Evaluating Wind Power

The use of wind turbines as a means of harnessing the wind to produce electrical power may seem a new innovation in finding a more sustainable source of energy to counteract climate change, but our use of wind power is not new. Wind has been an essential source of energy throughout human history, from powering sailing ships to windmills.

Wind turbines transform the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical energy. This mechanical energy can be converted into electricity using a generator, which can be used for specific activities directly such as direct grid connection and charging a battery unit.

Even though wind power, in the form of wind turbines, is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the world, it is not without its critics, even from the environmentally conscious. While being cost-effective and environmentally friendly, commonly heard criticisms are that the turbines themselves might cause noise pollution, due to the noise produced by the blades; and aesthetic pollution, caused by the visual impact to the landscape. Also wind turbines have been criticised for their impact on local wildlife, such as birds flying into the spinning turbine blades. 

Aware of these criticisms, it was with great interest that I discovered that there is an alternative form of wind turbine being developed. These are Bladeless Turbines. The technology uses no blades, getting energy from wind through oscillation without gears, brakes nor oil. Basically, bladeless technology consists of a cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. The cylinder oscillates on a wind range, which then generates electricity through an alternator system. In other words, it is a wind turbine that is not actually a turbine.

The outer cylinder is designed to be largely rigid and has the ability to vibrate, remaining anchored to the bottom rod. The top of the cylinder is unconstrained and has the maximum amplitude of the oscillation. The structure is built using resins reinforced with carbon and/or glass fiber, materials used in conventional wind turbine blades. 

The energy from the wind is captured by a resonance phenomenon called vortex shedding, which is caused by an aerodynamic action. In fluid dynamics, the flow is modified when the wind passes through a blunt body, resulting in a cyclical pattern of vortices. The body begins to oscillate and enters into resonance with the wind when the frequency of these forces approaches that of the body’s structural frequency. This is also known as Vortex-Induced Vibration. 

A bladeless turbine is not one of the most frequently proposed designs. However, it is simple and made up of only one structural component. So, it has more advantages in terms of manufacture, transportation, storage, and installation. There are no bearings, gears, or other moving parts in the new wind turbine design, so their maintenance is simple. When compared to blade wind turbines, bladeless turbines will generate electricity for 40% less money.  

The bladeless windmill is very simple to build. The conical mast is pivoted vertically with the help of a cylindrical rod that is held within a roller bearing and vibrates in just one direction. A metal sheet is used to cover the area below the pivot. The upper half of the mast flutters in the wind, while the lower part is connected to the crankshaft.

In answer to the criticisms listed above against the standard blade turbines, there are many advantages to designing a turbine without blades. Compared to standard turbines, anchoring or foundation requirements are greatly decreased, making installation much easier. The reduced swept area of these turbines allows more turbines to be positioned within the same surface area, compensating for the loss of power efficiency with space efficiency in a cost-effective manner. There are also few moving parts, which not only help to reduce noise, but also do not pose a threat to birds. 

But there are disadvantages compared to the blade turbines. The technology is still in its infancy, and therefore current bladeless turbines are less efficient in converting captured wind power into electrical energy, which has limited their widespread adoption. Also, in order to generate a substantial quantity of power, the vane must wobble at a fast speed. However, the higher the oscillation speed, the greater the stress on the vane and the foundation that keeps it upright. Finally, depending on the desired outcomes, the mast height can be increased. So a disadvantage is that their initial cost is higher than the operating cost.

Technology is always advancing, however, and while three-bladed turbines have been the standard model of renewable energy production in recent years, this does not guarantee that they will continue to be so in the future. Engineers are working on more efficient and effective designs for future energy generation.

What prevents the immediate and full conversion to wind power is that it competes with conventional generation sources on a cost basis. Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past several decades, wind projects must be able to compete economically with the lowest-cost source of electricity, and some locations may not be windy enough to be cost competitive. Good land-based wind sites are often located in remote locations, far from cities where the electricity is needed. And wind resource development might not be the most profitable use of the land. Land suitable for wind-turbine installation must compete with alternative uses for the land, which might be more highly valued than electricity genereation.

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Australia’s Electric Car Future

As another G7 meeting winds up, it was heartening to see the concern and commitment the leaders showed for tackle Climate Change. G7 environment ministers agreed that they will deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.50C. That is far more ambitious than the previous 20C maximum. Ministers also agreed to stop direct funding of coal-fired power stations in poorer nations by the end of 2021.

