What would Buddha Siddhartha do about Climate Change?

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This was written after reading the essay by Rob Burbea “Buddha and the Sacred Earth” on the DANCE website. It was written for friends in Dhamma who are concerned about inaction on climate change. We have worked from our practical experience, study and research in putting forward a plan of action. It may also interest anyone who is trying to understand the wisdom of the Buddha. We have written it in a way that is understandable to someone with little knowledge of Buddhist terminology.

It is in three parts: In the first we look at what the Buddha knew and how it motivated him to act. In the second we look at what he would do in the present situation. In the third we consider what may happen if things continue as at present.

In summary we conclude that Siddhartha would indeed be motivated to act on climate change. We suggest he would organise and establish a means for ordinary people to walk away from the economic system that is driving growth for its own sake and business as usual. Unfortunately we foresee much potential for conflict as a means of solving the climate problem.

Part One

Let us suppose the last Buddha; Siddhartha was to appear here and now. As an ordinary person with a modern education who knows our history and is fully aware of the destabilisation of the climate. Being a Buddha he would also know the truth of existence. The Buddha was the Buddha because he knew Bodhi: the knowledge of the truth of existence. The term Buddha originates from the word ‘awake’ and he was awake because of what he knew.

So, what would Siddhartha do in the circumstances of here and now? What was it that he knew which caused him to act in such a radical way?

The name of Buddha is linked with Dhamma which generally means ‘law of nature’. Human society currently acts in ways which cause real harm to the rest of nature and this cannot be wise in Dhamma

From its origin the universe as a whole progresses from simplicity to become more and more complex, so there is more than one sort of atom, beetle or flower. This makes sense as increasing complexity and diversity builds resilience into the system. Nature likes diversity; but the harm we are causing leads to a drop in diversity. If we continue as we are we will bring about a mass extinction damaging the diversity of the whole system. We are aware this is un-wise but we are having difficulty in acting now to stop ourselves. Why is this, is there some understanding that we have got wrong? Although humans have had a substantial effect on the environment for thousands of years it is only recently that we have become such a potent force of nature. Our religions, ideologies and philosophies are not yet evolved to cope with this fact. In the past population growth was seen as a good thing, as was economic growth. Both of these lead to an increase in diversity and overall complexity of our societies which is generally liked by nature. This has now changed. We can no longer increase our population or pollute the environment without concern. We now have to evolve our ideas.

There is a whole range of ideas prevalent today. One of which is Nihilism, where all morality ethics or even existence is rejected. It is the attitude of let us party on today for tomorrow we die. One of the views that Buddha repeatedly challenged in his lifetime was Nihilism. So the Buddha taught that there is something on which to found a morality and ethics.

This matters because we are already facing ethical questions such as; do I have to do something about climate change? Might I have to change my own behaviour? Might I have to try and change the behaviour of others? What is the sensible thing to do and how? What would I say if a younger person asked if violence is an acceptable method for change? These are all difficult questions and we need to give credible answers to others and live by the example of our answers. For instance a nihilist response is very common in our society. Rather than asking: do I have to change my behaviour or change the behaviour of others? It is more like: can I carry on in as much comfort and convenience and extend my life for as long as possible?

On the other extreme how do we explain to young activists that violence is not the most effective method for change? If a material only model of existence predominates, ethics will be over ruled by expedience. Violence will be acceptable as it was to the revolutionists of Russia. If the material only model of existence is actually correct then anything can be justified so it is important to investigate to find out what is true, to travel the same path as Buddha.

Those who see the message of the Buddha as only philosophy or psychology with nothing beyond material will find themselves in this bind where expedience rules. If the circumstances change and revolutionist pressure grows they will be unable to put forwards a credible and persuasive rationale to support non-harming.

An accurate description of the true model of existence will describe Bodhi, allowing us to learn, recognise or confirm our understanding. Informed with Bodhi we will be in a position to work out what Siddhartha might do and why he might act for any particular problem such as climate change? We might also be able to counter the argument for change by conflict.

If there is Dhamma and Bodhi what are they and what would they lead us to do?

It is not a trivial matter to look at these questions. It is worth the effort as it leads us to look through the haze of ideas that have grown up surrounding the Buddha.

There is much misinterpretation about what it was that Buddha knew, which caused him to act, and resulted in the still going monastic Sangha. The word Sangha means assembly of monks and nuns. The Sangha can be seen as a training school for the propagation of Bodhi.

Surely if our intention is to find out what Buddha knew in his lifetime we would read the earliest written text and not the much later contemporary prose or poetry. The earliest record of some of what the Buddha said is contained in the basket of Suttas (Sutta Pitaka) of the Pali Canon. In Pali ‘Sutta’ literally means thread, from a spiders silk; but here it refers to the thread of a conversation or discourse. There is something like 13,000 pages of this organised in five collections (Nikaya). The collections are; the Digha or long discourses, the Majjhima or middle length discourses, the Samyutta or connected discourses, the Anguttara or numerical discourses and the Khudakka or minor discourses.

A word of caution about the Suttas and the Pali Canon is necessary here. There has been much scholarship investigating what is authentic and what was really said by the Buddha. Against what were the later additions or only partly original. This is a large subject; a good starting point for anyone wishing to study this would be “Studies in the Origins of Buddhism” by Govind Chandra Pande from 1945. Although doubts have been expressed over some of Pande’s conclusions there is much which rings true. Several factors should be considered, such as the time between the death of the Buddha and the writing down of the texts. There are understandable objectives and motives that may have caused the Sangha to develop and expand the early Suttas to fit particular purposes. After research and reflection we came to the conclusion that it is not possible to have total confidence in any particular Sutta or statement as being authentic to Buddha. We have to use common sense and the balance of probability when considering anything from the Nikaya as being the word of Buddha. So what we are saying is that we believe in the enlightenment of the Buddha and his Dhamma but we cannot assume all those monks after Buddha’s death who wrote down the word of the Buddha were fully enlightened and accurate in their rendition.

The Buddha would wish us to think it out for ourselves and use our knowledge established today because true knowledge will fit Dhamma. True understanding will lead to Bodhi. There are many propositions in the Suttas that are obviously false and contradict the basic tenets of the Buddha. We find Buddha apparently interacting with Brahma which is a personification of Brahman the underlying Hindu life-force, with Indra the Vedic God of lightning and with a variety of Devas and Trolls. All of these can be discounted as unhelpful and in all likelihood added into the Suttas to impress monk and laity alike. In the same way the supernatural feats and almost deification of Siddhartha can be ignored. Siddhartha was as human and mortal as you or I and nothing supernatural is necessary.

There is even uncertainty as to when the Buddha died. There could be 350-500 years between the events claimed to be recorded and those being written down. Originally the Suttas were kept by remembering and reciting until around 100bce when they were written in palm leaf books. We need to be aware that modern scholarship has cast well founded doubt over some of the accepted formulae of Buddhism and that they may not have come from the Buddha himself.

Take for instance the formulaic explanations of dependant arising and the 5 kandhas or aggregates. These are very probably constructed after the death of Buddha. We should be open about these possibilities. It makes sense that in the decades following the death of Siddhartha formulas of teaching were developed and then attributed directly to him. Without Siddhartha to resolve disputes, this is exactly what would be expected.

After 2500 years the outcome is that much in the Suttas should be seen as reformulated teachings based on the words and concepts of the Buddha but framed to deliver teaching outcomes to new monastic students. There is no doubt many authentic words of the Buddha are in the Suttas and many of the stories told are of real events. If you read the whole Canon you begin to realise there is an authentic voice of the Buddha but it is almost hidden by many additional words which have been put into the Buddha’s mouth.

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There are good modern translations of the Suttas and Nikaya. Much wise and sound advice is to be found mostly as conversations between the Buddha, his disciples, lay followers and other ascetics. There are also many contradictions; some of which are fundamental. These contradictions are important because they affect the model of existence at the heart of the Buddhas message. The whole point of the law of nature (Dhamma) and the knowledge of the truth of existence (Bodhi) is that there is only one and that they are unchanging.

So let us for the moment make an assumption that the Buddha did get it right in his lifetime and that there is Dhamma and Bodhi which Siddhartha knew.

The idea of Anatta can be seen as Buddha’s great insight; however the biggest contradiction in the Suttas is between what is known as Anatta and Samsara. Anatta is often translated as no self or no Atman; but Atman means much more than self. It is a concept developed by the Vedic Hindu leaders, the Brahmanas between 1000 – 500bce and recorded in the Hindu Upanisads. The Atman is seen as the self and the soul of man but also part of something much more universal, a bit like God. In this Hindu view each person has or is an Atman. Each person is also the universal Atman which is the God like aspect. This idea had taken hold as a working model of existence at least among the elite by the time Buddha was born. For a greater appreciation of this we recommend reading Vedic Religion and the Upanisads by Arthur Berridale Keith (available from the Internet Archive). This book from the 1920’s gives a good background explanation of the Vedic religion up to the time of Siddhartha and although a rather dry read it does explain something of the context into which Siddhartha was born.

In the Suttas it becomes very clear that Buddha is saying that the idea of Atman is wrong.

In the Digha Nikaya there is Sutta 15 the Mahanidana. It begins with an explanation of dependant origination, in this idea all things arise dependant on the conditions from which they arise. It looks at a series of conditions and the interdependence of each which lead to, for instance death or birth. A person is considered to be made up of 5 kandhas or aggregates, these are; form, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness. A person is considered to be made up of these kandhas operating together. The Sutta then looks at each aggregate to see if there is anything permanent and substantial and concludes that there is not. It then asks if there is self or soul in any of these transient components and concludes that there is not. So the outcome is that no permanent self or soul can be found in a person, self is an illusion. This analysis or model has become a psychology and people have focused on the psychology in its own right rather than its practical conclusion. Hundreds of years later the Heart and Diamond Suttas were written as a way to refocus us on the conclusion that the kandhas are “empty” of self or soul.

In the Majjhima Nikaya we find similar propositions in Suttas 22.15-16, 35.4, 35.20, 62.3, 109.13, 109.16 and others. In these Suttas condensed versions of the Mahanidana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 15) are repeated.

In the Samyutta Nikaya part iii, middle fifty, 59 The Characteristics of Non Self, again restates the formula of the Mahanidana and ends by stating that a person that sees the truth of non self is liberated and rebirth ends. This is interesting as it says knowledge can end re-birth and that the knowledge is of non self.

There are other similar references to Anatta or non self non soul in other Suttas. These are all associated with dependant arising. The five kandhas and dependant arising are very probably formulas arrived at after Siddhartha’s death. Having said that the formula probably developed from Siddhartha’s teaching and his point was that there is no permanent self or soul. And that the Brahmana and Upanisadic teaching of Atman are wrong.

The idea of rebirth according to the merit of the acts (Karma) accumulated in previous lives is known as Samsara. In order to be reborn in Karma there must be a means of transmission of some package of data on previous acts and personality. This record of previous acts must be sent forwards to the about to be born body from the recently dead one The idea of such a package is known as a soul, if there is no soul, no Atman, then there can be no rebirth according to the previous acts and personality, no Samsara.

This apparent contradiction is spread across the Suttas. Buddha frames what are most probably authentic early teachings in the format “Abandon one thing, Bhikkhus and I guarantee you non-returning. What is that one thing? Greed …” It carries on saying the same for hate, delusion, anger, contempt and conceit (Itivuttaka ones 1-13, Khudakka Nikaya). A Bhikkhu is the Pali name for a monk. The Pali Canon has many references to attaining merit for a good rebirth and even details the various realms which can be attained.

The idea of Samsara, a cycle of a person being reborn, does not fit with Anatta. When we question and use common sense to think this through we cannot reconcile Anatta and Samsara. This is important because it affects the model of existence which in turn influences our daily decisions and actions.

We all need to ask these important questions: Is there a self, is there a soul, and are we reborn? If there is no self or soul in people could it be there is no God or Gods either? This matters especially when we are faced with severe challenges such as climate change. Ethics and morality are derived from or underpinned by the model of existence.

The concept of God is one of a supreme being, something within a boundary, separate and apart from each self or person. A person is seen as self, separate and apart from others and God superior. God like the Christian one being supreme is in control, with a plan, at the top of the implied hierarchy. A person can have a direct relationship with God but must obey those who are the voice of God on earth.

The first Sutta in the Pali Canon in the Digha collection is the Brahmajala. In this Buddha sets out a list of wrong views. We have already spoken of Nihilism described by Buddha as a wrong view. In its extreme form it denies any moral frame work or responsibility for our actions. In the Sectarian Sutta Buddha expands on this and describes Nihilism as one of the wrong views which lead to inaction Anguttara Nikaya 3:61.’’ Those who fall back on the absence of cause and condition as the essential truth have no desire to do what should be done and to avoid doing what should not be done, nor do they make an effort in this respect. Since they do not apprehend as true and valid anything that should be done, or should not be done, they are muddle minded, they do not guard themselves…..’’

The belief in a God or Gods is also specified as a wrong view. This wrong view is also described as a speculation, not supported by evidence. Where is the evidence for a God or Gods? Both in Europe and in all Indian thought except the Buddhist, souls and the Gods who are made in imitation of souls are considered as permanent. To these spirits, is attributed a being without becoming, an individuality without change, a beginning without an end. Some may say that there must be something behind nature and the universe but does that mean it has to be a God or Gods?

Could there be some other, perhaps simpler explanation, one which is contained within what we already know?

To answer this question we must go back to the contradiction between Samsara and Anatta and how this can be resolved. Although no one knows for certain it is believed that the idea of Samsara developed and caught on some time before the Buddha. It is also thought that the idea came from the forest dwelling holy men, known as the Sramana and not from the Brahmanas of main stream Hinduism. The idea was strong amongst the Sramana at the time of the Buddha and he had learned much from the Sramana schools before his enlightenment. At the time of the Buddha many Brahmana schools were also adopting the idea of rebirth in Karma. It was a fairly recent idea that was established into an ethical system associated with the doctrine of Karma. Where a persons social position in life and his physical advantages or the reverse were the result of his actions in a previous life

In the Buddhist adaptation of this theory no soul, no memory goes over from one body to the next. It is the craving still existing at death of one body that causes the new set of khandas in the body to arise. How this takes place is no where explained. Over and over again in the Pali Canon it is implied that a person is reborn with the essence of their previous personality. This simply does not fit and falls back into the idea of the Samsara soul being reborn in Karma.

After a period of study and offers to join, Buddha walked away from a total of six Sramana schools. What we do is what we believe in and Buddha paid a price when walking away from the schools he had studied at. He was not prepared to go along with something he did not believe to be true and left the established school and its business model.

This is a very appropriate lesson for us today: if after careful study we do not agree with a doctrine or ethics then we should walk away from it. This is applicable not only in the context of a school but for all manner of organisations in wider society. We should not go along with something simply because it sustains our livelihood. If you really are committed then you will be prepared to give up comfort and even go hungry in the pursuit of truth or the upholding of truth as Buddha did.

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With Anatta (no Atman) we can see that Buddha is describing something by what it is not. This is to be expected because if there is a truth of existence a person is that truth, the problem really is what a person thinks and believes they are and what model they have as to how it works. What stories they use to explain reality.

So it is a case of being deluded by false understanding and breaking through the delusions to truth. It is also a case of knowing that truth when you see it. There are clues dotted about the Pali Canon which speak of truth that is subtle, to be understood by the wise, profound and hard to see.

There are two questions that are appropriate here; is there anything beyond me or my perception and is there anything beyond material? The first is easy to answer; of course there are other sentient beings beyond me, other people but also other animals such as a dog, a cat or a horse. These other sentient, thinking and feeling beings are like me.

The second question is more difficult and has been the cause of much trouble. Is there anything beyond material? What is material? Stuff is matter, things you can see, feel and touch. So is there anything beyond that? Is there anything that is not material but still exists, that is completely abstract but still has structure? How about our thoughts? Could our thoughts be something which does not materially exist, but is there and can translate through to affect the material world?

Consider the realm of physics; it has made nuclear weapons, demonstrated that solid material is an illusion and is all made out of waves. More recently the Mandelbrot set is a candidate for evidence. This is a mathematical oddity which presents infinite complexity and structure out of nowhere. It is discovered using a computer as a mathematical detector.

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Each person has to make up their own mind on this issue but if you accept that there is or may be something beyond material then the real question is; how does that work and how does that affect and relate to me? Going down this line of questioning brings models of existence and issues like Anatta to the fore. So how does it work and who or what am “I”, is there a God or Gods? What Buddha says is there is no self, no soul, no God or Gods. So how does that work?

The key to understanding what it was that the Buddha knew has to do with what we call self, me or I. Sometimes it is the simplest of things which are the hardest to understand. This is especially true when it contradicts what we already “know”. Again this is especially so when the thing we already know is something deeply embedded in our cultural and social model. Something we are attached to and do not question. We live in societies that see people as individuals who are separate and apart from each other. These individuals are seen as competing in a hierarchy for access to and control of assets and resources. The way resources are distributed is known as the economy. While participating in this economy we are expected to follow these ‘conventional truths’. It is these ‘conventional truths’ which we seem certain of in the economic world which cause so much harm.

The Buddhas message, Bodhi, is that we are not individuals; we are not really separate people, that the idea of self, I and personality are wrong. When in later Suttas it is said that the kandhas are empty it does not mean that nothing exists for that would be nihilist and Buddha said that the nihilist view is also wrong.

This truth is indeed profound.

We are what there is and it is all the same, not just interconnected; our context of consciousness is the same in all of us and is universal. It is what is real. It might not seem like it, it might not look like it but that is the way it really is. If we meditate on this we see that it fits with life as we observe it. If we meditate in this understanding we see our lives run backwards and that we have been alive through our mothers back to the dawn of humans and to apes and on backwards to tiny bacteria. It does not stop there, the universe is a unity, and it has evolved as we have evolved. It is all living and it is all the same thing. The universe is a continual process, nothing material is permanent. There is a non material aspect which is beyond description, there have been attempts at describing this such as Brahman but it is really beyond the capacity of language.

Ignorance of this truth and delusions such as self are not necessarily bad. It could be said that delusion is a driver of diversity as far as human behaviour is concerned.

