BP and the Royal Shakespeare Company

Royal Shakespeare Company Theater

Many of you will be familiar with the recent kerfuffle in which the Royal Shakespeare Company decided to reject financial sponsorship from the oil giant BP. BP had been providing tickets for young people at a deeply discounted priced of £5, equivalent to $6 (US).

There are many angles to this story, but one I would like to consider is the way in which we blame energy companies such as BP for our consumption of oil products. It is true that some of the oil company tactics to do with suppressing climate change information have been less than commendable. But the people who protest BP and the oil industry need to face up to the fact that we — all of us — are “to blame”. Oil  and natural gas are being extracted, refined, burned and turned into thousands of “essential” products because that is what we want and need in order to maintain our current lifestyle.

Do the protestors recognize that there is no way in which a small, island nation can support 55-60 million people without an abundant supply of fossil fuels? The population of the British Isles during Shakespeare’s time was in the region of 5 million. Is it our goal to return to that population level? If so, how? (And no, we cannot transition to alternative fuels and maintain our current lifestyle.)

When I look at the picture of the inside of the theater I see floodlights powered by fossil fuel energy and I see people wearing clothes made of artificial fabrics derived from fossil fuels. Rather than protest BP, would it not be more effective to forbid the use of artificial light and to insist that the audience members wear only homespun clothes?

Many of us are quick to challenge those who deny the realities of climate change and other Age of Limits issues. But maybe we are all of us, to some degree, deniers of one kind of another. I am a member of the Episcopalian church. The focus of our church service is the Eucharist. During that ceremony we hear the words from 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26. But we should also consider verse 28, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.”

 

Proper 23: The Enemy Is Physics

Physics and the Age of Limits

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits.

Appointed Gospel

This week’s gospel (October 13th 2019, Year C) is taken from Luke 17:11-19.

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

This passage to do with faith is a continuation of last week’s gospel reading, Proper 21: Lazarus and Fences.

It can be difficult to have faith when we look at our predicaments. So few people seem to understand what is going on, and even fewer are taking action to try and change our direction. But this gospel passage tells us to keep the faith and to be grateful for any progress that is made.

Episcopal Bishops

Many bishops of the Episcopal church joined the recent climate strikes. The following is taken from the church’s web site.


Tens of thousands of young people are mobilizing at this moment in New York and across the United States, standing up for climate action and climate justice. Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist who electrified the audience at the UN Climate Summit in Poland last year (2018) came by fossil-free boat to join the mobilizing youth. We, a group of Green Bishops of The Episcopal Church have stepped out of our Fall meeting here in Minnesota to voice our support for this youth mobilization.

We Green Episcopal Bishops resolve to support a network of young climate activists in The Episcopal Church, building up to an Episcopal youth presence at the important United Nations Climate Summit in 2020, most likely to be held in the United Kingdom. Called COP (Conference of Parties) 26, the summit in 2020 is so crucial because it will be the 5-year stocktaking of how the world is doing keeping its commitments to the Paris Agreement. Even more importantly, we will all be called upon in 2020 to “raise our ambition” on climate action.

The Episcopal Church is already committed to action that will support a 1.5°C ceiling on global warming above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. We are working from the individual and household level up to regions and to the level of the whole Church to make the necessary transition to a sustainable life.

The Episcopal Church is also committed to climate justice, standing in solidarity with vulnerable people – the Gwich’in People of Alaska, the Standing Rock Tribe, Caribbean island peoples, and the people of Polynesia, and others, all of whose ways of life, and in some cases their very lives, are already threatened and disastrously changed by climate chaos. We recognize that climate change joins other scourges such as social violence and poverty in displacing millions of people worldwide, and we will work to make sure that all immigrants and asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect.

Finally, all we do as Episcopalians following the Way of Jesus is done with prayer, faith and trust. We turn to God for guidance, courage, and compassion.

The reaction of myself and many of my friends in the Episcopal church is to be grateful that our leaders are stepping out and providing much needed leadership. Their message provides a link to the church’s Creation Care web site (many of us are involved in local Creation Care activities at the diocese and parish level). The Anglican Communion has a similar Season of Creation site.