These commitments are good news to the ears of those of us with real concerns about the Climate crisis that is coming. Already there is a growing trend around the world to end singly use plastics, finding sustainable and green alternatives to energy production, and some viable developments to switching to electric cars. In this article it is this latter development that I want to explore and Australia’s short sighted response to this promising and sustainable industry. 

An electric car is a car that is propelled by one or more electric motors, using energy stored in rechargeable batteries. Compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, electric cars are quieter, have no exhaust emissions, and lower emissions overall. In the United States, as of 2020, the total cost of ownership of recent electric vehicles is cheaper than that of equivalent internal combustion engine cars, due to lower fuelling and maintenance costs. Charging an electric car can be done at a variety of charging stations; these charging stations can be installed in both houses and public areas. Sales of electric vehicles grew by 39% last year, and the forecast is that sales will balloon to a massive 28% of new global car sales by 2030, and 58% by 2040.

Of course, this is only a partial solution to curbing Climate Change if electricity is still generated using coal power. But it is clearly a step in the right direction. There are promising opportunities too for developing a local electric car manufacturing industry, promoting local jobs and opportunities. So it was with great dismay that I learned that the Andrews government in Victoria brought in legislation for a tax on electric vehicle drivers. The tax passed without amendment in both houses of the Victorian parliament. This will mean electric vehicle drivers pay 2.5 cents for every kilometre travelled from July 1. 

Andrews/Cartwright on Terror Plot

As you can imagine, the Victorian Green party strongly opposed the bill, but it passed 19-14 with the support of crossbenchers. Greens MP, Sam Hibbins, said the tax would make Victoria a global laughing stock, ensuring the state would continue to lag in the switch to electric vehicles. The Green’s transport spokesman called it climate vandalism. 

Of course it is about money. The tax is expected to raise $30 million over 4 years and is forecast to cost the average electric vehicle owner between $260 and $300 annually. While this is about half the rate of what other vehicle owners pay through the fuel excise, it has the scope to creep up.

While everyone who uses our roads should pay their fair share of tax to maintain them, there is so much more at stake. Already one of the major barriers to switching to electric vehicles is their price. Due to the Australian government’s refusal to offer any meaningful subsidies to consumers, as other authorities have done in Europe and the US, the cost of electric vehicles vs. petrol is noticeably higher. In some cases the price can be double that of the petrol-powered variant making electric vehicles less attractive to anyone hoping to save money when purchasing a new car.

Range is also another issue. The petrol car with the highest range is the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, which has a 1,875 km range on a full tank, as opposed to the highest performing electric vehicle, the Tesla Model S, which has a top range of 647 km. Factored into this is the lack of infrastructure to support electric car owners. Currently, petrol stations can be found anywhere in Australia, including the outback. But, as yet, finding an electric charging station presents a challenge. There are still only 2307 Australia-wide electric charging stations. Of course these factors can change with the growth in popularity of electric vehicles and technological advances in the industry that may bring the price down.

The point is clear – current Australian government thinking, both Federal and State, is short term profits outweigh any concern for the environment or our future. Climate Change is still far from taken seriously, and as a result Australia will be left behind.

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Australia’s Lost Opportunity

When Donald Trump became president of the United States, he promised to prioritize corporations, businesses and jobs over the environment and public health. In many ways, he succeeded. Donald Trump came into office as a climate denier. When he took office, he almost immediately pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Without the US pushing countries for more action on climate, Trump cost the planet four years of progress on climate and energy.

It was always expected that Joe Biden’s election would be a massive shot in the arm for international climate action. Hopes were not disappointed when, soon after his election, Biden invited 40 world leaders to a virtual climate change summit coinciding with Earth Day. China’s Xi Jinping and even Vladimir Putin attended, despite their divisions.

At the summit, the US’s leadership was marked by its headline pledge to reduce 2005 emissions by up to 52 per cent by 2030. Canada increased its commitment to a 40% to 50% cut from 2005 emissions by 2030. Even Brazil pledged climate neutrality by 2050.

Mr. Biden said the US couldn’t act alone and called for all countries to act at a moment of peril, but a moment of opportunity. “No nation can solve this crisis on our own, as I know you all fully understand,” he said. “All of us, all of us and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up.”

Our country, however, continues to bury its head in the sand, despite the fact that Australia remains dangerously at risk of the economic and environmental consequences that will come from the climate crisis rushing towards us.

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, addressed the global climate summit without committing Australia to more ambitious emissions targets. In a short speech, the start of which was impacted by audio issues, Mr. Morrison said Australia would “update our long term emissions reduction strategy” later in the year. But he again avoided putting a timeframe on the nation’s ‘pathway to net-zero” or pledge deeper emissions cuts by 2030.

“Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them, and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create, especially in our regions,” he said. “For Australia, it is not a question of if, or even by when for net-zero, but importantly how.”

Mr. Morrison insisted Australia was on its way to meeting its Paris commitments, plugged the nation’s world-leading rooftop solar uptake, and pushed a technology- and industry-led approach to combating climate change. He specifically name-checked major mining companies and billionaire Andrew Forrest.

“In Australia, our journey to net-zero is being led by world-class pioneering Australian companies like Fotescue, led by Dr. Andrew Forrest, Visy, BHP, Rio Tinto, AGL and so many more of all sizes,” he said. “It has also been pioneered by agricultural and marine sectors through soil science and sustainable fisheries.”

Mr. Morrison spoke of wanting to produce the “cheapest clean hydrogen in the world” for $2/kg before directly addressing Mr. Biden to compare Silicon Valley with Australia’s planned “hydrogen valleys.”

Senior Biden administration officials said Australia could not rely solely on technology to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. “At the moment I think our colleagues in Australia recognize there is going to have to be a shift. It’s insufficient to follow the existing trajectory and hope that they will be on a course to deep decarbonisation and getting to net-zero emissions by mid-century.”

Earlier in that week, Mr. Morrison pledged more than $1 billion towards hubs for carbon capture and hydrogen technologies and a plan to drive foreign investment in Australian climate tech projects. “You can always be sure that the commitments Australia makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are bankable,” he said. “We have proven performance, transparent emissions accounting and transformative technology targets to unlock pathways to net-zero. Future generations, my colleagues and excellencies, will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver. And on that score, Australia can always be relied upon.”

Prime minister Scott Morrison’s refusal to adopt both a firm timeline to reach net zero emissions and to increase its own interim 2030 target leaves us effectively isolated in the western world. It also goes against what we signed up to through the Paris agreement – which both our governments worked so hard to secure.

According to our independent Climate Change Authority (CCA) and the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo), not only should Australia be doing much more as “our fair share” towards global efforts to reduce emissions, but importantly we also now have the capacity to do more.

The reality is Australia’s current target, set in 2015, to reduce emissions by 26 to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030 is now woefully inadequate – and was always intended to be updated this year. 

The national consensus for climate action in Australia has shifted markedly in recent years. Every state and territory government is now committed to net-zero emissions, so too are our peak industry, business and agriculture groups, as well as our national airline, and even our largest mining company.

So what keeps holding us back? The main thing holding back Australia’s climate ambition is politics: a toxic coalition of the Murdoch press, the right wing of the Liberal and National parties, and vested interests in the fossil fuel sector.

Sadly, instead of seizing this technological opportunity and embracing this newfound national consensus, the government remains hell-bent on a “gas-fired recovery” from Covid-19. Old coal plants still generate around 75% of Australia’s electricity. But these are being replaced by renewables plus storage because they are a cheaper form of generation than the alternatives on offer.

Gas has a role to play in the transition, but that role is to steadily diminish as renewables continue to grow. To bet big on the future role of gas is to bet against the best engineering and economic advice coming out of Aemo, and to ignore the scientific advice that more gas in the grid will simply lead to more emissions. The only long-term gas-fired future we should be planning is green hydrogen made by electrolysing water with renewable energy.

Scott Morrison may have tried to get away with showing up empty-handed to the summit, but will find it even more difficult to do so as a special guest of the British at the G7 leaders’ summit in June. We would be the only developed country in the room that is not committed to net-zero by 2050. And we will find it even harder again to show up empty-handed at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow at the end of the year, given more than 100 countries in the world have pledged to increase their ambition.

There are also consequences for this inaction. As the rolling apocalypse of fires and floods in our country demonstrates, Australia is on the global frontline of this climate crisis. Last year’s wildfires claimed dozens of lives, destroyed thousands of homes, wiped out billions of animals, and cost billions of dollars.

Australians like to think we “punch above our weight” on the global stage. We certainly do when we come to climate change: we emit more than 40 other countries with larger populations, and our per capita emissions are the highest of any advanced economy. This is not a record we should be proud of at all.

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Psychology of Fanaticism

The recent US elections confronted me with the reality of political and religious fanaticism as I’ve never been confronted before. Even family members and friends seemed to blindly believe the slogans and online propaganda, to the point of getting upset and defensive when I tried to challenge their beliefs. I found it hard to comprehend that people could reject facts, reason, common sense to defend Trump or the conservative and narrow Catholic view of who Catholics should all vote for and support. As a result, now the dust has settled a little, I thought I’d try to explore in this blog article something of the psychology behind fanaticism.