There is no individual rebirth or Samsara so all birth is collective. Bodies are born, live for a while and die. We are impermanent manifestations of the whole. We are a collective and experience collective Karma. During its life a body has some local memory of its experiences but it is part of the collective. The consequences of the actions of one life may well carry on to effect the following generations in both good and bad ways. In this sense Karma is collective. This also means that Buddha could say to a group of novice monks “Abandon one thing, Bhikkhus and I guarantee you non-returning…” As there are no individuals and both Karma and birth are collective Buddha is not making a false statement. He does tell them that self is an illusion and understanding what that means will bring an end to their rebirth. This is also true as it is the delusion of self that is transcended, there is no self to be reborn, or die. Bodies are born and die but there is no self in them. As there is no self there is no God or Gods either, what there is has no boundaries, no separation so no God. This is the true meaning of interconnectedness.

There is no being, just becoming, however we have a desire to understand our differences at birth and wish to explain them. Try the simplest based on what we can observe and directly experience. A child is born; the conditions in which it arises cause its outcomes in life. The loving kindness bestowed on a child in the nurturing process by the parents and close adults have a profound effect on the development of a child’s mind. Until the child is an adult it is dependent on those adults for its needs. They are moulded by the Karma of those adults prior to their birth. The physical circumstances of the family will also contribute to the child’s health and wellbeing. Actions taken now will affect the conditions that children of the future will be born into.

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In conclusion if Siddhartha were with us now he would be motivated to act on climate change. He would be looking at the collective interest of all life on earth and not from self interest. He would be free to act by not being burdened with personal concerns such as his career, home, mortgage, spouse, friends, job, children or relations. As Siddhartha demonstrated in his own life-time. He was prepared to walk away from these concerns in order to address the root causes of more important problems such as tribal warfare, caste system and ritual sacrifice.

Siddartha would be deeply troubled by climate change not only because of its obvious risks but the more damaging and insidious effects on life itself. He would also see that addressing climate change would be the wise core issue to choose as it has less scope for being diverted by sectarian/political interest. Also by proactively solving it many other collateral issues would be addressed in the process. Climate change is the key issue of today.

Bob Hodson-Smith

Jules Wagstaff BSc PGCE

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Who was the Buddha really?

Buddha FeetThis is a good explanation by John Peacock and comes to the same conclusions as we did.

http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2012/05/bg-256-will-the-real-buddha-please-stand-up/

So the Buddha was an ordinary person who learned something of profound truth from his efforts to understand what is true. This truth is described as Bodhi, the knowledge of the truth of existence. That is quite a clunky way of putting it but there is a difference between understanding something and knowing it. When you know something it informs your actions when you understand something it can be intellectualized and practically ignored. This is a big problem today when we understand that our fossil fuel burning is almost certainly bringing about serious damage to our environment yet we do very little to stop it.

What was it that the Buddha knew? This is also simple and the consequence of the Buddha’s insight that is known to us as “anatta”. Anatta means “no atman”, atman was a concept developed between 1000 and 500  bc (ish) which can loosely be described as self, soul and god. So the Buddha knew that there was no self, no soul and no god or gods. He also knew that there was something beyond self,and beyond material. Language is not very good or capable of describing this but it is not necessary as you are it, but so is everyone and everything else. One way of putting it would be that we are all the same.

By the way the atman project is what the Hindu upanishads are about and could be described as an attempt to provide a more accurate model of existence than the polytheistic one of the Vedas. Unfortunately the project was skewed by the need for the Brahmanas (the Hindu teachers) to keep their business model going. That stopped them from reaching the same quite obvious conclusion which Buddha did. We have always found it wise to look out for ‘business models’ behind any spiritual or ideological initiative and to see if it skews the message.

Breaking the Climate Destabilisation Chain

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Many years ago I was a software engineer and my last project was control room safety systems for British nuclear power stations. As the project manager I tried to become as informed as possible about the background to industrial accidents. This largely involved learning about the psychology of chains of events and decisions taken by operators of large industrial plants like nuclear generators which resulted in tragic accidents. The key to accident prevention is breaking the chains of events that are common paths to accidents. At the outset I focused on the technical and operation issues that lead to accidents such as the Piper Alpha oil and gas rig when over 150 of the crew died. The disaster was investigated and reported on by a judge published as the Cullen report. It focused on the technical and operational details of the case and described in detail how the accident happened and what the consequences were. Interestingly it did not look really closely at the management contribution to the accident or question the context or contribution of commercial pressures involved. Many years later I read into the Challenger space shuttle accident and the report on it by a Presidential Commission which did look closely at management culture and its contribution to the loss of the shuttle.

What has this got to do with action on climate change then? Well there are interesting and I believe useful parallels here. An understanding of which may help us be more realistic and abandon false hopes that the “elites” are going to act appropriately.

Take the case of Piper Alpha an oil and gas rig in 1988 which was a hub for other rigs to pipe oil and gas to. Piper A then compressed and mixed the oil and gas into a shore bound pipeline. The accident occurred towards the end of a very substantial maintenance overhaul when a gas pump was attempted to be used that had an output safety valve removed for overhaul. High pressure gas leaked out from an incorrectly done up blanking plate and ignited. This blew out a wall to the next door oil pumping unit causing damage and began a larger fire. The fire grew and burned away the top of the rig.  The report looked at the detail of how these operator events happened but did not so much ask the question of why the rig was still in partial operation in the midst of a major overhaul. After I had read the report the situation it described seemed analogous to driving a car at 70 miles an hour down the motorway and having someone carry out some major servicing, and in order to facilitate doing this “safely” you slow down to 60 miles an hour. Obviously that would be barmy you would find somewhere to park and stop the engine. The management of the oil rig seemed to me to have acted unbelievably irresponsibly, were the root cause of 167 deaths and the total loss of the rig. The reason apparently was so that the company could continue to make profit from the operation. I always thought it odd that it was the ordinary bloke who probably did not do up the blanking plates bolts properly that was blamed and the management were not properly criticized (that was my opinion anyway). The bloke that got the blame perished in the fire, the manager who decided the rig should still function through the overhaul was safe onshore.

