How I stopped worrying and learned to love global warming….

When Confucius was asked what his immediate priority would be if he took over the government, he answered, “I would put the words right.”

He defended his view by arguing that if the words are wrong, people will not believe what the government says, and if they don’t believe they will not obey the laws, and if they don’t obey the laws there will be chaos. He did not have a mechanical view of language, but advised people to study good models, and to speak honestly, to give a true account of the nation. Weasley language leads to weasley policies which do not effect what they claim.

For example, take “net zero emissions” Now you might think that this means that any actual carbon emissions are offset by actual reductions now of the carbon in the atmosphere. No such luck: net zero emissions means that actual emissions are offset by purely notional reductions in carbon, to be achieved in the future by planted trees and the technology of carbon capture. Paying for these future means of carbon reduction allows me to continue polluting now.

So Net Zero Carbon actually means lots of carbon plus a good story.

If we want to survive we may need to put the words “net zero” right by going back to talking about real zero emissions now, and legislating for that, no matter the screams and threats from the petrochemical corporations.

Confucius talked about putting the words right first. The Gospel,of John says, “in the beginning was the word.” Confucius spoke of making a true account, and Sarah Ruden’s recent translation of the Gospel says, “In the beginning was the true account.” The Jesus tradition like the Confucian, sees the primacy of right language which comes from beyond but is used amongst human beings by the wise man or messiah. Jesus disliked promotional language. “Why do you call me good? Only one is good, namely God.” “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more comes from the devil.” His whole ministry can be seen as an assault on the false meanings given by religious leaders to words like “sinner,” “just” “blessed” “saved”. He tells Pilate that people who belong to the truth will hear his voice. Like a true COP26 politician, Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

As Confucius and the Christian tradition know, the true account is foundational, and can be discerned by honest people with help from the True Leaders. We must bring the rigour of our spiritual traditions to bear on what we are being told about net zero carbon. And the rest. If we put the words right we may be able to put the world right.


  1. Mike, the only reason the petrochemical companies operate is because people buy their products. If there were fewer people, there would be less demand. I’ve yet to hear anyone at COP26 mention what is the fundamental problem – world population growth.
    Many people used to have large families on the assumption of early childhood mortality. Modern medicine now gives these children much greater life expectancy, but family size has not reduced. Until people are taught about contraception, this problem will continue. Some charities are doing excellent work in this field, eg CSPB in Burkina Faso for whom I raise funds. Let me know if your church could support them for their Lent Appeal.


    1. I don’t buy Alasdair’s premises. The countries that practice birth control (most of the ‘West’) or birth limits (China!) are still the largest contributors to the emissions that drive global warming. I’m furthermore very uncomfortable with a French organization attempting to teach population control in an African country that was part


      1. Sorry, I didn’t finish my comment. I meant to refer to Burkina Faso as a former French colony. Is CPSB just another remnant of white-European colonialism? And no, I’m not a woke progressive seeing racism everywhere, but I do have concerns about any western entity teaching former colonies how to live, while ignoring the changes that we in the West should make, which I believe is emmock’s point.


        1. I guess if you think girls getting married and pregnant at 14, or being sold into prostitution if they are pregnant but not married, or FGM, are traditional tribal practices that it’s wrong for us in the “West” to criticise, then you are entitled to your opinion. However, the government (and girls) in Burkina Faso are grateful to the CSPB for the work they do in improving their lives.
          I don’t remember Jesus saying “treat you neighbour as yourself but don’t bother if it’s a former colony”.


  2. I cringe at the thought of Sarah Ruden being quoted as a translator of the Gospels. I don’t own her ‘translation’ but I read a very lengthy and thorough review some time ago and I was disgusted by the examples offered in the review. What is possibly gained by writing ‘account’ for logos/word?


  3. Sarah Ruden is a splendid Quaker with whom I have exchanged many arguments about translation. I do not agree with her translation in this case, but it foregrounds one of the philosophical meanings of logos in Koine culture, and deserves consideration. The issue of a “true account” is certainly present in the gospel.


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