Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

I don’t really consider myself a Survivalist or Prepper or someone who dwells on doom and gloom predictions, although not everyone acquainted with me would probably agree. I don’t subscribe to any popular scripts about Armageddon. I was a little cautious around 2012, but that was more because of the work of Graham Hancock (who inspired the movie 2012) rather than it was any Mayan prophesies. (Like many similar studies, while it probably has a lot of wrong conclusions in it, Hancock’s book, Fingerprints of the Gods, asks a lot of very fascinating questions.) The individual who taught me most of my survival skills over the past three decades has taken to some very gloomy predictions and warnings on his site in the past two years and, while I respect what he’s trying to do, I have a hard time buying into his message of fear.

And yet the central focus of what I teach my youth groups is wilderness survival. Not only is it an excellent catalyst for teaching self reliance and awareness, but I do truly believe that it could be valuable information. While I’m still making plans for my own future, one year or ten years from now, confident that I’ll be able to enact them, I also believe that it is prudent and wise to see the current state of the Earth as being “at risk” and fragile, and that to not prepare for possible and, in some cases, probable eventualities would amount to hiding one’s head in the sand. The fragile situation in which the Earth finds itself is accelerating and there are some undeniable problems that will challenge the immediate and long term future.

When I say accelerating, I’m often confronted by people who claim that things are no worse off now than they’ve always been. The fault, they often say, is that of the media, hyping world problems and shedding more light on things that have always been there. I don’t agree. I think the most obvious example of the falsehood of this argument can be seen in Climate Change, where this argument is often inaccurately used. Climate Change deniers are fond of saying that the fluctuations that we are seeing in carbon dioxide levels and subsequent warming have been evident throughout history and are nothing new. That has been soundly disproven, and it is now commonly held by scientists that the changes we are seeing as a result of carbon dioxide emissions is not only worse than historical fluctuations, but are likely going to get much more serious.

And it is not only Climate Change. Increased population, and both its demands on the environment and the increased density of people, has an undeniable impact on many challenges we are facing. The threat of a pandemic is one that is increasing due to population and greater facility in travel. Pollution is definitely not on the decrease, and is a cumulative problem, especially if you include more serious types of pollution such as the Fukushima disaster. Like errors in a computer operating system, so many of the problems we’re currently facing are cumulative, going undetected and progressing towards a possible system crash. It could happen today; it could happen in 20 years; with any luck our scientific achievements and our development as a species will continue to outpace disaster and it could never happen.

Some of the world’s current greatest thinkers see it as a race between the triumph of our technology and social progress, and an event or series of events that will cripple us. Noam Chomsky is not the most optimistic person about our future survival. Ray Kurzweil says that our future is going to be amazing, assuming that we don’t destroy or cripple ourselves in the next 20 years. Ken Wilber often points to the fact that most futurists strongly believe that there will be a terrorist nuclear attack on North American soil some time in the next decade.  David Suzuki has basically thrown in the towel.

So what are the most likely events that could put us in a survival position?

#1) The most likely threat to our social integrity is not any particular even, but rather the consequences of one of many events. It would not take much to destabilize our social services, again, very much because of its fragility. Any interruption of services, electrical, medical, police and firefighters, would be disastrous, -especially in urban areas. And then those urban areas would fan out to the suburban areas and cause chaos. Whether it be caused by a pandemic or an EMP, if the social structure were to break down, if we were to be thrown into a major recession or depression, if gasoline became unavailable and food was not delivered to the supermarkets, we’d be in deep trouble. Hopefully something like that would only last a short time, but it could feasibly last for months and even years.

#2) A pandemic is a contagious disease which spreads throughout the world and has significant medical consequences. The last one was in 1918, the Spanish Flu, which infected 500 million people and had a 10% – 20% fatality rate. This was, by the way, when world travel was much less of a factor than it is now.
Currently we have an Ebola scare, which is not likely to turn into a pandemic, although it is not as impossible as the authorities would like you to believe. The truth is that Ebola is about as contagious as Mono, and we’ve all known people who have caught Mono. …And diseases mutate, sometimes naturally and sometimes by human hand, like the case several years ago where an airborne version of an influenza virus was genetically engineered by European scientists.
Most medical scientists believe that there is a 100% chance that there will be a major pandemic in the next 50 years. Again, increased population, crowding, health care cuts, and certainly airline travel have all mitigated the cumulative risk. Even if the pandemic is restricted to a portion of the population, it will be enough to trigger that social instability I mentioned in point #1.

