Out of the Depths

Out of the Depths

Robbie Tulip

Kippax Uniting Church

Sunday 6 June 2021

Our readings today are from the Old Testament, from Genesis, Samuel and the Psalms. The theme that brings them together is the fall from grace. 

The fall is a simplified mythological story told to explain why there is evil in the world. We hear in our readings of the expulsion of humanity from paradise, of the fraught decision of ancient Israel to put trust in a king rather than in God, and of the Psalmist’s profound voice of hope from the depths of our anguish that God will forgive our sins.

The Genesis text begins with a remarkably human depiction of God on earth, strolling around in the garden of paradise in the cool of the evening. God is wondering what has happened to Adam and Eve, who are nowhere to be seen.  As we know, they are hiding from God because their mentality has been transformed by eating the forbidden fruit and they are newly ashamed of their nakedness. 

This story imagines the presence of God together with humanity in a world of peace and plenty, a picture of our ancestors in easy communication and dialogue with our divine Creator. That picture of divine harmony, life in a state of grace, then contrasts with the harsh news of the Fall.  God expels Adam and Eve from Paradise for their breach of trust when they ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The surface story of the fall invites us to explore its deeper meaning about the nature of human existence and history. The surface story is entirely symbolic, and its meaning points toward a remarkable match to the real events of big history.  Big history is the emerging approach that places written records in the context of the whole of history, putting traditional stories into the context of archaeological, geological and cosmic time. Biblical interpretation can be placed in the context of the scholarly scientific accounts presented by big history, to see how the stories relate to what accepted research tells us actually happened. 

The fall from grace into corruption is a central idea of the Christian theology of sin. The story of the fall seeks to explain the pervasive depravity of the world, the sense that humanity has lost our connection to God and is on a trajectory toward destruction.  Looking at the Biblical story of the fall against big history, we can compare the mythology of the fall to the slow historic shift over many thousands of years from the nomadic economy of the stone age to the settled agrarian culture of Biblical times. For tens of thousands of years through the ice age, all humanity lived in small clans moving around large areas, hunting for food and gathering wild plants.  However, as population grew, people found that growing crops offered a more secure life, as the romantic image of freedom and abundance in stone age life became impossible. Settling in one place enabled the growth of technology, with major innovations including metal, writing, housing and agriculture. 

Economic progress brought discovery of how to smelt copper and tin, then to combine these metals into bronze alloys, and then to use the higher temperatures needed to make iron tools and weapons.  There is an interesting paradox here.  The technological advances of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age over the millennia before Christ are seen in mythology as bringing a moral decline, a fall from grace.  The widespread myth, originating in India, tells of a descent from an original long golden age through successive morally worse and shorter ages of silver, bronze and iron, characterised by steadily growing ignorance and violence.  This combination of material progress with spiritual decline is a key element of Biblical theology, firstly in the expulsion from paradise and then in the story of God’s anger inspiring the flood, and then in the demand from Israel for a king.  Analysis in terms of big history has also shown a direct correlation between these changes in social organisation and underlying drivers of natural climate change.

The Bible picks up on this mythology in stories such as the murder of the nomadic herder Abel by his brother Cain, the settled tiller of the soil.  These sons of Adam and Eve came into conflict over divine favour. Cain won through violence, reflecting how agriculture created economic power and social hierarchy.  The Bible story can be read as a parable of how progress came at the price of the loss of the freedom enjoyed by the earlier small mobile human clans of the paleolithic period.  The social control required to manage an agricultural economy enabled a larger population, but it also opened the way to methods of slavery and war, with systemic inequality between classes and sexes generating power and wealth by inflicting suffering.  The agricultural diet provided more food but at lower quality, which is why people today see the paleo diet as more healthy. 

These issues around the fall from grace flow through into the story of Samuel and Saul, where Israel faces a political dilemma, whether to maintain its old traditions of rule by men of God or to follow the path of other successful nations and appoint a king to rule over them.  Samuel points out the likely negative effects of this decision – that a king will use absolute power to oppress and enslave and tax the population in arbitrary and unfair ways. But the elders can see the military risks of not having a king.  They see that the unity brought by a rigid social hierarchy will enable defence of the land against invaders, whereas the older informal reliance on the wisdom of initiated elders and social equality lacked the efficiency needed to run a national army.  The elders point out to Samuel that they trust him but not his sons, showing that the old ways of handing on knowledge to govern the society are failing.  The source of power is shifting from the knowledge of the elders to the economy of the king, as metal and writing and agriculture overwhelm the old traditions, and practices with roots in nomadic culture had to be abandoned.

This story of Israel’s demand for a monarchy reflects how the social evolution from nomadic to settled life required a hierarchical state.  This social evolution brought the victory of monotheism over polytheism, as societies organised in larger units, and also the victory of patriarchy over the older morality that recognised greater local autonomy for small clans which had allowed greater equality between men and women.  

There are many stories in the Bible that reflect what we could call the tectonic forces of social evolution.  The story of the fall from grace is the big shift, as the changing economy forced changes in belief and social practice, coming like an earthquake after the plates of the earth had built up enough pressure.  One remarkable example of this shift of thinking is the second set of Ten Commandments issued by God to Moses, described at Exodus 34. The first command is to cut down the Asherah worship poles that communities used to worship the divine feminine.  In early times the God of Israel was known as El, and was married to the goddess Asherah, reflecting a belief in gender equality, or at least female autonomy.  The divorce of Yahweh from Asherah led to this commandment from God to Moses to smash the Asherah religion.  The underlying causes included the pressures of military security, as the people of Israel found that national defence required social unity that was impossible with the older decentralised systems of gender equality.  Like the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, the destruction of older religions came like an earthquake for the society of Israel.

The Old Testament and Mosaic Law supported the system of hierarchical patriarchal monotheism that came into power as a direct response to economic and social forces that can be equated with the fall from grace.  As a small nation surrounded by large empires, Israel felt it had no choice but to ensure social unity and political security through shared religion.  This situation brought forth the call of prophets like Samuel that the national unity of Israel required the moral unity that could only come from faith in God. The prophets taught that the only hope for national sovereignty was found in divine sovereignty, and that faith in God would enable friendship between Israel and the great powers based on moral standing and reputation and mutual respect.  The story of the prophets is that the failure of Israel to generate moral unity – a failure caused by the fall from grace – was a major factor in its loss of national political freedom.

The Bible puts all this material into the context of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.  As Saint Paul tells us, in a powerful symbolic myth in Romans 5:12, death came through Adam and life and grace came through Christ.  My reading is that this message of redemption through Christ is the central story of human history, but in an entirely symbolic rather than literal meaning.

I mentioned the myth of descent from a golden age. This story appears in the Bible with King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue with head of gold and feet of clay explained by the prophet Daniel.  This story of a lost golden age of wisdom and peace originally came from India, with the descent over twelve thousand years from the golden age into an iron age of ignorance and war, followed by ascending bronze and silver ages to a new golden age. 

Christ appears at the low point of this cycle, representing the spirit of eternal truth in the midst of darkness and ignorance. As the spirit of the golden age in the midst of the iron age, Christ shows a path to universal redemption of the world through his willingness to suffer death on the cross.  The resurrection of Christ symbolises how goodness is stronger than evil and love will win over hate.

The Genesis story of the fall ends with God telling Adam and Eve that they must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever.  The tree of life is a remarkable image appearing at the start of the Bible in Genesis and then not until the final chapter of Revelation.  The tree of life symbolises the state of grace that existed in paradise before the fall, and also the expected future return to a state of grace, with the vision of a time of the healing of the world when God will again be present in the garden of the world, like in Eden. 

As we ask now where our focus should be to somehow restore our lost state of grace, to again become at one with the tree of life, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that the key is to treat the least of the world as though they were him.  The moral framework of the Bible cannot be used to validate traditional social hierarchy, with its separation of spirit from nature.  Jesus tells us the return to a state of grace will require an inversion of the prevailing values of the world, placing human dignity and equality at the centre of an ethic of love.  The Bible provides a wonderful and realistic story of planetary hope, explaining the source of our problems and a path to their solution through Jesus Christ.

1 Samuel 8:4-20, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)-
Psalm 130, Genesis 3:8-24

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Cleansing the Temple

Cleansing The Temple

7 March 2021

Kippax Uniting Church

Robbie Tulip

Psalm 19:1-8, John 2: 13-17

Our readings for today are from Psalm 19 and the Gospel of Saint John.  The Psalm explains how the glory of God is revealed in the magnificent order of the visible heavens. The Gospel reading tells of Jesus driving the moneychangers and their animals out of the temple in Jerusalem.  I will use this opportunity to explain how these texts relate to my own theology, which differs quite markedly from conventional approaches.

Before getting into my own interpretation, it is important to reflect on the great power of the Gospel story of the cleansing of the Temple.  The courage and vision of Christ are presented by John at the beginning of Jesus’ public work with a physical attack on the hypocrisy of the established religion of his day.  The underlying message of this dramatic event is that the institution of the temple had lost its way.  Instead of a focus on divine truth, the temple had allowed shallow commercial interests to come to dominate its practice.  Materialistic priorities had crowded out reverence and prayer.  For Jesus, taking a whip to the traders showed his view that salvation comes through an ethical focus on high ideals.  His strategic vision involved a complete reformation of Judaism to put God at the centre. 

