Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Relaxatio – Indulgences in Copenhagen

The Council of Epaon in Burgundy in 517 CE was the first step towards Copenhagen in 2009 CE. In its canons, the church legislated that altars must be built from stone rather than wood and it initiated the expedient dogma which opened the door for the suggestion that one could pay for sins and, in so doing, mitigate accountability. Embodied in its extreme, Johann Tetzel, the Dominican from Saxony was alleged to say that, “As soon as the gold in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Attempting to purchase our salvation as we wallow in our addiction to carbon, we feign abhorrence to the “breaking news” that over 5 billion euros of carbon credits have been based on fraudulent transactions. Say it ain’t so! You mean bad people are abusing this great utility which was designed to save us from ourselves?

It doesn’t take Martin Luther or a door in Wittenburg to see our systemic myopia. The reason why the Eco-Indulgences have been abused is because they are born of a corrupt logic. The notion that climate degradation, or any other human condition, can be mitigated through the sixth century madness embodied in the canon of Relaxatio – the facilitated transmutation of bad behavior for a lesser penalty by means of payment – is as subject to abuse now as it was five centuries ago. And turning the fraudulent conveyance into the news story is an unfortunate social commentary on the real moral bankruptcy. It is the faux credit, not the fraud, that is the original sin.

Copenhagen has, as many forecast, turned into a frenzy of Johann Tetzels. The poorest nations are going to get largesse from rich nations – in the form of money – so that they can cope with the toxification of the Earth. But while French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner calls for the “World Environment Organization”, Russia and the U.S. agree that humans are culpable for environmental threats, and the U.K. and Canada call for urgent action, I’m reminded of Tetzel’s currency – gold. After all, these recently converted eco-activists currently promote some of the world’s most horrific gold mining activities – owned by their shareholders, and listed on their stock exchanges – including sea-bed mining in the Pacific tuna breeding grounds, enabled by their publicly-financed technologies. While we claim to care about the toxins we’re pumping into the atmosphere, we ravage the land and destroy the water upon which life depends.

The path to reconciliation with the ecosystem will not be denominated with indulgences. We cannot carbon credit, cap, or trade our way to humanity. As I am surrounded by the cacophony of horns on the streets here in Sao Paulo and as I pass by the favelas filled with unimaginable color, my mind wonders when we will transcend the thinking that was state of the art in 517. When will we realize that accountability – not indulgences – are our collective destiny? When will we realize that to alter the course of our indulgences takes innovation of consciousness? Here in Brazil, we are suggesting that the compost of economic asymmetry can serve as the garden in which fruitful futures can germinate and grow. Our future humanity will be born not from our indulgence largesse but rather from our shared commitment to obsolete that which degrades and replace it with that which creates and restores.


1 comment:

  1. Dave, your linking of carbon cap-and-trade with the medieval indulgence finally brings into focus the reason this notion has disturbed me for years. You're absolutely and profoundly right. To the extent there are different "spiritual" and "secular" levels, this concept is fundamentally wrong on both.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave