Saturday, January 28, 2012

130 Years in 30 seconds

The changes displayed in this video represent average global surface temperatures warming by about 0.8ºC over a period of 130 years. On our current path (including current national and regional agreements to reduce emissions), we are heading towards something like five times that change in the next 90 years.

It doesn't have to be this way.
Original source with further commentary at NASA.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What do you really want?

Very effective visuals on this short clip contrasting consumerism with our true wants. I'm not sure I buy the tagline (you'll have to wait for the end), but I like the overall effect.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Does Jesus love religion?

A week or so ago, a spoken word video featuring a young man called Jefferson Bethke denouncing religion in the name of Jesus took the FaceTubes by storm, gathering over 15 million views in a matter of days. Here it is, for those remaining seven billion or so who may have missed it.

A mostly helpful analysis and response of the video by Kevin Deyoung can be found here (H/T Dominic). Deyoung says Bethke "perfectly captures the mood, and in my mind the confusion, of a lot of earnest, young Christians" who interpret the word religion to mean "self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy." Yet this is not what it means. Jesus did not come to abolish, but to fulfil. Deyoung's critique was read by Bethke, who subsequently contacted Deyoung and said "I agree 100%". The interaction is a good example of gracious constructive theological conversation.

And with a hat tip to Kyle, here is a very interesting Catholic response to the original video, also (I believe) done in a spirit of constructive dialogue.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Twenty-two reasons to love the earth

Why Christians take the extra-human creation seriously:

1. God declares all things good; he made them and blessed them. Even before the arrival of humanity, God declared his handiwork "good" and blessed it (Genesis 1).

2. God sustains and cares for all life, not just human life. Psalm 104 and Job 38-41 celebrate the created order in its bounty, complexity and divine providence outside of reference to human affairs. In Matthew 10.29 and Luke 12.6 Jesus teaches that not even a single sparrow escapes the caring notice of God. Why should we disparage or dismiss that which God cares for?

3. God's plan (intimated and initiated in the resurrection of Christ) is the renewal of all things through their liberation from bondage to decay. Why would redemption be of anything less than the scope of creation? We hope not for redemption from the world, but the redemption of the world.

4. "The earth is the LORD's and everything in it!" (Psalm 24.1). How we treat the creation is a reflection on what we think of the Creator. My parents built and own the house where I grew up; if I decided to ransack it to make a quick profit, that would reveal something deeply broken about my relationship with them.

5. Human economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. We depend on natural ecosystems for every breath we take, every mouthful of food, every sip of clean water. The "environment" is not simply the background to our everyday activities, the earth is our home. Even if we thought our obligations ended with humans, we would have pressing reasons to care for life beyond humanity. This is basic prudence. (Proverbs 8.12)

6. Our livelihoods are a fraction of our current lifestyle. That is, we can easily thrive on far less than we presently consume, indicating that our culture generally accepts idolatry in the form of consumerism, where our purchases define our identity. We can easily repent of our idolatrous over-consumption without any threat to our livelihoods (though there may be some industries that need to shrink significantly or die altogether). Natural ecosystems are not a necessary victim of our flourishing; there is no ultimate competition between our well-being and that of the rest of the planet's living systems.

7. Human beings are not souls trapped in bodies, but embodied lives. Our future is resurrection like Christ's and any spirituality that ends up hating the body (and the natural world upon which it relies) is an expression of what Nietzsche correctly diagnoses as ressentiment. True spirituality is earthy. (Matthew 6.10)

8. We are members of the community of creation, not demi-gods without obligations towards our fellow creatures. Anthropocentric domination is a misreading of godly human authority as caring service. (Genesis 1-2)

9. We need the extra-human creation in order to fulfil our role (and they need us) in joining together in praise of the Creator (e.g. Pss 96; 148).

10. God has filled the world with beauty and only the hardhearted and blind ignore it.

11. God's saving purposes are not limited to humans. If God has not limited his gospel to one particular race, age, gender, culture or class, why would he limit it to one species? Jesus' death was for all creation (Colossians 1.15-20). In the archetypal salvation narrative of Genesis 6-9, Noah and his family are saved along with representatives of the rest of the community of creation.

12. Wisdom requires paying attention to the world beyond the human. Jesus enjoins us to consider the sparrows and lilies (Matthew 6.26, 28). Wise king Solomon spoke of trees (1 Kings 4.29-34) and Proverbs 12.10 points out that "The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel". Remember that the world's first animal welfare organisation, the RSPCA, was founded by William Wilberforce, the same man who helped lead the campaign to abolish modern slavery.

13. The journey of becoming a neighbour involves the ongoing expansion of our horizon of love. When we are gripped by God's love, we are freed from the echo-chamber of our own concerns into caring for our neighbour. But just who is our neighbour? The answer to that question can never be delimited in advance but must be discovered as we come across those in need. Are other creatures also (in some sense) our neighbours? In the end, I believe so. For instance, Deuteronomy 24-25 places concern for the needs of oxen amongst concern for poor labourers, the widowed, orphans and aliens. Compassion is not circumscribed by the human.

