Wednesday, September 28, 2011

That's got to hurt - right in the breadbasket

Although somewhat dry and relying almost entirely on figures and maps, this video expresses what I take to be one of the key issues relating to climate change, namely, its likely impact on food production (and from there, on geopolitical stability and conflict). If you can't spare the few minutes to watch it, the key take-home message is that pretty much all of the world's main grain-producing areas lie in regions likely to be particularly susceptible to more intense and/or frequent heatwaves. This must be taken with a grain of salt, since the regional resolution of cilmate models does not have a high degree of confidence. Nonetheless, even the significant possibility of such an outcome can help to focus the mind.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Worship of a pedestrian god: seven reasons to ditch the car

Perhaps the most memorable phrase in the quirky maritime novel The Life of Pi is when the eponymous narrator observes that Christians worship "a pedestrian god". Jesus, God amongst us, lived his entire life within the ambit of distances capable of perambulation, travelling at speeds commensurate with his gait, and never learned how to reverse park. Of course, with cars not being invented for another nineteen hundred years, it would be odd to draw a preference for pedestrianism from Jesus' example, yet he nonetheless demonstrates that a blessed and god-honouring human life can be lived on two feet (and perhaps the occasional donkey or boat). Humans are made from the dust (even the word human is etymologically related to humus, i.e. soil, a pun that also works in Hebrew), and part of humility (another related word) is to stay in touch with the ground. Perhaps if our habitual mode of transport makes us forget that we are bipedal, we may be tempted to arrogant flights of fancy concerning our fitting location.

We have become accustomed to the convenience and ease of traversing great distances with relatively little effort or cost in a tonne of steel moving with as much momentum as a speeding bullet (and capable of similar damage upon impact with a body of flesh). This hyper-mobility affects our perceptions of distance, our assumptions about location and our expectations of what is and ought to be possible. We generally deem it of little import that we live many days walk from our place of employment and feel no strangeness at the great distances travelled by the food on our plate prior to its final brief journey down our oesophagus.

Cars make us feel powerful; it is no accident that certain versions of masculinity in our culture have idolised these machines. Car ownership becomes status symbol, rite of passage and - in a contemporary landscape designed for drivers - right of passage, since there often is no other practical way to get between locations. This power to pick a destination and arrive at great speed is a powerful symbol of autonomy, of individual freedom. And so the odd thing about those who are so proud to declare that they stand on their own two feet is that these days they so rarely do so. Individualism has for the last few decades found perhaps its most powerful symbol in the private automobile (hidden from view are the myriad social relations embodied in our complex system of mechanised transport).

Like most of those around me, I got my license when I was sixteen, which means I've been a driver for longer than not. Yet I have never owned a car. Over the years, I've had various cars on loan for a couple of days or a couple of months (in one case, a couple of years). But since getting married, we have chosen to live in walkable urban areas with decent public transport. We currently live 193 steps from my workplace and within a couple of hundred metres of dozens of bus routes.

My adult life has almost exclusively been lived in an urban context. Outside of well-designed (which often means pre-20thC) urban spaces, the tyranny of the automobile is woven into the fabric of most suburban and rural life.

I am not saying that all cars are evil or that there is no place for advanced technology in travel. Nor is the combustion of fossil fuels in itself wrong. But with the level of car use in our society, we are like twenty-drink drunks about to pass out in the gutter trying to defend the goodness of alcohol. Wholesale rejection of useful technologies is not currently our temptation. And there is plenty of room for smarter and more responsible use of the technology we already have.

Since I promised in the title, let me conclude this slightly aimless reflective ramble with seven reasons to ditch your car (or at least consider using it less):

1. Doing so in many cases will save money. For instance, see this account of living without a car in Edinburgh, which has a great deal of resonance for us; it is one of the many reasons we love this city. Cars bring expenses at every point: purchase, petrol, insurance, registration, parking. Of course there are costs associated with other kinds of transport, but have you tried doing the sums? Both our apartments in Sydney had a secure parking space that we were able to rent out, which came in handy. If you are someone who begrudges the taxwoman her pound of flesh, then carlessness will also mean you can avoid a range of taxes, fees and tolls.