But, and there’s always a but . . . One of the purposes of the posts at this blog and the book New City of God is to take a careful look at the scientific background to statements such as these. After all, Greta Thunberg (G.T.), the young lady who started these strikes, says “listen to the science” and “our enemy right now is physics”.

With these thoughts in mind, I make the following comments to do with the bishops’ statement.

  1. G.T. did not arrive in a “fossil-free boat”. From the look of the boat it appears as if it has carbon fiber sails. The making of such sails, and of the boat’s hull, requires an enormous input of fossil fuel energy per kilogram-kilometer travelled. If we compare the fossil fuels required to take G.T. on a commercial airplane (including the fossil fuels needed to build the airplane and its infrastructure pro-rated for the number of flights) I would be curious to know which is more environmentally friendly. Actually the most energy-effective way to cross the Atlantic is in a spare cabin on a large cargo ship. This would give a very low energy consumption in terms of joules / (kilometer * kilogram of body weight).
  2. If the Episcopal Church is committed to the 1.5°C target how does it propose to get there? Such a goal requires substantial sacrifice on the part of the church members. Has that sacrifice been calculated and explained? Moreover, aren’t the bishops being unrealistic. Given the lack of action at the national and international level, and given that, once carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere it stays in the atmosphere, shouldn’t we accept that 1.5°C is going to happen?
  3. The above two points are rather picky, but my third point is of the greatest concern. The statement commits to “climate action and climate justice”. Both goals are, of course, fully in line with Christian mission. But, by splitting the focus, confusion can be created. This is not just a theoretical point. Earlier this year members of Congress proposed a ‘Green New Deal’ based on mitigation of the impacts of climate change. The same document also proposed various social justice goals. What happened was that its opponents sensibly picked on the social justice part to effectively challenge the entire message. They said that the GND was just another way for the government to control our lives. This allowed them to successfully avoid discussing climate change issues. It’s true that addressing climate change will likely help poorer people the most, and that’s good. But I suggest that the focus should be only on climate change such that all people — rich and poor alike — benefit.

My comments may seem to be unnecessarily pedantic and even ungracious. But, if the church is to provide leadership with regard to climate change and other Age of Limits issues, then we need to make sure that we address the scientific, engineering and project management realities correctly.


The Carbon Trap

In his 2012 paper The Ladder of Awareness Paul Chefurka talks about understanding our predicaments as developing in the following five stages.

  1.  Dead asleep;
  2.  Awareness of one fundamental problem;
  3.  Awareness of many problems;
  4.  Awareness of the interconnection between many problems; and
  5.  Awareness that the predicament encompasses all aspects of life.

He has now written an equally useful piece entitled the Carbon Trap. Here is what he says.

Whether we realize it or not, everyone living on planet Earth today is caught in what I have come to call the “carbon trap”. The nature of the trap is simple, and can be described in one sentence:

Our continued existence depends on the very thing that is killing us – the combustion of our planet’s ancient stocks of carbon.

This unfortunate situation was not intentional, and is no one’s fault.

The trap was constructed well outside of our conscious view or understanding.

Its design came from our evolved desires for status, material comfort and security.

We recognized its seductive promise long before we knew enough science to discover its hidden hook.

It was built with the best of intentions by well-meaning scientists and engineers, whose knowledge of the consequences was both incomplete and clouded by their own evolved desire for a better life.

Most of us, even those who are aware of our predicament, distract ourselves by creating and admiring elaborate and luxurious appointments for our carbon-clad prison.

Many who can see the bars spend their time dreaming of ways to slip through them into the world outside – a world of natural freedom that they can see but never reach.

Those who are fully aware of the trap also understand that we now need it to survive; that leaving it (if that were even possible) would be as fatal as staying inside. We are victims of what complex systems scientists call “path dependence” – where we came from and how we got here puts strict limits on what is now possible for us to do.

