Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate Change Demands We Live Differently

I posted this quote last year as a Meaning of Life. I thought it timely to re-post as our world leaders meet in Copenhagen for talks (and hopefully action) on climate change.

As Sallie McFague points out this is not simply an "issue" it is about the way we live and the way we see ourselves in relation to one another and our only home, Earth.

In addition to carbon emissions, I would hope our world leaders would address peak oil, peak natural gas, peak coal, the depletion of fisheries, deforestation, the mass extinction of species, and how we as a human family on one planet might think about living sustainably with one another and all of life.

It is all related. It is time for radical change. It is urgent. To recall the words of a long-haired, locust eating desert prophet:

"The axe is at the root of the tree."

"Global warming is not just another important issue that human beings need to deal with; rather, it is the demand that we live differently. We cannot solve it, deal with it, given our current anthropology. It is not simply an issue of management; rather, it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are. This is certainly not the only thing that is needed, but it is a central one, for without it we cannot expect ourselves or others to undertake the radical behavioral change that is necessary to address our planetary crisis." p. 44
--Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology


  1. John

    One of the unfortunate, terrible but simple realities is that the earth cannot sustain the amount of human life on it at a level that will feed everyone. Not for a sustained period of time.

    It is my opinion that sooner or later nature (or God if you prefer) will deal with us. It's happened before. We don't even know for sure that the black death was bubonic plague. We do know that it took out up to 1/2 of the people in Europe. We also know that it was somehow connected to climate change (cooling down after the middle ages warm spell).

    What concerns me the most (before a plague) is that those with power will simply decide to keep on keepin' on. That means the poor die. That means that we use hydrocarbons until it is profitable to move to wind, solar and wave power. And aside from global warming that means that the things we could use hydrocarbons for that would be helpful will be lost to make electricity and burn in SUVs.

    And the really big thing that most won't talk about is that China and India are seriously getting into burning coal and buying oil. China is close behind the US in carbon emissions. And if we try to tell them to cut back their carbon emissions they say "You used them to get where you are. Now we will."

    So it seems to me that the big question is: who dies so that things get better?

    Oh, and one other gloomy thought. There is no such thing as environmental equilibrium. The environment changes all the time. And to see how good humans are at fixing things take a look at the U.S. government's attempts to "fix" Yellowstone.

  2. One of the unfortunate, terrible but simple realities is that the earth cannot sustain the amount of human life on it at a level that will feed everyone. Not for a sustained period of time.

    Yes. I recommend this video by Albert Bartlett regarding arithmetic, population, and energy. Eight parts, nine minutes each. 72 minutes well spent.

    It is my opinion that sooner or later nature (or God if you prefer) will deal with us.

    Change is inevitable. Human beings have been able to survive many changes because of their adaptability. We can like no other species make our environment fit us. The climate is always changing. The last 12,000 years have been a relatively stable time (which allowed for civilization to prosper). A good book on this topic that our Thursday study group will read in February is Dianne Dumanoski The End of the Long Summer.

    Climate change happens. It also happens that we are helping it along by burning fossil fuels.

    What concerns me the most (before a plague) is that those with power will simply decide to keep on keepin' on.

    I am with you again. 80 million barrels of oil are produced every day. The U.S. consumes 20 million of them. 25% of the world's oil consumed by 5% of the world's population. If the world consumed at the rate of the average North American we would need 5 planets of resources.

    We have a huge imbalance.

    And the really big thing that most won't talk about is that China and India are seriously getting into burning coal and buying oil.

    You got it. China imports coal. You can bet we are going to have some major resource wars within the next decade or so. We will self-destruct in a couple of decades if we continue life as we have lived it. Lights out. Massive die off.

    One would think that this might be an interesting enough story to make the news, or to inspire a politician or a preacher or a homemaker, store clerk, or whatever to say, "Hey! Let's be honest about what we are facing!"

    We are different from any other species in that we can if we will make changes to survive changing habitats. We also have the capacity to be moral even as we don't always have the will to do so.

    We can see this as a global problem affecting a global population. If we were able to set aside our tribalisms (which we have done in the past) and see the challenges as challenges to all of us as one family to work together to find a new way to be a civilization we could.

    The path we have chosen is not inevitable. There are a lot of things we can do together to reduce population to share resources to build sustainable communities. We have to be conscious. We can't just let the powerful (through the magic of "the market") decide for us.

    To me, that is our job as ministers. To raise consciousness, to provide hope, and to inspire the highest qualities within us.

    I am inspired by thousands and thousands of NGOs that are blooming all over the world. We need to have more conversations not only about issues but what it means to be a human being.

