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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UN ignores carbon removal

Last week, UN Secretary-General Gutierrez delivered a major speech on climate change that was utterly stunning for its vacuous failure to engage on key issues in climate science, by completely leaving out any mention of Carbon Dioxide Removal.

While the IPCC recognises that removing carbon from the air is essential to stabilise the climate, the Secretary-General apparently has not heard this new science, since he completely failed to mention it in his 3200 words of fatuous pieties, except in an oblique reference to net zero emissions. The impression created by this failure is that the United Nations has been corrupted by vested interests in renewable energy, leading it to accept the false moral hazard argument that carbon removal undermines emission reduction.

It appears Gutierrez is signalling that the UN has made the political decision to ignore any suggestion that carbon removal is the key security agenda for climate stability and restoration. This is a highly disturbing and dangerous situation, since carbon removal can achieve far more than emission reduction in preventing warming.

Gutierrez presents the political war on fossil fuels as the only climate strategy acceptable to the UN, along with rather forlorn efforts to raise a hundred billion dollars in alms for the poor. Sec Gutierrez says “The mountain in front of us is very high. But it is not insurmountable. We know how to scale it. Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action. We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm. We need to embrace the circular economy and resource efficiency. Our cities and transport sectors will need to be overhauled. How we heat, cool and light our buildings will need to be rethought so we waste less energy. And this is exactly where this conversation can become exciting.”

No, this is not where the conversation becomes exciting. These established strategies miss the central point that addressing climate change requires investment in the lowest cost scalable methods to abate CO2. The scientific message that the UN should be promoting is that preventing dangerous warming requires carbon removal. It is completely astounding that such a major element of climate politics can be so comprehensively ignored by the UN, even in a speech devoted to raising alarm about the dangers of inaction.

Gutierrez rubs salt in the wounds by hypocritically saying “we will have to muster the full force of human ingenuity,” while failing to mention the primary area requiring ingenuity, carbon removal, and then repeating the nonsense that “net-zero emissions by mid-century” is an adequate target, ignoring that embedded warming means negative net emissions are crucial.

Finally, we see the nostrum that “it is important to note that, because carbon dioxide is long-lasting in the atmosphere, the climate changes we are already seeing will persist for decades to come.” It might help if the Secretary-General recognised that a primary research focus should be to reduce this problem through carbon dioxide removal.

Sadly, this speech will be a major factor in setting the tone for investment priorities in climate response, making it far harder to get engagement on the critical needs. This speech is a political and scientific disgrace, setting the stage for global failure to stop the many dangers of climate change that Gutierrez lists. The diplomats and sycophants will admire the emperor’s new clothes, but the UN policy framework on climate change is bereft of strategic vision.

Robert Tulip

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Blessed Are The Meek – An Evolutionary Perspective