14. Our neglect is having dire consequences, but the freedom to repent is the first and most foundational freedom.
I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!
15. The earth is our mother. Remember, anthropomorphism is distinct from deification and this particular one is ancient and scriptural (Genesis 1.24; Romans 8.22).

16. God has promised to "destroy the destroyers of the earth" (Revelation 11.18). Divine justice is not limited to our mistreatment of him and one another. God's transformative evaluation (otherwise known as his judgement) embraces all the deeds done in the body (2 Corinthians 5.10), not just those that directly relate to human interactions.

17. Failure to attend to the needs of the more than human creation causes real and serious harms to our human neighbours. Ecological injustice is a major cause of human suffering. (Romans 13.10)

18. Throughout the holy scriptures are examples of idolatry (the worship of creatures rather than the Creator) leading to negative ecological consequences. (e.g. Leviticus 18)

19. Mistreating other animals is a failure of compassion. Wisdom embraces more than human needs. (Proverbs 12.10)

20. Greed, hubris and fear are major motives behind the systems, cultures, actions and inactions that are degrading the Earth. (Luke 12.15)

21. There are demonic powers that destroy life, oppress people and seek to deceive us all that are operative in the desecration of God's good world. (Ephesians 6.12)

22. And finally, because God calls humanity into the care of this place. Stewardship is a much-abused concept, but within a broader theological vision of creation and humanity, it has its place. (Genesis 1-2; Ps 8)

Which of these do you find most compelling? Least plausible? What have I missed?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not with a bang but with a sustained leak

Real Climate: Why Arctic methane release is bad, not catastrophic. This is a very important post. Many have been deeply worried about the possibility of a so-called "methane gun" in which truly staggering volumes of frozen methane clathrates that sit on and under the ocean floor of the Siberian continental shelf are released in a runaway feedback as the Arctic Ocean warms. Since methane (CH4) has something like 100 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a twenty year period, it has been hypothesized that a rapid release of large volumes of stored methane could cause a sudden and likely catastrophic surge in global temperatures. A variation or accompaniment to this scenario is the rapid release of methane from thawing permafrost in Siberia. In the linked post, a senior climatologist argues that it is far more likely that methane release will be chronic rather than acute, and given methane's relatively short atmospheric residency (about ten years), this will lead to a dangerous (though not immediately catastrophic) rise then stabilisation of methane levels, supplementing but not overwhelming warming from carbon dioxide. However, since atmospheric methane gradually degrades to carbon dioxide in the presence of oxygen, a slow release would not only give a bump to methane levels but would also see carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. Unlike methane, carbon dioxide is basically forever, with about half of any increase in atmospheric concentration we experience likely to remain for centuries and about a quarter likely to remain for at least ten thousand years. So a relief (of sorts) for us. It's a bit like finding that the Nazis don't, as feared, have a nuclear weapon, but they do have twice as many conventional forces as was thought.

CD: A recent NASA study suggests that climate change may modify 40% the earth's surface from one biome (e.g. forest, savanna, tundra, etc.) to another.

ABC Religion and Ethics: The New Evangelicals: How Christians are rethinking Abortion and Gay marriage. Despite being published by the ABC, this piece (an extract from a new book) has its eyes on the US scene. How applicable are the trends it identifies elsewhere amongst evangelicals?

Guardian: More farmers needed. Feeding seven, eight, nine, ten billion without strip-mining the soil, using the atmosphere as a carbon dump, squeezing out biodiversity, depleting finite fuels or overloading rivers, lakes and oceans with nutrients requires more organic poly-cultural farming, which can often be more productive per unit of land overall than present industrial monocultural farming. However, it is less productive per unit of labour, meaning more people employed (again) in growing food, which probably means higher food prices and a greater share of incomes devoted to food. This in turn may help address obesity, though at the risk of increasing malnutrition associated with poverty. Hence, addressing inequality is also critical.

Peter preaches on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25.14-30). This passage is often used as a key plank in a justification of usury. There are elements in the narrative and context that suggest a very different reading. Peter highlights the key theological question lying behind this hermeneutical issue: which kind of God do we serve?

McKibben: On being hopefully naïve about getting corporate money out of US politics and why being cynical is hopeless.

Guardian: What have trees ever done for us?

NYT: My Guantánamo Nightmare. There are good reasons due process has come to be highly cherished in all civil societies.

Monbiot: The limits of vegetarianism, in which George changes his mind and shifts to ethical semi-vegetarianism. The Conversation publishes an even more provocative piece against ecological vegetarianism, and a very interesting discussion in the comments ensues.

SMH: Energy and water. In the 20thC, global energy use increased thirteen-fold and water use increased nine-fold. The two are related and any future has to consider our water habits, which might be less about having short showers than having cold ones, since energy production is one of the most water-intensive things we do (though conversely, where water is scarce, desalination is one of the most energy-intensive things we do).

