The Communicating Hope gathering that I ran recently with Margot Hodson was an inspiring time, bringing together about sixty of the main people in the UK who communicate on environmental issues within the Church, to wrestle together with how we motivate and encourage Christians to become more ecologically engaged when hope of change seems to be fading.
Our first keynote presentation was by Dr Martin Hodson, who gave us an update on the latest scientific environmental developments. I’d like to say that it was an optimistic talk, but with issues of soil erosion, invasive species, habitat destruction, peak oil, biodiversity loss, pollution, water, climate change, human population, food supply, acid raise, ozone depletion, diseases, water, consumption and ocean acidification as the list of problems that we’re currently facing it was, instead, a sober way to begin our time together…
Whilst we’ve got a pretty good handle on acid rain and ozone depletion, all the other problems are currently out of our control and leave us with huge challenges. In particular, said Martin, water, climate change, human population, consumption, peak oil and biodiversity loss are the big ones that we need to cover.
Here are some of the key points that came out of his presentation:
- CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are rising. Rather than us proving capable of meeting the challenge and decreasing our CO2 emissions, concentration levels are currently going up by about 2-3ppm every year.
- Sir Robert Watson (the Chief Scientific Advisor for DEFRA) has said that we should prepare for a 3 – 5 degree C warmer world and that we should focus our efforts on adaptation rather than mitigation.
- We are facing the sixth mass extinction in the history of the earth, the only one caused by humans.
- The US now uses more corn for fuel than for food.
- We’ve probably peaked already in terms of regular oil, but non-conventional resources means we’re not feeling the impact. However, increasing reliance on sources such as tar sands and fracking is not an option as they are ‘horrendously nasty and enormously damaging’.
- The perceived wisdom with population has been that we would grow till around about the mid-century, when we’d hit around 9 billion and then would gradually start to decline. However, demographers are now wondering if this will really happen and are now suggesting we’ll head towards end of century at 10 billion.
- Sir Paul Nurse FRS has said, ‘rapid and widespread change in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound changes to human health and well-being and the natural environment’.
- More developed countries are holding a pretty steady line in terms of CO2 emissions, but the less developed countries are increasing rapidly. But the least developed countries are hardly shifting. It still needs to be remembered that the more developed countries emit way more CO2 than others.
How does reading that list make you feel? Do we have any hope left or is it all over? I’d be really interested to know how you cope with this sort of information.
These were the questions that we were left with after Martin’s session, and it was down to Professor Richard Bauckham then to lead us on from there to consider a theological response…
Well, that is a grim list if I’ve ever seen one.
That list makes me feel that massive doses of intrinsic motivation are needed, so “Christ in me, the hope of glory” is just what I need to keep doing something about the earth. Extrinsic motivation—namely, that we will see any achievements of our earth-saving efforts, and in fact whether we’ll achieve anything at all—will fail tremendously as we realize we cannot save the earth, period. Intrinsic motivation will mean that I will do what I will do, regardless of results. Yes, I want the results of course, I want to save polar bears; but as soon as it’s evident that I cannot save polar bears (*), I will still keep doing what I did to save polar bears, simply because there’s no other way to live.
The last item of the list is the more frightening to me. The developed countries are still ahead of the carbon pollution game, and the developing (Brazil, China, South Africa) are catching up… and as the rest of the world lies in poverty, they are waiting for their chance to pollute. Your average Angolan wants the (Euro-)American dream; he wants the Nikes and the Mercedes and the burgers and the Colas and the iPads and the 20 pairs of shoes and the grass lawns, and, and, and. Escaping poverty equals emitting loads of carbon. It’s not that I want the poor people in the poor countries to stay poor, but we need to realize that the poor want to emulate the rich; and since the rich emit loads of carbon, our bad example will be copied. No amount of shouting that the entitlement culture is wrong for the planet will do, because they’ve seen what we’re doing.
(*) I believe that the polar bear as a thriving species in the wild will be extinct during my lifetime. There will be pockets of bears here and there, but not more. We’re already in Peak Polar Bear, if you will.
I think you’re right, Julio, both about the polar bears and about our motivation having to be intrinsic. We do it because, as followers of Jesus who love what he’s made, we can’t do anything else. And I have to say, I am already dreading the day when the last polar bear dies – and the orang utan too. I sincerely hope I never see it in my lifetime because the despair I’ll feel on that day will be too much. Hmmm, what a depressing post, sorry!
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