One of the things we can’t do is simply open the door and leave. Even the fact that our carbon-barred prison is now on fire can’t change the cold equations. We are condemned to wait here until the walls burn down, when a few soot-blackened survivors may stumble out into the blasted and barren landscape left behind by our self-absorbed construction project.

This is why I believe that the one quality most needed in the world today is compassion.

Our fossil fuel dependence started 300 years ago. (I select the year 1712 — that was when Thomas Newcomen invented his atmospheric/steam engine for pumping water out of mines.) Many people say that, when our fossil fuel supply declines and/or we simply cannot add more carbon to the atmosphere, then we will simply revert to an earlier lifestyle, the way that people lived in Biblical times.

Chefurka is saying that this is not the case; we cannot go back. The pre-industrial world is gone and will never return. You cannot swim in the same river twice. If and when the fossil fuel dependency comes to an end he is saying that we will be living in a totally different world — one consisting only of “soot-blackened” survivors.


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Proper 22: Slow Walk

Mustard Seeds Luke
Mustard Seeds

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits. All of this week’s readings are to do with faith. I quote the Gospel passage (Luke 17:5-10), but see a similar message in both the Psalm and the Epistle.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

The first paragraph — to do with faith — is always a challenge. It is a particular challenge for those of us who have a decent grasp of the science behind climate change, and related issues. We have the following dilemmas.

  • The science is clear: we are heading into a slow-moving, but inexorable crisis.
  • The project realities are clear: we do not have the time to transition to an economy based on alternative energy and other “green” initiatives.
  • The social background is equally clear: only a tiny fraction of the population has knowledge of these issues, and an even smaller fraction is willing to make significant changes to their lifestyle.

This line of thinking suggests that we need to think through what exactly we are to have faith in. Is our faith that somehow we can maintain our Business as Usual (BAU) lifestyle? Or should we have faith that our world will be a better place spiritually, even if material conditions move inexorably downward?

One of the themes of this series of posts, and of the book A New City of God, is that we need a theology that matches our times. The development of such a theology is much more than a mere academic exercise. It helps us address questions such as, “What are we to have faith in? And how does that faith express itself in daily living in a society that is undergoing wrenching changes?”

Slow Walking

In Proper 15: 2019, I quoted the commenter staggering_god. He or she anticipated that there will be a fairly sudden shift in public perception to do with climate change, based largely on personal stories. But this does not mean that the responses will lead to changes in behavior.

In short, we will have spent 30+ years doing NOTHING. Then we will do SOMETHING. And that will only be the very start. Every inch of ground after that point will be fought over. You’ll never truly weed out the denialists, they will just go underground, slow walk everything, and come up with endless “reasonable” objections.

An excellent example of the slow walking and “reasonableness” just described can be seen in the response of the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, to Greta Thunberg’s  sense of urgency. Australia is probably suffering more from climate change than any other major nation. Yet here is what he says.

“You know, I want children growing up in Australia that feel positive about their future,” the Prime Minister said.

“And I think it’s important that we give them that confidence, that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, but they’ll also have an economy that they can live in as well.”

“Yes, we’ve got to deal with the policy issues and we’ve got to take it seriously, but I don’t want our children having anxieties about these issues,” he said.

Here is a man who either doesn’t understand what the young people are saying, or who is utterly cynical. Thunberg’s entire message is that we need to have “anxieties about these issues”. Her core message is all about urgency.


The Message, Not the Messenger

IPCC Report Global Warming of 1.5°C

Prime Minister Morrison’s reaction to Thunberg’s message illustrates a behavior of which almost all of us are guilty. Virtually every reaction to this young lady has been to do with who she is, not what she is saying.

People who support her make statements such as, “Isn’t it amazing that such a young person can have such an impact?” or “She is really living the message she preaches”. Her enemies are often more personal to the point of being abusive. But virtually no one responds to what she is actually saying, which is,

  • The IPCC Report (2018) tells us that we are approaching a state where global temperatures are 1.5°C above the pre-industrial baseline.
  • At that temperature the consequences to human society are profound.
  • We adults, i.e., those over 20 years old have failed to respond.
  • We are handing a world in crisis to the young people and asking them to take the needed actions.

