Environmental degradation

“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.


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.

A major international conference (Planet Under Pressure) is currently underway in London.  The conference has commissioned this 3 minute film, a journey through the last 250 years of history charting the growth of humanity and how we are transforming the planet.

An accompanying website www.anthropocene.info seems to have a very good collection of resources on this topic.

We are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations. 

The 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability
– Transforming the World in an Era of Global Change, was held May 16-19, 2011 in Stockholm, Sweden.  This was a small (~50) gathering of some of the world’s most renowned thinkers and experts on global sustainability and included numerous nobel laureates from many disciplines.  They have produced a memorandum, shown here being signed by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen.

The Stockholm memorandum can be downloaded here, but here is a sample:

The Earth system is complex. There are many aspects that we do not yet understand. However, we are the first generation with the insight of the new global risks facing humanity. We face the evidence that our progress as the dominant species has come at a very high price.

Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high, leaving behind billions with unmet basic human needs and disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change.

This situation concerns us deeply. As members of the Symposium we call upon all leaders of the 21st century to exercise a collective responsibility of planetary stewardship. This means laying the foundation for a sustainable and equitable global civilization in which the entire Earth community is secure and prosperous.

Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity.

Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.

We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

Our predicament can only be redressed by reconnecting human development and global sustainability, moving away from the false dichotomy that places them in opposition.

In an interconnected and constrained world, in which we have a symbiotic relationship with the planet, environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.

Our call is for fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations.

A working group commissioned by The Pontifical Academy of Sciences [website & wikipedia entry] “to contemplate the observed retreat of the mountain glaciers, its causes and consequences” has released a report entitled Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.  The groups consensus statement is a warming to all humanity and a call for fast action.  This is their declaration:

“We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses. We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life.

We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish. “

A pdf of the complete statement can be accessed here.  The authors recommend pursuit of three measures:

  • immediate reduction of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions,
  • reduction of concentrations of warming air pollutants such as soot, ozone, methane and hydroflurocarbons by up to 50 percent, and
  • preparation to adapt to climate changes that society will not be able to mitigate.

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4, TNIV)

I recently read an interesting BBC report on the plight of the Griffon Vulture in the land of the Israel which has inspired this blog post.  Here is the article that describes the decline in numbers of these vultures due the pest control used by local farmers:

“Farmers whose animals have been repeatedly attacked by wolves and jackals have resorted to leaving out meat laced with deadly chemicals. … The vulture can eat almost anything, including meat infected with anthrax, so giving it a valuable ecological role. But it cannot cope with the poisons being used against wolves.” (Bob Walker, BBC Today Programme Report)

The Griffon Vulture is mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the Bible; however, it is usually translated as eagle in our English translations of the Hebrew.

“The word Nesher, is invariably translated … as “Eagle”.  However, the Nesher which was undoubtedly not actually the Eagle, but a different kind of bird, and has satisfactorily been identified with the Griffon Vulture or Great Vulture. The reasons for this conclusion are so inextricably interwoven with the various passages in which the bird is mentioned.” (http://www.thewonderofbirds.com/griffon-vulture/)

Here are a few Bible passages which nicely describe the vultures characteristics:


Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and admired,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
” (2 Samuel 1:23, TNIV)

Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.
” (Lamentations 4:19, TNIV)


Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
… who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
” (Psalm 103:1,5, TNIV)

Building nests at high elevations

“The terror you inspire
and the pride of your heart have deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rocks,
who occupy the heights of the hill.
Though you build your nest as high as the eagle’s,
from there I will bring you down,”
declares the LORD.
” (Jeremiah 49:16, TNIV)

Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.
” (Job 39:27-30, TNIV)

“Viewing these various passages in which the Nesher is mentioned in the Bible, we shall find that the sacred writers were thoroughly acquainted with the Griffon Vulture, and that they wrote of it with an occasional fulness and an invariable precision which shows how familiar they were with a bird that was once so plentiful and so conspicuous.”  (http://www.thewonderofbirds.com/griffon-vulture/)

For the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted inheritance.
In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft.

The LORD alone led him;
no foreign god was with him.
” (Deuteronomy 32:9-12, TNIV)

Further to the worrying situation with the River Jordan and the Dead Sea (blogged about here and here) I now read about the collapsing fish stocks in the Sea of Galilee (see this article in the Times newspaper).

The article concerns the ban on catching the much sort after ‘St. Peter’s fish’ (formally Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus of the tilapia genus) in the Sea of Galilee.

“Stocks have dropped drastically in the past decade because of environmental and human factors. Annual catches of the St Peter’s fish, which takes its name from the New Testament story in which Jesus’s disciple, Peter, netted a fish with a gold coin in its mouth — and paid his taxes with it — have dropped from 300 tonnes to only 8.” James Hider and Yonit Farago from The Times, May 26 2010

The New Testament story is from the Gospel of Matthew:

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:24-27 ESV

As has been astutely pointed about by Mark Goodacre over at NTblog the coin referred to in the Times article as gold was in fact a silver coin.  The greek word, στατήρ (stater), translated in the ESV as a shekel was of course worth four drachma and hence the coin paid for both Peter’s and Jesus’ temple tax.

Fascinating, one of the stated reasons for the drastic decline in stocks includes the following:

“One of the problems originated in the Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam Hussein set fire to Kuwait’s oil wells before being driven out by a US-led offensive. The resulting cloud of smoke permanently diverted migration routes of up to 10,000 hungry cormorants, which now fly up the African Rift Valley to the Sea of Galilee and guzzle its fish.”  James Hider and Yonit Farago from The Times, May 26 2010

Of course one of the major reasons for the fish decline is illegal and over fishing.  It’s a lucrative business providing for all the tourists who want to eat the fish that Jesus ate.

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