Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category


What about Fossil Fuel?

Think about it.

There is considerable risk to the consumption of fossil fuels since it has been well established that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, a major threat to civilization on Earth. The fossil fuels in the ground that have not been extracted represent a asset on the books of major fossil fuel corporations. Even in a declining demand in the United States, there is a rush via fracking and other extraction methods to get as much as is possible right now. This poses a problem. What do you do with it?

The current effort is to send these fossil fuels over seas to support growing economies there. There is also considerable push back from citizens because of the real likely outcome that burning all these reserves can contribute to increased CO2 and exacerbate the climate problems we face.

One way to put a cap on the speed of this effort and reduce the climate impact is to prohibit the export of fossil fuels from the United States. If there were such a prohibition, then only the fossil fuels needed to meet demand in the United States would be extracted because there is no good way to store the vast amounts current efforts portend. This would have the additional benefit of extending into the indefinite future the benefits of fossil fuels which are used for purposes other than burning in generators and automobiles. If in addition, there was a growth in the use of alternative ways to generate electricity with wind and solar the US demand for fossil fuels would continue to decrease.

There are advantages to the United States. First, we could become totally independent of foreign sources. Second, it would extend the potential long term value of this source of primary wealth. It also postpones the impact of excessive CO2 in the world climate system.

So, I say: Prohibit the exportation of fossil fuels from the United States.


There are social norms that while not necessarily good for society are never-the-less socially acceptable.  By socially acceptable I mean, these social norms are considered by many as being actions or behaviors that are not radical or out side the bounds of reasonableness.  These social norms are not necessarily ones that have always been acceptable — times change, society changes, people’s attitudes change.  One of the questions is the direction of the change?  Are things getting better or are they getting worse?  It is not surprising that this OPINION is not universally agreed upon even when such policy or standards are widely accepted.

Slavery is a good example.  In most of the world today, the idea that one person can own another person is outside the bounds of social norms. That is not to ignore the active trade in human trafficking. There are people who believe it is ok to buy and sell people.  But, this is not an acceptable standard in the societies of the world today.  It is an idea that used to be a social norm in the United States as recently as 160 years ago by a segment of religiously grounded citizens of this nation.  I would suggest that these people suffered from a kind of mental illness, one that held that their ability to exercise power over others used to force others to work as commanded, to punish by whipping and beating, to use as sex objects, even to execute others was “normal” behavior.  That’s insane!  What was at one time considered within the social norms is today considered way, way outside the bounds of acceptability.

What would happen today if you wanted to own property that someone else had a documented, historical right of ownership and you did this by physically driving them off their property.  What if they resisted and you just killed them, their family including their children.  And what if there were children who survived and you conspired to have them imprisoned in the desert?  Obviously, you would be hauled into court.  I bet you would be found criminally insane.  How is that different than what our forefathers did to the native Americans of this nation?  These Westerners were not judged to be insane because what they did, at the time it was done, it was considered socially acceptable by everyone except the indigenous people who were treated in this way.

I am confident I could come up with other examples if I had more time and allowed my comments to extend to thousands of words.  Hopefully these two examples are sufficient to illustrate that behaviors we consider out of bounds today, bordering on insane behavior, were at one time acceptable behaviors to many.  I bring up these examples to put in contrast conflict over social norms today, ones that in the future might well be considered insane.  I will start with capital punishment.  Much of the world has recognized that the old view “an eye for an eye” is no longer acceptable.  Revenge is never justified no matter how angry we become; it only leads to more violence.  Just because we have a law does not make it sane to kill a person because they have committed the heinous act of killing another person.  It may feel good.  It may make some economic sense.  It may appeal to some sense of justice.  But it is insane to kill a person in the name of justice.

