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Matthias Kalkuhl, Johannes Wallacher, Mattias Kiefer {2}, Frank Kürschner-Pelkmann, Markus Demele, Markus Vogt

Climate Change - Book Reviews

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 2/2010, P. 131-141
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    Sinn, Hans-Werner: Das grüne Paradoxon. Plädoyer für eine illusionsfreie Klimapolitik. Berlin: Econ 2008. 477 S. Gb. 24,90.

I'm thinking and feeling ... green, "says Hans-Werner Sinn in the afterword to his book, which reads like a fundamental criticism of the existing German climate policy. He makes it clear that through climate change mankind is faced with a formidable challenge, which cannot be solved simply by adapting to rising temperatures. But state actionism, single-handed national attempts, and tax and subsidy chaos would impose high costs to the citizens, without a measurable effect on global emissions. This criticism becomes even more pointedly in view of the "green paradox" - a phenomenon that describes the response of "oil sheiks" to an increasingly ambitious climate policy. Since they must fear to lose their future yields - as e.g. through rising emission taxes and energy-saving measures - they would preempt the climate protection campaigners by the rapid sellout of their reserves. As a result the atmosphere heats up more quickly. Moreover, national energy-saving measures would have little effect, because the reduction in demand caused by them leads to lower commodity prices and would be compensated by increased demand from emerging countries.

Since there is the threat that global emission taxes fail because of the green paradox, a global emissions trading system has to be created in order to incorporate all the major consuming countries. Although its implementation was difficult and meant a "centrally planned" regulation of total emissions, it was the only effective tool in the fight against climate change. As long as there is still no binding global agreement, the harmonization of taxes on capital income by means of an agreement about taxes deducted at source could slow down to a limited extent the extracting of fossil resources. In addition, emissions could be bound and ecologically valuable habitats could be created by reforestation.

If you follow Sinn's reasoning, the Green Paradox makes every emission tax counterproductive. But he, too, cannot prove how strong the green paradox actually is. Even within his simple neoclassical model, the tax would have to grow at a rate above a critical value in order to bring about an anticipatory effect. But if it grows moderately, it certainly causes a slowing and reduction of extracting raw materials. A global emissions trading, as it is demanded by Sinn, can actually exclude effectively the risk of the Green paradox.

In his book Sinn in some places indulges in criticism of small regulatory details of the German climate policy, as e.g. the Renewable Energies Act, the eco-social fiscal reforms, and other state environmental measures. Instead of it, he should have analyzed here the many other market failures that could lead to a slow technological development, even if the emission price [taxes?] would be high.

 


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Thus, the time horizon of public joint-stock companies is usually too short to give adequately consideration to long-term trends in the emission price. In road and rail traffic as well as in the extension of the power supply system lock-in effects exist, within which, due to the inertia of investments, it is impossible for markets suddenly to 'switch over' from a fossil-based economy to a carbon-free one. It can therefore absolutely make sense to enhance the emissions trading through other instruments that allow a more cost effective achievement of the climate protection goals.

Sinn regards the potential of renewable energy as limited, because the costs are partially very high (e.g. for solar power), and a permanent availability is not ensured because of the fluctuations in wind and sun. However, the technical possibilities for energy production and storage are far from being exhausted. Sinn's pragmatic attitude to nuclear energy may also surprise, because its sustainability is more critically assessed by many environmental economists.

Despite all the criticism of (and sometimes polemic against) the "green" policy: The "green paradox" is a plea for the creation of a global framework for global markets. This probably most important essence of his book Hans-Werner Sinn has illustrated in his work also with regard to many other market failures. A globalized world needs a global regulatory framework. He paraphrases an old slogan of the environmental movement - the new principle for a successful climate policy reads "Think globally, act globally".

Matthias Kalkuhl

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    Lienkamp, Andreas: Klimawandel und Gerechtigkeit. Eine Ethik der Nachhaltigkeit in christlicher Perspektive. Paderborn: Schöningh 2009. 534 pages. paperback 58,-.

