Sep 30 2011

The Rise and Fall of Fossil Fuels – Physical and Spiritual

Published by under Talks

The Rise and Fall of Fossil Fuels – Physical and Spiritual


The latest edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary published last month featured among its new entries “sexting” and “cyberbullying”. Cyberspace and the Internet, that began with great promise and positivity, have taken on a troublesome downside. Just one example of how good things can lose their lustre and become equivocal or worse.


Fossil fuels may be among the worst examples of all – beginning as the foundation of modern civilization but now perhaps the villain of the piece. I should probably deal with them alone, such is their significance, but later I want to raise a question on the spiritual side of things – whether it’s possible that some primal energy sources of Christianity might in some respects be likened to fossil fuels. But I begin with:


Part 1: Fossil fuels – the physical variety

Exactly one hundred years ago, the first edition of the Concise Oxford featured the then new words “motorist” and “aeroplane”. What could ever go wrong with such exciting neologisms? Yet today, despite all the wonders and benefits of cars and planes, they now present a hidden threat. The fuels that they rely on are running out and causing harm, possibly irreparable harm, unless we act purposefully, promptly and globally.


Fossil fuel is the collective term for petroleum, natural gas and coal which were formed millions of years ago by the decomposition of organisms through great heat and pressure underground or undersea.


The use of coal as a fuel predates recorded history and the occasional seepage of oil and gas at fissure points on the earth’s surface had a significant part to play in the development of a number of early civilizations. But the real exploitation of fossil fuels began in the 18th and 19th centuries and sparked the Industrial Revolution, causing a dramatic rise in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Today, just as an army marches on its stomach, so the world as we know it keeps moving along thanks to the internal combustion engine, coal or gas-fired furnaces, and countless products dependent on fossil fuels.


There are just the two problems – fossil fuels are coming to an end and, what is much more concerning, a bitter end may come for humanity and much of the ecosystem if we continue to consume them at anything like current rates.


So how nigh is the end? According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world currently has around 1 trillion tonnes of recoverable coal – enough for 200 years of production at present levels. So what’s the immediate problem? For oil and gas it’s a different story. There is a great deal of dispute about when exactly global petroleum supplies will peak and go into decline. Some claim that it might already be happening, and will only become visible in retrospect, as oil prices start to rise almost exponentially. The IEA has reported that the peaking of conventional oil production has already occurred, in 2006. There is little dispute that peak oil is at least in sight within the next 30 years or so and will be unlike any problem yet faced by modern industrial society.


So much for the finite supply of fossil fuels. What about the damage they are doing? The combustion of fossil carbon produces carbon dioxide, the most important of the greenhouse gasses, ahead of methane gas. These gases are responsible for retaining sufficient heat from the sun on the planet so as to sustain life. Unfortunately, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. According to the International Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007:


Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level… Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is …due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible.


According to Dr Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist who helped to bring global warming to the world’s attention in 1988, and who visited Dunedin this year:


Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate. If we stay on our present course, using fossil fuels to feed a growing appetite for energy-intensive life styles, we will soon leave the climate of the Holocene [epoch], the world of human history… Continuous growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade [he was speaking in 2008], practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects… The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.


Even though he warns against it, Hansen reminds us that there is no denying the denial industry. One example of that is a dissertation by a Princeton physics professor, William Happer, and published by a conservative Christian organisation. Happer argues that the notion that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will have disastrous consequences is a “contemporary moral epidemic”.


With neither the time nor expertise to argue the point in any detail, I shall content myself with expanding a little on just one area of the debate. It is one that underlines the ever increasing complexity of the issues and the grave risks of complacency and denial. Even if in doubt, be warned – better we forgo some of the accustomed luxuries of life than face the loss of the absolute necessities.


It is only since 2005 that scientists have become aware that ocean acidification is a new and pressing problem. Oceans act as a massive sponge, soaking up more than a quarter of the CO2

humans pump into the atmosphere.  But when the sponge becomes too saturated, it can disrupt the delicately balanced ecosystems on which marine life – and ultimately all life on Earth – depends.


