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Diversity Lecture – Saving Planet Earth – Can We?

There is one issue that affects everyone on the planet, whether or not we want to recognise it. Our attitude to general environmental breakdown and the multiple ecological crises which is affecting us all was the subject of the March Diversity Lecture at Newbold College of Higher Education. On the evening of Tuesday 5th March, an audience of Christians from the Newbold campus and various local churches heard the Revd. Dave Bookless, Director of Theology for A Rocha International speak on the subject, ‘Saving Planet Earth – can we? should we?’ His challenge was direct: ‘As Christians, is environmental concern marginal – or core to our faith?

With supporting data throughout, the first section of his lecture explored five  ecological crises described in last month’s report from the Institute of Public Policy Research.

Bio-diversity loss – the loss of creatures like flying insects and bees – and the loss of whole species was the first breakdown. Insects provide food for many other species…’if you take away the foundation, the whole thing will come tumbling down,’ said Bookless. ‘By reducing bio-diversity we are effectively cutting off the branch that we sit on.’

The second crisis, rising global temperatures – often expressed in freak weather – have direct and indirect effects on human populations and crop yields. ‘The people who have done least to cause the problems are the most likely to be affected,’ said Bookless. ‘Forget make poverty history, climate change is making poverty permanent.’ He quoted a Christian climate scientist, Dr Katharine Hayhoe –

Tackling poverty, disease, war, injustice, economic inequality, natural disasters, biodiversity loss without tackling climate change….is like trying to mop up a flood with a bucket full of holes. Climate change exacerbates all the other problems.

Human population growth combined with the rate of western consumption is the third area of concern ‘If everyone lived like the average westerner, we would need 3+ planets before everyone in the world could live as we do.’ Bookless pointed to a huge issue of consumption injustice – the world’s richest 20% of people consume sixteen times more than the poorest 20%.

Water Stress was the fourth issue. As resources deplete, rainfall lessens and the glaciers melt, this century’s wars are more likely to be about water than anything else.

General resource depletion was the final section in Bookless’ apocalyptic ecological scenario. As the population increasesas less food is planted and/or wasted, as fertilizer consumption increases and crops are destroyed by extreme weather events, as more meat is consumed in the West and fish stocks decrease while air travel gets exponentially cheaper, humanity’s impact on the planet becomes ever greater. Bookless’ next question  was already echoing around the minds of the audience, ‘Is it too late to save Planet Earth?’ And just as important for this audience, ‘Should we try to?’

Bookless’ answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’. He described how some Christians have been uninterested in ecological matters saying, things like, ‘saving souls not saving seals is what matters’ or ‘care for the poor not the porcupines’, or, ‘God will destroy the earth – so why should we care?’ Others have argued that this world is not our home or that lower species are here for the use of human who are higher in the hierarchy of nature. Bookless argued that these ideas all ignore the Biblical teaching that God both created and loved ‘the world i.e. the cosmos’ not just humanity and that if Jesus Christ is to be Lord at all, then Jesus Christ must be Lord of all. ‘All’ includes not only global ecology but also Business, Politics, Arts, Culture, Sports, Poverty and Medicine. Arguing from the story of Noah, Bookless pointed out that God saved only eight human beings but animals of all kinds, clean and unclean, and that God’s covenant was not only with Noah but also with ‘his descendants and every living thing-’ with the whole of the earth.

With Biblical references from Jewish and Christian scriptures, Bookless suggested that the earth is the Lord’s – it is not ‘owned’ by human beings. In the Jewish scriptures, there were frequent reminders of the importance of caring for creation ‘so that creation can worship God by doing what God created it to do.’ When relationships are broken between God, humanity and the earth, when human beings assert their supremacy and put their needs first, the land is described as ‘suffering’, ‘groaning’, ‘mourning’ and ‘vomiting’. The land is a spiritual barometer and ecological restoration follows spiritual reformation. In the New Testament, the relationship of Christ to the whole Creation is described in Colossians 1 as Source, Sustainer and Saviour.

With a truly ‘adventist’ conclusion, Bookless’ account ended with the renewal, repair, and restoration of the planet and its people in a ‘new heavens and a new earth’, liberating creation from ‘its bondage to decay’ – a truly ecological climax for a creator God.

So – how can we be good caretakers of planet earth in the meantime? Bookless gave a variety of examples of how his own organisation A Rocha is caring for the planet – details can be found on their website

The Q&A – as usual, was one of the most interesting parts of the evening. Discussion ranged from the creation/evolution debate, individual vs governmental responsibility and the extent of the difference one person can make, especially when democratic governments are elected on the basis of short-term political promises. Ecological change may be less popular but needs long-term policies. Practical tips for individuals included buying less than perfect fruit and vegetables, using the least polluting means of travel available, growing your own food, avoiding the use of plastic, and eating less meat – preferably a vegetarian or vegan diet. Nobody could say the audience went home without hope or a strategy to help care for God’s creation.

A recording of the full lecture can be heard on the Newbold College of Higher Education’s Facebook page – Click here to watch

Helen Pearson

6th March 2019