This is home. For all of human history this has been home. This pale, blue dot sustains and nurtures us. Scientists estimate that this beautiful planet holds at least 8.7 million species. According to numbers released in 2011, there are an estimated 7.7 million animal species. Only 12% of these species have been described. There are approximately .3 million plant species on earth, of which 70% have been described. The rest are fungi, protozoa, and chromists. The same study suggested that only 14% of all species on land have been identified and only 9% of those in the water.
Speaking of water, the planet holds over 326 million, trillion gallons it. You have probably heard that over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, but you may not know that only 2% of the Earth’s water is fresh and more than ⅔ of that water sits locked in ice caps and glaciers (ice caps and glaciers melting at an alarming rate). Water is vital to all life.
The vegetation on earth takes energy from the sun and, through chlorophyll, turns that energy into food. Once plants produce this food they release oxygen into the air. Though it should go without saying, it is probably worth reiterating that oxygen is essential to human survival.
I could keep going on. I could provide you with a magical mystery tour of early life science lessons, but I won’t. This is a faith based blog, and eventually I have to tie this post back to religion.
The Book of Genesis begins with a beautiful poem that tells the story of the Universe. It talks about how all life sprang from the creative impulse of God and how each part of creation was declared good. Theologians argue about how we should interpret these passages. What do we take literally? What do we take figuratively? However we interpret it, I think we can agree that it depicts the world we live in as sacred and holy, the handiwork of a master artist. A masterpiece built in perfect balance and harmony.
With that in mind, it would seem to me that protecting the earth and the species living on it should be an integral part of the Christian life. After all, for a believer, this planet does not belong to us.
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” – Psalm 24:1
When we abuse the planet and when we ignore or suppress science, we are abusing something that does not belong to us. Pollution, global warming, endangered species, famine, all of these things should be of concern to Christians.
As Christians, we are also called to care for our neighbor, to protect the marginalized and to petition for those that Jesus called the “least of these”. By ignoring things like climate science, Christians risk complicity in the death of vulnerable populations.
Scientists have called 2016 the hottest year in recorded history. This has practical consequences. An article in The New York Times notes that climate change has wreaked havoc across Africa, leaving 1.3 million children suffering from malnutrition. An increase in temperature and a decrease in rainfall have lead to repeated crop failures. According to the article, “The immediate cause of the droughts was an extremely warm El Niño event, which came on top of a larger drying trend in the last few decades in parts of Africa. New research, just published in the bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, concludes that human-caused climate change exacerbated El Niño’s intensity and significantly reduced rainfall in parts of Ethiopia and southern Africa. The researchers calculated that human contributions to global warming reduced water runoff in southern Africa by 48 percent and concluded that these human contributions “have contributed to substantial food crises.”
What practical implications does this have for the residents of South and East Africa? Families are forced to sell off their animals, driving down the cost of their livestock. Families marry off their children at young ages, hoping that their new spouse will be able to care for them. Women mix ashes and rock chalk into their food so that it becomes more filling. Those children lucky enough not to starve to death are hurt developmentally. Families who used to live near sources of water are now forced to travel hours for a pail of clean water.
When we ignore science and climate change, people die. A lot of people. As Christians we have a responsibility to them and God will one day ask us to answer for their lives.
Contrary to some opinions, Christianity and science are not diametrically opposed. It is the responsibility of all Christians to care for this planet and every living thing on it.