Sunday, November 17, 2013

Melbourne climate change rally speech on Christian faith & climate change

As a Christian thinker and a climate scientist, I don’t want to talk this morning just of facts and figures, but imagination and dreams. I dream of a world of peace and justice, where resources are shared fairly, and where the Earth is treasured and protected.

Climate change is not just about science, technology or politics, although we need good science, green technologies and strong vision and leadership. Climate change is a deeply moral issue, and as we face an uncertain future, every person needs to be able to dream; to imagine a different world, a different way of pursuing the good life.

My dream of a better world is shaped by the Christian story of a God who loves, creates, redeems and renews. The cross of Jesus is the greatest expression of God’s love, and in response I am compelled to love God, and love my neighbour.

To love God means that I must love the world he has made. If the world warms by 2 degrees, more than 99% of all coral reefs will disappear; amazingly rich and beautiful ecosystems that are thousands of years old. Because I believe in a creator, this world is not disposable but sacred. The destruction we risk is not only wanton, but blasphemous.

In a world where I wear clothes made in Bangladesh, watch American movies on a Korean TV, and when I drive my Japanese car I add gases that warm the whole planet, everyone is my neighbour. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told a story about a man attacked by robbers, to teach us that we are to love our neighbours when they are in need.

This story of Jesus calls me to be a Good Samaritan and bind the wounds of those who suffer, and right now, people are suffering from climate change; from sea level rise, heat waves, bushfire and more violent storms.

But more than this, if we fail to act now to limit future climate change, we are not just being bad neighbours; we are robbers, stealing from our neighbours and future generations the chance to live full and meaningful lives.

So, today, I implore to think about what inspires you to dream of a better world, and act on climate change

Let’s dream together to protect this world we all call home, and together live as neighbours.

God bless you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Praying for rain and protesting on climate change

With the 12 hottest months on record in Australia and 3 driest months in Sydney it is little surprise that bushfires have been an issue. So from a Christian perspective, praying for rain is a natural reaction. I saw a picture on Facebook of some dry parkland grass, and a comment that the photographer was praying for rain. While I agree - I did want to say, will you be at the climate change rally?

It seems to me that some conservative Christians seem blind to the way things work, or the way God chooses to exercise sovereignty in the climate system. I remember my wife saying she used to pray as a child for a white Christmas, in Tamworth NSW! While I am sure the God who raised Jesus from the dead  could make it snow in an Australian summer, I'm not sure why he would. So when people pray for rain in the midst of a neutral ENSO event (average rainfall expected) but in a world we've obviously changed through our own actions, how do they expect the prayer to be answered?

Prayer is an act of utter dependence on God, and yet I see nothing in Scripture that says we don't do anything to work towards those prayers in all situations. Yes there are times when we can do nothing, but with climate change there is plenty we can do.

It is time to regard church as not simply doing the same thing every Sunday as if we were somehow chained to a Sunday morning service inside of four walls. It's missionally ignorant, and given the gravity of climate change it is morally indefensible.

I have the great honour of addressing the Melbourne rally as a person of faith on why I am passionate about climate change. It is a brief window of opportunity to show the breadth and depth of the gospel, the good news that God is putting everything right through Jesus. So, I may be preaching to the converted here, but this Sunday is a time to do church outside, along side others of many faiths or none. I'll put the text of my speech up Sunday night.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ice, ice baby - Arctic sea ice and climate change

One of the clear signs that someone has an agenda is when they cherry pick the data. It’s a common mistake to focus too much on the short term at the expense of the longer view. A recent example of this is the cover of Arctic Sea ice. Skeptics are claiming that sea ice has undergone a recent recovery, and therefore, along with the apparent stalling of global warming as measured by atmospheric temperatures, climate change is a myth. This is simply not true.