At least since the publication of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC) of 2007 it is no longer possible to deny scientifically seriously that climate change is primarily caused by human beings. If we in the coming years do not succeed in drastically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and in limiting thus the rise in global average temperature, mankind risks a dangerous climate change with incalculable consequences for future generations and nature.

Even with the most ambitious climate protection targets, however, because of past emissions and the inertia of the climate system negative impact on the climate will occur, which are already observable as trends, and which especially affect the poor. Many of them live in geographically sensitive areas, which are particularly threatened by extreme weather, the rise in temperature and sea levels. They are also vulnerable because they have little means and ways to adapt to the changing conditions. Especially the poor, heavily affected countries would therefore benefit from climate protection and adaptation. Conversely, however, precisely the countries of the South are dependent on economic development in order effectively to cope with poverty. For climate change raises a number of issues of global, intergenerational and environmental justice that must not be played off against each other. In the sense of the ideal of sustainability, we are rather to seek for the integration of these issues, which also requires standards for the weighting in case of conflict.

Andreas Lienkamp pursues this objective with his book, which has its origin in his eponymous habilitation thesis submitted at the University of Bamberg.

 


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After an introduction, where the author explains purpose and method, in the three main parts he follows the classic triad of Catholic social teachings "seeing, judging, acting." In view of the complex and extensive problem, an intensive dealing with other disciplines, especially the natural sciences is needed.

Basis of the book is a sophisticated and thorough summary of the symptoms, causes and consequences of anthropogenic climate change in the second chapter. After that, in the third chapter Lienkamp unfolds a detailed biblical-theological approach to Creation, from where he derives his conception of justice, and his understanding of sustainability. In the fourth and final chapter, the fields of action of climate policy are described, both in terms of the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and the adaptation to the no longer avoidable climate change. Here, in each case a wide range of the respective technical and political instruments but also the levels of action (from politics over entrepreneurial obligations up to the question of lifestyle changes) are discussed.

Overall, with this integrated approach Lienkamp does not only succeed in showing, in a very comprehensible manner, the complexity of the issue and the urgent need for action, but also in working out a comprehensive primarily theologically oriented reflection, and in presenting options for action based on this approach. Thus, the book is an important contribution to the development of Christian social ethics.

However, he hardly succeeds in showing how this perspective can be connected with the current philosophical and ethical debates about the equity issue of climate change, or in taking them up. Here, the methodological argument about the normative premises of the various concepts of vulnerability, the debate about the complex relationship between global and intergenerational justice - e.g. regarding the question of historical responsibility, or the controversy over the systematic contribution of climate economics to the reflection on justice in this context ("discontinuity issue", "hidden normative premisses in economic climate models"), to which a position has not been taken systematically, may be mentioned as examples.

Johannes Wallacher

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    Vogt, Markus: Prinzip Nachhaltigkeit. Ein Entwurf aus theologisch-ethischer Perspektive. München: oekom 2009. 555 S. (Hochschulschriften zur Nachhaltigkeit. 39.) Br. 34,90.

This book of the Munich scholar of social ethics Markus Vogt is a milestone: By theologically and ethically reflecting on sustainability, it interlinks theology of creation, fundamental ethics and applied ethics; it conducts the dialogue between theology and science; and it develops concrete, ethically justified strategies of action for some of the most pressing political challenges of our time.

In the first section Vogt gives a detailed introduction to question and method of his study. Here already central keywords are found: The first subsection describes the need to establish sustainability as a new social principle.

 


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The two subsequent subchapters, "'The signs of the times' as a theological and ethical challenge" and the examination of the question of the development opportunities of the Church's ethical competence in the midst of a pluralistic society are among the best that was published about these topics for a long time. Shaped by Vogt's decades of experience in various important advisory bodies in matters of Church-State policy, they are to be recommended as required reading for all those who are professionally or on a voluntary basis active at the interface between society, politics and church.