2. Leaving footprints cuts your carbon footprint. For many people, a car represents a significant slice of your carbon pie. Not just the petrol exploding in the engine and sending out its fumes, but the embodied emissions released during construction. The various metals and plastics and other materials that comprise a car take a lot of energy. For more efficient cars, this can be up to half the overall carbon emissions associated with the vehicle (and so, it is often better from a carbon perspective to run an old bomb into the ground rather than continually upgrading to slightly more efficient models).

3. Becoming less reliant on a car is good preparation for peak oil. Not driving saves a little petrol, delaying (very slightly) the peak and, more importantly, doing so is a good way of weaning yourself off relying on cheap petrol, which won't be around forever. Such behaviour also sends a message to politicians and policy makers that walkable public spaces and good public transport are desirable and desired. Poor town planning has a lot to answer for as we have invested trillions and trillions in infrastructure based on cheap petrol. But the good news is that it can also make a very significant contribution to a better world. Well-designed walkable urban spaces are safer, cleaner, more enjoyable and can foster stronger communities.

4. Walking is considerably healthier than sitting on your backside pumping the accelerator, even when you factor in the extra calories you burn during road rage. I discussed this at greater length back here in relation to this fascinating little book.

5. More drivers means more cars means less appealing footpaths and a greater perception of danger to pedestrians. Driving can thus become a self-perpetuating cycle where walking (or riding a bicycle) becomes less desirable the fewer pedestrians (or cyclists) there are. Choosing to break this cycle will make it that little bit easier for others.

6. Walking is wearing on the sole, but good for the soul. It slows us down a little, and makes us less ambitious about how much we try to get done. There is more opportunity to smell the roses, or sit on doorsteps, which is what our daughter currently loves doing while we're out walking. It is not that she is tired; she just likes to stop and take in the view. While walking, there is more chance of interacting with those who share your space, more opportunities to notice your environment (which can be dangerous if done too enthusiastically while driving).

7. If walking was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How do we feed the world without destroying it?

I've said it many times, but food and water are where the action really is at. Of all our activities, nothing has done more to change the face of the planet over the last ten thousand years than agriculture. It is the greatest environmental threat to the biosphere and yet the most fundamental basis of human society. Can we get it right? This presentation consists of a twelve minute lecture followed by a four minute video that says much the same thing at a greater pace. If you want to cut to the chase, then start watching at about 14:15.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So long and thanks for all the fish

I recently came across this summary of the state of the world's marine life after decades of industrial scale pollution, warming, acidification, trawling, nutrient runoff and overfishing. It is from this paper.

Monday, September 19, 2011

God wants you to be healthy, wealthy and happy

How does God make our lives better? By calling us to poverty, persecution, fasting and the curiously patient "ineffectiveness" of prayer. How does God bring us joy? By teaching us to abandon false hopes, to mourn and groan and yearn for his kingdom. How does God bring us peace? By telling us to take up our cross. How does God give us life? By calling us to die.
I don't pretend this is a full account, simply a small counterweight to overly triumphalist baptisms of our present comfort.

Say yes to putting a price on carbon

Despite the drawbacks of the proposed Australian legislation to put a modest price on carbon pollution, if you support the idea of doing so, then you might like to add your voice to this campaign.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Society for the Study of Theology Postgraduate Conference

The UK's Society for the Study of Theology is holding a postgraduate conference in early December on the theme of Theologians and the Church. It will be here at New College and feature Graham Ward as plenary speaker plus a roundtable discussion involving Oliver O'Donovan, Janet Soskice, Harriet Harris and Graham Ward. Deadline for abstract submission is 31st October. The conference is free with a limited number of bursaries to cover travel expenses. More information can be found in each of the links above.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our ecological crises: Wake up and smell the stats

I'd like to put together a list of credible ecological statistics from reputable sources as a resource. Please post links to any such existing lists you are aware of or add any that have grabbed your attention (please make sure you include a source). To start us off, here are a few off the top of my head and in no particular order:
• Humans now affect over 80% of the world's land, 100% of the oceans and 100% of the atmosphere. Around 40% of the oceans have been "strongly affected" by our activities.

