology are all involved and need to be looked at with fresh eyes so that the environment can blossom once again as God originally intended. It is not that these aspects of theology ignore the environment entirely, it is rather that the environment has not yet been emphasized enough.

St. Francis of Assisi was obviously concerned about the restoration of the creation; he communed with it on a daily basis.

St. Francis of Assisi

I do not have the time or the space to outline an ecological theology in this short post. I have made only a few suggestions. Others, like Conradie and his group, have gone much further. I want to commend them for this. I recommend that everyone who is interested in this enterprise join in the effort to revitalize Christian theology so that the environment can be properly protected and the effects of global warming.mitigated.

It is not too late yet to join in this effort to save the environment. As I noted in previous posts, sustainability requires changes in the way people live. Moving towards an ecological theology also requires changes in the way people think about God and his beautiful creation.

Long ago God commanded humans to take care of the world. That care must become an integral part of any ecological theology. Christians must be at the forefront of the environmental movement and not allow others who are motivated by greed to sidetrack efforts to save the environment. God does not expect anything less.

(Note: This will close this long series on global warming. Please comment on whether you found it helpful.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Global warming and environmental sustainability

The logo for this series on global warming

Global warming is the number one environmental problem today. There are many other problems, I admit, but this one stands out especially because of its truly global nature. One thing that can and must be done is to strive for environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability has been defined as the maintenance of the factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis.

In recent posts I have examined the implications of economic and social sustainability for global warming. The focus this time will be on the environment. I cannot deal with all the environmental problems that the world currently faces -- that would require an entire library -- but only with a few of those that contribute substantially to global warming. Even here I will be selective and merely suggest the nature of the problems.

This donut is yet another way to illustrate the complex interrelationships of all these factors  
In 2009, 2,500 climate experts from 80 countries agreed that there is now "no excuse" for failing to act on global warming and that without strong carbon reduction targets "abrupt or irreversible" shifts in climate may occur that "will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with" (quotations italicized).

The atmosphere is one area that deserves more attention.  Proper management of the atmosphere involves an assessment of all aspects of the carbon cycle to identify opportunities to address human-induced climate change. This has now become a major focus of scientific research because of the potentially catastrophic effects there may be on biodiversity and human communities.

Other human impacts on the atmosphere include air pollution. These pollutants can include toxic chemicals, particulate matter that produces photochemical smog and acid rain, as well as the chlorofluorocarbons that degrade the ozone layer. Man-made particulates such as sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere have contributed to global dimming, which may have disturbed the global water cycle by reducing evaporation and rainfall in some parts of the world. Admittedly, global dimming can also create a cooling effect that may have partially masked the effect of greenhouse gases on global warming, but this does not negate all the negative effects.

The ocean also influences climate and weather and, in turn, the food supply of humans and other organisms. Scientists have warned of the possibility, under the influence of global warming, of a sudden alteration in circulation patterns of ocean currents that could drastically alter the climate in many regions of the globe.

Major human environmental impacts also occur in the more habitable regions of the ocean fringes. Ten per cent of the world's population live in low-lying areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise. Because of their vastness oceans are often used as a convenient dumping ground for human waste. Parenthetically, the pirates in Somalia, in addition to their criminal activity, are protesting the dumping of nuclear waste off the coast of their lawless country.

Nor should we neglect the importance of forests on global warming. For example, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 90% of the carbon stored in land vegetation is locked up in trees and that they sequester about 50% more carbon than is present in the atmosphere. But studies show that the stress of a temperature rise of only 2.5 degree above preindustrial levels would release enormous quantities of this carbon.

Changes in land use currently contribute about 20% of total global carbon emissions. In 2007, climate scientists of the IPCC concluded (with at least a 90% probability) that atmospheric increase in CO2 was human-induced, mostly as a result of fossil fuel emissions but, to a lesser extent from changes in land use. Stabilizing the world’s climate will require wealthier countries to reduce their emissions by 60–90% over 2006 levels by 2050.

Not all the human activities mentioned thus far that impact on the environment result in global warming, but many do. There is much more that could be cited; these will have to do. In this post I can only give a few examples, yet I hope they suffice to indicate the scope and urgency of the problem.

Is global warming possible when there is environmental sustainability? Of course, since global warming is not just due to human activities. There are many natural factors, such as oceanic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, deviations in the Earth's orbit, plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions and changes in greenhouse gas emissions that also play a role.

