Aris­to­tle fa­mously con­trasted two types of knowl­edge: “techne” (tech­ni­cal know-how) and “phrone­sis” (prac­ti­cal wisdom). Sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers have of­fered the techne to move rapidly from fos­sil fu­els to zero-car­bon en­ergy; now we need the phrone­sis to

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The cli­mate cri­sis we now face is a re­flec­tion of a broader cri­sis: a global con­fu­sion of means and ends. We con­tinue to use fos­sil fu­els be­cause we can (means), not be­cause they are good for us (ends).

This con­fu­sion is why Pope Fran­cis and Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew are spurring us to think deeply about what is truly good for hu­man­ity, and how to at­tain it. Ear­lier this month, the pope and pa­tri­arch each con­vened busi­ness, sci­en­tific, and aca­demic lead­ers, in Rome and Athens, re­spec­tively, to has­ten the tran­si­tion from fos­sil fu­els to safe re­new­able en­ergy.

In most of the world to­day, the pur­poses of pol­i­tics, eco­nomics, and tech­nol­ogy have been de­based. Pol­i­tics is re­garded as a no-holds-barred fight for power, eco­nomics as a ruth­less scram­ble for wealth, and tech­nol­ogy as the magic elixir for more eco­nomic growth. In truth, ac­cord­ing to Pope Fran­cis and Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew, we need pol­i­tics, eco­nomics, and tech­nol­ogy to serve a far greater pur­pose than power, wealth, or eco­nomic growth. We need them to pro­mote hu­man well­be­ing to­day and for fu­ture generations.

Amer­ica may be the most con­fused of all. The United States to­day is rich beyond i mag­in­ing, with me­dian house­hold in­come and gross do­mes­tic prod­uct per capita each equal to nearly $60,000. The US could have it all. In­stead, what it has is widen­ing in­come in­equal­ity, fall­ing life ex­pectancy, a ris­ing sui­cide rate, and epi­demics of obe­sity, opi­oid over­doses, school shoot­ings, de­pres­sive dis­or­ders, and other grave ills. The US in­curred $300 bln in losses from cli­mate-re­lated dis­as­ters last year, in­clud­ing three mas­sive hur­ri­canes – the fre­quency and in­ten­sity of which has risen, ow­ing to fos­sil-fuel de­pen­dence. The US has vast power, wealth, and growth, and yet di­min­ished well­be­ing.

The US econ­omy and pol­i­tics are in the hands of cor­po­rate lob­bies, in­clud­ing Big Oil. Re­sources are re­lent­lessly al­lo­cated to de­vel­op­ing more oil and gas fields not be­cause they are good for Amer­ica or the world, but be­cause the share­hold­ers and man­agers of ExxonMo­bil, Chevron, Conoco Philipps, and oth­ers de­mand it. Trump and his min­ions work daily to un­der­mine global agree­ments and do­mes­tic reg­u­la­tions that have been put in place to ac­cel­er­ate the shift from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able en­ergy.

Yes, we can pro­duce more oil, coal, and gas. But for what? Not for our safety: the haz­ards of global warm­ing are al­ready upon us. Not be­cause we lack al­ter­na­tives: the US has am­ple wind, so­lar, hy­dro, and other sources of pri­mary en­ergy that don’t cause global warm­ing. The US econ­omy, alas, is an out-of-con­trol jug­ger­naut, chas­ing oil wealth and jeop­ar­diz­ing our very sur­vival.

Of course the US is not alone in the mad pur­suit of wealth over well­be­ing. The same get-rich-quick con­fu­sion of means and ends is caus­ing Ar­gentina, host of the G-20 Sum­mit later this year, to pur­sue frack­ing of nat­u­ral gas, with all the as­so­ci­ated cli­mate and en­vi­ron­men­tal risks, in­stead of tap­ping its boun­teous po­ten­tial in wind, so­lar, and hy­dro power. The same cor­rup­tion of pur­pose is caus­ing the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to guar­an­tee a new pipe­line to ex­port out­put from its pol­lut­ing and ex­pen­sive oil sands to Asia, while un­der-in­vest­ing in Canada’s vast re­new­able en­ergy sources.