• Half of the world’s tropical forests have disappeared since World War II and roughly another 10 million hectares are being felled each year — the equivalent of 40 football fields every minute. The majority are being cleared by illegal loggers.

• Seventy-seven percent of global fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or have been depleted. Based on 1998 data, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global fishing fleets "are 2.5 times larger than needed."

• Marine apex predator numbers (i.e. large fish and sharks) have declined by 90% over the last 50-100 years, mainly due to overfishing (more stats on marine life decline). Another recent study put tuna decline at 60% in the last 50 years.

• Deep-sea trawling damages an area of sea bed twice the size of the contiguous USA each year.

• We're removing 9-10,000 tonnes of fish from the ocean every hour.

• As far as we can work out (and there are wide error margins on this one), species are currently going extinct at something like 100-1000 times the background rate of extinction, faster than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It is likely that somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 species become extinct each year. All the primary drivers of these trends are linked to human activities: land use changes, habitat destruction, pollutants, invasive species, anthropogenic climate change.

• Twenty-two percent of the world's plant species are threatened, and another 33% have an unknown status.

• Twenty-two species of Australian mammals become extinct between 1900 and 1960. Recently, mammal populations in Kakadu have gone into freefall.

• In the 1950s there were 450,000 lions worldwide and now there are only 20,000. Leopards are down from 700,000 to 50,000, cheetahs from 45,000 to 12,000 and tigers from 50,000 to just 3,000. And in the last forty years, elephant numbers have halved across protected areas in West and Central Africa. Globally, since 1970, wild vertebrate numbers have declined by almost one third.

• One study in 2001 put the annual cost of alien invasive species to the global economy at US$1.4 trillion annually, or about 5% of total GDP.

• Overall, current ecological damage is estimated to cost the global economy US$6.6 trillion annually (yes, with a "t").

• An area of arable land roughly the size of Greece or Nepal is lost to soil erosion and desertification each year. Since 1950, 1.9 billion hectares (4.7 billion acres) of land around the world has become degraded.

• By 1995, humans consumed 20% of global net terrestrial primary production. By 2005, it was 25%.

• Earth overshoot day occurs earlier each year. This is a notional measure designating the point in the year where global consumption exceeds the annual renewable biocapacity of the planet. In 2011, it falls on 27th September. Another way of saying this is that in 2010 the worldwide human population used about 135% of the resources the earth can generate in a year.

• Between 2000 and 2010, the number of cars and motorcycles in China increased twentyfold and there are now between 800 million and one billion cars in the world.

• As we burn 196,442 kilos of coal, 103,881,279 litres of natural gas and 150,179 litres of oil a second, we're dumping 62,500 tonnes of heat-trapping emissions into the earth's atmosphere every minute. Since the industrial revolution, we have increased the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40% and increased the acidity of the oceans by 30% (a rate faster than anything seen before in Earth's history). The radiative forcing of the carbon dioxide human activities have put in the atmosphere is the equivalent of adding the energy of more than ten Hiroshima bombs every second and is likely the most significant contributing factor in Greenland losing around 9000 tonnes of ice every second (and accelerating), in about 90% of glaciers globally retreating, in precipitating the largest marine migration in two million years due to warming oceans and in ensuring that the last 318 consecutive months have had a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985.

• Arctic summer sea ice has declined by 40% in extent and more than 75% in volume over the last three decades and 2011 saw new records for lowest extent and volume since records began. Due to increased summer melt, the fabled North West passage through the remote islands of Canada has been open to commercial shipping without icebreakers only four times in recorded history: 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007.

• Nearly 5.5 billion people (about 80% of global human population) live in an area where rivers are seriously threatened.

• The rate at which we are extracting groundwater has more than doubled between 1960 and 2000 and since 1960 18 trillion tonnes of water have been removed from underground aquifers without being replaced, enough to raise global sea levels by an average of 5 cm.

• In 1960, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth largest lake yet by 2000 it had shrunk to 20% of its original size due to over-irrigation on its feeder rivers.

• We put more than six million tonnes of plastic in the oceans annually, which is something like eight million pieces of litter each day, and over 119,000 items floating on every square kilometre of ocean.

