Monday, January 18, 2010

Finding the key to the good life

'Give me abundant, clean, reliable and cheap electrons,' says Thomas Friedman, 'and I will give you a world that can continue to grow without triggering unmanageable climate change.'

In a very thorough and accessible survey of the energy options facing the planet, Friedman argues that electricity generation is the key to sustainable development. This means that governments as well as the private sector needs to be putting research funds into innovating in the area of electric transport and electricity generation from renewable resources.

But in a crucial section, he argues that the planet cannot just change its energy supply and carry on as it has before. Conservation must go hand-in-hand with changes in the consumption habits of the world, especially the rich world.

His thinking is influenced by political ethicist Michael Sandel who urges that we need to strengthen (perhaps in come cases develop) a sense of responsibility for and stewardship of the natural world.

The key thing for Friedman is that this cannot be legislated by governments. Arguing that as societies, we need to develop an ethic of conservation. 'Ethics are not laws. They are not imposed by the state. Rather, they are norms, values, belief, habits and attitudes that are embraced voluntarily - that we as a society impose on ourselves. Laws regulate behaviour from the outside in. Ethics regulate behaviour from the inside out. Ethics are something you carry with you wherever you go to guide whatever you do.' (p237)

The trouble is that our good ethics are so often let down by our bad behaviour. This is what Paul is talking about Romans 7 and Titus. We all agree on the basics on how people should live - in Paul's day it was that people embody the cardinal virtues of sobriety, justice and piety, virtues that would lead to the good life in a good society. The issue is where do we get the power to live such virtues?

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