Then there was the Challenger accident in the mid 80’s when 7 people died and the subsequent investigation certainly did criticize the management culture for its major failings. It seems like another accident that should not have happened and was not prevented because of outright bad management. The problems that caused the accident were known about. A tokenistic “task force” had been set up to solve the problem. There were six launches where the management effectively ignored the problem and waived the safety issue in spite of its own rules. The seventh time this gamble cost seven lives. Being NASA they even came up with a term “go fever” to describe it.

When you look now at the climate destabilisation problem and the governmental and social leadership response it seems like the same irresponsible, cavalier attitude.

So what can be done about it because it seems like us ordinary people are in the exact same situation as were caring and concerned engineers who worked for NASA and its contractors or the oil company? We are ignored and fobbed off or sidelined. When you look at the obvious measures any sensible government would take in the face of such an impending problem it is not happening. All around us people are allowed to go out and cause unnecessary and avoidable green house gas emissions. I know I have said this before but look at gardens: petrol strimmers, hedge cutters and mowers etc. In its total this is significant and a real indicator that the issue is being ignored… Then we could look at modern farming or unnecessary consumption. Or take cars, when the car industry was in trouble because of the financial crash the government rushes in with subsidies. Now the oil industry is in trouble the government…. rushes in with subsidies. It is obvious that the climate problem is not being taken seriously. The governments and the elite are focussed on economic growth. More GDP more tax revenue higher stock and share values leading to more GDP growth etc. This is “growth fever”.

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The idea that you will be able to effectively address this problem from within is kidding yourself. You will be part of the problem or maybe almost neutral at best. You have to find ways to walk away from participating, organise and co-operate with others, build an alternative economy, protest and shame the elite for its irresponsible lack of action and persuade others to join you. Well if you cannot do that yourself immediately you can still help organise, participate and support people who are trying to be sensible. Being sensible means being “un-economic” and people will find that they will have to be prepared to go hungry and suffer privations. They need all the help they can get.

This Bandwagon Changes Everything

There is a new wave of protest about climate change at the moment. There are marches and events leading up to the meeting of world government representatives in Paris in December. This long running saga of meetings is seeking an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and avoid “dangerous” warming. The prospects for this meeting leading to a meaningful outcome and realistic action are a big subject and we could look at this at another time. The protests are interesting in themselves especially the influence that books like “This Changes Everything” appear to be having. A speaker at an event associated with the book said how she was inspired and motivated by the core message: “It’s those horrid corporations and capitalists that are responsible”. While I would agree regulation and restriction of corporate exploitation and damaging practice is very necessary is it right to point the finger of responsibility for climate change? I can recall getting in trouble years ago at climate camp meetings for pointing out that per head carbon emissions in the Soviet Union before it collapsed were roughly comparable with the west when this same line was put forwards. Does it matter? Well yes it probably does because if you want to solve a problem getting the analysis right is sensible as you would not want to waste time and effort pushing for an ineffective solution.

efco_strimmer

It is easy and appealing this simplistic “It’s them!” argument because implied in it is “It’s not us!” so let that moral superiority flow. The speaker at the event I mentioned actually said she felt better for having grasped this message. So absolved of personal responsibility for the problem the audience was invited to join in that warm glow of self righteous indignation and push the ant-capitalist agenda.  When you look at actually dealing with climate change the first thing that comes to mind is to stop any unnecessary activity that involves creating greenhouse gas emissions. There are many obvious things that ordinary people do which in the circumstances could be prohibited : garden strimmers, powered hedge trimmers, powered mowers, pressure washers. That was only a glance at the garden! It does not matter if these unnecessary machines are electric powered either even off renewable energy as that energy would be better used replacing fossil fuel or nuclear generation. Then there are the considerable emissions involved in making and shipping these unnecessary machines in the first place. There are perfectly good longer lasting hand tools to do these jobs. The average strimmer owner is not a raving capitalist or banker, just an ordinary person. The capitalist might run the corporation that makes the strimmer (in China probably). The banker might fund it, the oil company supplies the fuel, but it’s the ordinary person that buys and uses these totally un-necessary contraptions and is therefore responsible for the un-necessary emission involved in the process. These are very simplistic examples of course but the principle is sound. Co-opting action on climate change to Anti-Capitalism is probably not very sensible as it misunderstands the nature of the climate change problem, we are all responsible. In the same way the idea that “Green Capitalism” is going to make a big difference is just as silly. What matters is cutting unnecessary emissions and using the lowest emission methods possible.hedgecutter33

Danger and Opportunity

This is a story of two graphs. From these graphs it is possible to know in general terms something that is going to happen with almost total certainty. When it will happen is not so certain but probably sooner than later. It will be an unpleasant shock for most people and there will be consequences for all of us, so two graphs. The first one is from the US National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA). It is the record of the heat energy in the top 2000 meters of the oceans:

heat_content2000m

This is nothing to do with a computer model, it is the global average data collected from a progressively more accurate and wider sample. Since the 1990’s the Argo float measuring system has given us a very accurate and reliable graph with a truly global sample. If you would like to understand in detail the credibility of this graph then Google A Review of Global Ocean Temperature Observations: Implications for Ocean Heat Content Estimates and Climate Change, this should lead you to a downloadable pdf at the American Geophysical Union (it is free to download thanks to the Guardian Newspaper). The Oceans are the largest thermal reservoir on the planet, some 90 times greater than the atmosphere. The top 2000 meters of the Oceans represent a thermal reservoir at least 30 times bigger than the whole of the atmosphere. The red line shows the small variations within each year but not beyond each year cycle. The point of the graph is this, up to the 1970’s there was natural variation over several years, it warmed a bit then cooled bit over the decades, since then the recorded heat energy rises in an almost straight line upwards to date.

Now let us look at the near surface global average temperature record as a graph:

Global Land-Ocean Air Temp GISS

This graph is from the Goddard Institute for Space Science (GISS) which is part of NASA. This is not from a computer model but a global average of recorded air temperatures near the land and ocean surface. It covers a longer time period (1880- ), than the ocean heat (1955- ). The air temperature is much more spiky that the ocean heat. It shows substantial natural variation year to year and over many years, in particular notice the drop in temperature from 1880 to 1910 followed by a rise until 1940 followed by another fall till 1950.