The true greatness of Christ emerges in this story of cleansing the temple.  Jesus is the perfect man.  After taking time in the wilderness to fast and contemplate the message of God, Jesus had come to see how the world fails to understand what God demands.  His ministry sought to address the dangerous implications of continuing on this path of easy corruption and delusion.  Jesus understood what had to be done to change the paradigm from the wide and easy path to hell to the narrow and difficult path to heaven.  He explained the transformation needed through brilliant moral stories and actions, and had the integrity to follow through completely on his vision, suffering a cruel execution on the cross.  His message of messianic leadership was vindicated through his resurrection from the dead, demonstrating that goodness is stronger than evil, and that hatred and error can be overcome through the pure love of God.

The Gospels tell a story with a profound ring of truth, providing a way to transform the degraded situation of our world.  Unfortunately, the church today has difficulty getting people to listen to its message.  This situation makes me wonder if the church today is in a similar spiritual mess as the Jerusalem temple that Jesus tore into.  What really worries me is that Christian theology is viewed in the wider world as deeply flawed, with considerable justice. A profound existential conversation about the basis and direction of faith is needed, making sure our faith is grounded in reality rather than fantasy. 

Modern culture has become quite hostile to religion, and instead largely takes its ethical compass from commerce and celebrity, with some recognition of the moral value of science.  We are far from implementing rational scientific ideals throughout society, but it is well worthwhile comparing theology against the modern framework of scientific enlightenment.  Science demands a central focus on evidence and logic, looking at the morality of our beliefs and actions in terms of their results in practice.  When Christians assert that events occurred which science regards as impossible, and can only point to the claims in the Bible for evidence, a barrier of mistrust arises.  Going back to the start of the modern scientific enlightenment, the philosopher Voltaire commented that believing absurdities permits atrocities.  He meant by this that the church of his day had an imaginary fantasy mentality that was closed off to evidence. This attitude of believing things that were absurd resulted in the church ignoring evidence of corruption, hypocrisy and immorality, with severe damage to its reputation.

Scientific criticism of faith has become even more influential today, with the rise of the internet.  Everyone can now check and discuss claims that seem untrue.  The modern trend is to be sceptical of claims that rest on traditional authority.  As we know, the average age of church members is steadily getting older.  Many churches face an inability to win new young members and transmit the faith between generations.  And the parts of the church that do have success with the young are often more sectarian, holding to literal beliefs that are rejected by scientific people.  That is an approach that can only offer short term success. The future renewal of the church has to rest upon a reconciliation of faith and reason. That means the church has to become more open to a discussion about how some core Christian beliefs have a primarily symbolic rather than historical meaning.

My view is that the roots of the moral problem of the church go all the way back to the establishment of Christendom by the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD.  The message of the New Testament is morally sound, but was corrupted when the Emperor Constantine used the Nicene Creed to insist everyone in the empire should hold to the same doctrine.  To end the political struggles caused by theological debate, Rome wanted to replace the early diversity of views with a single unified belief system. That meant that any ideas in conflict with the creed were declared heretical and anathema.  Unfortunately, that caused the rich complexity of the early church to be lost. 

The political victory of Christianity led to the idea of Gospel Truth, the belief that everything in the Bible is undeniably true.  My view is that such literal approaches are incorrect.  The real truth in the Bible is symbolic rather than literal, emerging with the underlying message about the presence of God in the world and how we can connect to God. This message is too important to allow disputes about historical facts to distract us from it. If we take the Bible too literally, Christians accept a lower standard of historical evidence than is generally used, which damages the whole reputation of religion.  Instead, we should accept that the purpose of scripture to deepen our faith in God means scripture should be revered as a sublime poetic work of spiritual imagination.  It really does not matter for Christian faith whether any specific claim in the Bible is historically accurate.  Christ is the mediator between our world and God, and the point of the stories about him is to illustrate the meaning of this profound spiritual connection with the eternal divine truth of our creator. 

The two texts we have today can help us to reconstruct some of that lost complexity of early faith, by exploring how ancient theology was intimately connected to astronomy, a connection that was largely forgotten under Christendom.  The three wise men in the birth story came from Chaldea, a nation with detailed records of stellar observation going back to a thousand years before Christ.  Across Babylonia, Egypt, India and Greece, as well as in Israel, this religious function of astronomy was central.  Watching the stars had the practical importance for the ancients of marking the seasons for agricultural production, defining the calendar.  The stars of the sky were also imagined as symbolising the state of divine grace, while life on earth is by contrast in a state of deluded corruption.

My view is that astronomy strongly informed the underlying rationality of the original Christian theology, and that restoring this original linkage to observation of nature can put faith onto a more compelling and coherent foundation than conventional church dogma.  Psalm 19 says the heavens pour forth speech.  This remarkable image of cosmic order and beauty helps us to see how the eternal power and divine nature of God are manifest in the things he has made, as Saint Paul commented in Romans 1.20.  The orderly stability of the visible heavens was a source of great wonder and awe and reverence for ancient religion.  This sense of astonishment at the scale of the universe has only deepened within modern astronomy, although the religious connection has largely been lost. 

Exploring what Psalm 19 might mean by the speech pouring forth from the heavens, one intriguing possibility is the astronomical movement known as the precession of the equinoxes.  This movement is caused by a slow wobble in the axis of our planet, like we can see in a spinning top. Each wobble of the earth takes nearly 26,000 years, and causes a slow shift of the stars against the seasons.  Ancient astronomers from well before the time of Christ could measure this celestial motion, because every 2000 years the stars that used to rise or set at harvest time now appeared a month later, creating the idea of successive “ages” in history. 

An intriguing question is how much this accurate observation of the slow shift of the heavens influenced religious ideas.  The psychologist Carl Jung observed that the birth of Christ corresponded to the movement of the equinox point into the constellation of Pisces the Fish, suggesting that this slow shift of the stars matches well to Gospel ideas about Jesus as a fisher of men.

Here are some star diagrams (Appended) I have made showing 7000 years in the stars, illustrating how the conventional Biblical timeline of history could have arisen out of astronomical stories.  Beginning in 4004 BC, conventionally imagined as the year of creation of the world by God, we can see here how the equinox point, where the path of the sun crosses the equator each year at Easter, was then in between the constellations of Taurus the Bull and Gemini the twins. 

Moving forward in thousand-year steps, we see the Easter or Passover point in the stars had moved back through Taurus into Aries the Ram.

By the time of Christ, the equinox point was about to enter the constellation of Pisces the Fish. The alpha and omega point of Christianity, the time of Christ, occurred when this X in the sky crossed the line of stars known as the first fish of Pisces, which occurred exactly on 16 September, 21 AD.

This moment created an imaginary shape the same as the Chi Rho Cross, marking a moment of celestial harmony between the stars and the seasons. 

Since then, the equinox has moved through Pisces, and is now nearing Aquarius the Water Bearer, which is why we are now said to be entering the Age of Aquarius.

This is all simple well-known astronomy.  My view is that the authors of the Bible story were well aware of this information, and were part of a tradition that linked their observation of the slow movement of the stars to the ideas of faith. 

John’s account of the cleansing of the temple presents a remarkable example, one of many in the New Testament, that supports this theory.  John tells us that Jesus made a whip of cords and drove the traders out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. The original community who developed the ideas in the gospel could readily see that this story was a parable for the astronomical movement of precession of the equinox, which was then moving out of the signs of the sheep and cattle.  Jesus began the new cosmic age of the Fishes, replacing the then ending age of the sheep, the two millennia when Passover occurred with the sun in Aries the Ram, defined in Judaism by the law of Moses, whose covenant had replaced the even earlier age of cattle, when the equinox was in Taurus the Bull. 

Therefore, for Jesus to end the corruption of the temple of God symbolised by trading of sheep and cattle also told a cosmic story of the birth of a new era.  Jesus driving the sheep and cattle out of the temple of God represented the replacement of the old covenants of traditional Judaism by the new covenant of Christ, directly symbolised by the observable movement of the heavens.

My view is that the influence of this way of thinking on Christian origins was immense, but the clash with the simplistic supernatural dogmas of Roman Christianity meant that the role of astronomy in religion was suppressed and then largely forgotten.  The authors of the Nicene Creed did not welcome discussion about how the timing and nature of Christ matched the stars.  The whole Christian view that pagan thought was corrupted by fortune telling meant that such analysis was viewed with hostility. 

Opening this discussion now presents an opportunity for dialogue about the underlying meaning of Christian faith.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us to hope the will of God should be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The grandeur of the slow shift of the equinox explains the parable of speech pouring forth from the heavens, and the removal of the sheep and cattle from the temple is equally a parable for the observed movement of the stars at the time of Christ.  Just as Christ provided the earthly reflection for the heavenly movement of the equinox point into Pisces, so too the Gospel story of the Second Coming of Christ reflects the ancient imagination of the distant future, the time now approaching as the equinox point enters Aquarius, a time when the message of Christ will finally be fully understood and implemented. 

This explanation offers a way to place Christian theology into a scientific framework while retaining and deepening its moral meaning for our world through a vision of transformation and liberation, integrating our fallen situation into the big history governed by the slow sweep of the heavens. This material provides a way to make sense of Biblical theology in a systematic way that coheres fully with modern scientific knowledge.  It invites us to ask who are the moneychangers in our temples today, and how the message of Jesus provides rich parables for the need to renew and reform our thinking to do the will of God, on earth as in heaven.  Amen

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Planet Positions 2021

This excel spreadsheet shows positions of the Sun, Moon, Planets, Eclipses and Lunar Node by Right Ascension for calendar 2021.

Notable visual events include

Mars and Venus are conjunct in the western sky on 12 June.

Jupiter, Saturn and Venus form a wide triple at the end of the year.

