President Bush and global warming

Last Thursday, the US president Bush called for action on global warming. This means that the US now officialy recognize that there is a serious problem that should be addressed by appropriate actions. However, some, particularly environmental activists and EU responsibles, wonder whether president Bush’s statement represents a real move forward from the traditional US policy which avoids urging immediate action, emphasizes economic global competition, and focusses on technological remedies to global warming. Moreover, what is the meaning of such statement a few days before the beginning of the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm, where global warming will be discussed.

I am left wondering whether this US approach really touches the heart of the matter and the real challenges in the face of global warming. Of course, all appropriate and sustainable technological means should be used. Of course, we will have to take into account the global socio-economic and political effects of measures taken, e.g. CO2 offset. Of course, consideration has to be given to the situation of these countries that are in a process of development and are in need of energy consumption.

But, one should also take into account the real injustices that are involved in global warming: the poorest countries will suffer most and already suffer, the non sustainable lifestyles of some have consequences for others, purely economic answers to global warming privilege those who have the means to pay, … Global warming, therefore, is about how we live together and how we organize our common life in a sustainable and dignified way for all of us. Therefore, a reflection on our global life together and on the motivations involved in our choices of life styles, should be persued and ethical, moral decisions are called for. This moves beyond technical and economic solutions, although these are undoubtedly necessary.

It reminds me of a remark a good friend of mine made, in response to an earlier posting: he suggests that theologians should not too easily and one-sidedly criticize capitalism, as there exists a risk then to move against people’s creativity and sense of initiative. Moreover, the science of economics contains, in the mechanism of interiorisation of externalities, a good means to bring into account the hidden costs of our actions on others – particularly in the case of environmental costs. It then is possible to hold those whose lifestyles cause environmental externalities accountable. I think such calculations are important and they help to reveal the real cost of our lifestyles. On the other side, these are extremely difficult calculations, and they do not initiate a common discernment process amongst all those involved; they merely set up rules for compensation. The rich can pay for such compensations, … not the poor. The question is: who will decide about how we live together? Will we come to such decision in a common discernment process? Or will some of us be bribed into it?

To bring about such levels of public debate and reflection, in line with J. Habermas’ Herrschaftsfreier Kommunikation, is a task for public theologians today. Their concern will be about the quality of our discernments, amidst a debate that also involves economic and political arguments.

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