Fanaticism is defined as an emotion of being filled with excessive, uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause. According to Winston Churchill, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Until the US elections, I’d certainly come across Christian or Catholic fundamentalists, but I associated religious/political fanatics with the likes of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Certainly not with a democratic election process.

Donald Trump clearly had the power to create fanatic following, and what I would define to be blind uncritical zeal. Not to say that the United States didn’t have its share of fanatical groups prior to Trump, but what has given me increasing worry has been the way they, through him, felt legitimized from the White House. 

Not being a US citizen, I can’t say that I am single minded about the democrats. I don’t think I would have had strong feelings, for instance, if Mike Pence had been president. But what I saw in Donald Trump’s leadership – the manipulation of the emotions of his followers, and complete disregard for the facts of science and the election process when it did not go his way – filled me with a deep dread for the future of our world. But more disturbing for me was the way people actually bought into it and truly believed what he was saying was true!

Professor Andre Haynal, a world’s expert on fanaticism, has been a close observer of fanaticism for 80 years. He vividly remembers Hitler’s terrifying speech exulting in Germany’s takeover of Austria and lived under three different fanatic regimes in Hungary (the Nazis, the Communists, the Hungarian Fascists). He has studied with concern the Trump phenomena in the U.S. and the growth of fanatic nationalism in many European countries.

Professor Haynal is the former Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Geneva; former President of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Association; and the author of “Encounters with The Irrational”. He is assisted by his wife Veronique Haynal, a psychotherapist in Geneva, who shares fully in all his work.

The Haynals write: “The dictionary defines a fanatic as someone with excessive and single minded zeal. Synonyms include extremist, radical, chauvinist, militant, bigot, sectarian, diehard, and dogmatist. ‘Fanatic’ is derived from a Latin word that described possession by a god or demon. In current usage, it more often describes possession by a cause or belief system- religious, nationalist, racist, political, or ideological.” 

Prof. Haynal observes that many factors promote fanaticism:

  • Rapid societal change- in technology, economic opportunity, living arrangements, traditions, ideals, values, expectations leaving people feeling disconnected from the past, frightened in the present, not in control of the future.
  • Fierce job competition from computers and multinational outsourcing
  • Feeling that others (especially minorities and immigrants) are stealing status and resources.
  • Comfort in belonging to a closed community of like-minded believers.
  • Socio-economic deprivation and inequality.
  • And a charismatic leader who confidently comes forth with grand promises offering prosperity, security, and stability.

In terms of why is fanaticism on the rise now, Prof. Haynal suggests:

  • Crushing overpopulation – the world census, 1 billion in 1800, is now 7.6 billion and growing at the astounding rate 1 billion people every 12 years;
  • War, famine, and drought- resulting in massive migrations;
  • Political turmoil and societal instability;
  • Weakening of previous consensus cultural norms;
  • Dissolution of family ties;
  • Increasing concentration of wealth;
  • Religious tensions;
  • And an economic philosophy where humans are less necessary as producers and consumers in a world increasingly dominated by computers.

To this list we can add the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased instability, insecurity, and economic hardship. People want certainty. Because our present reality is a bitter pill to swallow, people prefer the felt security that comes from black and white beliefs.

What are the characteristics of fanatic leaders? Haynal’s answer is that they may differ widely in intelligence, personality and goals – but all use similar methods to turn followers into fanatics; they convey a simple message with powerful conviction and constant propaganda; they deny truth, manipulate objective reality, distort facts, and create fake news; they are intolerant of contradiction and destroy opposition; they delegitimize and censor alternative views; they divide issues and people sharply into good and bad; and they create scapegoats and targets of anger.

So it is a combination of the tactics employed by a fanatic leader striking when people are most vulnerable that brings about the situation we’ve experienced. I guess when things are going well, people are not so readily taken in by black and white slogans. It is when they feel scared, insecure, and uncertain about the future that they are more susceptible to a charismatic leader promising them an easy answer for all their ills.

I will be watching the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, and public reaction to it, with great interest, because we are not out of the woods yet. The pandemic is far from over, and the longer it takes to roll out the vaccines world wide, the greater the chances of further virus mutations to which the current vaccines are less effective. I would imagine that the increasing effects of climate change on food production, combined with the economic impact of COVID lockdowns and border shutdowns, will serve to increase the level of insecurity and uncertainty, only increasing people’s vulnerability to the manipulations of a fanatical leader.