The second section on the one hand describes in detail the conceptual history of the guiding principle 'sustainability', and on the other hand it illustrates the initial infiltration into the church discourse on environment and development and then the increasing influence of this model. Framed by these historical ascertainments Vogt develops seven so-called "ethical policy cores" of sustainability, including the approach of 'environmental capital' with its debate about strong and weak sustainability, the implications of "social sustainability", and - due to his rejection of the traditional three-pillar concept - the attempt to define sustainability as "cross-sectional task".

Thus, the field is prepared for the following two core sections on the ecological dimension of sustainability - drafted as a discussion between theology of creation and science (Section 3) - and its socio-economic dimension with the central question after the establishment of intergenerational and global justice (section 4). The former gives a report on the various views on nature held in the discussion of the past four decades, deals with the different understandings of ecology - oscillating between science and doctrine of salvation, comments on the relationship between evolution and Creation, and analyses the meaning of the radical changes in the understanding of nature in some empirical sciences (inter alia quantum physics and chaos theory) for the sustainability discourse. The fourth section focuses on dilemmas and criteria of intergenerational and global justice, and is thus both a solid summary and ethical evaluation of the current discourse on environmental and development policy; it is certainly no accident that central ideas - formulated more briefly and simply - can be found in the position paper on climate change (2006) of the German Bishops' Conference.

With his conclusion in the fifth section Vogt takes in the end up the initial question and justifies his demand for entrenching sustainability - in addition to personality, solidarity and subsidiarity - as the fourth social principle both in social ethics and in the church's social teachings.

This is a weighty book in every sense. The individual sections of the study are built each upon the other but can also be read separately without any loss. As a theologian, philosopher, politically thoughtful intellectual, and experienced practitioners, Vogt equally addresses both his church and the secular science, society and politics. The book is because of the concentrated reasoning and the linguistic challenge no easy, but always worthwhile reading for all these different target groups.

Mattias Kiefer

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    WELZER, Harald: Klimakriege. Wofür im 21. Jahrhundert getötet wird. 4. Aufl. Frankfurt: Fischer 2009. 335 S. Gb. 19,90.

As threatening as the climate predictions are for our planet - there will nevertheless be no climate wars. What is to be feared are wars to the major causes of which the global climate changes belong. This is more than a semantic difference. For if this theory is correct, in a book about "climate wars" it has to be profoundly and painstakingly tried to analyze the interaction between climate change and other causes of war on the basis of actual and potential conflicts. In this way conceptions can be developed, and it can be illustrated how the conflict-exacerbating role of climate change can be restricted at least partially.

The book by Harald Welzer does not do that. He writes righty, "There are of course besides the ecological disaster a host of other causes of conflict, even so many that the attempts to present a historical overview make you hopelessly confused" (25). But that is no reason for refraining from analyses of these nexuses, as the author does it e.g. in describing the system transformations in different parts of the world after 1989 (72 et sequ.). The word "climate" is found not even once. In the section on Easter Island (79 ff.) it is primarily about the logging of trees and soil erosion - but here, too, the local climate change, which was probably triggered by this process, is not even mentioned.

In the paragraph about the genocide in Rwanda (87 ff.) the word "climate" does not occur, although it is now well known that the country is seriously affected by global climate change and that this has a conflict-exacerbating effect. At the only place where Welzer deals with environmental issues, he treats briefly the overpopulation and its consequences as "demographic-ecological problems", but he keeps silent on climate change. Only in the context of the Darfur conflict in Sudan (94 ff.) the author deals to some extent with climate issues - he describes this conflict as "first climate war." This has to be scrutinized. Welzer does not examine the partly clearly older conflicts in Kenya, Uganda , Ethiopia and Somalia, which have been aggravated by climate change. In reading the Darfur chapter it becomes abundantly clear that this conflict has several interwoven causes, including climate change.

The statement "The social impact of environmental issues are scarcely discussed until today" (110) is a very disputable thesis of the author, but it might have been the occasion to use large parts of his book for a deeper analysis of these nexuses, because it is true that "climate change ... aggravates existing inequalities" (105).