Best dates to view Mercury in the evening are late January, mid May and August-September.

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Global Warming and the Bible

Robbie Tulip

Sermon delivered at Kippax Uniting Church, Canberra

6 December 2020

Bible readings:

Mark 1:1-8 – John the Baptist prepares the way for Christ

2 Peter 3:8-15a: The eschaton – fiery end of the world  

The theme for today, the second Sunday of Advent, is love. Love is the binding power that connects our relationships and keeps us together.  The ultimate connection of love is between us and God, a relationship mediated by Jesus Christ.  The saving power of Christ’s love rescues us from our selfish indifference and brings us into right relationship with God, with each other and with the world. 

Love is the highest eternal value, deepening all our personal connections.  The love of Christ creates a path toward honest and open dialogue, helping us to build a life of integrity and respect and care.  Where the trauma of emotional brutality or worse has stunned us into silence, the love of Christ invites us to reveal our vulnerable true self to find the liberating way of grace, so the truth can set us free (John 8:32). 

There is a cosmic dimension to the love of Christ.  Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Colossians (1:15-20) that Christ is the image of God, connecting and reconciling everything, holding everything together from the beginning of time as the source of order in creation. This high metaphysical vision of the eternal nature of Christ tells a story of how the love of God infuses the whole universe.  The love of God is present on our planet in the story of Jesus Christ, the word made flesh (John 1:14).  The incarnation of Christ brings us the message of God’s deep and abiding love, coming to save the world and not to condemn it. (John 3:17)

Love can be a high-risk endeavour.  The example of Jesus shows the bewildering cruelty that the worldly powers can deliver when confronted by the innocent honesty of pure love.  The death of Christ on the cross shows how the world is ruled by hatred and ignorance, while his resurrection is all about the ultimate redeeming victory of love. 

Hatred can seem so simple and safe and secure for those who are consumed by it.  In reality, hatred is a bleak and degrading emotion, preventing mutual learning and growth. When our ideas of security teach us to be constantly suspicious and untrusting, the idea that we could live through love looks like a dangerous threat.  And yet the message of Christ is that love is the path of salvation.  The real danger comes from the seduction of hatred, which offers the wide and easy path to destruction, while love gives us the hard and narrow path to life (Matt 7:14).

In our first reading today (Mark 1), Saint Mark begins his story of the advent of Christ in the desert, the dry and barren place where Isaiah said the glory of the Lord will be revealed (Isa 40:5).  The glory of Christ had been foretold by Isaiah, and again by the wise desert hermit John the Baptist, whose spiritual focus on the love of God is amplified by a life of extreme simplicity.  John is at the margin of society, excluded from worldly power, indifferent to the values of image and wealth and uncorrupted by the pleasures of desire.  Here we see the paradox of God’s love, made known in a place that the dominant values of the world find forbidding and unlovely. 

In an uncompromising message preparing the way for the coming of Christ, John looks forward to how the love of God in Christ will break through into the world as a universal cosmic power.  The love of God is freely given to all without condition, just as a celebration that we exist, despite our flaws.  And yet Mark tells us that John put conditions on the forgiveness of God. 

John gives a baptism of forgiveness for repentance (1:4).  This means that while God’s love is unconditional, God’s forgiveness of sin is conditional upon our recognition of our wrongdoing.  John’s baptism provides access to the healing grace of God, in return for genuine sorrow and reflection about our mistakes that have made forgiveness necessary. Restorative justice comes through dialogue and understanding about truth and reconciliation. 

John is saying that our salvation, putting us into right relationship with God, requires that we understand what we have done wrong, why it was wrong and what harm our wrongs have caused, and that we feel genuine remorse for our wrong actions and words and thoughts.  Only when we are truly sorry for our mistakes can we commit to a life of repair and restoration, of love grounded in truth.  The forgiveness that comes through repentance gradually opens us up to a deeper understanding of the love of God, working to build expanding islands of grace and creative power amidst the oceans of emptiness in our deluded world.

Opening ourselves to the cosmic love of God in Christ offers a vision of the possible transformation of our world. Jesus offers us a shift from separation and emptiness and delusion toward connection and fullness and love.  Jesus calls us to embark on the slow journey from a state of corruption to a state of grace, as we ask what it would mean for the world to listen to his message. 

Saint Peter’s Second Epistle helps us to think about this need for transformation with his claims that for God a thousand years are as a day (3:8), and the alarming idea that the coming apocalypse will consume the world in fire (3:10).  This idea of a fiery end to our present age is something that rings too true in our current situation of global warming.  Regardless of any views on literal prophecy, as we look at our current fraught world situation we can find a deep relevance in the Biblical teachings.

Peter took his idea that a thousand years are a day for God from Psalm 90:4.  The traditional reading in the early church linked this idea to the seven days of creation in Genesis 1, reflecting the very slow operation of the will of God in the world.  The Church Fathers believed that just as God symbolically rested for a day after six days of work, so too will the world rest and recover for a thousand years under the rule of Christ after six thousand years of toil and fall.  In this Christian scheme of seven thousand years of history, Christ’s first appearance came four thousand years after Adam and Eve, and served to check the destructive direction of the world. 

Saint Augustine warned back in the fifth century AD that it is a mistake to read the seven-day creation story literally. He said in his book The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (2:9) that if anything in the Bible seems to contradict the perceptions of our rational faculties, it just shows we do not properly understand the message of the scriptures.  The wisdom of the early church recognised that many stories in the Bible are parables, whose real meaning is symbolic, presenting ideas about the real world in a poetic way.  Similarly today we know that life on earth began four billion years ago and has evolved by the natural causal processes of evolution.  

My view is that our whole understanding of the scriptures needs to evolve to reconcile our faith with reason, as Augustine recognised in part.  But this process needs to be far more thorough, so that theology can be recognised as a coherent science.  That may mean giving up some cherished and beautiful traditional beliefs, in order to construct a systematic worldview that fully accords with evidence and logic, while holding to the true core of faith. 

Rather than asserting that Biblical events really happened as described, when there is no external historical evidence, it is better to accept that the stories are primarily symbolic.  It does not matter to our faith whether the descriptions are historically accurate or not.  The idea that God intervenes in the world through supernatural miracles is difficult to reconcile with the laws of physics. 

A better approach sees miracles as parables, conveying deep moral wisdom about the nature of the world.  Jesus himself supported that approach.  Immediately after feeding the five thousand, Jesus explained at Matthew 8:12 that no sign will be given from heaven, seemingly asking us to understand the miracle as a parable rather than as a sign from heaven.

The story of the Second Coming can also be read in this symbolic way.  We can leave aside the idea of a miraculous intervention from God to save the world and instead open dialogue to construct our own view of what it would mean for Jesus Christ to rule the world in love.  Such a conversation can help us to see the real meaning of the Bible in its call in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10) for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

That call looks especially to the Last Judgement in Matthew 25:40 with its clear statement that our salvation depends primarily on doing good works that include the least of the world as though they were Jesus Christ.  At the same time, salvation requires a coherent shared story, seeing an articulate faith as the essential inspiration for encouraging acts of love and mercy.

Peter’s warning about the coming fiery doom and the promise he relates from Christ of a new heaven and new earth (3:13) can serve as a very useful parable for our current planetary predicament, understood as purely scientific messages.  The Bible tells us in Revelation 11:18 that the wrath of God is against those who destroy the earth, indicating that our duty as people of faith is to preserve and enhance our planetary biodiversity.

A recent scientific article, Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, explains the choices facing the world are to either make the planet into an unliveable hothouse by continuing with business as usual, or to recognise our global responsibility to restore the stable and fertile climate of the past.  The new idea of the Anthropocene means we have already shifted into a situation where human decisions are decisive for the planetary climate. The choice, in our old religious language, is between heaven and hell, salvation or damnation.  These old religious ideas are now acquiring a very practical scientific meaning as our technological progress constantly increases human power over nature. Our moral sense needs to catch up to understand the destruction we are causing. 

The saving power of Christ came from his explanation of the cultural changes that would be needed for good to triumph over evil and for love to prove stronger than hatred.  In Matthew 24:14, Jesus tells us that this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached to the whole inhabited earth before the end will come, meaning that the rule of Christ on earth will only be possible once the whole of humanity is connected together.  Then Jesus tells us that all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and will see the Son of Man coming with power and great glory.

The voice of Christ will speak like a sword (Rev 1:16), cutting through our fog to proclaim the clear and simple message of the transformation of the planet, a judgement of mercy to bring the peace of God. As we contemplate the fiery fate that seems in store, the saving love of Christ provides the framework for the existential dialogue needed to address the scale and urgency of climate change as a primary security emergency for the planet.

Seeing the Bible in a modern light requires that we develop what Pope Francis has called an integral ecology, a vision that combines love for humanity with love for the planet.  As we look for a practical redemption by sustaining a liveable planet for our children, we can see that the forgiveness of God demands a practical and thorough repentance.  Christ calls us to express sorrow about what we have done and a commitment to transform our world in love. That means ending the indifference that is seeing climate problems steadily worsen, and approaching our collective problems in a true scientific spirit, grounded in the values of the love of Christ.

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Might SARS‐CoV‐2 Have Arisen via Serial Passage through an Animal Host or Cell Culture?

In their new article, Might SARS‐CoV‐2 Have Arisen via Serial Passage through an Animal Host or Cell Culture?, published with free access in August, K&D Sirotkin explore the suggestion that the COVID 19 virus was accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan. The journal is BioEssays, published by Wiley online. The comments below are fully referenced in the article.