Arctic sea ice loss has been steadily occurring for some time. Satellite observations show it has been in decline since 1979 when observations first began. Observations from the Danish Meteorological Institute and Norwegian Polar Institute and ocean vessels have shown sea-ice cover is much lower than it has been since 1870. Studies of older climate from tree rings, ice cores and lake sediments can take us back even further, showing sea-ice is at its lowest for over 1400 years.

Perhaps the best way to think about sea ice loss is to compare blocks of cheddar cheese to cheese slices. If you want to cut a slice off a slice of cheddar, you cut it length ways, with each slice of equal thickness. With each slice you cut off, the surface area of cheese decreases. Compare that to cheese slices. Each time you remove a slice, the surface area remains the same but the thickness of the cheese decreases.

The melting of sea ice is like the removal of cheese slices, except sea ice varies in thickness. The thickness of ice reflects its age, with the thinnest ice being last season’s freezing and the thickest being from multiple years of freezing. Each summer, sea ice thins due to warming temperatures. Consider a distribution of sea ice where 25% is less than one metre. If during a summer season, there is a total of one metre of thinning, then there will be a 25% reduction in total sea ice. If that distribution changes over time such that 50% has a thickness of one metre, then the same summer time melting reduces the area but 50% instead of 25%.

This is what has been observed over time, sea ice has thinned, or another way of describing it is that total ice volume has decreased, due to warming air and ocean temperatures. Over shorter timescales, individual weather events can dramatically affect the total surface area of ice as thin ice can rapidly grow. For example, in 2012, a low pressure system spent nearly two weeks churning up ice already thin from a warm start to the season resulted in the lowest sea ice cover on record, though scientists think the ice would have reached a record low anyway. This year’s so-called recovery simply means that low pressure systems have brought snow fall and not damaged the ice, resulting in the 6th lowest sea ice cover on record.

Image from Skeptical Science shows so called recovery is simply a growth in area due to seasonal differences.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012

The moral of this story is that various key indicators of climate change do vary naturally on short time scales, be it year to year or over a few decades. This does nothing to change the longer term trends due to the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing and other drivers of climate change.

Further reading discusses the 2012 record low and the role the Great Arctic Cyclone played discusses the idea of tipping points and illustrates how sea ice varies from year to year. Moderately technical.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Making peace with lions

This short video from Ted is inspiring, that solutions for living alongside wildlife in an ever compressed world don't need to be hightech. All we need to do is think creatively so that we all might live in harmony. Now if only solving global warming were so simple....

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why top predators are essential to ecosystems

Talk by George Monbiot on his new book Feral on rewilding ecosystems. Book review to follow (when it arrives in the mail and I read it).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Democracy gone mad and the limits of enjoyment

After the weekend election in Australia, the Senate is going to be a strange mix of single interest parties along with the major parties. The whole issue seems to be with preferential voting, but as a result in the state of Victoria, a member of the Motoring Enthusiast Party has been elected. Apparently, a few things have been taken down of the web, some more embarrassing moments I'm guessing, but this comment caught my eye.

"We support a balanced approach towards sustainability of the environment and the use of the environment, both for the survival of mankind and for the unimpeded recreational use of the environment."

It is very clear from this that the environment is something for human use, for our survival and for our recreational use, by which he seems to mean four wheel driving, and is quoted again by the ABC as saying

"We have the RIGHT to express our individuality and freedom. Let's get a voice in the senate..... I am a Motoring Enthusiast and PROUD!"

Let's think about the worldview of Ricky Muir theologically.

Firstly, it's very clearly individualistic, as also evidenced by his view on taxation (again from the ABC)

"We are the only species on the planet who are forced to pay to exist," the post says.
"I think it is fair to say we should have the right to enjoy our existence with minimal government interference."

So governments interfere with our lives do they? Maybe so, but they fund schools, hospitals and other rights not shared in many places around the world and in many times in history. How else are the roads he no doubt loves paid for? Such hyper-individualism goes against the social contract of any society and is deeply anti-biblical. God loves the world, chooses a people, saves that people and the world with it. Too much Christianity echoes these sentiments, precisely because it has abandoned a biblical worldview. Taxation or not, governments play a role in maintaining order, something the bible affirms without accepting an unfettered mandate by human laws.

