[Coral-List] An environmental wager

Risk, Michael riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Tue Jul 9 15:32:29 UTC 2019

I was just reading a New Republic article, came across this quote:

"Many on the political right are taking a new rhetorical approach. They admit that climate change is real, and even that humans are responsible—just not humans in America."

The problem is resource consumption, not population.
From: Coral-List [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] on behalf of Alina Szmant via Coral-List [coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov]
Sent: July 8, 2019 1:06 PM
To: Martin Moe
Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] An environmental wager

Hello Martin:

I had missed your lengthy post being busy with a project with no time  to check email and read long posts. But I saw several later posts referring to yours, so I found it and read it all the way through. I thank you for the time and thoughtfulness it took to compose this erudite missive to share with those of us on Coral-List with the interest to read it. (NOT INTERESTED IN WHAT COMES NEXT, USE YOUR DELETE KEY).

As an atheistic (no doubts whatever; no betting on 'what if I am wrong'), for all the reasons you explain, I second your concern that religion will be the downfall of human society, lead to aggravated climate change, loss of terrestrial and marine ecosystems including coral reefs and every other non-human construct, and eventually, us. I taught for many years a senior seminar class titled "Human Impacts on the Marine Environment". Many times I came across students who when asked if they had ever considered this issue, answered that they didn't worry about it because if there was a problem, "God would fix it". I have come across this same mentality many times among everyday acquaintances. Not a comforting thought that the survival of life on Earth is being hamstrung by as you put it "ancient religions" invented by humans before the dawn of science to help deal with the uncertainties of life on Earth, death, storms, draughts, wildfires, earthquakes, etc., and later hardened during the Dark Ages (named this for a reason) when around the world, but especially for us Westerners in Europe, religious leaders gained power by taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses.  Faith is just that: not based on fact! A few years back I had the chance to meet E.O. Wilson, an avowed atheist, who told me he was working with several Christian religious organizations who adopted the philosophy that it was up to believers to protect the Earth that God gave them. He was hoping that this sentiment would spread. Maybe it has... not sure I see much evidence of it.

For those who advocate that we stop talking/writing about climate change and start doing something about it, I reply, many of us are doing what we can at the personal level to reduce our carbon footprint (solar panels, vegan, hybrid cars, few/no children born later in life and more), but it is like the proverbial Dutch boy putting his finger in the dike as the ocean rises and overtops the dike and drowns everyone of the backside. There are too many of us!  Too few are aware of the problem, and many of those who are may either not believe it's a problem, or dismiss the severity of the problem. Or are struggling to survive and thus can't stop to think about the bigger picture. So talking about the issues and what to do about them is just as important as walking or bicycling instead of driving a car.

People are the problem: rich ones, poor ones, middle class ones, all colors, all sexualities, and credos.  It is going to take more than replacing all fossil fuel energy with renewable energy sources. That is only one small part of the bigger issue.
        Fossil fuel burning is not cutting down the forests for urban development and displacing all kinds of creatures.
        Fossil fuel burning is not overfishing the oceans including coral reefs
        Fossil fuel burning is not the cause of coastal overdevelopment that is killing so much of our shallow coastal marine ecosystems
        Fossil fuel burning is not the cause of killing off all the world's megafauna and now working on the mesofauna.
Fossil fuels are being used to support these activities, but it is because of the numbers of people on Earth (yes, AND their levels of affluence and consumption, BUT also the sheer numbers of them) that we are burning fossil fuels in order to do the above. If all of the above list of damaging activities was fueled by renewable energy they would still be bad for the environment and driving climate change and ecological collapse.

Soylent Green, for those of you who do not know about the 1973 dystopian movie by that name (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_Green) is about a futuristic society where nature is no more, people live in congested cities and fight over bags of pelletized food called "soylent green" that is supposed to be based on phytoplankton... but the oceanographers are reporting that the oceans are dying, so how can this be?  Read the review or watch the movie for more of the plot. I hope we don't go down that path, but these futuristic movies do have an uncanny  way of predicting the future.

Thanks again, Moe.