• It is likely humanity has had a greater effect on the nitrogen cycle than any other phenomenon for the last 2.5 billion years.
Note that none of these are projections of present trends, they all relate simply to our present condition. This is currently an unsystematic sample; I have not (yet) tried to cover all of the various ecological and resource crises. This post may grow as I continue to gather more information.
I also posted some further statistics back here, though have not had a chance to post links to all the sources of those, and their credibility is something of a mixed bag.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

24 Hours of Climate Reality

Over the next 24 hours, Climate Reality Project is hosting twenty-four consecutive sixty-minute presentations from locations around the world highlighting the present reality of climate change as it is manifest in a wide diversity of locations. If you check out the site, you'll probably find a location near you. All the presenters are experts in their field and thus have a higher-than-average chance of being grounded in the reality of what is actually happening to our planet. Each hour will feature a presentation that addresses both the global and local picture.
Disclaimer: this is another project by Al Gore. His An Inconvenient Truth certainly helped to put the issue on the public agenda, but it also probably contributed to making it fiercely partisan in the US. Gore is far from perfect and is not himself a scientist, but he is a good communicator and worth listening to because he generally has his ear to the ground, listening to the real experts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ecological legalism and Christian freedom

Some questions: What is your carbon footprint? How does it compare to the global average? To the global required average? And what are you doing to reduce it?

Dig beneath the surface of ecological issues and for many people, apart from fear, the second most significant factor driving our responses is guilt. So much of the discourse around ecological responsibility has the feel of a new legalism, a set of norms available to external quantification and verification that can at best provide useful guidance and at worst either crush motivation or provide an open door to self-righteous superiority (depending on the size of one's footprint). Indeed, the whole concept of an ecological or carbon footprint is ripe for interpersonal comparison and when linked to moral judgements of the necessity of reducing it, the full range of contemporary ecological psychoses becomes manifest: holier-than-thou accusation, desperate performance, pious self-denigration, tokenistic conformity, resentful rejection, weary indifference, paralysing despair.

If we are nonetheless to take our ecological concerns seriously (as the scriptures, reason and a passing familiarity with our present condition suggest), then do we have to live with such legalism? Of course not.

Basically, we need a way to talk about the good life to which Christ calls us that speaks in the tones of grace not law (apart from the law of love). This good life may well often look like taking up a cross and denying myself, but I walk it in hope and faith that the path of love is ultimately the path of life, even if I have to wait for God to raise the dead to see it.

We are set free by Christ to live as servants of God and neighbour. This is the only path to life, and at times it can feel narrow, and yet the content is actually quite flexible. Andrew Cameron speaks of the ethical life as being like a river - there is a strong current in one direction (love), but within that, there is water moving in all kinds of ways, at different speeds and so on. Yet there are still river banks. This is his attempt to speak of how the scriptures can be quite specific in their prohibitions ("do not lie"), but general in their exhortations ("love your neighbour").

The question for us as Christians seeking to follow Christ amidst a world of ecological degradation is therefore: what is the space of Christian ecological freedom? Where are there hard lines that we ought not cross? And, much more importantly, how do we talk about (and live) the strong current of love? Complicating matters is the fact that many aspects of our ecological crises are cumulative, involving too much of an otherwise good thing, rather than the commission of acts that are in themselves always wrong. In this way, I think that ecological irresponsibility has a somewhat similar structure to drunkenness, or gluttony. I may know that once I have had ten drinks, then I am in disobedience to the warnings of scripture against inebriation, but there is not necessarily a line we can draw in the sand and say that up to this many drinks is I am simply enjoying the fruit of the vine. Perhaps legal blood alcohol limits for driving might give us a ballpark estimate, and perhaps contraction and convergence models of carbon reductions (applied on a per capita basis for our nation) might give us a ballpark estimate for our the path of our personal carbon footprint goals, but the law of the land is always going to be both too precise and too blunt an instrument for forming the mind of Christ within us.

If our goal is defined too narrowly in terms of certain emissions levels or atmospheric concentrations or personal footprints, then the complex world of goods and the discernment required to navigate it can become oversimplified. Even amidst the grave perils we face, Christian obedience is a path of freedom and joy, of trusting the goodness of God under the weight of a cross, of dying to self and receiving new life being granted as a gift.