My other major observation is the incompatibility of unimpeded use and sustainability. The two words do not go together. Cars produce greenhouse gases which warm the plant unsustainably. Shifting to other energy sources and using cars less, not more, is important. The world is not our fun park. More than this, recreation doesn't have to be mechanical, it can involve many other activities that do not detract from the physical landscape or soundscape of 'wild' places. While I'm not advocating against 4WD use, having a political party where this is one of the few issues raised and where it is sought to be protected as a right shows how useless and watered down rights language has become.

It seems to me the bible promotes responsibility language far more, while providing the undergirding of rights for all humans as well as all non-humans and the earth itself. This isn't a deep green leveling of all life, but a biblical understanding that not everything is just about me, or my car.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Local stalling no end to global warming

A casual glance at plots of global mean temperature show something of a hiatus and yet many places are still showing warming. Russia had record heat wave in 2010, the USA in July 2012 and Australia continues to beat records. So what's up with that?

The climate undergoes internal variability in the form of various oscillations like the El Nino Southern Oscillation. During an El Nino, warm waters shift to the central or eastern Pacific and pressures drop there while waters cool in the western Pacific and pressures rise (for the more technically minded, westerly winds in the western Pacific produce waters in the ocean that transport warm water to the east and change the temperature structure of the ocean at and below the surface). During a La Nina, things are the other way around. Normal or neutral years represent a weak La Nina.

El Nino years are more warm globally. The shift of warm seas and lower pressures generates rainfall. As cloud forms, the atmosphere is heated and waves form, effecting weather patterns over north America. Heat is transferred away from the tropics more strongly in the northern hemisphere winter than during its summer. Hence, if the eastern Pacific is cooler than average (La Nina), northern hemisphere winters will be cooler because of the transport of that colder air. This transport of colder air can offset the warming produced by greenhouse gases.

When Kosaka and Xie (Nature, 2013,Published online) looked at global temperatures for 2002 to 2012, they saw that there was cooling during the northern hemisphere winter but warming during the northern hemisphere summer. To finish with a quote:

'All the climate models project a tropical Pacific warming in response to increased greenhouse gas concentrations [that's an increase in El Nino, MP]. We conclude that the recent cooling of the tropical Pacific and hence the current hiatus are probably due to natural internal variability rather than a forced response. If so, the hiatus is temporary, and global warming will return when the tropical Pacific swings back to a warm state. Similar hiatus events may occur in the future and are difficult to predict several years in advance owing to the limited predictability of tropical Pacific SST.'

So this is not good news or an overturning of ideas on climate change, merely the observation that the climate systems is always more complicated than we imagine. The 150+ year old science that burning fossil fuels increase the temperature, stands.

Pollution everywhere - keeping pure soundscapes

So I finally got and read Bernie Krause's book, The Great Animal Orchestra. I can highly recommend it. Krause looks at sound in the natural world, both biological and geological. He shows how over the years, changes in the health of the biosphere are visible (or more to the point audible) in the natural soundscape. Selective logging of forests reduces population of bird species. Aircraft sounds can silence the call of animals, making a hole in their aural herding and seeing them eaten.Whales are beached by very loud noises in the oceans, disorienting them. The natural world's soundscape is changed in so many ways.

The sounds of nature are the origins of music, and we seem keyed into some sounds that calm us. As I write I am listening to the sound of the waves, to ease the burden of an open office plan. As an introvert and someone sensitive to external sounds, I felt calmer yesterday and was more productive than when I used Coffivity and its human white noise.

Like pollution that spoils our water, warms our planet or drowns out the night sky with too much life, sound pollution drowns out the natural sounds we developed with. Many people are noise stressed by the sounds of modern life, noisy cars, industry, our digital devices and so on. As we insulate ourselves further from the world around us, it is hard to see how we can preserve it.