Of all the responses that I have read, not one person has actually cited the IPCC Report to either support or confute what she says. All the comments are about her, not the situation that we find ourselves in. One has to wonder how many of her supporters and enemies alike have actually read the IPCC Report: 10%? 1%? 0.1%?


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Proper 21: Lazarus and Fences

Refugees trying to enter Hungary
Border Fence — Hungary

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits.

One of the unexpected side benefits of writing these posts has been that I am more prepared for this week’s sermon or homily, regardless of its focus. Therefore, I have decided to write each post in the context of the coming week’s lectionary, rather than that of the previous week. This means that I will be skipping Proper 20 and the gospel reading to do with the manager who squandered his master’s property. Instead, we will think about Proper 21.

Appointed Gospel

This week’s gospel (September 29th 2019, Year C) is from Luke 16:19-31.

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

This is a powerful passage that has many lessons for us. In the context of this blog to do with the Age of Limits let’s consider the final verses. The rich man has had plenty of warning to do with his behavior; he knows that he should share his wealth with those less fortunate than himself. But he ignores the admonitions and so suffers the consequences. So it is with us; we, as a society, have received so many warnings that we are destroying the planet, and yet the vast majority of people continue living with the assumption that nothing is going to change, or that, “They will think of something. After all, if we can invent the cell phone surely we can invent new supplies of fresh water to restore the depleted aquifers.”

We also know that our actions to do with climate change and resource depletion will have its greatest effect on those at the bottom end of the economic scale — the Lazaruses of our world. Indeed, we are seeing this already. One of the factors that is causing refugees to flee their homelands is that they can no longer grow enough food for themselves and their families because the climate is becoming more hostile. These refugee problems have already led to political upheavals in the host nations. Examples are the wall on the border between the United States and the rejection of refugees trying to enter Europe. These difficulties are just the thin end of what is going to be a very thick wedge. In my judgment, the arguments that have roiled the church to do with same sex marriage and related issues are nothing to what we are going to see as we face the upcoming refugee problems.

Up to this point many churches and individual Christians have taken the attitude that we should welcome the refugees, regardless of their political status. This attitude will be sorely tested in the coming years as the number of refugees soars. Churches throughout the world will need to develop realistic policies that help the Lazaruses of the world without overwhelming the resources and welcome of the host nations. It’s the lifeboat problem; how many drowning people can be brought on board the lifeboat before it sinks and everyone drowns.


Book Release

Bunyan pilgrim City of Destruction
Christian leaving the City of Destruction

As many of you know, I am working on a book entitled A New City of God, with the subtitle A Christian Response to Climate Change. The current draft content is available for review. It can be downloaded here.

We invite your comments. Please use our Contact Page.


The Big Three

When we look at the challenges to do with the Age of Limits we can be overwhelmed with the number of issues that we face, and the complex manner in which those issues interact with one another. There are so many moving parts it is difficult to know where to start.

My own understanding of what I now refer to as the ‘Age of Limits’ began with the topic of ‘Peak Oil’ — a phrase which is currently out of fashion for now, but will probably return. Crude oil is utterly foundational to our civilization, not just for transportation fuels, but also for the petrochemical feedstocks that it provides that are needed to manufacture so many of the products that we use, particularly those made of plastic. However, in spite of the criticality of crude oil, I suggest that the ‘Big Three’ issues are fresh water, food production and computer-controlled supply chains.

The first of these — water — is self-evident. We can envisage a society that operates with severely restricted supplies of crude oil. But, without water to drink and to irrigate our crops, we die. Yet the forecasts for fresh water supplies in many parts of the world look dire. Rainfall patterns are already changing drastically. Millions of people in India are already suffering from severe drought, the desert areas of Australia continue to expand, the aquifers in the heartland of the United States are being irreversibly depleted, and the annual rains have not come to the nation of Zimbabwe. These are not one-time events — they represent long-term trends.

