The Latest IPCC Report and the Pressing Imperative of Delivering Dark Hope
David R. Weiss – August 9, 2021
Dark Hope: a hope that is fully alongside us in the unpredictable tumult ahead. Indeed, not a hope that “shines in the darkness,” but a hope that abides as darkness itself.
The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) just out today does everything but connect the dots: ecological and societal collapse IS coming and we are NOT ready. These are the five “key takeaways” identified by CNN, captured here in DIRECT quotes from the CNN story:
(1) Humans are unequivocally warming the planet. Society’s reliance on fossil fuels is the reason the planet has already warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius—every bit of it through the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
(2) The only way to stop the warming is to end greenhouse gas emissions: The longer it takes, the hotter it gets. Avoiding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is all but impossible … avoiding the worsening impacts that come from approaching and passing 2 degrees of warming will take significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions starting immediately. If emissions continue to increase, the world will top 2 degrees Celsius of warming—possibly before 2050—and reach 3 degrees Celsius before the end of the century.
(3) Climate impacts (heat waves, droughts, flooding, hurricanes, sea level rise, weather whiplash) are severe in every region of the planet, and will worsen with every fraction of a degree of warming.
(4) Some changes are irreversible, even under the lowest emissions scenarios. Ice sheets will continue melting for hundreds to thousands of years, which will cause sea levels to rise well beyond 2100 and stay higher for millennia.
(5) Atmospheric methane is skyrocketing and is currently the highest it’s been in 800,000 years, largely because of a combination of natural gas leaks (around drilling sites) and unsustainable agriculture and cattle farming.
As usual, the report wants to say two things at once: the situation is dire AND there is still time if we start now. But the undeniable truth is that we are NOT starting now. We are politically and culturally incapable of starting now. As one tiny but immediate example of that, on a Chicago news station today I listened to a news story summarizing this latest IPCC report, then immediately as the station cut away for commercial, the newscaster said, “When we return, get ready to crank up your AC as we hear about the heat coming our way next week.”
This is why even holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is barely imaginable. We are headed toward ecological and societal collapse the likes of which we cannot fathom. It may be survivable, but we are completely unprepared to meet the challenges that are already inexorably racing at us.
Over the past two weeks I wrote an eight-essay series about what it means to be church (or any authentic human community) … in a time of approaching ecological-social collapse. This is only the beginning of the next chapter of my work. If you missed that series, I implore you to read it start to finish. (Links are below.) It is still a bit rough and raw: I wrote it “on the run” day by day. I will be refining and expanding on every paragraph in the months and years ahead. But these essays make an essential beginning—and we are already far too late in our beginning.
This is an annotated overview of the essays, with links to each one. Each essay treats a different facet of the larger project, but there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.
Delivering Dark Hope #1: It’s a Dickens of a Time to be the Church. In which I announce the overarching project I plan to undertake, along with my conviction that in this moment for the church to be the church means to “deliver dark hope.”
Delivering Dark Hope #2: Collapse – the Bio-Physical Roots. In which I set forth the damning “hard science” evidence for why eco-social collapse is now a foregone conclusion. This essay is far from exhaustive—and was written prior to today’s IPCC report—but, sadly, it is not difficult to make the case we have passed the point of no return.
Delivering Dark Hope #3: Collapse – The Psychic-Social-Cultural Roots. In which I draw on Trauma Management Theory (grounded in Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, 1973), to set forth the equally damning “soft science” evidence for why eco-social collapse is now a foregone conclusion.
Delivering Dark Hope #4: An Abiding, Enduring Vocation. In which I argue that the moment has arrived for the church to make an unwavering declaration of collapse (there is no more time for cautious words if we intend to be church) and make an equally unwavering commitment to be with God’s people as we are pulled into the midst of collapse.
Delivering Dark Hope #5: What of Justice? In which I explain why, even as climate breakdown becomes an all-encompassing reality, that reality encompasses justice work; it doesn’t supersede it. There remains quintessential, even existential value to justice work, even and especially in an unraveling world.
Delivering Dark Hope #6: Faith Fit for Collapse. In which I suggest some of the key features of “faith fit for collapse,” such as the gratitude-awe, grief-lament, empathy-solidarity, mutual vulnerability, and the holiness of liminality. This involves both reclaiming core features of our distant heritage and imagining new ways to cultivate and practice them in a wholly changed world.
Delivering Dark Hope #7: Children … of Collapse. In which I (try to) address head on the awkward agonizing dilemma of acknowledging that we will bequeath to our children a world so deeply wounded that all their lives will be necessarily given over to its care. How then will we love these lives that have already been consigned to such jeopardy? I don’t yet know, but I will learn.
Delivering Dark Hope #8: Collapsing into … Joy. In which I assert that, even as we careen toward eco-social collapse, and even though we rightly feel frantic and frenzy, nonetheless it remains possible to live our lives well and with purpose even now. There is much that we will not fathom in advance—that we will only understand in the doing—but somehow Dark Hope brings with it joy.
I do not claim these essays are definitive. They were penned on the run. They mark only the beginning of my own plunge into writing theology in the very midst of collapse. But I pledge to keep writing, to bear witness to the Gospel as our world unravels. And to imagine as fiercely and faithfully as I can what it means to be human in the years ahead.
I do not believe you will find a more thoughtful guide or a more worthy conversation partner on this journey. I hope you join me. (Please subscribe!) Dark Hope awaits. And we have no time to lose.
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NOTE: None of my writing is behind a pay wall. It’s all gift. Over the next decade it may be among the most important gifts you receive. Still, this is my work. Every monthly pledge (even $2-10/month!) via Patreon keeps me fed in body and spirit. If you can support me with a monthly gift I’m grateful. In any case, please read—and please subscribe.
David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.