Friday, February 3, 2012

Giles Fraser for Pope!

Giles Fraser is my kind of Christian. He quotes the Magnificat, extolling a God who puts down the mighty from their seats. Any politician advocating such measures today, he comments, would be accused of class war.

    He hath shewed strength with his arm : 
       he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
    He hath put down the mighty from their seat : 
       and hath exalted the humble and meek.
    He hath filled the hungry with good things : 
       and the rich he hath sent empty away.

I've lost track of whether the Occupy London protesters have been evicted from the vicinity of St Pauls. The last I saw was on Monday. The Guardian reported they had been evicted from a disused office block, and implied the St Pauls encampment is next.

Giles Fraser and the St Pauls encampment
Which brings us to Giles Fraser. Formerly canon chancellor of St Paul's, he resigned on 27th October over a decision by the cathedral chapter to seek an injunction against the protesters.

He sees it as particularly appropriate that the anti-capitalist camp should be outside St Paul's, where it sits on a "fault line between God and Mammon".  He claims "economic justice is the number one moral issue in the Bible," and believes the Occupy protest was a tremendous opportunity for the cathedral.

Or, to express the matter the other way round, as one Guardian commentator did, but sadly I've lost the piece now: the protesters handed the Church of England a heaven sent opportunity to prove itself irrelevant.

Giles Fraser isn't out of a job, he's now working for The Guardian. You can see his stuff here.

On Christmas Day he was on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week discussing Constantine, the man who invented Christmas. A war-mongering Roman Emperor, Constantine reinvented Christianity for his own military ends. Whilst delighted to dwell on the baby in a manger, and the crucifixion, he wasn’t so keen on all the anti-establishment preaching that came in between. Which is why the Nicene Creed, written under Constantine’s supervision, doesn’t mention it.

Worth listening to. As indeed Start the Week usually is.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Saudi oil minister calls global warming “humanity’s most pressing concern”

Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi
I don’t know what to make of a speech by Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi. But I think it's worth reporting.

It was given on Monday at the Middle East and North Africa energy conference in London.

I understand that Al-Naimi once called renewable energy a “nightmare”. But on Monday he hailed energy efficiency and solar as important investments, global warming “real” and “pressing,” and explained that drilling for oil “does not create many jobs.”

“We know that pumping oil out of the ground does not create many jobs. It does not foster an entrepreneurial spirit, nor does it sharpen critical faculties.”

While Al-Naimi said he believes that oil production “will continue to play a major role in the overall energy mix for many decades,” he also made some very explicit statements about carbon emissions:

“Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity’s most pressing concerns. Societal expectations on climate change are real, and our industry is expected to take a leadership role.”

I'm at a loss to know what that “leadership role” is — except to pump out more oil and gas.

Although, Al-Naimi did give a plug to efficiency and renewables as increasingly important part of the country’s energy strategy:

“The efficient use of energy is as much an issue for Saudi Arabia, with its huge natural resources, as it is for all countries. Increased efficiency makes sense environmentally, but also economically.”

“We are striving, also, to raise awareness among the public, and specifically addressing children and schools about the tangible benefits of energy efficiency. And we are investing manpower, and brainpower, in efforts to develop new thinking when it comes to energy efficiency.”

A Saudi oil field
“I see renewable energy sources as supplementing existing sources, helping to prolong our continued export of crude oil. And this is why we are investing in solar energy, which we also have in abundance. The Kingdom experiences roughly 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, emitting about 7,000 watts of energy per square metre. Saudi Arabia also features empty stretches of desert that can host solar arrays and it is blessed with deposits of quartz that can be used in the manufacture of silicon photovoltaic cells.”

Saudi Arabia is considering a renewable energy law that would help promote a modest increase in solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, biogas and waste-heat-to-energy. However, if the strategy is seen only as a way to “prolong continued export of crude,” it doesn’t really match Al-Naimi’s statement that carbon-based resources are “among humanity’s most pressing concerns.”

