Saturday, September 29, 2012

The meek shall inherit the earth

Maryanne is the wife of a friend of mine. A few years ago, she and her sister were deeply affected by the death of their mother. Although they had children of their own, they seemed to mourn their mother for years. I wondered what kind of woman she was and began to picture a person with special qualities, a paragon of virtue - love, charity, generosity? Or maybe she was eloquent, or gifted, or a passionate activist?

Some time later I had the chance to ask my friend about his mother-in-law. He said she was a rather meek woman who was bullied by her husband.

Suddenly I saw that this was a case where enduring love and commitment were aroused by frailty not by strength.

This got me thinking. We look for leaders who are strong and confident, and we forget that the most powerful moral force is exerted by the frail and the weak. They arouse our protective love.

Right now, the world looks to rich and powerful countries to lead the way on climate change. We have applauded European countries for their clean energy initiatives and we desperately want the U.S. to step forward and lead us to the new clean energy future.

Our disappointment in their recalcitrance feels like ashes in the mouth.

But how uplifting to see that the poorest countries are speaking out. Listen to this bold promise from Bangladesh. It promises unilateral action with no caveats, no ifs or buts. 
Let me affirm that Bangladesh, as a responsible member of the international community, will never exceed the average per capita emission of the developing countries. This is our commitment to a low carbon development path.
We expect such commitments and responsible behavior from those who have contributed most to climate change crisis over decades. It is time for them to act positively in the interest of present and future generations. 

More than most countries, Bangladesh knows the impact of climate change. They have 100 million people who will be homeless when sea levels rise by one metre in the next 1-2 generations. They're not standing back helpless, they are demonstrating the kind of action that is needed from all of us.

They are offering their widow's mite. If we count the value of a gift not by how much is given, but by how much is kept back we see the generosity of Bangladesh in promising to limit their per capita carbon emissions to the average of developing countries.

We open our hearts to the fragility of life in Bangladesh. Their honest promise calls us to action so that 100 million peaceful Bangladeshis can have some land to inherit. 


News from the Transformation tab.   

Australia will join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a U.N.-led initiative to cut short-lived climate pollutants such as soot and methane. Other countries that have joined the initiative include major emitters such as Germany, Japan, the UK and the U.S, and developing nations such as Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria. Source: Reuters.


  1. What an interesting post. The implication of your story seems to be that those who hold the power, those who are responsible for the problem will be shamed into action or perhaps act because they have been reminded of their moral responsibility by the increasingly obvious plight of the world's poorest peoples.

    This might be the result of our politicians finding some spine of their own accord or it might be as a result of a mass movement among first world citizens forcing our political leaders to act.

    Right thought, right speech and right action are three important stepping stones on the noble eightfold path to enlightenment but I don't see many signs of these amongst either our political class or our fellow citizens - excluding of course all those evolved people likely to read our blogs.

    Outside of the occasional outbreaks of common sense and decency I listed in my last post I'm afraid I don't sense serious determination to take EFFECTIVE action anywhere much and we all know that time is very short.

    I would like to believe (but can't) that when the penny drops that to save our future the first world will have to drop its emissions rapidly to around the levels of present day India Australians will respond OK if that's what we have to do lets get on with it.

    I think it far more likely that we will see action only when people are sufficiently afraid that they and theirs will directly suffer.

    Then there will be frenzied action but I fear that it will be more like the desperate scrabble for personal survival that might be expected on a sinking passenger ship than compassionate, rational co-operation.

    By the time we see action it will be too late for the world's poorest, those without responsibility for this mess and also probably too late for us also. Such is the nature of this crisis.

    In the global community Bangladesh, The Maldives etc have a comparable status to The Greens in our governments. The Greens are continually accused of having principles that REAL political parties who are charged with RUNNING THE NATION cannot afford.

    Thus with Bangladesh which is patently not a REAL nation and having no role in RUNNING THE WORLD cannot be expected to hold a REALISTIC as opposed to an IMPRACTICAL IDEALISTIC view of how nations should behave. Surely no REAL nation would expect us to relinquish the all important trappings of our way of life. The screens, the 4WDs etc. Who are THEY to dictate OUR way of life?

    I'm afraid barring some unforeseen miracle, loss of food and fresh water and the consequences (famine, starvation and disease) will impact first (before sea level rise) and south Asia and sub Saharan Africa are at the front of the queue. I'm afraid, barring some unforeseen miracle the NOT SO MEEK who could save the day will not act to help THE MEEK who will suffer first and greatest.

  2. Hello Doug, you put it so well, especially about the clash between principles and practical politics. Like you, I'm prepared to help the meek wield their lever.

    One trigger to action is self-interest, and we see that nations act in their self-interest when they become fully aware of where their self interest lies. Right now, we seem to be in the midst of a hearty effort to encourage people in all countries recognise where their self-interest lies.

    The activities of the Climate Vulnerability Index and this speech by Sheikh Hasina are part of that process.

