Repenting for civilisation?

I believe in original sin. But that means not that everything humans do is evil, but that everything we do is tainted by evil. My book God’s Good Earth argues that original sin has not corrupted the natural creation, which remains firmly under God’s good government. And likewise, mankind cannot corrupt that creation, which in part at least was made for humanity, by living in it and using it. I think that may have been forgotten.

Celebrated head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh is quoted as saying that children are born with original sin, and she has been duly castigated by woke people who have no idea either of theology or logic, who say she is being divisive. On the contrary, original sin is a very egalitarian doctrine, for it says that we all fall short of God’s glory and stand in need of his grace, rather than just white people, COVID deniers … and fossil fuel users.

Since the private jets and diesel generators are firing up for almost 40,000 sign-ups to COP26 in chilly Glasgow (in a Scotland whose average temperature, according to the Meteorological Office, has been the same for twenty years), the press is full of comments to the effect that if we don’t act to save the planet now, Nature is going to turn around and bite us to get its revenge. Even at church people are praying that the politicians will unite in “realising what we have done.”

But what have we done, actually? And is God really judging us for it by relinquishing the control he claims in Scripture over the weather to us? We can quickly (though not in the propagandised public arena) get past the alarmist rhetoric about mass extinction from climate change (name just one species lost from this cause, please), about islands of plastic in the Pacific (which cannot be found and must be faked for magazine articles from photos of polluted harbours), about the dramatic increase in natural disasters (refuted by the papers in the latest IPCC report itself, though that fact is hidden by its politically compiled summary for policy dictators and rabble-rousers), and about the meltdowns predicted by climate models which run far too hot but are, sometimes in as many words, claimed to be more reliable than the actual data.

Get behind all that, I say, and the industrial revolution teaches us the more usual story of human endeavour: of God-given progress marred by human sin. Genesis is, on close examination, non-judgemental on the new technologies of metalwork, animal husbandry and music mentioned in early chapters. All these are products of the exploitation of earth’s resources, and have been immense blessings to mankind, despite the evils of the use of metallurgy for weapons of oppression or torture as well as ploughshares, and unjust taxation as well as coins for beneficial commerce; of cruelty to livestock as well as reliable food for stable economies; of death metal as well as Bach.

The arts named in Genesis are, then, in general terms a cause for thanksgiving, with excessive pride for human ingenuity tempered by the realisation that all we have comes from God, and that nothing we do escapes the contamination of original sin. Name any other human achievement, and it is the same story: the authority of governments is a good gift of God, exercised by men, and often corrupted by tyrants and ideologues. Writing records the very words of God, printing makes them available widely and cheaply, and the Internet makes them universally and instantly available – whilst at the same time enabling the spread of poison like Mein Kampf or White Fragility.

And so it is for fossil fuels, placed in the earth not as Nature’s inviolable virginity (with an implacable “Me Too” revenge exacted on any who violate it), but as God’s abundant gift for our use. Our use of it should be judged in the round, and not purely by evils – and certainly not by evils invented or exaggerated for ideological reasons, though that’s another story. It’s no different from appreciating the human value of economies, and correcting their shortcomings rather than seeking to abolish them.

I could spend a whole book showing how fossil fuels have blessed the world, but a few examples must suffice. In the first place, there is a good case for saying that the abolition of slavery, in the end, depended on coal and oil. I’m writing in the kitchen, where my wife has just made coffee using an electric kettle, where a dishwasher (using dtergent from oil) frees me up to write creatively (on an electronic keyboard that will later send it out to the world) and frees her up to listen to BBC current affairs. Heating is an oil-fired range, lighting is LEDs, cooking is an electric oven, cleaning is by a vacuum-cleaner, food-preparation by mixers using food kept fresh for days in a refrigerator… All these tasks would otherwise have to be done manually by low-paid (or purchased) labour, or by my wife and I, making cultural pursuits the domain only of the very rich or those willing to exploit the labouring classes by minimal pay.

The truth of this is shown by things that machines still cannot do – we still exploit foreign labour at home to pick fruit or pack and deliver Amazon goods, and abroad to mine cobalt, make solar panels or sort our exported waste. We suspended the fossil-fuel economy for COVID, and plunged 100 million poor people in to poverty and, in some cases, into actual slavery – the going rate for a child in Afghanistan is now around £600, I believe.

The evil cars and trucks that currently burn petroleum products, and the even more evil steam trains and ships that fired up as slavery retreated, actually spelled the liberation of millions of beasts of burden, not to mention people of burden. Horses are now usually well-cared for by the wealthy: but they are intrinsically more expensive than motor vehicles, and where financial resources are scarce, cruelty and neglect of animals is inevitable. Ban powered vehicles and beast of burden, and you’re back to slavery again.

Many more example can be given. In the last few decades, the number of people in abject poverty across the world has dropped dramatically, sub-Saharan Africa being almost its last stronghold. Globalists and other ignorant people still say we are overpopulated and will all starve, but for several years now the world has produced enough to feed 10 billion people, not far short of the UN’s own projected maximum before the world population stabilises and naturally drops. The current decreasing birthrate already makes that almost inevitable.

A greater proportion of that soil fertility has come from increased CO2 levels than from artificial fertilizers, and a significant percentage from warming itself. It’s as if God built in fossil fuel resources to his world to benefit the race once it had obeyed his injunction to “fill the earth and subdue it.” And maybe he turned the thermostat up when human circumstances required it. Who would have thought that there is a provident God managing nature, rather than a vengeful Gaia or parasitic humanity? Even many Christians seem to have slipped into the belief that only we can save the planet from ourselves, whereas Christopher Monckton (my contemporary at Cambridge) points out that the world was definitively saved 2,000 years ago – and not by us.

Incidentally, the data shows that the maximum increase in CO2 greening has occurred in equatorial regions, where those rain-forests are said to be on their last roots. But the rain forests, like the Great Barrier Reef, dying walruses and plastic islands, are a long way away, so we have to accept their demise on trust from the activists, who have an ideological agenda. Indeed all the evils of climate change are either too far away to check, or are invisible anyway. There is no reason to doubt that unlucky cities in China suffer atmospheric pollution, for some of us remember the same in English cities in the 1950s. But here it was dealt with effectively, even as fossil fuel use escalated. So now our pollution is largely theoretical and invisible, for example from diesel particulates falsely assumed to poison according to a linear non-threshold dose-response curve. Modelling shows thousands dying – it’s a lot harder to find the bodies.

In the world we can see, weather is not sensibly different from when I was a child, though since climate is always on the move there’s no reason to deny claims it’s more (or less) sunny, hot, or wet, or that plant and animal species have shifted their range as they always have (but which we never documented before). I will consider it significantly warmer when Dalmatian pelicans once again colonise the Somerset levels, as they did in the late iron age. Global cooling will begin to matter when they hold fairs on the frozen Thames in London again. Otherwise, nothing in the world I’ve seen gives me any reason to belief that nature is in crisis. Change my mind with some evidence, and not with models or faked videos or emotive rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Up with the petroleum products sitting under my fingers, on my walls and covering the floor, but Down with David Rockefeller. Up with useful medical products, fruits of the same fossil fuels, but Down with Big Pharma and corrupt science. Up with selective crop breeding, and Down with hubristic genetic manipulation of viruses. Up with civilisation – and Down with original sin.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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