#3) When you understand how weapons technology is evolving, it becomes much easier to accept the fact that a terrorist nuclear strike in a North American city is highly possible. Whether it be an actual nuclear explosion, a simple dirty bomb, or an EMP event, any terrorist attack of this nature would, again, cause a massive destabilization of the economy and social integrity. A recent CBS report stated, “Various experts estimate the chances of a nuclear detonation in the next 10 years at somewhere between 10 and 30 percent.” Smuggling through a nuclear, not to mention a biological, weapon is getting easier and easier. People have mini-genetics labs in their cupboards.
This is very much a product of technology, -that science wonder that we’re hoping will save us-, outstripping the social restraint and restriction we’re capable of putting on it. Take, for example, the use of highly technical missiles by drunken rebels to shoot an airliner down in Ukraine. Ooops.

#4) Our food supply is a paradox. In our need to produce food for an ever increasing population, we’ve resorted to modifying crops and livestock in order to increase efficiency. Without that increased efficiency we would possibly have a food shortage. (I know there are lots of debates about what “could” be if we tackled our food problem in a different way, but I’m talking here about what “is”.) The result is that we’ve essentially gutted the bio-diversity of the plants and animals that make up our agriculture. While there were once dozens of types of corn or grains, now we’ve reduced it to a handful, most of them highly bred or even genetically modified. Now, I don’t want to get into a GMO debate here. But the fact is that we’ve narrowed the general biodiversity. One catastrophic even could have a serious impact on our cattle, our wheat, or just about anything. I’ve been unable to find the reference for it, but I recall one interview with David Suzuki about 15 years ago or more where he told the story of a lab almost releasing a strain of wheat accidently which would have cross pollinated and seriously depleted our wheat crops with disastrous results. (While Suzuki has made some unfortunate statements lately on some scientific topics, genetics is his field and I’m inclined to give his statements on that topic a lot of weight.) I’ve used the word “fragile” above, but nowhere is it more true than when talking about our ability to produce food.
And that is just the beginning of the food paradox. We’ve created a system which requires massive transportation of food, without which many areas would be very hard pressed to survive. If regular deliveries were suspended, how long would the food in the supermarket last? I’ve seen answers of anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks, probably depending on how much people panic and stock up.

#5) Water is one of the most important things you need in order to survive. In a survival scenario it is the number two priority, and only because freezing to death is faster than dying of thirst. I became concerned with water availability when I saw the recent crisis that they had in Dayton, where algae blooms released a chemical toxin into L. Erie, which then got into the water supply. The thing that made this crisis different was that, as a chemical toxin, the problem couldn’t be solved either by boiling or by filtration. Neither removes a dissolved chemical (unless it is a better than average filtering system.) Similarly, water filtration plants would have to be overhauled if they were to treat this kind of water pollution. That’s not likely to happen, and even if it does, it has been shown that this kind of advanced filtration on a city scale is prone to breakdown.

The headlines that talk about crisis in the parts of the world are important, and can ricochet back to us indirectly, but the main things that cause our Earth to be fragile are much more mundane. People take out life insurance understanding that there might be personal challenges and tragedies; however there can also be global or societal challenges and tragedies. Preparing for these kinds of calamities might involve having a few cases of bottled water, an alternate source of heat and enough food for a week or so. However, if the problem escalates to the next level, are you prepared for a month or even a year of hardship?

And are you ready to protect what you may have prepared from people who might want to take it away from you? Even if one person out of a hundred is willing to assault or kill you in order to feed their own family, …that’s a lot of people. To use a nerdy reference, in The Walking Dead TV show, it’s not the zombies that tend to be the problem.

O.K. So you might disagree with my original statement that I’m not a “Prepper” or survivalist. But I don’t see myself any different from the person who takes out life insurance. In fact I might see my decisions as even a little more practical. You hope and work for the best, but prepare for the worst.

The Ontario Hydro power situation in this province is a huge complicated mess. There is no doubt that the Liberals have mismanaged some elements of it, but I’m not sure that any party would have been able to do things much differently. Like most things, it is a not a straight forward analysis.

Over thirty years ago the environmental group I belonged to clearly stated that twenty to thirty years down the line the Ontario public would be paying far higher prices for their power. There were two primary reasons. The first was that much of our petro-chemical consumption was subsidized by the government through tax breaks, hidden costs rolled into taxes, and even direct subsidization. On the Federal level we see it more clearly with the Oil Sands, but it happens at the provincial level as well. Cheap energy was an illusion. When the nuclear power plants entered the picture this became even more the case. This is the second reason, and to properly understand it requires a little history and perspective.

