Sunday, January 30, 2011

From my garden

One looks after what one cares for and values. Value is not just financial or utilitarian, but also intangible, aesthetic or emotive. After all, this is how advertising works.

New Holland Honeyeaters frequent my hard, I suspect because the suburban garden provides enough for them in the form of various native trees and shrubs with nectar. They are cheeky, confident and not bothered by humans. This pair have a chick which I saw on the ground (and hopefully has survived). One of them danced over our front yard walking/flying for reasons best known to it. I've seen one foraging for nesting material (presumably rennovations given the eggs have long since hatched and junior is a bit restless and destructive).

I value their presence above the miners, sparrows, pigeons etc because I know they have not been bought here by Europeans. It belongs in a way they do not, perhaps even I don't ;-) It brings me delight watching it going about what it means to be a bird. Long may they do so.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Arctic current warmer than for 2,000 years

Arctic warms faster as melting ice uncovers darker ground or open waters - bad news. Article here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Droughts and flooding rains

A couple of sensibly written pieces to show how vapid and shallow Bolt et al are in their understanding.

Sydney Morning Herald piece looks at how global warming can increase the likelihood of disasters here.

Piece by former CSIRO atmospheric research head Graeme Pearson on global warming, Hadley Cell and drying Australia here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bolt shooting his mouth off again

Not even worth bothering providing a link to his tripe - apparently neither the drought nor the recent flooding rains are due to global warming. Ok I will here

As explained before - while a single event cannot be tied without question to global warming - the following remarks may be made.

1. There has beena decine in annual rainfall over eastern Australia.
2. Part of this is due to global warming. A study can be found here. Something else to review at some point.
3. The natural cycle of El Nino/La Nina will naturally lead to variability in rainfall.
4. Warmer temperatures means more evaporation and can increase atmospheric moisture, leading to heavy rainfall events.

Bolt is an ideologue, with little scientific sophistication and blogging a few quotes speaking about drought with an 'I told you so' tone proves little except to those whose politics and/or theology pre-disposes them to accept his ranting.

Consuming Creation conference timetable

5.30 Zadok AGM
6:30 Drinks & registration
7:00 Dinner
8:00 Northcott talk 1

9:00 Registration
9:15 Ecological worship
9:30 Northcott talk 2
11:00 Morning tea
11:30 Northcott Talk 3
1:00 Lunch
1:50 Workshop 1
2:50 Workshop 2
3:40 Afternoon tea
4:00 Workshop 3
5:00 Conclusion

Workshop details to follow soon - includes vegetarianism, advocacy, gardening, ethical investment

Bring back the night - LED lights and energy usage

Nice National Geographic piece on LED lighting and energy usage. I believe it is also more directed lighting and less harmful to night flying insects, bats, etc and night sky vision for the astronomy buffs.

Classic cartoon

No comment needed

Link here

Volf on judgment

Recent comments by Danny Nahlia from Catch the Fire on the QLD floods and God's judgment made this an obvious quote to put up - with thanks to John Alchin.

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf

Without entrusting oneself to the God who judges justly, it will hardly be possible to follow the crucified Messiah and refuse to retaliate when abused. The certainty of God's just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but a necessary correlate of human nonviolence. (p.302)

Friday's links summary

I suspect this may end up being Saturday sometimes, but here are a few links to check out

How to talk to climate skeptics - a short list of must dos that are worth considering if you want to engage those who are skeptical

Artistic ugliness - photographs of environmental devastation. Hard to look at but closing our eyes is no option.

Canberra University bans the sale of bottled water - a good decision given we have good quality water in this country (still), plastics are unhealthy to drink out of and the oceans and land fill sites are filled with plastic.

Biodiversity loss & researcher loss - nice piece on Wired about decline in study of biodiversity and its loss. We are losing things we don't even know we are losing (but God does)

Historical affects of war on climate - short, interesting piece, will chase up paper and blog more.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why some cheer the flooding

Although cheering is probably an overstatement, I have been thinking about a question Dave Fagg asked me on Sunday night on his program, Godbotherers about why it is people want to see the recent QLD floods as a judgment on (Kevin Rudd's) sins. At the time I mumbled something about a theological package - climate change denying, eschatologically focused (read rapture), etc. But what explains that? Why do otherwise seemingly kindhearted people want to interpret the misfortunes of others and God's judgment, portraying him as the Larsonesque whitebearded deity with his finger on the smite button?

It seems to me that humans are meaning producers, pattern makers and story tellers. The patterns we see are given meaning as part of a larger story or narrative. Modernism ties that into the rational self, the cogito ergo sum. Post modernism does away with author, reader and self. Honest atheism denies any real meaning. Christianity seeks meaning by placing our own experiences into a larger narrative of who God is and what he is doing in history. This means that how we interpret things reflects our vision of who God is.