But it’s surprising nonetheless to see concern about greenhouse gas emissions and global warming from this quarter.

And just think: if I'm confused, how confused must Mitt and Newt be with their rabid anti-environmentalism.  If they can't count on a Saudi oil minister whom can they count on?

My source is the Climate progress blog. This is, I believe, a blog you can trust. I recommend it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Capitalism in its current form, has no place in the world around us"

Economist Klaus Martin Schwab
Not the words of an Occupy protester, but the founder of the World Economic Forum who hosted the recent Davos meeting for world business and political leaders.  He's the German economist Klaus Martin Schwab, age 73, and on 22nd Jan the AFP news agency (Agence France-Presse) quoted him saying :

"We have a general morality gap, we are over-leveraged, we have neglected to invest in the future, we have undermined social coherence, and we are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations … Solving problems in the context of outdated and crumbling models will only dig us deeper into the hole.  We are in an era of profound change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of more business-as-usual … Capitalism in its current form, has no place in the world around us." (Reported on Yahoo News Canada)

Something interesting is happening when anti-capitalist rhetoric has become mainstream. We need to be aware that it’s rhetoric. But it’s still interesting.

Another example. At about the time Schwab was making his speech, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney was under attack for “vulture capitalism”. Again, what makes this interesting is that the attack came not from the left but from other Republican candidates.

And it’s prompted a backlash from Republican leaders; for even if they have not endorsed Romney, they nonetheless take fright at this type of attack on a fellow conservative. To them it amounts to an assault on capitalism and the free market system which lies at the heart of the Republican Party’s ideology. For example, South Carolina Governor and Tea Party star Nikki Haley, warned :

Republican contender Mitt Romney
"It’s a sad day in South Carolina and across this country if Republicans are talking against the free market."

Reported on BBC News 20 January, Is capitalism under attack in the 2012 Republican race?

Meanwhile in the UK, the right-wing Freedom Association dedicated to individual freedom, limited government and a free market economy, feels obliged to heap scorn on the notion of a fairer capitalism. When it’s lefties or Ed Milliband promoting the idea, they don’t mind. What bugs them is that even Conservative prime minster David Cameron has promised to clamp down on excessive pay, and is promoting belief in better or fairer capitalism and promising to curtail “crony capitalism”. The Freedom Association derides such ideas as “brave new capitalism” whilst moaning that conservative politicians, to court popularity, score a cheap point by pandering to the belief that the successful have won unfairly.

For more see the Freedom Association website

Analysing this

Writing in the mildly leftwing American magazine The Nation, William Greider analyses the vulture capitalism attacks on Romney as opportunistic cross-dressing by conservatives. There are no candidates in this year's politics, he says, “witless enough to stand up and defend the most bloodthirsty tactics of rapacious capitalism.” And he suggests this opportunism reflects a deeper confusion of purpose and an insecurity in the Republican Party.

His article is Why are Republicans attacking 'Vulture Capitalism'?, January 24.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Daffodils in January

Daffodils in my woodland garden yesterday. They’ve been in bloom for a week now. Surely this should not be. Which brings me to a new version of the US Plant Hardiness Zone Map released this week.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has advised gardeners and farmers to count on warmer weather. The map’s colour-coded zones are widely used as a guide for what perennial flowers will survive in a particular area, or when to plant crops. What's being measured is the average low temperature during wintertime. Higher zone numbers indicate a warmer average.

On this map, the zones have all shifted northward, showing that in much of the country, winters aren't as cold as they used to be, and spring planting comes earlier. 

When the Department of Agriculture introduced their new map to reporters, the nationwide shift in the planting season provoked lots of questions about just how much to attribute to climate change. But NPR reports that officials insisted they were making no claims about global warming. Quite right too. They need to eat. There's an election coming. And who knows, the next President may not like global warming.

The new map includes 13 zones, with the addition for the first time of zones 12 (50-60 degrees F) and 13 (60-70 degrees F). It replaces one issued in 1990.