Canada admittedly has one of the best nuclear programs in the world. Our CANDU reactors are heads above others in safety. Even so, the drawbacks of nuclear power are legion, and some of the principle ones are economic. Power plants have a phenomenal construction price tag attached to them, not to mention regular maintenance. The original cost forecast for Darlington plant, for example, was $3.9 billion, and it finished at $14.4 billion. That’s just the construction. It doesn’t include any of the other costs that are associated with the lesser known cradle to grave life of a nuclear power plant. The government costs associated with uranium mining were huge, not to mention the environmental catastrophe that is now being swept under the rug as a retirement community in Elliot Lake. The processing of uranium into fuel grade material was primarily done at Port Hope, and is associated with huge costs related to having to move radioactive, contaminated soil. According to reports, it is still being cleaned up and still being paid for with tax dollars. Storage of spent fuel bundles, highly radioactive and toxic, is still an ongoing question. Promised storage facilities in Northern Ontario have not materialized (although it is not certain that they would be desirable anyway). Currently this highly dangerous waste material is being stored in swimming pool like enclosures near the shore of L. Ontario. And finally, nobody wants to talk about the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant. What do you do with a radioactive mausoleum after it is no longer usable? Does it just sit there for the next 2 000 years?

Like so many other things, many of the costs associated with nuclear power are hidden, and this doesn’t even consider the billions of dollars that were spent on research and development. It was a long, expensive and rocky road which is very much related to current energy costs and the situation at Ontario Hydro. And regardless of the relative quality of CANDU reactors, the plant, and especially the peripheral elements of the industry, are far from safe. As we have seen in Fukushema, we can never be prepared for all possible situations, and when you’re talking about nuclear energy, the stakes are high.

When the anti-nuclear protesters were active 30 – 40 years ago, Climate Change was not a well know issue and factor in the environmental equation. In light of the carbon emitting alternatives, a lot of modern environmentalists claim that nuclear is inevitable, and they may be correct in the short term. However given climate change and the danger of nuclear power, it is only reasonable that alternative energy sources and the real power of energy efficiency/conservation be examined seriously.

Our federal Conservatives, through PM Harper’s recent statements about Global Warming, asserting that no country can realistically be expected to take step regarding Climate Change if it will interfere with jobs or economic growth, have made it very clear where they stand. They are willing to kill their grandchildren in order to allow themselves and their children to prosper. They are giving the middle finger to the future, more concerned about current economic growth than the well being of future generations or addressing probable future environmental catastrophes. This should not be a surprise. It is very much a Conservative ethic of taking care of current business interests and the power elite.

The Ontario Liberals took a chance on the future, encouraging and supporting a fledgling wind a solar industry. There may have been some errors, but compared to the investment and the travesties of the nuclear industry, it’s nothing. After the $14.9 billion Darlington plant came on line, it was exporting surplus energy at a loss to the U.S. for years. It’s nothing new. It is part of the growing pains of a new industry. And it is a support of growing pains that requires government intervention. Standing in the shadow of nuclear and petro chemical, alternative energy doesn’t have a fair chance. Competing with two other established sources of energy, each with their own serious drawbacks, alternative energy doesn’t have a fair chance. Like nuclear, when it first was introduced, it requires government funding at both the research and the implementation level to get a foothold. In the case of nuclear, that was very much shared by the federal government. Today, that’s highly unlikely considering that the federal Conservatives are so totally in bed with the oil industry. When Harper says that no country will take action on climate change if it threatens jobs and economic growth, read that as “if it threatens the oil industry”. If the federal government cared more about the future or the environment than they did their big business friends, there would be a national funding of alternative energy research and implementation. Other countries have done this, but they are, suspiciously, not countries that have large oil interests.

But most importantly, here is a quote from an article titled “Clean Energy Myths in Ontario”.

A comprehensive analysis comparing a green power portfolio to building new nuclear plants found that renewable power would be significantly less expensive than new nuclear, $13.5/MWh for green vs. $20/MWh for nuclear. Rates paid for wind and hydro power under the feed-in tariff system are lower than the cost of new or retrofitted nuclear power – 13.5 cents/kWh for wind vs. 19-37 cents/kWh for nuclear. Ontario is still paying for past nuclear cost overruns. The province has collectively made $19.6 billion in payments on the old Ontario Hydro’s “stranded debt” and still owe another $14.8 billion. Every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone over budget and over schedule. On average, final costs have been two-and-half-times the initial estimated cost. The vast majority of current hydro bill cost increases have nothing to do with green energy contracts, but are mostly the result of overdue transmission system upgrades, – See more at:


I’m sure that mistakes are being made in the alternative energy sphere. It would be interesting to see what kind of mistakes or dead ends are being stacked up by the Oil Sands and to what degree those mistakes are being bankrolled by tax dollars or tax breaks. I’m sure that Oil companies can just write them off. Having researched it carefully decades ago, I can tell you with confidence that the dead ends and waste in the nuclear industry would boggle your mind.