One such scientist is Associate Professor Abby Smith of the University of Otago. In 2009 she said that “rising CO2 levels are altering the chemistry of the ocean, reducing its pH, and creating an increasingly acidic environment… Ocean acidification is perilously close to being irreversible and the worst case scenario could be that we’re looking at the extinction of mineralised fauna.”


Her fears were echoed in April this year in a report by the International Programme on the State of the Oceans. Previous mass extinctions of life on the planet, reaching back more than 500 million years, were preceded by many of the same conditions now afflicting the ocean environment as a direct consequence of human activity. “The results are shocking,” said the Oxford professor who heads the Programme. “We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime.”


The same message appeared in the 17 September issue of the Listener, in an article entitled “Bad acid trip: Carbon dioxide is not only warming the atmosphere but also acidifying the oceans.” Cliff Law, a Niwa biogeochemist warned that “a major knowledge gap is the knock-on effects…” He concluded: “Reducing our carbon emissions is the only way that we’ll stop or slow ocean acidification.”


I have been painting just a partial but pretty grim picture. Yet, surprisingly, a couple of books I have read recently by experts who make no bones about accepting the prevailing analyses of climate scientists, do not give a message of all doom and gloom. One is entitled “Heat: How to stop the planet burning”, by George Monbiot in 2007. The other is “Crossing the energy divide: moving from fossil fuel dependency to a clean-energy future”, by Robert Ayers and Edward Ayers in 2010.


Monbiot argues that in order to avoid a two degrees global warming by 2030, being a target beyond which climate change may be out of our hands, the rich nations need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. He started his research almost certain that he would be unsuccessful but came to believe it could be done, at least in the UK, and still be compatible with industrial civilization.


The Ayers’ book concentrates on the United States and takes only a slightly different approach. The bad news, according to the authors, is that the industrial world is so deeply dependent on fossil fuels that even the fastest conceivable growth of wind, solar and other renewable-energy industries cannot substantially replace oil, coal and natural gas for at least several decades.


The good news, though it won’t appeal to many environmentalists, they say, is that we can radically reform the management of the existing fossil fuel-based system so that we essentially double the amount of energy service we get from each barrel of oil or oil equivalent. That will help bridge the enormous gap between what we have and what we need. The fastest and cheapest way to cut carbon emissions and fossil fuel use is to clean up the dirty industries until the more ideal alternatives are up to scale.


Let’s now leave fossil fuels in the normal physical sense of the phrase to pose another line of enquiry. I call this:


Part 2: Fossil fuels – some spiritual suspects

Can we usefully use the term “fossil fuels” figuratively? Can we speak of any spiritual entities as similar in some respects? Are there any sources of great religious energy, formed over lengthy periods, dominant drivers of seemingly endless performance, which may now be showing signs of decline and even warnings of possible danger ahead. If there are any such contenders, they won’t be small fry. They’ll be big time. My first candidate is:


(a) The Bible

The Bible exists quite literally as a result of the fossil-like preservation and discovery of Hebrew and Greek parchments. It was fashioned over a period of hundreds of years – well short of the millions for fossil fuels but a lengthy gestation nonetheless. It went through a complicated process of refining before eventually emerging as a canon with high-octane inspiration.


For centuries it has reigned supreme as sacred scripture, dictating and defending the central tenets of the Christian faith. In words it attributes to Jesus but which are often expanded to refer to its own fullness, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” Mark 13:31.


Note how I establish my authority. To carry weight, I can cite the book, the chapter and the verse. A rough guide to the extent of literal dependency on Biblical texts is the frequency with which passages are cited within Christian writing and discourse. At one extreme, recall the peppering of Bible references in fundamentalist Gospel tracts. On my way to a recent Rugby World Cup game, I was offered one such tract on the street. “The Bible is clear”, it said.


I remember too my last encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses a couple of months ago. We had a fairly short but cordial conversation, even after one of them used the potent phrase “The Bible says”. I replied that that would be the point at which we must beg to differ. I explained that I don’t consider what the Bible may appear to say, whether at a micro or macro level, as ipso facto the last word on anything.


But what of more mainline churches? The Methodist Church’s stated mission “is to reflect and proclaim the transforming love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and declared in the Scriptures.” Observe that the Church appeals to the Bible as the very bedrock of its certainty. The differences between the various branches of Christianity with regard to the Bible are largely a matter of degree rather than of kind. The Bible remains definitive across the board, and I need not detail the enormous energy and inspiration it has produced over the ages.