 


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There are several sound studies and reports, which make possible a better understanding of the connection between climate change, poverty and escalating conflicts. This is only rudimentarily reflected in the book. At the same time, it is irritating that the author in his argument also includes environmental problems that are not or only to a small part caused by climate change.

An example: Welzer describes impressively the shrinking of the Aral Sea and speaks of the "social consequences of climate change" (115). But he does not mention that the shrinking of the lake was not caused by climate change, but by the overuse of water of its tributaries for the Soviet cotton production. The increasing silting up of the lake had and has a grave impact on the regional climate. There would be enough material to take as a theme the thus resulting conflicts between the five Central Asian countries bordering at the lake and its tributaries. Welzer's book does not address this topic.

Instead, we read a lot about socio-psychological contexts of violence; here, the reference to climate change as a contributory cause for conflict potential, to put it cautiously, seems rather to be an indirect one, as e.g. in the case of the Holocaust. These sections admittedly support the author in his reasoning, but with regard to the title of the book the emphasis [Gewichtung] remains problematic.

The shortcomings of the book have the consequence that the described options for action cannot be based on sound analyses of the role of climate change in the various ongoing conflicts. Instead of this Welzer starts rather broad-brush attacks on concepts of individual behaviour changes, on national climate change policies, and on international negotiation results and focuses for his part on an "opening of new mental spheres" (261).

Frank Kürschner-Pelkmann

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    Friedman, Thomas L.: Was zu tun ist. Eine Agenda für das 21. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 2009. 542 S. Gb. 24,80.

At least since his bestseller "The World is Flat" (2006) the multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman is also in Germany a well-recognized diagnostician of globalization. "Flat" meant then primarily "smaller". Not only corporations and states are the actors of globalization but the new communication and action networks are open to almost all men. In his latest book, its English title "Hot, flat and crowded" indicates better the topical line of approach than the German one, Friedman describes the world's future not only as flat but as hot and overcrowded. The two new attributes are landmarks of a new era: of energy and climate.

This passionate manifesto, published in the U.S. shortly before the election of Barack Obama, primarily aims at Friedman's fellow citizens. With partly naive optimism he wants to make clear to them that climate change is a reality that is much more life-threatening than war and terrorism. With U.S. pathos he evokes that only the U.S. as a global champion was able to save the world from the effects of climate change. Only a "Code Green", a radical change in energy policy - even as a supplement to the Declaration of Independence -, was in a position worldwide to maintain the United States' claim to economic and moral leadership. "Green is the new red, white, blue," Friedman thinks and tries thus to inspire both declared Liberals and conservative Republicans for his major project of a turn-around in energy policy.

 


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Friedman admittedly gives many, but few really new facts. They are presented at length with enthusiasm and conviction. But there is a danger that the good arguments get lost in the collection of anecdotes and analogies, interviews and newspaper articles, which make up three-quarters of the book. By quoting the media entrepreneur Ted Turner, the analysis of the current state of the earth is put in a nutshell, "Too many people are using too much stuff." If the people in the emerging industrial and service nations would waste the same amount of resources as the countries of the West, climate change and environmental destruction would be irreversible. Using primarily the example of the oil consumption in the U.S., Friedman illustrates how the previous policy has not only promoted petro dictatorships, but it also prevented innovations in the field of non-fossil energy.

As an advocate of a liberal economy, Friedman believes that innovations for an intelligent energy system (energy-Internet) and developments focusing on the increase in energy efficiency can only be enforced by price signals in the market. Since he knows the ecological limits of the liberals' dogma of economic growth, he concludes that the reversal of trend can only be initiated by significant state interventions. Tax incentives for investment in green energy and the regulation of CO2 emissions by the industry are here among the rather harmless demands. The author even recommends a minimum price for crude oil to the governments and clearly rejects voluntary commitments of companies, "Here, we must not be dependent on voluntary compliance."

