Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future

Michael Dowd

The former pastor, Rev. Michael Dowd, is best known as the author of the best-selling book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. Dowd is a religious naturalist (“Religious naturalism (RN) combines a naturalist worldview with perceptions and values commonly associated with religions”), an eco-theologian and a pro-science evangelist. His passion for proclaiming a nature-honoring message of inspiration – what he calls “Right Relationship with Reality” – has earned him the title “Rev. Reality.”  Michael and his science writer and climate activist wife, Connie Barlow, have dedicated themselves to an itinerant life of permanent travel across North America, speaking out about our sacred responsibility to future generations.

According to their website, their core message is this: “What matters most now, individually and collectively, is to honor Grace Limits, and be a stand for the future, in word and deed.”

What does it mean to honor Grace Limits? Dowd considers Grace Limits to be “the inescapable, geological, ecological, and thermodynamic constraints to which humanity must rapidly adjust.”  He explains:

Both the nonrenewable (“stock”) resources and the renewable (“flow”) resources upon which we depend I call natural grace. The one-time endowments of stock resources and the sustainable use rates of flow resources are both necessarily constrained on a finite planet. These constraints I call grace limits. These are the limits that ecologists point to when discerning carrying capacity. When we overshoot Earth’s bounty and renewal capacities, we effectively remove ourselves from paradise and put ourselves on the path to hell. To learn to recognize and then scrupulously honor carrying capacity as Reality’s grace limits is a task to which the authors included [on his Grace Limits Audios page] are devoted. I think of these advocates as prophets of sacred realism, or factual faith. Each one, in his or her own way, reveals how the future is calling us to greatness. If we hope to spare our grandchildren from hell and spare ourselves their condemnation, we must now urgently attend to, not just personal piety, but systemic piety. We must immediately begin measuring ‘progress’ and ‘success’ in long-term, life-centered ways, rather than short-term, human-centered ways; nothing is more important than this.

Dowd’s Grace Limits Audios are an amazing resource. He’s spent innumerable hours recording in downloadable audio format the best work of a wide array of the most important sustainability and resilience authors – and all available for free download. Some of the authors represented include William R. Catton, Jr., John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Thomas Berry, JoAnna Macy, Lynn Margulis, Samuel Alexander, Tom Wessells, Erik Lindberg, Walter Youngquist, Theo Kitchener, and more.  In addition to his own audio recordings of these works, he also provides a plethora of links to online information and presentations of others. A wealth of education is available here.

standing-for-the-future

Dowd’s own recent work is perhaps best summarized in a 5 page essay, Evidential Medicine for Our Collective Soul: What’s Inevitable? What’s Redemptive?,” published in “Oneing” (Aug. 2016, Vol 4 No. 2), the quarterly publication put out by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.  A 19 minute audio recording of this essay is also available.

In this essay, Dowd notes that a new “Evidential Reformation” is coming into being, where all forms of evidence are coming to be valued equally and religiously. This includes scientific, historic, cross-cultural, and experiential evidence and includes, as Pope Francis has declared, ecology becoming integral to theology. Faith leaders such as Pope Francis (Roman Catholic), Patriarch Bartholomew (Easter Orthodox), and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhist) are all at the forefront of this reformation that Rev. Dowd is calling “Religion 3.0.”

However, Dowd warns us that “the noble sentiments that spawned care for Creation are no match for the crises now spinning out of control.” He writes that “It is time for a prophetic turbo-charging of our religious traditions. Foremost is the need to expand beyond the self-focus of individual salvation of enlightenment to also include vital community concerns – notably, survival.”

In the section of the essay addressing “What’s Inevitable?,” Dowd outlines a series of predicaments.  Not problems that can be addressed and solved, but predicaments that we must live through and deal with – hence, what is inevitable. He discusses climate chaos, sea level rise, the end of the fossil fuel era, political unrest, toxic legacy, biodiversity catastrophe, cultural loss, and the unraveling of worldviews. He states that to stay relevant, religions will need to foster not only personal wholeness, but also social coherence and ecological integrity. Dowd prophetically calls us as individuals to “voluntarily sacrifice [our] own comfort and security in service of safeguarding cultural treasures through a dark age.” He invites us to embark on legacy projects that are meaningful to us:

“Love something, learn something, let something go, and pass something forward.”