There has long been an awareness of cycles or oscillations in the climate. In the UK there is an oscillation over about 60 to 70 years which now goes under the name of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Although no one really knows what causes them it is most likely something to do with a long term eddy or cycle in the overturning Atlantic circulation. The result is that every 60-70 years we get 10-20 years of exceptionally cold winters which are also associated with long hot summers. The last time this happened was during World War 2 beginning in the winter of 1939-40, the peak cold winter was 1947 and it ended in the mid 1950’s. Before that there were the Victorian and Dickensian cold winters that peaked about 1880. Before that there are no measured temperature records but there is evidence of freezing rivers and bee killing winters peaking in 1813 in Europe. According to this cycle we should be somewhere around the peak of a series of exceptionally cold winters right about now. If you notice on the graph the temperature levels off in 2000 but does not show the drop in global temperatures that is evident in the 1940’s or following the 1880 peak. There are also decadal oscillations in the Pacific and all these interact to affect the global average.

The levelling off of global air temperature from 2000 to date has been seized on as evidence that climate warming has stopped. This would be good news if it was true. Unfortunately the warming has not stopped all that has been happening is that the Ocean oscillations have been masking the warming. If there were not greenhouse gas induced warming we would have seen the global air temperature drop in the last few years. We can know this almost with total certainty because of the reliable ocean heat record which shows no decline or variation.

This in itself is bad news but the oscillation will now change from masking the warming to reinforcing it. It is not possible to know exactly when this change will happen but it will be sooner than later. The UK Met Office researches recently published a paper that suggested that there is a 75% chance that the change will happen before 2020.

What are the conclusions here?

Firstly, the GHG warming has not stopped or paused, this is clear from the ocean heat content record.

Second, the apparent pause has been due to natural variation within the climate and oceans. This will soon change over and the near surface air temperature will rise more rapidly than previously.

Thirdly, there will be consequences when the warming appears to accelerate. Scientific estimates suggest that the global average temperature could rise at   a quarter of a degree Celsius per decade for several decades. That would be very noticeable. Whatever the actual rate there will be a serious warming spike in the coming years.

Finally the spike may well lead to panic and more direct action but if protest continues to be ignored and suppressed it will lead to violence, action and then reaction by the state. Leading to a situation where both sides give up on peaceful change. Where chaos, blame and extreme politics dominate what gets done.

The lesson for us now is that we will need to have established opportunities on the ground for people to join before this shock happens. In this case nature will supply the shock and it presents an opportunity to turn the shock doctrine to positive use. However if it is not used for good it will certainly be exploited by reactionaries to further repressive and exploitative agendas. The point is that establishing pathways for ordinary people to change behaviour and “walk away” will need to be in place before the shock hits. Any ‘’solutions’’ chosen will only be from the range of “solutions” existing at that time.

4 Noble Truths Newsletter June 2013

West Wales Open Camp

Tues July 9th – Fri August 2nd

Tues August 27th – Fri September 27th

Drop In, Camp, Help Out and learn new skills and talk about organising serious action on solving climate change….

Projects: make a woodland bridge, bramble clearance to help establish a coppice, Learn about lime plaster , have a go at greenwoodworking/basketmaking. Plus Films, Workshops and Discussions. Free Enquiry encouraged

Communal Kitchen/facilities on site/Runs on Donations

What to Do: Please email us that you are coming or if you need any further info. deassart@btinternet.com

Location Directions: Castle Green Pentrecagal is 2 miles East of Newcastle Emlyn West Wales. Just off the A484. At Pentrecagal take the Drefach Felindre road from Carmarthen. The 460 bus runs from Carmarthen (train station) to Pentrecagal (about 1 hours journey)

Look forward to seeing you!

Climate Camp Funds Application

We did not get any cash out of the Climate Camp funds. It is a shame that most of the money will go to causes that have little or nothing to do with action on climate change. We would have needed 3 instead of 2 representatives at the meeting in order to get some money. Our main point that action on climate change is not being taken seriously was not taken seriously.

What should be done?

Further on in this news letter I have written up and linked the research I have been doing recently. I have looked at the position mainstream media is pushing at the moment which is that climate change has stopped and is not serious. It turns out this is wrong.

A recent report for Shell Oil puts forward the corporate view on climate change which is that in effect they can get away with business as usual and maximum fossil fuel burn until 2040. Only then do they see unstoppable public pressure for action which will be will be carbon capture. The cynicism of such a view is to be expected for organisations whose primary goal is to make money for the share holders. The management structure tends to select up individuals who can rationalise unethical behaviour to make money. The same can be said for politicians, UK emissions are going up again and a substantial roads building program is underway. The objectives are to increase GDP (and therefore tax revenue). The environment is not a consideration and most people seem prepared to go along with this view at the moment. According to Nafeez Ahmed the US is preparing to fight and suppress its own population’s environmental protest (see links below). This really should lead to the conclusion that solutions coming from states or corporations are a false hope.

Chasing Ice, James Balog

We now have a copy of this documentary on DVD. Having seen it we would strongly recommend it. There is a human story of one persons endeavour to show a wider audience the massive and rapid ice melt in Greenland and Alaska. Over ten years ago the limits of 450ppm CO2 and +2 Degrees warming from 2000 levels were adopted by EU and the IPCC to prevent “dangerous” climate change. At that time it was thought that ice melt (in particular Greenland) would be very slow to respond and we would have a thousand years or more to figure out a way of bringing CO2 levels down. It turns out that this is a mistake and Chasing Ice shows the visible evidence of fast melting and dangerous climate change. James Hansen’s book Storms of my Grandchildren explains this in detail. It has led to the conclusion that 350ppm CO2 and +1 Degree from year 2000 levels are realistic limits. This of course means that action to seriously reduce emissions should be taken right now.

“If ice sheets begin to disintegrate there will not be a new stable sea level on any foreseeable time scale. Instead we will have created a situation with continual change, with intermittent calamities at thousands of cities around the world. Because the oceans and ice sheets each have response times of at least centuries, change will continue for as many generations as we care to think about. Change will not be smooth and uniform. Instead local catastrophes will occur in association with regional storms. Given the regional infrastructure and historical treasures in our coastal cities, it borders on insanity to suggest that humans should work to “adapt” to climate change as opposed to taking actions needed to stabilise climate”

Dr James Hansen

Climate News According to the Media

Let’s face it the business as usual agenda is succeeding at the moment. If we take the attitude and response to climate change of the average person we might conclude there is no problem. The whole issue was just exaggerated and warming has stopped. At times like this it is reasonable to ask the question “have I got this wrong, can I ignore this like most of my friends do”? It would be great if there was nothing to be concerned about.