However, there is now a widespread consensus among scientists that human-induced alterations of the natural world are a major cause of global warming. So much so that the term "global warming" has become shorthand to describe these human-specific impacts.

Through environmentally sustainable activities we can reduce the effects of global warming. Economic and social sustainable activities can also help, as I mentioned in previous posts. Although we cannot separate the three pillars as they are called, because they are so intimately connected, yet they can be distinguished, as I tried to do in this brief series.

The recent decision by the Canadian government to reduce both the number and scope of environmental assessments shows how the economic, political, and environmental issues can become intertwined. Carbon taxes and trading are further examples of this. They vividly illustrate the complexity of the modern world, where everyone makes polite noises about saving the environment, but few are prepared to pay the cost.

There will be costs -- enormous costs, in fact. But the alternative is an impending catastrophe. I only hope that it is not already too late, since we may have passed the tipping point. Again, I do not want to be another Casandra -- we all know what happened to her. Something must be done quickly in terms of the three pillars and sustainable development. After all, most of us are not Luddites. But are we collectively willing to pay the cost? This is the only Earth.

We must not waste it. We have been given the enormous responsibility of taking care of this world. You may not agree with the last statement, but it is integral to my own theology. It is also what inspired me to write this series. I want to do what I can every day to save the environment. This series too is only a small contribution, but I hope it helps. All of us must do our part.

My intention is not to convert everyone to become environmentalists; my motivation, rather is a heuristic one: simply, to widen my own knowledge and, hopefully, yours as well. In my next post I want to reflect on the influence that this knowledge might have on theology. In view of the crisis posed by global warming, I will ask whether there should be an ecological theology and, if so, what form it should take. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Global warming and social sustainability

The logo for this series on global warming

What does global warming have to do with social sustainability? This is the question I want to deal with this time in this series on global warming. It is not an easy question to answer, but I will try to do so as simply as I can. Again, I deny any claim to be an authority in this area. Through this series, I only want to do what I can to protect the environment and to reduce global warming by discussing this crucial issue.

Social sustainability is one aspect of sustainability or sustainable development. (See also my earlier post: Social sustainability is a much disputed concept and is not easy to define. Basically it involves the idea that future generations should have the same or greater access to (social) resources as the current generation ("inter-generational equity"), while there should also be equal access to these resources within that generation ("intra-generational equity").

In other words, my grandchildren, whom I have written about in earlier post, should not have to pay the price for the resources that my generation has squandered; nor should wealthy people in Europe or North America be allowed to usurp resources that the poor in Africa, for example, are only paid a pittance.

Social resources include certain basic human rights, among which -- especially pertinent to the issue of global warming -- are rights to environmental services within the local ecology. Human rights too are much disputed and are not universally acknowledged, and thus many rights are never positivized in law. Many governments pay only token lip service to even the most basic first-generation human rights, much less those rights that were proposed later, such as education and health. The environment, unfortunately, will probably be found at the bottom of most of these lists. The world sorely needs an environmental bill of rights.

I want to avoid the technicalities of many of the definitions of social sustainability that I have read, and thus I will only list several of the dimensions that scholars have noted:
  • Equity - the community provides equitable opportunities and outcomes for all its members, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community;
  • Diversity - the community promotes and encourages diversity;
  • Interconnected/Social cohesion - the community provides processes and structures that promote connectedness both within and outside the community;
  • Quality of life - the community ensures that basic needs are met and fosters a good quality of life for all members at every level (e.g. health, housing, education, employment, safety);
  • Democracy and governance - the community provides democratic processes and creates open and accountable governance structures;
  • Maturity - individual members of the community accept responsibility for consistent growth and improvement.
I will not be able to discuss all these dimensions in this post., but the first, equity, is very important. Equity and poverty are closely related. But both of them have social, economic, and environmental aspects. The three pillars, the economic, social and environmental, that we have discovered before are again evident. As the chart below shows, there are many ways to picture sustainability and these three pillars:

Equity is often linked to sustainability, because highly skewed or unfair distributions of income and social benefits are less likely to be acceptable or lasting in the long run. In addition, inequity also lies at the root of many environmental problems.

Social and economic equity deserves our attention, because of the disproportionately greater environmental damages that are suffered by disadvantaged group, such as the poor. Thus poverty alleviation efforts should also address the degraded environmental and social conditions facing the poor.

Some scholars have argued that the poor, who rely more directly on natural resources, are often good environmental managers; the rich leave a more harmful environmental footprint through their consumption. Moreover, the poor, although more numerous, consume far less than the rich and thus cause less damage to the environment than do the rich on a per capita basis. Their footprint is thus smaller.

