When I mention to Christian friends that I visit the local nature reserves, I sometimes get a response that leaves me slightly wrong-footed. They may say something like, “How good it is that you can get out into open and worship God there!”. It’s a lovely thought, and I do do that occasionally – but when I go watching wildlife, I’m primarily focussed on watching wildlife and not on worshipping God.
The reality is that I find it far easier to worship God when I can focus on doing just that, and not being distracted by other things. Otherwise the praying can be a bit like “Lord, I just want to commit to you… hang a sec, Lord, an egret’s just landed in front of me, where’s my camera, back in a mo…”
The more I watch wildlife, though, the more I realise that I can’t ignore the global issues that affect the animals and birds themselves. A small example was given in my recent blog post about Great White Egrets, but it’s a far bigger problem.
The latest information from the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission is that 13% of bird species, 25% of mammals, 33% of reef-building corals, 34% of conifers and 41% of amphibians are threatened with extinction. There are a range of issues that contribute to these depressing statistics: three major ones are pollution, invasive species and global warming. So what should we do about it?
Although global warming has been widely known about for thirty years, I have to admit that my response then was somewhat bone-headed. I even tried to be a Climate Change denier. My argument was that we really don’t know enough about the Sun’s behaviour and its effect on the Earth to rule it out as the cause. This was a weak argument at best and has since been ruled out – but what eventually convinced me was that it’s not just global warming that’s the problem: there’s atmospheric pollution, for example, which is itself a major cause of global warming. It’s effectively the smoking gun. (I remember the discussion that made me wake up to this, and wish I’d had the guts to admit it.)
Despite realising the seriousness of global warming and related issues for at least twenty years, I have to admit that until recently I haven’t done much about it, apart from using energy-saving light-bulbs and driving a fuel-efficient car. Getting married to Jen has made a substantial difference in that area – she’s much more naturally conscientious than I am about acting on what she believes in. We’ve therefore recently decided to adopt a flexitarian diet, which is designed to be environmentally sustainable without going vegetarian. A major part of it is to reduce the amount of red meat that we consume: animal products (and especially red meat) have a much bigger environmental impact than plant products.
Last autumn, I did a series of talks here called ‘Eyes on God’s Creation’, which was intended to be a follow-up to the wildlife weekend back in June. One of the talks was on climate change, for which we had a really good outside speaker. To my surprise we had half the numbers for that than for the previous two talks. While I was reflecting on this afterwards, one person seemed to put her finger on it: climate change makes us feel bad – that we ought to be doing more than we are – and we tend not to like hearing it.
This has led me to begin to write a Lent course on Creation Care. The purpose of Lent is to look at those areas of our lives that are not pleasing to God: if it makes us feel bad, well, that’s part of the reason for the season. While we’ll often do Lent in a way that’s quite personal – which is really valuable and important in itself – looking at environmental issues forces us to see ourselves as part of a society that is causing global ecological problems.
There are several challenges: to make the course relevant environmentally, while being accessible and not too stodgy; and to engage with scripture in a meaningful way that isn’t contrived. We’ll have to see how well this works!