What about the sanctity of life.  Today’s standard of acceptable behaviors are not generally agreed upon, to say the least.  Can one form of life own another form of life by virtue of cunning intelligence?  Is it acceptable for a person to end their own life?  Generally, society agrees that it is not acceptable.  Yet, there are exceptions and in some places, it is permissible for a person to end their life as a result of severe pain or infirmity that reduces life to nothing more than biological survival.  What about the life of an animal?  Do we all agree that intentionally killing an animal for food is OK?  What if the animal is a dog or a horse?  Obviously, the concept of intentional killing of animals is conditional in today’s society.  Are there not some who would extend the termination of life for an entire forest to be out of bounds, a threat to the survival of many animal species, a threat perhaps to human life on the planet?  Indigenous people have understood a relationship to earth that those of us children of “the enlightenment” have lost.  And, we have through our technology, most of which requires some rape of mother earth to exist; we have provided resources to over populate, to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.  What happens when our systems collapse because we have exhausted the non-renewable resources.  Oh, the misery of it all.

Insanity contains an element of self-absorption, a preoccupation – occupation with one’s self, an ignoring of the way an action might have a negative impact one one or more others.  That is exactly the way people who ignore their impact on the environment act, ignoring the fact that their choices today may adversely affect their children or mine.  Life is about overcoming our collective insanity. It just may be the case that collectively, with exceptions, that we are insane in our actions about life itself for anyone but ourselves, now, during our short lifetime.


Social Justice, All About Advantages — Cecil Denney

What does it mean when one says they are an advocate for Social Justice? Surely they don’t mean social equality.

  • People are different.
  • Cultures are different.
  • Localities and their resources are different.
  • Opportunities for achievement are different.
  • Families are different. Etc.

The context in which social beings exist are therefore inherently different. In the historical and cultural systems of the United States, we like to quote such things as “All men are created equal” and in our flag pledge “… with liberty and justice for all.” Unfortunately, these foundational assertions fail to be incorporated into the fabric of our social systems and practices. The more disclaimed “greed is good” is more privately ingrained in us as individuals and our organizations. It seems that our personal well-being tends to trump other considerations. It is not that we are selfish, just that we are fundamentally human, looking out for number one. Total equality in all things does not appeal to anyone who enjoys the vitality of being alive.

Yet, we can not deny the impact of compassion. Confronted with the reality of pain and suffering, the mirror brain neurons experience the pain vicariously. If we see a child about to drown, most of us would jump in to save them at risk to our own safety. There is altruism to consider as well, a sincere interest in the well-being of others and willingness to share what material goods or advantage we possess so that others can be well too.

Contrary to some definitions, social justice is not really about equality or even liberty. Injustice is about advantage. It does not matter if the advantage is based on money, opportunity, intelligence, appearance, cordiality, race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, familial relationships, tribe, or in any other way that people can differentiate themselves from others. Injustice is about the misapplication of advantage or its misuse. Advantage can be written into laws, exist in cultural traditions or be prejudicial habits. Advantage is naturally sought by our competitive human nature, stemming from our historical competition for primary resources, for survival. Advantage is the basis for cultural class structures when consciously or unconsciously utilized for personal or tribal advantage.

So how does one seek social justice in the presence of a multitude of advantages unconsciously used. It begins with a recognition of ones own advantageous characteristics. As with most cultural wrongs in society, it is far easier to recognize injustice in others than in one’s self. (The beam in the other guys eye…) So, overcoming the detrimental side of advantage, whether individually or within a group of affiliated individuals, justice begins with self-awareness. Of course, that does not solve the problems of injustice, but it begins a process of recognition of injustice and being focused on one’s self or group, gives one person or groups of people the easiest place to begin to implement a more just society.

We can’t do away with advantages. We can decide how to ameliorate their impact. Equality is not the goal. Equal opportunity or more precisely balanced opportunity can create a more just social structure. In that structure, self-aware advantages are moderated by compassion, altruism and a desire for justice, a desire that one’s own advantages are not used to the dis-advantage of others. Justice dictates that advantage not be used to enhance ones own life while simultaneously operating to close off opportunities of those with fewer advantages. There is that obvious tendency to advocate that other people change as opposed to accept change in ourselves or our clan.