The article suggests the novel coronavirus could have come from dual‐use gain‐of‐function research, as the process of viral serial passage mimics a natural zoonotic jump, and offers explanations for SARS‐CoV‐2’s distinctive features, raising ethical questions about the risks of this area of research.

Noting that this virus acts like no microbe humanity has ever seen, the authors contend that the natural origin hypothesis fails to account for its unique genomic characteristics, and ignores the long history of serial passage as a method to manipulate viral genomes by forcing zoonosis between species, with the same signature but shorter time frame compared to natural viral mutation.

The dual‐use gain‐of‐function research tool of serial passage was first applied to an influenza virus in 1977. Then in 1979, a Soviet lab leaked weaponized anthrax through an improperly maintained exhaust filter, but Soviet authorities blamed the deaths on contaminated local meat. This cover-up, with the same reason provided as in Wuhan, withstood inquiries until 1992, when analysis of genetic distance proved the weapons lab was to blame.

In 2011, serial passage between ferrets created viruses that were transmissible by aerosol. One highly virulent strain was said to “make the deadly 1918 pandemic look like a pesky cold.” Since then, gain‐of‐function serial passage through ferrets has increased viral virulence and transmission.

One virulence feature of COVID 19 is a furin cleavage site. In influenza, these come from serial passage in laboratories or farms. They are absent from coronaviruses more than 60% similarity to COVID 19. The artificial generations added by forced serial passage create the artificial appearance of evolutionary distance, as found with SARS‐CoV‐2, which is distant enough from any other virus that it has been placed in its own clade.

Acquisition of the furin cleavage site was one of the key adaptations that enable SARS‐CoV‐2 to efficiently spread. This could have been spliced directly into the novel coronavirus’s backbone in a laboratory using classic recombinant DNA technology, with use of serial passage to remove any sign of direct genetic manipulation. A furin cleavage site introduced to a coronavirus via recombination appeared to increase lethality while also damaging respiratory and urinary systems, paralleling SARS‐CoV‐2 systemic multi-organ symptoms for lungs, the cardiovascular and nervous systems and kidneys.

The University of North Carolina and Wuhan institutions such as the Institute of Virology have researched gain‐of‐function in bat‐borne coronaviruses since 2013, when a coronavirus that targets the ACE2 receptor like SARS‐CoV‐2 was isolated from a wild bat. Another gain‐of‐function experiment reconstructed the SARS coronavirus to impart affinity for ACE2 by isolating a civet progenitor and serially passing it through cell lines. Then a chimeric bat‐borne coronavirus directly manipulated a spike‐protein gene to produce a virulent strain which produced a dire warning from the Pasteur Institute about its trajectory if it escaped.

A private repository has over 1500 strains of largely undisclosed viruses to draw from for experiments. Published work to manipulate bat coronavirus genomes is consistent with the wet‐work that would be needed to engineer this novel coronavirus in a laboratory. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has refused to release the lab notebooks of its researchers, which are expected to be meticulously detailed given the sensitive and delicate work that takes place in such laboratories. These notebooks would likely be enough to exonerate the lab from having any role in the creation of SARS‐CoV‐2.

The SARS‐CoV‐2 could not be intentionally engineered, but it could well be selected for after serial passage through ferrets or cell cultures in a lab, considering that it spreads readily among ferrets and among minks, a closely related subspecies. A viable pathway for its emergence could be infected bats defecating on commercial mink farms in Hubei.

The novel coronavirus appears to be far more adapted to human ACE2 receptors than those found in bats, which is unexpected given that bats are the virus’s assumed source. Surprisingly, the virus was perfectly adapted to infect humans since its first contact with us. It had no apparent need for any adaptive evolution at all, an unexpected finding since viruses are expected to mutate substantially as they acclimate to a new species.

A study of people who live near bat caves found minimal exposure to bat coronaviruses, and no antibodies in Wuhan, casting doubt that SARS‐CoV‐2 was circulating in humans prior to the outbreak, and making a zoonotic jump more unlikely. Natural jumps leave wide serological footprints due to the evolutionary ‘trial‐and‐error’ that must occur before mutations that allow adaptation to a new host species are selected.

Examination of all past gain‐of‐function serial passage research by the scientific community at large could determine what other definitive genomic signatures serial passage leaves besides the creation of furin cleavage sites, in case more of those can be found in this novel coronavirus. For example, SARS‐CoV‐2 appears to cloak the novel coronavirus from white blood cells, as does HIV, and it has a genomic region like bacteria, which may contribute to cytokine storms in adults.

The Sirotkin paper concludes that gain‐of‐function research is troubling, with potential conflict with the Nuremberg Code ban on experiments that could endanger human life unless potential humanitarian benefits significantly outweigh the risks. The Center for Arms Control and Non‐Proliferation has calculated that the odds that any given potential pandemic pathogen might leak from a lab could be better than one in four. The creation of virulent Bird Flu strains using serial passage contributed to the NIH imposing a moratorium on dual‐use gain‐of‐function research from 2014 until 2017, after which it was relaxed to allow study of influenza and coronaviruses. This moratorium was meant to limit “the potential to create, transfer, or use an enhanced potential pandemic pathogen.” The increased pace of research into coronaviruses would have increased the risk of a lab leak. These viruses were pinpointed in 2006 as a viable vector for an HIV vaccine, and research into a pan‐coronavirus vaccine has been ongoing for decades. The fact that gain‐of‐function research creates opportunities for pandemic viruses to leak out of labs calls for a re‐examination of the moratorium against this practice.

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Waltzing Matilda as Psychological Mask for Genocide

Waltzing Matilda as Psychological Mask for Genocide
Robbie Tulip
(3000 words)

Australian history is founded on the elimination of indigenous people by the settler colony. The process of genocide, completely removing the original inhabitants from many of the most productive parts of the country through systematic murder, was enabled by the technological disparity between the local and invading cultures, and was carried out through a semi-secret pact of military conquest. Physical genocide was as much a factor as epidemics in the collapse of Aboriginal population, and was followed up by cultural genocide, banning and belittling the practice of indigenous identity. The overall destruction created profound inter-generational trauma which persists today in indigenous communities and serves to corrupt white culture as well.

The despising of indigenous people in colonial times was so intense that the frontier wars and massacres were presented as merely policing operations. The process of genocide was masked through a culture of silence that continues to cripple the Australian character, with the domestic conflicts excluded from any formal memorials of war. The arrogant superiority complex of the British obliterated ancient cultural and environmental heritage in ways that are deeply tragic and destructive. This immense damage should have been foreseen and avoided, in view of the scale of loss. Instead the process of conquest was paradoxically both celebrated and concealed.

Banjo Paterson’s famous poem Waltzing Matilda is often called Australia’s unofficial national anthem. Its simple surface story of the jolly swagman is well known, for many off by heart. The question why this poem is so popular can be analysed against its psychological echoes of the real history of dispossession, murder and conquest. Nothing in Waltzing Matilda explicitly recognises the facts of Australia’s indigenous genocide. However, all its elements have this implicit metaphorical connection, beginning with the swagman as a symbol for the nomadic indigenous lifestyle.

The metaphorical relation of Waltzing Matilda to the real history of the frontier wars is not something which Banjo Paterson himself seems to have intended. Paterson was at the centre of the nineteenth century construction of the pioneer myth of outback Australia. His writing was decisive in creating the popular vision of white Australia’s national identity. The rugged individualism depicted in The Man from Snowy River and Clancy of the Overflow presented a courageous picture of heroic conquest of nature. Banjo Paterson is featured on Australia’s ten dollar note, reflecting the enduring esteem accorded to his political agenda of promoting national pride.

Paterson appears to have seen mention of Aborigines as beneath his dignity. This attitude reflected and reinforced the general racist assumptions of his time. No sense of guilt or shame at the recent and ongoing theft of land and destruction of ancient cultures appears in his ‘vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended’. And yet the genocidal intent among settlers to extirpate Aborigines from the face of the earth was well known at the time. In 1883, the British High Commissioner, Arthur Hamilton Gordon, wrote to William Gladstone, Prime Minister of Great Britain: “The habit of regarding the natives as vermin, to be cleared off the face of the earth, has given the average Queenslander a tone of brutality and cruelty in dealing with “blacks” which it is very difficult to anyone who does not know it, as I do, to realise.”

Metaphor in poetry can operate in both conscious and unconscious ways. A poet like Banjo Paterson can be unconsciously gripped by a powerful emotional experience that finds accidental expression in his writing without his deliberate intent. This process can serve to increase the emotional power of his work. The systematic secret murder of Australia’s indigenous people was a core element of Australian outback life in the nineteenth century. For most of the squatters and selectors arriving in Australia’s rich agricultural plains, any initial thoughts of partnership with Aboriginal people were soon overwhelmed by the discovery that systematic murder presented a far more lucrative and simple outcome.

Only a few scattered remnants survived this onslaught, in many places leaving little trace beyond the occasional place name. As a result, the indigenous population fell by over 90% by 1911 to an estimated 31,000. Professor A. P. Elkin wrote in The Original Australians, published in the 1950s, “In 1788 there were, as far as we can calculate, 350,000 Aborigines in Australia. There are now only 50,000 full-bloods. The cause of this decrease is quite clear, namely, we white Australians, Christian and civilized.” Noel Loos, in White Christ Black Cross: The emergence of a Black church, says more recent estimates suggest the pre-conquest population of Australia may have been up to one million people, indicating an even more extreme rate of depopulation through mass murder and epidemics.
Australian society found this experience impossible to discuss openly, creating a traumatised social psychology of secrecy, distortion and denial. Instead of the religious idea that repentance enables forgiveness and redemption, the sin of genocide appears to have been sublimated into various mythological forms, including the religious form of literal supernatural Christianity and popular secular poems like Waltzing Matilda.