The statement by Jesus Christ in the Beatitudes that the meek will inherit the earth is counterintuitive and controversial. We usually think the strong, the powerful and the assertive will inherit the lion’s share. The meek are seen as weak and ineffectual. The Bible tells us that this vision of the meek inheriting the earth will be despised and rejected.
However, we can also read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 as Jesus presenting an accurate long term vision of power, seeing the power of love and integrity as the key to the kingdom of God, not as an afterlife but as a necessary vision of sustainable living on earth.
Implementing the prayer of Christ that the will of God may be done on earth as in heaven means transforming the current fallen state of depraved corruption into an enlightened community of grace and love, confronting flawed worldly assumptions with a higher wisdom. The divine blessing on the meek challenges our instinctive beliefs with a vision of salvation that we can interpret in terms of natural evolution.
What does it mean to inherit the earth? Natural evolution is all about scientific understanding of who will inherit the earth. The biological question is which genes will prove most stable, durable and fecund over the long term.
Think about the long term – not just decades and centuries, but millions of years. Who will still inherit the earth in a million years?
For humans to survive that long, we need to engage with the earth with humility. In evolutionary terms, those who inherit the earth are those who adapt to selective pressures. Will humans have overcome our current madness? Will we go extinct? Will the earth be inherited by bacteria, algae and insects? Do humans have the brains to transform our destructive culture to create a path of sustained flourishing and abundance for all?
The Bible presents a stark challenge to this prospect of evolutionary transformation, with the apocalyptic vision of global catastrophe. The bleak prophecy of the future is that the power of evil delusion is so great that civilization collapses and human population falls to a tiny number. War, famine, plague and death stalk the planet as the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
The only hope of salvation the Bible presents from this destructive outlook is through Christ, who provides a vision of how to connect our lost culture to the enduring eternal truths of God.
Such prophecies can be read as more than supernatural fantasy, in presenting symbolic parables for the current planetary risks posed by climate change, and how we can respond to these risks. Human arrogance imagines we can ignore the power of nature. The last great catastrophe was 65 million years ago with the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Only the meek survived, while the powerful creatures that required a large quantity of energy could not endure the crisis. We are now causing the sixth planetary extinction, illustrating that on the current trajectory, humans could well follow the example of the dinosaurs and go extinct.
Our world is highly fragile, even though at first glance things might look robust. We need to think and plan carefully if we are to understand the forces at work determining our planetary fate. Against this planetary agenda, we can read the ideas of Jesus in terms of the power of meekness as a way to respond to the power of evil.
Jesus says in the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 that in the global clash between good and evil, victory will go to those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit prisoners and welcome strangers. These works of mercy provide a definition of meekness as the moral understanding that what we do to the least of the world we do to Jesus Christ. This old parable of the saved and the damned is not a story of supernatural magic but a deep prophetic analysis of our evolutionary situation today.
How can being meek be an adaptive evolutionary trait? In evolution, we can look at traits in the animal kingdom to see how they might apply in human culture. The opposite of being meek is dominating and controlling. In nature, any organism that has a dominant role is an apex predator. Everything else must meekly submit to its fate, relying on its natural abundance to prosper in the ecological system. Generally only a small number of apex carnivores are sustained by a large number of herbivores, who in turn rely on abundant plant food which depends on the microbes forming healthy soil and stable climate, and similarly for the food chain in the ocean. The predator can only flourish when the whole food chain is healthy and productive.
The evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest does not at all refer to the strongest physically, but favours creatures which are best adapted to their niche. Natural selection favours the genes that are stable, durable and fecund. In terms of cultural evolution, this natural law has a long term power, including through our ability to see love and compassion as adaptive traits.
Evolution points to a human path of cooperation rather than competition as the main condition for success in our global civilization. Human adaptation requires that we harness intelligence as our primary selective advantage, overcoming the dangers of a world run by dumb instinct. This triumph of intelligence over instinct is a key to understanding what Jesus meant by saying the meek will inherit the earth.
For cultural values, who are the meek? Those with the humility to adapt to the world as they find it. Those with the detachment to avoid being ensnared by ideological delusion. Those who do not try to force false beliefs onto others in order to control the world through the power of money and weapons and ideology.
What does this say about the story of Jesus? The long term vision in the Bible presents a story of human fall from grace, and then Jesus showing the way to transform our culture to achieve redemption. Jesus is portrayed as coming at the bottom of the cycle of grace and depravity, representing the spirit of truth in a world ruled by lies.
The resurrection shows the vision of grace and love gaining victory over the instinctive impulses of control represented by the cross. The inheritance of the meek is about the victory of a messianic faith as a basis of planetary salvation, as distinct from the traditional Christian focus on the power of the church.
We tend to imagine that victory goes to the strongest, not to the meek. The Bible reverses this assumption by setting spiritual vision above the power of instinct. Jesus tells us the least of the world will be first in the kingdom of God, with the metaphor that the stone the builder refused will be the keystone of the bridge. The meek are like the stone that the builders ignore, the ones who do not conform to the superficial patterns of worldly success, but who seek integrity and honesty, aiming to achieve results through respect and dialogue, not through domination.
Jesus’s vision of how we can inherit the earth is summed up in his statement in Matthew 25 that what we do to the least of the world we do to him. His statement that we are saved by works of mercy for the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, sick, naked and strangers tells us the values of the world are the opposite of the values of God. The values of God are the practices that are sustainable, that will deliver long term stability and prosperity to human societies, clashing with the instinctive desires for power and control.
Transition to the values of Jesus Christ involves a paradigm shift for our global culture. The story of climate change shows we are on a trajectory towards destruction. Even looking at the Paris Accord, there is no globally agreed vision of how to avoid dangerous warming that could turn our planet into a hothouse. It is possible to turn that trajectory around, but the shift has to understand evolutionary process. Evolution in a stable system builds incrementally on precedent, and in culture that means defining a theory of change that can transform our current world into a sustainable global culture.
The Biblical value of meekness is confronting for the dominant values of the world. Nations and companies cannot deliver stability and prosperity by meekly giving in to every pressure they face. Nor can these goals be achieved by arrogantly ignoring the real pressures at work.
Competition is central to human life, and is recognised in the parable of the talents, also in Matthew 25, with its vision that the works of mercy of the Kingdom of God can only be paid for through the abundance created by everyone using their skills to the full, including by taking risks rather than the safe course. We should not meekly bury our talents in the ground or hide our light under a bushel, but work in the world to develop a vision of transformation.
The model of the meek inheriting the earth is speaking about a long-term transformation of human values. Saying the meek shall inherit the earth is not calling for a revolution to a communist or anarchistic society, but rather an evolutionary vision of a gradual transition to an ethical vision of the values of the kingdom of God, understood in a practical and scientific way as central to our ongoing life on earth, as we transform our communities to make earth as in heaven, seeing the vision of Christ in the Bible as our moral guide.

Robert Tulip

Talk given at Kippax Konnex Retreat, 15 September 2018

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Commentary on Carl Jung’s Answer to Job

The Canberra Jung Society has uploaded the draft essay I used for my talk on Jung’s book Answer To Job on 6 July, as well as recordings of the talk and of the question and answer session.

The link above is to the Society’s home page. Direct link to the talk is here. I will revise this paper for publication in the Canberra Jung Society Journal.

Here is the diagram mentioned in the essay, providing an astronomical framework for mythology.
Orbital Drivers of Mythology and Cultural Evolution

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The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology

My Master of Arts Honours thesis in philosophy, completed in 1991 at Macquarie University, with degree awarded in 1992, is at this link.

I have edited the PDF document into a single file, correcting some typographical errors and formatting problems that happened when I typed it nearly three decades ago. I decided after I completed the degree that philosophy is a topic that requires life experience to conduct properly, so I did not want at that time to become an academic philosopher, and instead have worked since then in international development. Since leaving paid employment last year, I have had time to focus on my original interests, including reviewing my thesis. There is nothing in it that I would want to change. There are many ideas in it, looking at how ethics can be grounded in a coherent philosophical perspective, that have shaped my attitudes and beliefs, but that seem to be quite difficult to discuss against prevailing views. I would warmly welcome any questions or comments.
The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology: Robert Tulip Masters of Arts Honours Thesis 1991

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