Some better questions: How does new life in Christ lead into delightedly sharing my neighbour's burdens? In what ways are my neighbours threatened by ecological degradation? Which parts of my life and the life of my community contribute to this path of destruction? How can I discover new patterns of thankfulness, contentment and engagement to express the abiding peace I have received from Christ and the deep concern for my neighbour this grants me?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beyond personal inconvenience: climate as a moral issue

"Much of what passes for even the most progressive discussion of climate change these days is devoted to persuading us that dealing with the problem will not be costly in terms of our current lifestyles, and so is compatible with ways of living that many take to be in their best interests. This is comforting talk, and I am hopeful that it may turn out to be substantially true. Still, it seems to me that this is the wrong discussion to be having. Our reasons for acting on climate change are not (or at least not primarily) that doing so will be good (or at least not bad) for us; they are deeper and more morally serious than that. In my view, seeing this should make it easier for us to act. To dither when one might prevent moderate harm to oneself by taking modest precautionary action is folly to be sure, but its moral import is limited. By contrast, to engage in willful self-deception and moral corruption when the lives of future generations, the world's poor, and even the basic fabric of life on the planet is at stake is a much more serious business. We should wake up to that fact, and demand more of our institutions, our leaders, and ourselves."

- Stephen Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm: The ethical tragedy of climate change (Oxford: OUP, 2011), 10-11.

Much of the public discussion of climate policy (and most notably that surrounding the Australian government's proposal to put a very modest price on carbon) has focused upon the costs and benefits of action from the perspective of the commentator and those like him or her. Australia shouldn't hold back our coal-fired extractive economy (so the argument goes) when doing so will have virtually no appreciable difference in the global scheme of things, given the scale of Australia's contribution to the problem. Quite apart from the fallacies involved in thinking that Australian contributions are irrelevant (a post for another day), such thinking only considers the implications for us in Australia, during this generation, and for human society. Since the burden and threat of a more chaotic climate falls disproportionately on the poor, the young and unborn, and other species - three groups with the least political voice and almost zero responsibility for causing the issue in the first place - then our actions which contribute to that ought to be evaluated in a moral context, not merely an economic calculation of personal (or even national) costs and benefits. Doing so requires a degree of moral imagination, of seeing how our habitual actions are affecting those beyond the boundaries of our everyday vision, whose distance from us is measured in space, time or DNA.

Once such a vision has been engaged, then we immediately confronted with a question we cannot avoid. Are we really okay with asking those without a voice or responsibility to face the greatest dangers for the sake of our illusory dream of endless economic growth? Until we recognise climate change as a deeply moral issue that raises confronting questions about our identity and common humanity (and even of our membership with the broader community of life on earth), then we are merely playing a game. The game may have stakes conceived in either political or economic terms, but it is a game that comes at huge cost to others.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Built to last?

If a comedian gets it, why don't our politicians?
H/T Dave.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The impossible hamster

There is a reason that there are limits to growth. It is not hard to understand. Even hamsters get it.
H/T John.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Refugees and responsibility: boat people are not going away

Like many other topics, that of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, internally displaced persons - in short, all those who are gathered together by the UNHCR under the phrase "persons of concern" - is a complex one. Yet political discourse (and blogging, for that matter) is all too often impatient with complexity, preferring communicative modes reliant upon slogans and conflict.

Having followed a few recent online discussions concerning Australian immigration policy, I don't think I'll surprise anyone by suggesting that such exchanges frequently generate more heat than light. In lieu of having neither time nor expertise to put together a post (or series of posts) that could begin to do justice to the topic, I thought instead I'd start gathering some links to significant contributions which may then be of benefit to others in the ongoing debates about this topic. I'm interested in both primary sources with relevant data and ethical/political analyses that attempt to understand and respond to it.