The poor are frequently victims of both pollution and resource degradation that is usually caused by the rich. That is a gross inequity. At the same time, the landless poor are sometimes forced to encroach on fragile lands, thus eventually degrading their own environment. Human and natural resources ought to be seen as complementary. Attitudes towards the environment and patterns of economic activity are very important.

Inequality and economic growth are also inversely connected, as the following chart indicates:

I selected equity because poverty is often associated with it. I see it every day in the Gambia where tourists spend more at a beach side resort daily than some Gambians earn in an entire year. While it it true that these tourists provide work for many people, the benefit to the Gambian economy does not reflect the increased cost of living and the prostitution that is endemic in the area where I am currently living. I could also list the carbon footprint of the planes that fly in and out day and night. These will have to suffice.

I could produce a similar analysis of the other dimensions as well, but equity is especially important because of the social, economic, and environmental costs that accrue as a result of the gross inequities that are visible in every society today. Moreover, these inequities are growing, not diminishing. Inequality in the United States has increased to the extent that the gap between the rich and poor is larger now than at time since 1928, and is greater than that of any other industrialized nation.

Although a little dated by now, the following chart shows the share of global income going to the richest 20% and the poorest 20% of the world 's population; this trend has not changed appreciably in the two decades since 1992. 

              Year    Share of Richest 20%    Share of Poorest 20%    Ratio of Richest to Poorest
              1960                   70.2%                               2.3%                                30 to 1
              1970                   73.9%                               2.3%                                32 to 1
              1980                   76.3%                               1.7%                                45 to 1
              1989                   82.7%                               1.4%                                59 to 1
    Source: United Nations, Human Development Report 1992
In the G20 chart below, it is apparent that the US shows a slight improvement after 2000, but the world's major economies all indicate increasing inequality, especially, Russia, China, and Japan. This inequality must diminish if the environment is to improve. The growing inequality will only increase global warming. It is an inequity that needs to be corrected.

The rich are indeed getting richer, while the poor seem unable to get out of the poverty trap. Yet when the poor do manage to become wealthier, as is happening in countries like China, economists have discovered that the environment eventually does benefit; this hopeful sign is known as the Environmental Kuznets Curve. 

The curve shows a U-shaped relationship exists between per capita income (GDP) and the quality of the environment. Measures of the quality of the environment do indeed fall during the initial stages of economic growth, but this trend turns around at about $5,000 per capita GDP, with some measures of environmental damage showing improvement from $8,000 onwards. 

This curve does not contradict what I wrote about the poor having a smaller and less harmful ecological footprint than the rich. This curve examines the entire economy of a country. Countries like Russia are in serious trouble; environmental disasters are just waiting to happen. Chernobyl is perhaps the most well known example, but there are many more. I taught in Russia for many years and continue to stay abreast of developments there. The major cities seem prosperous, but poverty is never far away.

By current global standards, such high per capita incomes seem unattainable. The trend at the moment seems to contradict such progress. Yet equity remains an important though elusive goal if we are really sincere in wanting to reduce global warming.

Equity must not be measured only in economic terms; it is above all social: people want to be accepted with fairness as full and equal members of the human race and treated with dignity and respect. The Bible clearly teaches that the entire human race is created in the image of God; thus no one should be treated as inferior. According to a poster I saw decades ago, "God doesn't create junk."

And God wants us to take good care of his creation. I will return to this topic in the last post in the series in which I will examine ecological theology. God gave the creature that he made in his own image an enormous responsibility: among other things, for taking care of the environment. Thus this responsibility must not be misused in any way. Equity and global warming are both included in this divine mandate.

There is much more that could be said about the topic of social sustainability. Our cities, for example, have become havens for the fast growing global population of the world; the poor especially are flocking there seeking new opportunities. But how can these cities remain sustainable? Many are asking this question, as I discovered, but it will have to stay unanswered for the moment, since I have run out of room.

Equity with its associated poverty was enough to occupy us this time. Global warming is a serious threat and we must be prepared to fight it with every tool at our disposal; social sustainability is an important one.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Islam abhors violence, but Muslims need to do more to make peace possible

Bomb blast in Kaduna on Easter Sunday

(Note: I am interrupting the series on global warming to address the issue of violence in Nigeria, which I have written about several times already, but which needs further comment after the Easter bombings.)