Friedman's wish to expedite the change in attitudes of his fellow citizens by his emphatic appeal makes a pleasant impression. However, two shortcomings of his reasoning are clearly visible: The required "environmental ethics" remains vague in its wording. Friedman argues often from an anthropocentric perspective, which rather corresponds to resource ethics and sometimes nature conservation ethics. The juxtaposition of man and nature is unfortunately seldom connected to eco-centered environmental ethics. The latter is in a holistic way aware of the necessity to save the remaining biosphere and its inhabitants in order to secure the survival of mankind. The normative claim of ecological ethics can definitely not be derived from the sole fact that Mother Nature gives us "beauty, astonishment and spellbound pleasure."

This book has a tragic blind spot in the awareness of international inequalities. Only once is mentioned that the victims of climate change are the people in the countries that have contributed least to its causes. This deficit is mainly due to the fact that poverty is here primarily seen as energy poverty. That in Nigeria only 19 from 79 power plants operate and 550 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, is multifariously declared to be an obstacle to development. But what remains vague is the prospect of the consequences which this unjust burden sharing of the effects of climate change has on the international community. The United Nations expect by 2010 up to 50 million climate refugees.

 


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A book dealing with a "hot, flat and crowded" world must not only look at the rising China, but must primarily pay attention to the first victims of the change against which it wants to warn. The African Union rightly demanded 76 billion dollars per year from the developed countries, in order to be able to take at least minimal measures against the effects of drought and heat.

In his book Friedman develops impressive visions of how an energy turnaround could succeed. Certainly, with it he will inspire people and lend wings, if not to political then at least to individual changes in behaviour.

Markus Demele

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    Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland in einer globalisierten Welt. Ein Anstoß zur gesellschaftlichen Debatte. Studie des Wuppertal Instituts für Klima, Umwelt, Energie. Hg. v. Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland u. Brot für die Welt, Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst. Frankfurt: Fischer 2008. 655 S. Br. 14,95.

Climate change, resource depletion, destruction of nature and an ever-growing global imbalance between the rich industrialized countries of the North and the poor and poorest countries of the South - together with the ever-shrinking time frame for corrections - are the background of this study. After the previous study "Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland - Ein Beitrag zu einer global nachhaltigen Entwicklung" (1996), then published by the BUND and Misereor, writers as well as editors want to "initiate a broad public debate that does justice to the historical dimension of the challenge" and thus also a change of course, which is seen as urgently necessary.

The study is divided into six parts with 21 chapters, supplemented by the so-called "time windows 2022". In fictional scenarios from the year 2022, there are told the success stories of a radical change of course towards sustainability - defined as "economic activity according to human rights and ecological guidelines".

The chapters 1-4 describe the "initial situation", characterized primarily by the above keywords. The chapters five and six "take stock", i.e. they review the implementation of the objectives of the previous study, with the result that there were admittedly selective improvements, but the actually required radicalism and speed of re-routing are still missing. The chapters seven to ten draft in four "models" the key milestones of a sustainable world. Necessary objectives are here on the one hand the real validity of human rights and equitable social participation opportunities for all citizens of the world, and on the other hand the achievement of "ecological prosperity" by means of dematerialization (efficiency), environmental compatibility (consistency) and self-limitation (sufficiency), including a comprehensive perspective on economic processes.

The chapters 11-15 are devoted to the "change of course in Germany and Europe", which is determined, inter alia, by the transition from the "fossil-central" to the "solar-network" era, increased resource efficiency, the primacy of politics, and the transition from the work-oriented to the activity-oriented society. In the chapters 16-18, the fifth part "global agreements" takes as its theme the global dimension of environmental and justice issues that have to be solved. In the final sixth part, in the chapters 19 and 20, the "engagement on the spot" is the principal focus of research with the two perspectives: the possibilities of civil society to exert influence at the local level as well as the potential of private-individual lifestyle changes.