Issues to do with fresh water depletion are a particular concern in the highly populated regions of Asia. Less snow is falling in the world’s high mountain ranges, which means that many glaciers are shrinking. The water from these glaciers is needed to irrigate crops that feed billions of people.

Second of the ‘Big Three’ is food production. As temperatures change, and as rainfall becomes increasingly scarce and/or erratic in many regions of the world, food production will suffer. Moreover, as the climate changes, crops that were suitable for a particular location will no longer grow there. Given enough time the farmers will adapt by growing new crops. But time is not on our side.

Third of the ‘Big Three’ is to do with the extraordinary degree to which our lives are dependent on computer-controlled supply chains. Much of what we eat or use is grown or manufactured in just a few locations in the world. If the sophisticated supply chains that deliver these goods to markets around the world were to fail, say from widespread power failures, then the effect on the world economy and on people’s lives could be devastating. Corporations around the world have focused on efficiency. In future there will need to pay more attention to resilience and adaptability.


Youth Anger

Greta Thunberg release hell
Credit: Ugo Bardi

This week many young people took to the streets to express their outrage. Their attitude is well expressed in the Washington Post article Why baby boomers’ grandchildren will hate them.

Greta Thunberg from Sweden has become the spokesperson for the outrage. Her extraordinary speech at the United Nations How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood should be required viewing for all world leaders. The most disheartening aspect of the speech was the fact that she received so much applause. What on earth are these people thinking?

Here is an explanation as to why she has been so successful.


Time Magazine

Time-Magazine-Climate-Change cover

Also this week Time magazine devoted its entire issue to climate issues. Good for them — it is well worth reading. But, and there always seems to be a but, it skips over two crucial issues:

  1. We need to reduce the earth’s population.
  2. Each person needs to consume less of the earth’s resources.

This is where the Christian church can provide much needed leadership. An honest response requires sacrifice.


Aha! Moment

In my book I suggest that most people do not gain an understanding as to what is taking place by reading the fine print of reports and analyses. Instead we have one or more “Aha!” moments when suddenly we “get it”.

I have had three of these “Aha!” moments, the third of which occurred The third of these “Aha!” moments occurred when I saw the following photograph. It is a before-and-after picture of the I-10 freeway between Houston and Beaumont, a road I have driven on many times during the course of my business career.

Flooding I-10 Beaumont Texas during hurricane Harvey

The picture on the left is of the road in normal times. The picture on the right was taken during Hurricane Harvey in the year 2017. It is estimated that the storm dropped a million gallons of rain for each resident of south Texas. This picture taught me that climate change is not just something that will happen in the future, it is happening now. Indeed, it is something that started some years ago.

This “Aha!” moment was refreshed when I read about the second of these 1000 year storms that has hit that part of Texas in just two years. And, no, this is not the new normal — it’s the start of a trend. We can expect more and more of these monster storms, and we can expect them to grow in intensity. In fact, what struck me most about the reporting to do with this year’s storm is the lack of reporting. Massive 1,000 year floods are hardly newsworthy any more.


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We’re In This Together

st james church richmond
St James Church, Richmond

The following is a guest post from Monica Lewis of St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond. It supplements our earlier post Climate Rally, Richmond Virginia.


Monica Lewis St. James Richmond VAOn Friday, September 20, young people around the world participated in the Climate Strike called for by Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish climate activist who has spoken so movingly on our need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you are not yet familiar with her, ask around. Chances are, people you know and love have seen photos of her, with her plain, simple braids, online. They will know that this unassuming, mildly autistic girl has credibility and power.  She has inspired many European youths to spend Fridays at governmental buildings with signs and posters that ask for “System Change Not Climate Change” and “The Planet Over Profits.” When some have chastised the teens for skipping school, Greta has asked, “why study for a future which may not exist?”

September 20 was the day when many in Richmond and around the world – adults and youth – stand up for climate instead of attending school and work as usual. It kicked off a week of events coordinated to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in New York City, where Greta will be, following her just-completed zero carbon sailboat trip across the Atlantic.

