Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Charles Keeling and rising CO2

Nice article on Charles Keeling who first started to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the early 50s. Frightening to see that the causes and implications of this rise were understood by 1960 and still today very little has been done! Article found here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tipping point map

A tipping point commonly refers to a critical threshold at which a tiny perturbation can qualitatively alter the state or development of a system. Climate scientist Tim Lenton wrote a paper which is available for free here on the subject.

Insurers Allianz have a nice interactive viewer of where the tipping points are found here. Dealing with risk, insurers appear well ahead of governments!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Small award

Just got into the mail today a couple of copies of Witness: The voice of Victorian Baptists which includes my article in their November edition on stewardship. I wrote about the present ecological crisis, our need to manage both ecology and economy (both coming from the Greek word oikos which means household and reflects their unity under God.

I didn't (and neither should you) balk from the term stewardship, at least the idea if not the word. Humans are powerful and were made to rule, while at the same time Job and Psalm 104 should teach us humility. Romans 8 tells us creation shares in our hope, marking out with Gensis 1 the biblical narrative from creation to new creation.

For my efforts I won their monthly award, a gift voucher from Bunnings. It will of course have to be a plant (likely native) in keeping with the theme of the piece I wrote.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Leveraging off technology

Given many people are busy with multiple committments etc, we are looking at the best way to serve people and getting them together. I have made a short survey with the tool Survey Monkey. You can vote on ways in which you'd like Ethos Environment to provide you with information, opportunity for discussion, reflection, encouragement etc.

The survey is here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

EO Wilson on humans and mass extinction

EO Wilson is a biologist, conservationist, founder of sociobiology and a former southern Baptist. On the onearth website, he is interviewed about the threat of mass extinction due to human activities. It is already clear that the extinction rate due to human beings is some 1000 or more above the background rate. This qualifies it as a mass extinction along side the big 5 (which includes the Great Dying at the end of the Permian and the loss of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous).

One thing worth quoting (among many) relates to religion:

" We are ill equipped by instinct to control ourselves. Even with our tremendous intellect, we have a deep propensity for group conflict. Look at our defense expenditures, the way we glorify the constant expansion of human settlement and human growth, our archaic religions, which give us nothing but grief because they are essentially tribal. Our religions are ill equipped to handle our present problems, especially when they start trying to discredit what we can find out and prove with science."

How does this apply to Christianity? Insofar as it is often an us versus them he may be right, together with the obsession with human use and dominion to the exclusion of divine providence for creation. Yet to the extent Christianity is THE great missionary faith that includes every tribe and tongue it isn't tribal (despite the God on our side of a country unnamed) and there is a great biblical resource for care of creation. Further, a proper understanding of the relevant texts as ancient cosmology and not modern science dissolves much of the religion/science tension Wilson talks about. What of course he doesn't state in the article is his own totalising campaign to eliminate the idea of God as reality and religion as purely an evolutionary adaptation. The appearance of such an adaptation doesn't therefore discredit history, which is where we must turn to answer our religious questions. Indeed in his book The Creation, I think Wilson does nod in the direction that the answer to our plight must be religious as well as scientific.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

The odd reason to despair

One of the key things to addressing the issues we face about creation care and its abuse is hope. I keep seeing reasons not to in everyday life, simple acts of arrogance or stupidity.

I saw a man who must have been in his 50s or 60s, gray haired and just got out of a tradesman's van. He had a drink from a convenience store (slurpy or some such). He just three it into the gutter. I mean honestly, such casual disregard has always annoyed me. How can we address pollution, be it greenhouse gases or other if people can't be bothered to keep a street clean? As a small child I always carried things like icey pole sticks to a bin - well raised I guess.

The other was a car sticker that insisted that public land meant that all people had access to it. It was a large 4WD, which of course uses lots of fuel and hence produces lots of green house gases. Did this person mean their 4WD despite the impacts, or horses in the high country? Would they obect to fishing reserves to help stocks replenish? Sometimes fair use means no use. The tragedy of the commons means people insist on their 'rights'. What about responsiblities as well?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What should we be doing?

I've been trying to crystalise what I think a Christian environmental think tank should be doing. I wanted some alliteration but the following will have to do:

Inform - as much as it is needed, people don't want to be told they need education, often even if they are committed to life long learning. With a constructivist emphasis on learning, informing people about the damage that has been done, is being done and will likely result due to land clearing, over fishing, global warming, habitat loss and fragmentation is needed so that people can count the cost and feel the loss.