The mainstream UK media (apart from the Guardian and Huff Post) is currently pushing the idea that climate change has stopped, is not serious or that there is lots of time to act. The current wave of complacent stories began with Climate Prof Miles Allen of Oxford University unwisely talking to Daily Mail journalist David Rose about the current state of research. This set off the chain of articles and news reports that climate change is not as serious as thought. So what is the truth?

We have been suggesting that everyone should read Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen so that they can understand how climate change really works. Hansen explains climate change in terms of climate forcing and energy imbalance. He also clearly explains what is and is not known by the science community. Since the 80’s Hansen and the most reputable scientists have been forecasting global temperature increases. This sees about  a +2 ºC rise from pre-industrial levels by around 2050, +3-4ºC by 2100 and +4-6ºC by 2200 (if we carry on with the current emissions profile).

The Mark Lynas book Six Degrees describes what these temperatures meant in the geologic past and therefore what they will mean eventually to us. Simply put anything over 1 degree is serious, over 2 degrees is a disaster. The graph we have been using by Professor Michael Schlesinger based on 2012 science describes the same picture as Hansen did in the early 1990’s.

There was a cooling followed by rapid warming in the nineties which caused some scientists to assume that the climate was more sensitive than first thought. This led them to publish papers with highly alarming forecasts of warming over 6 degrees by 2100. They were inaccurate; the climate is a spiky system. It should be noted that the more accurate climate sensitivity is derived from geologic and paleo-climate records, not computer models.

The more responsible scientists have now been able to show the mistaken forecasts to be in error. In part it is this correction that is being used by the media and vested interests to try and fool people that there is little to worry about. Most people want to be fooled so they can carry on with what they are doing.

Additionally there is a better understanding of the cycles of natural variations and this has been added to models. The UK met office model now shows that UK temperatures will warm again after 2017. This is due to the 68 year cycle of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) that is now included. This natural cycle gives us several (12-15) years of long cold winters which will peak between 2015 and 2017. These winters are nothing like as long or cold as the last AMO peak in the 1940’s.

As happened in the nineties we are seeing another period where warming slows. There are a range of probable reasons for this in combination. As said above we are nearing the peak of the AMO in 2015/17. The low point of the 12 year solar irradiance cycle ended recently and 2012 was a la Nina cooling year. Despite all this 2012 was one of the 13 warmest years in the last 150 and all of these occurred since1997. Warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions carries on in the background and the only real unknown factor outside of natural variations is the effect of atmospheric aerosols, sulphuric acid in particular.

It is worth considering this because if the so called “plateau” in warming does turn out to be due in large part to aerosol cooling it will be very bad news. The two satellite experiments that would have looked at this effect (as suggested by Hansen in the mid nineties) were not undertaken. There is reason to suggest that the 50% increase in coal burning in the last 15 years is having a cooling effect because of the sulphur aerosols. There is evidence from the 1950’s to 1970’s that the growth in coal burning in the US and Europe caused a very significant cooling effect. This ended from the 70’s onwards following regulations to cut sulphur emissions due to acid rain. Warming really took off from the 70’s onwards. This is illustrated by the HADCRUT4 temperature record and the NASA equivalent below which also shows the spiky natural variations. Regulations to cut sulphur emissions are now being put in place in China. The sulphur is washed out the atmosphere in a few weeks leaving the CO2 from the coal. The cooling effect of the sulphuric acid vapour is lost and the warming from the CO2 remains. As the satellite experiments to monitor the aerosols were not launched the extent of this effect is a major unknown.

HADCRUT4

 

 

 

 

 

 

NASA Version of HADCRUT4

 

 

 

 

NOAA Version of HADCRUT4

 

 

 

 

Other Issues to Watch Out for

On the political front it is likely that the 2 degree limit for warming which has been acknowledged by EU and IPCC since 2000 will now come under pressure. If anything indicates abject political failure and the need for a new ethics this will be it. As explained above +1 degree from 2000 levels is actually more realistic.

It is difficult to have much confidence in our politicians behaving responsibly if the following is anything to go by:

“Well I’m sitting like a rose between two thorns here and I have to take practical decisions – erm – the climate’s always been changing – er – Peter mentioned the Arctic and I think in the Holocene the Arctic melted completely and you can see there were beaches there – when Greenland was occupied, you know, people growing crops – we then had a little ice age, we had a middle age warming – the climate’s been going up and down – but the real question which I think everyone’s trying to address is – is this influenced by manmade activity in recent years and James is actually correct – the climate has not changed – the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years and what I think we’ve got to be careful of is that there is almost certainly – bound to be – some influence by manmade activity but I think we’ve just got to be rational (audience laughter) – rational people – and make sure the measures that we take to counter it don’t actually cause more damage – and I think we’re about to get -“ — Owen Paterson, 7th June, Any Questions.

It is hard to believe but Mr. Paterson is the Environment Minister for whom science about climate can be ignored flat but science for GM must be accepted.

Here are some interesting links:

Warming Stopped 1997?

That there has been no warming since 1997 is another commonly heard claim that is analyzed here:

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/Media/Commentary/2012/February/anthropogenic-global-warming-1997.aspx

Here is a blog on current warming around North Pole and other climate news.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-ellen-harte/climate-change-this-week_b_3445163.html

Nafeez Ahmed article how the US state is spying on its environmental activists in the expectation of trouble:

http://grist.org/politics/the-feds-get-seriously-creepy-about-climate-change/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/earth-insight/2013/jun/14/climate-change-energy-shocks-nsa-prism

Environmental Artists repression in Canada:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/17/artist-inspiration-canada-silence-climate

Here are the graphs of warming records:

http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-temps.html

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/

And finally a World Bank report on effects of climate change on the worlds poorest:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/19/climate-change-developing-countries-world-bank

January 2013 Newsletter 4nobletruthsofclimatechange

Contents:

  • Chasing Ice
  • COP18 Meeting in Qatar in Dec
  • It’s a Gas
  • UEA Results Discredited
  • 2013 IPCC Leak
  • Wake Up and Do Something Part 1: What is the Post Modernist headspace? Am I suffering from it?