 


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The concluding chapter summarizes in "Prospects" again the essential requirements of sustainability. A new social contract is advised, "which does not only pacify the relationship between citizens but the relationship between mankind and nature, and this in a global perspective.

In non-technical language, the study gathers many of the themes of the current debate about environmental, social, economic and development policy issues. It offers thus, particularly as a result of merging different strands of discussion, an immense wealth of thought and concrete options for action - this is strength and weakness at once. With about 600 pages of text the study is too long for the "average reader". In some places the structure of representation correlates to the complexity of the issues and their close interwovenness with each other. In addition: In comparison to the sections on the strategies for an eco-social transformation in the industrialized countries, the chapters on development policy are colourless; they are also characterized by a consistently Eurocentric view (just one example: the handling of the topic agriculture). Moreover, one would sometimes have liked it if both the addressees of many a requirement and the respective players of the required change of course were more accurately mentioned by name.

Due to its methodological innovations (e.g. the introduction of the so-called environmental area as a quantitatively ascertainable measure for environmental consumption) and its linguistically-dexterous models (inter alia "living well instead of possessing a lot") the previous study "Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland 1" could for years decisively shape the German sustainability debate. Twelve years later, the challenge is at last to go from knowledge to action. "Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland II" provides the needed systematic collection of existing examples, models and proposals for solution.

Mattias Kiefer

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    Philipp, Thorsten: Grünzonen einer Lerngemeinschaft. Umweltschutz als Handlungs-, Wirkungs- und Erfahrungsort der Kirche. München: oekom 2009. 233 S. (Hochschulschriften zur Nachhaltigkeit. 48.) Br. 39,90.

The title of the political scientific and theological analysis on the Catholic Church's approach to environmental issues is complex. "Green Zones" can be interpreted both as an abbreviation for ecological contents and for a positive assessment of the tension-filled learning processes. However, in view of the threefold claim of "environment protection as place of action, of effects and of experiences in the church" also major shortcomings are mentioned.

The work, which in 2008 was approved as a dissertation at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, is divided into five chapters. After an introduction to the question and procedure, the first chapter is devoted to "Catholic social ethics in the polycentric policy process", where a political scientific and theological "fixing of the Church's position" is made. Then the "ecological crisis as a sign of the present time - global components of environmental destruction" is taken as a theme. Under the title "Anthropological Dimensions of the Ecological Question" its perception as a crisis, conflicts because of injustices as well as related theological experiences are analysed.

 


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In the chapter "The Catholic Social Teachings: Approaches to an Ecological Extension" a comprehensive, representative and globally-oriented presentation of the statements of the ecclesiastical magisterium on environmental issues is given, which in this way was previously lacking. It starts with the level of the papal magisterium, continues with the statements of the German Bishops' Conference as well as with the ecumenical texts of the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, and finally brings forward selected statements at the Universal Church's level. The final chapter gives an account of the learning processes of ecological social ethics, on the basis of the Christian social principles of personality, solidarity, subsidiarity and sustainability.

The study examines a wide range of topics and current literature, but the text rarely gets out of hand. The structure of reasoning is inherently consistent and understandable. The line out thought is clarified by a stringent methodological reflection in the first chapter, as well as by meaningful chapter headings. Particularly noteworthy is the study of sources, both in terms of selection and in terms of a concise interpretation of the statements on environmental ethics in opinions of the ecclesiastical magisterium.

The study is also theologically profound, e.g. with the conception of the church. It applies innovatively sociological analyses to ethical issues and church structures. The book gets a distinctive image through the well preserved tension between internal and external perspective, between the high demands and expectations of the church resulting from her self-conception and a sober analysis of her competence and the impact of her statements.

By locating the approach to ecological questions in the conception of property and in the theorem of its social responsibility as well as in the analyses of the ambivalence of progress and the theorem of holistic-integral development, the author obtains a perspective that is soundly based in the centre of the Christian social teachings. Precisely because of its study of sources, the book of Philipp is a treasure trove for further discussions about the complex relationship between church and environment.

Markus Vogt

 

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