Informing also relates to the various complex factors of human society that relate to 'the environment' (or more properly for Christians, the rest of creation) including poverty, economics, development, trade, culture, etc.

Explore - as a Christian think tank, our mission is in part to explore the theological basis for Christian action, critiques of the market, of technology, of 'Green' philosophy, etc and offer a solidly biblical alternative that is part of the solution not part of the problem as so much dualistic, individualistic and apocalyptic Christianity (enough ics for you?)

Engage - we need to engage with the church in a prophetic manner, calling it to account, and with society in an apolgetic manner, and with other groups in a cooperative manner. For the former two groups, this can involve engaging with those who don't see the creation as an issue for Christians or that Christians are part of the problem. For the later group, interfaith action isn't precluded by a particularist theology, i.e. it doesn't equate to universalism.

Inspire - guilt paralyses but hope energises. Inspiration comes from good theology (think Rm 8 and ouur shared hope with the rest of creation), but stories of hope, of innovation and creative living need to be shared, no matter how large or small.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And now for something completely different is an excellent blog by climatologists, debunking the nonsense or misinformation put out there by denialists. Here is a cartoon for a bit of a chuckle.

Biodiversity Day

On Saturday 20th at St Mark's Anglican Church in Spotswood, Ethos Environment ran a day on biodiversity in honour of it being the year of biodiversity. There was a rather small but enthusiastic turn out for some good presentations.

Jess Morthorpe, a Christian environmentalist who started the Five Leaf Eco-Awards gave an excellent summary of biodiversity, it's value and the things that threaten it (pollution, global warming, land clearing and habitat fragmentation, etc). It was fairly non-technical but comprehensive. Her blog is here.

I gave a talk addressing why we would want to waste energy developing a theology of biodiversity when it should be obvious we just need to get on with it. Apart from the fact that many Christians work under a dualistic framework or under the fear of paganism, there are apologetic and evangelistic opportunities when we actively engage. As the late Rob Frost noted (UK evangelist) 'When Christians take the earth seriously, people take the gospel seriously'.

Based on Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 I tried to develop a transcendent ethic of biodiversity based on a theocentric perspective. A paper may appear in Zadok Perspectives and Papers.

Amar Breckenridge gave an excellent introduction to the economic issues. He highlighted the difficulty of including the costs of biodiversity since they are a public good rather than a private good that can be included in the market. For those who don't know much economics it was a nice general introduction. Amar also highlighted the various places where the Christian faith can have input into what is essentially an utilitarian ethical framework.

Marion Mortimer is a school teacher who recently went on an Earthwatch trip to the Daintree in north Queensland, and gave an inspired and enthusiastic talk on the work they do and the risks biodiversity faces as the planet warms.

Finally, Johnathan Cornford of Manna Gum spoke about issues of development in the developing world, and the complex relationship between development, quality of life and biodiversity. He spoke at length about the Mekong Delta where dams have raised GDP via electricity export but certain groups have experienced poverty and biodiversity has decreased as a result. This links human and creation's needs.

The audio will be available for these talks at some point. We are interested in how we might best run similar events either face to face or using Web technologies in future, so be in touch!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Impact of warm ocean temperatures on coral

This report looks at the impact of warm ocean temperatures on coral reefs in the Caribbean. Bleaching is the ejection of the algae that normally resides within the coral tissues. Summary report doesn't blame global warming but does note that increased temperatures due to global warming will increase bleaching events and severity. Article here.

Warming tundra means more fires

Tundra is land without trees due to cold temperatures. Now, rising global temperatures are resulting in more fires than in the past 5000 years. See article here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

coral reefs suffering due to ocean acidification

New study shows that a critical reef building species can't get a proper start in life as rising carbon dioxide levels produce more acidic oceans. Media release here.

balance between poverty, economy and ecology

Latest ABC news link here. Is this really about Aboriginal Australia or allowing big business into sensitive areas?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Climate change sermon summary

I had the honour of visiting an old church of mine in the Brunswick area to preach on the importance of climate change. The readings were Psalm 104 (recited), Rm 8:19-23, and the parable of the Good Samaritan in Lk 10. The following is a brief summary outline - as a guide to sermons you might have the opportunity to preach on the topic.


