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World’s Greenest Priest Leads Global Prayer Against Climate Change

Salvatore Cardoni, TakePart
The man with the long white beard and longer official title has a simple request for his 200 million followers.

This coming Wednesday, September 1, His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch—Patriarch Bartholomew for short—will ask the world’s Orthodox Christians to pray for the protection of the environment.

The prayer is just one of an untold number of good deeds Patriarch Bartholomew has undertaken on behalf of the natural world since ascending to the throne of the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1991.

“He was the first to dare broaden the religious concept of sin—beyond individual and social implications—to include environmental abuse,” says Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, theological advisor to Patriarch Bartholomew on environmental issues, in written answers to questions from TakePart.

Patriarch Bartholomew meets with President Obama in the Oval Office in November 2009. (Photo: Nikolaos Manginas /

Patriarch Bartholomew has talked climate change with countless world leaders, including U.S. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama
(30 August 2010)
About TakePart: “TakePart is an independent online community that connects its members directly to the issues that inspire them to engage, contribute and take action.”

Suggested by Post Carbon Institute via Facebook.

Zen and the art of protecting the planet

Jo Confino, Guardian
In a rare interview, zen buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn warns of the threat to civilisation from climate change and the spiritual revival that is needed to avert catastrophe

It is not exactly a traditional Sunday stroll in the English countryside as 84-year-old Vietnamese zen master Thich Nhat Hanh leads nearly a thousand people through the rolling Nottinghamshire hills in walking meditation.

… He rarely gives interviews but recognises that the enormous challenges facing the world, combined with his own increasing age and frailty, means it is important to use what time and energy he has left to contribute what he can to re-energising society and protecting the planet.

… Thay, a prolific author with more than 85 titles under his belt, has taken a particular interest in climate change and recently published the best-selling book ‘The World We Have – A Buddhist approach to peace and ecology.’

Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption

In it, he writes: “The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.”

In his only interview in the UK, Thay calls on journalists to play their part in preventing the destruction of our civilisation and calls on corporations to move away from their focus on profits to the wellbeing of society.

He says that it is an ill-conceived idea that the solution to global warming lies in technological advances. While science is important, even more so is dealing with the root cause of our destructive behaviour: …

Capitalism as a disease

Thay talks about capitalism as a disease that has now spread throughout the world, carried on the winds of globalisation: “We have constructed a system we cannot control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims.”

He sees those countries that are home to Buddhism, such as India, China, Thailand and Vietnam, seeking to go even beyond the consumerism of the West: “There is an attractiveness around science and technology so they have abandoned their values that have been the foundation of their spiritual life in the past,” he says. “Because they follow western countries, they have already begun to suffer the same kind of suffering. The whole world crisis increases and globalisation is the seed of everything. They too have lost their non-dualistic view. There are Buddhists who think that Buddha is outside of them and available to them only after they die.

“In the past there were people who were not rich but contented with their living style, laughing and happy all day. But when the new rich people appear, people look at them and ask why don’t I have a life like that too, a beautiful house, car and garden and they abandon their values.”

While Thay believes that change is possible, he has also come to accept the possibility that this civilisation may collapse. He refers to the spiritual principle that by truly letting go of the ‘need’ to save the planet from climate change, it can paradoxically help do just that.
(26 August 2010)
Related: The role of journalists and corporates in combating climate change: Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in a rare interview on the risks to our civilisation.

Social Traps and the Problem of Trust

Bo Rothstein, Cambridge Books

A ‘social trap’ is a situation where individuals, groups or organisations are unable to cooperate owing to mutual distrust and lack of social capital, even where cooperation would benefit all. Examples include civil strife, pervasive corruption, ethnic discrimination, depletion of natural resources and misuse of social insurance systems. Much has been written attempting to explain the problem, but rather less material is available on how to escape it. In this book, Bo Rothstein explores how social capital and social trust are generated and what governments can do about it. He argues that it is the existence of universal and impartial political institutions together with public policies which enhance social and economic equality that creates social capital. By introducing the theory of collective memory into the discussion, Rothstein makes an empirical and theoretical claim for how universal institutions can be established.

• Explores the variation in corruption, civil strife, welfare and social trust among countries • Examines how social capital and social trust are generated and what governments are doing about it • Presents a theory on how the causal mechanisms between trust in political institutions and trust in other people work

Chapter 1 Reflections after a long day in Moscow (Sample Chapter)

… acceptance of the need to pay taxes cannot be based solely on compulsion or threats of audits, as such an apparatus of compulsion and control would become far too expansive and costly (Levi 1988). It is also unlikely that most people pay taxes for purely altruistic reasons. Some form of conditional assent must come into the picture. We understand this to mean that citizens are prepared to pay their taxes under certain conditions (albeit somewhat grudgingly). Those conditions are, I said, first that people believe that “most others” probably pay what they are supposed to, and secondly that most of the money is used for purposes people consider legitimate.