Easter was not a joyful time in Nigeria this year. Many Christians who wanted to celebrate the resurrection of Christ had to do so in churches that had been turned into fortresses. People who came by car were not allowed to park near the church buildings, and everyone entering the buildings was searched. Motorcycles, which are the chief mode of transportation for most people were banned for the Easter weekend. This was in response to a series of bombings of several churches in Jos only a few weeks earlier.

On Easter Sunday the threat of further bombings was realized in Kaduna when a car filled with explosives tried to enter a church compound but was turned back at the gate. The car exploded shortly thereafter in the middle of a main road. About 60 buildings were damaged and 36 people lost their lives.

The Guardian, one of Nigeria's leading newspapers, published an article the day after the Kaduna blast that gave the response of a number of prominent Muslims to this recent spate of killings that many people, even Muslims, attribute to Boko Haram, a group that uses violence in order to propagate their ideas, which include the introduction of shar'ia law throughout Nigeria. 

These prominent Muslim leaders asserted that violence of Boko Haram has nothing to do with their religion, since Islam preaches and promotes peace. The leaders include the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, and the new National President of Muslim Association of Nigeria (MAN), Alhaji S.A. Yusuf. The guest speaker was Dr. Abdulrahman Olalekan Olayiwola, who is Head of Political Science and a Senior Lecturer at Lagos State University, as well as a solicitor in Britain.

Speaking at the 32nd Triennial National Conference of MAN, these leaders concluded that violence in any form was contrary to the teaching of Islam. They urged the establishment of an Islamic information center to tackle mistaken perceptions of Islam, and to train preachers on the true tenets of their religion. They also affirmed again that Islam encourages religious tolerance.

The bomb blast in Kaduna left a crater in the road

The guest speaker blamed Boko Haram for many of the problems that Nigeria is facing, including violence, general insecurity and national disintegration: “Boko Haram is not fighting for Islam. God does not ask anybody to use force to preach in any religion, including Islam, Christianity and African traditional religion. Therefore, Boko Haram is not fighting for Islam." 
He explained: "Violence in the name of religion is tantamount to violating their freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of belief and freedom of religion. It is wrong for anybody to claim he is fighting for a religion. God does not encourage people to fight for any religion. Therefore, Boko Haram is not fighting for Islam.” 

I am citing this article at some length in order to show that most Muslims condemn the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram. Not all Muslims are terrorists -- most Muslims are only interested in earning a living. Many Muslims condemn the killings that have plagued Nigeria for decades but have recently taken on a new and ominous guise. Christians are fearful, as was evident during Easter services this year.

The blast at the COCIN Church in Jos

Islam, as is often asserted, is a religion of peace. The root of the Arabic word means peace. Salaam, which is part of the common greeting, is translated as peace. The Hebrew equivalent, as most of us know, means peace too, but also wholeness, a quality that peace helps to make possible.

Nigeria needs not just peace but also wholeness. With a few exceptions, everyone in that country wants peace. But the question is: how to achieve peace?

My difficulty with the comments of these Muslim leaders is that they fall short of what I believe is needed to restore peace in Nigeria. The comment about establishing an information center is window dressing; it does next to nothing to make peace possible. And educating Muslims and others about the true nature of Islam, while helpful, will not stop the current violence in Nigeria.

The condemnation of Boko Haram, in contrast, is a very useful measure. In the past, many Muslims all over the world have condemned violence, yet it has continued unabated in many countries, especially in Nigeria and Afghanistan. Even though it is a step in the right direction, this measure too is not enough.

Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State

What is needed is a concerted effort by all Muslims to stop such violence. I will make just a few suggestions:
  • They must begin by exposing those who perpetrate violence. Unfortunately, some Muslims support violence since the goals of the perpetrators coincide with their own interests, be that shar'ia law, the elimination of American troops from their country, or whatever. 
  • They should report any plots to commit violence to the authorities so that preventative measures can be taken. On Easter Sunday there were reports that the authorities had been aware of the intended bombing, but apparently they did nothing about them. When the authorities do cooperate, this can be an effective tool in eradicating violence.
  • They ought to discuss with those who use violence the issues that motivate them and then seek to help them find a more appropriate channel for their disagreements. These issues may indeed be genuine and important to large segments of the population, in which case they deserve to be dealt with but always in an appropriate manner. Violence must never be condoned, no matter what the provocation.
  • They must not permit those who use violence to hide behind the skirt of Islam. The guest speaker at the MAN conference did this, but it was only in that forum that he was heard or, perhaps, by those who read the article. This condemnation must be publicized so extensively that everyone in the entire country can hear it, especially the Islamists. Why is this message not getting through?
  • They should support efforts by the government to deal with violence, as long as these measures are appropriate and equitable to all parties. If these measures are not, then alternatives must be found, and the authorities urged to be more fair and evenhanded. They must also be non-violent.
  • They ought to condemn those who resort to violence as not being true Muslims. This is what many Christians are already doing whenever any of their co-religionists retaliate in a violent way. They call them "so-called Christians." Muslims should do the same. The guest speaker, I believe, was moving in that direction, but he ws not yet prepared to say that.
  • All this is summarized in the Qur'an (16:125): "Call them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and words of good advice; and reason with them in the best way possible."