One of the fondest noises from my childhood is the warble of magpies and screech of galahs. The sounds of nature have a big place in my life. May there always be places of solitude to listen to the earth and her hymn of praise to the God who made and shapes her.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The voice of the natural world

I have this book on order. Can't wait. Are there places we can still go to and be still, listen to creation and give thanks to God for this hymn of praise? Book review to follow.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Books - print or ebook?

Living in a fully consistent manner is difficult, and as soon as you come out as wanting to be environmentally aware and sustainable you will face criticism. I admit I don't do everything maybe a I should. So when I shared this image recently elsewhere, it wasn't so much the questioning of whether paper is more environmentally sensitive but the 'and you call yourself an environmentalist' statement. C'est la vie. However, a quick web search yielded this article which points out the minimal CO2 cost of download but then the ereaders themselves and the build in obsolescence. Perhaps using a device that has more general uses (like a tablet) will help, but only if you use it for as long as you can rather than chasing the latest novel.

And for myself, yes using libraries saves CO2 and money, and second hand is to be preferred to new when possible, buying local over the faster O/S services. Life is full of difficulties and temptations. That said, let's be encouraging of those who seek to be green and non-aggressive to those who don't

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Christians & Creation Care: Melbourne meeting Aug 13

We believe God created the world good—and as his children, we have a responsibility to care for creation. A Rocha was founded in Portugal and focuses on environmental education, research and practical environmental action. Although many countries have established A Rocha, it has not yet been launched in Australia.

If care for creation is of interest ‐ please join us on Tuesday August 13 at 7.30pm at St. Judes’ Church in Carlton to discuss the vision for a group representing Christians in conservation in Australia,(potentially an A Rocha chapter) and also consider the weekend of September 28/29 for a weekend of practical environmental action at ‘Watchbox Valley’ (the photo above) an 1160 acre conservation focused farm 90km north on Melbourne in Central Victoria. For more information contact:

Mick Pope (
Ian Barns (
Paul Dettmann (

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vulnerability to climate change

I've been doing the Coursea MOOC Climate Literacy for a few weeks now, it is seemed time to share something of what I've been learning. The basic science has been mostly old for me since I've taught a course on this for some time. However, now we have moved on to impacts I'm starting to pick up on new ideas.

This diagram summarises the ideas behind systems becoming vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Sensitivity is how a system might be at risk to a hazard. Say for example your house is not on stilts. It is therefore sensitive to flooding. However, if you are not near a coast or in a flood plain, then your exposure is low. The product of sensitivity and exposure leads to some risk of potential impacts, in this case of flooding events.

Adaptive capacity is that ability or potential of a system to respond successfully to climate variability and change. In human systems this includes financial coping mechanisms, the role of education and awareness and trust and collaboration in communities. The first factor shows us why the developing world stands to be more vulnerable in many ways than the developed world. Adaptive capacity is a potential in that while we might be able to do something, we might not be willing to do it. Lack of political will is stymieing our ability to avoid a 2 C world!

All of this leads to a systems vulnerability to climate change. Some systems may prove resilient to such changes while others may cross tipping points and collapse.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Coursera climate change video

Forgive my inactivity here - I've certainly been busy with things, including the Tinsley Institute lecture, a visit to Bendigo to speak and seeing Bill McKibben speak live (more on some of these soon). I just wanted to show the video I produced for the course Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations that I am doing with Coursera. The first assessment was a short project on climate impacts in my area, so I need something on heat waves and looking at impacts on mortality.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations

On Coursera.It has just started so it's not too late to jump on board. Watch this space for comments as I go.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Eco-mission for elect exiles

On Sunday I heard a sermon which was the first in a series on Peter's epistles, 1 Peter 1:1-9. This section addresses readers Peter refers to as elect exiles (ESV) or in the NASB as aliens .... who are chosen. The issue of election isn't relevant to the discussion here, but the idea of exiles is. If Christians are exiles at the moment, what does that say about eco-mission? Indeed, what does it say about any action at all? If we are exiles, what does the end of exile mean?

