Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A few thoughts about Climate Change and Peak Oil

Al sent me a copy of the latest IPCC summary which includes this quote: "More importantly, the IPCC concluded that there is over 90% probability that this global warming is primarily caused by human activities"; Al asked me "Could you agree to that? How many % would you say?"

I initially said my answers were 'No' and 'I don't know'. However, on the latter, I would now suggest that the answer is 'less than 30%' (because of this and associated research).

Of course, I'm not a climate scientist so my opinion isn't worth much. What I would say, however, is that - as an interested layman - the quality of the science related to climate change seems much less robust than the science related to the problem of Peak Oil.

With oil, for example, the core science related to the development of an oil-field is extremely well understood and has proven robust in oil-fields in various unrelated countries worldwide over many decades. It is, after all, the science that the oil companies use when considering what flow of resource might be generated from particular prospects. Moreover, the phenomenon of 'peaking' has proven universal at the individual well, wider field, regional and continental scales (the only one not yet proven is precisely the world-wide scale - hence the problem). There is no need to rely on 'models' in exploring the question of Peak Oil - historical data and common sense are sufficient.

None of this applies to the issue of climate change. Not only is there a large amount of guesstimating judgement necessary (= 'computer models' and the GIGO principle) but the observable data themselves don't match up (eg the decline in temperatures over the last decade, vis-a-vis the increased output of carbon). Obviously the situation is 'very complex' - the atmosphere is a complex system - but that is precisely my point. The science is not yet hard enough to be robust, and therefore a dependable basis for public policy.

In addition to this, real world concerns render - to my mind - the climate change debate academic. Firstly, the IPCC reports hugely overestimate the amount of fossil fuels available; secondly, they ignore the negative feedback cycle that will kick in in terms of recession/depression. In other words, most of what the politicians and activists seek in terms of a rapid and drastic reduction in carbon emissions will be achieved no matter what, as a result of the peaking of fossil fuel production.

So in most cases (eg investment in windmills, changing lifestyles to pursue green transport options etc) the desirable way forward is the same for coping with Peak Oil as with climate change. The differences come at the margin, eg the costs of carbon capture (clean coal) which seems a bit pointless to me. Lomborg is very good on this - more lives will be saved by investing in clean water than scrubbing power station emissions. So, basically, I'm an agnostic-shading-to-sceptic on climate change, and I see it as a distraction from more urgent problems.

Does that answer your questions Al?


This is my version of 'No Line on the Horizon'.

"Drugs policy in most nations is a matter of religion, not science."

Monday, June 29, 2009


Free MIT courses (this one is on brain science, but there's lots of others. Definitely the future of education; or, should I say, this form of education definitely has a healthy future. I'm not sure tutorials can ever be fully replicated on-line.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

News options

One day we will be able to set our TV/Internet/Radio/etc news sources to 'exclude anything about Michael Jackson' (for example) in order to find out what else has been happening today.

We might also be able to set it to 'exclude any tragedies involving children which don't have wider implications', as I tend to get distressed when I read those.

What would you exclude?


Good morning. The title of this talk is a bit of a mouthful, but what I want to say can be summed up in simpler words: we all have to prepare for life without much money, where imported goods are scarce, and where people have to provide for their own needs, and those of their immediate neighbours. I will take as my point of departure the unfolding collapse of the global economy, and discuss what might come next. It started with the collapse of the financial markets last year, and is now resulting in unprecedented decreases in the volumes of international trade. These developments are also starting to affect the political stability of various countries around the world. A few governments have already collapsed, others may be on their way, and before too long we may find our maps redrawn in dramatic ways....

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Are we not men?


Watched this prior to going on retreat: warm, sweet, real and held together by a great central performance. 4/5

The Long Descent (John Michael Greer)

I bought this as soon as it was published, as I am a fan of Greer's blog, but I hadn't had the space to read it with any justice until last week. Summary impression: excellent, highly recommended, one of the best peak oil books, etc etc; it's also one of the few books I've read on Peak Oil which starts to treat some of the spiritual aspects with any seriousness (indeed the book I hope to finish on my sabbatical is in some ways a Christian equivalent of this), and, other than a forgiveable equation of Christianity with it's North American instantiation, he says a lot of good things on the spiritual side.

However, I do have some minor disagreements, the most important of which is that Greer holds out no hope for a high-technology future. To my mind, given the existing expenditure on infrastructure, there is no necessary reason why (in, obviously, a much reduced form) some sort of internet, for example, couldn't be maintained indefinitely. I take the point that, eg, clean rooms for the manufacturing of chips will become virtually impossible to sustain, but I see no reason why, once the changed context is understood, the industry couldn't make a laptop which would last for fifty or a hundred years without needing any maintenance. In other words, I think the sustainable point on the far side of Hubbert's curve is higher up the technological scale than Greer anticipates. I suspect that there is a spiritual judgement hovering behind this; I think we'd agree that the true outcome would surprise us both.

