Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wanted: a theology of mining (part 3)

Mining Revenue Sharing Agreement - August 24, 2010 Every now and then I look back on he statistics for Points of Inflection.  Consistently, the posts that attract the greatest number of hits are the ones on "Wanted: a theology of mining": part one and part two.   It's not hard to guess why: on the one hand, mining raises a whole cluster of significant theological and ethical questions and, on the other, it seems (at least from my searching) that there has been very little written about this relationship.  I hope that better qualified people than I am will get into this discussion!

Meanwhile, in this post I want to begin laying out some ideas about the methodology for a constructive "theology of mining".

 1. A "theology of mining" is not the same as an "ethics of mining", though it has ethical implications. "Theology of mining", like theology of anything else, should situate mining within the whole Christian narrative of creation, fall, incarnation, and redemption; should correlate the practicalities of mining with the large themes of grace, creation, and restoration.

2. A theology of mining should be attentive to the use of mining language in Scripture.  When such language is used at length, it is often metaphorical.  There seem to me to be two key metaphors:
(a) The search for wisdom is compared to mining, as in Job 28 which I already quoted. According to Crenshaw, wisdom is "the reasoned search for specific ways to ensure personal well-being, to make sense of vexing anomalies, and to transmit this hard-earned knowledge so that successive generations will embody it". To compare this search to mining both reflects an understanding of mining and encourages ecological reflection on the wisdom tradition more generally.
(b) The refining of metals is compared to moral and ceremonial purification, e.g. in Isaiah 48:10, Malachi 3:1-3.

3. However, a theology of mining should not be bound to the specific Scriptural references to mining.  Other theological themes will be relevant and important.  Among these, I'd include the "community of creation" theme (which in various places includes the stones and mountains, i.e. the objects of our mining enterprises, as part of the community that, together with human beings, praises God); the "community across time" theme (we are linked to future generations, and receive form the past); the "sacrifice" theme (related to meat-eating in the OT: after the Flood, animals yield their lives for human food, but they do not thereby become mere objects on which we act... an analogy for mining?)

4. A theology of mining has to be embedded in a larger theological story about what human beings are called to do on this earth and what "sustainability" means in a biblical narrative that has a beginning and a goal.

Photo:  British Columbia Govt Photo, licensed under Creative Commons.   Mining Revenue Sharing Agreement - August 24, 2010 - Forests Minister Pat Ball, front right, and Mining Minister Randy Hawes, second right, with Chief Shane Gottfriedson of the Tk'emlups First Nation, left, at the historic mining revenue-sharing agreement between B.C. and the Stk'emlupsemc of the Secwepemc Nation in Kamloops.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Have we reached the end of economic growth?

That's the title of a piece in the Washington Post this evening.  (link here).  The picture on the left also comes from that piece, with the caption "Only flying cars can save us". 

The article reports on an  analysis by Robert Gordon at the National Bureau of Economic Research, entitled Is US Economic Growth Over?  The article is fascinating as evidence that the possibility of a "steady state" economy is entering mainstream economic analysis.  But don't expect any discussion of the positive benefits that such an economy might provide.  The prospect that Gordon might be right is described in the Post piece as "doom and gloom", "unnerving pessimism", and so on.

But why should this be the case? It is equally plausible to envisage the "end of growth" as a process of maturing, like a teenager entering adulthood; or even as a process of transformative change, like a caterpillar (another voracious consumer) becoming a butterfly. 

It would be a troubled teenager who regarded the news that s/he could not physically grow for ever as "doom and gloom" in any serious sense.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Sustaining mathematics" - a colloquium

My department runs a weekly "Mathematics Colloquium" - a presentation, usually by a visiting speaker but sometimes by a department member, which introduces and explains some new development in and around mathematics.

This week, for the first colloquium of the new academic year, the colloquium committee invited me as the outgoing department head to share some reflections about what I'd learned since taking up that office in 2007.  I tried to organize my thoughts around the theme of "Sustaining Mathematics", and on sustaining four "ecosystems" each of which is embedded in the next one:
  1. Personal intellectual life
  2. The culture of mathematics
  3. Public support for and understanding of mathematics
  4. The global environment
... and under (4), I gave a quick run-through of some basic calculations related to climate change (mostly working from the excellent blog Do The Math, especially this post.)

If you are interested in the presentation, you can find the slides here.

 For my mathematical audience, these calculations were easy to follow.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me that quite a few had not really engaged with this material before, even at this quite modest level.  One of the points I tried to make - I don't know whether I succeeded or not - is that as technical educators we have a responsibility not just to think about these questions for ourselves but also to develop our students' ability to engage with them in an informed way.

I'm interested in hearing about other peoples' efforts to do that.