In 1517 Pope Leo X offered indulgences (where “the penance for sin [became] a commercial transaction instead of a genuine change of heart”) for those who gave alms for the rebuilding of St Peters in Rome. His most aggressive marketer in Germany was the Dominican Johann Tetzel who so annoyed Martin Luther that Tetzel’s actions were a major contributing factor to Luther writing the 95 theses and consequently the start of the Reformation.
In our modern world we are assailed by a Green religion in the West with its belief in man-made climate change. We are told to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and live a different life. In addition we may trade our emissions individually or nationally. This may well be the start of carbon indulgences.
What can we learn from an experience 500 years ago?
Perhaps we should first identify the equivalent bodies. There is probably not an exact one-to-one correspondence.
The Green religion has energised the public and politicians entirely through an often compliant media. Its origins are diffuse and might include sources ranging from the Gaia hypothesis to the deeply felt attachment of some Germans to the great forests of the Rhine that shielded the Germanic Tribes from the Roman Legions.
The Apostles are the Non Governmental Organisations who have laboured for up to 50 years on this task. There have been a number of trial runs with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. The first eventually resulted in the banning of DDT for the control of mosquitoes and hence malaria. This has probably caused the death of tens of millions of people in Africa where the approved treatments of netting and insecticide-coated netting have proved to be 10 per cent to 50 per cent as effective. The Ehrlich inspired scare does not seem to have cost the community any long lasting loss except for Paul Ehrlich who needed to settle his lost bets with expensive bottles of wine.
It is not clear whether there are 12 Apostolic NGO’s. Indeed some may have departed from what is best described as a “broad” church to seek more or less radical solutions.
As Rome was at the centre in the 16th century debate so the present central organisation must be the United Nations and the IPCC. It is not clear whether there is a Pope but perhaps he is the Chairman of the IPCC, The College of Cardinals gathered about him are Government functionaries, Presidents of National Academies and the Heads of National Research Organisations.
The Religious Orders are the academies, universities and research institutions where those skilled in their professions work for the benefit of the “church”.
As in the 16th century, things tend to get out of hand when the religious orders have to deal with the public. The ideas of boiling seas and rising water levels conjure up the images that Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel painted so vividly. So we see the spokespeople for the NGO’s paint equivalent catastrophic scenes with the intention of driving the public in the desired direction.
Perhaps the most interesting parallel comes with the 16th century sale of Papal Indulgences as we start on carbon indulgences, where we can buy carbon “offsets” to assuage our consciences. The equivalent to Johann Tetzel would seem to be former Vice-President Al Gore who has not only represented his “church” very effectively but also made money from his representations.
If Gore is the Tetzel of the Green Movement, who is the Martin Luther? The current best choice is Bjorn Lomberg. Their career paths are similar.
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