Here are a few to get started. This is not at all intended to be comprehensive, and so please add more in the comments.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This is the peak international body that has been doing everything from compiling data, to coordinating governmental responses, to working on the ground in partnership with NGOs. UK is here.
UNHCR Global Trends 2010 report. One of many such reports. Finding specific statistics can take a little patience, but these reports have a wealth of information.
• Australian Parliamentary Library background note on boat arrivals in Australia since 1976, which introduces many of the key terms and history behind present debates. Ought to be required reading for Australians participating in such discussions, though needs to be updated to include recent events, such the High Court decision last week.
Julian Burnside's reflection on the High Court decision
A statistical analysis of push vs pull factors in Australian asylum seeker numbers. Again, it would be useful to have this extended to include the last couple of years.
• And some more links can be found on previous posts here and here.
Given my expectation that coming decades are likely to be quite bumpy ecologically (and so geopolitically), debates about immigration policy are set to continue for some time. "Boat people" won't be going away anytime soon.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Planetary liposuction

Monbiot stole my analogy. I have had a post drafted for the last couple of months based on the idea that geoengineering attempts to rapidly modify the climate with techno-fixes are the equivalent of liposuction for an obese planet, retrospective attempts to undo slowly accumulated damage overnight that may bring temporary cosmetic improvements (and perhaps mild benefits of more valuable kinds) at significant risk of their own.

I intend to say quite a bit more about geoeingeering, as I suspect that it is not going to go away, but will only become more significant in and ethical and political debates about climate change. This is another topic that Christian ethicists will need to contemplate, and once again, there are no shortcuts to learning about the details of the various proposals, which range from putting millions of tiny mirrors in space to reflect a small amount of incoming sunlight, to seeding the ocean with iron filings to generate algal blooms that soak up carbon dioxide and fall to the ocean floor, to adding sulphur to aviation fuel (a substance that we've been trying to get out of the atmosphere for other reasons for some time) to reduce solar radiation entering the atmosphere, to crushing certain kinds of rock into powder and scattering them on the ground to accelerate a natural carbon sink (this last proposal may have some merit, by the way).

Friday, September 02, 2011

WikiLeaks is making a mistake

Despite earlier stating my support for the work of WikiLeaks in cooperation with major newspapers to publish only those cables that were in the public interest and after redaction of names to protect informants and whistleblowers, I do not support their recent unilateral decision to publish all the raw cables. It is a mistake, both ethically and strategically, and is very likely to distract from their previous good work.

Many of the critical comments from politicians and pundits when the first documents came out assumed that they had already done this, and so much their criticism was (at the time) incorrect and fell wide of the mark. But this latest move means they have earned some of the recriminations they didn't deserve a few months ago.

Going green without the dreadlocks

Guest post by Mark Stevens

Average white Australian male seeks sustainable way of life without hugging trees, giving up deodorant or growing dreadlocks.

In my early twenties I imagined I would live out my life in the concrete jungle in a swanky apartment somewhere in the inner city. I would spend my time sipping lattes and networking. An apartment was the perfect choice for me. No garden meant no outside work and more time for networking and coffee. I cared little for the environment and had almost no concern for the earth beneath my feet. My theology was firmly entrenched in the heavens. I gladly ignored the "on earth" part of the Lord's prayer.

I recently turned thirty-five. Last week my family and I installed solar power and we are two years into a five year project to produce half of our food needs through our veggie patch, chickens, fruit trees and vines. I am a minister, a pastor. Every spare moment I find is spent in the garden with my wife and two children. If I cannot get into "the patch" as I call it a few times a week I begin to get restless. Gardening forms my Sabbath day and my Sabbath rest. Fifteen or so years later I love being outside. I love the earth beneath my feet and between fingers. I never knew espresso could taste so good as it does sitting in my patch perusing the coming harvest.

So what happened? How does an average white Australian male fall in love with gardening and desire to live sustainably? Well, I cannot speak for everyone but for me it all began with my wife and Jamie Oliver.

My wife’s influence is a no brainer. I love my wife. I like spending time with her. She likes gardening and being outside therefore I like gardening and being outside. As I began to spend time digging holes for her, weeding with her, planting with her and our children, the practice of gardening grew in me. The snip of the secateurs as I pruned roses and the smell of fresh compost drew me in. As I undertook these most basic of garden chores I discovered a rhythm, a spiritual rhythm. I found myself praying “leisurely”; I found myself relaxing.