Teachers, school administrators, religious leaders, and employers,– in short, everyone — honored the courage of Greta and her fellow activists, to stood with them and acknowledged the challenge before us. Sure, it is possible to look the other away and be resistant, as adults often are, of youth’s “disruptive behavior.” But, it would be better to carve a way forward in this unprecedented time of rapid, extreme change. We should recognize that an important aspect of teen maturation is learning to speak up and participate in community.  After all, we want teens to be able to carry on after they take our places. They have to start participating in the political process and learning the ropes. So, let’s listen to their concerns; they are responding to the scientists’ warnings about the Earth’s limits.  Can we assure them that we want a safe future, too, and that we are working towards it by implementing changes? Solving global warming is what is really important here – not how many unexcused absences some kids have – so let’s shine light on the innovations that will help all of us. Let’s make improvements to our energy infrastructures that save money and resources. Let’s teach our children and learn from them as well. Let’s lift each other up.

It is worth noting that Greta and her fellow activists have turned to striking because they feel that climate, as an issue, has not been addressed by society’s institutions.  An official statement on the crisis could go a long way in re-establishing trust between generations and keeping morale high.

There are so many ways adults and young people could participate in Climate Week together. How about a “teach in” to explain how pollution traps heat in the atmosphere?  Hang an art show that conveys this information in creative, visual ways. Host a guest speaker to present on technology that shows promise in reducing carbon emissions, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and EVs. Or gather a group together to write letters to our governmental officials. Put academic learning into use engaging in real-world problem solving. Provide the addresses, envelopes, and stamps so that those letters really get mailed! Or go digital with tweets, selfies, and hashtags such as #OurClimateStory, #GrassrootsClimate, and #PriceOnPollution. The time you spend together need not be a matter of everyone in complete agreement, but rather about conversation and a willingness to listen.

Are we going to choose to stand with students on Sept. 20 and join them in acknowledging the urgency of the environmental crisis? Or are we going to ask them to sit down, be quiet, and let us handle things, which, up until now, has been to “mishandle” things? Stand with our youth, choose the health of our planet, and choose the future. As Greta has said, “Act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”

Proper 19: Weeping Jeremiah

Weeping Jeremiah
Weeping Jeremiah

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits. Normally, I work with the Appointed Gospel. This week’s gospel reading from Luke 15 is to do with the shepherd finding the lost sheep, and the woman finding the silver coin that she had lost. It’s a powerful and important passage, but the lectionary passage from Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, however, is particularly relevant  to our current situation.

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

“For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

In my book I compare those of us who “preach” about Age of Limits issues as being modern-day prophets. This idea seems to be  presumptuous, but it may be catching on. For example, the Rev. Susan Hendershot of Interfaith Power and Light has this to say.

I’m reminded of the Hebrew prophets who chose to live in the often-painful reality of their time and place, calling to account those who would oppress the poor because of their greed. They didn’t bury their grief, but instead expressed it openly and vocally to everyone who would listen—and many who wouldn’t.

But the prophets didn’t stop there. They expressed a hopeful vision for the future, like the one in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

BUT, in order to reach this future, according to the prophets, we need to change. We need to come back into right relationship with the sacred, with one another, and with the earth.

We are at such a point now. We can no longer live as if humans are the center, but we must recover our sense of the interconnectedness of all things on the planet. It’s not only our physical existence that is at stake, but our spiritual existence as well.

Here is more from Jeremiah.

Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew.

In spite of its rather melodramatic tone, the above Bible verse does seem to fit our current situation quite well. The “disaster” that Jeremiah talks about in our context is the decline of our fossil-fuel based society. The “foreign gods” are the symbols of material progress that we often worship; the word “burned” certainly applies to the fossil fuel resources that we have gobbled up so cavalierly.