Dr. Alina M. Szmant, CEO
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Wilmington NC 28409 USA
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-----Original Message-----
From: Coral-List <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> On Behalf Of Martin Moe via Coral-List
Sent: Tuesday, July 2, 2019 12:00 PM
To: Coral List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Subject: [Coral-List] An environmental wager

There is an undercurrent to the climate change wars andconcerns that is not often considered in scientific circles. And that is the altitudesand beliefs of fundamentalist religions. And you say why bother... Either youhave a religion or you don’t. So what? Well, yeah, religion can be a big dealin life, everything concerning human existence can revolve around its demands;or it can be just a social community thing, a part of belonging to a group thathelps everyone go through life together. And pretty much anythingin-between. But for some, it’s an affront to rationality, something to workagainst because it twists reality into a supernatural stew.

But actually, it’s much more than any of this. Religion hasmany flavors, but it is the cornerstone of civilization. It is the ancientcultural development that guided humanity into the fabric of community. In manyand various configurations it built the cultural structure of allegiance,cooperation, and loyalty that allowed families and tribes to grow, survive,conquer, and control territory. It is also an important factor in the controland exercise of reproduction in the human species. Like almost all species of biologicallife on our Earth, successful reproduction is essential for survival of thespecies. Biological evolution builds the imperatives of physiology and innate behaviorinto the physical structure and social interactions of male and female intopatterns that foster reproduction and promote survival of the species. Homo sapiens is the only species thathas escaped the boundaries of population control through a natural ecologicalbalance.  But for Homo sapiens, reproduction is still a biological imperative. Religion,in so many ways, controls and promotes human reproduction with the objective ofsurvival, growth, and dominance of the religion. Population control in the faceof biological and social disaster is not typically a religious consideration for thefuture of humanity. Religious cultural dominance, however, is a concern. 83 % of the world's population espouses belief in a religion, mostly Christianity and Islam.

 Politics is also inthat mix, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but always, subtle ordominant, with religion as a major player. Just look at what part religionplays in development and enforcement of laws that affect reproductive behavior.But when one thinks about the future of humanity, and how we have to createcommon goals that will merge technology and worldwide environmental managementinto sustainable ecosystems; religion has to be a big part of this effortbecause it represents so much "group think", and within culturalboundaries religion is a strong unifying factor. The “push back” against therecognition of climate change and the efforts that must be expended to curtailthe growing effects of climate change are increasing. I’m hopeful, but I'm notat all sure we can achieve the necessary cooperation between science, religion,politics, technology, culture, and biological imperatives for reproduction thatare necessary to preserve the promise of humanity.

In the Shadow of Blaise Pascal: an environmental wager

Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French philosopher,mathematician, and physicist thought long and hard about God and religion andwhat religion expected one to believe about God. Pascal’s thoughts and workswere published seven years after his death in 1669 in a compilation of hiswritings, titled Pensées. It is important to note that in the 17th centuryChristianity was pretty much the foundation of all aspects of Europeancivilization. Religion it was the basis of science, government, philosophy,social life, politics, and common knowledge. Questioning the veracity ofreligion was anathema, yet this did occasionally occur.

One of the basic tenets of Christianity and Islam is thatunbelievers will suffer eternal torture in lakes of fire. Upon death thehistory of their life is opened and each person is judged according to theirconduct and their beliefs. The Christian Bible states “anyone whose name wasnot found inscribed in the book of the living was hurled into this pool of fire(Rev 20:11-15)”. And the Quran contains warnings of eternal punishment as ablazing fire fueled by “men and stones”.

So unbelief in the days of Blaise Pascal was no small thing.To most people, there was nothing that could be softened or explained away byvarious interpretations or analytical explanations. Hell was what the religioustexts said it was, and there were no excuses or gentle explanations. Regardlessof how good a life is lived, unbelief, denial, or even questioning theexistence of God results in an eternal afterlife suffering the tortures ofHell. The end of life was either a gentle introduction to a glorious afterlife,or a rough push into eternal torture. But Pascal found a way to introducequestion and speculation.

Pascal posed the binary question, “God is, or He is not”into the form of a bet, known as Pascal’s Wager. The crux, the fulcrum, ofPascal’s Wager was that in the face of this dire threat to one’s eternalexistence, there was a way out even if one questioned some or all aspects of religion.The wager asked if one could/should bet with his/her life that God exists, orbet that God does not exist, which wager would have the better outcome? At thattime, the Christian position was/is typically that if one bets that God exists,professes belief and lives life as God and the Church directs despite doubts,then one wins the wager, gains everlasting life in paradise, and loses nothing.Whereas, if one bets that God does not exist, expresses doubt but still lives agood life, whether the wager is won or lost, one gains nothing and loseseverything. Therefore, the only rational course of action is to live a goodlife in the belief and footsteps of God, suppresses and denies doubt, andunquestionably wins the wager for everlasting life in paradise.

