Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
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
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
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
Monday, November 15, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
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
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