Sometimes social justice is couched in the cloak of “rights.” People have a right to… you name it. Some definitions equate human rights and social justice. Yet, Social justice is experienced in the context of giving just opportunity as opposed to getting ones rights of opportunity. We might say this or that is not right, but the beginning of social justice is in recognizing our participation in what is not right and sincerely seeking ways to respond accordingly. In the earliest written expressions of social justice in the Western world, the ten commandments, it is clear the emphasis is on our responsibilities, not our rights.

Social Justice is not the same as charity. Social Justice does not yield to quick fixes. It is larger than an individual, a committee, a church, a neighborhood. But, Social Justice can be practiced at each one of these levels to improve the social contract of living together fairly and with compassion for lack of advantage. Experiencing Social Justice comes first in stories, the story of real people and the struggles they experience in an unjust social context. It also comes in personally experienced relationships with the disadvantaged.

Being an advocate for Social Justice is complex and difficult. Yet, social justice is not something abstract, something out there, but something inside of us, reflecting the deep aspects of our spiritual self. We discover how to be a net asset to the world, not just another liability. All of us will have to think more deeply about our advantages and how we use them to dis-advantage others. How do we make unconscious choices, that are seemingly private choices within the social context where many are impacted, maybe not noticing the drowning disadvantaged right in front of us? How do we choose what to do as opposed to just talking about it? How do we organize ourselves to work collectively for a more just society? Where do we put our energy to be most effective?

Then, if we can address this complex topic of Social Justice, just maybe we can find others who also want to engage with us in this complex challenge.


Democracy might be the means to extinction of the human race.

In order to deal with the environmental crisis we face, the governments of the world need to come to some sort of agreement about how to address the crisis. It does not work if only a few participate. It requires the cooperation of all the major sources of environmental contamination, in particular adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

I recall a discussion with a family member about the wisdom of groups as opposed to that of individuals. I recall reading how groups involved in decision making can reach superior outcomes. But, somehow, with regard to the environment, that does not seem to work, I think because the majority is uninformed and confused by counter forces who see no responsibility to the future residents of our planet. Who can we trust?

I include myself in this group in the sense that I frequently choose a short term comfort rather than personal discipline to sustaining a commons for all to enjoy. Since I have few resources, my impact is smaller than some, but it is this very rationale utilized by billions of earth’s inhabitants that collectively make it difficult to solve environmental problems. There are just too few people with too little power to protect the commons, the natural resources of the planet.

In personal relationships, it is sometimes easier to be accountable. Shame can be a powerful motivator. Almost all of us prefer to be held in good report with the people we know, especially those we love. But we feel little pressure from others who, because we are evolved to survive and protect ourselves, we feel must be cheating on their accountability.

So, I argue that democratic systems that involve large collections of people who have little chance of interpersonal relationships is prone to degenerate into short term decisions that are self serving, not in the interest of the whole. We may want justice, especially for ourselves, but those other cheaters don’t deserve mercy– at least that is the way democracy tends to go. The “other” is not to be trusted.

I have been involved in community organizing activities that are grounded in gaining power through seeking out the informed self-interest of groups of people and turning that self-interest (not selfish interest) into actions for change. That can work in small collective actions. But there is so much selfish interest by the larger group we don’t know, that we don’t have a relationship with, we just can’t trust others. There is plenty of evidence of mis-doings to confirm our beliefs.

So, I come to the conclusion that democratic decisions are not likely to solve environmental crisis because it is too hard to have an informed, agreeable, trust-able majority to set the direction while there are many with short term views that ignore any future consequence to their own short term goals and satisfaction. Sad to say the consequences may just lead to the end of the human species along with many others. Presently I don’t see a hopeful conclusion.   Fortunately, I don’t need hope to fight the good fight anyway.

Plant or Harvest

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Environment, Philosophy
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It seems that in every age, the people of that age have a sense of being important, of being key to what the future will bring, of being at the center, of being the ones to make decisions that will determine the future. There is a sense of self-importance.

