Hello, my name is Ian Sutton — a warm welcome to you.
We are all aware that climate change is a serious problem, and that it is getting worse, much worse. We are also aware that society’s response to this crisis has been woefully inadequate. Nor is that response likely to improve.
Now is the time for the church to step up and provide much-needed leadership. Technology is not going to save us — new leadership that has a spiritual basis is called for.
At this site we try to figure out what form that leadership might take. We also recognize that action on its own is not enough — we need a new way of thinking, a new theology, to help guide us through what are going to be increasingly difficult times.
Once more, welcome. If you would like to learn more about my personal journey please check out the post My Journey. To join in the conversation, please send us a message using our Contact Box. Alternatively join the discussion at our LinkedIn group.
Predicaments, Dilemmas and Opportunities
We are entering a new and rather scary world. Climate change, along with resource depletion and biosphere destruction, poses an existential threat to human civilization.
Until recently we mostly either denied that these changes were taking place or we simply ignored them. Climate change was just one problem among many. That way of thinking is gradually changing; there is an increasing awareness that human actions are causing climate change and that the consequences are not just one problem among many; the issue is bigger than that. The use of phrases such as 'The End of the World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI)' are no longer confined to a fringe element of society. Nevertheless, there is still a general assumption that “They will come up with something”, that some new technology will allow us to maintain our present energy-guzzling lifestyle and so that economic growth continues non-stop — even though we live on a planet with finite resources and which is running out of space for our waste products.
Yet the perception that technology will save us is starting to shift. Technology can indeed slow down the rate at which the climate changes and technology can mitigate the impact of those changes. But technology cannot restore the climate to what it was a generation ago, technology cannot create oil and other natural resources from nowhere, and technology cannot restore species that are now extinct. Slowly, we are coming to grips with the reality that, if we are to avoid catastrophe, it we ourselves who will have to change. We will have to learn to live in equilibrium with the natural world, rather than merely exploiting it.
The situation is gloomy but it does provide an opportunity for people of faith and for the church to provide leadership. But first we need to abandon the 'Church of Endless Material Progress' and then develop a faith system that is appropriate for the world that lies ahead. The goal of this book is to explore what that faith system might look like, and provide some suggestions as to how the church may be able to provide leadership.
Mission Statement and Three Themes
Here is our Mission Statement. (It is described in greater detail at the Mission Statement page.)
To work with people of faith and with churches to provide technically sound leadership in response to the predicaments of a finite world.
In order to meet the goals of the Mission Statement the discussions at this site and in the blog posts revolve around the following three themes:
Understand and tell the truth.
Accept and adapt.
Live within the biosphere.
These themes are described here.
Time Is Pressing
When negotiating with other people there is always some degree of give and take. For example, if two political parties are working out a health care program they can take the time needed to reach a middle ground. But when it comes to climate change, resource depletion and the destruction of the biosphere we cannot negotiate with the laws of physics, thermodynamics and biology as if they are people or human organizations. The laws of nature do not negotiate — they are what they are; they could care less about our wishes, hopes, dreams, fears or imagined destiny. From nature’s point of view we are just another species which has overshot its resource base.
One of the themes of this site is that we need to ‘Understand and Tell the Truth’. One of those truths is that ‘Nature does not negotiate’ or ‘Nature bats last’.
The theme of this site is to do with how people of faith can respond to the climate change predicaments. We have another site — Technology in a Changing Climate — which looks at how these same predicaments can be addressed through the use of technology, particularly alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen and ammonia.
These two approaches do not seem to be in alignment. The faith-based response assumes that there are no solutions, and that therefore we need to focus on adaptation. The technological response assumes the opposite — if we take corrective actions then we can avoid the worst consequences of climate change. However, by considering them both, it may be possible to work out a path forward which combines insights from both approaches.
God Is No Longer Dead
In the late 19th century Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900) declared that,
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. . . Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Nietzche meant that Enlightenment values and the success of science and technology were so effective at solving our problems that there was no longer any need for God. Humanism had triumphed. When it became clear just how much damage we were doing to the Earth and its biosphere, Stewart Brand said something similar,
We are as gods and might as well get good at it.
Unfortunately, we have not become good at preserving our only home; humanism has hit its own limits. Finite resources are being depleted, the climate is changing and we are destroying the biosphere. So maybe there is a need to resuscitate the idea of God.
Where Is God In All This?
After a long discussion to do with climate change, a friend at church asked, “Where is God in all this?” Here are a few thoughts.
1. Religion Becomes Important
Religion will, once again, be important. It will matter to ordinary people because God is no longer dead. Currently science and technology explain the universe; they also respond to our needs and concerns. If we are ill we go to the doctor before adding our name to the church’s prayer list. As climate change and resource limits start to bite, science and technology will be seen as being the cause of our problems. Their hubris will be followed by nemesis. and loss of faith. People's faith in the ‘Church of Material Progress’ will be badly shaken. They will look for meaning in other ways.
Expressions of religion in this new world are likely to be non-establishment. Climate change is such a basic challenge to the manner in which we run our society that the church itself will likely have to go through a reformation, not a restoration. Many people of faith also believe in endless material progress. That belief will have to be challenged.
3. Many Cultures
We have already seen that we cannot negotiate with the laws of nature — they are what they are. This means, therefore, that church leaders (both ordained and lay) will need to understand those laws, at least at a basic level. Theologians of the future may not be mathematicians or scientists. But they will need to have a basic understanding of topics such as thermodynamics and systems engineering, along with their traditional skills to do with Bible study and spiritual leadership.
In this context, it is important that the church’s statements to do with climate change pass the “red face” test. For example, the Episcopal Church published a policy statement to do with climate change that is worthy in intent, but that does not address engineering or project management realities. (The statement is discussed in the article Episcopal Renewable Energy Proposal.)
Church leaders will also need to work with people from other cultures and with people who have a variety of educational and career backgrounds. For example, the oil companies are criticized for causing the emissions that cause global warming (even though we are all more than happy to use the products that they supply). However, instead of just criticizing these companies, church leaders may find it advantageous to work with oil companies because they provide attributes, managerial skills and resources that the church lacks.
4. Leaving the ‘Church of Material Progress’
New circumstances require new ways of thinking. As Albert Einstein famously said,
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
A starting point for a new way of thinking is an understanding that we will have to leave the ‘Church of Material Progress’ because ‘progress’, as we have come to understand the word, calls for ceaseless economic growth. But we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet; indeed, non-stop growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. This means that we will have to live a much simpler lifestyle than what we have now. And those who are already more prosperous will have to make sacrifices.
The following passages are from 1 Timothy and Matthew 6.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?