But dare I apply the fossil fuel analogy? Does the Bible’s supreme position in the Christian scheme of things, for all its wonder working power, also constitute a risk to human health? May it even be capable of doing grave harm?


Merely to ask such questions is, of course, heretical in some Christian circles. In more liberal-minded churches, the questions may be allowed providing any affirmative answers carefully distinguish between the Bible’s intent as a whole and the way it is interpreted. It may be conceded that some misapplied texts are dangerous, but taken collectively the Bible still constitutes the revealed foundations of the faith.


Perhaps no one who professes to be a Christian has so sharply critiqued that view as John Spong in his book, The Sins of Scripture: exposing the Bible’s texts of hate to reveal the God of love. After speaking of some of the battles he has had against the way the Bible has been used throughout history, he went on to say:


At first I convinced myself that the problem was not in the Bible itself, but in the way the Bible was used. That, however, was a defensive and ultimately dishonest response. I had to come to the place where I recognized that the Bible itself was often the enemy… It is the assumption that the Bible is in any sense the “Word of God” that has given rise to what I have called … “the sins of scripture.”


He went on to argue that many prominent Bible texts have been the sources of, and not just the justification used for anti-Semitism, abuse of children, neglect of the environment, denigration of other faiths, second class status of women, black slavery, and mistreatment of gays and lesbians.


Spong’s challenge largely goes unheeded. Like our fossil fuel dependency, the vast majority of Christians cannot contemplate anything less than an authoritative Bible. The infection is often very mild, but the condition is still technically called bibliolatry. Let me offer some examples, not from the extreme texts of terror but from the relationship between the Bible and science.


I recently attended a weekend conference at the University of Otago on “The New Atheism: a Christian response”. By and large the presentations set out to dispose of the New Atheism, particularly that presented by Richard Dawkins in The God delusion, as sweeping but simplistic attacks on faith, the Bible, and the Church, as well as theism. There was, however, little attention given to what might have helped to prompt such expressions of aggressive atheism in the first place. I lay much of the blame on the inordinate obsequiousness which most Christians have shown to the Bible, a point of view not aired at all at the Conference.


At the bookstall, I picked up a little book which deals with a more recent manifestation of the New Atheism than discussed during the Conference. It’s entitled God and Stephen Hawking, by John Lennox. Hawking, the world’s most famous living scientist, co-authored a book last year called The Grand design. On its main cosmic topic it is very illuminating, but here is a tiny excerpt touching on the Bible:


According to the Old Testament, God created Adam and Eve only six days into creation. Bishop Usher … placed the origin of the world …at nine in the morning on October 27, 4004 BC. We take a different view: that humans are a recent creation but that the universe itself began much earlier, about 13.7 billion years ago.


All very familiar stuff, but this is how John Lennox, a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University no less, falls into the trap of retaliating in kind:


If Hawking had engaged a little more with biblical scholarship … he might have discovered that the Bible itself leaves the time of creation open. In the structure of the text of Genesis, the statement “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” does not form part of the creation “week” but clearly precedes it; and so, however one interprets the days of creation, neither the age of the earth nor that of the universe is specified; and so there is no necessary conflict between what Genesis says and the 13.7 billion years yielded by scientific calculation.


What irrelevant nonsense from both of these experts! Which passage is worse? Which is more bogged down in the fruitless standoff between the Bible and science? The atheist attack or the Christian defence? And all largely because so many Christians still deify the Bible as the literal or near-literal Word of God.


Until the Bible is dethroned from its transcendental status it will continue to pose a risk to clean and renewable spiritual energy. It’s not just fundamentalists who are guilty of excess. The Church as a whole has found it all too convenient to fudge the issue by claiming more for the Bible than it would claim for itself. Like Paul, the Church must confess that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. Spong may have over stretched some of his own exegetical theories but he is right about the core problem. The Church must consciously revalue Biblical authority. It is causing too much collateral damage.


