A Pleasant Surprise

It was surprising to read last week that the United States is vying with Saudi Arabia to lead the world in oil production. Surprising but also a reflection of our insatiable thirst for oil and other fossil fuels and our blind determination to do whatever it takes to extract oil, gas,  and coal from the earth. But after attempting to digest that news, it was even more surprising to read the delightful news that Saudi Arabia plans to focus its attention at home on renewable energy — clean energy (if we allow that nuclear is “clean.”) A recent story begins as follows:

Earlier this week, Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, a top spokesperson for Saudi Arabia, said that Saudi Arabia intends to generate 100 percent of its power from renewable sources, such as nuclear, solar, and low-carbon energies.

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source,” said the prince, whose country holds approximately 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves, according to the International Energy Agency. “If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world.”

Nuclear energy is certainly not “renewable” by any stretch of the term. And one could argue that it is not “clean” either; despite the fact that it produces little in the way of greenhouse gasses it nonetheless produces highly toxic waste that we do not seem to be able to hide anywhere (a situation that recently led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to order the cessation of licensing of new generating plants until further notice). And there is always the danger of a nuclear accident, as we saw recently in Japan.

But putting that aside, we must applaud a nation that sets an example for a world that is currently busy making that nation very wealthy. Given that many in our Congress are reluctant to even admit that global warming is a reality, one might hope that this example from one of our Middle-Eastern friends will have a positive effect on even the thickest skull in Washington. Further, one might dare hope that the oil and gas companies in this country will now read the handwriting on the wall and get on the renewable energy bandwagon and invest some of their huge profits and their considerable political influence in Washington (which is directly tied to their huge profits, of course) to the cause of clean energy. It is the wave of the future, whether or not they admit it.

There are small clean energy steps being taken by various state legislatures around the country and bold investors such as Warren Buffet and T. Boone Pickens. But the Congress has yet to get solidly behind the clean energy movement despite the studies showing that jobs can be created and a weak economy boosted by investing in alternative energy — and there is money to be made, as Al Gore has learned. Fossil fuels, to state the obvious, are a finite resource and at some point we will be forced to “go green.” Better sooner than later for the planet’s sake.

Executing Sorcerers

The headline reads:” Saudi Arabia executes woman for sorcery.” My stomach turns, but I try to think my way through it. In this day and age when we are told not to be “judgmental,” especially when we live in a different culture, who are we to say that this is wrong? It’s just something they do over there. We are not in a position to judge. Hog Wash! This is nonsense! The execution of a woman in her 60s for sorcery, anywhere in the world in this day and age, is simply wrong. And I am saying this knowing I live in a different culture where we like to think we have evolved a bit morally and would never do such a thing since we ourselves stopped burning and hanging witches. I would add that my judgment is not determined by cultural perspective. Affected, yes, determined, no. It’s simply a matter of applying a couple of straightforward principles that are common to ethics and religion alike.

I would certainly not claim that everything we do in our culture is preferable to what is done in Saudi Arabia — or anywhere else. I am not ethnocentric, not given to crowing about my culture’s superiority as a culture. Indeed, the notion of “cultural superiority” makes no sense whatever. Heaven knows, we do things in this culture that make me blanch, as it probably does people reading about it in other cultures — such as torturing prisoners to get information from them or incarcerating suspected terrorists without a trial. We have much to account for and cannot as a culture claim moral superiority to any other culture, per se. But there are things done in other cultures, as well as our own, that deserve condemnation. And that’s another matter entirely.

That is to say, cross-cultural value judgments are never out or order. Anyone with a brain, who can collect the facts and weigh the evidence can make a judgment about what is done in this culture or anywhere else on earth. We know that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no written criminal code and that this is the second such execution in recent months. Ignoring due process, not to mention the execution itself, is wrong because it violates fairness and respect for persons, not to mention the tolerance that we think sets enlightened humans apart. It’s not clear what the sorcery involved in this case amounted to, because the Saudi newspapers have not been forthcoming; but from what I have read, it did not involve harm to any other person. The woman was said to have “tricked people into thinking she could treat illnesses.” Apparently she could not, even though she charged as much as $800.00 a session.

This comes under the heading of “a fool is born every minute,” or “buyer beware.” It suggests that the woman herself was a bit daft, and she should perhaps have been stopped, and put away in the Saudi Home For The Bewildered, but execution for what appears to be a petty “crime,” is a moral outrage.

In this case being “judgmental” is perfectly sensible, and even called for. It does not mean “forcing” our way of thinking on someone else. It does not involve initiating our own witch hunt, or a call to arms in order to invade the country and bring the enemy to their knees. It is a sign of human compassion and a concern for what is acceptable moral behavior — in any culture. In general, the Saudis treat women abominably and that is deplorable. For the most part that is their business and none of ours. But when they decapitate a woman for a trivial offense, they have crossed the line and deserve the condemnation of all other thinking persons. It’s all about judgment, which is the burden we bear as thinking human beings who share the planet.