It is not fair to spotlight the troubles encountered by alternative energy without understanding that both oil and nuclear did and do have similar issues, hidden by time and the convoluted accounting of Goliath corporations. Alternative energy becomes a scapegoat. Wind provides only 3.5% of all of the generating capacity for Ontario. As you’ve seen above, nuclear is a proportional behemoth. How can anyone take seriously that alternative energy initiatives in Ontario are responsible for huge increases in power bills. Costs sited for alternative energy development often include billions for building new hydro transmission towers and lines, as if those wouldn’t have to be built or replaced anyway. New hydro lines compared to new or retro-fitted nuclear plants? Which do you think costs more? The pattern is always to compare the existing problem to another situation where the problems are hidden. Publications like the Financial Post betray their bias in articles about energy when they claim that companies like Magna and Caterpillar had to close their doors because of high taxes, knowing full well that Ontario has one of the lowest corporate tax rates around.

Once again this is not to say that parts of Ontario Hydro aren’t broken. Their billing system is completely out of control. I know several households that have not received hydro bills for over a year. (They’re in for a surprise when Hydro catches up!) General administration seems to have been in chaos for the past 8 years or so, and needs to be cleaned up. Other problems exist as well. But a very large part of it is having to finally pay the piper, just as was predicted decades ago.

However, when talking about energy costs, the elephant in the room tends to be ignored.

For a summary of Trickle Down Economics and why it doesn’t work, see the previous post. Or just look it up on Google. The critical articles outnumber the pro articles by about ten to one.

Nobody ever talks about “Trickle Up Economics” (except for Rush Limbaugh, who naturally demonizes it and defines it basically as government handouts to the poor). In fact I may have made the term up. Well … no I don’t think so.  Googling it produces a handful of results, the critical of which tend to follow the “Nothing can be consumed until it is produced” line of thought, -which to me is just counter intuitive.  One might also call Trickle Up “Demand Side Economics”, because it begins with the consumer, -the grass roots, if you will-, and works upward from there.  (Again, the critics say that, no, it begins with the government, -but no more so than the Trickle Down model.  Government initiates action in both cases.)

In order for corporations to expand, they need to respond to an increased demand. No matter how many incentives you give businesses, if the demand is not there, it won’t work. In fact, if the demand is not there the incentives tend to be pocketed as increased profits. In Trickle Down, the idea is usually that incentives to corporations will produce more jobs, which will give the mass of consumers more spending power, which will in turn grow the economy. Except that the premise, that incentives turn into jobs, is very highly disputed.

Might the opposite approach hold more promise? Instead of giving wealthy corporations more incentives, give the incentives to he consumer. A tax incentive that encourages consumers to upgrade energy efficient appliances or make other purchases, directly stimulates the market and can unavoidably lead to more purchasing from corporations. You don’t need a PhD in Economics to see that this will immediately lead to increased production and probably jobs. And there you have it, economic growth.

While the original stimulus may not continue indefinitely, the increased employment rate will stimulate the economy by itself and be longer lasting. As a strategy, it seems to have fewer steps and be far more direct. Both strategies involve the government offering tax dollars to stimulate the economy, but in Trickle Up that money goes to consumers who are likely to utilize it rather than corporations that seem content with squirreling it away.

Plus you have the added bonus of giving consumers an incentive to aim their purchases towards worthy social goals and perhaps even lowering their debt load. The reason that green incentives to corporations don’t work very well is that there is often not the demand necessary to make start ups successful.

One other important form of Trickle Up Economics comes from the field of education. I strongly feel that education is the most important investment that our society can make. Not only is it an investment in the skills and innovation that future generations will have, but is also a positive social influence in things like crime rates. Personally, I think that school funding should be doubled. It is worth every penny. (Of course it needs to be done efficiently and effectively.) You need the best teachers and the best resources. The businesses and corporations will ultimately benefit from a more prepared work force, which will boost their productivity and profits. They should contribute more to education. In Europe they do.

Nothing could be more “Trickle Up” than Education. Investment at the grass roots, consumer level to insure the best possible education will trickle up to benefit the country economically, socially, not to mention personally. One can see the devastating implications of failure to do this just by looking around the world at places that have dropped the ball on this one. The places that are the most dictatorial and underdeveloped are also the places where education is suppressed or struggling.

Paying attention to the people who are on the “Demand” side of the Economics equation doesn’t put more money into the profits of big corporations. It doesn’t widen the wage/wealth disparity that seems to be growing. It doesn’t promote cutting away essential services at schools and other places. But it does seem to be a simple, direct way of growing the economy (rather than the corporate sphere).

There don’t seem to be any graphics or comics for “Trickle Up”.

I’m currently reading Michael Dowd’s Thank God For Evolution. As I’ve stated before, Dowd is trying to build a bridge between the traditional religious ideas of pre-rational, mythic beliefs (Red and Amber in Integral Theory) and a rational theism (applicable to those at the Orange level). I’m about one third of the way through the book and I’ve noticed a pattern. I would say that I have no problem connecting with about 80% of the book. I am very satisfied with the central thrust of the book, which is that evolution, the wonders of modern science, and the understanding of brain research are the modern ways in which “God” is expressing itself. Down says that his concept of a divine figure is the universe and doesn’t stand outside of it. There is a Taoist or Deist (or Zen) interpretation of that which I can appreciate.

