Thursday, March 06, 2008

A riddle

What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?

26 comments:

Acenes said...

Nothing. My thoughts are that
neither animal nor plant are subject to the laws of humans or even the concept of "endangered spiecies".

byron smith said...

They mightn't be subject to our laws (although actually, they are in all kinds of ways), but they are subject to our destructive activities, intentional and unintentional... :-(

byron smith said...

And welcome to commenting! Since I was the first to view your profile, I assume this might have been your first. Do we know each other?

mark Stevens said...

Creation at work? Byron sorry to ask this hear. Did you get my email recently?

mark Stevens said...

Sorry that is terrible. It should read here. That will teach me to type while I am on the phone!!!

byron smith said...

Got it and replied. Sorry for the delay - it's been a busy week.

Craig Bennett said...

I would say a prayer of thanks and eat them both.

Dave Lankshear said...

Take a photo because they're all "going down"?

The thing is, this is exactly the question conservation is now asking. As you know (but I'm just pointing out to other visitors) the questions are much bigger than that — as the riddle suggests.

In other words the whole conservation movement has shifted from concern for individual "species", as if saving one "species" would help conserve nature and by extension ourselves, to the question of saving whole ecosystems. The sad reality is that an endangered animal may well be utterly dependent on a few endangered plants because the whole habitat they live in is itself endangered. The bottom line? We are paving over and ploughing up entire ecosystems. We are committing eco-cide. And if we continue on the current course, we'll lose many ecosystem services that we depend on, or from which we at least gain incredible economic advantage.

So take a photo because they won't last long. One more virus, or one more highway, or one more accidental toxic spill, and they're gone.

Benjamin Ady said...

recognizing the futility of attempting to stop the natural extinction of species which no longer measure up in the evolutionary struggle for survival, you wait for the animal to finish eating the plant, and then you eat the animal.

(I mean lets face it. They're all going to die when the sun goes red giant in some 5 billion years anyway, barring their deaths far sooner than that from the effects of global warming.)

Dave Lankshear said...

As the stewards left in charge of this planet, isn't it our duty to look after biodiversity for the sake of our kids and grandkids? Also, I think God might have some control over the "big picture" stuff you mention about Sol going Red Giant. I'm not sure He's going to give us that long — but I'm pretty sure He's going to hold us to account for how we've treated each other, and that includes how we treat each other's resources and ecosystems.

Benjamin Ady said...

Dave

Sorry. That was about 90% tongue in cheek. Although I *do* tend to take the geological perspective on the extinction of particular species. I mean how many species got wiped out in Noah's flood? Surely at least 90% of them. That's the biblical account. As for the evolutionary account--I've heard it said that even there 90% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. Is that true? If it is, doesn't it just show to go ya that if one goes extinct, 12 more will rise up to take it's place?

byron smith said...

Benjamin - Joking aside, I think it's taking the geological perspective that makes this topic all the more alarming for me. There is a 'background' rate of non-human caused extinction. We are currently moving at about 1,000 times that rate. We are having a similar or larger impact, geologically speaking, than whatever wiped out the dinosaurs. And it's not simply a matter of having less exciting zoos or fewer Attenborough docos to watch (though that would be a tragedy in itself). Because as Dave says, it's not just a matter of losing species, but of whole ecosystems, which are the building blocks of our own existence. It's like looking out the plane window and not just seeing one bolt wriggle loose and fall off, but a steady stream. More will rise up to take the place (so the plane analogy is of course too simple), but only very slowly...

Dave Lankshear said...

The thing is, I don't know that God has given human beings enough time for more to rise up and take the place of those species we are currently wiping out. We certainly haven't left nature enough room for new species to develop, let alone having the hundreds of thousands of years it takes for one or 2 little changes to occur! When we are paving over and ploughing up nature so extensively there's no wildlife corridors for migration, no space for the current biodiversity to survive, let alone any space for new things to develop.

I personally don't think there is biblical or scientific evidence for a worldwide flood that wipes out the kind of biodiversity that Benjamin refers to. These things occur over millions of years. For example, there's no way biodiversity would have adapted to the harsh conditions of Australia in the 6000 years since the flood.

The previous big extinction events were all "natural", that is, part of God's plan for making us. The anthropogenic extinction occurring around us now seems to be our own plan for "unmaking" us — or at least a large part of our brothers and sisters.