Now exile is the non-willing removal of a person or group of people from their home. Many Christians will read this passage and immediately infer our home is heaven. Many will then go on to add that this means that things like eco-mission or creation care are optional at best, perhaps a distraction, and at worst pagan. I suspect this comes from a misunderstanding of both exile and heaven.

Graham Goldsworthy's classic expression of Old Testament hope was being God's people in God's place under God's rule, though we might replace the later as under God's blessing to bring it in line with Genesis 12:1-3, noting that God's rule was a sign of his blessing. So if any of these was out of place, there should have been a sense of exile. Daniel 9 appears to speak of exile up to the day of writing (v7 speaks of shame) because of Persian rule. So people could be in God's place but his rule not established in the sense of being usurped by a foreign power. Later in this chapter, end of exile is associated with the coming of the Messiah.

The point I am trying to get to is that while we are elect exiles, this doesn't mean that the Earth isn't our home and heaven is, as if the two are meant to be separate! Note how in verse 4 how our inheritance is reserved in heaven - but insisting that we need to go there to get it is like saying we need to go into the cupboard where our Christmas present is hidden to play with it. A few ideas to make this clearer:

Revelation 20-21 promises a new heavens and a new Earth and that one will come down to be joined with the other. Note how in the Lord's Prayer, heaven is where God's will is done now, and Jesus prays that it will be done on Earth as well. Further, if we acknowledge that heaven is where God is, heaven was on Earth for a time because (as Ed Kowalczyk noted) 'heaven wore a shirt', then since Jesus is coming back to Earth, so heaven is coming to Earth. Likewise, Romans 8 promises the Earth itself to be redeemed. Our home will ultimately be where heaven and Earth meet, not where they are separate.

So in a sense, we live like exiles because many things are impermanent. Yet as Tom Wright notes, at the end of 1 Corinthians 15, the passage on resurrection, because we will be raised from the dead (and not simply ascend to heaven for ever), what we do now is not in vain. Exiles we are, but when home comes to Earth we shall be at home, and some of the things we have done in exile will matter for eternity. This includes groaning with and caring for creation.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

ABC environment blog guest post

Just to let readers know that I will have a blogpost on the ABC Environment blog tomorrow on biblical theology and the environment (ecotheology). Enjoy

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coca Cola and the NT recycling scheme

The following is a very lame attempt at mocking the 'Always Coca Cola' song. Thanks guys for showing how good you are at being corporate citizens and opposing a cash back scheme. Alternate lyrics appreciated.

"do do do do dood, do do do ,do do
do do do do dood, always corp’rate-swindle (2x)

Wherever there's a coke there's always a can
whenever there's profit, there's a recycling ban
wherever there is greed, it’s always so dumb
whenever there's junk there's always corp’rate-swindle... yeah.


The junk will always pile, the birds will always die
As long as there’s plastic, there's always the fake thing
Coca-cola is always the one
Whenever there is junk, there's always corp’rate-swindle

do do do do dood, do do do ,do do (corp’rate-swindle)
do do do do dood, always coca-cola (ooh, ooh, oooh)

do do do do dood, do do do ,do do (doo dood do do doooh)
do do do do dood, always coca-cola (hey eh)

let the cans pile, let them pile.
always, always... corp’rate-swindle
oh always.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cultivating a concern for nature/creation: Daily awe not daily aww

You care about what you think about and value. So if we want to care about nature, or from a theological viewpoint, the creation, we should cultivate an interest in it and admiration of it. I call this daily awe. Of course this awe isn't of nature in of itself only, but insofar as it points to the God who created it. I find Psalm 104 helpful in this regard - God is a God of biodiversity, who creates many different habitats for the sake of their inhabitants, and not just for human economic needs (though not less than that in some times and places).