Chasing Ice Film at Chapter Arts Cardiff Jan 4th (Friday) to 10th (Thurs)   http://www.chapter.org/29227.html

Highly recommended film using James Balogs time lapse film and photo’s of glacial retreat in several locations around the globe. See what’s happening for yourself for only £5.10 for students/unwaged. We should be getting a copy of the DVD in mid June when it is released.

Manufacturing Consent

Also highly recommended is the documentary Manufacturing Consent about Noam Chomsky’s work that unpicks and describes how governments and states go about conning people into accepting war, law and policy that is against their interests.

Love on the Dole: Does anyone have a copy of this 1941 film on DVD or avi / xvid ?

COP18 Meeting in Qatar in Dec

Well it was rubbish as expected. Unseemly squabbling over money to pay off less developed (i.e. victim) nations politicians. Talks about talks about maybe an agreement by 2015 to maybe do something by 2020. It is interesting to contrast this with the recent global agreement to police the internet against copyright infringement that was negotiated and passed into law virtually in secret without public discussion or consultation in record time. This is as big a pile of bullshit and deceit on a global scale as the promise of bank reform on a national scale.

It’s a Gas

Well as expected George Osborne is now an expert in geology and the environment. Well actually no he is not but he has decided that Shale Gas is what is needed ….. to keep the lights on! Yes that’s what he says; he must mean those lights on motorways that make it safe for squirrels to cross at night. Unlike in the US the mineral rights here are owned by the government so its really about the government making huge wads of cash from license and tax revenue … FCUK the future. Incidentally there are an awful lot of those lights on roads which could be turned off.

UEA Results Discredited

As you no doubt do a Google news search every day for ‘climate change’ you will have seen how many deniers are using the line that all the IPCC results and climate change in general can be ignored because they are all dependant on the University of East Anglia historical temperature data. These of course were discredited by climate gate! Well they were not but if you are told this it is easier to bring up the BEST results. This was a bunch of mostly physicists at Berkley in California who were funded by Kock Bros coal money to produce a new and untarnished data set that did not have any of the issues that UEA had. Working under Prof Phillip Muller after 2 years they published their results with a wider data set. It was the same as UEA and they then went on to conclude also that greenhouse gas emissions were the only plausible cause.

2013 IPCC Leak

The review copy of the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change report due for release in 2013 has been leaked. It says that, in their view human induced climate change is virtually certain. This is a big step up from the 2007 report, virtually certain means 99% probable. Such a consensus after so much research by such a large body of scientists for so long is unprecedented.

Wake Up and Do Something Part 1

What is the Post Modernist headspace? Am I suffering from it?

It is clear that people are having difficulty in addressing the serious and pressing problems of damage to our shared environment. This is particularly obvious with the issue of climate change. So why is this?

Looking into the past to see how we got to where we are now it is clear that ideas have changed. Two hundred years ago around the time of Napoleon most people in Britain believed in a God and in heaven and hell, they went to church on Sunday. They studied the Bible from which they got their morality and derived their ethics.

One hundred years ago the general situation was very much the same but scientific method of measurement and comparison to nature had already led to substantial changes in the format of society. Life was becoming easier, people moved into the towns and cities, there was more time for leisure and study, social reform was an issue. Democracy had expanded with the less well off men and then women gaining the vote. Trade unions fought for workers rights.

There was the disaster of the First World War. It is difficult now for a young person to really appreciate the industrialised carnage and upheaval that was the First World War. The effect it had on the mind of the people in the years following was profound and many began to seriously question the idea of a God and the world view presented in the Bible. There were by this time no shortage of philosophers and thinkers to turn to who took the position that there was no God.

After the war the people of Britain looked back with a real sense of loss to the pre-war society. In Germany there was a revolution following World War One and the monarchy collapsed. The monarchy and church were closely related and over the following years two anti-church ideologies rose to compete for power, the Marxists and the Nazis. In Russia following the defeat by the Germans the monarchy fell in1917, the Marxist revolutionaries that took over set out to destroy the church by killing the monks and priests. This was supported by most of the people who blamed the church for having failed them and sold them out to a ruthless free market in the decades before the war.

Then the Second World War begins and the slaughter is renewed in a more ferocious and unlimited way claiming around 60 million people. During the war faith in the idea of a God was renewed somewhat during the conflict but afterwards there was a re-evaluation. In Britain the idea of the benign Christian God began to be progressively discredited. The people still went to churches as social organisations and tradition but the faith progressively waned. By the 1970’s belief became unfashionable and for the majority of people God as an unquestioned faith died.

It is sobering to consider how the morality of war changed in the last hundred years. In World War One 10% of the casualties were civilian, in World War Two it was 50%. In Vietnam the civilian casualties were 70%, in Iraq and Afghanistan it has been 90%. We do not hear or see our current church leaders calling for an immediate end to these criminal wars or going on hunger strike to bring the politicians and soldiers to their senses. The ancient Greeks, soldier and civilian would consider such a state of affairs repugnant and barbaric.

Now this brief attempt to summarize the process in the mind of the people in UK is cursory and incomplete but it is a reasonable overview. It would be fair to say that by the 1980’s UK was a post theistic (post God) society. This is an interesting situation because the faith in God and Bible underpinned morality and ethics. It is like deciding at the end of winter to get rid of an old and unreliable heating system that clearly was not working properly. In the spring you rip it out and dump it on the scrap heap. Summer comes and you feel satisfied and content without need of heating. When autumn comes and it gets colder it begins to occur to you that something is missing. This is similar to what is happening now and our great difficulty in doing the obvious about the environment and climate change. This is fundamentally an ethical and moral problem.

So what happened in the mind of the people when faith in God died? God the deity was not alone, along with God there was self. In many ways self has become the new deity and selfishness the new religion. For want of a better and less unflattering term this can be called postmodernism.

If you wish to give any feedback or ask questions on any of these issues email on deassart@btinternet.com or start a discussion on crabgrass group 4nobletruthsofclimatechange  https://we.riseup.net/4nobletruthsofclimatechange

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