April 2012


“The natural world is a gift from God, but we are also called to join with God in sustaining and caring for it.” John Sentamu, The Archbishop of York.

Today is Earth Day so I thought I’d post this video to mark the occasion.  It’s a Veritas lecture given by Ecology Professor Kyle Van Houtan entitled: Is God Green? – Jesus, the Church, and Caring for the Earth.

The other day I read an article from rejectapathy.com that asks: Does the Church need to become more unified in the fight against climate change?  They answer yes and you can read the full piece here.  I was particularly struck by a biblical analogy to our current inaction in responding to climate change and the prevailing attitude that says or implies we don’t need to worry because “at least it won’t happen in my lifetime”.  The analogy is with Hezekiah’s reaction to being told that his children would be taken into exile:

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: A time is coming when everything in your palace which your ancestors have stored up to this day will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will remain behind, said the LORD. And some of your sons, your own issue, whom you will have fathered, will be taken to serve as eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon.”  Hezekiah declared to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.”  For he thought, “It means that safety is assured for my time.”  2 Kings 20: 16-19 (JPS)

Well today sees Rick Santorum finally calling an end to his bid to become the Republican nomination for US president. I’ve been meaning to blog about his views on climate change for a while so hear goes.  Santorum went further than all the Republican candidates who ran for the presidental nomination, the vast majority have stated that the science on climate change is unsettled.  However, Satorum goes further and says climate change is “an absolute travesty of scientific research …”.  Indeed he has called Obama’s theology phony and not based on the bible because he sides with radical environmentalists!  For reporting on this Bible-tinged climate change denial see this article.

Unfortunately the Christian theology of “dominion” has and still is contributing to environmental degradation.  You can read my own views on the use of dominion in Genesis 1 here.  The Bible actually says is that the Earth is not ours to use and misuse as we please, but

“The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1)

According to recent polls evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree that humans play a role in climate change and also the most likely to indicate that there is no scientific proof that climate change exists.  Yet, some scientists and Christians are suggesting that this has nothing to do with theology, and more to do with political science.  Environmental issues are often seen as liberal agenda items and many conservative information sources present climate change as a theory rather than scientific fact.  A recent study stated that views were strongly partisan, with 78% of Democrats believing in climate change and only 47% of Republicans.  Although, I have heard of a study that shows that the carbon footprints of Democrats and Republicans are no different, in other words whatever you believe people are not doing anything about it! Incidentally I also heard that this is true of climate scientist themselves who have the highest carbon footprints of any discipline.

The Empty Tomb by Ghislaine Howard

“Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance. So she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”. Then Peter and the other disciple set out to go to the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who had been following him, arrived and went right into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, came in, and he saw and believed. (For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.)” John 20:1-9

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein the Younger

“Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs.  Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried.  And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and  the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there.” John 19:40-42

The washing of the feet by Ghislaine Howard

And before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that His hour hath come, that He may remove out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who are in the world — to the end He loved them. And supper being come, the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas of Simon, Iscariot, that he may deliver Him up, Jesus, knowing that all things the Father hath given to Him — into His hands — and that from God He came forth, and unto God He goeth, doth rise from the supper, and doth lay down his garments, and having taken a towel, he girded himself; afterward he putteth water into the basin, and began to wash the feet of his disciples, and to wipe with the towel with which he was being girded. He cometh, therefore, unto Simon Peter, and that one saith to him, `Sir, thou — dost Thou wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, `That which I do thou hast not known now, but thou shalt know after these things;’ Peter saith to him, `Thou mayest not wash my feet — to the age.’ Jesus answered him, `If I may not wash thee, thou hast no part with me.’ Simon Peter saith to him, `Sir, not my feet only, but also the hands and the head.’ Jesus saith to him, `He who hath been bathed hath no need, save to wash his feet, for he is clean altogether; and ye are clean, but not all;’ for He knew him who is delivering him up; because of this He said, `Ye are not all clean.’ When, therefore, He washed their feet, and took His garments, having reclined at meat again, He said to them, `Do ye know what I have done to you? Ye call me, “The Teacher” and “The Lord”, and ye say well, for I am; if then I did wash your feet — the Lord and the Teacher — ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given thee an example, that ye should do as I have done to ye. Verily, verily, I say unto ye, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” John 13:1-15

Here is a neat little animation that illustrates the time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from 800,000 years ago until January, 2011.

The animation begins with the CO2 variability (based on direct measurements from key observation sites) from January 1979 until January 2011.  There are several patterns that are worth noting, firstly the relentless upward trend of the globally averaged carbon dioxide concentration beginning in January 1979 at 336 ppm (parts per million) and ending with a concentration of 391 ppm, the average in January 2011.  Strong inter-annual variability are also evident, particularly in the northern hemisphere – we are essentially seeing the Earth’s breathing pattern!  Fluctuations follow the growing season, peaking in spring with widespread plant greening and minimizing in autumn when biomass is greatest.  During the growing season photosynthesizing plants suck up CO2 whereas during the colder part of the year respiration dominates – plants and animals exhale CO2.  As shown on the graph these fluctuations are far greater in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere (where land area and vegetation cover is much smaller in comparison).

To go back further in time from the preindustrial era to 800,000 years ago requires the careful analyse of ancient air trapped in ice-cores drilled from Greenland and Antarctica.  (Blog posts on detecting past climate information from ice-cores can be read here and here).  Long timescale variability reveals cycles of ~41000 years and ~100000 years, which mark the intervals of glaciations.

Finally, the data clearly shows that current concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide are at levels not seen in the last 800 thousand years (and actually most likely not even the past 20 million years).  This rapid rise of atmospheric CO2 to such heightened levels is worrying for our planet and those who (will) live on it.