So the daily awe is to see God's creativity in things - be it watering the earth for all creatures, including humans, or caring for lions who can be down right dangerous for humans and their livestock. But note too this therefore isn't the daily awww as in the exclamation we make when we see something 'cute'. There are many things in nature that appear savage but yet have their own aesthetic appeal. Notwithstanding some anthropomophizing of some behaviour, only humans are cruel. Hence our awe will include predation, things not considered cute by all such as various invertebrates on which life depends (I mean creepy crawlies).

So how do we cultivate daily awe?
  1. By direct experience. Look at the insects or birds around you (or if you're very lucky, mammals). Take a walk on the beach looking for shells; look at the seeds or leaves that fall to the ground and study their smell, textures and colours.
  2. Organize a holiday based around nature such as ecotours.
  3. Have a regular diet of good documentaries. The ABC and BBC do a good job. A lot of Animal Planet material is sensationalist rubbish.
  4. The web is full of amazing pictures. I 'like' a number of Facebook pages with some wonderful daily images.
  5. Read good books on natural history. In a day of cultural ADHD forced by social media, being able to sustain reflection on a topic is a virtue if not a necessity. These books should vary from celebrations of what is to reflections on what we are losing and why - but never read just one either you'll lose sight of what we value in despair or live in a fantasy where Eden still exists everywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Quote of the day: 18 February 2013

Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man. No one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. Charles Darwin

Friday, February 15, 2013

Quote of the day: 15 February 2013

The peace of nature and the innocent creatures of God seems to be secure and deep, only so long as the presence of man and his restless and unquiet spirit are not there to trouble its sanctity. Thomas de Quincey.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Quote for the day: 14 February 2013

Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create so that he can add to what he's been given. But up to now he hasn't been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life becomes extinct, the climate's ruined and the law grows poorer and uglier every day. - Anton Chekhov.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Subversive gardening

I recently read an article where there are places in the United States where gardening is illegal. People are not allowed to grow their own food! We live in an age where many people in the world starve while others drown in processed food that is slowly killing them - and it's cheaper to eat it than fresh food. It seems to me that gardening can now be seen as a subversive act. Apart from being illegal, how might growing your own food be subversive?

Firstly, without pesticides, agribusiness, etc we are protesting against so called efficiency. True enough to feed the world we can't rely upon old methods - the world is too big for that. However, efficiency is not the only or primary factor in what it means to flourish as a human. In a world of fast food, slow food grown from scratch is a protest against machine like efficiency that relegates human feelings and other aesthetic aspects of food production as secondary.

I'd add here that shopping at farmer's markets is still a good way of achieving this.

Secondly, storing seeds from previous generations of food protests against business control of food itself. Taking seeds from pumpkins and growing them rather than buying the seed recognizes the reality of natural cycles in a world where many protect themselves from the seasons, indeed as global warming changes the seasons.

Thirdly, growing food forms an attitude of gratitude as we learn that we are in a relationship with the earth - care and tend it and it provides us with a bounty in an almost miraculous way.

Lastly (though I am sure there's more), it's a protest against the idea that all joys are technologically mediated (yes the irony, I'm blogging). Nothing is simpler in a sense than hands in soil rather than hands on remotes or keyboards.

So garden for the joy, the satisfaction, garden where you are in ground or pots, in protest and thankfulness.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Evangelical Environment

Late last year, I and three others (two of whom I work with from time to time on various environment related projects) on Sunday Nights with John Cleary on a program entitled The Evangelical Environment. There is a podcast available.

I'll let readers decide how useful it was, but the program was motivated by exit polls from the US presidential elections and the low priority given to environmental issues by Evangelicals in those polls. One of the participants was from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), which I think it would be fair to say don't usually focus on such issues because they fear the Greens and some of their policies. Much of our time was spent on this. A lot of the time was spent on discussing climate change - but of course the problems are broader than this. Enjoy.