Not surprisingly by now, my next candidate is:


(b) The Church

A venerable institution, with a formative history reaching back well before New Testament times into the recesses of the Jewish synagogue and temple, and just possibly as far as the Mosaic period.


A powerful institution, perhaps without parallel, over two millennia and across the globe. Powerfully defining, inspiring, protecting, and restraining. Possibly all of us at some time or other in our lives have come under its sway. The energy that has radiated from it is not in question.


More to the point, for present purposes, is the question of its present dynamism. In June, the Rev Dr John Evans, a minister and researcher within the Uniting Church of Australia gave a public lecture at the University of Otago. While serving as a Synod Secretary he would sometimes be asked the question “What do you do?” To which he would reply “I downsize Christendom”. The very word has become an archaism, yet is so closely entwined with the Church. He went on to instance some of the practical problems associated with downsizing. The Uniting Church has dropped the term and the concept of “parishes”. Even membership is problematic. The Church struggles, for certain legal and administrative purposes, to maintain formal quorums of baptised and confirmed members.


This of course is not the full picture of the Church by any means. I would struggle to define a mean assessment worldwide, and don’t deny that there are resurgent areas in other cultures and modes of church. I leave that aside to touch on the more difficult question arising from the fossil fuel analogy. Regardless of how much it may be waxing and/or waning, are there aspects of the church’s performance that threaten wellbeing, and that actually do damage?


I go back to the Conference on the New Atheism. One of the presentations dealt with what was considered the new atheists’ defining argument against religion, namely that it produces dogmatism, intolerance and moral failure. The speaker for the defence pointed out that there were many misrepresentations of history and of the church’s role in the allegations. But while he conceded a great deal of moral failure by Christians, he still defended the overall balance sheet as in the church’s favour. Whereas the new atheists argue, as in the subtitle of Christopher Hitchen’s book, that “religion poisons everything”, we were given the message that religion generally helps, even if not consistently.


For me that’s not really good enough. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Luke 12:48, if I may cite my authority. The “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” makes enormous claims about its foundation and function. Nothing short of shame is appropriate for some of the blemishes or worse. These range from obscene to mundane.


In the obscene category, I need only cite the example of the child abuse scandal within Catholicism – not just the abuse itself, but equally the evasiveness and cover-ups in the face of it. The move announced this last week to try to get the International Criminal Court to investigate the Vatican for a crime against humanity is not expected to get very far because of procedural obstacles, but it is indicative of the gravity of the situation.


In the more mundane category, I have to admit to faults in my own church which I have personally encountered head-on in recent years, shaking my shaky faith much further. I shall not be specific, but failures to observe plain honesty, due process, basic courtesy and pastoral care have left me baffled and deeply troubled. I should have known better. In the words of David Bogan, “All organizations … are by their nature self-serving. They are primarily interested in their own survival and success, and often forget or disregard the needs of individuals, including those of their members.”


But I come back to my main point. The church is surely meant to be different, even unique. The body of Christ? Or is that a pipe dream? Whatever the merits of the early church, is the church as we have known it long past its prime?


I don’t want to be too pessimistic, so I have looked for crumbs of comfort from the Pope himself. If the church at large is ever to be renewed it probably needs Catholicism as a major participant. I turned to a conversation between the Pope and Marcello Pera, president of the Italian Senate. The resulting book is entitled Without roots: the West, relativism, Christianity, Islam. As they say, “The only thing worse than living without roots is struggling to get by without a future”.


Marcello Pera, being himself a secularist, had a firm conviction that the work of renewal should be done by Christians and secularists together. He made the bold suggestion of a “civil non-denominational religion” in which even secularists would have a part. It would have more monasteries than central churches, more monks that articulate and communicate than church officials, and more practitioners than preachers. It would amount to a partial deinstitutionalisation of the Church. He admitted that it would be a difficult model, by asking the Catholic Church to feature as one of many churches and to take a step backward with respect to the protections accorded to its creed.


In reply, The Pope, or Cardinal Ratzinger as he then was in 2004, was not quite as dismissive as one might expect. A civil religion, he claimed, would have to presuppose the existence of creative minorities, opportunities for forms of belonging, and, I must admit, the Church remaining and standing by faith in its divine origins. Nevertheless, he added, secularists and Catholics “must move toward each other with a new openness”. Secularists very often “return to the essential contents of culture and faith, and … make these contents even more luminous than an unquestioned faith”.


