Wrong gods and neo-liberalism

By Michael Northcott
June 8, 2009

As I left St Mary’s Putney, where we held the Operation Noah AGM, I noticed that this was the place where Cromwell convened the Putney debates which presaged the English Revolution when parliament was reconstituted as the peoples’ parliament.

For a few glorious years, the stifling Norman-imposed tyranny of warring barons and princes was replaced with a congregation of peoples’ peers.

According to poll data the majority of people in Britain today think climate change is an urgent moral challenge. But when their politicians are not cleaning their moats, or watching energy-hungry Plasma screens, they are using the powers of the state to shore up and subsidize the continuing fossil-fuelled accumulation of wealth by private corporations and the rich.

Neoliberalism has spread like a virus through the body politic so that politicians of most stripes really believe it is their duty to use the powers of the state to help the rich get richer and while they are at it, to get richer themselves.

I had cycled from Kings Cross to the meeting and so I cycled back, but at a more leisurely pace, along the Thames Path. Every few minutes I was forced off the banks of the Thames by a large private development of glass fronted, and sometimes even glass-sided and hence energy-wasting, condominiums.

Since Thatcher, these developments have grown like a canker on both sides of the Thames, often cutting off the river frontage from public use. At one particularly large and brutal development - hubristically called Imperial Wharf - corporate signage instructs Thames Path users - illegally I suspect - that cycling is prohibited for reasons of ‘public safety’. This is a delicious irony and so I briefly get off my bike to take a photograph.

1.6 million people a year are killed or seriously injured by cars and millions more have their lives blighted by asthma, leukemia, bronchioliosis and other lung diseases caused by vehicular emissions. Emissions from cars are the single largest source of luxury greenhouse gas emissions.

If we all stopped driving, the planet would overnight be given a break from at least one third of the excess carbon that is ratcheting up the earth's system into a runaway overheat at a speed never before seen in three billion years of geological time.

Cars, even more than weapons of mass destruction, are the greatest single technological threat to personal and public safety ever invented by human beings.

Every one of us knows someone killed or maimed by a car. But in these privatized, neoliberal spaces the car is the star. SUVs, BMWs, Mercedes make their way past security guards and cameras into under and overground parking in these gated developments. And neoliberal politicians - some with second homes in these places paid for by us - are piling up debts to bail out car-makers and dousing the flame of hope that we can prevent the earth our children will inherit warming beyond two degrees.

The Bible has a name for this – it is called idolatry. God was justly jealous of idols because those who worshipped Baal and Moloch sacrificed their children on their altars. We are killing the earth, and stealing our childrens’ futures, because we worship the wrong god.


(c) Michael Northcott is a board member of Operation Noah. He is professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University and author of A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming (DLT, 2007) http://books.ekklesia.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1965


Learn more about the ARK Campaign and send Gordon Brown an origami ARK at www.operationnoah.org.

Church Action Starter Pack for climate change: http://tinyurl.com/d6zwwu

Follow Operation Noah on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahandhisark

See Jo Rathbone's Ekklesia review of here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/5938

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