 But the agnostic/atheist position, developed a bitmore recently than the 17th century, introduces a twist to such reasoning. IfGod is omniscient, He would know that the belief was based on a wager and didnot have the inherent conviction of believing the TRUTH, hence was insincere.The question then becomes, if sincere belief is the essential requirement forentry into heaven, would God honor an insincere “belief” based on a wager, orwould He see through the subterfuge, become angry, and consign the gambler tothe everlasting tortures in hell? Or if, as Thomas Jefferson argued, one livesa good life despite reasonable doubt, would God respect the honesty of thatposition and grant such a person the same rewards promised to those who live agood life with TRUE belief? There are many theories and expositions on allsides of this issue, but just the doubters who profess faith based only on thehope of salvation will, if the belief they falsely espouse is true, eventuallylearn how God resolves that conundrum.

In today's world, humanity is faced with the unprecedentedfragile state of our declining environment and the burdens that ourtechnological developments and our burgeoning populations have placed upon thefuture of our species. This changes the structure of Pascal’s wager and greatlyups the ante as well. It is not just the eternal life of the doubter that is atstake, it is the future of humanity. Most believers of a religion, the majorityof people alive today (mostly Christians and Muslims), believe that there is asupernatural foundation to the physical structure of the universe and also toour world, and that a supernatural god will someday, somehow, and maybe soon,change the physical and biological structure of the world into a supernaturalnever ending paradise and favor past and present “believers” with eternal lifein paradise. And this, at this point in our existence on this Earth, thiscreates an “Environmental Wager” for humanity.

 If we bet with the future of humanity as our ante,that according to religious beliefs, a supernatural god is soon to appear andchange all matter and all biological life into an eternal paradise (check yourBible or Koran to see the significance of this), then any efforts to preservethe future of our environment and civilizations are futile since we will soongain everything that a supernatural future for believers promises, and losenothing that would not be lost anyway. However, if this supernatural god doesnot exist, if the promise of eternal paradise is hollow, and we fail to protectthe future of our environment and our civilizations; then we stand to loseeverything we have gained in knowledge and structure over the ages, as well asthe potential future that humanity can secure if we can place the promise of thisfuture above our present demands upon the finite environment of our Earth.

 Will we wager that the promises of our ancientreligions are TRUTH and that this supernatural cataclysmic Armageddon willdefinitely happen at some point in the not too distant future, thus making anyefforts or sacrifices to preserve the biology and ecology of the Earth aretotally unnecessary? Or will we wager that an enigmatic supernatural god highlyconcerned with humanity either does not exist or does not care, and thereforeeither will not or cannot, supernaturally change the course and biological reproductivestructure of human existence? If so, then if humanity is to find and persist onthe path of a future that is in concert with life on Earth, we will have to useour intellect and resources, by ourselves, to create a sustainable future forthe human species.

If we cannot find it within ourselves to make the sacrificesand efforts needed to preserve and design our collective future, then we arenaught but a mixed bag of contesting biological, psychological, and culturalbehaviors, beliefs and ambitions, a seed of what humanity can be that we havestruggled to produce over the last few thousand years, and one that may notsprout. The tree of humanity that can sprout from that seed still needs tobreak free and have the opportunity to grow to maturity.

 But how can we do that? Will nationwide beliefs that aculture decrees as TRUTH, restrict the freedom, the right to believe and act onwhat you know is true through real science? Can false belief deny the effortsthat will be necessary for changing the cultural and exploitative directions ofhuman civilization that are necessary for survival and advancement of humanity?Or can the world be convinced that the future of humanity depends oncooperative behavior, restrictions of some freedoms, and exercise ofreproductive controls? Can we avoid worldwide religious war(s) waged with theconviction that such a war will trigger the supernatural predictions of Islamand/or Christianity that a supernatural victory of good over evil will usher inthe eternal life and glory of believing human beings? Do ancient religious beliefsstill mold the future of humanity?

 Maybe the best that we can do at this point is topreserve our science and the best of our cultural understanding in a way thatit would be available to a post-apocalyptic world; and hopefully serve as aguide the redevelopment of a sustainable civilization in a direction thatgreatly values the future of the human species.
 Martin Moe
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