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Protect Humanity from Self Destruction

“She (the Church) must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.” This remarkable statement caught my attention on re-reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. He was quoting Pope Benedict (XVI)’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. It is remarkable to me because I had never considered this to be ‘the’ primary mission of the Church – to save humanity from itself. Wow!

I mean, I do recognise that it is what I have been engaged in from the beginning of my vocation, though I couldn’t have named it in these terms. In my teenage years, when I first took my faith seriously thanks to a profound religious experience, I would have understood the Church’s primary task as that of saving souls from eternal damnation. From this perspective, the self-destruction I understood myself fighting against was the human tendency to sin and so put his or her eternal life at risk. I would have understood things from the point of view of personal morality and our weakness that leads us to sin, despite the eternal consequences.

The context of the statement in both encyclicals, however, is concerned with the destruction of humanity via the destruction of the natural environment. Considering our current understanding of the social dimension of sin, of course the statement applies. The logical extension is that it is the Church’s business to be engaged in any activity that aims to save humanity from self-destruction, be it through sin, nuclear war or damage to the environment leading to a world that no longer can sustain human life. Any human action that causes harm to human life is the target of the primary concern of the Church. In this article I want to share my reflections on considering this statement. 

Self-destructive tendencies

To consider the Church’s primary concern to be to protect humanity from self-destruction suggests that there is a capacity and even tendency in human nature for self-destructive behaviour. Why would we, as living beings, enter into behaviour that was potentially life threatening to ourselves? 

Sigmund Freud described the concept of Thanatos, the death instinct, as a drive within human beings that went contrary to our instinct for survival as a way of explaining this tendency in human behaviour. He based this concept on the fact that the goal of all life is death. In other words, our time of life moves in one direction and the end of that journey for all of us is death. Freud believed that people typically channel their death instinct outwards in behaviours like aggression and violence. Freud explained that sometimes these instincts towards destruction can be directed inwards, resulting in self-harm or suicide. Freud concluded that people hold an unconscious desire to die but that the life instincts largely temper this wish. Death instincts were an extension of that compulsion wherein all living organisms have an instinctive “pressure towards death” that stands in stark contrast to the instinct to survive, procreate and satisfy desires.

But there are other factors as well. Some of our risk taking behaviour comes from our short sightedness in terms of short or long-term consequences to our actions, especially in our desire to seek pleasure or obtain what we need immediately. As well, because we live in a death denying society, we don’t consciously think of such behaviour as really life threatening. The younger we are the more indestructible we see ourselves. Even when we know we are taking a risk, we don’t conceive of ourselves dying, until it confronts us in a clear and undeniable way, like having a heart attack. Some people are more fearful of dying and less inclined to take risks, but others do not consider the risk real enough and so live their lives with the breaks are off. 

With the exploitation of the environment, those who are in a position to exploit it often consider the consequences so far into the future that it wont personally affect them. They deny the science of climate change because it is an ‘inconvenient truth.’ They do not see any immediate risk, or even significant life threatening risks to be encountered in their lifetime, and clearly don’t feel any responsibility for the rest of humankind. But all of us play a part in the degradation of the planet be it though carbon emissions by using personal or public transport, energy consumption, use of plastics, etc. Again, we don’t see that our small contribution could have any real impact on the destruction of humanity and so we justify or excuse the behaviour. 

If we take the Pope’s statement as our mission statement, then we are called to a radical stance, personally and publicly, against any action that contributes to humanity’s self-destruction. To do otherwise is to sin.

The Environmental Threat from Christianity

In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis acknowledges the criticism levelled at the Christian scriptures, which blames the Genesis text of justifying the unbridled exploitation of the natural world by the mandate given by God to humanity to subdue all that Earth (Gen 1:28). But Pope Francis refutes the claim by arguing that this is a misunderstanding of the scripture’s true intent which is God’s imparting of the responsibility of stewardship on humanity to look after creation and not exploit it. 

In my opinion, however, the greater threat imposed on the environment from Christianity is the Gnostic influenced view that anything to do with the material world is corrupt and only the soul has value because it is eternal. In simple terms, this view considers any efforts to save the planet or protect humanity from nuclear war, etc., as so much wasted energy as the soul is all the matters and its true home is heaven. As such, all efforts should be focused on saving the soul, not the body. 