In the next section on “What’s Redemptive?,” he advises that we can’t compensate for the ecological devastation that has already occurred, nor can we fully reverse the ongoing effects of past behavior. He calls us, as a prodigal species, to come home to reality and set a new course.  “If we treat primary reality as anything other than primary, there will be consequences.”

To realign with Reality means that we must redefine “progress,” and learn that the success of any species depends upon learning to thrive within the limits of carrying capacity of the ecological system that we inhabit. He writes:

It is time to integrate carrying capacity into our theologies. Toward this end, I now speak of “grace limits.” The bounds that delimit safe levels of human use of other creatures and their habitats are there by natural grace. By staying within those bounds, we experience the grace of God’s nature. To venture beyond – which we have done, excessively – we suffer “God’s wrath” via storms, drought, floods, wildfires, rising and acidifying oceans, and in a great dying.

The call to action for religious adherents is this: to first learn about, then reflect upon, and finally evolve our worldviews. Henceforth, the unbending grace limits of God’s nature, combined with carrying capacity deficits inflicted by a century of human overpopulation and extravagant consumption (i.e. “overshoot”) will constrain even our noblest aims and thus the bounds of our efforts.

Dowd concludes the essay with his own ‘top ten’ list: “Reality’s Rules: Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction and Redeem Humanity.” These are what he considers to be “the limitations on our behavior essential for human communities to persist over the long term,” or the “constraints that our species must now impose on itself while navigating crises of our own creation.” The first five commandments help to disabuse us of an unreal notion of God, and the last five offer a way back into a right relationship with primary reality. The “commandments” are framed in traditional religious language:

“Thus sayeth the Lord”

  1. Stop thinking of me as anything less than the voice of undeniable and inescapable reality.
  2. Stop thinking of ‘revelation’ or ‘divine instruction’ without including evidence.
  3. Stop thinking of Genesis, or your creation story, apart from the history of the universe.
  4. Stop thinking of theology apart from ecology: the interdisciplinary study of my nature.
  5. Stop defining and measuring ‘progress’ in short-term, human-centered ways.
  6. Stop allowing the free or subsidized polluting of the commons.
  7. Stop using renewable resources faster than they can be replenished.
  8. Stop using non-renewable resources in ways that harm or rob future generations.
  9. Stop exploring for coal, oil, and natural gas—keep most of it in the ground.
  10. Stop prioritizing the wants of the wealthy over the needs of the poor.

* * *

 A 17 minute video is available that sums up the message of the above essay: “Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction: Reality’s Rules.”

A full and expanded presentation of the ideas presented in the essay is also available as a 3-part video series.  I highly recommend this. I feel it is well worth the investment of time.  Part 1 is below, and runs for 55 minutes.  Standing for the Future (Part 1 of 3): “Evidential Reformation: Facts as Scripture; Ecology as Theology”

Michael and Connie are currently engaged in a speaking tour in the northwest U.S., with upcoming vists to Edmonds, Whidbey Island, Seattle, Orcas Island, and Bellingham, WA, in January 2017.  Check out their itinerary here. Our Transition Whatcom event listing is here – Jan. 22nd (Sunday morning) and Jan. 23rd (Monday evening), both at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.

 

Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent

Integral Leadership ReviewIntegral Leadership Review (ILR) has published the paper I presented to the recent Integral Theory Conference 2015, “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent” in their August-November 2015 issue.

Also in this issue is Tim Winton’s reflections on the conference that is worth reading: “A Note on the Field: Thoughts on Integral Leadership Post ITC 2015.”

Jeremy Johnson also did a great job as the official conference blogger. Some of you might be able to identify me in the first photo on this page (Jeremy and Tim were two of my five suite-mates, which also included Chris Dierkes, Gaby McDonald, and Trevor Malkinson).

 

ILR headingILR Patterns for Navigating Intro

Abstract

This paper considers current concerns about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. Using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics™, developed by Tim Winton, this paper seeks to integrate multiple natural patterns in order to effectively impact these pressing challenges. Some of the Patterns considered include Energy, Transformity, Power, Pulse, Growth, and the polarities of Expansion/Contraction and Order/Chaos.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we re-examine our assumptions about “growth” and “development”? Jean Gebser’s emphasis that every mutation of structure is preceded by a crisis is considered and Howard T. Odum’s ideas about energy as the basis of man and nature informs the discussion. Edgar Morin’s dialogic Method of active inquiry in regards to the interplay of polarities assists in our understanding and response to the complex challenges we face.

