Thursday, August 20, 2009

All Things Wise and Wonderful

The last two Green Sprouts posts looked at some of the species that are in danger of extinction from the impact of the way we human beings are living on our shared planet. These endangered species are some of those bright and beautiful things, those “creatures great and small”, that we sing about in Hymn 405, “All things bright and beautiful.” Cecil Frances Alexander, the writer of the hymn, reminds us that “the Lord God made them all”.

The creation stories in Genesis tell us not only that God created the world and all the living things on the Earth, but that God gave humankind a special role in caring for our planet and the other creatures with whom we share “this fragile earth, our island home”. We know now not only that careful human stewardship can enhance the possibility of survival for other species, but also that the simple presence of a diversity of other living things optimizes conditions for human survival. Biodiversity is not an aesthetic luxury that we can sacrifice for economic gain or even short-term survival without grave consequences; biodiversity is essential for the health of human beings.

While many scientists predict an increase in the rate of species extinction as global warming increases, and while it’s a very serious situation, it isn’t without hope. For example, a recent study had both bad news – that many species of saltwater fish continue to be threatened by overfishing – and good news – that careful management of certain regions of the ocean had been able to turn things around. In other words, intentional stewardship allows us to live in harmony with other living things!

Another piece of this story is that the research was done jointly by marine ecologists and fisheries management scientists, two communities whose interests are often at variance with each other. By learning to look at this problem cooperatively rather than in a polarized way, these researchers were able to see a bigger picture than either community could see alone. In other words, when we love our enemies, when we humans learn to live together and work together well, all of creation can benefit.

In a very general yet very profound way, the most important thing that we human beings might do to maintain biodiversity and care for our fellow creatures is to live more fully into our humanity: to live peacefully with one another, to love and respect one another, and to be intentional about stewardship. When we are wise and wonderful human beings, it’s good both for us and for God’s other creatures.

We already know a lot of the specific actions that can help prevent species extinction. As I’ve learned more about species extinction in recent weeks, it seems to me that some of the biggest threats, which are interrelated, are global warming, overuse of living things (such as overfishing, or overcutting of forests), destruction of habitat, and pollution. Any actions we take to stop and then reverse these things are actions that help prevent multiple species extinctions.

Reducing our carbon footprint as individuals and as a society and a species is the key to reducing global warming. We can be good stewards by reducing our energy consumption and by doing what we can to encourage a decreased dependence on fossil fuels and the development of cleaner energy sources.

One of the most useful tools for people in landlocked Nebraska who want to do something about the depletion and extinction of creatures in the ocean is the seafood guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. There is a detailed guide to seafood recommendations on their website, and also a pocket-sized Seafood Watch guide that can be downloaded and printed to take along to the supermarket or restaurants to help select seafood that is caught in ecologically responsible ways. There is a pocket guide specifically for the Central U.S.!

There are local efforts we can make to address habitat destruction. When we landscape the yards of our homes or churches, we can keep other creatures in mind. A monocrop of bluegrass is not a good environment for animals and birds. Reducing the area in bluegrass and devoting some parts of the yard to native plants helps wildlife to thrive. When we do this, we are often rewarded by seeing visiting butterflies, birds, and small mammals enjoying these less “manicured” areas.

Plastic bags are a form of pollution that continues to be a hazard to all sorts of creatures. Take your own reusable shopping bags with you whenever possible. If plastic bags are the only option from time to time, we can recycle them or at least ensure that when they are thrown “away” they cannot be blown up into a tree or off into a waterway to eventually empty into the sea. Air and water pollution of any sort are not good for living things!

The daily decisions we make as consumers add up. We can be careful about the products we buy and use, finding out what we can about the raw materials used in their production or manufacture, the ways they are shipped, and how big an impact their use will have on the environment. Similarly, we can think about our transportation options and practice good stewardship in this area. We can consider our landscaping and its effects on our fellow creatures. We can be wise and wonderful human beings, good stewards of God’s creation.