When Dellarobia Turnbow, an Appalachian farm worker, encountered millions of butterflies in the woods behind her house, she first thought the trees were on fire but not burning up—and that this was a sign for her to stop making a bad decision. She had been wrestling with an unhappy marriage, life on an unproductive farm, and bringing up two kids on an almost non-existent income. Her overwrought mind couldn’t quite take in what was in front of her eyes. When she persuaded her busy family to take a walk up the mountain, the reality of what they were all seeing eventually sank in. Continue reading
Humanity is affecting the ocean in profound ways. In this post, I will briefly explore two of those impacts from the perspective of a professional oceanographer. First, the effects of human use of fossils fuels leading to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and so to global (including ocean) warming; and second, human disposal of plastics in the ocean. The importance of the latter was highlighted by David Attenborough in the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” in the autumn of 2017, leading to an increased public awareness of this issue. However, both issues have been of concern to oceanographers for many years. Continue reading
Do you go to an art exhibition to be soothed and delighted, or challenged and disturbed? Science uses highly creative approaches to investigate the natural world, but art can perhaps offer a deeper, more personal engagement. Continue reading
Talks on climate change and sustainability don’t often start with a discussion of generosity, but that is what we see on Earth. The natural resources available at the beginning of human history were not unlimited, but they were vast.
God’s awesome creativity resulted in a world in which living things essentially make themselves, using the materials available to them. For example, plants, algae, and some bacteria use air, water, sunlight and minerals to make their food. The rest of us eat these ‘primary producers’, or the organisms that ate them, so the whole of the living world essentially thrives on a few basic raw materials.
In the economy of ecosystems, nothing is wasted. Minerals and other nutrients are recycled from decaying organic matter. Water is recycled and purified by the processes of evaporation and rainfall. Everything is used for something, and through the dynamic processes of life, the overall trend on Earth has been towards increasing diversity and complexity.
In the story of the prodigal son, a generous father gives half of his property to his son, allowing him to learn by his mistakes. This parable is played out, in part, in our relationship with the environment. Genesis 1 describes how we are called to be responsible for the whole of creation, but we have used the world’s resources in ways which – while inventive – were not always wise. Many of our enterprises have been disastrously short sighted, wasteful and destructive. The end of the story is that God forgives our mistakes and loves us no less because of them, but there are still practical consequences to be dealt with.
The United Nations Conference on Climate Change this week is an attempt to address the damage that is still being done, and will hopefully result in effective and fair solutions. Measures need to be taken to protect vulnerable people and ecosystems, and to ration or recover resources that are now scarce. Extravagant standards of living must be brought down to a sustainable level. Poorer countries deserve the opportunity to develop in sustainable ways.
So is this the end of God’s generosity? I don’t think so. Sustainable living is not just about cutting down, but is about the improvement in everyone’s quality of life that will come from using natural resources well. We really can aim for a full, just and responsible enjoyment of the amazing gifts that our generous God has provided for us.
Reposted here with permission of The London Institute for Contemporary Culture.
The Christian church is not always the first place environmentalists run to when faced with a potentially global catastrophe. Nevertheless, Christian theology provides a sound basis for caring for the planet we live on, and also for living constructively in a time of uncertainty and worsening climate conditions. On the 21st June, Jonathan Moo and Robert White’s book, Hope in an Age of Despair will be published by IVP. The premise of the book is that the Christian ‘Gospel’ message affects all of creation*, and is about the way we live now as well as our hope for the future.
For Christians, creation is valuable because it is valuable to God. The whole world was declared ‘good’ in Genesis, so the ‘products’ of land and sea have an intrinsic worth that goes far beyond their economic value. Of course we do use and enjoy what we find in the world, and that’s a good thing in moderation.
A quick look at human history or the state of one’s own heart shows that we are often selfish and abuse our privileges. That abuse has led to the current crisis of biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change. So what’s the solution – hope for ‘the end of the world’ to come quickly so we can all be whisked off to heaven? Thankfully Moo and White outline a more sensible solution than sticking our heads in the sand. Continue reading
Human activity on our planet continues to cause wide scale ecological havoc at such a rate that it can be tempting to give up hope, sit back, and let things unfold however they will. When Richard Bauckham spoke at the Faraday Institute a couple of weeks ago his message was far more positive. Yes, massive environmental damage has been done and some of the consequences are unstoppable, but from his perspective as a theologian there is real hope. I was inspired by Bauckham’s talk because he has taken a realistic look at the science of climate change and other ecological disasters in the light of his faith, and has come away with a plan of action that is not the least bit miserable.
Anyone promising hope needs to know the context they’re speaking into. Bauckham described how the New Testament book of Revelation was written in the first instance for Christians living under intense persecution in Rome (hence its coded ‘apocalyptic’ language), and it inspired them to keep going. Our context is a faded utopia of economic and technological growth. It was once thought that the potential for improvement was pretty much limitless. Our hope was to stop environmental damage through economic and technological fixes, but climate change is now underway and further change is inevitable – with both foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. We can only try to stop things getting much worse. How can we go on hoping? Continue reading