This mentality was criticised by Karl Marx when he called religion the ‘Opium of the People.’ He considered that Christians were being anaesthetized against social action, allowing the capitalist system to exploit workers unapologetically, by preachers who encouraged them to offer their sufferings up to God so that their reward would be great in the next life. Why invest effort in making this world better when it will all fade away and was, after all, a valley of tears. Better to do all you can to ensure entrance into paradise after your death, which was an entrance by no means guaranteed given our sinful and corrupt physical body that was determined to drag our soul into hell with its unholy bodily urges and passions.

This view, with its focus on mortification of the flesh, is contrary to the biblical account of Creation that affirms God saw all that He had made and found it very good (Gen 1:31), or as the prophet Isaiah puts it, “the God who made earth and shaped it, he who made it firm. He did not create it in vain, he made it to be lived in.” (Is 45:18). 

This negative view of humanity has its foundation not in scripture, as such, but on Augustine’s doctrine of Original sin. This doctrine states that human beings inherit a tainted nature and a proclivity to sin through the fact of birth. Augustine developed his doctrine on a passage of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verse 12. Augustine’s primary formulation of original sin, however, was based on a Latin commentary on Paul’s letter in which there was a mistranslation of Rm 5:12. The mistranslation gave Augustine the impression that Paul was saying that through Adam’s sin, all have sinned, in the sense that Adam’s original sin was passed on through birth to every human being. A correct translation of Paul makes clear that what Paul was saying is that just as Adam sinned, we all have sinned and therefore death has come to all people.

Such views are understandable when taken in the context of the difficult lives of peasants throughout most of the Church’s history, full of uncertainty as a result of endless wars, poverty, plague, etc. Life was a valley of tears and relief was seen as only coming when you reached heaven. It cannot be justified today and negates the importance of the journey of life in terms of the spiritual growth of the individual through the experiences, both positive and negative, that life throws at us. It treats God’s creation as a joke on humanity, which needs to be ignored as a distraction from the only thing that matters, which is the next life. How’s that for encouraging Thanotos?

Such views, which still are ingrained in the minds of Catholics with a traditional upbringing, robs any inertia towards improving life for the rest of humanity on this planet and engenders an isolationist spirituality where the only thing I should focus on is my personal moral life in the glare of a judgmental God.

The Primary Motivation

The reason why our primary purpose as Church is to protect humanity from self-destruction, according to Pope Benedict (XVI), is love. “Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.” (Caritas in Veritate par 1) 

The focus on personal morality, of getting my soul into heaven, has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with fear and self-preservation. Love, on the other hand, focuses on the good of the other and has its “origins in God, Eternal Love and Truth.” (ibid) Those who primarily are concerned with defending Church doctrine show a high concern for ‘truth,’ but no love. Charity/love for them is an optional extra and even a distraction from the unwavering and fanatical loyalty to truth. Indeed, those who have nothing but judgment and condemnation for their fellow human beings will never be ‘fishers of men.’ They are not interested in humanity but in upholding the authority of their own egos as defenders of the truth. 

To the contrary, “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire law.” (ibid par 2)

So the primary reason we, as members of the Church, must engage in protecting humanity from self-destruction is our love for humanity, based on God’s love for humanity. Love is a commitment to the other person’s growth. It is a commitment to do all we can to help the other person grow into the person God calls them to be – their true self/their best self. If we allow the natural environment to be destroyed such that it cannot sustain life, then such an act prevents human beings from growing into their true/best self. If we allow people to live as if they can carelessly exploit the natural world then we are not encouraging them to become their true/best self. We encourage selfish behaviour rather than growth in taking responsibility and love. If we allow conditions to exist where by human life is taken, be it through war, hunger, capital punishment or abortion, we are preventing those people from growing into their true/best self and fail to act with love. If we fail to try to conscientise people so that they recognise that such behaviour is less than who God calls them to be, then we fail to act with love.

An important corrective

“God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs.” (Laudato Si par 80) 

There is a danger in misinterpreting what it means that the Church’s primary responsibility as protecting humanity from self-destruction. This misinterpretation relates to how far and in what direction you take that responsibility? In order to save humanity from itself, do you take away people’s free will to choose? For some, this would seem the only way to guarantee a successful result. How many reformers and revolutionaries have justified killing or imposing control in order to save humanity from itself? The argument could be made from a belief that one is acting out of love for humanity. Human beings are like children that don’t see the danger, but must be forcibly restrained to protect them from the danger you, as the parent, see. Such a view posits a God like knowledge in the mind of the one who would subject humanity to his or her will believing they know best. This is, in fact, the highest arrogance and megalomania. After all, God does not impose His will in such a way. “Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit Himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which He uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator.” (ibid)

Pope Francis has confidence that the “God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done.” (ibid) Even though it may be painful to watch people make the wrong choices, as no doubt it deeply saddens our Creator, we cannot overstep the boundary of freedom of conscience. “The traditional belief that individual conscience is the final arbiter of moral life has been forgotten here. The Church has been called to form consciences, not replace them.” (Amoris Laetitia par 37) An excellent way, then, that the Church can realise it’s primary mission is to form consciences to see that above all we must do all they can, in love, to protect humanity from self destruction.