I know how I view my own life. I am concerned about the legacy I leave behind for my children, grand children, and their progeny. When we think about how our own existence can be traced back generations upon generations to the actions of a line of living human beings and the decisions they made, we may wonder about their decisions.  Maybe their decisions were thoughtfully implemented. Maybe our own existence is the result of some unthinking action that by accident avoided dieing before one of our ancestors was conceived. Or maybe somewhere in our line of ancestors, a momentary lapse of judgment and lust conceived another of our ancestors.

I know, because I was told, that I was an accident of familial affection. I was not planned for. I am like a weed blown in from an adjacent field. I am determined to be a beneficial weed and in my own passing of genetic material to be a weed that has a positive impact on the future.

We really are not at the grand center of history. We are just one step in a long line, destined to become long ago ancestors, forgotten, but yet seeds of ideas, decisions, good works, and even genetic material.

Do we plant seeds for the next generation to harvest, or are we just living off the seeds of our ancestors and our Mother Earth, just harvesting where we did not sow, exhausting resources we did not create.  We are making day to day decisions on whether to plant for the future or harvest what others planted.  Unfortunately, many of us today do not see themselves in the context of centuries, only in the next quarterly report.


As I grow older, it occurs to me that I have been a drain on the world. I have consumed its resources. The food I have eaten might have been available to others who hunger had I not be around to consume them. The way I spent the money I had might have gone to some other purpose or possibly not have been needed at all because I did not need to be a consumer of things. I never worried about that before, but now in my waning years, I think about it. Was I a Sink or a Source.

A Sink is something that consumes. A Source is something that creates. At least that is the way I mean to use these words. By living, we are all sinks of a sort. The question is whether or not we are any sort of source. More specifically, what is our net value; Sink or Source.

As I grow older, I think more about this. I think in the past, I was mainly a sink. If that is how I am to be in the future, it might be better that I not be at all. I think I need, even as my years move toward that ultimate end, I think I need to be more of a source. I need to be more conscious of my net worth. I don’t mean my net worth in money, but my net worth to the world in which I live.

I guess I should not be surprised that aspiring to positive net worth, to being a better source than sink is energizing, inspiring. There is a lot of work to be done.


Heaven or Hell?

I was just beginning to read the book, “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril” and an interesting parallel occurred to me. The human being, as best we know, is the only species that can contemplate its own death. We despair when events like Columbine and now Aurora are presented in every media outlet. As I grow older and notice that there are many people my age and younger are dieing every day, I think about my own demise and wonder about the legacy I will leave behind. It causes me to invest a bit more time and attention to my grandson. It also activates me in my volunteer work with community organizing and study about the impact humans are having on the planet.

In reading Moral Ground essays which outline the dire indications of a planet in peril, it occurred to me that contemplating death is more than personal. Many minds are now contemplating the extinction of not just their own persons, but the extinction of the human race as we head toward a cataclysmic crash of the planets systems. The dinosaurs did not see their extinction coming, or so it seems. But while we think of ourselves as the exception to almost everything on the planet, we have been blessed or cursed with the ability to imagine a future. And that future, as a logical extension of what is happening today, is one of extinction– not just of individual species of which we take little notice, but of our own human species.

This lead to an idea or thought experiment. Suppose for a moment that on planet earth, we happen to be living in the afterlife of some other existence. That is, we were living someplace else and then, from where ever that was, we died and now, our spirits were sent here on planet earth for our after life. The question comes up– are we living in Heaven or Hell?


The most important value shared by all of mankind is GROWTH.

Consider that as humans, we are dependent on growing up.  Growth is considered to be a positive, even essential aspect of life.  We look around and we see growth positively valued everywhere we look.  We want our gardens to grow.  We want our children to grow up.  We want to grow our own abilities, to learn, to be able to be more proficient, more successful.  Growth is one of the values we all share in common.  It is part of the environment in which we live, so much so, the values associated with growth go unnoticed, unobserved.

