Rational, spiritual strategies to overcome fossil fuel addiction
Giving up fossil fuels is like giving up smoking or drinking (more).
People get a kick out of substance abuse. They also get a kick out of
things that cause fossil fuels to be burned, like driving fast cars,
flying to remote destinations, overheating houses, eating exotic food
and so on.
Moveover, both alcohol and fossil fuels lead to violence. The war in
Syria was in part due to climate change:
an unprecedented drought precipitated political unrest. Of course
climate change was just one of several reasons, but its influence
cannot be denied. Toward the end of the 21st century, we can
over diminishing resources (especially water) and hundreds
of millions of climate refugees violently trying to enter the
rich countries and even
being slaughtered on the borders as far-right governments
claim that they have no choice.
Climate deniers laugh this off. It's just alarmism, they chuckle. That
reminds me of the way alcoholics laugh when someone suggests that they
should take responsibility for their drinking and the effect it is
having on their family. In effect, the alcoholic is saying: "Who cares
about my family?", but the fossilcaholic is actually saying: "Who cares
about a billion people in developing countries?" Deep down, these are
often good, caring people. But addiction has changed them. Everyone
is susceptible to addictive behaviors
- some more than others. Our strategy to solve the problem should
therefore be based on a caring attitude toward the addicted and a
general understanding of addiction and how to overcome it.
It becomes easier to give up alcohol or smoking when one is surrounded
by people who don't smoke, or drink in moderation. The trouble
with burning fossil fuels is that almost everyone is doing it at, and
we are doing it a rate that is much higher than might honestly be
called "necessary" or "healthy". Today, it seems that most people are
addicted to fossil fuels. This may be the best way to explain the
almost universal phenomenon of passive
people who say that they understand climate change and its causes but
quietly refuse to do anything about it. This is the majority! Rather
than the addicted people being a minority and the rest a majority, the
tables are turned.
From a democratic perspective, that makes it especially difficult to
put pressure on people to give up. It is hard to see how democracy will
be able to solve the problem, let alone neoliberal capitalism. The
situation is especially bad news for our children and grandchildren,
not to mention a billion children in developing countries.
The solution is not to throw one's arms in horror but to move
carefully, rationally, and decisively towards possible solutions. One
approach is to consider the general question of how to end
addiction, and to study existing methods to achieve that goal.
One of the most successful approaches is Alcoholics Anonymous and
the 12 steps. In an article
in "The Hill", Erik Molvar brilliantly explained how the
connection can be made.
page on the 12-step program summarizes the main steps as
admitting that one cannot control one's alcoholism, addiction or
a higher power that can give strength;
examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
making amends for these errors;
learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
helping others who suffer from the same alcoholism, addictions or
Each of these points can be applied to fossil fuel addiction.
Point 1 is clear. Given the evident gravity of the situation, either we
are taking significant and concrete steps toward freedom from fossil
fuels in our everyday life and political behavior, or
powerless in the face of our addiction. However one might question the
wisdom of regarding oneself as powerless. It is surely more true to say
that any addicted person CAN give up if they want to. The main thing is
motivation, so we perhaps should instead be asking how to create or
strengthen that motivation.
Regarding point 2, what might a "higher power" mean in this
Climate change is affecting the whole planet, and the people inhabiting
that planet have very different ideas about "higher powers". Many
reject the concept altogether, but no-one can deny the importance of
religion and spirituality, both for politics and for individuals and
their happiness. Religious traditions are to a large extent about basic
morality and knowledge - what is right, and what is true. To crack the
climate problem, we have to think carefully about both.
foundations of basic morality, as taught by the world religions, have
not changed in thousands of years. They can and should be applied to
this problem, as Pope Francis demonstrated in his 2015 Encyclical
Letter Laudato Si, and equally powerful statements have been made within Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.
We should treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves,
imagine what it would be like if the whole world imitated our
behavior and adjust our behavior accordingly, develop and
a loving attitude to all people including our enemies, and recognize
that our own happiness cannot be separated from the happiness of
point 3, countless examples of past errors can be cited. Take
example the failure of the USA to sign
the Kyoto accord in 1997, or the 2016 USA federal election. But we can
also cite personal errors, such as our personal failure to
for a political party that takes climate seriously, or our failure to
fix the insulation in our house or buy an electric car when it could
reasonably have been possible.
we recognize that knowledge is something that we humans have to find
out for ourselves. It's our responsibility. Those in the best position
to do that are usually the ones who devote their lives to asking and
answering interesting questions in specific areas - and start by
qualifying themselves appropriately. In any specialist area, the first
people to ask for opinions are the globally recognized experts in that
area. That applies In particular to physical climate science, but also
to climate economics, climate ethics, climate psychology and so on.
Given that background, points 4, 5 and 6 should now be clear.
we could get some clarity about these things, and regularly and quietly
attend Fossilcoholics Anonymous meetings, progress toward a solution
would be accelerated. Time
is running out.