I also discovered how much I appreciated the feeling of accomplishment which came from gardening, especially the veggie patch. At the end of the day as the sun began to set, I could see what I had accomplished. My work had shape and form. Much of what I do in ministry is mysterious and unknown to me. With gardening it is apparent. I have proof that I have "done" something. As the seasons roll on, I see the reward of our labour. In fact as I write this I can see the thirty or so jars of preserves, bottled sauces and other dried goodies all grown and harvested in our garden. (Don’t get me started on how much hospitality the garden has produced!)

I realise that coming to gardening and an understanding of sustainable living through Jamie Oliver is the equivalent to arriving at a theological degree by studying with Pentecostals (tongue firmly planted in cheek) - something else which I did - however, it was Jamie Oliver’s television series, Jamie at Home that began to develop in me a vision for life which grew up out of our own land and not the land of others. I loved the way he grew food and then cooked with it. As I saw the way he lived, I found myself longing for a different kind of life, one which revolved around the seasons and flavour and not the shops and my consumer-driven tendencies. Jamie may not be everyone’s cup of tea (something else we can grow in our patch) but he has, for me at least, opened the realm of my imagination.

More than anything I have discovered gardening has helped me slow down, reflect more, pray more and spend time with those I love. In all honesty, I am unsure about the science of climate change (for no other reason than I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination) and I could never see myself leaning left and voting Green. But why shouldn't conservatives also care about conserving a livable planet? As a Christian, I believe in creation care and creation stewardship and it is on this topic that conservatives like me have remained silent for far too long! I am very concerned at how worried we are about the financial bottom line and yet give little to no thought about our environmental bottom line. I believe my generation is using the environmental credit card to rack up a debt which makes the US debt ceiling seem like a parking fine. I worry about the future for my kids.

As a family we have made the decision to "do what we must" (as opposed to what we can) and live in a way which reflects the hope we have in Christ for a renewed creation alongside a renewed humanity. It has cost us money and time. It has meant we have had to adjust (not change) our thinking. I doubt our small effort will achieve anything on a large scale, nevertheless, we believe we are doing the right thing. The rest is in God’s hands. By the way, I haven’t worn deodorant for years but don’t tell anyone!

Rev Mark Stevens is minister at Happy Valley Church of Christ in Adelaide, South Australia. He is a regular contributor at Near Emmaus and has his own blog at The Pastor's Patch.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

What would you recommend? Books on ecotheology

I frequently get asked for recommendations of which book(s) to read on ecotheology.* If Christians want to start thinking more seriously about God amidst our ecological crises, where should they begin?
I use ecotheology fairly broadly to mean the study of theology from an ecological perspective, or the study of ecology from a theological perspective, rather than a particular movement within those fields.

I have a few ideas, though am very open to finding new texts as I've only read a tiny fraction of what is out there. Obviously, different books will suit slightly different purposes. Some might do better at introducing the major intellectual debates, some relate ecology to major theological themes and scriptural passages, some aim to persuade suspicious Christians of why we might bother with ecological matters, some give better grounding in the science and ethics of the key threats and challenges, some give a greater sense of direction and application regarding what we can do in response to them. All are needed for their various purposes.

Jesus and climate change (series links)

Some time ago, I published a series ambitiously titled "Jesus and climate change". It was basically the text of a talk I gave once or twice. I've just realised that I never posted a series of links to be able to find parts of it more easily. I would probably approach a talk like this a little differently now, and I've certainly learned a great deal more about climate in the meantime, but the last six posts are not a bad exposition of some of my basic theological convictions that remain important to me today. The highlights are probably XIII and XV.
I. Introduction and a caveat concerning scepticism
II. What's happening?
III. Discussion questions
IV. Why God cares - it's his world
V. Seeing Creation
VI. Matter matters
VII. Alternatives to Creation: a brief tangent
VIII. But what's the problem?
IX. Guilt and fear
IX(b). So what's God doing about it?
X. Jesus' life: God with us
XI. Jesus' death: liberation
XII. Jesus' resurrection: renovation
XIII. The renewal of all things
XIV. But what's God doing now?
XV. Conclusion: what does the church have to do with climate change?