Growth is good!  Who does not want their net worth to grow?  We all look forward to the day that our financial obligations are smaller than all the assets in property and money that we claim ownership of.  We abhor the idea of negative financial growth lest we find we are bankrupt.  To increase the opportunity to grow financially while limiting the risks we have to endure, we form associations with others, limited partnerships, corporations.  We invest assets in these corporations expecting a return, not only in dividends from the profit of the company, but also, we hope, in the increasing, growing value of the company and hence our stock investment.  We are counting on economic values to grow.  Our expectations of gain as well as the expectations of gain of those managing the companies imply there will be growth; growth in profits, growth in asset value.  The whole of our economy, in our nation, in other nations, in the world as a whole, are dependent on growth.  Hence, growth in consumers, growth in population is desired.  It leads to additional needs for food, housing, clothing, entertainment, information, health care, transportation, etc., etc., etc.

In the United States, the economic need for constant, continual financial growth is running out of places to grow.  Hence, we see an effort to devalue governmental services in favor of commercial enterprises.  Private prisons help the financial markets grow.  Private schools allow for profit, for financial growth in a previously non-profit segment of society.  Parks, roads, utilities, transportation, police, fire station services, health care, military services, to name a few– all of these are game for creating new growth for the financial sectors of society.  And since growth is good, even when prompted by greed, a pernicious form of growth, why not make all activities of life “grow-able.”

There is a problem with the supposedly good value of growth.  It is not sustainable?  It is a simple fact that the resources of this planet though enormous, are limited.  Growth forever is not sustainable.  The problem is the short term existence of any single individual to mostly less than a hundred years.  Growth is probably sustainable during that brief horizon today, probably during the next few generations, but not indefinitely.  The problem with growth is how culturally embedded and revered growth is, how acceptable as a fundamental principle of goodness it is for most people.  Yes, some people see the problem of growth in limited areas, but not generally as a whole.

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution except to call attention to what seems to be generally invisible.  We live in a “growth is good” milieu much as a fish lives in water, unaware of the universe that surrounds it– it just is.  To be able to advocate for a sustainable world, we first must come to terms with the fact that the growth value must be recognized and ways to sustain the world explored before we pass some tipping point.  WE must learn in what ways growth is positive and in what ways it exhausts the resources of our planet.  We must come to terms with externalities of specific acts of growth as well as its benefits. If we don’t come to terms with this problem of the growth value, mother nature will take care of it for us or our progeny or our lack of progeny.

See also The Earth has a Cancer


What Does God Want?

In the Christian tradition in which I was raised, there is frequent reference to God’s will. What does God want for the human race? Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptural cannon, we read of prophets who proclaimed God’s dissatisfaction with ‘His’ people who strayed from his covenant, his will for them. Today, we approach what the world should be by reference to God’s commandments and his revealed will. Unfortunately, we speak to a world what does not share our view of God, much less place value in “God’s Will” for us.

It is instructive to consider what Gods Will is in areas that this question is not usually asked. For example, what is God’s Will with regard to the population of the world? Is God happy at our world population approaching 9 billion? Is God sad that we have allowed uncontrolled growth of human kind? Or, is God pleased to see so many people made in his image? Is the more the merrier in this regard? If 9 billion is good, is 50 billion better? Maybe God is not pleased to see human kind expand to the point that many suffer from lack of basic needs?

What is God’s Will with regard to space exploration? Does God want the human race to be limited to the earth or would God prefer we travel to the far reaches of the universe, mastering other planets, mining the asteroids, plundering other living species so that God’s people can expand and master the whole of the reachable universe? Is this God’s solution to a growing population, an accepted need for continual growth? Or, since God accepts the death of individual humans, is God equally OK with the death of the human race, seeing it as just a natural outcome of birth, and life, something we see in all of God’s nature?