    Regardless of my hopes for success, my action is to support these initiatives. My refuge is right thought, right speech and right action, regardless of likely success.

    I was so touched by this unconditional promise from Bangladesh. It is a very big thing to promise NOT to go all out for material wealth at any price. This epoch of Western materialism will pass, and the future may well be built on the values of countries like Bangladesh, Bolivia, and Bhutan.

    1. Hi Gillian
      I'm afraid that I don't think the meek have any lever to speak of. As countries like Bangladesh and The Maldives wither I fear we will see sentimental items on the 6 o'clock news about lost beauty and diversity rather than any serious effort to throw them a lifeline – at least if doing so requires even slight sacrifice on the part of the post industrial world. Sorry, another sentence that thinks it's a paragraph.

      I know that I overstate my position but I do so in an effort to make a point about what is required.

      I don't forget how quickly global social and political phenomena can melt away as if they never existed. The removal of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union and indeed world communism are prime examples.

      I hope that the same principle can apply to the climate crisis but the enormous sense of material entitlement that pervades Australian and American culture and presumably the emerging middle and upper classes in India and China (to name two)does not give me much hope.

      In the case of the evaporation of world communism there was a mass yearning for change, a concrete tangible model that could be aspired to (western capitalism and its material benefits) and as hopelessly dysfunctional economic apparatus driving the shift.

      In the case of climate change there is a somewhat vague fear that something is astray but this is balanced by the enormous material attachment I referred to above. Hence no mass movement. There is no concrete tangible model that can be aspired to (just tantalizing individual fragments) hence no awareness of the implications of change and no mass movement. The economic apparatus is dysfunctional alright but is also the deliverer of all the material goodies we covet.

      Your choice of Bangladesh, Bolivia and Bhutan as exemplars is intriguing. All three have arrived at the same end point driven by quite different imperatives. Bangladesh is quite simply driven by the obvious impacts (already) of climate change. Eising sea levels (actual and future), increasingly severe floods and the impact of climate change on the all important monsoon make it apparent just how severe will be the impact on life in Bangladesh. In Bolivia I suspect the motivation stems as strongly from the left critique of neo-colonialism as anything else but I suspect my colleague Pablo Brait (who has first hand experience of the Bolivian attitude to climate change) would know much more about this than me. Bhutan, whose culture and politics is still driven by the most sophisticated philosophical and ethical framework ever devised is simply doing what it would always have done anyway, irrespective of climate change. Many paths to the same destination.

      Finally to do the right thing irrespective of the likelihood of ultimate success is another tenet of enlightened (small 'e') activism. Not to be attached to the fruits of one's actions reduces your time on the wheel of karma.

      Some time ago I wrote a post on all of this so rather than blather on about it again here is the link.

      Sorry to take up so much space but you set my mind ticking over.

  3. I'm very happy to listen as your mind ticks over.

    Just now, I think we are in the midst of a revolutionary epoch-changing transformation. It's not just the material world that is transforming from fossil fuel to clean energy, but it is the whole basis of western materialism and growth economics that is in question. It cannot persist, it is physically impossible. So it WILL change.

    You point to how how quickly global social and political phenomena can melt away as if they never existed. But they only appear to melt quickly - in fact the seeds of their demise have usually been spreading for decades before they suddenly get tall enough to see. Right now, I see lots of seeds sprouting quietly. I expect to see in my lifetime (possibily 20 years to go) the change-shift suddenly appear as western materialism is replaced by something more appropriate. The very fact that the environmental views of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Bolivia are reported with respect and not treated as the backward ideas of backwater loonies shows a readiness to learn and maybe it even reflects some awareness that western economic ideas aren't entirely the bees knees.

    The element that interests me right now (this month) is that I see examples of how climate change is becoming 'normalised' in public discussion. This is moving quite quickly so that the framing of TV programs like "Can I change your mind" is already in outmoded.

    Did you see the article on SMH today about options for engineering human genetics to cope with climate change? It's 'out there' and maybe that helps to normalise more sedate policy options!

    We're both concerned about the thrall of materialism. It's hugely powerful. And it needs to be countered. But what do you think about Stockholm which has reduced its carbon emissions to 3 tonnes per capita, apparently without abandonning western consumerism entirely?

    I like your 'Good advice' piece immensely! In the face of the certainty, anger, aggression and stupidity that you outline, I've decided to step around it as much as I can. Instead, the world is moving forward and my energies go into that forward movement. The angry rump will shrink in time. When I pay attention to it, it draws energy and claims some validity. For example, the FB page "I bet we can..." was framed in opposition to the carbon tax. Two sides emerged who argued and countered. Then those of us who were pro-carbon tax went away. I looked in the other day and I see that there is no discussion about the carbon tax at all now. It has morphed into a straightforward Hate Gillard/Labor site. I see that my participation helped to keep the dialogue focussed on climate change. It was always about hating Labor, and climate change was just the topic of the day.