Nature


“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.

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This video of tourists in Antarctica getting splattered by an imploding iceberg has gone viral apparently.

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.


References:

[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.

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.

I’ve highlighted before (part 1, part 2, and part 3) how the writer* of Job clearly had a keen eye for the workings of the natural world.  Here is another marvelous example  this time from the realm of meteorology.

Why, exalted is God, and we know not,                                                                                        the number of His years is unfathomed.

For He draws down drops of water,                                                                                               they are distilled in the rain of His wetness,                  as the skies drip moisture,                                                                                                                 shower on abounding humankind.

Can one grasp the spread of cloud,                                                                                               the roars from His pavilion?

Why, He spreads over it His lightning,                                                                                       and the roots of the sea it covers.

For with them He exacts justice from peoples,                                                                          gives food in great abundance.

Lightning covers His palms,                                                                                                           and He commands it to hit the mark.

His roaring tells about Him,                                                                                                           His zealous wrath over evil acts.

(Job 36:26-33, translation by Robert Alter)

This theme of God’s command of weather phenomena does not end here but continues into the next chapter – you can read on here (incidentally the NET Bible linked here is a fairly recent discovery for me – great translation and very upfront and open with its translating notes for each verse, a great resource).  I like the way this passage shows both how God uses His power over the natural world for judgement, but also for sustaining life.

* I say writer, but it is considered likely by scholars that the speech of Elihu  (chapters 32-37) is a work of another poet.  Reading through the book this indeed seems plausible, Elihu’s entrance is a surprise, there being no previous mention of this character, and there is a disjoint in the arguments and language used by Elihu compared with the rest of the book.

The Book of Job, provides a debate, in poetic form, on whether the righteous are always rewarded and the wicked alway punished.  The dialogue surrounds the character of Job who has led a successful, just and honourable life but is suddenly and unexpectedly stricken by immense physical and mental suffering.  The dramatic arguments are often filled with allusions to natural phenomena and to farming and this is a theme that I’ve been following in this blog.

Here is another example illustrating this theme, see also previous posts here and here.  In this case Job is comparing humanities grim reality to that of a tree:

For a tree has hope:                                                                                                                though cut down, it can still be removed,                                                                       and its shoots will not cease.                                              Though its root grow old in the ground                                                                             and its stock die in the dust,                                                            from the scent of water it flowers,                                                                                         and puts forth branches like a sapling.                                          But a strong man dies defeated,                                                                                         man breathes his last, and where is he?

(Job 14:7-10) Translation by Robert Alter

The irony is that even trees manage to survive and regenerate unlike perishing humans!  Here’s a few images of fallen tree trunks and old stumps providing a natural nursery for new tree growth.  Perhaps this type of procedure was used as an ancient agricultural practice in the time of the writing of Job.

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