During the interview I suggested that Pastor Danny's view of God was essentially like that of an angry pagan God who constantly needs placating, like Baal or one of the storm Gods of meso America. The certainty of the view espoused in the Catch the Fire blog is that all disasters can be pinned on human sin. It makes sense of reality through a particular theological framework, one that portrays God as holy and concerned for human affairs - but appears to focus on particular issues, be it abortion (resulting in the Vic bushfires) or Israel (producing floods in QLD). Nothing is said of greed or consumption, big part players in global warming. This is because these can be respectable sins, where wealth is equated with blessing (hence ignoring the plight of the poor). Of course global warming is ignored because it apparently goes against God's power to control the weather, or is simply read as part of the end times - and hence unavoidable rather than a moral problem to be addressed or the kingdom issue that it is requiring repentance.

The answer to this knee jerk 'prophecy' is to re-read the bible through the lens of Jesus as the God incarnate come to show God's love, not his judgment. Judgment is ultimately postponed, but not avoided. However, judgment in of itself is not primary, love is. This does two things in light of recent events. Firstly, it renders at once the issue more difficult, because it removes the simple solution of the direction connection between sin and suffering (something Jesus did with the man born blind in Jn 17 or those killed by the Tower of Siloam) and yet harder because we are left with the issue of how a loving God allows such things to occur.

Of course science says something about this - particularly the observation that in natural systems, large events (be they earthquakes or rainfall events) are no different to small events just more infrequent. [The science is that of self-organisation and complexity]. However, this leads to the second point - that of eschatology not focused just on judgment (though it is that) but of (as NT Wright says) putting the world to rights, which will include some how natural 'disasters' as well as the sin that leads to them or contributes to them (like bad planning in the name of growth or greed). This future restoration in love energises our present acts of love, justice and compassion in times of disaster. Much better, much more Christian that 'prophetic utterances' of judgment where such pronouncements at best come from the minds of men, and not God.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What would Martin Luther King Jr do? Christians and climate change

Excellent opinion piece on the ABC website by activist Jarrod McKenna with me chipping in the odd response.

A must read.

Climate secrets of Marianas Trench probed

BBC news article looks at research into the role deep ocean trenches play in sequestering carbon. No suggestion they will 'save us from global warming' but interesting to see there is always something to learn from how the earth cycles important elements.

Toowoomba floods

Nice piece from the newspaper The Australian on engineering and town planning issues that made the floods as devastating as they were here.

Interesting to see that the 'need jobs' argument is challenged. No economy without taking environment into account.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Green people/organisations to watch

This year's watch list, courtesy of The Observer here.

Useful blogs

Apart from this one ;-)

Yale 360 - discussion of all things environment.

Realclimate - blog by professional climate scientists

Some recent studies

A summary of a few press releases from ScienceDaily of late.

Putting the dead to work
This study looked at fossils, geochemistry and sediments of the geologic record to see how ecosystems have responded to changes in past climate to try and predict future changes in ecosystems in response. History may repeat after all is the idea. Examples include how warming affected the range of arctic foxes and humans caused the extinction of flightless birds.

Earth's hot past

The earth is hotter than it has been for a long time, and certainly hotter than it would have been without us. The study looks at the climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide and suggests it could be twice what models currently suggest. This is because:

"computer models, which have generally focused on shorter-term warming trends. This is largely because even sophisticated computer models have not yet been able to incorporate critical processes, such as the loss of ice sheets, that take place over centuries or millennia and amplify the initial warming effects of carbon dioxide."

Carbon dioxide does not go away in a hurry in the same way methane does (which in turn ends up as CO2). We need to slow down our rate of emissions or risk reaching 900-1000 parts per million of CO2 by the centuries end, something not seen for 35 million years! Temperatures now would be waarmer than back then for the same green house gas concentrations because of increases in the sun's output.

Land estimates for biofuel crops

Interesting study suggests that 25-26% of liquid fuel consumption could be produced by biofuels on marginal agricultural land.

Species loss and ecosystem collapse/recovery

This study looks at two of the greatest mass extinctions and attributes the ecosystems' collapse to a loss in the variety of species sharing the same space. This serves as a warning given the precipitous decline of key species, such as cod, bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks, top line predators. The report attributes the ecosystems' collapse to a loss of enough species occupying the same space in the oceans, called "ecological redundancy."