Read the paper here.

About ILR, from their website:

Integral Leadership Review – the world’s premier publication of integrated approaches to leading and leadership.

Integral Leadership Review is a bridging publication that links authors and readers across cultures around the world. It serves leaders, professionals and academics engaged in the practice, development and theory of leadership. It bridges multiple perspectives by drawing on integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and developmental frameworks. These bridges are intended to assist all who read the Integral Leadership Review to develop and implement comprehensive shifts in strategies by providing lessons from experience, insights, and tools all can use in addressing the challenges facing the world.

Top 10 Hits – Resilience and Energy Bulletin

Reposted from Resilience.org

Formerly known as Energy Bulletin, celebrating 10 years online, this is a great time to review some of the great articles posted there over the last 10 years. In the next post I’ll share my own favorites.
– David 
by Resilience.org Staff, originally published by Resilience.org  | NOV 15, 2013
 

Ever wondered which articles have been accessed the most at Resilience.org and Energy Bulletin? Here’s the run down…What have been some of your favorites? Please let us know in the comments section at the bottom.

 

Resilience.org Top 10 Hits

1. Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US
by Dmitry Orlov, Dec, 2006

   

2. A DIY guide to wicking beds
by Rob Avis, May, 2011

   

3. The Brief, Tragic Reign of Consumerism—and the birth of a happy alternative
by Richard Heinberg, Jul, 2013

   

4. What kind of tree do acorns grow on? 
by Gene Logsdon, Dec, 2007

   

5. Solar Energy : This Is What A Disruptive Technology Looks Like 
by Brian McConnell, Apr, 2013

   

6. How to build a chicken run in 157 easy steps 
by Brian Kaller, Jan, 2013

   

7. When agriculture stops working: A guide to growing food in the age of climate destabilization and civilization collapse
by Dan Allen, Mar, 2013

   

8. Commentary: Why peak oil threatens the International Monetary System
by Erik Townsend, Jan, 2013

   

9. The Hard Road Ahead
by John Michael Greer, Mar, 2013

   

10. Electric velomobiles: as fast and comfortable as automobiles, but 80 times more efficient
by Kris De Decker, Oct, 2012

 

Energy Bulletin Top 10 Hits


1. Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US
by Dmitry Orlov, Dec, 2006

   

2. The Five Stages of Collapse
by Dmitry Orlov, Nov, 2008

   

3. Who has the oil?
by Aaron Pava, Nov, 2007

   

4. US military energy consumption- facts and figures
by Sohbet Karbuz, May, 2007

   

5. Why Our Food is So Dependent on Oil
by Norman J. Church, Apr, 2005

   

6. Soil food web – opening the lid of the black box
by Bart Anderson, Dec, 2006

   

7. Our American way of life is unsustainable – evidence 
by Chris Clugston, Aug, 2008

   

8. Peak phosphorus
by Patrick Déry, Bart Anderson, Aug, 2007

   

9. A shale gas boom?
by Dave Cohen, Jun, 2009

   

10. Energy Payback of Roof Mounted Photovoltaic Cells
by Colin Bankier, Steve Gale, Jun, 2006

Hurricane Cassandra

Hurricane Sandy as Greek Tragedy

by Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation

Never has a hurricane been more aptly, if tragically, named than Sandy, the superstorm that flooded New York City and battered much of the East Coast….

Sandy is short for Cassandra, the Greek mythological figure who epitomizes tragedy. The gods gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy; depending on which version of the story one prefers, she could either see or smell the future. But with this gift also came a curse: Cassandra’s warnings about future disasters were fated to be ignored. That is the essence of this tragedy: to know that a given course of action will lead to disaster but to pursue it nevertheless.

And so it has been with America’s response to climate change. For more than twenty years, scientists and others have been warning that global warming, if left unaddressed, would bring a catastrophic increase in extreme weather—summers like that of 2012, when the United States endured the hottest July on record and the worst drought in fifty years, mega-storms like the one now punishing the East Coast.