Christians and Muslims working together for peace in Nigeria

Having lived in Nigeria for many years, it is clear to me that the measures the government has undertaken in the past were not enough either. In part, these efforts have been stymied by elements within the government, who tacitly or otherwise, have supported the Islamists. In addition, the military are seen all too often as being partial to one group or another. Yet the government has continued to use the military as the primary tool for dealing with Boko Haram, but that is not as effective as engaging in dialogue, however difficult that may be. State-sanctioned violence is also wrong.

It must be noted that all acts of violence in Nigeria were instigated by those who called themselves Muslims. Scholars are agreed on this. Sad to say, some Christians after decades of "turning the other cheek," have retaliated, but always after the initial provocation. Such violence is also inappropriate and unacceptable; those who do this should be, and already are, condemned as not being true Christians.

It should be noted as well that the conflict in Nigeria is not essentially religious, but more often than not is ethnic in nature. There are groups, however, who in the guise of religion have instigated violent conflicts between Christians and Muslims. Boko Haram is an example of such a group. Thus religion has too often become a pretext for inciting people to violence. In view of the deep-seated divisions there, it is too easy to encourage violence. But that must stop.

Nigeria is perceived by many as a powder keg that is ready to blow up. But those who use these divisions for  their own devious ends ought to be severely condemned. On the other hand, those who strive for peace, and there are many of both faiths, must be commended and encouraged.

I know many people in Nigeria, both Christians and Muslims, who are working together for peace. May God richly bless their efforts. "Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called children of God" (Mt. 5:9). God indeed has many children in Nigeria and elsewhere -- Christian and Muslim.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Global warming and economic sustainability

The logo for this series

(Disclaimer: I am not an economist, a sociologist, or an expert of any kind, other than perhaps in philosophy and theology. But I am very concerned about the environment -- hence this series on global warming.)

What is economic sustainability?  Why is it important? And how is it connected with global warming? These are all important questions that I want to address in this post. Global warning is so crucial that the fate of the Earth may depend on the answers that we collectively give to them.

The new report that the Secretary-General's Global Sustainability Panel (GSP) issued in March outlines a framework for sustainable development. The GSP calls for world leaders to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will help to shape global policies and actions after the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs focus on reducing extreme poverty, while the SDGs will focus on all three pillars of sustainable development.As mentioned in the previous post, sustainable development has three pillars: economic, social and environmental.
In this post I want to concentrate on the economic pillar. Since the focus of this series is on global warming, my concern will go beyond the problem of ending extreme poverty, which is always immediately cited when this pillar is discussed. The economic pillar includes everything from how the very poor manage to survive using the meager resources at their disposal to how corporations ought to use all their available resources in an efficient and responsible manner, while at the same time being profitable. Each of us, without exception, is responsible for taking care of our own oikos or household in a way that encourages sustainability.
Economic sustainability requires the responsible use of resources. Sustainability involves making sure that every person  whether individual or corporate, seek to conserve the resources they use and limit the damage they cause. This is difficult for poor people, who may have used slash-and-burn methods for centuries, just to give one example. Poor people can also help in the battle for economic sustainability, but they may need education and financial assistance to make such changes possible.

I want to emphasize the role of corporations, however, since they too have an important role to play. Only lately, it seems, has this role been discussed so openly. That is a refreshing development.

Businesses come in all sizes. Very few are multi-national corporations. The man who collects garbage with a donkey cart in my neighborhood in the Gambia runs a business. So do the ladies who sell fruit and peanuts while sitting on a stone beside the road, or those who operate small stands with a pitiful offering of onions and a few other vegetables.

All businesses want to make a profit, of course, otherwise they would not survive for long. But at the same time every business should see to it that its operations do not produce environmental concerns that could cause lasting harm to the environment. By being mindful of the impact of the operation on a community a business is able to choose raw materials that are more environmentally friendly, and to design waste disposal methods that do not damage the environment. Economic sustainability can be seen as a tool to make sure the business has a future and continues to contribute to the financial welfare of the owners, the employees, as well as the community where the business is located.