Here I raised the issue of what place thinking about climate change plays in the life of people in the church, those who run Mother's Union, Op Shops, go to church regularly and do all the Christian things but don't necessarily think about larger issues.

I then pointed out that while polar bears might be iconic in the climate change discussion, there are other species that are under threat that are less cuddly. Did you know that since 1975, in Mexico, 12% of local lizard populations have gone extinct due to rising temperatures, and 4% of all populations world wide. Lizards are having to cool off during the afternoon because conditions are becoming too hot, and hence are not able to feed or breed. By 2080 local population extinctions are expected to reach nearly 40%. Now not too many people think lizards are cute and cuddly and so it won’t feel too much sympathy. So why should we care about lizards, or anything else? Let’s look at three objections.

Objection 1: We shouldn’t care too much because God sees humans as more important.

This idea notes correctly that humans uniquely bear the image of God, which is in fact central to proper creation care, but often focusses on the cross as Jesus dying for sins, thinking very much in individual terms. Without entering into that debate, a proper look at Psalm 104 expands our horizons and warns against human exceptionalism when it comes to divine love.

The plight of the Murray-Darling River basin has come to the fore of late. Australia has always been a dry continent and subject to droughts and flooding rains as the cycle of El Nino - La Nina has played itself out. Winter and spring rains have been good this year but a long term drought, likely associated with global warming has placed stress on water supplies. Farmers grow our food but the viability of rice and cotton is now under question. The right balance has not yet been struck between natural and human water use..

Psalm 104:10-16 highlights how God cares for the non-human creation by watering it. The human use of water is but a small part of his overall care. The tender care of the cedars reminds us that God is a gardener who waters what he has planted - and hence we do not have the right to deprive creation of the water that God supplies to it - there must be a right balance (to say nothing of salinity issues, etc) between trees, wildlife and appropriate agriculture on such a dry (and drying) continent, and combatting global warming means trying to halt the this drying so that neither society nor creation suffers.

The other point to be made from the Psalm is from vv17-26. It is God who alots space for each species to exist. In typically Hebrew functional ontology, the mountains are for the goats (v18), not for climbing. The modern preoccupation with mountain climmbing isn't in itself bad so long as it is recognised these places also (and primarily) exist for the creatures that live there. The dark exists for the lions to roam. Global warming particularly affects mountain species that have ranges restricted by temperature or moisture, for as conditions become warmer and cloud bases rise, species ranges contract further. This again violates a creature's right to exist in the place God has created for them.

Verse 24 sums it up nicely - 'O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions' (NRSV). Just as one would not trash a furnished apartment or hotel room, it is not out place to ruin God's possession.

Objection 2: It doesn’t matter what happens to the Earth, God is going to destroy it all

There is a view popular based in readings of 2 Peter and Revelation that creation will be scrapped, and so what we do now matters little. Yet Romans 8:19-23 speaks against this quite powerfully (see my Zadok Paper on a Pauline ecomissiology, and God willing, the book one day).

Paul does acknowledge there is a problem with creation. The present state of creation: subject to futility (by God), in bondage to decay (Rm 8:20-21). Although some argue that the Fall introduced death into creation at large, the text in Romans is clear this only refers to humans. The futility and decay mentioned here probably refers to how human misrule is out of joint with creation since we are meant to oversee, tend and care for creation, not extinguish whole species. In his commentary on Genesis, Derek Kidner refers to creation now as 'a choir without a choirmaster'.

Note that deep ecology can critique humanity as evil and unnecessary, and evolutionary science as an accident of history. In his TV series 'Earth: The Power of the Planet' geologist Iain Stewart suggests that since over millions of years species have disappeared and been replaced, what is it stake is not creation (or nature to him) but human society. For example, there have been several reef building species over geological time, so one could argue in theory that rising temperatures and increasing acidity of the oceans will wipe out reef building species, but one day something else will appear. However, given Psalm 104 and Genesis 1, it is neither moral nor theologically correct that it doesn't matter that humans result in species being lost, since it is our duty to ensure that we do not interfere with God's creation in such a manner.

Paul also points out that rather than destined for destruction, creation shares in our hope. Creation waits in hope for the church to be revealed as the children of God (vv19-20). Likewise, we and creation are groaning for this (vv22-23). This points to the fact that part of what it means to be in the image of Christ, is to fulfil what it meant originally to be in the image of God - God's gardeners. Creation care (and global warming is the biggest present threat to creation) is part of what it means to be Christian, it is not an optional extra.