The title of Waltzing Matilda celebrates the nomadic existence of the swagman, living carefree on the road with no fixed address. In popular Australian mythology, the swagman is part of the idealised egalitarian national identity of mateship. The iconic image of the swaggie waltzing through the bush as a symbol of freedom also bears strong comparison to the general impression of indigenous life before the invasion, regularly moving from place to place without personal property, poor but happy.

Looking at the real history of Australia’s frontier wars until the coming of the squatter and his troopers, the Aborigines were like the ‘jolly swagman’. In Western Queensland they camped by the billabong under the shade of the coolibah tree in the same way their ancestors had done for sixty thousand years. The appearance of the sheep ended this carefree existence, polluting the clean water of the waterholes, taking over the traditional hunting grounds and destroying the rich fragile soils with their hard feet. Shoving the jolly jumbuck into the Aboriginal tuckerbag was a natural response to this new situation of expropriation.

Waltzing Matilda presents the strange story of the suicidal overreaction of the jolly singing swagman after he is confronted by the settler and his police. Rather than seeking any negotiation or escape, the swagman immediately and conveniently sprang up and drowned himself in the billabong. Comparing this story to the disappearance of Aborigines as a result of frontier conflict, the suicide entirely absolves the squatter and troopers of any guilt or blame. As an unconscious metaphor for the genocidal elimination of Australia’s indigenous people, Waltzing Matilda provided the subliminal comforting message to white society that the disappearance of the natives was entirely the fault of the Aborigines themselves. This Waltzing Matilda complex supports the myth of peaceful settlement, providing an emotionally acceptable but entirely irrational and mythological explanation for the mysterious vanishing of the native population.

The song concludes with the evocative metaphor for the ongoing presence of Aboriginal memory, telling us that his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong. This spectre of guilt invites our pangs of conscience as we wonder what happened to the original inhabitants of the land, while continuing to ignore the indigenous people who have survived the hurt and torment. Australia’s dominant popular psychology until recent times simply ignored the destruction of indigenous people, except as something inevitable and necessary. Instead, the historical focus was on the heroic narrative of the skill and bravery of the British settlers and explorers. Where the embarrassing disappearance of Aborigines was even mentioned in the context of settlement, leading historians were highly deceptive. Claims included that they somehow mysteriously ‘melted away’ by coincidence as the colonial settlers arrived. Such language avoided engagement with the guilt of the deliberate extermination policies.

This situation produced an enduring false mythology about Australia’s history. The myth of peaceful settlement created powerful cultural and political barriers to understanding and addressing the situations facing indigenous people today. A way to help uncover and repair the effects of this pervasive false mythology is to analyse its psychological basis, to explain its ongoing negative impact on efforts to heal the damaged cultural relationships.

Sigmund Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious with concepts such as repression, compensation, complexes and sublimation. Application of these terms to understand Australian history and culture is extremely helpful. Psychoanalysis is a controversial subject, but its concepts offer resources to interpret the hidden meaning of iconic anthems like Waltzing Matilda. The concealed psychological lessons help to explain social beliefs, seen in the light of broader knowledge of the historical context, potentially offering a therapeutic path to help overcome the blockages and trauma created by delusional traditions.

The theory of the unconscious holds that much of our motivation is hidden from our rational awareness and instead emerges in irrational emotional drives and symbols. Repression is a key factor in this irrationality, involving an instinctive exclusion of unwanted painful memories from conscious awareness. We imagine we understand ourselves, but in fact much of our awareness is highly distorted by the trauma of repression, especially at the cultural level of the intergenerational transmission of social beliefs.

An example of repression in Australian history is the use of the term ‘dispersed’ as a euphemism for the mass murder of Aboriginal people. A prominent artwork at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra critiques this deception by constructing the word DISPERSED using bullets.
src=”https://artsearch.nga.gov.au/images/lrg/183110.jpg” alt=”DISPERSED” />

When experiences that cause guilt and shame are hidden, they can soon be forgotten at the conscious level, while continuing to fester in the unconscious. Freud held that this repressive concealment does not destroy the memory. What instead happens is that the psychic energy of the repressed story bubbles up into consciousness in distorted symbolic form. Freud termed this process the return of the repressed, generating what he and his colleague Carl Jung called a psychological complex, a maladaptive pattern that prevents integration of the personality. This symbolic distortion of bad memories into an acceptable form can provide emotional comfort or help deflect the feeling of trauma. But this coping process is superficial and does not address the root dishonesty and damage of repression. As a result, repression causes a range of mental illnesses and social tensions, as people come to believe the distortions and myths. Another way to see this Freudian framework of the personal and social damage caused by repression is through the core Buddhist idea that delusion is a main cause of suffering, reflected also in the Christian teaching that the truth will set you free.

Compensation and sublimation are psychological defence mechanisms we use to cope with repression. In compensation, we focus on areas of success and pride in order to cover up and deflect our shameful repressed memories. This process appears in Australian history with the rejection of the so-called ‘black armband’ view. In sublimation, we transform the negative energy of repression into a positive spiritual form as part of the process of ordering our civilized society through conscious rules and values. The processes of sublimation and compensation tend to be highly irrational and mythological due to the distortions inherent in repression, replacing the needed comfort of mourning and grief with blockage and denial.

The return of the repressed operates at both individual and social levels. Looking at social trends, study of ancient mythology has found that gods of conquered people initially disappear from the culture as the new rulers impose their own beliefs. Over time, the suppressed beliefs then re-emerge in subordinate position within the religious framework of the society. The new ruling group seeks to identify emotionally with the country and to rule by consent rather than coercion. The overlords then find that distorted elements of the conquered mythology are congenial as part of their own construction of identity, offering a comforting and redemptive function. A similar process is happening in Australia as modern culture learns to respect indigenous heritage and culture.

The mythological processes of the return of the repressed in sublimated form can operate in modern popular verse and song. A fictional story that echoes historical events can generate feelings of pleasure and identification in ways that engage unconscious popular sentiments, without referring to the associated true story in literal terms. The entire process achieves its social influence and popularity by operating outside of conscious perception, as a psychological complex. Waltzing Matilda echoed the repressed historical story of indigenous genocide in ways that resonated with the shared emotional sentiments of the community, as white Australia sought to deny the history of murder.
This metaphorical psychoanalysis of Waltzing Matilda might appear strained or offensive to many patriotic Australians. Some will offer excuses for the genocide, such as that the destruction of Aboriginal society was an inevitable result of the clash of stone and metal technologies. The issue today is that ongoing exclusion of indigenous people reflects this history of trauma, and there are no excuses for genocide. Those who benefit today from the past theft of land and destruction of culture have a moral obligation to respect and recognise the special and unique circumstances of a people whose ancestors evolved for sixty thousand years to adapt to life on this continent. The extremely long history of indigenous presence generated deeply complex spiritual connection to the land, creating cultural identities that remain scarred but not broken. Indigenous culture should be fundamental to the broader Australian identity.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a short document agreed by indigenous people from around Australia in a meeting at Uluru in 2017. It offers a generous path toward national reconciliation through its proposal for recognition of the enduring spiritual sovereignty of the First Nations. The brusque rebuff of the Uluru Statement by the Federal Government showed how the repressed legacy of the genocidal colonial settler mentality retains pride of place in our institutional systems of power, continuing to traumatise our national conversation. The opportunity for dialogue and a journey of healing was spurned through a reversion to type as the government found it politically expedient to ignore the indigenous request for formal recognition and dialogue.

Working out a path through this tangled mess can greatly benefit from the insights of psychology. Exploring the unconscious resonances of Waltzing Matilda is one way to take forward this conversation. Another is to look at the cultural clash in religious terms. The Anglican Church through its Board of Mission published a study titled A Voice in the Wilderness: Listening to the Statement from the Heart. This study explores many of the repressed elements in Australian history, looking at the systematic and deliberate blindness that white society has employed in efforts to forget the legacy of genocide.
As an example of the religious echoes of Australia’s experience of genocide discussed in A Voice in the Wilderness, the original Biblical story of the human fall from grace into corruption tells of the murder of Abel by Cain, representing the victory of settled farmers over nomadic hunters and herders. In this conflict between the sons of Adam and Eve, God tells us that the blood of Abel cries out from the earth. The curse of Cain arises from the earth as a result of his lying to God about the murder, as a sign that the voices of the dead do matter, that we are our brother’s keepers. Continuing to lie about Australia’s history of murder means that we too live under the curse of Cain, marked by pervasive psychological damage.

This mythological reflection of cultural evolution continues into the story of Jesus Christ, who stood up against the invading Roman Empire in the name of the despised and rejected of the world. The repressive and belittling imperial response was crucifixion, but the moral victory of Christ is symbolised in the resurrection, marking the return of the repressed. Christ’s core message that forgiveness is conditional upon repentance rests upon a vision of universal love, seeing restorative justice as the truth that sets us free. Jesus was an Aborigine, and his ghost may be heard as his blood cries from the earth.