How about this for the outline of a novel, a sort of cross between Canticle for Liebowitz and The Road (and could easily be Joseph-Campbellised): peasant boy with talent is commissioned by monastery for a task - take this book to the monks at [High Monastery in the Mountain]; boy goes through various adventures to get to High Monastery; arrives, is asked to accompany the monk into their 'chapel' - has to put on pure white robes - astonishingly bright white light - watches as his 'book' is repaired. Of course, the contemporary reader can understand that this is a laptop being repaired in the sole remaining 'clean room' in the entire US continent, but that needn't be spelt out explicitly.

Worship in the Best of Both Worlds (Philip Greenslade)

One of those books that began life as PhD and it shows; but basically a very good exploration of how liturgy should be done, from an evangelical-discovering-the-wonders-of-catholicism perspective. Some excellent chapters, some where the academic apparatus drowns the point being made. Not sure I'd recommend it to anyone not already a theology graduate, which is a shame as it contains good material.

Neuromancer (William Gibson)

Good to finally read this modern classic. A bit confusing at times but you could see why it has been so influential. Came away thinking that it would make an excellent film.

An Exorcist Tells His Story (Gabriele Amorth)

Very interesting discussion and consideration of the ministry of deliverance from a traditional Catholic perspective. Amorth says that he has conducted some 33,000 exorcisms(!), of which he considers only 93 to be genuine cases of possession (bear in mind that exorcism is a diagnostic procedure). Interesting fact: the church first distinguished between demonic possession and mental illness in the late sixteenth century!! Recommended.

The Long Way (Bernard Moitessier)

Enjoyable and inspiring, with some very memorable moments and descriptions, and certainly a book that I will re-read but... in the end, not a patch on Pirsig's first one.

Supersense (Bruce Hood)

Very interesting and stimulating book, about the nature of human reactions and perceptions to the 'supernatural' - and therefore where our understandings of the supernatural come from - but it was ultimately hampered by an unconscious commitment to a materialist metaphysics. Highly recommended though.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bible books meme

I've been tagged by John and Doug on this.

1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think.
2. Tag five others.

1. John Ashton, not so much for his magnum opus as for the fact that he was my principal NT teacher, who introduced me to all the basics (form criticism, Bultmann, Sanders etc), and is therefore foundational to how I think about the study of Scripture. A good bloke too.
2. Fundamentalism, James Barr. Contemporaneously with the first, reading this was an eye-opening experience for someone who thought that the only way to read the Bible faithfully was through a fundamentalist perspective.
3. Andrew Mein, who recognised my Marcionite tendencies and took me in hand whilst at Westcott. Introduced me to some fairly important ideas, eg the Deuteronomistic history, and also got me to read Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination (and the rest is history). Another nice bloke - although he's crap at Risk ;-)
4. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment. Was given this by a friend around five years ago and found it utterly fascinating, introduced me to Girardian ways of interpreting Scripture although I think there is more to Alison than simply a representation of Girard. The last chapter blew my mind; not sure the pieces have all been put back together yet.
5. Margaret Barker, Temple Theology who I was switched on to via another of Alison's books, and who I am only now starting to explore properly (excitingly, she's a speaker at Greenbelt this year), but I'm finding everything about it fascinating (even if it undermines some of my ideas about worship!).

And I'm surprised I've mentioned neither Tom Wright nor Eugene Peterson!

Tags: Phil, Tim G, Paul, Joe, Tim C.


Themed fonts. Though I'd like to know how to get OpenOffice to use them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reading, chilling, thinking

Having a brief moment exploring the potential of my mobile phone. It looks like i might be able to blog... Having a very positive, restful and spiritually centring time here. It is already the best retreat I've had in many years. Pondering intercessions, exorcisms, liturgies and learning suppers. Read three books so far as well, including Moitessier, but more on that when I return. I might also try and upload a photo...

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm off on retreat for a few days, to Mirfield, possibly the best theological college in the world.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cool choir

h/t PB

Is the BNP racist? (British National Party)

Which immediately brings to mind 'is the Pope a Catholic?' and 'does a bear...' and so on.

I'm sticking this up to point people to this site, which gives a reasoned answer to the question 'is the BNP racist?'. I'd recommend all those wanting to squeeze the BNP do the same on their site.
(h/t Matt Wardman)

For what it's worth, I think there is only one race - human. I also think that the BNP flourishes in part because a healthy and generous sense of English identity is suppressed. What is thirsty will drink of stagnant water if fresh supplies are denied. We need our roots:

And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look, and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs
How will we know where we come from?
I've lost St. George in the Union Jack
It's my flag too and I want it back

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
We need roots

Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than we'll ever know
'Round the rocky shores of England
We need roots...