In his meet­ing with the CEOs of ma­jor oil and gas com­pa­nies, Pope Fran­cis told them, “Our de­sire to en­sure en­ergy for all must not lead to the un­de­sired ef­fect of a spi­ral of ex­treme cli­mate changes due to a catas­trophic rise in global tem­per­a­tures, harsher en­vi­ron­ments, and in­creased lev­els of poverty.” He noted that the oil com­pa­nies are en­gaged in “the con­tin­ued search for new fos­sil fuel re­serves, whereas the Paris Agree­ment clearly urged keep­ing most fos­sil fu­els un­der­ground.” And he re­minded the ex­ec­u­tives that, “Civil­i­sa­tion re­quires en­ergy, but en­ergy use must not de­stroy civil­i­sa­tion!”

Pope Fran­cis un­der­scored the moral di­men­sion of the prob­lem: “The tran­si­tion to ac­ces­si­ble and clean en­ergy is a duty that we owe to­ward mil­lions of our broth­ers and sis­ters around the world, poorer coun­tries and generations yet to come. De­ci­sive progress on this path can­not be made with­out an in­creased aware­ness that all of us are part of one hu­man fam­ily, united by bonds of fra­ter­nity and sol­i­dar­ity. Only by think­ing and act­ing with con­stant con­cern for this un­der­ly­ing unity that over­rides all dif­fer­ences, only by cul­ti­vat­ing a sense of uni­ver­sal in­ter­gen­er­a­tional sol­i­dar­ity, can we set out re­ally and res­o­lutely on the road ahead.”

As Pope Fran­cis was meet­ing the CEOs in Rome last week, Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew was sim­i­larly con­ven­ing lead­ers of sci­en­tific in­sti­tu­tions, UN agen­cies, and ma­jor faiths in Athens and the Pelo­pon­nese, to chart a path to en­vi­ron­men­tal safety. Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew also un­der­scored the fun­da­men­tal moral con­cern. “The iden­tity of ev­ery so­ci­ety and mea­sure of ev­ery cul­ture are not judged by the de­gree of tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, eco­nomic growth or public in­fra­struc­ture,” he said. “Our civil life and civil­i­sa­tion are de­fined and judged pri­mar­ily by our re­spect for the dig­nity of hu­man­ity and in­tegrity of na­ture.”

The 300 mil­lion faith­ful of the Eastern churches led by the Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­arch are in lands fac­ing ex­treme dan­gers from global warm­ing: in­tense heat waves, ris­ing sea lev­els, and in­creas­ingly se­vere droughts. The Mediter­ranean re­gion is al­ready be­set by en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­tress and forced mi­gra­tion from con­flict zones. Unchecked cli­mate change – which has al­ready con­trib­uted to con­flict – would spell disas­ter for the re­gion.

Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew’s con­fer­ence opened at the Acrop­o­lis, the very heart of an­cient Athens, where 2,300 years ago Aris­to­tle de­fined ethics and pol­i­tics as the quest for well­be­ing. The po­lit­i­cal com­mu­nity, wrote Aris­to­tle, should aim “at the high­est good,” to be achieved by cul­ti­vat­ing the virtues of the cit­i­zenry.

Aris­to­tle fa­mously con­trasted two types of knowl­edge: techne (tech­ni­cal know-how) and phrone­sis (prac­ti­cal wisdom). Sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers have given us the tech­ni­cal knowl­edge to move rapidly from fos­sil fu­els to ze­ro­car­bon en­ergy. Fran­cis and Bartholomew urge us to find the phrone­sis, the prac­ti­cal wisdom, to re­di­rect our pol­i­tics and economies to­ward the com­mon good.

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