The Bigger Picture
Published on July 9th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
For the first time in US history, on Friday afternoon of 26 June 2009 the US House of Representatives finally passed a comprehensive bill dealing with climate change. So in my next series of columns I want to discuss the pros and cons of this historic piece of legislation as well as its implications for the upcoming United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCC) Convention in Copenhagen this December.
But before I begin this discussion, I want to share some closing thoughts regarding last week’s column dealing with the dangers of mixing religious codes of morality with politics and law, aka moral absolutism.
I believe that inherent in all of us as human beings, is a basic sense of right and wrong. Granted there may be a few exceptions, such as those sociopaths and psychopaths who are seemingly devoid of any sense of guilt for their actions, but for the most part we know that we should treat other people in society the same way that we would wish people to treat us. Even primitive societies with no religious codes or a belief in God, have been shown to have established codes of moral conduct that govern interactions among their members. So why is it that so many “more advanced” societies around the world insist on incorporating various different religious moral codes into their laws?
I believe they do so because many religious leaders in “more advanced” societies are afraid that they will lose their positions of power and influence if their respective societies don’t reflect their particular religious values. If their own particular religious faith is dominant in the society they live in, then they seek to reinforce their positions of dominance and prominence within that society by ensuring that the laws governing it reflect their own religious moral values. Sometimes they are very subtle about how they go about doing this and at other times they are anything but subtle with their approach.
Most of the religious moral codes of right and wrong that I am familiar with emphasize a belief in God and treating others with respect. But many so-called spiritual leaders harp on their own specific religious and doctrinal differences in an effort to impress upon their followers the superiority of their own particular religious beliefs. In the process of doing this they not only convince their followers of the need to follow the rules of moral conduct that they espouse, but also to disregard laws or spiritual beliefs that conflict with their own since they are obviously “inferior” or lacking in some respect.
While I believe in God and am a practicing Catholic, I also happen to believe that God gave us brains and the ability to think for ourselves for a reason. My experiences in life have been such that I simply don’t believe in moral absolutes. While I find the notion of abortion personally abhorrent, I cannot know what is like to be a woman faced with the reality of giving birth to a child under difficult circumstances.
If I was a teenage girl who had been raped by my father would I still think it was wrong to get an abortion? If I was a young woman in Darfur who had been raped by members of the Janjaweed would it be wrong for me to get an abortion instead of facing a life of ostracism from my own people and an uncertain future filled with pain and suffering for that child because of something beyond my control?
In a similar vein while lying and stealing are universally considered to be morally wrong, is this always true regardless of the circumstances? If I knew that telling the truth would result in great emotional pain or suffering for another person would I be wrong to lie? If I was desperate to feed my family would I be wrong to steal a loaf of bread, a ration of rice or some milk if this was my only choice?
During the course of our lives most of us will confront some tough moral questions from time to time. Maybe we will make the right decisions sometimes and the wrong decisions at others. But in the end we will also have to live with the consequences of those decisions, be they right or wrong. I have no problem with those who use a particular set of religious or moral codes to guide them in addressing these tough questions so long as they don’t judge me or others as wrong when we disagree with them.
This issue of one’s religious and or moral conduct also provides me with a nice segue into the topic I will be discussing in this and future columns; climate change due to man made global warming.
While there are still some politicians and segments of the population who question whether or not climate change is actually occurring and if so is it really due to man made causes, there is now a large body of scientific evidence that points to the fact that man made global warming is a reality we must come to grips with. I therefore think it is exceedingly irresponsible for nay saying politicians and their supporters to continue to resist changing our lifestyles to address this concern until there is incontrovertible proof. It has been people like this who have heretofore prevented the world’s biggest energy waster, the United States, from taking concrete steps to address global warming.
But the bigger problem I have is with the general population of the US and the rest of the world that doesn’t dispute the evidence that industrial and economic development fueled by energy from the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change and harm to the global environment. What do they plan to tell their children and grandchildren who will inherit a world that has been changed for the worse? That they were more concerned about preserving their own energy intensive lifestyles than trying to address this problem earlier on?