    We may crash and crash hard. Those who manage to survive will be the remnant to start again. Hopefully we will have preserved enough of our accumulated knowledge so they will be able to make different mistakes than we did.

    I am not throwing in the towel on civilization. Not yet. When conscious, human beings can do some incredibly good things. It is time now to be conscious and see what creativity blossoms.

  3. That's gloomy stuff! I'm curious, John Shuck, what's the new economic order Sallie McFague presents in her book?

  4. The Review of the book from Amazon says, "A New Climate for Theology not only traces the distorted notion of unlimited desire that fuels our market system; it also paints an alternative idea of what being human means and what a just and sustainable economy might mean. Convincing, specific, and wise, McFague argues for an alternative economic order and for our relational identity as part of an unfolding universe that expresses divine love and human freedom. It is a view that can inspire real change, an altered lifestyle, and a form of Christian discipleship and desire appropriate to who we really are. "

    What kind of economic system would give us human freedom? Socialism or true free-market Capitalism?

    I'm interested in reading the book, nevertheless.

  5. She supports ecological economics:

    The ecological model claims that housemates must abide by three main rules: (1) Take only your share. (2) Clean up after yourself. (3) Keep the house in good repair for future occupants. We need to abide by these rules at personal, societal, and global levels. We don't own this house; we don't even rent it. It is loaned to us "free" for our lifetime with the proviso that we obey the above rules so that it can continue to feed, shelter, nurture, and delight others. These rules are not laws that we can circumvent or disobey; they are the conditions of our existence, and they are intrinsic to our happiness. If we were to follow these rules, we would be living within a different vision of the good life, the abundant life, than the current vision in our consumer culture that is destroying the planet.

    Given these two economic worldviews--the neoclassical and the ecological--which should Christianity support? Presently, it is supporting the neoclassical economic paradigm to the degree that it does not speak against it and side publicly with the ecological view. Does this matter? Yes, if one accepts the assumption that worldviews matter. While there is no direct connection between believing and acting, thinking and doing, there is an implicitly deeper and more insidious one: the worldview that persuades us it is "natural" and "inevitable" becomes the secret partner of our decisions and action. p. 91-2

    I do recommend the book! I wrote about it here and I quoted her in a sermon I preached in 2008 on Reign of Christ Sunday.

  6. Def something I want to read...

    I want to throw out that a major start to making a paradigm shift is to elect someone with a peaceful foreign policy and who wants to change the current money system.

    A peaceful foreign policy would turn around much of the pollution, waste, and destruction of life. Ending centralized banking would definitely turn things around by promoting localism instead of one-size fits all centralized mandates. We need a leader who puts the power in the hands of the people instead of a remote elite.

    It is so important to change the money system for this paradigm shift becuase with the current model we keep spending to try to keep ahead of inflation.

  7. Bob, John you might get a kick out of this: John Lennon says that overpopulation is a myth: vid

  8. John

    I remember the Native Americans in Oneida used to say that planning to conserve for your children or grandchildren's generations is terribly short sighted. They encouraged using the land while thinking at least 5 generations down the road.


    It depends on what you mean. If you mean that there is enough food for everyone and enough basic level medicine Lennon is right. New strains of grain have made more food than was ever thought possible. Unfortunately they tend to be nitrogen fertilizer intensive. Nitrogen fertilizer uses crude oil derivatives (which uses up limited amounts of crude oil) and cost money so they tend to make the new and more fruitful varieties of grain difficult for the subsistence farmer to afford.

    But more important is how much does everyone get? Nations like China and India already have groups (which are growing) that see the European and US models of the good life as attainable. A growing number already live that life. And to be fair to China and India attempts are being made to give better lives to the very poor. But what model shall we use? Can the amount of hydrocarbons left enable all humans on earth to live the life of the American middle class or even the lower class? Right now we have close to a billion who live below subsistence level. Will all of them get the closets full of close that we have? (Made out of materials that use hydrocarbons to make them of course)

    Great grandparents had clothes for the week (one set) and their Sunday go to Meeting clothes. We are living lives that the very rich of the 1920s couldn't even dream about.

    So the basic question is: how much is enough? For the Christian a place to live, food, family, education, health care and Jesus should be enough.

    And yes, I say all of this using a new laptop computer that uses electricity.

  9. Oh, and BTW, I learned all of this from crazy Dutch Calvinists, followers of Abraham Kuyper. 's Theologically they are conservative. But they really see that all of life for the Christian belongs to God. So they ask "What would God want me to put on my lawn to kill the weeds? Or are weeds OK?" That is a Christian question. And one of my wife's teachers back in the 1970's said, "What should I do with my old clothes? Why not wear them?"