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Murder, Mayhem, and Mercy

In this month’s Blog article, I share a reflection by Brian Gleeson, CP, on the East Timorese struggle for independence.

Lest we forget!

Timor-Leste (East Timor), an island nation north of Darwin, Australia, is one of the world’s newest countries. It has a long history with the Catholic Church, beginning with its colonization by the Portuguese Dominican mission in 1556. Timor-Leste was under Portuguese rule until it joined other Portuguese colonies in declaring its independence on November 28, 1975. Nine days later, it was invaded by Indonesia and struggled for independence until the international community finally responded in 1999. During the occupation, much of Timor-Leste’s already fragile infrastructure was destroyed, and even today the country is still recovering.

Thanks to the international news media, in 1999 the world became aware as never before, of the people of East Timor. Many people cheered at the good news that 78.5% of the East Timorese had voted for their independence from Indonesia, whose armies had invaded and annexed their territory in 1975.  Their hopes were shared across the world, that at long last they would be free to decide their own future, to choose their own leaders, and to govern themselves.

Within days, however, the hopes of the world’s newest nation turned sour. A local minority, made up mainly of murderous militias, armed to the teeth by the recently occupying Indonesian army, would not accept the people’s vote. They therefore turned against the majority of their fellow-citizens with a ferocity equal to anything that has ever been perpetrated against innocent people anywhere. In Dili, the capital, and in other cities and towns throughout the territory, these militias maimed and murdered thousands of pro-independence supporters, drove thousands from their homes, and forced thousands more to leave their own country as refugees. Once the people were gone from their homes, these militias systematically looted and plundered the people’s possessions, before finally burning their houses, their shops, and many of their public buildings to the ground.

What the world witnessed, thanks to the extensive news coverage, was nothing less than the implementation of a ‘scorched earth’ policy. It was as horrific as the sending of six million Jews to the gas chambers during World War II, the mysterious ‘disappearances’ of hundreds of citizens in Argentina and Chile during the military dictatorships there, and the more recent campaigns of so-called ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia and Kosovo.

It has been as totally baffling and unexpected that in our own time, human beings could treat one another with such hatred and violence. Perhaps as baffling and unexpected as the way Jesus was treated by the Jewish leaders of his time. God, the owner of the vineyard, expected his tenants to yield a harvest of ripe grapes, but it was sour grapes (vinegar) only, that they produced. 

In Timor-Leste, the torture, the suffering, and the crucifixion of Jesus happened all over again. Night after night, television screens displayed scenes of undiminished horror that left viewers wondering: Is there any hope for these poor broken people? Does anyone care?’ Perhaps some even wondered: ‘Does God care?’

It was just then, when all seemed lost, and after both the humanitarian agencies of the International Committee of the Red Cross and that of the United Nations were thrown out of the country, that the world became aware of two marvellous initiatives and developments. In the midst of the carnage and destruction, the first powerful ray of hope came from the leaders of the Church. Priests, nuns, and other church workers, had constantly supported the people, 98% of whom were Catholic, in their quest for human rights, democracy, and self-determination. (Church support and protection for freedom and justice, in fact, went back to the days when Timor-Leste had been a colony of Portugal). During this time, for that love and loyalty towards their people, many church persons paid the ultimate price. They too were expelled from their homes. They too were mutilated. They too were murdered. They too saw their own houses, and the church buildings of their people, ransacked, robbed, and burnt to cinders. But their great witness of faith during that darkest period of their history, was not in vain. Put to the test, they yielded an abundant harvest for God and for God’s people.

The second ray of hope, which arrived later, was the preparation and deployment of the Interfet (the International Force for East Timor), led by Australian troops. At enormous personal risk, this Interfet force went in to protect the surviving East Timorese from further murder and mayhem, and to prepare for the re-building of their country almost from zero. Viewers became amazed at the integrity, the decency, the humanity, the generosity and the restraint of the troops, who, under mandate of the United Nations, entered East Timor not as aggressors but as peace-keepers and Good Samaritans, indeed as agents of divine mercy and compassion.