As we now look for a redeeming and unifying path to moral legitimacy in Australian national identity, an essential task is to expose the distorted myths of ignorant racial prejudice that continue to oppress indigenous people. Exploring the echoes of self-serving racism in Waltzing Matilda is one way to pursue this conversation, rebalancing the justified pride in national achievements against an open statement of lament and sorrow, repenting for the savage genocide of Australia’s indigenous cultures. Honouring the spiritual sovereignty of indigenous people as expressed in the beautiful poetry of the Uluru Statement offers a bridge to cultural integration, listening with respect to the sacred call for Makarrata, coming together in fair and truthful relationship.

References
Robbie Tulip was born in Epping NSW in 1963, and is a sixth generation descendant of English and Scottish emigrants to Queensland.
Tatz, Colin, Genocide in Australia, An AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper, 1999, https://aiatsis.gov.au/sites/default/files/products/discussion_paper/tatzc-dp08-genocide-in-australia.pdf
Tatz, Colin, Genocide in Australia, An AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper, 1999, https://aiatsis.gov.au/sites/default/files/products/discussion_paper/tatzc-dp08-genocide-in-australia.pdf
Elkin and Loos are cited in A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS: Listening to the Statement from the Heart, An ABM Study Guide for Individuals and Groups, Author: Celia Kemp, Reconciliation Coordinator, Artist: The Reverend Glenn Loughrey https://www.abmission.org/resources.php/163/a-voice-in-the-wilderness
John Harris, Hiding the bodies: the myth of the humane colonisation of Aboriginal Australia
http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p73641/pdf/ch0550.pdf
Fiona Foley, Badtjala people | Maryborough, Queensland, Australia born 1964 DISPERSED 2008 https://artsearch.nga.gov.au/detail.cfm?irn=183110
John 8:32
Robert Graves, Introduction to the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology
https://ulurustatement.org/
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS: Listening to the Statement from the Heart, An ABM Study Guide for Individuals and Groups, Author: Celia Kemp, Reconciliation Coordinator, Artist: The Reverend Glenn Loughrey https://www.abmission.org/resources.php/163/a-voice-in-the-wilderness
Genesis 4
Mark 1:4

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The Peace of Christ

Here is the sermon I delivered to Kippax Uniting Church on Sunday 5 July 2020

Bible readings: Zechariah 9:9-12, Matthew 11:28-30, Psalm 145:8-14

Sermon – The Peace of Christ
The prophet Zechariah lived more than 500 years before Christ, shortly after the captive Israelites returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. Zechariah’s vision of the coming Messiah is one of the most thrilling stories in the Bible, telling of the presence of God in history. Handel used this text for the wonderful soprano Air in The Messiah, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! I have put a link to this Messiah piece on the Kippax Uniting Church Facebook page if you would like to listen to it. Here is a short excerpt.

Zechariah’s statement that the Messiah would command peace to all the nations is similar to Isaiah’s prophecy of the Prince of Peace, preaching a fellowship of reconciliation, a community of forgiveness and mercy, a world of restorative justice. These teachings envisage the advent of Jesus Christ as transforming our prevailing beliefs, including our systems of military security. Rather than seeking safety in war horses and chariots and armies and swords, the prophets predict a time when security will be delivered through shared universal faith in God, mediated by Christ.

Security is a primary theme for the prophets, with the idea that Israel as a small nation surrounded by large empires can only achieve durable peace by building friendly cooperative relations with its neighbours, removing any incentive to invade. Hence the ultimate security emerges through the shared identity and solidarity that comes through the trust of a common faith, the connection arising from open regular communication and friendship, a goal that of course has been elusive.

Zechariah points to the paradoxes of Christianity with his vision of Christ as King. Power will come through love rather than physical strength. The true leader is humble rather than proud and arrogant. The Saviour of Israel will humble himself to ride a donkey rather than a war horse. Triumph and victory come from speaking of peace and respect. What God sees within the inner life of our heart is more important than our reputation in the world.

Looking to the theology, the message is that actions that advance the Kingdom of God often conflict with the prevailing assumptions and values in human life. Many people who gain worldly power seek prestige and control and fame and wealth, whereas Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that the blessing of God is for the peacemakers, the meek, the poor in spirit and the pure. Christ tells us in the Last Judgement that if we want salvation, we should perform works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting prisoners. Creating peace in the world is all about building deep connection.

We can well imagine how these teachings must have infuriated and confused the powers of Jesus’ day. The Gospels tell us the consequences when Jesus Christ proclaimed these teachings about the path of peace. He struck such fear into the local leadership in Jerusalem that they arranged for the Roman Empire to execute him as a seditious political criminal, in the most cruel and gruesome and painful way possible, mocked and scourged and nailed to a cross.

This idea from Zechariah of peace through a transformative faith looks idiotic to rulers when their nation faces invasion and military occupation. The leaders of Jerusalem wanted to send a signal to Rome that they rejected messianic prophecy as a practical government policy. And so they failed to see the true identity of Christ.

As Saint Paul wrote in First Corinthians, the message of the cross seems like foolishness to the world. However, the story of the resurrection tells us there is an eternal power of God in this apparent worldly weakness and failure. We need patience to await a time when such transforming ideas will get a serious audience. Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:14 that the sign of his coming would be that this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations. That is something that has only occurred with the global connections of modern times.

The world was certainly not ready for this prophetic message of peace two thousand years ago. So how remarkable that Zechariah brought such tidings of great joy, the prophecy of the Messiah as king of the world. The powerful story tells of Christ ruling the world in truth and grace through the wonders of His love, as the hymn Joy to the World proclaims. Zechariah imagines a time when Jerusalem will be a centre of peace and love rather than war and hatred. He calls his readers “prisoners of hope”, a very peculiar phrase. Zechariah seems here to suggest that people of true faith are captured by this seemingly impossible vision of a world transformed, that we are compelled to proclaim the good news of Christ. We are probably still not ready for such a paradigm shift in world politics, understood as a kingdom of this world. Yet as Christians we are called to imagine what it could mean.

What would it mean for Christ to rule the world as Zechariah imagines? Jesus himself tells us in the text for today that his aim is to lift our heavy burdens and relieve our weariness. He says his gentle and humble heart will lead us with an easy yoke and a light burden. This image of liberation from our troubles and traumas rests on faith in God as the source of transformation. Jesus calls us to overcome the weight of worldly corruption through the power of love, creating a path toward a universal life of grace and peace for all. That is not something that will happen quickly or easily, but it invites us to think about what the peace of Christ really means.

One text that I have always admired in this light is the old Chinese wisdom book from Taoism, the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. The title Tao Te Ching translates as the Book of the Way of Integrity. It includes a remarkable statement about leadership that I think bears comparison with the messianic vision of peace in Zechariah. Lao Tzu tells us that the best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects, while the next best leaders are those who are loved and praised. He says bad leaders are feared, while the worst are despised. When the best rulers achieve their purpose, their people claim the achievement as their own.

I was reminded of this text firstly by the comment from Jesus that his yoke is easy, rather like the leader who is not even known. A yoke keeps two oxen in line to pull a plough, joining their strength together. This forced obedience of the yoke is often used as a symbol of political oppression, but Jesus inverts the symbol to suggest that obeying the light yoke of his teachings will create freedom. This is the type of king who Zechariah suggests can bring universal peace to the world by tuning in to the will of God, liberating rather than dominating. The king who freely chooses to make his triumphant entry riding a donkey displays that his concern is not for his own advantage, but entirely for the good results that will come from his decisions and actions. As Saint Paul explains in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus emptied himself of all but love, making himself a slave to God. This obedience to the moral call of God is what Zechariah called becoming a prisoner of hope. The eastern philosophy that sees the individual as united to the whole universe expresses this self-emptying idea by comparing our personal identity to a drop of water in the ocean.

We are so far away from rule by the unknown king of love that it seems impossible. Yet this high prophecy calls us to imagine and create the world we want to eventually build, a world of complete freedom and justice and peace. As the Lord’s Prayer puts it, a world where the will of God is done on earth as in heaven. This is a utopian dream of universal abundance and trust, where material needs are fully met and everyone can focus on spiritual fulfillment, creating a situation of high ethical values and education. In this imaginary future, good governance will arise naturally and democratically from shared values. Ability to make local decisions will be so strong that there will be no role for rulers other than to gently guide and coordinate the decisions that people have made for themselves. As Lao Tzu suggests, the best leaders will bring peace and justice to the world in a way that is not even known to the people, because these values of trust and care will be so strongly ingrained in the structure of society. The yoke of government will be easy to bear. These things do all sound fanciful. And yet we have been constantly amazed at how technology has transformed our lives in a few short years. Perhaps in the future such a vision will become reality, although changing people is probably much harder than changing technology. The timeline of the ancient wisdom of the Bible sees a thousand years as a day for God, which is the sort of period that would be needed for such a change in human nature through broad acceptance of the values of the gospel.

Jesus tells us that the gospel values that are needed to gradually aim toward such a heaven on earth are all about caring for the least of the world as though they were him. That is an integral vision that includes care for the poor as well as care for nature, as Pope Francis proposed in his Laudato Si encyclical. The scale of trauma in the world means that such a vision might well take another thousand years to bring about, but if the goal is set clearly, then gradual steady progress can occur. Setting such a positive hopeful goal and discussing it can support the social purpose of confronting the negative values that are dragging us towards conflict and collapse.

As the Psalmist said in our reading, God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The immense problems in our world mean the slow anger of God is gradually building. And yet the presence of authentic faith has a redeeming quality, with capacity to help to atone for all our heedless destructive actions. The abounding steadfast love and gracious mercy of God will remain with us and protect us through the holy word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Amen

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2040 Movie Review

2040 Movie Review
Robert Tulip (1000 words)

Damon Gameau is the writer, director, narrator, genius and star of his superb new movie 2040. Constantly friendly, engaging and upbeat, Damon enlists his sweet four-year old daughter Velvet as his model for the comparison between life in 2019 and 2040, with his innovative positive vision of how our world could be transformed over the next two decades to produce sustained abundance and peace, especially through innovative methods to stop climate change. The principle is to examine the best ideas of today to see how scaling them up can address the massive risks facing our planet, flicking between the present and the imagined future.

