Book by Andrew Boyd

I think it is fair to say that I didn’t know what I was getting into when I opened Andrew Boyd’s book I Want a Better Catastrophe. Nor when I attended his book tour event at Congregation Havurah Shalom. My engagement with Andrew’s journey has been transformational, leading me to a places of sadness and commitment to action.


Andrew Boyd is a long-time activist who has embraced the climate justice movement. He has been dedicating his life’s energy towards climate awareness, climate action and justice. In addition to his book, Andrew is the Chief Existential Officer (CEO) of the Climate Clock ( Click on the link to see how long we have in our 1.5 degC carbon budget. It’s not long pretty, not long.


Andrew is disappointed, dismayed, and disillusioned by our lack of progress. In his book, Andrew takes us on a journey through his struggle with despair, grief, and hopelessness. He engages with climate doomers, eco-spiritualists, and community organizers to guide his journey.


I could have tossed Andrew’s book into the dustbin of “fear mongers” in the climate space, but Andrew’s clever book title invited me in. A Better Catastrophe? Huh? I don’t want any catastrophe whatsoever. Why a better one?


Typical of me, I needed to do my own research. Atypical of me I wanted to share my journey with others, which shows personal growth from my participation in EcoFaith Recovery. Acting Together (practice 5) is especially valuable in this case because there is comfort in groups and this existential crisis is emotionally challenging.


So I dove into climate science, which I hadn’t really done before. What did I find? Global greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to increase despite that little pandemic-caused dip in 2020. To date, 1.1 degC of warming and climbing. Areas of the Earth becoming uninhabitable already. Tipping points are very near, if not already upon us.


And that the critical 1.5 degC threshold is no longer an achievable goal. The Climate Clock as I write this shows 6 years, 12 days, and 13 hours left in our 1.5 degC carbon budget. It’s too far to go with far too little time. Check out the emissions reductions graphs on Our World in Data. From 2023, It’s a sheer cliff to limit global warming to 1.5 degC. There is nowhere near enough time to traverse all of the switchbacks necessary for a safe descent. 


Today the news is that it is very likely that I will experience a 1.5 degC year in my lifetime! Maybe, just maybe, we’ll keep warming below 2 degC. But only if we act aggressively right now … and we don’t have a good track record on that front, to say the least.


Warming of 2 degC means extreme storms, severe coastal flooding, deadly heat waves, and uncontrollable wildfires. More likely we’ll hit 3¼ degC. That means global climate chaos: widespread ecosystem collapse, food and water shortages, and massive climate-caused migration. God forbid!


Our current path is headlong towards global climate chaos? Oof!! Now I understand Andrew’s sense of despair. It’s a realization that causes me deep sadness.


I took the opportunity to share this message at Waverly UCC on the Sunday after Pentecost, when we traditionally read our first creation story. It’s a beautiful story until the “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over” language. While one can choose the path of reinterpreting or recasting those words, I chose a different path. The path of “here we are, on the brink of climate disaster”; this is where the dominant Western Christian worldview of “dominion” and subjugation has gotten us. Let’s look at that head-on. Let’s sit with it. Let’s feel it. I invite you to take a few minutes of reflection on that right now.


Now what? Where do we go next with this realization? Is any of our work worth the effort given the lack of progress so far? How do we sustain hope? Hope for what, exactly? How do we stay motivated in the face of some level of catastrophe? I turn to the thought leaders in Andrew’s book for wisdom.


Some of my acquaintances ask me why I bother working on climate action. It’s futile in their view. Humanity’s fate is sealed: we’re “toast”. I didn’t have a response for this fatalistic viewpoint before reading Andrew’s book.


Why bother? As Tim DeChristopher says: “take action because it is how we love the world, not because it will solve the climate crisis”. How biblical is that? Pouring our energy into the world because we love Creation. Being of service without a guarantee of specific outcome: that is called faith. It’s a call to a values-based motivation in service of future generations and all Creation. God adores their Creation and so should we!


