The Village Green

My friend John Butler is back in fine form churning out issues of his wonderful newsletter on a regular basis.

His latest issue is a blockbuster – full of interesting, and sometimes challenging, content.

It starts with an account of local efforts to encourage pollinators in the Grey-Bruce area, but the ideas are relevant anywhere.

Next is news of a petition by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance calling for an end to gas-fired power plants in the province.

According to the Alliance, greenhouse gas pollution from Ontario’s gas-fired power plants will
increase by more than 300% by 2030, and by 500% or more by 2040 as the province uses gas
to replace aging nuclear plants and to meet growing demand for electricity from population
growth and increased electrification for electric cars and home heating.

And, yes, the emphasis was added by me to highlight my own pet peeve with those who claim that CO2 reduction is our absolutely primary concern while ruling out a possible solution without any serious attempt to weigh the relative risks.

Among other news, the same issue includes a report about the efforts at Squamish in BC to use electricity to produce fuel. In this instance it is by CO2 capture and reformation to produce a traditional hydrocarbon fuel (with the same net zero overall GHG effect as production of pure Hydrogen, but perhaps quicker adoptability into existing engines and systems). If this becomes economic – as eventually it must if we are to stop burning mined fuels – then it will place a huge demand on our electricity generation capacity, making full use of anything we can generate from (dare I say?) Site C, as well as any other non GHG sources such as wind, solar, and (dare I say?) nuclear.

And the article on ‘Assisted Colonization’ opens a huge can of worms. Not to mention the question of how we are more likely to assist species we find cute rather than ugly (or otherwise undesirable – I can’t wait for the campaign to “save the killer bees” when they are found to be being forced northward by excess temperatures in their previous homeland).

But we’re not even halfway through John’s latest issue yet!

There’s also an interesting set of reports about environmental progress in the Roman Catholic hierarchy (despite some blowback) to implement ideas expressed in pope Francis’ 2015 Laudato Si encyclical; and some less encouraging news from the Amazon with the slightly reassuring caveat that, with a better political will, “Brazil and other countries could become green superpowers, harnessing the Amazon’s natural wealth to export everything from sustainably cultivated cocoa, açai and fish to promising new inputs for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals”.

An extended discussion of a recent report from the Minderoo Foundation on plastic waste is something (like the nukes issue) about which I may have a rather contrarian position – but I’ll address that in a separate post.

Next comes a warning about the cyber-vulnerability of “smart” electrical power networks – which is something that we have just recently seen also applies to “dumb” hydrocarbon pipelines (though it’s hard to take too much comfort in the fact that the old world is just as vulnerable on that score as the new).

There is also much more in depth info about the big recent climate victories against Exxon and Shell, and a summary of the new Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health.

And then at last we get to the deep stuff!

In an essay on THE BANALITY OF CLIMATE EVIL John reinvestigates the question “Where does evil lie?”

Referencing Hannah Arendt and quoting a recent essay from something called the Centre for Contemplation and Action he draws parallels between the Eichmann of the holocaust and the corporate boardrooms of today.

The C4C&A essay quote ends with “As both Thomas Aquinas and C. S. Lewis taught, for evil to succeed, it must disguise itself as good, which is apparently much easier to do than we imagine.” I can’t resist noting that there is a delicious irony created in my mind between that sentiment and the famous line from American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate, Steven Weinberg who once said, “With or without religiongood people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” But leaving that aside, we are left with the dilemma of whether to accuse those who resist CO2 reduction of personal evil, or just of the error of having been confounded by the illusion of a purportedly greater good.

John takes this on directly with the following paragraph:

I have no quarrel with climate activists who choose to see “correct-incorrect” rather than “good-evil.” I understand that narrow moralization can burn people at the stake, figuratively and literally. Yet I believe in the importance of bearing witness to evil. I also believe that a reluctance to see or point to evil can lead one to become an impotent bystander at the edge of the unspeakable. I believe we need to make the unspeakable spoken

But he acknowledges “the risk of becoming the cult of the climate righteous” and quotes John Wesley, who put it well as a warning in his 1749 ‘A Plain Account of the People called Methodists’, where he expressed fear of “a narrowness of spirit, a party-zeal, a being straitened in our own bowels; that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among themselves.”

In the end John finds wisdom in an updated version of the old precept “Hate the sin but love the sinner” while acknowledging how difficult this often is to do.

And there’s more!

Many inspiring and relevant quotes and a selection of poetry round out each issue. Often we get a sample of John’s own verse but this time it’s a classic haiku and Victoria Sackville-West’s poem ‘Moonlight’.

In case you didn’t click on the link above, here’s another chance to check it out.

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