Nice pic of Rockhampton floods

Melt off from small mountain glaciers and ice caps will contribute about 12 centimetres to world sea-level increases by 2100
More detailed study that IPCC projections but roughly consistent examines the role of the smaller glaciers in sea level rise. Melt from smaller mountain glaciers and ice caps is responsible for a disproportionally large portion of sea level increases, even though they contain less than one per cent of all water on Earth bound in glacier ice.

Floods, false prophets and the love of God - radio appearance

Having blogged about the recent QLD floods and comments by Pastor Danny here, I am speaking tonight on radio about it with youth worker and all round good guy Dave Fagg of Urban Seed, Praxis Victoria and Seeds Bendigo.

The program is Radio Godbotherers and the stream is found at

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NASA Research Finds 2010 Tied for Warmest Year on Record

The latest analysis from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York shows that global surface temperatures in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest on record. This result matches closely the temperature record independently produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

The two years differed by less than 0.018 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.01 degrees Celsius. GISS Director James Hansen notes that "Global temperature is rising as fast in the past decade as in the prior two decades, despite year-to-year fluctuations associated with the El Niño-La Niña cycle of tropical ocean temperature,".

The press release is found here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Faith, hope and action

A busy day, blog entry number three for the day.

I picked up a cheap copy of Finding God in the midst of life: Old stories for contemporary readers by Richard Bauckham abd Trevor Hart, Paternoster 2006. It is a nice collection of reflections on Old Testament texts for the modern reader. I was particularly struck by the reflection on David and Goliath and how it bears upon advocacy issues like climate change when faced with questions like 'what can I do?' and that feeling of powerlessness.

The authors point out that it took real faith on David's part to confront this 7 foot tall monster, and a sense of moral outrage at what Goliath was saying about the people of the living God. Yet while faith motivated David, he acted with a refreshing realism and not cynicism or defeatism on one hand nor with a lala land faith either. Remember the story of the man caught in a flood who rejected repeated offers of help from a boat to a helicopter because he was expecting God to (miraculously) save him. The authors suggest it would have been far more miraculous for a young man to approach and defeat a huge armoured man with a large lance who was also protected behind a shield bearer wearing armour too heavy for him and weapons he was not used to, than the 'I can do this' approach of him using his sling shot. They note this was not a toy but a real weapon of the period. David was expert in its use, familiar and comfortable with it.

When it comes to acting on climate change, creation care, environmentalism etc, what we do may not be dramatic on the surface or 'miraculous', but it may be earthshaking. It can just be realistic, what we can do, simple things we are good at or can do easily.

false prophets and natural disasters

Catch the Fire ministries recently blogged about the QLD floods here. Pastor Daniel is not controversy shy, and featured in a case some years back where he was accused of villifying muslims. He is pro-Israel and this recent blog suggests there is a link between Kevin Rudd's comments on Israel and the QLD floods. He suggests a past pattern of such events in the USA. His view is wrong on so many levels. Here's a brief discussion on a few.

The state of Israel
How does God relate to Israel today? One thing to keep in mind that equating the modern nation state of Israel with the Jewish people as a whole is a mistake, for it means that any criticism of the state of Israel or Zionism is interpreted automatically as anti-Semitism. One can support the existence of the state of Israel in principle, not be anti-Semitic and still critique what the nation does (by which I mean its policies and actions of its military, etc). After all, this is what the prophets did.

The Jewish people are an ongoing concern to God. A close reading of the book of Romans shows that for Paul, God can hardly be righteous is he is not true to his promises to Israel, starting with his promises to Abraham (Rm 4). He has been faithful to his covenant promises through his Messiah Jesus, and it is Gentiles (most of us) who have been included into this covenant, renewed in the Messiah. Israel too will be saved as part of one family. One cannot marginalise Rm 9-11 and its discussion of God's (and Paul's) love of Israel.

However, a close reading of Galatians will show that ethnic divisions have ended (3:27) and that the Law itself has had its day since it was designed to divide Jew from Gentile - no circumcision, no food laws so that we are identified by our faith (justified - 3:23-25). There is roomm for Jews in God's plan but not for Jewish exceptionalism. This is not to deny them a right to a national or protecting of its citizens, but neither are they free from criticism.

God has used disasters, but how do we know now?
In saying that this tragedy is a result of human sin, it is hardly a theological innovation. The biblical flood tells the story of the judgement of sin by flood. A 3 year drought occurs in Israel due to the people turning to the pagan god Baal (1 Kings 17-18), and Deuteronomy contains curses for breaking the covenant that have a weather component. Yet we know from the book of Job or Jesus' comment on the man born blind (John 9) or those killed by the tower of Siloam (Luke 13) that there is not always a direct connection between sin and disaster. So how does Pastor Danny know? Given the weakness of his theology of Israel I'd say he has no idea.