I would suggest that, if a choice needs to be made, economic sustainability ought to take priority over profit. Managers and shareholders must be prepared to sacrifice, if necessary, for the sake of saving the Earth. Unfortunately, short term goals such a maximizing profit often take precedence today. Even during the recent recession, which is still not over, senior executives continued to benefit enormously while the economy as a whole stagnated and profits plummeted. In this case, it is clear where their priorities lay.

Big corporations can afford the luxury of making such choices, which the people on my street do not, since they are barely eking out an existence. But comparing the scale of their operations, large corporations can do much more damage to the environment than what is caused by small businesses in the developing world.

True economic sustainability demands that all businesses, no matter what their scale, minimize their use of resources so that these resources can be replenished or replaced. Forestry companies that plant new trees are an example of the first. Replacement is more difficult, however. Oil companies cannot replace the oil they pump out of the ground, but they can help to provide substitutes. That way the remaining oil can be used for other purposes that are less damaging to the environment.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in its 1992 publication "Changing Course," coined the term eco-efficiency. It is based on the concept of creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution. That same year the Earth Summit endorsed eco-efficiency in the private sector. This term has now become synonymous with a management philosophy geared towards sustainability.

According to the WBSCSB, eco-efficiency is achieved through the delivery of  "competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life while progressively reducing environmental impacts of goods and resource intensity throughout the entire life-cycle to a level at least in line with the Earth's estimated carrying capacity."

Simply put, eco-efficiency means producing more with less. The WBCSD demands businesses strive toward
  • A reduction in the material intensity of goods or services;
  • A reduction in the energy intensity of goods or services;
  • Reduced dispersion of toxic materials;
  • Improved recyclability;
  • Maximum use of renewable resources;
  • Greater durability of products.

Business strategies that are linked to the concept of eco-efficiency call for specific reductions in resource use, “natural capitalism,” which incorporates eco-efficiency as part of a broader strategy, and the “cradle-to-cradle” movement, which claims to go beyond eco-efficiency in abolishing the very idea of waste. These are all good ideas, but very few businesses have moved very far yet in this direction.

There are many impediments to economic sustainability. I will mention only a few:
  • A firm belief that technology can provide the solution to all the problems of economic unsustainability. While technology may be helpful, it cannot solve every problem.
  • A great reliance on business as the principal actor of transformation. New products, production processes, or further research and development will not necessarily solve these problems. Who will decide what products are needed? The retailer or the consumer? What resources will be devoted to these products? And what will happen if the product is harmful to the environment?
  • An implicit trust in the market system. The market does not always work the way it should as the current economic crisis proves.
  • A blind faith in growth. This is one of the basic failings of the Western individualistic world view. This belief has contributed much to the ecological mess today.
These beliefs make economic sustainability more difficult. Instead, what is needed is a profound change of heart. Unless there is a massive change of heart at both the individual and corporate levels, the Earth will never attain sustainability again.

Yet, unless it does, catastrophe stands waiting around the corner, and thus we lurch from crisis to crisis, whether economic, social, or environmental. The current recession, the political crises of our age, and the massive environmental mess that we have created already, are all related. The anomalies in weather patterns are the result of global warming that was caused in turn by our inability to achieve economic sustainability.

The World Economic Forum has produced a report, entitled “Redefining the Future of Growth: The New Sustainability Champions,” that analyzed more than 1,000 companies from around the world and in a wide variety of industries on the basis of criteria that gauge sustainability, innovation, and scalability. The report singles out 16 companies that shine in terms of their sustainability initiatives (see chart below):

All of these fast-growth sustainable organizations have revenues under $5 billion, and share a mindset and a set of practices. Based in nations as diverse as Costa Rica, Egypt, and South Africa, the companies all aim to proactively turn constraints, such as location or economic situation, into opportunities through innovation. They have embed sustainability in their company culture and work to shape their own business environments.

Economic sustainability is possible, but it will require sacrifices and commitments that many companies are probably not willing to make. Indeed, ir will require sacrifices from everyone involved in the process. Even poor street vendors may have to make adjustments in order to limit their environmental impact. Plastic bags can be found littering every African street. There are no laws yet restricting the use of such bags.