One of the 20 or so books I have on the go right now is "Christianity, Evolution and the Environment" by Barry J. Richardson. I just know I'm going to put this the wrong way, because I've only skimmed his argument so far, but he seems to be arguing that evolution is one of God's programs for the world. That is, given our mandate as good stewards of this world, and given our "Proverbial wisdom"* has discovered the process of evolution in God's world, we should probably ALSO leave large areas of nature "wild" for evolution to occur.

*(I know Proverbs "empirical" wisdom is presented as very limited compared to God's own wisdom, but nevertheless it has also become a very powerful scientific empirical tool, which seems consistent with some exhortations in Proverbs).

Dave Lankshear said...

Hey Byron

"It's like looking out the plane window and not just seeing one bolt wriggle loose and fall off, but a steady stream."

Yeah, great, thanks for that mate... I never was a very "happy flier" in the first place! ;-)

Craig Bennett said...

Om a more serious note.

Extinction of animal and plant life is something that has happened in the past without the exacerbation of mankind.
Yet we also have to agree that we have not been good stewards in looking after creation either and we have / are causing the extinction of many species at an alarming rate.

Though the question to ask, are they really extinct - or is it only an illusion of extinction of life and being? When God creates the new heavens and earth will those extinct animals and plants be alive once again?

Dave Lankshear said...

They are extinct for our purposes now, aren't they? We are discussing our environmental responsibilities now, in this universe. What God may or may not do when He finishes this mess is an interesting point for discussion... but does not negate our current stewardship responsibilities.

I'm sadly becoming convinced that it's too late. There's just too many tipping points all rushing at us together. Oil is reaching $110 and only now, after years of warning from important geologists, are the IEA and US sending top level people to Saudi Arabia to demand more supply. What happens when they say they won't and give xyz rubbish excuse is going to be interesting. What happens when they say they honestly CAN'T is going to get "really" interesting.

As Andrew McNamara, Member for Hervey Bay Queensland (and a top bloke I've had a few beers with) said in his recent Brisbane Institute speech...

I spoke earlier of climate change as the crouching tiger; the danger we can see. It is real, dangerous and imminent.

I suggest that we face an even graver threat, that is even more imminent than global warming, and in response to which we have chosen to look the other way for 50 years.

The hidden dragon I speak of is resource depletion; of the peaking supply of those sources of energy that have enabled our explosion from around 2 billion people on the planet in 1900 to 6.5 billion today.

This is truly the unseen threat that will confront us all soon enough, whether we choose to see it or not.


Because we have left it so late to even have the discussion this "hidden Dragon" could propel modern society into all sorts of crazy knee-jerk reactions... such as massive coal-to-liquids programs belching out so much Co2 that the "crouching Tiger" gets even crankier.

Craig Bennett said...

Dave I agree that we are talking about saving the planet now. There are questions to ask regarding how do we go about it?

I don't think the oil problem is as big a deal as you seem to thrive on regarding the planets survival.

What ever we do as Christians, it needs to be informed via our theology of what it means to care for creation. Therefore my point regarding there is going to be a new creation shows us that God cares about all his creation - even those who appear to be extinct now.

I think that running out of oil could be good for the environment and that we would start to see the reversal of the environmental damage caused by our dependence on oil.

To be sure it will have a huge impact on us all, and will most likely make us uncomfortable - yet part of the Christian message is to live a simple life that is free from the love of money and possessions...oil seems to drive us in the opposite direction.

What do you think are some of the practical things that we can do to save the environment?

Dave Lankshear said...

Every one of us demand that our politicians build a national electric rail system instead of the oil vulnerable trucking system,

demand that no new coal power plants are ever built,

demand that oil subsidies are cut (somewhere in the order of 10 billion dollars a year, and that's just in Australia),

demand a no-growth stable state economy where any "growth" is virtual in nature, not building ever big McMansions and consuming ever more goods,

demand that our politicians adopt the sustainable population policies of SPA,,

demand that our cities be retrofitted for local production of most of our goods and services and especially food,

demand that vast new "untouchable" world heritage parks are created to preserve wildlife,

demand that new sanctuaries are set up to protect fragile species, especially saving endangered tigers and apes,

demand that Biochar is used to fuel farming and store Co2,

demand that instead of expanding ever outwards, our cities contract inwards to about a quarter of their current size based on New Urbanism principles. See illustrations here of what can be achieved if we decide to turn a concrete jungle into a high density, high diversity thriving local economy that's also a paradise for kids.