Finally, the fruits of Timor-Leste’s struggle for independence were firmly established on May 20, 2002. Further good news is that, bit-by-bit, its relationship with its former enemy has steadily improved. Today the relationship is quite peaceful and harmonious, and Indonesia is Timor-Leste’s main trading partner, and regularly contributes to its development.

Let us pray that God will continue to bless and protect the government of Timor-Leste, its peace-keeping forces, its Church leaders and workers, and the people of God entrusted to their care.

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Peter’s Rubbish School

In this month’s blog, I’d like to tell you about the ‘Rubbish School’ in Cambodia and the work one of our Australian Passionists, Peter Gardiner CP, is doing with them.

Late last year, Tom McDonough CP, the provincial of our province, asked Peter Gardiner CP, who is part of our JPIC committee, if he would be willing to spend some time in our PASPAC region, teaching some of our students English. Peter very quickly and happily agreed to this proposal.

So Peter enrolled in a CELTA course (Cambridge English Language Assessment) to teach English to speakers of Other Languages. This is an internationally recognised qualification. Halfway through the course, the pandemic blew up here in Australia, like the rest of the world. Peter managed, however, to complete the rest of the course online.

Because of the current travel restrictions, due to the pandemic, there is no hope at present of teaching face to face, as Peter had hoped to. He has, however, undertaken to do some teaching online, through our newly discovered best friend, Zoom.

Peter acquired one student in Vietnam and spent July and August teaching our Indonesian students. For Peter, it was wonderful to be able to be part of the formation of our future brothers, and see their passion for learning, and ministering to the Crucified.

But typical of Peter’s JPIC interests, he has also taken to bringing the fruits of these studies to some volunteer work in teaching English online.

It was through one of our other fellows, Br. Jim Coucher CP, that his attention was brought to a video that Jim had seen online on the BBC news site concerning Cambodia’s ‘Rubbish School’ where kids pay their tuition with plastic. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-53689175.

Here we are introduced to Kimleng Sang, who is a tour/photography guide in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Because of the pandemic, his work dried up, there being no tourists there at the moment. Also their schools are in lockdown. So Kimleng Sang decided to use his free time to start up a little school in his home. He is offering English lessons to local children. They pay their fees by collecting plastic. There is no recycling facility in the country, so what this set up does is that it has two benefits: the kids learn English, and the village gets cleaned up. They clean, recycle and repurpose the plastic into various bits and pieces.

Peter was intrigued and so tracked Kimleng Sang down on Facebook and added him as a friend. At first, he was running classes for older children, then decided to run some classes for the younger children. He advertised for someone to help, so Peter contacted him, and now teaches the children three days a week, for one hour each day.

Peter did check with his friends in Siem Reap (where we have had some pilgrimages building houses for poor rural families) that everything was above board, and okay, which it was.

Each day, Peter prepares a class on various topics, mostly basic words and phrases. He shows some video and then explains the concepts further. Kimleng then takes over, and using the slides and drills the kids in English.

“To be honest, it’s an absolute hoot,” says Peter. “The students are incredibly enthusiastic and willing to learn. The number of students varies, but we have had up to 26 students.”

Peter has found it a tremendous privilege to be involved with the Rubbish School. They are doing great work in improving their environment. And it gives the children an opportunity to learn for the future.

The future for many children, especially rural kids, is pretty bleak in Cambodia. With Siem Reap’s proximity to Angkor Wat, there are opportunities for employment as tour guides, restaurant workers, hotel employees, shop assistants and so on. It gives them an opportunity to enhance their future and their children’s children’s future.

Public education is free by law, in Cambodia, but ‘supplemental’ lessons for English or other extracurricular subjects cost extra ranging from US$5 a class to hundreds of dollars, depending on the school and its location. This could be a steep investment in a country where the average person earns under $1,400.00 a year.

For poor families in remote areas, the children are sent to beg for money to increase their family income, making it difficult for them to justify paying for extra classes.

But not only are the children gaining tools that will afford them a future in terms of work, the payment method is making, of these young minds, the environmental ambassadors for the future. It helps them to understand the use, management and recycling of waste products.

Tourist sites in countries like Cambodia are often clogged with garbage. Plastic bags and bottles are tossed out without a second thought, many of which end up in garbage-choked cities or smothering once idyllic beaches. Cambodia accumulated 3.6 million tonnes of waste last year, according to the country’s environment minister. A mere 11% of this is recycled, while almost half of it is burned or thrown into rivers causing widespread pollution. The rest is trucked to ever-growing landfills and dump sites, where the piles of garbage emitting methane gas can lead to unexpected and dangerous fires as well as add to climate change.

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