by Pastor Doug Kings
For the past month I have watched with dismay as fires have consumed 300,000 acres of northern New Mexico forest on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains. While our home there is not in danger, it’s obvious this is yet another episode in the unfolding global climate catastrophe that is affecting us all. With that in mind, I share this post (my first for Gloria Dei) I wrote 3-1/2 years ago. The need for awareness and change is no different today.
If you’ve followed the news recently, you have certainly been aware of the disastrous fires in California and perhaps seen some of the terrifying videos taken by those fleeing the conflagration. Scores have been killed, hundreds remain missing, and over ten thousand homes and businesses have been destroyed. The devastation of the town of Paradise is so great that it may well be abandoned.
Last month the landmark report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. As many have noted, nothing in the report was new to scientists and others who have been studying and following the issue. What is new is the clarity and urgency of the language: humanity and the planet are on course for an unprecedented climate disaster. In short, the scenes in California will be increasingly common. Fire, drought, flood, and famine will become the norm, not the exception.
Scientists believe that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees C is the upper limit for preserving the planet’s essential interconnected ecological and social systems. Having already achieved a 1-degree increase, we will reach that limit in 12 years. Going past that limit—as we are on course to do—will mean nothing less than catastrophe. In the online journal Grist, climatologist Eric Holthaus writes:
This report is a rallying cry to save the basic functioning of human civilization, shouted into the din of a news cycle dominated by a media that pretends not to understand, in a world led by anti-democratic politicians that pretend to be doing enough, aimed at a populace that pretends not to care.
The scientists doing the research and making reports such as this are beyond frustration in their seeming inability to get their message across. Part of the problem has been intentional disinformation. There is now hard evidence, for example, that oil companies’ own studies showed the impact fossil fuel burning would have on the planet and that they then conducted campaigns to disparage any such reports in public.
The problem goes deeper than this, however, arising out of a strange separation and alienation that has developed between humanity and its planetary home. Standing the Genesis creation stories on their heads, we have come to view the world around us like a giant warehouse from which we pick and choose whatever we need to fulfill our wants and desires. The “things” of this world are categorized as “natural resources”, but does that really do justice to the polar bear, African giraffe, elephant, great apes, coral reefs, or mountain glaciers, all diminishing rapidly and in real danger of soon disappearing altogether?
The second of the Genesis creation stories, in chapter two, is especially helpful in correcting our utilitarian view of planet. It tells us first, that everything God creates, including humans, is made of the same stuff, earth filled with God’s own breath. Second, it says that animals are made as our companions and the plants are made to benefit us as part of a garden home in which we are to live, “tilling and keeping it” on God’s behalf.
In his book, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul, John Philip Newell explores the countless ways in which humanity is divided against itself and how this is the source of so much of our suffering, as individuals, as communities, and as a planet. The only solution is for us to rediscover and reclaim the unity that God has built into all of creation. In the book’s Prologue he writes:
We live in the midst of a new consciousness of life’s interrelatedness. And this awareness relates both to life’s essential oneness and to life’s shared brokenness. Like never before in the history of humanity, we are becoming aware that what we do to a part we do to the whole, that the parts will not be well as long as the whole is neglected, and that the whole will not be well if the parts are neglected. We know that . . . the human species can in no sense be considered healthy when the body of the earth is deeply infected. Wellness is found not in isolation but in relationship.
When God says it is not good for Adam to be alone, it is not just Eve that is to be his companion but the whole creation is given as essential for humanity’s well-being. Everything on our Thanksgiving tables, and all the families, friendships and communities that give our lives fullness, result from complex and essential interrelationships that thrive or suffer together.
The Bible says that the love of God was poured out in Christ to save the entire world. Today we are beginning to see the enormity of that love as never before, and the awful consequences if we do not in turn live in that same love, for the sake of our neighbor and for the sake of the whole creation.
Blessings in your life and ministry.