So, while the Pope cast an ambiguous light upon the concept of civil religion, it is at least one glimmer of light as one contemplates a future for or beyond the church. It takes us back to the argument on crossing the energy divide. We have to face the hard truth that alternative fuels can’t fully replace fossil fuels for decades, necessitating fossil-based energy efficiency as a bridge to a non-fossil future. Similarly, we have to envisage a long bridge between the church as we know it and a cleaner, more renewable source of spiritual energy to come.


Now to the final candidate for fossil consideration:


(c) The God concept

This is surely the ultimate test of rises and falls. “In the beginning God …” and thine is “the power and the glory for ever.” The Ancient of Days and inexhaustible, infinite omnipotence. By definition God is unfossilizable, but the concept of God might be another story.


In fact, let’s begin with a story. You probably have heard it often enough, but like the “Bricklayer’s lament” it bears repeating.


A man falls off a cliff and is hanging onto a small tree growing on the side of the cliff. He calls for help and receiving no reply, calls out: “If there is a God up there, please help me!” A loud voice comes back. “This is God – have faith and let go!” There is a long silence; then the man calls out again: “Is there anyone else up there?”

I wish I knew when this was composed and by whom. It’s at least many decades old and was a standby skit for Boy Scouts items. It’s even used by some conservative Christians to lament the lack of faith! I’m tempted to wager that it dates back to not more than a 100 or so years ago. Its irreverence has a certain ring of modernity about it. And the mere fact that it could be safely used even in many church groups today, may say something about a slight shift in Western faith tectonics


Of course, in a Sea of Faith environment, the big questions about God, even the death of God, are not at all off-limits. Our founding figures, Cupitt and Geering, have not hesitated to probe the value of “God”. Cupitt’s analysis, in The New religion of life in everyday speech, of how in contemporary thought the concept of “life” has largely overtaken “God” is hard to dismiss. His latest book, A Great new story, is reviewed in the Network’s latest Newsletter for September 2011. It touches on how in the Bible story, God gradually engineered his own exit from the earthly scene and handed the reigns over to us. Now we must act on our inheritance and we must play God.


Geering’s challenge, posed in his 2002 Christianity without God, is further supported by his latest lecture series, Yung, the unconscious and us. As reported by Ian Harris, the thread of the series was that religious ideas, even God, originate in the unconscious as part of the human psyche. But, according to Jung and Geering, while this provides a natural explanation of religious experience, it doesn’t thereby make religion false.


That’s why I find myself recoiling from some of the more blunt expressions of anti-God talk. These are illustrated by the front cover of the March 2011 issue of the Journal of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. “To hell with God” refers to an article by a Steve Cooper in which he recounts the satisfying experience he had one day of ceremoniously burning one of his Bibles. He thereby demonstrated his complete rejection of God, together with all the trappings of the Christian faith, and a great deal of suffering, wars, injustice, bigotry and many kinds of intolerance which followed in their wake.


Equally, however, I recoil from what seem to me to be facile defences of the traditional God. In the same issue of The Open society, is an article by Bill Cooke on “God and the earthquake”. Now Bill happens to be also a Sea of Faith member, but his plain-speaking rejection of religious maneuverings over interpretations of the Christchurch earthquake struck a chord with me which I found quite absent from most Christian commentary I have come across.


So perplexed had I been by the chorus of assurances that God is in the midst of all this, that I wrote an article for my parish bulletin a few months ago to defend the Lyttleton columnist, Joe Bennett’s sceptical contributions to the debate. I expressed a longing for faith defenders to be more contingent, even to the extent of faith in God as God. Unfortunately, I got no response. Either I had trodden too softly in my plea for a sense of vulnerability in the face of natural disaster or parishioners didn’t want to engage.


I think I would get a better response if I shared with them the message of that little tract I was given. “The Bible is clear”, it says, – “each of us has offended God”. Such a God who has taken such offence is not a God that many Christians today either want or warm to. For them such a God is a fossil fuel that is running out and ruining lives. For them, permanent separation from such a God in a place called hell might not be as bad a fate as the tract makes out.


