Sunday, January 17, 2010

Potsdam climate meeting

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) hosted a workshop-conference on climate and the humanities last week. Organizers were Dieter Gerten (PIK), Sigurd Bergmann (Norwegian U of Science & Tech), and Konrad Ott (U Greifswald). The theme was "Religion in Climate Change--Sufferings, Values, and Lifestyles".

The meeting had encouraging vibes. When planning the Climate Philosophy conference at the University of South Florida four years ago, all the submissions from religious quarters then were based on climate change denial. This time denial wasn't even an issue. What a difference a few years can make. Of course, the difference in space matters, and over civil evolution, Berlin comes out ahead. In Florida religion-related submissions had been sent in only from American Christians, while the participants at the Potsdam conference were largely from Europe. Still, the religious gestalt shift is a pleasure, and it's nice to see Christians transforming from foes to friends.

I loved seeing so many young scholars and researchers. Being in the mid-forties pegged me as a senior participant. That's a sign of the paradigm shift: the young ones are surfing the wave. A new term I learned in Berlin, as a non-ethno- and -anthropologist, was "local knowledge". Local knowledge is native wisdom, know-how, and spirituality. It's an object of scientific research, but by itself isn't regarded as scientifically relevant information. My hunch is that the disregard for local knowledge will end. On the first day, I sensed a prevailing opinion that local knowledge, and indigenous traditions in particular, are under threat by climate change. On the second day I talked about the evolution of faith and opposed this perception. I suspect that climate change is the best possible news for planetary paganism, for the narratives embedded in these creeds will enjoy vindication. At the same time it was good to see European theologians, of the Lutheran and the Catholic creed, to think ahead and to re-interpret their faith in recognition of the changes ahead. While this will shore up Christianity, it will do so only in the enlightened continental version. I imagine that climate change is the worst possible news for the US evangelical movement, because this creed, representative of the American Disenlightenment, will be associated with the perpetration of the new bad realities.

Here are some highlights of papers I listened to. (I missed the beginning of the conference because of Munich snow chaos, and the end of the meeting because of classes in Florida starting.)

Undine Froemming and Christian Reichel (both Ethnology, FU Berlin) summarized field work in Java, Sulawesi, and Flores. In their description of indigenous creeds, I was once again struck by the mirror-like identity of native views around the planet. Sometimes you get the impression that there are really only two basic religions: the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths aka the sibling monotheisms of the West, and the paganisms everywhere else, with webs of beliefs that are formally identical in different places. James Cameron, in his recent Avatar, captures the pagan memeplex perfectly. The Na'vi faith is the quintessence of the great pagan alternative.

And we'll need this alternative. As Froemming and Reichel point out, that the Indonesian villagers worship locally placed souls and deities protects the areas from incursion and preserves biodiversity.

Gulnara Aitpaeva (Aigine Research Center Bishkek) talked about climate change and Kyrgyz spirituality. She cited a native impression of the emerging reality: "summer is not summer, and winter is not winter." Instability, unpredictability, and excessiveness are the three faces of climate change in local perception, and they may well be applicable globally now.

According to Aitpaeva, the basic points of Kyrgyz cosmology are holism and reciprocity. Indeed. Once again, these points may well be applicable to quasi-N'avi creeds everywhere. And I personally like it because it reminds me of my Tao of Koenigsberg studies.

Susan Crate (Environmental Science & Policy, George Mason U) gave a terrific paper about climate change in Yakutia. Helpful, also for philosophers trying to come to terms with the sheer phenomenology of climate change, is the empirical list of transformations she identified. The Siberians are observing nine changes in particular, she said:
winters are warm ...
land is water ...
lots of rain ...
summers are cold ...
more floods ...
seasons arrive late ...
lots of snow ...
temps change suddenly ...
and less animals.
No birds sing. The coldest time, referred to as a mythical bull by the indigenous, is not arriving anymore. The bull is gone. The climate has gotten spikier--there is freak weather and sudden changes. Interesting about these greater swings is that the freak weather doesn't show up in meteorological statistics. Wild weather, which swings either way, doesn't register in the balanced-out annual averages.

Tim Leduc (Center for Environment, U Toronto) gave a striking summary of a Canadian perspective. Tim pointed out, citing G. Monbiot (Nov 20, 2009), the tar sand exploitation, which amounts to 2.5 more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil use, makes Canada into a planetary bad ass, almost as bad as the United States. Tim's case for an intercultural IPCC was challenged in the discussion. Rightly so, in that the IPCC doesn't care about non-scientific information. Still, Tim had a point. We need an intercultural agency to help civil evolution along. Science alone won't cut it. A transnational executive entity must steer the re-evaluation of values away from the American Dream responsible for the current malaise, for such re-evalution is the sine qua non of civil evolution.

Markus Vogt (LMU Munich) talked about "Climate justice--an ethical analysis of the conflicts, rights and incentives surrounding CO2", a well thought-out paper on environmental justice that I want my climate seminar students to read this term. (Mental note: get the paper from Markus!) Michael Reder (Munich School for Philosophy) made a point that supported Tim's case: religions need to move to the public sphere, for they can make vital contributions to the impending civil evolution.

That's it. Kudos to the organizers, and more power to the PIK! The papers will hopefully be printed as a collection.

Eighty-three months left.


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