I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
This summer the words of Dorothea Mackellar's famous poem could not have been more poignant: 'the dome of heat', bushfires, and floods.
In the aftermath of these natural disasters, questions arise as to what extent these extreme weather events are the result of human induced climate change. Whilst Australia has always experienced extreme weather events, it now seems that we are experiencing these extreme weather events more frequently – as predicted by the climate change scientists. It does seem that our climate is changing. This is no longer simply a scientific theory, but we are feeling and experiencing the beginnings of the change right now. We only have to recall the hot nights during the 'dome of heat' to realise that.
So how should we respond? How should we respond to the looming political, cultural (and even moral?) dilemma that is climate change?
Much current political debate on climate change has surrounded the cost of climate action. The fierce debate on the carbon tax is ample illustration of this. In this post I'm not discussing whether or not the carbon tax is the best or most effective method of curbing climate change. My observation is broader – that in Australia any effective climate change policy will require cost.
The main reason that climate change action in Australia is costly is because the energy demands of our economy are primarily built around fossil fuels. In Australia fossil fuels are a cheap and relatively easy way of generating power – 'greener' alternatives are more expensive. Hence any substantial and effective climate change policy will require cost. Ultimately this cost will be borne by the consumer through higher energy prices or higher taxes (depending on whichever climate policy ideology is adopted). Fossil-based energy prices will rise (hence a carbon tax), or great investment in alternative energy production will need to be undertaken (requiring massive capital investment).
Hence we can now begin to see the difficulty of implementing effective climate change policies. Any effective climate action policy requires cost, which goes against economic self-interest. In general, people are unwilling to pay a higher prices - if it's cheap, it sells, if it's expensive, it doesn't. If self-interest were not such a major factor in the energy purchase process, then conceivably demand for green energy would be much higher.
A further difficulty in effective climate change action surrounds the delayed and uncertain effects of climate change. The full impact of climate change won't be felt in our weather systems for many years to come. Climate projections envision scenarios in 2050 or 2100 – dates beyond many of our lifetimes. This makes the climate debate future oriented and less tangible. In the late 1990's when the Y2K 'bug' projected imminent disaster to computer systems around the world, millions was spent on upgrading computer equipment. With the Y2K bug, the impact was tangible and imminent – swift and decisive action was required. The most substantial impacts of climate change won't be felt for decades – swift and decisive action seems less necessary.
In Australia effective climate change action requires cost for future oriented impact, all which oppose short term self-interest.
So what has this discussion on climate change have to do with atheism? A few things and somewhat controversially I'm going to suggest that it is a Christian worldview which gives an imperative for climate action whereas the atheist worldview leads to the opposite. There are a few reasons why..
At its heart, atheism is a selfish, short-sighted worldview. Atheism drives people to live for themselves and live for today. In John Lennon's Imagine, Lennon imagines an atheistic world where people live without heaven and instead, 'live for today'. There is precious little in an atheist worldview to consider others, nor the future. The consistent message of atheism is to maximise our lives, our potential and opportunities now because this is the only life we get and we need to fill it with as much as possible. It is atheistic thinking which is driving the modern phenomenon of 'spending the inheritance'. Why shouldn't an atheist enjoy the money they've accumulated? The future in an atheist world is very short – to the end of our life, to the detriment of the inheritance and also to the detriment of the environment. I'm not suggesting that individual atheists can't consider the future beyond their lifetimes (many key environmental supporters are atheists). I'm proposing that there is nothing in a consistent atheist worldview to drive one to consider the future.
Secondly, the atheist worldview impedes costly sacrifice – why should atheists sacrifice unnecessarily? Why force unnecessary suffering on myself? The atheist worldview wishes costless action and advocacy. This view was reinforced when I saw Richard Dawkins at the Global Atheist Convention last year. In a discussion with other prominent atheists he explained that he wasn't as virulent in his criticism of Islam as compared to Christianity because "the threat of having your head cut off is somewhat of a deterrent" and "courage is a virtue but there are limits" [Four horsemen discussion -10 mins 30 secs in]. I was disappointed with Dawkins statement that someone so passionate about his beliefs wouldn't be willing to die for them. But then again, there is nothing in an atheist worldview to sacrifice unnecessarily. Atheists believe in costless action – an atheist speaks his or her views until there is serious danger. Why should an atheist sacrifice?
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