Damon’s last movie was That Sugar Film, in which he humorously confronted the sugar-industrial complex by switching for a month to a diet of processed “health food” that is high in sugar. The rapid collapse of his health, measured under careful medical supervision, proved how corrupted our advertising standards are when such a dangerous poison as sugar can be marketed as benign on a mass scale. Sugar causes our planetary epidemics of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer, co-opting our incompetent political systems using the powers of money and instinct.

2040 uses similar analysis to attack the fossil fuel-industrial complex, showing the scale of deception and propaganda involved in maintaining our current energy system with its trajectory to conflict and collapse. Despite this scene setting, the main focus of the movie is positive, on new alternative ideas that offer practical solutions to primary global problems such as climate change, with the philosophy that a solution must be emerging before a problem can be solved.

The two big ideas explored on climate are soil and seaweed. A farmer, Fraser Pogue, tells the story of how industrial agriculture left him with fields with no worms, and how that scared him into adopting regenerative farming methods that can shift massive amounts of carbon from the air to the soil while delivering higher yields and fertile soil and retaining water.

The most important story in 2040 is Marine Permaculture. Brian Von Herzen is the brilliant genius inventor of methods to grow giant kelp on industrial scale in the world ocean to shift carbon out of the air and reduce ocean acidity while solving problems of food, fertilizer and fuel. Damon interviews Brian at his pilot kelp farm, and provides clear simple depiction of suitable places around the world where permaculture arrays could be deployed, such as in the Bay of Bengal and off the coast of East Africa.

The big theme here is carbon dioxide removal, that we need to work out how to remove more carbon from the air than we add, and how this requires practical profitable strategies that work with mother nature rather than against her, using the vast area, nutrients and energy resources of the world ocean. Seaweed forests are the fastest growing trees in the world. The proposed permaculture system will pump nutrients from the deep ocean to create biomass on a scale large enough to help achieve global carbon neutrality by 2040 while feeding ten billion people and starting a path to draw down excess CO2. Marine permaculture should be the start of a pioneering frontier use of the world ocean to restore climate and biodiversity, catalysing investment from governments and the private sector.

Damon Gameau is a card. He films his interview with Paul Hawken, author of the important climate restoration book Drawdown, apparently sitting high on top of a wind turbine, enough to give the viewers a highly disturbing case of vertigo. And his other expert speakers in the movie, such as Tony Seba, Kate Raworth, Eric Tonesmeier and Colin Seis, pop up as midgets sitting on tree branches or with other computer generated imagery, keeping their serious stories entertaining. Other innovative ideas covered include autonomous electric cars and decentralised solar power grids, showing an optimistic vision for how technology can transform our world for the better, through bottom up rather than top down solutions.

2040 is a conversation starter, with potential to help tip us over the edge into recognition of the need for global climate action, recognising that emission reduction is nowhere near enough. A theme I am eager to discuss in this context, having worked on carbon removal ideas for over a decade, is that methods of confrontation in climate politics pose unacceptable risks of proving too small and slow. Climate analysts need to do much more tactical and strategic work on political economy, philosophy and theory of change, for example recognising the urgency of solar radiation management, and the potential for carbon dioxide removal to enable a slower path to decarbonisation than some climate models suggest.

I would like to see the fossil fuel industries engage constructively on ways to transform their business models, but that seems to be a very difficult task. 2040 only mentions Exxon to demonise them for funding the Heartland Institute, showing how badly world politics are now polarised. The difficult but essential question is whether entry points can be found so forces of destruction can be converted into forces for good, for example through tax rebates for investment in carbon removal technology. We need to encourage an end to climate denial and more discussion of climate security problems in the media, while recognising that speeding up the decarbonisation of the economy is likely to only be a small factor in stabilising the climate compared to geoengineering methods.

Rather than using political confrontation, effective solutions often involve dialogue and reconciliation. A provocative theme I would throw into the 2040 mix is religion – opening discussion about how the seemingly obsolete patterns of thought involved in supernatural fantasy could actually still have some power to save us. Old ideas like the Christian myth of the apocalypse could be reconciled with modern scientific understanding to generate political will for action on climate change, building on religious values of faith, love, forgiveness and hope.

2040 is a visionary movie of hope and action. But the fact is, as a review in The Conversation notes, we are in a dire climate emergency, consumed by a vast and fearful blindness that seems unwilling to respond to the danger. The great ideas offered in 2040 may not be enough to solve the strategic security and stability situation facing our fragile planetary home. 2040 offers a framework of thinking, a starting point on this journey of transformation, a recognition that despite our flaws, humanity has the potential to rebuild the earth and restore the climate, finding the courage and honesty to evolve into a stable and sustainable global civilization.
Robert Tulip

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Cut Emissions Or She Gets It!

Moral Blackmail over Emission Reduction
The challenge posed by this new IPCC warming report is to intrude an authentic ethical perspective into public conversation about the existential realities of climate change.

Unfortunately, the IPCC report is morally bereft on several points. Its key message is moral blackmail – decarbonise or the planet gets it. The alternative strategy, immediate focus on cooling through Solar Radiation Management coupled with massive research and development of Carbon Removal, is ignored and belittled. The IPCC simply refuses to discuss the risk-reward analysis of this alternative strategy for political reasons, regardless of the scientific evidence.

Seeing the horrendous damage from Hurricane Michael makes me deeply angry at the inability of the political system to engage with the urgent need to cool the ocean to deal with the symptoms of global warming.

The medical system does not say to patients ‘just put up with the symptoms to give us a moral incentive to find a cure.’ But somehow that immoral line is accepted when it comes to the immense global problem of climate change with its consequences of extinction, hothouse earth and other grave risks.

A range of geoengineering technologies including marine cloud brightening and newer ideas on iron salt aerosol could cool the waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic to reduce hurricane intensity.

Where is the insurance industry in engaging with this major damage factor in its actuarial risk projections?

The political strategy of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy should be an important component of climate action, but instead in this report the demand to cut emissions drives and corrupts the entire logic of the IPCC argument, leading to a series of false claims.

The morally coherent path, prevented by UN politics, would instead be the scientific approach of weighing the evidence for feasible alternative options. That is excluded because it would reduce the political pressure for decarbonisation of the world economy, regardless of feasibility, safety and efficacy.

The Summary for Policy Makers opens with an egregious blunder, saying (A2) “warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia (high confidence).” This mode of thinking is so pervasive that its falsity just gets ignored. As stated, it logically excludes the possibility of carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management at scale sufficient to end the persistence of warming from previous emissions. The report should include the caveat ‘unless methods for carbon removal are developed.’ No such caveat is applied to the categorical high confidence of its false assertion by the IPCC. Their unstated reason is that UN politics sees the war on fossil fuels as the only climate strategy, and censors from view anything that could cause hazard to the decarbonisation approach.

Unfortunately, this recipe for political conflict against the current economy will leave the climate and our grandchildren as the losers. While we bicker over the alleged immorality of climate restoration, and governments such as the US, Brazil, China, India, Australia and Russia continue to drive ever higher emissions, ignoring climate science, the peril of a hothouse security catastrophe grows by the day.

The muddled thinking in the IPCC Summary is reflected in its blatantly contradictory graphs Ib and 3a. Fig SPM 1.b is titled Stylized net global CO2 emission pathways. It presents emissions growing to 2020 then a linear fall to “net zero” by either 2040 or 2055, followed by a flatlining at zero over the next century. As I have pointed out at HCA before, the absurdity of this “net zero” concept reflects its pure political origins.
Net Zero makes no sense

Net zero means positive emissions are exactly balanced by an equal amount of negative emissions, removing carbon from the air. But negative emissions could be a lot bigger than positive emissions, so the stylised straight line of exactly net zero emissions after achievement of a decarbonised new world is absurd. If net zero is good, then net negative is far better, and indeed essential to remove embedded warming. But Figure 1b ignores this simple logic.

The Net Zero graph 1b is contradicted at Figure SPM 3a, which corrects the absurd flatlining involved in net zero thinking by showing the moment of Net Zero as followed by Net Negative emissions of up to 20 GT per year. It shows the toxic politics of the IPCC that these contradictory graphs could survive its alleged rigorous peer review process. The real issue behind this absurdity is the failure of IPCC to advocate to governments for least cost abatement, which would shift funding from renewable subsidies to CDR R&D.

When Negative Emissions is discussed at Section C3, the Summary downplays the urgency by saying “CDR deployment of several hundreds of GtCO2 is subject to multiple feasibility and sustainability constraints (high confidence).”

The IPCC dismissal of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) at C1.4 is peremptory, saying “SRM measures are not included in any of the available assessed pathways. Although some SRM measures may be theoretically effective in reducing an overshoot, they face large uncertainties and knowledge gaps as well as substantial risks, institutional and social constraints to deployment related to governance, ethics, and impacts on sustainable development.”

This IPCC dismissal of SRM is a purely ideological position, calculated to minimise political opposition to emission reduction by wrongly suggesting there is no alternative. SRM advocates can easily see that SRM alone is not sufficient to stabilise the climate, and only propose SRM as critical to buy time to prevent dangerous tipping points while the optimal mix of CDR and emission reduction can be developed. Instead of such a practical approach, the IPCC just rules out SRM in order to support its gun at the head insistence on an immediate end to coal.

