“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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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.

… you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them.  (Deut. 20:19)

Environmental concern in the bible is hard to come by, could this little snippet give us a sniff at an environmental conscience.  Well lets look at the full verse in context …

“When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.”

Deuteronomy 20:19-20 (ESV)

At a closer inspection it turns out that this was an ancient weapon of mass destruction, a type of scorched earth tactic.  The viability of the besieged community would have been heavily reliant on the fruit trees, such a slash and burn policy would have left a devastating economic legacy for the towns inhabitants.

So this is ultimately legislation against a spiteful destructive act and a preventative measure to limit undue human suffering during warfare.  However, lets not cut ourselves short! – there might well be some environmental overtones to consider here.  Robert Alter has noted an interesting echo of “the tree was good for food” (Gen. 3:6), making an association with the Garden of Eden story in which God provided all good things for human enjoyment, and prohibited the fruit of two of the trees.  Destroying fruit trees is a despoliation of God’s natural gifts, and surely it is worth considering whether we are guilty of plundering natural habitats on a mass scale.

A scientific response to such a question has been provided by the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  This is a comprehensive appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide as well as options to restore, conserve or enhance the sustainable use of ecosystems.  The synthesis report can be found here, but a two sentence summary of the findings is as follows:

“The bottom line of the Millennium Assessment findings is that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. At the same time, the assessment shows that with appropriate actions it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years, but the changes in policy and practice required are substantial and not currently underway.”