The Earth Bites Back

As we enter the season of Creationtide, here is a new blog post from Revd Canon Rod Anderson

Fill the earth and subdue it.

Genesis 1:28

Since the very early humans learned to use fire tens of thousands of years ago, Homo Stupidus has been doing just that. And as increasing and louder reports are saying and shouting, Earth is fighting back.

Revd Canon Rod Anderson

One of my school mates became a very visible Economist in New Zealand, and he wrote a book about the country’s economic history.[1]  With respect to use of resources across the whole Pacific, he uses the metaphor “QUARRYING”. Think about it.  You need stone, you dig it out of the ground. When that quarry runs out, you find another. When your country runs out of stone, you beg, borrow or steal it from another country. When that runs out too, you find something else to do the job and quarry that. But how often do you stop and think about the consequences when everything runs out?

Four decades ago Oxfam produced a report saying “The world’s weather is going mad!”  That was when people started to talk about Global Warming. Shortly after that I remember an MP within Bradford Metropolitan District looking out the window on a sunny day and saying “If this is global warming, I’m all for it.” And forty years on that attitude remains a danger to everyone.  “I won’t flood and I won’t burn, so why worry?” That may be the reason why the science now is talking not just of warming, but of Climate Change. On average the world is getting warmer, in a way which is likely to tip the seesaw drastically in ways which are only too predictable. Ice sheets melting completely? London, New York, every other coastal town or city or resort, welcome to the Club Atlantis! But average is not everywhere, some places will get colder. Some will get dryer and become uninhabitable because crops won’t grow – or even worse, burn.  As we have already seen, from Queensland to Turkey to Spain to Ilkley. And some places will get wetter, with extreme flooding, erosion, destruction, famine and death.

The main mechanism of the problem is greenhouse gases. A Nobel Prize-winning chemist called Arrhenius first did calculations in 1898 showing that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was increasing earth’s surface temperature. And that carbon dioxide was coming from burning. Which has been going on and on and on as Homo Stupidus has been quarrying forest and fossil fuel for energy. So the quarrying is having several effects.

First, the quarry of fossil fuels is running out in places.  Unfortunately not completely, there are still places under the sea and elsewhere that are not as accessible as the coal fields that made fortunes in England. But still there are untapped quarries with companies seeking to use them.

But the second consequence is the change of climate. Leaving litter after your picnic is a great annoyance to others, but can be painstakingly picked up by someone else. But the carbon dioxide and methane[2] problem is worldwide, and needs worldwide action for reducing and if possible removing to a more liveable balance point.

And third, the act of extraction can destroy a local environment and lead to more loss than benefit.  Environmentalists are particularly concerned about undersea extraction, not just for energy but for metals as well. Each year human activity quarries more resources out of the earth than the earth can replace. It will soon run out.

The Scientists warn of immense consequences for humanity if the trend is not stopped. But Homo seems determined on business as usual, or at least slightly tweaked. The UN Climate Change Conference is coming up fast, but what will it achieve? The world seems to be full of people who think only in their own echo-chamber, and cannot bear to be contradicted whether about science or religion or the environment or politics. People in power seem concerned only to keep their power. Those with comfortable lives want to keep their comfort. Corporations, to quote someone, “have no soul to damn and nothing to kick.” And those at the bottom of an increasing number of heaps will suffer.

I wonder what Jesus would have said. In a world where truth, courage and integrity seem to be in short supply and in danger, we need to pray – and seek to act – for the common good not just of this generation, but generations to come. And decisions need to be made on the basis of knowledge and forethought, with power to enforce fairly.

P.S. A quote from environmentalist James Dyke: “Some people find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end or even reform of extractive capitalism.”

P.P.S. Think of Jesus’ criticism of “those who laid heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, but did not lift a finger to lighten the load.”

P.P.P.S. Pray for those in authority, “that we man honour one another, and seek the Common Good!”

[1] Brian Easton, “Not in Narrow Seas.”  Jacinda Ardern’s holiday reading.

[2] Back end of cows, now also from warming Arctic permafrost

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