In Toronto, shoppers have to pay five cents per bag, unless they bring their own bags, which is what we do. Similar laws exist in many cities in North America and Europe. While this poses an inconvenience to many consumers, businesses love it, since it represents a small saving to them. The environment, of course, is the biggest winner. But this is only a small victory for the environment. Economics, unfortunately, tends to trump the environment.

Canada promotes economic sustainability, but it encourages the major oil companies that are developing the tar sands. This is hypocrisy and needs to be condemned. I will raise this issue of the tar sands in a future post in this series. This lack of concern, which is confirmed by in the recent federal budget when the government proposed easing the requirements for environmental assessments. It is clear where its priorities lie: money. It makes me ashamed to call myself a Canadian. Stephen Harper and his government do not speak for me.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Global warming and sustainable development

The logo for this series on global warming

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."  The Brundland Report, United Nations, 1987.

Global warming is a well-known, albeit much disputed, topic today. I will not defend global warming in this post, but will simply assume that it is real. See my earlier post on this issue that received almost 30,000 views so far. Those who deny global warning should take their objections elsewhere. For me the reality of global warning is indisputable. The only issue that is left is this: what are we going to do about it?

We can either do nothing, in which case catastrophe may overtake us very soon, or we must take immediate measures to limit global warming. Anything less than the latter will result in catastrophe, though maybe a little more slowly. Immediate measures are needed if impending catastrophe is to be averted. Yet even now there is no guarantee that it is not already too late. Look at all the weather anomalies all over the world this year. 

One measure that has been proposed to limit global warming is sustainable development. While there is no universal agreement on this term, the idea of sustainability has been widely used since the 1980's to describe the general direction in which we should move if we want to avert catastrophe.

The Brundland definition is perhaps the most widely quoted definition of sustainable development. Jeffrey Sachs recently wrote an article in which he gives another interpretation: Sustainable development means achieving economic growth that is widely shared and that protects the earth's vital resources. Our current global economy, however, is not sustainable, with more than one billion people left behind by economic progress and the earth's environment suffering terrible damage from human activity. Sustainable development requires mobilising new technologies that are guided by shared social values ( Unfortunately, Sachs sees the solution in technology. I beg to differ with him. The solution will require much more: a fundamental change of heart that I will describe later

Sustainability is actually an old concept. It is a modification, extension and transfer of the term ‘sustained yield,’ which has been the goal of foresters all over the world for about two centuries. The concept goes back even further to the Greek oikos or household which was assumed to be self-sustaining. Oikos is also the word from which we derive terms such as economics, ecumenism, and ecology.

The term "sustainable" was first used in the modern sense by the Club of Rome in March 1972 in its epoch-making report, "Limits to Growth." The authors explained what they meant by it: "We are searching for a model output that represents a world system that is: 1. sustainable without sudden and uncontrolled collapse; and 2. capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of all of its people."

The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers to the "interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars" of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection." These are the "three pillars" of sustainable development. Indigenous groups, however, have long argued that there should also be a fourth pillar, namely the cultural, since they insist that cultural diversity is as necessary for humanity as biodiversity is for nature. However, for the sake of not making this topic any more difficult than it already is, I will assume that there are only three pillars.

One senses quickly note how great the dispute surrounding this term is; everyone who has a stake feels that their concerns must not be overlooked. In succeeding posts I will discuss each of the three pillars separately, but will try to avoid these controversies as much as possible in order to highlight the significance of each.

Unsustainable development occurs when natural capital (which is the sum total of nature's resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity only uses nature's resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. The concept of sustainable development is intertwined with the concept of carrying capacity. In theory the long-term result of environmental degradation is the earth's inability to sustain human life and indeed any form of life. Such degradation on a global scale could imply extinction for humanity as well as other forms of life. That may seem melodramatic, but it is high time that we wake up to this impending threat to our existence.

The following table illustrates the various options available, but only the last option is sustainable:

    Consumption of renewable resources     State of environment            Sustainability
    More than nature's ability to replenish          Environmental degradation       Not sustainable
    Equal to nature's ability to replenish             Environmental equilibrium        Steady state economy
    Less than nature's ability to replenish           Environmental renewal             Environmentally sustainable
The Venn diagram of sustainable development shown above has many versions. They have been criticized extensively, but they are still a useful tool for illustrating how the three pillars can overlap. This diagram indicates the relationship between the three pillars of sustainability by suggesting that both economy and society are constrained by environmental limits.

