Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ecological biodiversity and its 21st century challenge


Continuing our series of Questions of Faith which look at wider issues and their relevance to our Christian lives today, id like us to consider Ecology , in particularly the threat to the earth’s bio diversity and its effects, its challenges, and our Christian responsibilities and possible responses in our lives in the 21st century.

This is once again a huge area and topic , upon which I can only illustrate a fraction of the issues and challenges it poses to us as Christians; as sisters and brothers, and as citizens in God’s world in the 21st century.

It is a huge and challenging subject for me to preach on and for you to absorb and pray about, but i feel we must, both individually and as a gathered church, for as we heard in Marks Gospel, the truth needs good hearts to grow in.

First some broader issues…which I hope will highlight some of the issues, and the joined up nature of the ecology and bio diversity we are all part of in God’s world:

The Turkana pastoralists and ecological biodiversity


Since 1999, there’s been virtually no rainfall in north-west Kenya.

The Turkana people who lived there survived as nomads, herding their cattle from place to place, wherever there was grass.

When there was rain, they and their cattle could build up their strength until the next drought. But since climates around the world started to change, the drought in the Turkana region has been continuous.

There was fighting over the few remaining water holes; some families moved away; others were too attached to their nomadic life to change, and their situation is dire.

Aid workers have realized, as never before, how interdependent are the worlds of plants, animals and human beings.

In this country of ours, the ecology balance has changed out of all recognition since my childhood, the idea of seasonal food , like a season for fruit, or some vegetables or old and new potatoes, green beans, etc. summer fruits, and indeed the concept of their being only one time in a year for strawberries or raspberries, is just a fading folk memory.

We have beans flown in from Kenya, tomatoes from Spain, pineapples from south America, fruit from south Africa, and all the rest-in fact anything you could ever want, all year round, winter or summer on demand, we Live eat and shop in global supermarkets, with global products, in a way unthinkable 50 years ago, and it’s all based on burning fossil fuels to transport and supply these western luxuries on demand, that are taken for granted as what we need.

In Genesis Chapter 9 we hear ‘God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them ‘’be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’’.

And of course we have, on all 5 continents, as descendents of the sons of Noah, Sham, Ham and Japeth.

Modern genetics may explain it differently but, the different races in the world are related to each other.

Even in the Bible it was recognized that we’re all descended from common ancestors. So the races are dependent on each other. You can’t say that drought’s a problem for the Africans, and nothing to do with us. The Africans and the Europeans are cousins; we should think of each other as brothers and sisters. Most people today accept that drought in Africa’s caused by global warming, which is the result of carbon emissions in the industrialized nations.

Many believe that human fueled global warming is also affecting sea levels world wide. So what you may say; if the sea level goes up a few feet, that won’t cause much harm surely?

Bangladesh has a population of over 162 million souls, predications are that in the next 10 years there will be over 10 million climate refugees from Bangladesh alone, looking for new countries to live in.

If the sea level rises by 3ft, half the present country will be under the sea.

The ecological consequences are joined up globally and have very serious repercussions, in Bangladesh, in the Maldives, in Holland, in the arctic, Antarctic, and others , and with refugee flows in the future.

The Second thing we learn from the story of Noah is that human beings depend on the well-being of the plants and animals for their food supply.

So Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, you have to recognize that the healthiness or otherwise of the world of nature affects our own survival.

The demands of biodiversity and the protection of endangered species are not just the concern of a few cranks; they all affect the food chain somewhere, and the extinction of species may rob us of so far undiscovered medicines.

Genetic engineering may be good if it increases food supplies to poor nations, but if poor people can’t afford to grow the new strains, then once again the rich will become richer at the expense of the poor.

The developed nations produce something like twice as much food as we can eat, but instead of sharing the rest with the poor, we throw it away and further pollute the environment with landfill sites.

But we are so advanced, we humans, we couldn’t do that, or be that short sighted, could we?

Lets look at something’s that have happened in the past, are occurring now, and may happen in the future if our stewardship and care of Gods earth and its complex ecology isn’t up to what’s required from us.

Lets look into the past, the extinction of the dodo, great auk, the near extinction of the great whales and many, many more, were all human driven; but lets look at another example of mankind’s often short sighted approaches…

The passenger pigeon.

Remember earlier that I said the estimated population of the earth for humans is 6.83 billion?

Well in about 1850 there may have been more than 7 billion passenger pigeons in north America alone!

They used to migrate yearly, the flocks often described as up to 10 miles wide and 50 miles long, and could take from 7.30 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon to pass one spot.

The flocks so tightly packed that a single shot could bring down 30 birds, numbers unimaginably huge.

Surely an indestructible species?

Yet within 50 years the species was extinct.


Their woodland habitat was cleared; they were blasted from the skies to cheaply feed people, a brace of passenger pigeons ready to eat cost 1 cent in New York, at a time when there were over 5 dollars to the pound!

Their eggs were taken, their young taken, and even when it was clear the passenger pigeon was clearly in trouble, still the slaughter went on, breeding collapsed as they only laid one egg every other year, in fifty years 7 billion vanished to none in 50 years.

But you say that was then not now, true but many of the worlds fish stocks have been overfished some to the brink of extinction….make you think doesn’t it?