The prophets attributed the tribulations of the Hebrew people to that fact that they had abandoned the true faith and that they were worshiping false gods. They maintained that the only way of averting catastrophe was for the people to forsake those gods. We in our time may not worship false gods in quite the same way. But we do “worship” the idea of material progress. It is what we believe in, and we anticipate material rewards as a result of that belief. Just as the prophets of old said that people needed to return to the God of their heritage, so we need to recognize that material progress for most of us is coming to an end — we need to look for a future that is more spiritual, and a way of life that is more in harmony with the natural world.

In spite of their insights and warnings, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible were largely ignored. So it is in our time; the number of people willing to face up to the nature of our current predicaments is small, and the number who are taking action in their personal lives is smaller still.

Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet, nor did he believe that he had the skills to be one. But we are told that the Lord touched his lips, and told him to go out and prophesy. To do this he had to not be afraid, he had to stand up and speak and he had to go where he was sent.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth”.

Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in.


If Only

Two articles caught my attention this week.  The common theme is, “If only we had taken action 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. As it is, here we are — we have to live with the consequences of our inactions.” Readers of the posts at this blog know that I am working on three theological phrases, the second of which is,

Accept and adapt

These two articles fit that way of thought.

Limits to Growth Update

Limits to Growth

The first is article is actually a slide presentation from Dennis Meadows — one of the authors of the seminal “Limits to Growth” report published in the year 1972. The slides were used for a presentation in Ulm, Germany in May 2019.

Here is what his team forecast 47 years ago.

  1. All our scenarios showed growth ending in the period 2010-2050.
  2. The most common behavior pattern was overshoot and decline, not gradual slowing within a limit.
  3. Technology advance did delay the end of growth by a few years, but not eliminate it, and it did not avoid the decline.
  4. Social and economic changes were required to attain the most attractive futures.
  5. Today’s “problems” are not actually problems; they are symptoms. The real problem is physical growth in material and energy flows pressing against the limits of a finite planet.

Let’s take a look at each of those bullet points.

  1. Our economy does continue to grow, but the main beneficiaries seem to be those who are already well-to-do. For most people this forecast seems about right.
  2. We have not observed significant overshoot or decline yet, at least with regards to physical resources such as crude oil.
  3. Technology advances do not seem to be having much of an impact. For example, German’s alternative energy program has run into serious difficulties, and the Chinese, who had been a leader in the development of alternative energy technologies, are reducing their commitments to such programs. (Their annual investment has fallen from $70 billion in 2016 to under $30 billion in 2019.)
  4. There have been no social or economic changes with respect to national or international leadership. (Which is why I say that the current situation provides an opportunity for the Christian church to fill the leadership gap.)
  5. We are indeed pressing against the limits of a finite planet.

The presentation then examines some specific topics such as population growth and government response.

Overall, I would say that Meadows and his colleagues did a good job of predicting back in the year 1972 what was going to happen two generations later. If you listen to a recent video of Meadows he comes over as being downbeat — if only we had listened to what he had to say all those years ago!


Pretending

What if we stopped pretending. New Yorker magazine.

The second article was What If We Stopped Pretending?, written by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker magazine. The subtitle of the article is The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it. The article boils down to a recognition that climate change is happening; we cannot go back to the world that we used to know; and there is not a whole lot that we can do about a continued increase in temperatures.

The article’s money quotations are,

Even at this late date, expressions of unrealistic hope continue to abound. Hardly a day seems to pass without my reading that it’s time to “roll up our sleeves” and “save the planet”; that the problem of climate change can be “solved” if we summon the collective will. Although this message was probably still true in 1988, when the science became fully clear, we’ve emitted as much atmospheric carbon in the past thirty years as we did in the previous two centuries of industrialization. The facts have changed, but somehow the message stays the same.

 . . . a false hope of salvation can be actively harmful. If you persist in believing that catastrophe can be averted, you commit yourself to tackling a problem so immense that it needs to be everyone’s overriding priority forever. One result, weirdly, is a kind of complacency: by voting for green candidates, riding a bicycle to work, avoiding air travel, you might feel that you’ve done everything you can for the only thing worth doing. Whereas, if you accept the reality that the planet will soon overheat to the point of threatening civilization, there’s a whole lot more you should be doing.