Three Themes

One of the purposes of this site is to provide a framework for people of faith to do with climate change and related issues. The section to do with Theology provides some thoughts. The following three themes thread through the articles, posts and discussions at this site. They are:

 

  1. Understand and tell the truth.

  2. Accept and adapt.

  3. Live within the biosphere — materially and spiritually.

Three railroad tracks Richmond VA symbolize three approaches to climate change


In the August 13th 2021 edition of The Guardian newspaper, the columnist Rebecca Solnit said,

We need to demolish and dismantle the fossil fuel industry by 2030. We know what to do. We know how to do it.

 

Ms. Solnit may have thought that she was communicating a hard truth to her readers. She was not. Here are some reasons why not.

 

  1. Demolishing the fossil fuel industry by the year 2030 would also demolish the world’s economies. For example, our way of living is utterly dependent on trucks to deliver food from the farmer to the food processor to the grocery store. Those trucks are powered by diesel engines; there no replacements for them in the near future. If we "demolish and dismantle" the fossil fuel industry  within the next eight years millions of people would starve.

  2. We don’t know “what to do”. The internet is full of posts describing our predicaments. There are fewer articles and posts suggesting solutions. And there are almost none that would actually work at scale (see the post Engineering and Project Management Realities)  given the amount of time we have available. .Most responses consist of general statements such as “think local” or “lobby your Congressman”. Such responses are worthy, but not very specific.

  3. Nor do we know “how to do it”. Going back to the issue of the trucks that are utterly foundational to our whole society, we do not know how to build an electrically-powered truck that has the range and capacity of the conventional vehicles. There is talk of electric trucks, and a few prototypes have been built. But they are not available in the numbers required, not even close. One reason for this lack of electrically-powered trucks is the fundamental power to weight problem that has yet to be solved. This is not a matter of social or political will — it is to do with basic physics.

  4. We live in a world ravaged by a pandemic, yet 30% of the population will not wear a face covering or receive a proven vaccination. Realistically, are these people willing to give up their automobiles and their  fossil-fuel based lifestyle within the next few years because some climate scientist says so?

​1. Understand and Tell the Truth

​1. Understand and Tell the Truth

 
Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”   John 18:38​

Jeremiah and M. King Hubbert

The importance of total truthfulness can be seen in the admonitions of Augustine of Hippo. Some thoughts on being truthful are provided below. A more detailed discussion is provided in the post 1. Truth.

 

Understand the Truth

Ms. Solnit's point of view is very widespread. Basically, she and many others are saying that, if we make the effort and exert the political will we can achieve a Net Zero world and resolve our climate change problems. Unfortunately, these people are wrong — they do not understand the basic physics and thermodynamics. Nor do they grasp the basic project management and engineering challenges that prevent their good ideas from coming to fruition in such a short time scale.

If people of faith are to effectively respond to climate change and our other dilemmas then they need to understand these basic parameters. Which is why the first theme suggested here is to do with understanding the truth. In other words, understanding the truth requires a person to carry out the necessary homework and to research topics with which they are not comfortable.

Tell the Truth

Telling the truth goes well beyond simply not lying. It means having the courage and patience to convey a message, even though the audience either could care less, or they don’t understand; they may even be actively hostile.

 

There are two role models that provide guidance and encouragement. The first is Jeremiah. He foresaw the destruction of the tribes of Israel and the exile to Babylon. Nevertheless, he kept at it, even though no one was listening. The second example of a person who showed showed the courage of his convictions was M. King Hubbert. Even though his famous paper challenged the business model of his employer, Shell Oil, he was willing to speak about what we now call Peak Oil at conferences and other professional gatherings.
 

2. Accept and Adapt

 


Climate change is not actually a problem — it is a predicament. Problems have solutions, predicaments do not. When faced with a predicament we can respond and adapt, but we cannot make it go away. It is this reality that lies behind so much climate denial, in its various forms. People do not want to give up their current lifestyle and the opportunity for more economic prosperity in the future.

The reality of climate change is not an excuse for fatalism, and we should make every effort to slow down the changes that are taking place, or else mitigate their consequences. But we need to recognize that there are no technical solutions that will maintain Business as Usual; there is no deus ex machina that will descend from the clouds and make all of our difficulties go away.


People of faith, Christians in particular, should accept this reality. There is nothing in the faith that promises economic prosperity. This is why climate change actually provides an opportunity for the church to provide leadership in difficult times.

Further thoughts on this topic are provided at the post Accept and Adapt.

 

3. Live Within The Biosphere

Genesis 1:28 says,

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."


Well, we certainly aced that one. Now we need a theology that stresses the need to live in harmony with the earth, not to “rule over” it.

The following three passages are from the Gospel of John and from the book of Ecclesiastes. They provide guidance for a future that is more in harmony with nature and that encourages us to live within nature’s natural rhythms.

John

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Ecclesiastes

The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

 

Further discussion to do with living in harmony with the natural world is provided at the pages Biosphere and Gaia.

Need for Caution


In all the forecasting and prognosticating that we do, we always need to remain humble. As we discuss in the post Through A Glass Darkly, none of us knows what the future holds — the best that we can do is perceive an outline of future events.

 

The same caution applies to the thoughts provided in this post — we don’t know what responses will work out for the best. We simply try to do the best we can with the resources we have.