Environmental Conscience

Here is our wonderful planet (or the northern hemisphere part at least!). Images taken from the Russian Elcctro-L satellite every 30 minutes are stitched together to make this video.

The geostationary weather satellite takes the highest resolution images of our planet, they are single shot photos. The images consist of visible and near-infrared wavelengths (e.g. vegetation is red not as the human eye sees it).

More details are provided here.

“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)

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.

Operation Noah (a UK-based organisation) has released an Ash Wednesday Declaration on Climate Change and the Church.  I’ve signed it so I thought I would share it with you and perhaps you may see fit to sign it as well.


Katharine Hayhoe, is a climate scientist and associate professor at Texas Tech University.  She also happens to be Canadian as well as a Christian who is married to a pastor of an evangelical bible church in west Texas.  She is known for her efforts in increasing the public understanding of climate science, especially within conservative communities.  (Note: Conservatives and Evangelicals in the US seem to have developed a default position of climate change denial).

She has been featured on Biologos as part of their video blog series:

There is also an interview with her in Yale 360 on how to find common ground in the bitter climate debate.

Here is how she would response to Rick Perry’s (the current Texas governor and Republican US presidential candidate) head-in-the-sand opinions on climate science.

She has also written a book with her husband entitled “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions” which maybe I’ll get around to reading at some point.

This post is motivated, in part, by a short interview with Eugene Peterson and Peter Harris (co-founder of A Rocha) in Christianity Today, where they discuss “creation care”.  The full interview can be read here.  At one point Peter Harris draws attention to the prophecy in Hosea 4, in particular verse 3:

“Therefore the land will mourn,

and all its inhabitants will perish.

The wild animals, the birds of the sky,

and even the fish in the sea will perish.” (NET Bible)

Here’s what Peter Harris says:

“That’s a prophecy three millennia before we have the words for a marine crisis. Who would have thought that the fish of the sea would die? Until modern times, the fish of the sea seemed like an inexhaustible resource.”

I’d like to back that up with some of the most recent scientific reporting on extinctions.  Firstly mass extinctions can be characterized as times when the Earth loses more than three-quarters of its species in a geologically short interval.  Palaeontologists have classified 5 of these mass extinctions over the past ~540 million year.  However, data on current extinction rates suggests that the world is being propelled into a sixth mass extinction [1].

In regards to the the fish in the sea … the International Programme on the State of the Ocean is just releasing a report [2] (also BBC article here) which warns in no uncertain terms that if our current trajectory of damage continues “the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.


[1] Anthony D. Barnosky, Nicholas Matzke, Susumu Tomiya, Guinevere O. U. Wogan, Brian Swartz, Tiago B. Quental, Charles Marshall, Jenny L. McGuire, Emily L. Lindsey, Kaitlin C. Maguire, et al. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 471, 51-57 (2 March 2011) DOI: 10.1038/nature09678

[2] Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d’A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp.

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