But because so many citizens, even Christians, are duped that economic growth can, will, and MUST continue, none of this will happen.

Craig Bennett said...

I think demand is a strong word Dave!

What would you propose the source of the electric power that would power the national train system?

There is another question regarding the sustainability of wildlife parks. Let me ask you a hypothetical question. If you were out bush walking and a very rare and endangered snake was about to bite a member of your family and you were faced with the choice of either allowing it to bite or you had to kill it to prevent it from biting what would you do?

Biochar is not a fuel, rather a soil additive and so how do you propose using it to fuel farming? There are biodesiel alternatives that farmers can and do use effectively and many farmers are going back to natural sustainable soil practices. - Economics do pay a part in it though as it causes a higher cost on the consumers pocket to pay for the product.

I am interested though in how you marry your stance - which I think has many good points btw and I am not totally opposed to them. with a theological basis.

byron smith said...

Craig, thanks for your thoughtful engagement on these issues. I'd like to respond to a few of your thoughts.
Though the question to ask, are they really extinct - or is it only an illusion of extinction of life and being? When God creates the new heavens and earth will those extinct animals and plants be alive once again?
Not an illusion, just as Jesus' death was not an illusion. That God can and did raise the dead doesn't turn death into an illusion.

Re biochar fuelling farming: I assume Dave is talking about it as an alternative to petrochemical-based fertilisers, which currently "fuel" most agriculture (correct me if I'm wrong, Dave).

Re powering rail: even if the national rail network were powered by coal stations, I suspect this would still be a massive increase in transport efficiency long term.

I think that running out of oil could be good for the environment and that we would start to see the reversal of the environmental damage caused by our dependence on oil. To be sure it will have a huge impact on us all, and will most likely make us uncomfortable - yet part of the Christian message is to live a simple life that is free from the love of money and possessions...oil seems to drive us in the opposite direction.
The end of the age of oil is both an opportunity and a threat. Yes, there is the chance to re-imagine our world on another basis, but there is also a direct threat not simply to our habits and lifestyles, but the very livelihood of a global society of 6.5 billion thoroughly reliant on oil for our very food. Furthermore, although I think some fairly significant changes are necessary, even inevitable, Christians have always believed that social stability is a good thing. Chaos generally brings out the worst in people and if the end of the age of oil is lead poorly (denial, desperation, despair) then this could lead to a large increase in wars, internal disputes, refugees, and so on.

If you were out bush walking and a very rare and endangered snake was about to bite a member of your family and you were faced with the choice of either allowing it to bite or you had to kill it to prevent it from biting what would you do?
I thought part of the point of wilderness parks was that access was restricted, if not entirely, then at least to those trained and careful enough to avoid situations like this where such lose-lose choices are inevitable.

However, we don't need to imagine such hypotheticals. Imagine you are a poor peasant farmer whose family will starve or freeze without clearing sensitive and ecologically rich land for fuel and/or agriculture. But now imagine this situation multiplied by many thousands of times so that the land clearing ends up as threatening the future sustainability of human society as we know it. Now stop imagining, because this, apparently, is the world we live in.

I take it that we will move to alternative styles of living, social structures and expectations. The questions are when, to which ones and whether we do so voluntarily or because there is nothing left. Will we be set free both from our fear of death and scarcity and from our assumption that things can and must continue as they have done to imagine and implement some of these changes now?

byron smith said...

I didn't mean to imply that starving farmers clearing land are the only or primary cause of ecological degradation (let's look at the huge cost of our own lifestyles first), merely that their situation somewhat mirrors the life-and-death situation in the hypothetical.

Dave Lankshear said...

Excellent points Byron.

Also, I don't pretend that the specific solutions I give are theological. The only theology that drives this really is that God has commanded us to love our neighbour, and that He is the Lord of all of life... not just the "religious" bits but the whole package. That means we are to "care for the garden" in a compassionate manner as well. Byron might have more to say on the theology.

The "demands" I present are the only real way with our current technology to deal with the many challenges we face. I threw in biochar because it's a particular favourite of mine which enables some fuel for farmers cooked up from agricultural WASTE (so that there's no competition between food or fuel), and the agrichar by-product of making the fuel helps microorganisms fuse nitrogen into the soil. See more references and material on my page "Replenish the oil". It's one of those ancient Amazon technologies from 7000 years ago that modern soil scientists are suddenly very, very interested in. Total "hippie meets science" thang, and I love it. It's also one of the RARE biofuel niche energy sources that I actually approve of... most biodiesel or ethanol schemes mean that someone, somewhere goes hungry.