What is God’s will with regard to eggs? Is it acceptable to God that as humans we eat the eggs of other species, preventing them from being fertilized, preventing them from becoming new life? Is it God’s Will that all eggs created by nature be fertilized and give rise to a new birth, human or non-human alike? Does God prefer that all human families birth as many children as a woman has eggs or a man has sperm? Does God judge celibacy as fundamentally sinful, denying the opportunity for a human being with a soul from existing? Does God see this as equivalent to murder?

What is God’s Will with regard to medical technology? Was God more pleased when we allowed natural death to occur or is God more pleased to see us extend life as far as possible using enormous resources to extend life a few days, months or years, even when that life lacks quality and even if it results in great poverty for others and at great cost to society as a whole? What does God think about mammograms, CT machines, MRI machines, acupuncture, miracle medicines that make some people rich and others poor?

The point of these questions for me is this. To base our decisions on what we perceive to be God’s Will does not solve the fundamental problems we collectively share in the world today. In the past, when there was so much of nature that remained a mystery, it was useful to have a concept of God’s Will to guide us. Yet, fundamentally, what historically was called God’s Will was in fact a collection of understandings of what it meant to live in relationship with other people, what served the common good, how to live out a life with harmony, love, wholesome pleasure. And, I suggest this is precisely how we should be approaching the problems and issues of the day. It seems archaic to base the “should be’s” on the external reference to a God which is becoming more and more distant to more and more of the people alive today.

The best reasons for what is right and what is wrong is how it impacts the common good, maintains or builds equity and fairness, avoids unnecessary suffering, relies on what can best be demonstrated to be true. If there is a God, it is surely God’s desire for a sustainable future, one beyond our own limited existence, a sacrificial living for the good of all and of those not yet alive. And this is complex enough that we don’t need to draw on our inadequate understanding of the “God’s Will.”

Cecil Denney

Ecological Sustainability

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Environment
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Arguments from Scripture – NOT

 The church has a historical reliance on acting out what it believes is God’s Will. The expression of God’s Will is articulated in the scriptures revealed over thousands of years to the people willing to listen and to grow in their understanding and world view. Today, we find many people who no longer find scripture to be compelling. Many find the concept of God, as the church tells us, is revealed in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. They find the explanation of the origination of sin a concept from a mythical story in the Garden of Eden superstitious. As a mythical story, they find the necessity of the death of Jesus a strange explanation for redemption or even the need for redemption.

Into these ears, then, ecological sustainability presented as based on God’s Will makes no sense. Surely, it is not God’s Will that every one on the planet die. Was the human race just a grand experiment? No, they do not see the rationale for caring for the planet, creating a sustainable world based in scripture and to do so marginalizes the advocates. They look the same as those who advocate that God, who created everything, hates gay people, thinks it is ok to enslave people, is opposed to contraception. They want no part of that God and further, would prefer not to have to do anything with those who propose they speak for God because of their scriptures, the word of God.

Religious people, Christians to be specific should not attempt to argue for a sustainable world based on some interpretation of scripture no matter how confident they are that this is the basis for a sustainable world. Rather,we should adopt a more rational appeal, one based on appeals to the human value of self-interest and immortality, the immortality achieved by our surviving progeny. Whether or not one believes in an afterlife; whether or not we believe it is a “heaven” or a “hell”, we all prefer to postpone that experience in preference for the certainty of the life we have over the uncertainty of a possible life to come. We all find that adrenaline surge when frightened or threatened, that human experience of fear. And, if we are indeed God’s creatures, then this is a naturally endowed aspect of this life, a preference for not dying prematurely and perhaps not at all.

So, even the religious appeal for care for this planet on which we live should be based on the God-given characteristics of being the human creatures we are, not on some scriptural interpretation of words written long before sustainability was even a consideration on the distant horizon. We want to engage all humanity in a concern for the survivability of the human race. We want all humanity to be engaged in living as though survivability depended on them individually. This is not a Christian issue uniquely, not even a religious issue uniquely, but a fundamental necessity for every human alive today, even those with short-term pleasure as more important than the well-being of their progeny.