Loving the church you lead (David Hansen)

Slight, but interesting and solid, and easy to read. Particularly helpful on the distinction between loving individuals and loving the church as a whole, and on the nature of the 'Children of Belial', those who cause chaos in a church community.


Don't panic.
(Fans will probably have discovered this site already, I only came across it recently.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Corpus Christi: The Greatest Theological Mistake in Western Christian History

The phrase 'the Body of Christ' can refer to three things - 1. the body of Jesus of Nazareth before he was crucified; 2. the community of believers; 3. the bread consecrated during the Eucharist.

In practice we can ignore 1 as it never figures in debates about communion. What is significant is the way in which the other two senses have been understood in Christian history.

Let's call those two senses of 'the body of Christ' 'the church' and 'the host'.

In Christian understanding, one form of the body was 'real' or 'true'. In other words it was something that could be touched and handled, and was therefore worthy of reverence and immense - total! - respect. This was called the 'corpus verum'.

The other form of the body was only perceptible to the eyes of faith, it could only be received and understood mystically, in the context of prayer and worship. This was called the 'corpus mysticum'.

For the first thousand years or so of Christianity, the 'corpus verum', the body that could be touched and handled with reverence, referred to the church, ie the community of the baptised. So, your neighbour in the community was worthy of reverence and respect. Harming your neighbour, eg murder, wasn't just immoral, it was blasphemy. Correlative with that, the 'corpus mysticum' - that which could only be perceived with the eyes of faith - was the host, that which was consumed in the context of Eucharistic worship.

In the course of the twelfth century, in the Western church, these meanings were reversed, with awful consequences.

To begin with the more trivial, the 'corpus verum' began to be used to refer to the bread used in the Eucharist. Instead of this bread being something that could only be seen as holy by the faithful (and which didn't have a particular tangibility as the body) the host became _itself_ the object of worship. This can be seen through the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in the mid-thirteenth century, and the associated development of eucharistic devotions, eg exposition, seen through the use of the monstrance - the Body of Christ is being _demonstrated_ in this rite.

I happen to see this as a profound distortion of Christianity, but I needn't detain you with that, for the really malefic consequences of this shift came with the other side, ie that instead of all the baptised being the 'corpus verum', now the baptised were the 'corpus mysticum' - which had the consequence that church membership was no longer something public, it was something private, and only accessible to those with the eyes of faith. Of course, those 'eyes of faith' became identified with the institution, so, whereas harming a baptised believer would once have been utterly unthinkable theologically, with this shift in understanding you end up with the Inquisition - abuse of the body to try and establish the state of the soul. You also lay the seeds for the Reformation, and the whole gamut of western history that sees faith as something 'private' and personal, rather than public and visible.

It would be no exaggeration to say that everything that has gone wrong with Western Christianity since the 1200s can be traced to this shift.


Mending walls in Berlin.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Clumsy direction, pathetic script, Christian Bale was criminally wasted by being reduced to a one-note character and the story as a whole does absolutely nothing to develop the mythos of this collection of stories. Would have been an average episode of Sarah Connor Chronicles if it wasn't for the fact that you could see where all the money had been spent. Very disappointing. 2.5/5

No Country for Old Men

More of a portrait than a story; absorbing but not the best Coen brothers film. 4/5


UFOs seen on Mersea Island.

Monday, June 01, 2009


... is the best medicine. If it is true that losing your sense of humour is the earliest sign of burn-out, then I am greatly encouraged by how much I am laughing out loud this morning.

First this (from my regular correspondent :)

A gynaecologist had become so fed up with malpractice insurance and NHS paperwork he was burned out.

Hoping to try another career where skilful hands would be beneficial, he decided to become a mechanic.

He went to the local technical college, signed up for classes, attended diligently, and learned all he could.

When the time for the practical exam approached, the gynaecologist prepared carefully for weeks and completed the exam with tremendous skill.

When the results came back, he was surprised to find that he had obtained a score of 150%.

Fearing an error, he called the instructor, saying, "I don't want to appear ungrateful for such an outstanding result, but I wonder if there is an error in the grade."

The instructor said, "During the exam, you took the engine apart perfectly, which was worth 50% of the total mark.

You put the engine back together again perfectly, which is also worth 50% of the mark. This equalled an A."

After a pause, the instructor added, "I gave you an extra 50% because you did it all through the exhaust pipe, which I've never seen done in my entire career.

Then this.

And: I dare you to do better.

And finally, the cutest ass you have ever seen.

Onwards and up em!

Fool's Gold

Mildly diverting amusement well pitched for the brain dead, in whose company I counted myself last night. 3/5


Three wide-ranging discussions on good books of different types at the Oil Drum:
Books on energy, ecology et cetera
Books on practical knowledge (including one reference to ZMM)
Relevant fiction and more imaginative works.