What sustainability is, what its goals should be, and how these goals are to be achieved are all issues that are open to interpretation. For many environmentalists, the idea of sustainable development is an oxymoron as any development seems to entail environmental degradation. From this perspective, the economy is seen as a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere; and a gain in one sector involves a loss from another. This can be illustrated using three concentric circles:
Not surprisingly, the record on moving towards sustainability so far appears to have been quite poor. Yet sustainable development is an urgent issue, and has been for many years, though political will in favor of it has been slow-paced at best. Sustainable development is urgently needed for the 1.3 billion who live without access to clean water, or the half of humanity that lacks access to adequate sanitation and lives on less than 2 dollars a day, or the approximately 2 billion without access to electricity, to give only a few examples.

All this is happening in an age of immense wealth that finds itself increasingly in fewer hands. The inequality of consumption and, therefore, the use of resources is terribly skewed. According to the 1998 United Nations Human Development Report,“20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%.” 

How is sustainable development possible when the richest people in the world (read Westerners) will have to sacrifice the most? Will the rich be willing to change their lifestyle to such an extent that the very poor will be able to benefit? But that is the wrong question. At the moment, it is the poor who are suffering the most. Just think of the drought in the Sahel where 15 million people are at risk and one million children are suffering from malnutrition. Natural disasters affect the poor disproportionately as compared to the rich. Moreover the rich have the resources to deal with any natural disasters, while the poor have nothing.

The rich, moreover, leave a much greater ecological footprint, to introduce yet another category, than the poor. These can be compared at the national level where an enormous disparity is immediately apparent between counties that score high on the Human Development Index. The USA, for example, scores very high on this index, and at the same time it has the highest ecological footprint. See the chart below:
Ecological footprint for different nations compared to their Human Development Index (click on to enlarge)

The ecological footprint is a measure of the demand humans make the Earth's ecosystems. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area, measured in hectares per capita, necessary to supply the resources a human population consumes, and to assimilate their associated waste. In 2006, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita. The US footprint per capita was 9.0 gha, and that of Switzerland was 5.6 gha per person, while China's was 1.8 gha per person.

Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity if everybody followed a given lifestyle. For 2007, the total ecological footprint of humanity was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths -- in other words, humanity uses ecological resources 1.5 times as fast as the Earth can renew them. This obviously is not a sustainable situation.

In order to arrive at a truly sustainable situation wealthy countries would have to cut their ecological footprint so much that it would become politically impossible unless there is a massive change of heart. In fact, these nations would have to cut their footprint much more than poorer nations that have very little more that they can cut; the ecological footprint of the poorer nations is already minimal in comparison with wealthy nations.

What would you be willing to sacrifice, or what changes are you prepared to make, in order to reduce your personal ecological footprint? In the next few posts I want to deal with some changes that need to be made in each of the three pillars: the economy, society, and the environment. Each of these pillars directly affect the beautiful world that we share not only with other human beings but with all living creatures.

Let me anticipate the problems that would have to be addressed by making a personal remark. In Toronto I live only two minutes walk from a subway station, thus I do not need a car. I can buy whatever I need by walking to various stores in my neighborhood. In fact, I can even walk downtown, thus I could eliminate the subway from my personal footprint. Yet even that represents only a small fraction of my total footprint. But I am willing to do much more, if necessary. I will try to express some of them in succeeding posts.

However, I would expect other Canadians as well as citizens of other wealthy nations to do their bit as well. In fact, they must. If only a handful of people in each country is prepared to make the necessary changes, then it will not make any significant difference to the national ecological footprint. Moreover, those who do not want to make any changes may prove to be a disincentive, especially to those who are sacrificing much already. Sadly, however, there will always be those who refuse to row in the same direction as other people; they will continue to drive their SUVs regardless of how high the price of gas is or what the consequences are to the environment. Every society has selfish individuals, of course, but in the Western world, particularly in the US, individualism is regarded as a virtue. Individualism is, as I will argue later, part of the problem.

Again I ask, are you willing to make such sacrifices, or make the necessary changes in your lifestyle so that the Earth may be able to continue to sustain life, not only human life, but every form of life there is on our wonderful planet. These are some of the questions that I wish to examine in succeeding posts. I even intend to deal with global warming and theology in a future post.

The creation does not belong to us; we are merely stewards who must take care of it. Lately, however, we have not been doi ng a very good job. What can we do to rectify the situation so that this world will be able to sustain every form of life? This is what I want to discuss with you in this series. I invite your comments on the issues that I will be raising. Global warming is the most important topic of our time, believe it or not. Other issues become academic if our world is no longer able to sustain life properly. The choice is ours: either we change or we will face catastrophe. There is no other option.