15 September 2008

Rape and pillage

When a nation is defeated in war, the victors take whatever remains. Bluefin tunaIn the last fifty years the human race has waged war on the environment, but the environment has pretty much lost the war and we're now taking what remains.

I assume you can see the terrible flaw in our thinking (or lack of it).

It was true of the ancient empires and city states and it's still true today - in all out war the victor takes anything that remains. Sometimes it's slaves, sometimes it's property, sometimes it's the lives and welfare of the defeated population, often it's all three, but when victory is complete it is always very bad news for the losers.

The BBC published an article today about the plight of the bluefin tuna, it's a good article, everyone should read it, but it's only the tip of the environmental iceberg. It seems the tuna is now in real danger of extinction, the very existence of the 'tiger of the sea' is precariously balanced and yet we are still overfishing it.

Big trouble - The fact is that the environment is in big trouble. The knowledge that we all depend upon it for our daily lives has not yet impacted us nearly enough. But it will do - you may depend upon it.

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, even the very land we stand on is in danger. Mankind has won a great victory over nature, but has not properly considered that nature itself is our only provider. We have all but killed the goose, the supply of golden eggs is just about ended.

Cod - Here's another cautionary tale from the sea. Cod stocks on the Canadian Grand Banks off Newfoundland have been depleted, and despite measures to reduce catch levels or even ban fishing altogether, they have so far failed to recover (article section from Wikipedia).

But it's not just sea fishing that's at risk, here's a shortlist of some other factors to consider.

Climate - there's now strong evidence that the earth's climate is changing in response to rising levels of carbon-dioxide and other gases. Ice in the Arctic Ocean is vanishing year on year, sea levels are rising, glaciers are retreating all over the globe, storms are becoming more frequent and more violent, extremes of temperature and rainfall are more common.

Pollution - of the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land is better in some respects, but is worse in many others. The long term prospect remains poor.

Fresh water - sometimes too much (flash flooding) but often too little (droughts, dry reservoirs, falling levels in aquifers, spreading deserts).

Deforestation - there has been some recovery in north-west Europe, but much loss of tropical forest. This loss seems to be accelerating.

Easter Island - There is a stark warning in the story of this barren land in the Pacific. Once forested and fertile, it was home to the Rapanui people who carved the vast, stone heads or 'Moai'. The civilisation here was at one time advanced, writing was invented independently, farming technology was an important part of the economy, timber and stone were both in use for building and for artistic or ceremonial use. Yet now there are almost no trees and the civilisation has vanished. Why? Because they over-exploited their natural resources. This is the tragedy of the commons in action.

We also face the same tragedy. Genesis 1:26-28 calls on us to manage the earth and all that is in it. The Hebrew verb 'radah' can be translated 'dominate'. And although managing something involves taking charge, it also requires wisdom and stewardship. The Rapanui conquered and dominated their island but they did not care for it as good stewards. What will tomorrow's historians write about us? And in what sense did the Rapanui truly 'dominate' their island? They are certainly not dominant now.

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