Note that creation care and combatting climate change does not mean we all have the same role or focus. Just as we are all called to give a reason for our hope but not all of us are evangelists, so all of us should learn to live more lightly, yet not all of us are called to be environmentalists.

Objection 3: Isn't the Christian faith more about personl piety than public policy?

Quite apart from the fact this is wrong - there are a couple of ways of linking the Christian faith and global warming. Australia may not be responsible for much of the worlds total green house gas output, but in 2007 was 12th in per capita emissions, which says nothing of the coal we export to China where cheap goods are made we consume. This says much about our lifestyle (as well as inefficiencies). Sylvannia Waters was a classic series that showed up the shallow materialism of the great Australian dream. While capitalism itself isn't the problem, rampant consumerism is (there was no time for a nuanced critique of this).

When one run an economy disconnected from ecology, it is a reflection of human hubris and arrogance. To combat global warming is to maintain a classic Christian critique of idolatry. This doesn't mean living in caves but a challenge and call to a simpler lifestyle. Wendell Berry suggests that starting with saying grace, as this reflects thankfulness rather than the desire to acquire more.

The other relationship of the personal to the public is the love of neighbour as ourselves, as typified in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Tuvalu is a Christian nation living on a number of coral atolls. Other than rising sea levels increasing erosion and the effects of storm surges from tropical cyclones, the porus nature of coral means that sea water has intruded into taro crops inland. A few quote illustrate the problem quite well.

Former Prime Minister: 'We live in constant fear of the adverse impacts of climate change. For a coral atoll nation, sea level rise and more severe weather events loom as a growing threat to our entire population. The threat is real and serious, and is of no difference to a slow and insidious form of terrorism against us.'

Yet at the same time, a certain naive aspect of the faith of some Tuvaluans makes it all the more tragic 'No. We are Christians. God will protect us.' 'Only the creator can flood the world.' 'I believe in God - I don't believe in scientists.'

Yet it is happening! The ~1000 inhabitants of the now abandoned Carteret Atoll know this well!

So, in a globalised economy with a shared atmosphere and ocean - everyone is our neighbour. To make the point further, Bangladesh is a Muslim nation. Muslims and Christians are sometimes in such opposition and Jews and Samaritans were yet we are to love them as our neighbours and ensure they don't sink beneath the waves. Note also that our children and grand children are our neighbours in space and time. What world do we want to leave them?

How should we respond?

Guilt paralyses, hope inspires. We should keep the message of hope in Rm 8 in mind, and use that to motivate us to act now.

Personal: energy efficiencies (lightbulbs, insulation, turning things off), transport (flying less, public transport, bicycles), etc

Church: I attend a church with a garden - we share the effort and the fruits. Whether it is a private or church or community garden getting our hands dirty helps connect us to the earth, reduce green house gases by eating our own food, reminds us of divinely imposed limits and teaches us to be thankful.

Wider Christian community. Get behind organisations like TEAR and Ethos. TEAR works with partners in the developing world and lobbies government. Ethos will be a resource of information and encouragement.

Global warming matters to Christians because it represents the degradation of his creation and the suffering of humanity, starting with the world’s poor. As we are remade in the image of Christ, part of our Christian walk is to tread more lightly on the earth and as God’s church to speak against greed and injustice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What is Ethos Environment?

A new blog with a new focus. My name is Mick Pope and I am the coordinator of the Ethos Environment think tank. This think tank is part of Ethos: The EA Centre for Christianity and Society. I have a PhD in meteorology and am about to start my Masters thesis in some aspect (TBA) of ecotheology.

This centre was formed by the Evangelical Alliance and the Zadok Institute for for Christianity and Society. The official homepage is here and the Facebook page is here.

As coordinator of the think tank it is my job to help organise activities that bring together the expertise we have access to, which included theologians, economists, actvists, aid and development workers and so on. It is very exciting the different range of skills and gifts God has blessed us with.

Three major events are coming up. On Nov 20th we have a workshop on biodiversity with speakers from Melbourne and Canberra. On March 4-5 next year, Dr Michael Northcott will speak on issues related to climate change, with a range of workshops by local experts. Think about whether or not you can come and possibly contribute. Later in the year we will have a national day of prayer and action on creation care.

As for this blog, I hope to update regularly with Ethos Environment update, books worth reading, documentaries, websites, latest research news and so on.

Sola Gloria Deo