Our theology has to include 'natural disasters'
We simply have to live with the fact that there are some things that happen that are 'part of nature', or more accurately, part of the way creation is allowed to work, at least for now. La Nina/El Nino is part of a natural oscillation in ocean temperatures and wind patterns that can produce droughts and flooding rains. A nice article by climatologist Neville Nicholls is found here. The flora and fauna have evolved to deal with this variation. It does of course affect human society massively, but it is part of the way things work.

We are not told that the drought that occured during Joseph's time was due to sin, simply that it was going to happen and Joseph should help Egypt prepare so that his family might take refuge. The bible acknowledges that it rains on the righteous and unrighteous and that rain is sent in its seasons. This event is 'natural' in this sense. We need to take care when attributing it to climate change since 1974 was a similar event, thought certainly such events are more probably in a warmer and wetter atmosphere, even if on average QLD will receive less rainfall as climate projections suggest.

Instead of blaming Rudd for mildly chastising Israel over its misstreatment of Palestinians, Pastor Danny should be praying for those affected and encouraging his flock to do the same and dig deep for those in need. Didn't Christ come because God loved the world?

In claiming that this disaster is an act of judgement, Pastor Danny is making God out to be an unloving, immoral monster. He is slandering God and his people. Such is the act one might say of a false prophet, for he falsely interprets an event, and because he is misrepresenting Christ who loved humanity enough to die to reconcile us to God, that he is an anti-Christ!

Bolt just doesn't get it.

Sadly Queensland is suffering a flood the like of which we haven't seen since 1974, and lives have been lost, to say nothing of property. Sadly, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt has used this as a pretext to bash global warming science yet again in his blog here.

He states "What I cannot understand is this: how was the possibility of such a danger not forseen, when climate experts and the Government claim they can predict the climate 100 years from now? How did this week’s rain come as such a surprise, when we now spend billions more on computer models predicting the future?"

I can't at this time comment on how well the situation was forecast since I haven't looked closely at the evolution, but a few comments are worth making.

Firstly, it is worth understanding that sometimes situations develop rapidly due to the right ingredients being there, and sometimes the information is not available to the models to simulate this rapid development. Oftentimes the human forecaster adds enormous value. Secondly, given that such an event is an extreme one, picking the precise values of rainfall can be beyond the models, however they can point to the fact that an event will be extreme.

Thirdly, there are comparisons with this event and the one in 1974 which was also a result of a La Nina year. A rearrangement of the ocean temperatures and wind patterns in the Pacific can result in floods during La Nina years and drought during El Nino years. Given this, we need to exercise caution in ascribing this event to global warming. Certainly under global warming there is more moisture contained in the atmosphere and hence an increased chance of more severe rainfall events (think the recent monsoon in Pakistan). This natural variability will continue, so while Bolt is right to point out that global warming scenarios have QLD receiving less rainfall on average, this does not mean that events like this are no longer possible.

Finally, the comparison of (sometimes) poor weather forecasts and climate projections is a false one. In the case of the former, a lack of evidence can lead to large errors in the forecast (think of chaos theory). This is known as an initial value problem as the initial measurements are key. The forecast problem is one of predicting accurately certain weather elements like wind speed and direction, rainfall amount at a point (in models averaged over a grid box) or maximum temperature. For climate projections, we are more interested in the mean conditions averaged over a larger grid box than a forecast model (due to computing and time constraints) and time, and not in precise values like the temperature at Melbourne on Feb 2, 2100. This kind of accuracy is impossible due to chaos. However, mean climate states and values like global mean temperatures or regional mean temperatures are possible. This is because the kind of forcings like solar output or greenhouse gases together with the state of the physical earth are more important than the effect of the state of the atmosphere now on the future climate.

It is a shame Bolt can't resist using a tragedy to highlight his willful ignorance of what should be plain to all. We can't say global warming has caused this event, though it may be consistent with it. All we should do is pray, lend a hand and a few dollars, showing the love of Christ to those in need.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Keeping your eyes open

I saw this walking my dog near Moonee Ponds Creek. Haven't been able to identify what it is as yet. The point is, so long as you keep your eyes open you will be able to find something interesting.

It of course raises the ago old issue of natural aesthetics. Fungi when we see them are the fruiting bodies of thin filaments that are (to most people) anything but beautiful. And yet this fungus (to me at least) is rather pretty - an ephemeral reproductive appendage. Evolution is said to be blind, producing features that work and help organisms survive and reproduce (even more reductively but less universally accepted, genes working to propagate themselves). And yet for the theist behind all of these generative mechanisms is a creative God who takes delight in it all. Made in his image, we can too.