Against the ideology of emission reduction alone, Ocean Pastures could be a least cost abatement strategy. Astoundingly, the Summary completely fails to mention ocean fertilization. And yet, it does point out at SPM C1.2 that cooling aerosols, now added to the air by iron-rich dust and fossil fuels, have mitigation effects that decarbonisation would reduce. Surely we should be looking at how to retain these important mitigation effects, especially if in doing so we can restore the climate at far lower cost than any other method of abatement?

Robert Tulip
http://ironsaltaerosol.com/

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Ethics of Carbon Removal

A climate policy comment published in the leading scientific journal Nature presents widely shared views about the ethics of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) as a response to global warming (Lenzi et al, Weigh the ethics of plans to mop up carbon dioxide, Nature Comment, 20 September 2018).

My view is that their approach is misconceived, and fails to place CDR, and by extension climate restoration, in a balanced and realistic ethical framework. This problem illustrates the strategic political challenges obstructing key programs supported by Healthy Climate Alliance.

The lead authors of this paper are from the Mercator Institute, whose close involvement with IPCC analysis of possible 1.5° pathways illustrates the importance of their analysis. For the reasons discussed below, their assessment of the policy context is deficient, and their emphasis on CDR dangers is unbalanced. The unfortunate result is that following their recommendations would worsen the risks of dangerous warming.

The policy context for debate about climate ethics should start from the recognition that failure to stop climate change poses high risks of catastrophe for human civilization and planetary biodiversity.
Global warming is the primary planetary security threat over the next century, with climate stability highly fragile under the impact of strong expected carbon forcing. Every delay in formulating effective response worsens the impact of the sixth extinction and the risk of a permanent phase shift in global climate to a new hothouse stability, with grave risks of extinction, conflict and collapse. The moral imperative is to find practical ways to step back from this hothouse precipice.

Neglecting CDR is far more dangerous than embracing it. Ethical analysis should recognise the urgency of research and development of CDR within the broader discussion of climate science and politics. The passionate moral cause underpinning all CDR advocacy is to save the world from unchecked warming. The ethical focus should be to determine whether that passion is matched by evidence, requiring expanded analysis and testing, not the barriers suggested by these authors.

The big problem behind this discussion is that opponents of CDR believe that ramping up emission reduction could be an adequate response to climate change, even though the science flatly contradicts that dangerous false assumption. The New York Times study of the numbers showed that Paris Accord commitments if fully implemented would only slow the increase of CO2 and its equivalents by 10%, to an annual growth of about 54 GT in 2030. Putting all our eggs in the emission reduction basket is therefore a highly risky and ethically dubious strategy.

Full implementation of current Paris commitments, even with the proposed ratchet mechanism, cannot stop dangerous warming without CDR. The strategic vision of emission reduction will not be enough for a number of reasons. Widespread opposition to emission reduction makes the decarbonisation model subject to strong political conflict, and in any case, emission reduction can only marginally slow the increase of warming, doing nothing to reverse the danger from accumulated emissions. By contrast, if CDR is given political leadership and resources, the world could potentially slow CO2 increase by more than 100% in the next decade, starting a practical planetary path back to climate stability and restoration, and helping to remove the partisan politics from climate change.

Looking at climate action in the context of moral philosophy, two rival ethical frameworks can be considered. These frameworks focus respectively on consequences and on principles. The moral theory of consequentialism assesses the moral worth of an action by its results. This means when an action is demonstrated to have harmful consequences, with risks outweighing rewards, alternatives should be examined to define an optimal path. Ethical justification of CDR uses this consequentialist line of reasoning, examining a range of climate responses against likely outcomes and impacts, looking for ways to abate warming in the most safe, fast and economic way possible.

By contrast, advocacy of emission reduction alone is more a principle-based morality. The organising moral principle in the thinking behind emission reduction is economic decarbonisation, the idea that if only the world could shift from fossil fuels to renewables then our climate problems could be solved. Unfortunately, the problem with this principled approach is that it treats results as secondary to the moral principle. The strategic primacy given to emission reduction in the thinking reflected by Lenzi et al and dominant influences in the UN system places decarbonisation as an overriding duty. This approach sees shifting away from fossil fuels as even more important than the goal of stabilising temperature. Decarbonisation should be viewed as a means to the end of climate stability, but has come to be viewed as an end in itself, thereby crowding out discussion of other strategies such as CDR, preventing robust analysis of the weaknesses of the decarbonisation strategy. The practical urgency of stopping climate change should cause us to debate such principles if evidence indicates they are likely to produce suboptimal consequences.

In their Nature Comment, Lenzi et al make a welcome call for systematic evaluation by the climate assessment community and professional philosophers of the ethics of carbon removal methods. They rightly focus on human rights, sustainable development and environmental protection, but do not assess these important themes in a robust risk framework where all scenarios are given due weight. Such analysis of carbon removal methods in the context of climate policy pathways is exactly what is needed to develop a sound strategic vision of climate priorities, but it should be considered against all alternatives, including the ethics of continued failure to reduce emissions.

The policy context requires broad public dialogue on the ethics of continuing to rely solely or even mainly on emissions reduction. This article does not discuss this ethical problem. If governments only provide lip service or worse to emission reduction, and do nothing to support CDR due to arguments such as this critique, then the world will face an existential problem over the next decade, with no effective response.

In my own research field, ocean carbon sinks, the misconceived ethical framework of these authors lead to wrong conclusions. They assert that seeding the oceans with iron could undermine marine ecosystems, using unproven claims of environmental harm as a reason not to conduct field research, ignoring research on how expanding ocean carbon sinks would deliver ecological benefits. Sound ethical approaches need to weigh options, for example by recognising that ocean fertilization could help protect biodiversity in ways that outweigh any risks.

In moral theory, risks must be weighed against rewards. In this case, the failure to weigh options means the claims of likely risk from ocean research unfortunately have the appearance of a political scare campaign, motivated only by perceived moral hazard to the principle of decarbonisation. Such claims need to be tested through science-based analysis. As the London Protocol stipulates, ocean climate research must be scientific and incremental, but the absence of field research over the last decade illustrates that the political signals have induced excessive caution on this topic.

The dismissive attitude in this Nature Comment reflects a wider lack of engagement with calls to use the world ocean to reverse climate change. A coherent ethical critique would engage with how the scale, resources and energy of the world ocean could make it the primary location for CDR research.

The main moral argument against CDR, termed a moral hazard, is that it could reduce pressure on governments to force decarbonisation of the economy. Lenzi et al use moral hazard language to describe CDR as “an unjust gamble that uses future generations as collateral”. Sadly, this claim is not a sound approach to moral philosophy. Putting the shoe on the other foot, the gamble that emissions reduction alone could deliver climate stability is a far worse bet than encouraging the diversity of approaches supported by CDR research. The authors allege risks in designing climate policy around unproven CDR technologies. They are in effect saying we now have all our eggs in the emission reduction basket, and should not diversify this strategic investment portfolio, despite the poor prospects of emission reduction.

The realistic analysis is that CDR will be far easier to scale than emission reduction and has far greater potential to contribute to climate stability and deliver least cost abatement. A useful analogy here is a bathtub with the taps turned on full and the drainplug in place. Emission reduction partly turns down the taps while leaving the plug in, whereas CDR pulls the plug. On this model, emission reduction can only briefly delay overflow, while CDR can prevent flooding by draining the bath.

The moral hazard critique of CDR is fundamentally confused. Lenzi et al display this confusion by citing IPCC scenarios that exclude relevant data and posit implausible options. With CDR, they say the target would be annual emissions of 32 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2030. Without CDR, they say CO2 emissions would “have to be reduced” by 40%, to 23 gigatonnes. This analysis is highly arbitrary. For a start, their target of 23 GT CO2 is less than half the UN estimate of global warming potentials arising from full implementation of Paris Accord commitments, which as noted above will result in 54 GT of CO2 equivalents in 2030. Focus only on CO2 ignores that other GHGs provide a third of all warming (IPCC Fig. 8.6). But even more worrying is the air of unreality in these scenarios. Their assertion that emissions would somehow “have to be reduced” lacks any mechanism for compulsion. What if major governments simply refuse to enforce emission reduction? The UN is impotent against nation states. A realistic ethical strategy is needed, which means CDR.

The even more pointed problem with the moral hazard scenarios is that CDR could potentially deliver a net emission result far better than their 23 GT scenario if R&D is funded at scale. CDR methods such as iron salt aerosol could remove atmospheric methane and other potent GHGs, which now cause one third of all warming but are largely ignored under CO2 emission reduction analysis.

Taking the full picture into account makes calls to delay CDR immoral. Failure to halt climate change would overwhelm these imagined ethical issues with CDR. As Klaus Lackner has argued, the real moral hazard is the reverse from the Mercator argument, arising instead from the perverse incentive to obstruct research into CDR. The false messages that CDR won’t be needed undermine effective climate action.

The bottom line is that we have a real if difficult potential for good results from CDR versus an atmosphere of spin and denial within the official climate movement, as demonstrated by the recent disgraceful climate speech by UN Secretary General Gutierrez, who totally failed to mention CDR. The most urgent moral cause in climate politics today is to broker large investment in CDR as the best option to restore and stabilise the climate and give our grandchildren a liveable planet. If the Mercator authors open a conversation that enables that result, they will have delivered a great ethical service.

Robert Tulip

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