But every once in a while he throws in a paragraph that undoubtedly comes from his old evangelical preaching days, talking about “being blessed” or “living in God’s light”. He introduces the Epilogue with “I didn’t write this book. God did.” As someone who is coming at the book from a more atheistic or agnostic perspective (Orange or Green), I often cringe when I get to those parts. I understand what he’s getting at and can even stretch myself to understand how someone else would experience it that way, but it is very clear that Down is building his bridge from the traditional, pre-rational theist to what he hopes will be the modernist or even post-modern, rational theist. It is a bridge worth building. Ken Wilber has stated that if non-theist rationalists completely deny and ridicule any form of rational theism, it is effectively cutting off the possibility of personal evolution for many people. Including these rather traditionally religious expressions in his book may be designed to ease the transition and frame some of the “new” concepts in “old” speak. This is not hypocritical. New levels of development subsume the earlier ones, retaining many of the old concepts in a transcended form. I would not want to begrudge religious people that bridge.

As I said, I’ve only read the first third. At least to this point Dowd has not attempted to build a bridge from the rational non-theist to the rational theist. Many rationalists (Orange) who are also Atheists have placed science and scientific method on an alter of their own. Empiricism and materialism trump any sort of theism, and if it cannot be proven empirically or scientifically then they regard it as unnecessary and untrue. When you look at Atheist forums on the Internet or on Facebook, you often find passionate attacks against traditional religious beliefs. Some contain so much venom that it is clear they are driven by shadow issues. Rationality is attained, and for some the attainment came at a cost of rejecting their pre-rational values. Disowned beliefs still gnaw at some of them, creating Shadows and the need to lash out at the thing that they, themselves, have transcended. Dawkins often falls into this corner.

Even for those with no or few Shadow issues of this sort, there still tends to be a defensive stance against subjective metaphysics rather than the objective materialism that they trust. They would tend to look at many of Dowd’s preacher statements and say, “Well that sounds very nice, but why do I need God in the first place?” And that is the precise argument that has to be made if you are going to build that particular bridge.

Dowd wants us to see a version of God in scientific wonder. As we unravel the universe, he claims that this is God revealing itself. Again the question, “So what?” Well, as Einstein said, “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.”

Science tells us that we are a perhaps solitary speck of life in a mechanistic universe. Understanding that, we can become Nihilists and despair, or we can appreciate the wonder and possibly unique (at least rare) status that we enjoy. In the latter, we recognise the preciousness of our planet, and it translates in to reverence, respect and caring about the environment.

Building the bridge that connects the intricacies of objective science to a sense of wonder and reverence is desperately needed. Religions carry much baggage with them, but there are several things that they do well.

They provide a context for meaning, leading to a sense of purpose rather than a sense of despair.

They provide passion and impetus to turn beliefs into action and routine.

They provide symbolic and ceremonial subtexts which are capable of transcending purely logical thought and gives access to deeper and profound parts of our mind.

They (at their best) ground us in a common goal with other people.

Secular Humanism tries hard to accomplish these things, but has mixed and inconsistent results. I believe this is because it lacks these things that something akin to a religious or spiritual belief brings to human nature. Environmentalism will never be a successful social movement until it takes on the power of a religious-like force. Wonder, love and reverence are not logical. Dowd’s book hints at the kind of bridge that could be built from rational secularism to rational theism; from the Objective to the Subjective, without losing the integrity of science and reason. Within the things that science is disclosing about itself, we should be able to find the context, the passion and the common goal. The symbols and ceremonial subtexts need a little work. But as each level of conceptual development transcends the last, retaining and amalgamating with it those things that can still add value at the new level. The spirit of creativity, scientifically iterated in evolution, can be one of those transcending concepts. The sanctity of life, also connected to evolution, can be another. This requires a little thought on our part. It is easy to point to fundamentalist religions, whether Christian or Muslim, and see the flaws. It is harder to allow them to evolve into something more positive. There needs to be a space created for that evolution.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  After posting this I see that it appears right above my post about the novel, Dune.  I found this interesting because the Bene Gesserit “religion” or order depicted in the book is very much the kind of secular theism that I’m talking about here.  It has all the benefits of a “religion”, and yet never mentions God. 

