The money-motivated God species

‘Sacrifice and austerity are out; competition and innovation are in’ says Mark Lynas, in his new book The God Species (p210). Only money talks, and people are never going to change their lifestyles without an economic imperative. In order that economies can grow and keep on growing for ever more, Lynas exalts The Technofix as being the answer to the problems of climate change, biodiversity loss and so on. I agree that Green campaign messages should not be about sackcloth and ashes, but I find galling the idea that the growth-fuelled, market led development model should run unchecked.

The book takes the idea of ‘planetary boundaries’ which is a concept worked on by a group of scientists from around the world, led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The boundaries are: biodiversity loss, climate change, the nitrogen cycle, land use, freshwater, toxics, aerosols, ocean acidification and ozone layer. Lynas is putting the concept into layperson’s language with the hope that people will act on it.

Many of the facts and figures in the book are truly enlightening – DID YOU KNOW that ‘there are now a third fewer wild animals in total on the planet than there were forty years ago’?. And I liked Lynas’ idea that we need to govern in a Godlike way rather than, with false humility, waiting for the planet to make it’s own natural adjustments, or for God to intervene and put us back on track. We can and must govern the planet, as stewards rather than gods, and I am comfortable about using technology to help with this.

However, if we are to actually govern our planet well, shouldn’t we also challenge visions of society that are based on inequitable and disempowering political values? ‘Wholly Living’, a publication by CAFOD, Tearfund and Theos, says that ‘the idea that we must strive to maximise our personal wealth, freedom and choice so that we can decide our own ends’ is a ‘narrow and destructive idea’. This book calls for political change to be made in light of ‘human flourishing’ thinking, to modify how we think about, and therefore measure, progress.

By the way, Lynas frequently challenges ‘Greens’, including NGOs with which Tearfund is allied in our campaigns on climate change – Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace in particular are named (and shamed, depending on whether or not you agree with Lynas). Strong bones of contention are that by being anti-nuclear, we have contributed to the continuation of global warming, that we should start getting our techno-heads in gear including looking to geo-engineering more (though he does pretty much rule out biofuels, except possibly for aviation), that carbon off-setting has its place, and that we should embrace urbanisation. I think he makes the fair point that we harp on about the importance of science in showing the links between human actions and climate change, but become unscientific in our reasoning when we resist technological solutions to the problem of climate change. For this reason, and because the planetary boundaries concept is helpfully systematic and scientific, I think it’s worth a fresh examination of some of our policy positions in light of Lynas’ direct criticisms of climate campaign messages.

References:

Lynas, M (2011) The God Species: How the planet can survive the age of humans HarperCollins Publishers,London.

CAFOD, Tearfund and Theos (2010) Wholly Living: A new perspective on international development Theos publishers, London.

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