Joanna Macy shares that we should “be of service to the world not knowing whether we are hospice workers or midwives”. We’re working for the best possible outcome. Most hopefully, we’re birthing a new way of being in God’s Creation, though this “new way” is probably well-known to Indigenous peoples.


If we’re “toast”, then how burnt do you want the toast to be? And who gets toasted first, second and last? I’ll spare you the potential stages of toastiness, figuring that you get my drift on this point. If we’re the “hospice workers” that Joanna suggests as a possibility, then let’s direct our energies towards minimizing suffering for those on the frontlines while sharing the beauty and joy of the remaining journey.


Joanna reminds me that I can’t know the outcome. Neither did Moses.


Then I am uneasy even with even the work I am doing, like advocating for electrifying our homes and buildings. For sure, this is important towards the necessary goal of decarbonizing the grid. But what about those who can’t afford it? What am I doing for those neighbors?


Gopal Dayaneni turns my metrics on their heads with his statement that “the real indicators of how we are dealing with the climate crisis are justice and wellbeing.” Wow. I think Jesus would have said that. I need to be thinking beyond percent renewable energy in the grid and number of electric heat pumps installed. That’s why EcoFaith Recovery’s work is climate justice, not just climate action.


As many of our faith communities struggle with engagement and membership, I worry about the future of our communities. I am convinced that communities of faith have something vital to offer as the climate crisis progresses with its inevitable shocks, societal shifts, and associated traumas.


Yet, I feel that we are unprepared. We spend most of our time talking about membership rolls, how we’re going to cover this year’s budget, and the building issue dujour. We are wasting time while the Climate Clock continues its merciless countdown. (Check it again. We have even less time than when you started reading this post.)


There is a very real danger that many faith communities will react by turning inward. Frankly, some are doing just that already. If you need to burst any illusion that self-protection is a viable answer, read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Through a horrific dystopia, one of Octavia’s messages is that we’ll only protect ourselves by caring for each other and everyone. Our faith communities need a strong foundation of a caring and interconnected community for sure, but we must broaden our focus outward.


The percentage of “nones” (i.e. the unchurched) in the United States is higher than it has ever been and continues to increase. Faith communities are not relevant to their lives. Why not?


I don’t have any specific answers about how our faith communities become relevant in the face of this crisis. I have only the belief that spirituality, practiced in community, is vital to humanity’s continued existence in God’s Creation. Working for justice and the wellbeing of others is a core value. This is work worth doing, even if the outcome isn’t quite what I’d wished.


I pose these questions and invite conversation about them.


  • What spiritual practices do we have that could help families and individuals cope with the challenges and grief of the climate crisis?

  • How do our faith communities become forces for healing our relationships with God’s Creation?

  • How do our faith communities become centers of resilience and hope for ourselves and the wider community?

  • How do we inspire action towards justice and wellbeing for all people? … towards God’s call for wholeness?

  • How do we invite and welcome the wider community, beyond our church directories, into this vital spiritual space?


I close with a prayer, which we know as Practice One: Accessing Spiritual Power.


God all around us, God within us, God among us:

Holy are all your names expressed through the many faiths.

We are in awe of your Creation, our Mother who provides our daily bread.

Forgive our sins against her. Deliver us from our destructive ways. Guide us to walk more humbly in your Creation and heal our relationship with her. 

Lead us on a path towards a life-sustaining worldview. Help us to know our interdependence with your kin-dom of sacred beings.

Open our eyes to the suffering of others. Give us generous hearts and a zeal for justice.

Be present with each of us through our journeys. Grant us comfort, hope, and joy in the journey. For all love, all clarity, and all power are from you.




Written by Scott Shurtleff of Waverly UCC in Portland, OR

I Want a Better Catastrophe Book Reflections by Scott Shurtleff EcoFaith Leader from Waverly UCC

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