Conscience and Challenge
Paul H. Carr
31 January 2016, Manatee UU Fellowship, Bradenton, FL.
Our awareness of the awesome beauty of creation, the moon and the stars, gave birth to the science of cosmology. A new cosmic conscience must give us a new integral ecology to meet the challenge of our destruction of our common home.
I. THE WONDER & BEAUTY OF CREATION
The wonder and beauty of creation is expressed in Psalm 8 of David, written about 3000 years ago:
"When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you have established:
what is humankind that you are mindful of them,
and mortals that you care for them?"
This passage is reminiscent of my Methodist minister father saying:
"We should look to the heavens and steady ourselves by the stars."
To celebrate the arrival of the three kings, a month ago we sang
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.
Our planet’s light and energy comes from the sun. Cosmologists In the last century have discovered that the sun is a giant nuclear fusion reactor. It fusing hydrogen into helium, generating energy and light.
As stars age, this fusion process continues from hydrogen to helium, lithium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen until we get all the elements in the periodic table. At the end of their life, stars explode into brilliant, beautiful super novae.
The gravitational attraction of this star dust formed the solar system including our earth. Thus, we and everything in nature are all made from the same stardust. “We are made of stardust.” as our beloved Kay Jackson used to say.
Thus, modern scientific cosmology thus tells us how God created Adam from the dust of the earth.
"Religion is poetry plus, not science minus," (according to Prof. Krister Stendahl, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School.)
Returning to the poetry of Psalm 8:3-4:
"When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established:
what are humans that you are mindful of them’
and mortals that you care for them.? "
Yet you have made them little less than God.
A little girl was having a conversation with God.
The girl said: "Is it true, God, that a thousand years are like a minute to you?"
God said: "Yes, my daughter."
The girl said: "Is it true, God, that a million dollars are like a penny?"
God said: "Yes, my dear."
Then girl had a bright idea and asked: "God could you please give me a penny?"
God thought and said: "Yes, my daughter, if you could patiently wait a minute."
Psalm 8 continues (vs 5 -8):
" Yet you have made humans a little less than God, and crown them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; You have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air , and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
These last passages refer, of course, to "our dominion over the works of your hands," namely the responsibility for our earth. Does this "dominion" lead to conscience and moral responsibility? I should like to present three viewpoints:
(1) YES: We are "created co-creators" with God and therefore responsible stewards, (as advocated by Prof. Philip Hefner, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and}
(2) YES BUT: The creationists believe that Psalm 8 and Genesis are literally true, but when they disagree with modern science, science is questionable or in error.
(3) NO: The biblical "dominion" is anthropocentric, self-centered, and self-serving. It has led us to such disasters as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Let’s throw out these ancient stories and replace them with new sacred story based on the modern Science of Creation. The international scientific community created this story, which transcends national, cultural, and religious differences.
The anthropocentric biblical account was appropriate 3000 years ago, when the world population was about 40 million people. However, with our population of 7 billion, which is exploding rapidly, our technology is having a major impact on our earthly home.
The history of our earth can give us an appreciation of hundred millions of years that it took to form the oil, gas, and coal, that are our present fossil fuels. At our present rates, we will have depleted, in a few hundred years, a non-renewable resource that took 100s of millions of years to form. As Dr. James Hansen, formerly Director of at NASA (Goddard Space Science Institute), said, “We will have to figure out how to live without fossil fuels someday, why not now before we have ruined the creation.”
Dr. Hansen and other climate scientists have observed that the burning of these fossil fuels is increasing the concentrations of carbon dioxide. This is trapping the earth’s heat and warming it via the greenhouse effect. 2015 has been the hottest year on record as well as the 14 years before. Sea levels are rising at the highest rate in thousands of years from melting ice on Greenland, West Antarctica, and mountain glaciers.
My friend in Miami tells me that Miami Beach is a flood zone during the King high tides. He has difficulty getting home during these record high tides. Miami is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on barriers and dikes, but sea levels are seeping in, undermining its limestone foundations. Salt water is now encroaching on fresh water supplies for drinking. I was discussing this with John Steinmeyer last Sunday. He said, ”We should be spending more national funds on desalination research than on expanding our military prowess, (which some Presidential candidates are advocating.)”
IV. OUR CHALLENGE to save the Creation
Today’s challenge is to develop sustainable energy from the wind, sun, and the nucleus. Solar and wind are free energy forever, after the up-front and maintenance costs are paid-off, Solar energy from heaven is more sustainable than fossil fuels from hell.
