Faith in a Changing Climate

gaia climate change

The world needs climate change leadership, and the church can provide that leadership. But first church leaders and people of faith need to understand the nature of the complex dilemmas that we face, and what they can realistically do in response. The church also needs a theology that is appropriate for these unprecedented times.

Faith in a Changing Climate provides a clear, factual and unemotional explanation of climate change, and related topics such as resource depletion, population overshoot and our destruction of the natural world.

The following three statements summarize the book’s message; they can be used as a part of a theology for our times.

  • Understand physical realities,
  • Accept and adapt, and
  • Live within Gaia.

Faith in an Age of Limits is unique in the manner in which it integrates science, technology and faith. The book helps the reader understand the following concepts and ideas.

  • The nature and importance of climate change, and why an urgent response is needed.
  • The fact that climate change is not 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.
  • The complexity of climate change, and how it interacts with many other equally complex issues, such as energy depletion.
  • A recognition that many of the proposed solutions to these crises are not realistic given the urgency of the situation.
  • The fallacy of green technology 'hopium'.
  • Ways in which in which people of faith, working both as individuals and within the larger church, can respond and provide leadership.
  • Thoughts to do with the spiritual and theological aspects of these challenges.
  • The importance of local communities and parishes.

The book is organized into the following ten chapters.

  1. Noah’s Ark
  2. An Opportunity for Leadership
  3. A Journey
  4. The 300-Year Party
  5. The City of Man
  6. Exile
  7. Green Technology to the Rescue
  8. Toward a New Theology
  9. The One and Future Church
  10. The Three Guidelines
Ian Sutton


Chapter 1 — Noah’s Ark   
Personal Background
We Are “We” 
Organization of this Book
The Missing Happy Chapter

Chapter 2 — An Opportunity for Leadership
The Parable of the Inheritance
Isaiah (8th century BCE)   
Our Predicaments  
Limits to Growth
   Climate Change Not the Core Problem    
   Oil — The Magic Fuel
   An Age of Limits
Three Guidelines
   Understand Physical Realities
   Accept and Adapt
   Live within Gaia
   Through a Glass Darkly    
   Lessons from 2020    
   Personal Experience
   The Renewables Paradox    
   Jevons Paradox
   The Carbon Capture Paradox   
From Augustine to Newton to Schrödinger’s Cat  
   Medieval World View  
   Scientific World View  
   Quantum World View
Climate Change Background
   Conferences of the Parties (COPs)
   Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
   The IPCC 1.5°C Report
   Net Zero by 2050
Where Is God In All This?    
Today’s Church

Chapter 3 — A Journey 
Jeremiah (7th Century BCE)
The Parable of the Blind Golfers
A Theology for Our Times
All Disciplines
   Two Cultures
   Church Leadership
A Chemical Engineer’s Journey
Steps in the Journey
1: The Machine Stops
2: Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World
3: Twilight in the Desert
4: The Hubbert Peak    
5: Sustainable Growth — An Oxymoron    
6: No Brighter Future
7: City of God
8: Light Bulbs
9: The Ladder of Awareness
10: Laudato Sí

Chapter 4 — The 300-Year Party
The Parable of the Reindeer    
Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729)
The Party Starts
   Coal and Steam Power
Information Technology
The Party Ends
The Parable of the Reindeer Continued

Chapter 5 — The City of Man
The Parable of the Red Queen
Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Thermodynamic Limits
   First Law
   The Second Law  
   The Third Law / Zeno's Paradox
Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI)
   Nine Pounds of Gold
   Defining ERoEI
   The Energy Cliff
The Tragedy of the Commons
Natural Resources
   Fresh/Fossil Water
Climate Change
   Causes of Climate Change
   Historical Understanding    
   Process — Not an Event   
   Tipping Points
Ecosphere Destruction
The Consequences
   The Uninhabitable Earth
   Six Degrees
   Deep Adaptation
Decline and Collapse
   Causes of Decline
   Catabolic Collapse
   Dark Ages

Chapter 6 — Exile
The Parable of Ozymandias
John Shelby Spong (1931-2021)
Climate Exile
A Church in Decline
OK Boomer
Types of Denial
   Honest Denial
   Malicious Denial
   Bright Green Denial
   Don't Want to Think About It
Responding to Denial
   To Talk, or Not
   Climate Science
   Trust in Experts
   Increasing Awareness
   Sowing Seeds
   A Changing Perception
Hope with Patience
   Realistic Hope  
Plant a Tree

Chapter 7 — Green Technology to the Rescue 
The Parable of the Wine Vat
Al Gore (1948- )
Wisdom and Cleverness
Listen to the Engineers and Project Managers
   Project Management 
   Project Resources
   Broken Supply Chains
   No Technological Fix  
   Unknown Unknowns
Alternative Energy Sources
   Anaesthetics from Windmills
   Intermittent Energy
   Going First Subsidy
   Progress to Date    
Solar Power
Wind Power
Nuclear Power (Fission)
   Unrealized Hopes
Futuristic Energy Sources
   Small Modular Reactors
   Thorium Reactors
   Nuclear Power (Fusion)
   Cold Fusion
Energy Storage
Carbon Capture and Storage
   Biotic Carbon Capture
   Abiotic Carbon Capture
   Thermodynamic Limits
Artificial Intelligence

Chapter 8— Toward a New Theology
The Parable of the Green Factory
Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)
The Slough of Despond
Semper Reformanda
Chistianity and . . .
Royalty to Apocalypse
Elements of Theology
Biblical Theology
   Scriptural Accuracy
   Relevance to the Modern World
   Human Dominance
Historical Theology 
   Augustine of Hippo
   Gregory I and Monasticism
   Luther and the Printing Press
Dogmatic Theology
Practical Theology 
Policy Statements
   Mission Statements
   The ‘Green Bishops’ Mission Statement
   Episcopal Mission Statement
   Interfaith Mission Statement
   Faith in a Changing Climate Mission Statement
Elements of a New Theology
   Climate Change as a Value 
   Ora et Labora  
   Justice for Future Generations
   Old-Fashioned Language
   Confusion of Purpose
   Thinking Sustainability
   Theologians: One Funeral at a Time
Social Justice
Faith vs. Works
   Earth as an Entity  
   Foundation Stories

Chapter 9 — The Once and Future Church    
The Parable of the Church Kitchen
Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-c. 547)
The Opportunity 
   Leadership and Management
   The Emergent Church
   Lessons from the Pandemic
   Yesterday’s Priorities  
   Bold Action 
Leaving The Church of Material Progress
   Simpler Life    
   Walk the Talk   
   From the Pulpit
Types of Response  
Institutional Change
Local Community / The Parish
   Sharing Grief 
   Remembrance of Things Past 
   Community Gardens 
Personal Action
A Path Forward 

Chapter 9 — The Three Guidelines
1. Understand Physical Realities    
   Science — Hydrogen Reality
   Engineering — Nuclear Power
   Management — Carbon Capture
2. Accept and Adapt
3. Live within Gaia
Final Thoughts
   Avoid the Moral High Ground
   Help Others
   Where Is God In All This?
Moral and Spiritual Response
The Canticle of the Sun