When Atheists attack or criticise religion they are most often directing their attention to the fundamentalist forms of the religions.  Pre-rational, traditional religions which deny science and evolution, and which have a literal interpretation of religious texts and dogma, are fundamentalist.  Faith is the cornerstone of their religion, so it is not their concern that these “interpretations” may be varied, inconsistent and flawed, as their faith does not encourage them to look at the fundamentals with any scrutiny.  Studies show that there are large numbers of Fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. who have not read their Bible, and who accept the interpretations of the various religious leaders of their various denominations.  I’m sure that there is a similar situation for other religions. For much of history, the masses were unable to read at all, and there were periods where reading the Bible was considered a heresy for anyone other than the Clergy.   In cases where Bible study is encouraged, it is never done critically, but in the inflexible context of whatever interpretation system is in place.  All of this combines to create a pre-rational, mythic, premodern relationship to religion, which is regarded by Integral Theory to be the Blue/Amber (depending on the system) level of development.

And yet Integral Theory strongly suggests that, like all other social concepts, religion and spiritual beliefs need to be able to evolve, moving from the pre-rational to the rational and even to the trans-rational.  I have had no problem comprehending the kind of trans-rational spiritual beliefs that might be possible, but I’ve always had a problem with rational forms of religion, especially Christianity.  Some atheists will argue that religious evolution is neither necessary nor possible, but I will try to explain the need later in this article.

Recently I came across a talk by Michael Dowd, first on the Integral Life site (which I originally thought a little odd) and then another in his Tedx talk found on YouTube.  He also lectured at a conference organized by the publishers of Skeptic magazine at CalTech.  (The second of these contains much of the information of the first within it, but it is close to 1.5 hrs long.  Well worth it though.)  You have to give Dowd some time and the benefit of the doubt as being a former evangelical minister, his tone is sometimes one that will easily put off skeptical atheists.  But give him a chance.  The first inclination is to ask, “Why bother with God at all?” when listening to him reinterpret religious ideas in modernist terms.  But there is, I feel, a rational response to that.  First, however, one must get the gist of what he is saying.

Dowd claims that religion has always tried to provide people with the best fit for describing reality.  Primitive people who saw thunder had limited means to interpret and comprehend that phenomenon, and so came up with a mystical or supernatural explanation.  A tribe encountering a huge boulder, seemingly out of place on the landscape, would produce a mythical explanation in the form of a legend.  They didn’t know what we know now, so religious and mythical explanations were the best that they could do.  That obviously is no longer the case, and yet religions still cling to these mythical and often superstitious beliefs because as traditional institutions, clinging to the past is what they are all about.

Dowd says that this has to be updated.  He presents “God” as simply a metaphorical interpretation of Reality.  He presents the creation story as evolution.  He presents “witnessing” or right relationship with God as a correct relationship with the reality that is presented by science and driven by evidence.  He often quotes Carl Sagan’s comment, “Science is, at least in part, informed worship”.   The complexity of his world view is not going to be given proper attention and done adequate justice in this article, so I’m going to encourage you to investigate the two video lectures referenced above.

The perspective of each of the Integral levels is determined by the world view.  So a religious perspective coming from a Rational, Modernist or “Orange” developmental level has to reflect a relationship to that world view.  The Orange world view is based on science, reason and (to some degree) materialism.  This may seem to many as a incompatability.  Science and religion are seen by many (especially those firmly entrenched in Orange) to be mutually exclusive.  But in order for a religious person making a transition from the pre-rational to rational state, they either have to completely abandon their religious inclinations, or there has to be a bridge which allows them to take those religious inclinations and transcend to a higher degree of understanding.  If nothing else, Dowd’s approach allows that to happen, and, I believe, expresses the way it has happened for many individuals who consider themselves progressive, liberal, rational people, but who still retain religious convictions.  I’ve met many, and they tend to echo, in their own ways, the things said by Dowd.  This rational interpretation of religion, seeing God not as a supernatural figure outside the system, but as a representation of reality, and aligning the creation story not with the mythology of an archaic book, but with evidence provided by modern science, all will provide a state of belief to which the pre-rational religious believer can progress.  As Wilber says (somewhere), the degree to which we do not provide such a bridge condemns people to remain trapped and paralyzed in their current level of development.  If Dowd does nothing else, I believe that he is solving that problem by providing that bridge and presenting a formulation of religion that is consistent with the rational, Orange world view.

In addition Dowd presents a qualification of dealing with the Subjective vs the Objective.  He calls it Day and Night Language.  Wilber, in Integral Theory, refers to it as the left and right sides of the four quadrants.  This is the crux of the correspondence between religion and science, understanding that materialism is a right quadrant world view, completely valid, but limited to the things that it applies to.

But I do think that there are other things about Dowd’s  that are valuable.