… The Russian bureaucrat then wondered whether it was true that most officials in the Swedish state administration could not be bribed. I answered in the affirmative and then inquired, somewhat discreetly, whether the beliefs of Russian citizens about widespread corruption and bribery in his tax administration were founded. “Oh yes,” he answered forthrightly, to my surprise. “It is a large bureaucracy with more than 100,000 civil servants, and sure, many are ready, willing, and able to take bribes. But most of them also realize that the current situation is untenable and are fundamentally opposed to the generally rampant corruption.” He said that the problem is actually the same as that of the taxpayers. It is rather pointless to be the only civil servant who does not take bribes if one believes that almost everyone else does. My new Russian friend explained that if he could just find some way to convince the majority of civil servants that most others would stop taking bribes and putting tax revenues in their own pockets, he was sure the overwhelming majority would also be prepared to desist from corruption.

?At the time, there was a great deal of coverage in Russian and Swedish newspapers about the non-payment of wages and pensions that was engendering widespread nervousness across Russia. With that in mind, I asked my Russian friend again whether most Russian citizens realized that if they did not pay their taxes, the state would never have provide them with schools, health care, and retirement pensions. He replied that most Russians understood that very well but, again, most also believed there was no point in being the only honest actor in such a rotten game. Why should they loyally cooperate with a state they perceived to be genuinely corrupt, and why should they behave honorably when everyone they knew – neighbors, friends, and coworkers – cheated? Who wants to play the part of the village idiot in rose-colored glasses? Or, as put in the English terminology that dominates the social sciences, “who wants to be a sucker?” I could not come up with a reasonable counter argument. Unadulterated altruism is a rare bird, at least when it comes to paying taxes. Another problem is that in situations like these, no good actually came out of altruistic behavior. Those who loyally kept paying their taxes despite knowing about the general disloyalty in the game fed nothing but the corruption.1

… my increasingly interested Russian interlocutor continued to probe. He wondered whether I, as a political scientist, had any sound theories that could explain the state of his tax bureaucracy and the Russian society. I perked up, and said that indeed was something for which we in the social sciences actually had remarkably good theories. The Russian situation he had outlined was, I was able to say, a brilliant illustration of a phenomenon given the metaphorical designation of the social trap, among many other names. Especially in the expanding area of non-cooperative game theory, it is one of the central problems –, that is, how to explain the way that cooperation can be established among self-interested utility maximizing actors. Cooperation is based on trust – or, to use another word, social capital. Without trust, I explained, societies, groups, and organizations fall into similar social traps.

Chapter 2: Culture, rationality, and social traps

Should the variation in the problem of social traps be understood by reference to inherited cultural traits or by reference to individual rationality? Do people engage in corrupt practices and become cynical and mistrusting towards their fellow citizens through established and taken-for-granted cultural norms, or should this be seen as a rational response to dysfunctional institutions and untrustworthiness? This problem is directly linked to one of the most intense debates in political science which concerns the value of theories based on cultural systems versus the approach labeled “rational choice.” According to one important textbook, they stand “as the principal competing theoretical schools” in the discipline (Dowding and King 1995; Lichbach and Zuckerman 1998: 5, cf. Elster 2000a). While proponents of the rational choice approach may often agree that culture is important for understanding how agents get their preferences, they add that explanations based on culture “resist systematic analysis” (Johnson 1997: 6). Advocates of the culturalist approach often similarly agree that the control over symbols, rituals and identity may be “bitterly contested” in a strategic game of power (Ross 1998: 45). But they also state that “rational choice scholars are often drawn to models of individual behavior that are not only very wrong, but known to be very wrong, as depictions of what political subjects actually do, think, and feel” (Lustick 1997: 12)

Chapter 6: The problem of institutional credibility

We can conclude from chapter 5 that variations in the supply of social capital in a society are rooted mainly in the design of political and administrative institutions. The causal factor seems to be the degree of universalism in those institutions, understood as impartiality, objectivity, and equal treatment. We also presented a theory that specifies how the causal mechanism (or mechanisms) is constructed as a link between state institutions and individual worldviews and which produce – or destroy – social capital. The connection between how political institutions are constructed and the belief systems of the people is central here, as it implies that the design of political institutions should not be regarded solely as an effect of a society’s historical and cultural legacy. On the contrary, it is possible to show, in Swedish political history, for example, that highly deliberate choices have been made by key politicians in the construction of political institutions with the express purpose of influencing the belief systems of the people. This applies, for instance, to the design of the pension system in 1912, to the choice between general and selective social insurance programs during the 1940s; and to the design of unemployment insurance in the 1930s (Olsson 1993; Rothstein 1992c, 1998a; Svensson 1994).

Very positive review by Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

According to Wikipedia, a Social trap “a term used by psychologists to describe a situation in which a group of people act to obtain short-term individual gains, which in the long run leads to a loss for the group as a whole.”

Entry at Google Books.

Suggested by Jim M in a discussion at Post Carbon Intitute Facebook.