the Founder

Climate Change

      The debate about the connection between human activity and environmental or climate change has been long, convoluted and inconclusive while the dispute as to what, if anything, we can or should do about it grows ever more acrimonious. On an issue so vital to its Aim, Duty and Responsibility, and so divisive of the community on which it depends, the Society cannot remain silent. This Topic will begin by showing how the Society's unique perspective leads it to conclude that, irrespective of the evidence produced on all sides of the argument, action to combat climate change is not only necessary but unaviodable. Only then will the Topic go on to discusss what form that action should take.

     From the perspective of the Society much of the dispute about climate change is seen to be misplaced. The combatants seem to have become focussed on the question of who is right about what is happening in our climate; is it those who say we need to take action if we are to avoid catastrophe, or is it their opponents who claim that any such action would itself be disastrous as well as completely unnecessary? Both groups call reason and science to their support but neither is able to convince the other. This is where the Society enters, and then departs from, the debate. Because its acceptance of the uncertainty of all human knowledge, described in its Treatise on Knowledge, leads it to recognise the futility of any attempt to settle this argument either by an appeal to 'truth', or by trying to establish with certainty what will be the future condition of our environment.

     The Society will therefore take no part in any attempt to decide who might be right about climate change. Instead, it will follow its own principles and teaching; begin by assuming that all the participants in the debate may be mistaken or in error; and then consider what might be the consequences if we act on their advice. With that approach a real difference can be seen between those who advocate action, and those who say that there is nothing we can, or should, do about what may, or may not, be happening in our climate.

     What then, are likely to be the consequences if we take the advice of those who say we should try to check, and if possible reverse, the effect of human activity on its environment, and then later find that they are mistaken? The opponents of action on climate change will point out that the costs will be enormous and the likely benefits extremely problematic. They say that the scientific basis for such action is not proven and is, in any event, contradicted by available evidence. They will claim that the social and economic disruption caused by a fruitless attempt to influence or alter what might well be a perfectly normal variation in the environment of our planet will bring about a collapse in the world economy, causing widespread distress, unemployment and poverty. Indeed they argue that, far from saving our planet, we will have embarked on a course of action that could return human society to its stone age.

     On the other hand, what are the likely consequences if we choose to follow the advice of those who say that we should do nothing, and afterward discover that they are wrong? The consensus of present scientific opinion on that issue is that inaction on climate change carries a very real risk of extinction for our species through the destruction of our environment. Indeed, some who hold this opinion say that our situation is already beyond recovery.

      Put simply, the Society's perspective reveals that if we wrongly decide to act on climate change we will, in the very worst case, still be here to try to put right any harm we have done and to correct any injustices we might have caused. However, if we neglect to act when we can and should and are wrong, we may well bring upon ourselves the fate of the dinosaurs and be the last generation of our kind in our universe. Although these contrasting opinions arise, and are examined, from the viewpoint of the Society, it is surely not necessary to subscribe to its ideas and teachings to recognise which of those consequences is preferable, and which set of risks we should take. Unmistakably, we must act and act now.

     That conclusion allows this Topic to move on to its second part, and to the question of what humanity should now do. In that connection, the Society has, in fact, no need of the conclusive differential-risk argument in favour of action on climate change so far set out. Because its primary Aim; that is, to ensure the infinite survival of the human species, has, since its first foundation, dedicated it to, and embarked it upon, the protection and preservation of the whole of our environment and all that it contains, at all times and in all circumstances.

     The specific progamme of action developed by the Society to counter the current threat to our infinite survival posed by climate change is derived principally from its Essay on the Economy. That Essay concludes that, since the resources available to humankind are finite while the Aim of the Society is to ensure the infinite survival of our species, then conservation and frugality must be established as the fundamental principles of all human economic activity. The Essay therefore proposes that economic planning should begin by identifying the minimum material needs of a single human individual, and then aim to ensure that those minimum needs are made readily and universally available to the whole of humankind without exception or discrimination.

     As is set out in an earlier Topic, these new economic principles also lead the Society to argue that growth in the sense of increases in output and consumption should no longer be an objective of economic policy, or any measure of economic success. Instead, the economists of the Society will recognise economic growth only where there has been an increase in the total of the range and quantity of the resources available for the use of humankind. When conjoined with the findings of the Treatise of the Individual, which emphasises the inherent, absolute and unavoidable equal worth and value of each and every individual, and the conclusions of the Essay on the Poor, which establishes the moral superiority of the poor over those who accumulate wealth for its own sake, the Society comes to the moral judgement that both an excess of wealth, and the conspicuous consumption associated with it, are a gross and indefensible misuse of the limited resources available to us on this planet.

      The response of the Society to the problem of climate change therefore begins where it should; with a decision by every individual member of humanity to reduce to the minimum the amount of resources they consume during their lives. This is the essence of frugality. The measure to be applied in that unending campaign to be frugal is one of minimum need, which is defined for the whole of humanity in the Essay on the Economy as, 'how much food, clothing, shelter, etc. do we need to survive and prosper in good health and order, and to reproduce ourselves, while allowing a sufficient surplus to support our intellectual and technical progress?' The structure of the Society leaves it to each individual to choose how they should apply that criterion to their own behaviour, and it is then for the Society to decide whether it should approve or condemn such personal preferences.

     Where frugal decisions require the consent or cooperation of the whole of humankind, or any section of it, the structure of Society provides the means by which a consensus can be reached. The Ordinances and Credenda of the Society also permit it to promote broader social and political policies and practices intended to deal with the problem of climate change. The present overall strategy of the Society is to seek ways and means to replace all humanity's existing sources of power with electricity generated from solar energy. The required technology is already available, and its introduction in place of existing power sources, when combined with the frugal economic policies and personal practices advocated and adopted by the Society, will radically and permanently reduce the impact of human activity on our environment.

     Implemetation of the Society's economic policies would thus be to transform, even revolutionize, the world economy, with widespread social and political consequences. In particular, the infinite economic time-scale adopted by the Society brings the distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources sharply into focus. Clearly, to plan for an infinite future requires that the consumption of non-renewable resources should, for all practical purposes, be reduced to nil, so that they can be preserved for use in the gravest and most extreme emergency: in the Society's terms, where the alternative is the extinction of our species. Oil and oil-based products spring at once to mind in this connection. The description of the Society's approach to economic policy, planning and practice as a revolution is, I think, no better illustrated and justified than by that example.

     It should now be apparent that the Society's approach to climate change is no more than an application of its general ideas and beliefs to that specific issue. As with its wider purposes, the extent to which the Society will have an effect on climate change largely depends on how many individuals are now prepared to subscribe to, and to support, its work. However, unlike most if not all of its competitors in the field, the Society will not proscribe or direct what indivuduals should do. Be they members of the Society or not, it is for each individual to decide whether, and to what extent, they should now act to combat the effects of human activity on our climate. As the first part of this Topic shows, no-one needs to join or subscribe to the Society for that purpose. But it would, of course, be far better if they did.

Addenda (October, 2008)      The programme and prescriptions of the Society for the solution of problems of Climate Change are also those recommended for a resolution of the Credit Crisis, dealt with in the Comment of that name. The same actions and decisions will simultaneously solve both.

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©Lawrence Thornton Roach
    December, 2006 CE