But the God issue goes much deeper than that. Once again, to my surprise at this level, I found some appealing thoughts from the Pope. In the same book I have quoted from, he said that one of the major reasons for what he called “the crumbling of Christianity” lies “in the fact that it seems to have been surpassed by ‘science’ and to be out of step with the rationalism of the modern area”. He spoke of the need to engage in dialogue with scientists and philosophers on the basic question of what makes the world cohere. Does matter create reason? And so on. Then, he added, remarkably in my view:


A valid civil religion will not conceive of God as a mythical entity bur rather as a possibility of reason.


More recently, the Pope has observed what he terms “a sort of eclipse of the sense of God”. While we know that he reserves very different views for himself and the Catholic Church, it seems significant to me that he can at least imagine a valid religion which does “not conceive of God as a mythical entity”. Perhaps the Pope has gone beyond acknowledging that things are not always as they seem. Has he also detected that things that may seem to be are not necessarily things that are?


Compare the Pope’s speculation with some research data I came across in a New Zealand authored collection on The Future of Christianity. It cited a study in Britain which had shown that “Whereas in 1947 more believed in a personal God than an impersonal God (as Spirit or Life Force), by 1993 the balance had changed so that belief in a personal God was the minority understanding.” A New Zealand survey 10 years ago backed up those findings and concluded that “belief seems to be evolving rather than fading away.”


As far as I have been able to check, the definition of God in the Concise Oxford Dictionary has remained virtually unchanged over a hundred years. A “superhuman being worshipped as having power over nature and human fortunes”. One probably can’t quarrel with that for a dictionary, but a more nuanced observation might have detected a rather less focused common meaning. I think it’s a fair assumption that Prime Minister Richard John Seddon’s God would have had firmer features than John Key’s.


But who would now hazard a claim that “God” is spiritually a fossil fuel, a spent force and a threat to the species? Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Hawking and co certainly would. Same here, if it’s a God who dictated 66 ancient books as his (or even her) last will and two testaments. Same here, if it’s a God who privileged the Church as the unique embodiment of wisdom, grace and truth. Same here if it’s an offended God who banishes the lost to hell. Same here, for me at least, if it’s a God who amidst human woes gets the credit for fostering community and compassion, when it would be far simpler to just be grateful for the hugs and hopes of flesh-and-blood human beings.



And that’s where I could leave consideration of the God concept, but I want to go back to the little story of the man who fell off a cliff and is hanging onto a small tree growing on the side of the cliff. It seems to me that this is a story not just about the spiritual world. It can also take us full circle back to the physical world that we dealt with in Part 1. But to do so, to cover both worlds, we need to enter into it imaginatively as if we were that man, or woman, in that situation. I find I can do that for myself quite readily, having once had a very similar actual experience on a cliff face, even if lacking the audible conversation.


So for sure, I have asked for God and about God. For that matter, I’ve wondered where that voice, saying “This is God”, was really coming from. Was it from up there or from my own creative unconscious? Was it my psyche projecting the archetype of God that I have inherited from my ancestors? And then I’ve also asked, “Is there anyone else up there?”


But that’s not all there is to the story. Remember that while all the God talk is going on I am hanging onto a small tree growing on the side of the cliff. And what about this tree that I am clinging to right now? I see that it is clinging for it’s own dear life to the cliff face. I am not the only one I and it are connected more deeply than I had ever imagined before. And what about the cliff, and the wind, and the waves below? We are all connected and interdependent.


So I take a firm grip on myself as much as I have on the tree. Then slowly I inch my way back to the cliff top. I probably won’t see God or anyone else there. But I will be a different person after this experience – more emotional and more rational. I shall feel both helpless and hopeful. I shall grasp the present and the future with a new perspective. I shall even breathe more consciously. I may even think of the carbon dioxide that I exhale. I may sense how I myself am actually a part of the climate of the whole earth.


I shall be aware that modern industrial society is already bringing about a rate of extinction 1000 times greater than the background level. But I shall also imagine how in some infinitesimal ways I might assist in preventing climate change from reaching a climactic moment when life itself may teeter on the cliff edge. And at that point I may even find the God that matters most.



David Kitchingman

September 2011

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