The reason I call these "Demands" is that they just will not happen unless we, the ultimate rulers of a democracy, rise up and demand them! However, they are just practical, "common sense" solutions based on the information I have after looking at this for a few years. If futurist, science-fiction technologies arrive that somehow enable an even better than first-world standard of life for everyone on our planet, I'll thank our God and be the first to line up to buy a Mr Fusion powered nano-fabricator.

However, until such a time I'm looking for the most pragmatic and possible means to meet everyone's needs (not "wants") in a way that sustains life on earth for the long term.

Craig Bennett said...

Thanks Byron and Dave.

The reason I used "Illusion" to describe death is because often we think of death as being total destruction / annihilation whereas the theology of new heaven and earth shows us that we are a image / illusion of what is to come.

One of the ways the church can combat and prepare God's people for the future is to preaching, urging and living out more simple commutative living. There has been much discussion on the Sydney Ang's forum about the Total Church

http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/forums/viewthread/3126/

Does Christianity today really reflect Gods ideal for commutative living or does it really reflect and promote an individuality of life?

For example does every family need a latest car or can and should community be built up with certain common goods?

I love tools and Bunning's hardware is a place that gets my greedy flesh really stirred up. Yet the reality is that I cannot have all I would like / need yet alone want. Yet I have some good mates who have different tools to what I have and we share / pool our resources...

Could it also be that one of the weapons we can use to combat greed is to live a more simple life and refuse to live a life that bows down to the demands of time...I particularly think of clergy and even perhaps our training institutions which create a busy / perhaps overly busy lifestyle that perhaps does not represent the Christian ideal?

It seems that lack of time is what drives the economy for bigger, better, faster and simpler ways to do things which allow us more time to do more things...such as buy and need more things that help us do things better, faster and simpler...

I think that we need to form a deeper theology of social living as a body / church then what we presently do and perhaps if we do, we will find that our Christianity is very wide and extremely shallow.

Take for instance again using a comment luke S made on the Sydney Ang forums about the latest Hillsong Womens conference when I mentioned that 600 odd Compassion children were sponsored at that event. He said, "The previous night he heard a strong sermon against greed and yet no children were sponsored.

We have discussed some of the bigger ways that we can save the planet - what are some of the smaller / bigger practicable things that we can do NOW within our own communities or have the aim to change?

byron smith said...

Craig, they are all great ideas and I entirely agree (except I still do not think that our hope for the new creation makes our present life illusory in any way. On the contrary, I think it only underscores the reality of this life that God will transform like a seed into a full-blown plant). We buy so many of the assumptions and practices of our culture (particularly when they have to do with buying!) that sometimes it can be hard to see much difference between Christians and those outside except that Christians show up for a service together every couple of weeks. I also agree that the primary way of transforming society is not through writing to politicians (though that has a place) but through simply being the community that knows God and so cares about one another and the world. For the church to keep learning how to be an alternative society based on grace and peace is the most subversive and progressive act we can take. Sometimes, in order to express that community properly we may call on the leaders of that other society to be a bit more like the church: in acknowledging brokenness, dependence, frailty, the goodness of God's gifts, the necessity of the neighbour, the dignity of life, the cruciality of grace, the limits of human authority, and so on.

If our broader society is to continue in God's good gift of relative stability, it is going to need to learn some of these lessons, particularly where they have to do with acknowledging our creatureliness as one (important, but not absolutely important) part of a living planet. It is the community of Christ who ought to a light in the darkness on this (and many other things).

Dave Lankshear said...

Yes, of course. Thanks for the reminder. We can start now — but it's very hard when so much of what we do is set up to be individualistic. The whole legal and economic framework is individualistic. How do we beat that?

If our broader society is to continue in God's good gift of relative stability, it is going to need to learn some of these lessons, particularly where they have to do with acknowledging our creatureliness

Yes, I forgot Andrew Cameron's important point about the illusion oil gave us that we were no longer mere creatures bound in space time, but could flit across the world almost like the "Jumpers" in that very silly movie. Creature-liness seems to be something we are all striving to escape these days.

byron smith said...

Yep, I also had in mind this quote and this one.