For my entire life I have struggled to teach a love of the environment.  I did so for two reasons.  The first reason was that I felt that Nature had a great deal to teach us, if only we could have the right kind of relationship with it.  The second reason is that our environment is seriously threatened, and I feel that you can only work to try to save something that you love.  In both of these cases, the strength and quality of the relationship is critical.  The best cultures at preserving and revering the environment are those where Nature was incorporated in to the religious beliefs.  The strength of the relationship with the divine translated into a passion for Nature.  I’ve often felt that in order to save the environment it might be best to initiate Environmentalism as a religion-like movement.  That’s the kind of passion that it will probably take at this point.  (David Suzuki has pretty well thrown in the towel.)

One of the things that works in pre-rational religions is the degree of passion involved in the worshiper’s relationship with their reality, whatever that world view may express.   That was at least partially lost during the transition to the Scientific Age,  particularly in day to day life.  In fact the philosophic responses to the Age of Science, Existentialism or Phenomenology, have basically reduced things to either nothing being true or everything being true.  In both cases, it is kind of lacking in passion.  Individuals become alienated from reality, not related to it.  One of the most extreme products of this modernistic philosophy, Determinism, no only isolates the self from reality (subjectively, at least) but questions the existence of that very “self”.  Determinism paralyzes our very ability to make choices.

In Dowd’s presentation he calls for an establishment of that relationship with reality on a level similar to that which is advocated by religions.  It has vast implications for understanding ourselves and our environment.  In the speech I reference above, he spends a lot of time discussing brain evolution and our much of our behaviour is influenced by instinctual drives.  Understanding that science, and using it as a guiding principle for our own behaviour and relationship with reality brings about spectacular benefits.  Similarly, with the environment, Dowd makes the following observation:

“Until we see the entire history of the Universe as scripture, and create laws and incentives that align the self-interests of people and organizations with the wellbeing of the body of life as a whole, we will continue to
-toxify the air, water and soil,
-drive other species to extinction
-be hounded by political, social, economic and religious crises”

Dowd has a particular interest in Climate Change, pointing out that in a nation like the U.S. where a significant minority of citizens (he claims as much as 40%) believe in an impending “End Of Days”, it is hard to get anyone interested in Climate Change.  A proper relationship with a scientific reality would change that, and may provide the passion, not to mention the ethical and moral foundation, to deal with Climate Change.

Meditation often states as one of its goals that it promotes a more healthy, direct and intense relationship with reality.  But, as Wilber often points out, that reality is dependent on the dominant world view of the individual.  However, at its best, meditation is trying to promote a sense of “here and now” among other things.

This, I feel, opens the door to what religion should be in the trans-rational or even the Intgral levels of development.  It certainly has something to do with the quality of the relationship with reality, and that reality moving towards “cosmo-centric” and Integral.  Dowd touches on it when he says that evolution is the universe is trying to become conscious of itself.  I don’t know whether it is “trying to”, but it certainly has.  When you are outside on a clear night looking up at the stars, you are the universe looking at itself, something that is uniquely human, at least at the level of conceptual understanding.  This extension of Dowd’s ideas into these other Green or Teal/Yellow is not necessary to appreciate the valuable contributions being made to Rational/Orange level religion.  I find that this has really done a lot to clarify this for me.


Posted: January 13, 2014 in Current Events, Environment

For those trapped in a more literal state of mind, I’ll just go on record here at the beginning that my recommendations at the end are intended to be satirical, …at least to a degree.

There is a lot of news exposure these days regarding a Texas hunter who successfully bid on a permit to hunt and kill a black rhino in Namibia.  The proceeds from the permit will go to help fund the conservation efforts and the fight against poachers who are threatening this endangered species.  There has been a lot of controversy over the paradox of killing one animal in order to supposedly save others.

My first thought (and don’t judge too quickly) is that the reasoning behind this auction and calculated hunt is perfectly sound.  Culling certain animals from a herd can promote the survival of the others, and in this case they are promising to target an older, non-breeding rhino, which are known to sometimes attack younger rhinos.  From a purely rational point of view, it makes sense as the hunt will not really impact the overall survival of the species, could feasibly improve it and will supply funding for the conservation effort (or at least that’s what we’re told).

I’m familiar with the organization to which the winning hunter belongs in Texas, having had some contact with them here in Canada.  Safari Club International is an organization which promotes hunting.

Now, there are two kinds of hunting.  There are the deer, moose and turkey hunters that get their local tags and go out hunting during the right season.  I have no difficulty with these hunters as long as they play by the rules, which they usually do.  These hunters usually use the animals they bag, butchering the meat.  There’s a great book called From Boys To Men of Heart, by R.L. Eaton, which talks about hunting as a rite of passage and which makes a compelling argument for hunting as a way to relate to and connect with nature.  Anybody with a knee-jerk negative reaction to hunting really owes it to themselves to check this out before being too assertive in their opinion.