Read More

Frankenstorm: Meteorologist Warns Hurricane Sanday an Outgrowth of Global Warming’s Extreme Weather

by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, warns that such a “Frankenstorm,” as it is called, is an outgrowth of the extreme weather changes caused by global warming. “When you do heat the oceans up more, you extend the length of hurricane season,” Masters says. “There’s been ample evidence over the last decade or so that hurricane season is getting longer — starts earlier, ends later. You’re more likely to get these sort of late October storms now, and you’re more likely to have this sort of situation where a late October storm meets up with a regular winter low-pressure system and gives us this ridiculous combination of a nor’easter and a hurricane that comes ashore, bringing all kinds of destructive effects.”

Read More

Sandy and Digital Snow Days

by Mary Logan, A Prosperous Way Down

As I write this early on Tuesday morning, watching this game-changer of a storm, a myriad of thoughts go through my head. The storm event is just the beginning. Rivers will flood, and snows will accumulate. Recovery will be long and slow. Recovery will be hampered by problems with energy delivery, complexity, and density of populations. Just in time, digitized systems that are overly complex will be challenged. News will filter out slowly, with initial optimism about the extent of the damage, followed by increasingly pessimistic reports about the size and extent of the problems as communication begins to be reestablished. This post describes Sandy as a catastrophic pulse in relation to the problems of dense urban living, complexity, and digitization.

Read More

The Superstorm

by Tom Whipple

The missing ingredient in nearly all the talk was an explanation of what a hurricane, even a small one, was doing in the North Atlantic at the end of October. The answer of course is global warming which even though it has raised average ocean temperatures by only 1o F. has extended the hurricane season enough to produce this calamity. We should give CNN some credit for the day after the storm they called an array of climate scientists to find out what happened. All of the scientists pointed a finger directly at global warming and noted that the problem was only going to get worse and worse as the sea level was rising and the arctic melting much faster than had been predicted five years ago.
For years climate scientists have warned us that seemingly minor changes in global temperatures would lead to unusual weather events having serious consequences. They clearly got it right, for in the past decade we have had several major hurricanes that tore up Gulf oil production and nearly did in New Orleans and several other Gulf towns; outbreaks of tornados that flattened towns in the mid-west; floods in the Mississippi valley; droughts in Texas and the corn belt; blizzards on the east coast; and two monster storms in a row slamming into the New York area.
by Lindsey Curren, Lindsey’s List

We live in a world dependent on electricity and we forget that being dependent on something — however wonderful that thing is — makes you vulnerable.

Even getting a back-up generator isn’t a painless solution for household resilience. A medium-size generator can cost $50 or more per day in fuel to run. And just hope that your local gas stations don’t lose power or sell out to panic buyers before you get there. In the long run, generators are dependent on fossil fuel inputs and fossil fuels are finite resources that are getting scarcer and more costly.

That’s why it’s a good idea to hedge your bets on the future with some low-tech options to keep your lifestyle gracious and enjoyable in disasters both natural and man-made.

So, in light of Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy, I thought I’d share a few prep tips for your consideration.

If it’s too late for you for this storm, get them in place for the next one, and for a future that’s sure to be more vulnerable to electrical disruptions and fuel scarcity as these kinds of storms become more frequent and the cost of fossil fuels rises as they deplete.

Read More

Superstorm Sandy Speaks to Preparedness for Climate Disruption

by Sandra Postel, National Geographic

Instead of sparring over whether human-induced climate disruption is the cause of any particular flood or drought, we should be preparing for the more extreme weather that scientists warn is coming.

Preparedness for climate disruption is far more complex, to be sure.  It involves mitigating the harm by investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and climate-friendly transportation systems.  It involves building durable food systems and smarter water management.  And it involves strategically rebuilding our ecological infrastructure – including wetlands, floodplains and watersheds – so as to enlist nature’s help in mitigating both droughts and floods.

The lessons from Sandy couldn’t be clearer.  Invest in good monitoring and forecasting, so we know what’s coming.  Demand leaders who listen to the scientific intelligence, and act on it.  And as responsible citizens, work together to build secure, resilient communities.
You can donate to the Red Cross’s hurricane relief efforts here.