Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition of America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. Here we talk about ethics.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Given the response about Giordano Bruno and others in the previous session, and given the universe does – so to speak – roll the die with its lonesome self, this does not remove the classical middle world in which we inhabit, where things in the social world of evolved creatures come with impacts – both positive and negative to the evolved creatures.
In this sense, ethics becomes inevitable, in a sense, or unavoidable. The question becomes what ethic or morality best fits this apparent neutral operator for the world of social creatures including human animals or, rather, human primates. What ethic sits behind the activism for you? Obviously, you have been highly motivated in personal and professional history.
Herb Silverman: We live in an uncaring universe, so I think is up to humans to do what we can to make the world a better place for us, for other species, and for future generations. To do that, we must try to prevent an apocalypse.
I used to enjoy making fun of televangelists who talked about an imminent apocalypse in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom. The signs, they said, were everywhere— hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, wildfires, famines, and a general collapse of civilization. I no longer make fun of these apocalyptic signs, which of course have nothing to do with a deity.
Some people are predicting a climate apocalypse in our lifetime. And what we do about it might be the moral problem of our time. By “we,” I don’t necessarily mean you and I as individuals. I do what I can, like recycling, using paper instead of plastic, eating a vegetarian diet, driving a small Prius, and generally trying to leave a low carbon footprint. But this is more an issue for what countries are willing to do and how much influence people like us can have over public policy. We know that our use of fossil fuels emits too much carbon into the atmosphere, heating the world and apparently pushing us closer to mass calamity.
The science is clear. Climate change is real. There is a 97% consensus among climate scientists that humans are contributing to climate change, along with a dangerous rise in sea levels putting our communities and the world at risk. Some prominent climate deniers make money from the fossil-fuel industry. To take environmental issues seriously, we are led to the need for government regulation of some kind, so rigid free-market ideologues don’t want to believe that environmental concerns are real. Many who acknowledge climate change and that humans are at fault say economic costs in change would be too great.
Before turning our way of life and economy upside down, we need a well thought out roadmap for success. There is room for disagreement about the best way to address climate change. The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, and even President Trump’s own administration, have confirmed that we are facing human-caused extinction if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent in the next twelve years and bring them to near-zero by 2050. We need some combination of wind, solar, and nuclear energy, which I think requires an enforceable global treaty to get us off of fossil fuels, onto renewables. We need some version of a Green New Deal, with the United States leading the way.
Despite public statements of support, the political establishment has not agreed that the long-term stability gained by curbing emissions would be worth a painful cost of short-term changes to a society built on fossil fuels. We all have a personal duty to leave Earth in good condition for future generations. To deny the science is to deny responsibility for future generations and the future of our planet.
Sadly, some Evangelicals recognize the dangers of climate change and welcome it as the biblically predicted apocalypse. They believe that God is using climate change to enact his wrath on the world. To quote 2 Peter 3:10: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
Secular Americans believe that policy should be driven by reason, evidence, and science. Unfortunately, this common-sense approach to policy is at odds with many American politicians who have rejected the scientific consensus on climate change. As atheists and humanists, it is crucial that we recognize that the responsibility to create and maintain sustainable methods of living is a collective one. We acknowledge the damage done to our environment has been caused by human action and constitutes an existential threat to humanity and many other species that have not already been wiped out. We understand that only humans can save ourselves from the climate crises we have created.
You might wish to check the websites of the American Humanist Association, the Secular Coalition for America, and other atheist and humanist organizations to see how you can work collectively to help prevent an environmental apocalypse.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Herb.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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