Mono culture where we only plant one of two varieties, leaves us venerable as well….if both strains are susceptible to a disease, as in the only two types of potato planted in Ireland in the 1846,the potato blight devastated both types, which lead to the potato famine in Ireland, the death of 1 million people, and another 1 million moving to the New World to escape.

Even today in the 21st century about 80% of our food comes from just 20 kinds of plants, we are not totally immune in the modern age either!

We don’t know in this modern scientific wonder age just how many species if you include insects and invertebrates, there are in this world.

Estimates range from 10 million to 100 million, and of those, mankind has only named 1.4 million. We just don’t know what health benefits, cures, and other issues for mankind die with each species lost.

Aspirin as it is now called is the active ingredient from willow bark, it use dates date back to at least to 3000 BC, and is still in wide spread use today. There are man more.

Some 50% of pharmaceutical products in use today come or derive from plants, animals and micro-organisms.

One study said with the loss of species, habitats and ecological bio diversity, some 30% of all natural species will become extinct in the next 50 years, through habitat destruction, overkill, and over harvesting.

So you might say, does it really matter after all it won’t affect us surely?

We are so technically advanced that such a wise race couldn’t have any problems in the 21st century, were immune from all that.

That all happens in other parts of the world, it won’t affect us…

Ok let’s hope so…but

Let’s take the humble bee for instance, we wouldn’t miss it surely? Except perhaps for the honey ?

Well They are disappearing , some areas are 70% down in numbers recently.

But bees do much more than just make honey. They fly around pollinating all sorts of fruit and vegetables, which end up on our plates.

Their role in the food chain is so important that in 2007 The National Audit Office collated the value of honeybees to the UK economy.

The value of the bees' services were estimated at £200m a year. The retail value of what they pollinate was valued closer to £1bn- 3 years ago.

Nobody knows exactly what impact the current decline in honey bee populations is having on these figures and on the supplies of these foods, but it is clear there could be consequences.

"If we had a serious loss of honeybees in the UK, then inevitably food prices would have to increase," according to Simon Potts, head of pollination research at Reading University.

"Essentially we would have to import fruits from overseas. The problem is bee numbers are declining world wide.

"Either that or the British diet would have to change considerably. Instead of eating fruits we'd have to switch to more starchy foods like grains and cereals."

Costs would more than double of what was still available then.

It has also been calculated that’s much as 25% of what we eat depends on the humble bee.

A quote attributed to Albert Einstein predicted, if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then mankind would have only four years of life left.

No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, then no more animals, then no more man.

Whilst that may overstate the issue, but it would make a good if slow moving disaster movie, it is serious concern however.

Why are Bees Disappearing?

The answer to this question remains elusive, but researchers are working to find a cause. .Some of the theories for bees disappearing are mites, use of pesticides, viruses, fungi, poor bee nutrition, radiation from mobile phones interfering with their navigation systems, solar flare activity and the geomagnetic orientation of the earth. No specific theory has identified the cause to date. We simply don’t know. Perhaps some prayer for the bees might be one response in Gods world.

The Bible and ecology

So the Bible teaches that ecology’s the concern of us all.

Ecology however asks us huge questions, and of cause with all these complex issues, there are no simple answers I’m afraid.

Our little gestures like switching to low-energy light bulbs and inflating our car tyres correctly, to save on fuel, and planting a few bee friendly plants in our gardens; or buying Free trade or Organic products if we can afford them; or only put as much water in the kettle as we need, instead of filling it up every time we boil it; or only using the central heating when we need it, or turning the thermostat a few degrees; or recycling and minimizing waste and or thinking when we source our shopping bearing also in mind the peoples livelihoods that produce our food from all over the world; and of course only using our cars when we need them, and not for everything!

Some might say it may not make much difference, but at least they show that we’re concerned, and others can help us put it all into perspective and face up to the major challenges that surely will come in time.

We like to think we are in total control of our world, but a minor volcano and some ash perhaps showed us otherwise recently!

What God expects

So God expects you and me to be concerned about these problems, and to do something about them.

Like loving your neighbour like yourself, can only work properly if you love yourself, perhaps our concern over Gods earth and its ecology can only properly work

Whether or not the story of Noah’s flood’s historical, it conveys a stark message to us:

• greedy and wasteful human behavior creates ecological disaster;

• the races are dependent on each other;

• the poor suffer from the profligacy of the rich;

· And when God told our ancestors to multiply and cultivate the earth, that included a responsibility to care for and protect all species as well as our own, and of course all our brothers and sisters in the world.

So perhaps we must discover how to tolerate people with whom we may seemingly have little in common with.

More than that, we should learn to enjoy the many varying types of people and species that God’s put on this earth.

Perhaps God made us SO different from each other because he appreciates what makes each one of us unique. Maybe we should learn to do the same.

Human biodiversity

Lets end a challenging, disturbing and demanding subject with a poem

which a retired clergyman called Michael Counsell wrote , as a challenge and a prayer in the challenge of the coming weeks.

Just as the ecologists try to preserve biodiversity in animals and plants, he called this poem

Human Biodiversity’:

Since Jesus likes the likes of you

and likes the likes of me,

though you and I, to tell it true,

are unlike as could be,

then why should I not like you too,

and learn to share our dreams,

that we may love alike, we two, unlikely though it seems?

And if you think that you could see — since God loves everyone —

your way to like me, we’d agree to do as God has done.

So let’s be kind to humankind, and undervalue none,

enjoying difference, and find God’s likeness in each one.


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