Monday, January 09, 2012

Defending our Christian heritage in parliament

A conservative MP stands up in NZ Parliament to defend the Judaeo-Christian tradition as the basis of western society, politics and culture. It's not often you hear a parliamentarian retell the gospel narrative in order to ground an ethic of universal love which is then applied to social policy and sharing, economics and ecology. It's a stirring speech outlining the priority of justice over growth and the unconditionality of compassion.

Who is this conservative defender of the faith? Atheist and Green Party co-leader Russel Norman.
H/t Viv Benjamin.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The difficulties of climate ethics: space

Human societies have faced many threats throughout history: wars, epidemics, natural disasters, mass migrations, famines, revolutions and more. Very few of these threats were truly global in scope. Climate change is one of them (along with the ongoing potential for nuclear holocaust, pandemics and the climatic effects of the very largest volcanic eruptions). Climate damage embraces not simply human society, but the entire biosphere, since our actions are altering the basic chemistry of atmosphere and oceans.

Not only are the consequences global, but the causes are also widely distributed, making the coordination of responses complex. Unilateral actions by a single society considered in isolation are unlikely to have a significant direct impact on the danger represented by rising global average temperatures and the associated disruptions this brings. Responsibility for changing atmospheric chemistry is unevenly distributed, with some nations possessing a much larger per capita carbon footprint than others. And the persistence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and active carbon cycle (much of it for thousands or even tens of thousands of years) means that historical emissions further complicate the picture.

The necessity of international cooperation to address a serious threat is nothing particularly novel, though the mixing of atmospheric gases means that mitigation efforts by some subset of the globe brings no added climatic benefits to those bearing the costs of such action. Thus, the threat of freeloading is high. Every country hopes that other countries will do the heavy lifting.
This is the second in a series briefly outlining some of the distinctive features of climate change that makes ethical reflection upon our predicament more difficult. The first post can be found here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

And don't come back

This is the day that the LORD has made;
    Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

- Psalm 118.24.

This time five years ago, I was receiving weekly doses of poison and daily radiation burns to my chest after being diagnosed with a rapidly growing malignant tumour just above my heart and invading my left bronchial tube. Today, I went into an oncologist's office and was told not to return, as five years of follow up is enough.

Although it is still possible for me to experience relapse, the chances are that any cancer now found in my body is more likely to be a new growth than a renewal of the one that was well on its way to killing me in 2006/07. I am obviously delighted to reach this milestone and continue to receive each day as a gift. I did not deserve to live, did not earn my reprieve, did not qualify for healing through the quality of my faith. Faced with a very rare form of cancer (numerous specialists have given me the impression that I'm one in a million), medical science took its best (highly educated) guess as to treatment and it worked beyond all expectations.

And so praise God for life, for health, for wonderful support from family, friends and even strangers, for medical specialists and all the care I have received over five years from dozens of healthcare professionals both in Oz and the UK and for public healthcare that has meant my total out of pocket expenses have been AUD $0 + GBP £0 for treatments that probably cost tens of thousands (thanks fellow tax-payers!).

Yet the experience continues to have its shadows. Given that the first side-effect mentioned on the consent forms I signed for both chemotherapy and radiotherapy is that those treatments are themselves carcinogenic, cancer is still quite likely to be part of my future, as is reduced life-expectancy. I am also aware of the costs the illness and treatment have brought to my health in other ways; being poisoned and burned are not generally conducive to good health (I've always thought that Nietzsche's boast that whatever did not kill him could only make him stronger was one of his sillier ones).

And I am not the same man I was. Being gravely sick has reconfigured my emotional and spiritual life, not to mention shaping my academic interests. For much of this I am grateful (and this is undoubtedly the true referent of Nietzsche's comment), especially for the reminder of my own frail mortality and the liberating realisation that survival is not our highest priority. These are important lessons that I hope always to keep close to hand. Has the experience also made me more pessimistic about our future prospects? Given that being ill significantly overlapped with the period during which I began investigating ecological and resources predicaments in greater depth, it is hard to tell whether the chicken or the egg came first.

The significance of my reaching this milestone was brought home powerfully to me a day or two ago when I came across the story of Kristian Anderson, a Sydney Christian man in his 30s with a wife and young kids, and who died from cancer two days ago. Kristian recorded more than two years of his physical, emotional and spiritual journey since diagnosis on a blog called How the Light Gets In (H/t Andrew Paterson). I ran out of tissues while reading it. I never met him, but I thank God for his life and witness, even amidst great darkness, and I pray for his widow and little boys.

Life is a precious gift. Let us rejoice in each day we receive.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Is environmentalism failing?

Is Environmentalism Failing? from Australian Broadcasting Corporation on
A fascinating debate held in Melbourne and broadcast by the ABC last year. It is 90 minutes long but worth watching in full as each speaker has important points to make. Speakers include: Clive Hamilton, David Suzuki, Christine Milne, Ian Lowe, Anna Rose and Philip Sutton. A number of the older speakers highlight just how far social attitudes, behaviours and policies have come in the last fifty years (i.e. since the birth of the modern environmental movement with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962). All of them emphasise the size of the task ahead, particularly in the face of climate change.

Apologies for the ad at the start.