The second type of hunting is the big game, trophy hunting.  These are the hunters who take the expensive trips to hunt more exotic animals, sometimes even top  carnivores like wolves or big cats.  This is a type of “sport” hunting that I’m more ambivalent about.  I’m not sure where my ambivalence comes from and what rubs me the wrong way.  Perhaps it is the fact that the animal is killed primarily so that the head can be mounted on a wall.  Perhaps it is the fact that I don’t see the challenge in shooting a rhino, for example, from a jeep with a high powered rifle and a telescopic sight.

The hunters of Safari Club International, and the Texas branch of that club, are heavily involved in both types of hunting.  The brief video footage of their Texas conference or dinner shows dozens of works of taxidermy surrounding the hall in which the event and the auction took place.  I attended one such function here in Toronto and saw the same thing.  Trophies are important.  The hunters in this club are fine people, some of whom were friends and acquaintances.  There is no doubt that they have an attitude towards hunting and guns that a lot of people would have some trouble understanding.  The pride in their sport and the sense of pleasure and achievement in hunting down a large animal, killing it, and then mounting it for display, is a passion.  It is easy to criticize, and I was critical of some things, but they take their sport very seriously and approach it with a great deal of integrity in their own way.  There is definitely a “hunting mind set” involved.

I think the criticism of the black rhino hunt is not primarily based on a reasonable analysis of the situation, but rather by other factors, which I can understand.  It seems a poor example to others to hunt an endangered species.  In fact I would be willing to bet that many of the critics would simply be opposed to big game hunting in general, whether or not it were an endangered species.  It is not hard to understand why someone would be opposed to killing for sport.

But if one does enjoy killing for sport, and that seems to be the attitude of the big game hunters, perhaps that opens the door for an alternative solution to the black rhino problem.  Instead of offering a permit to hunt old rhinos, perhaps the government of Namibia should be offering permits to hunt the poachers.  What could be more exciting than hunting and bagging a human being, …although the trophy in your living room might be awkward.  I am absolutely certain that such permits would go for a huge sum, yielding a nice financial boost for the conservation effort.  Hunting prey that might actually shoot back at you would be electrifying and add to the hunting experience.

And it might solve the poaching problem.

Odds and Ends

Generators are handy in an ice storm as they will allow you to retain some power.  They’re not much use if you haven’t already done the preparatory work to properly integrate them into your power supply.  That can’t be very easily done on the spur of the moment.  Yes you can run an extension cord in and have some light or run some space heaters, but if you really want your furnace, frig and other things to operate, you need to do a little wiring ahead of time.  Don’t keep your generator running in either an open or closed garage.  Gasoline results in one of the most inefficient forms of combustion and is the worst risk for CO.  Generators tend to be noisy, so you know you’re going to draw attention to yourself when you have it on, especially if you’re in a subdivision with neighbours only an arm’s length away.

For light, it would be good to have some candles, and a couple of LED lanterns with extra batteries.  I particularly like some small, glass hurricane lanterns that I found in a Dollar Store several years ago.  (Haven’t seen them lately.)  They run on kerosene or a liquid paraffin mixture.  They’re great and last a long time.  Other hurricane lamps, especially those with a metal fuel reservoir, should be tested regularly for leaks.  I’ve seen it happen more than once, especially if it’s dropped and nobody tells you.

I always keep a flashlight or headlamp in my car.  There’s also one in an easy-to-locate-in-the-dark place in my home, right beside a lighter and some matches.

Have an AM radio with batteries available so that you know what’s happening in your area.  I have a survival one that operates on solar power and with a crank handle.  I find the solar recharging doesn’t do much unless it is in direct sunlight, and even then it is not great.  (Eton/Scorpion model)

It is always a good idea to keep your tank more than half full, and if a storm is moving in, fill it right up.  Power outages mean no gas.

If you don’t have a chain saw, or even if you do, you might want to buy a bow saw.  This would be handy for clearing downed trees or perhaps even supplementing your firewood supply.  An axe or hatchet would be handy, too.

I’ve seen a lot of plastic shovels shatter or break over the past 10 days.  A metal snow shovel is heavier, but is much more likely to survive an ice storm.  One of those garden edging tools is good for breaking up ice, but just remember it is metal, so don’t use it on anything that might be damaged when hacking at ice.

I keep a pair of snowshoes in my basement and bags of sand and salt in my trunk.

I’m sure there are lots of other little things, but that should be the most important.  There are lots of sites available on line for urban or home survival.  Some are better than others, but they’re interesting to look at.  The degree to which you are prepared depends on you.  Play a game in your mind one frigid night and ask yourself exactly what you would do if the power quit right then and there.  Maybe involve the rest of your family.  Doing a short simulation allows you to check some equipment that might not otherwise ever get checked.  (That’s how one person I know found out that their bathtub wouldn’t hold water.)

Imagine or practice your response and evaluate whether you would have the resources to actually do what you know you should do to protect yourself and your family.