Unfortunately, solar and wind power are not available all the time, particularly at night. Until utility scale electricity storage becomes economical, electricity generated by nuclear fission is the best option for 24/7 electricity. Dr. James Hansen and three other top climate scientists have recently written an open letter. They stated, “Modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation and economies of scale can make new power plants even cheaper than existing plants.” Engineers at MIT are designing a nuclear plant that could be moored at sea, like an oil rig.It would cost about one-third less than a conventional plant and take about half the time to build. Floating reactors wouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard.
In his introduction to his book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth” sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson wrote a letter to an imaginary Baptist pastor asking for his help. Wilson was brought up Baptist, but is now a secular humanist who believes in evolution. The Baptist pastor is a creationist. The sociobiologist implores the pastor to put aside our differences and work together to save the Creation, which is in deep trouble.
Why did biologist Wilson go the trouble of writing such a letter? Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant Denomination with about 15 million members. There only something like four thousand secular humanists. The Roman Catholics are the largest in the US, with over a billion members worldwide.
Pope Francis in his June 2015 June Encyclical, “Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home,” urges us to listen to the cry of our earth and the cry of the poor, Our moral imperative is to stop plundering our planet for profit, the poor suffering the most.
Pope Francis wrote, “Saint Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.”
Pope Francis’ Encyclical contributed to the progress made at the UN Council of Parties meeting in Paris in December 2015, COP 21, as the meeting was called.
For the first time more than 180 nations, large and small, submitted plans to divert from their carbon-based business as usual.
The United States insisted that the carbon decreases in Paris be voluntary. If they had been a legally binding treaty, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would have made good on his promise to reject it. Our challenge this year is to elect a new President who will continue a Presidential commitment of caring for our common home.
Our Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act is presently reducing the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. However, 23 states including Florida are challenging this in court.
In contrast to our regulatory approach for reducing carbon emissions, the Chinese are starting to use the more economically efficient approach of putting a price on carbon emissions, a capitalistic “cap and trade” approach. In Chinese cities like Beijing, schools had to be closed recently due to the dense emissions from coal burning plants. China is now the world’s largest total carbon emitter. However, on a per capita basis, its carbon emissions are about one third those of the United States.
To date, the decrease in coal burning in the US has been due to the “invisible hand” of economics. The cost of generating electricity with natural gas is less than that of coal.
President Reagan’s former Treasury Secretary, George Schultz, wants to harness this “invisible hand” of economics with a revenue neutral fee on carbon. The money from this fee would be a dividend that could be returned to everyone to stimulate our economy. The fee would make fossil fuels slightly more expensive than green energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro and nuclear. The dividend would give people more money to spend, stimulating our economy. This would create over 2 million jobs and reduce carbon dioxide levels. You can learn more and get involved by visiting http://citizensclimatelobby.org
There is a lot we can do as individuals. About 7 years ago when I first came to our Fellowship Tom Stockebrand, showed me his truck that he had modified to run with an electric motor powered by batteries. He was ahead of his time. All of us now have the opportunity to buy doubly green electric automobiles. They emit no carbon dioxide and get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon. Tom told me last Sunday, “I just bought a three-year old electric Nissan Leaf for only $10,000. Its acceleration is superb. It’s quiet, smooth, and fun to drive.”
The greatest climate challenge in the US is from the extreme right and the extreme left. The extreme right believes that global warming is a hoax. The extreme left believes that wind and solar energy sources alone are about to solve the problem. Top climate scientists are telling us that next generation nuclear reactors must be part of the solution for 24/7 electricity.
In conclusion, our awareness of the awesome beauty of creation, the moon and the stars, gave birth to the science of cosmology. A cosmic, planetary conscience must give us a new integral ecology to meet the challenge to our destruction of our common home.
Our present climate challenge reminds me of the Cold War story of a shipwrecked Brit, a Communist, and two Americans. The four of them managed to swim to a sand bar in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Their challenge was to deal with the rising tide that would put them underwater in six hours. The Brit saw a log floating on the water, climbed onto it, and proudly said: “Britannia has always ruled the waves,” as he paddled off. The Communist said: “What drown with these two capitalists!” and swam off. One American said to the other: “We have only six hours to learn to live under water, let’s get going.” Paraphrasing according to climate-scientist Dr. Jim Hansen, “We have only two decades to learn to generate our electricity without fossil fuels, so let’s get going.”