Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Confucius Say, "Global Warming? Solved."

I read an interesting article yesterday which buoyed my spirits somewhat about the global warming crisis. Apparently China has surpassed the United States as the largest producer of greenhouse gases, still depending heavily on old-tech coal-fired power plants for a large percentage of its energy needs. Thankfully they are actively seeking a solution, taking an approach I think we in the West ought to emulate.

China is attempting a cultural shift back to traditional Asian values and beliefs, in so far as they would contribute to supporting massive changes in technology and energy production and consumption. Much of China's intellectual community is calling for a return to old religious and philosophical views like Confucianism in an effort to create a mass-mind amenable to the goals of conservation. By working at the philosophical underpinnings of growth plans and future progress they're attempting to create a strong base from which the hard work of change can begin.

Confucianism represents the best in Asian philosophical thinking when it comes to creating policies with long-term implications. Two tenets in particular are are important here. One, Confucianism places a strong emphasis on the responsibilities each person bears toward his kin relationships, both his ancestors and progeny. Powerful filial bonds are formed at each point in a given family structure, and respect is expected both up and down the family tree. For a Confucian, doing something avoidable which bears terrible consequences for future generations is an unthinkable act.

Secondly, Confucianism considers education towards moral development very important. The goal is for morality to be fully internalized by the citizenry, allowing the State to govern naturally, without the need for coercive laws.

Fusing these two teachings creates a strong desire in the citizenry of a given country to do the right thing for the sake of future generations, not because the government instructs them to or makes it illegal to do otherwise, but because what is right is known and practiced naturally.

I think it would be an immensely positive thing if Western societies could adopt some of these and other non-religious elements from Asian philosophical systems. What we need in this country isn't more laws. We need a ground-swelling of desire for change and the resolve to accomplish it from each and every citizen, one that can only be accomplished by altering how we see the world. Because, to be perfectly honest, current Western religious thought doesn't lend itself to the ends I'm pushing for.

I would never call for a return to traditional Western religious views here in the United States as a fix for our energy problems because religious traditions rooted in the afterlife are ill-suited as a strong philosophical foundation for smart energy policies. Policies aimed at fixing the here-and-now in an effort to preserve the future can't be informed by thinking which sees the world as simply a fleeting testing ground for souls. As an example, I've read about fundamentalist Christians who espouse the view that fixing the myriad problems our nation faces in planning for the future, which includes global warming, is unnecessary because of Christ's imminent return. Once the faithful are called to heaven god will effectively clean up our mess for us. Sounds nice, but it's hardly a strong motivator for change. We Westerners need to stop thinking that our actions don't matter. They do. More than any of us can comprehend.

We need to follow China's example.

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