Host Alexei Laushkin talks with John Elwood of the Clothesline Report and board member of the Evangelical Environmental Network on his recent trip to China and Tyler Amy coordinator for Renewal: Students Caring for Creation. Listen in as they talk about the impacts of environmental pollution on the people of China and how Tyler came to his own interest in creation care.
by John Elwood
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Genesis 2:15
The year was 1554. In England, Queen Mary I was busily earning the epithet "Bloody Mary" by burning some 300 Britons at the stake. Much less dramatically, in Geneva, Reformation patriarch John Calvin published his Commentary on Genesis.
Calvin's day was not like ours. Only eleven years earlier, the Polish cleric Nicolaus Copernicus had upended the universally-accepted worldview that the earth stood at the center of the universe; but his work was published posthumously to assure that his death would come naturally.
Another 55 years would pass before Galileo Galilei built his famous telescope, and set out to prove Copernicus right. Still later would come Johannes Kepler, and with him the basic principles of scientific inquiry. And nearly a century would pass before the arrival of Isaac Newton and the essentials of calculus, gravitation and light spectography.
Two centuries would come and go before the arrival of James Watt's steam engine, James Hutton and the new science of geology, and Benjamin Franklin's experiments with electricity. And the germ theory of disease wouldn't gain any traction for almost three centuries to come; leeches and herbs would have to do for many more generations.
Calvin: Creation steward
Needless to say, people in Calvin's day didn't know much of what we take for granted regarding the earth and its ecosystems. No one had reason to suspect that human activities could wreak significant harm on terrestrial and aquatic habitats, poison streams and rivers, drive created species to extinction, and threaten the earth's atmosphere with pollutants.
And yet, without any of these advances, Calvin looked into the Bible, and found the divine command that resonates to this day: the mandate to care for the creation as God's stewards. Calvin saw in Genesis the story of God's placing the man he created in his garden "to work and keep it." Here is what this great Christian had to say:
The earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation" . The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that " being content with a frugal and moderate use of them " we should take care of what shall remain.
Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. Let him so feed on its fruits that he neither dissipates it by luxury, nor permits to be marred or ruined by neglect.
Moreover, that this economy, and this diligence, with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy, may flourish among us, let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will neither conduct himself dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved.
A few of Calvin's ideas are worth considering in our day:
The words "Calvinist" and "Puritan" bring vivid images to mind for many of us who are casual students of history. But the real Calvin might surprise us, no? In our day, might Protestant Christians once again heed the teaching of their spiritual forbears?
John Elwood is author of the The Clothesline Report, which deals with issues of environmental degradation, climate change, and their effects on people everywhere.
By John Elwood
On a fine summer morning last July, the mail carrier brought me my copy of John Stott's valedictory work, "The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling." Within hours, I heard the news that Stott had died at age 90.
We knew, followed and cherished John Stott for many reasons. Londoners knew him as the beloved rector of All Souls Church. Around the world, he taught Christians and seekers with his writings: more than 50 books in many languages, including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ and The Living Church. He was the chief architect of The Lausanne Covenant, a document which has come to define evangelical theology and practice throughout the modern world.
And his voice was heard far beyond the Christian church. In 2004, the New York Times wrote: "If evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose." The following year, Time Magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world.
But in the last years of his life, Stott grew concerned about "selective discipleship" among his contemporaries " "choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly" is how he described it. "But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority."
And so at age 88, he penned his final work, by hand, focusing on eight areas that Christians often neglect as a way of avoiding costly " or radical " discipleship. They range from "Christlikeness" to "Simplicity" and even to "Death." But they include one which gets almost no air time in contemporary American evangelical dialogue:
For Stott, care for the creation has nothing to do with deification of nature. On the other hand, it entirely rejects exploitation of the earth. Rather, it focuses on cooperation with God in conserving and nurturing the creation. "[God] has deliberately humbled himself to make a divine-human partnership necessary," he wrote. "He planted a garden, but then put Adam in it 'to work it and take care of it' (Gen. 2:15)."
And what are the key areas today for disciples of Christ to cooperate with God in tending his creation? Stott lists three crucial trends:
1) Depletion of the earth's resources, from wanton deforestation and habitat destruction to degradation of oceans and exploitation of fossil fuels
2) Excessive waste disposal, from thoughtless packaging and mindless consumerism, causing the average Briton to "throw out his or her body weight in rubbish every three months"; and
3) Climate change, the accumulation of greenhouse gases that threatens all the world's ecosystems with "the specter of global warming, which may have disastrous consequences on the configuration of the world's geography and weather patterns."
This last item " climate change " deserves special attention in Stott's call to discipleship. "Of all the global threats that face our planet, this is the most serious," he writes. "One cannot help but see that our whole planet is in jeopardy. Crisis is not too dramatic a word to use."
What should Christians do? Stott offers a short list: Support Christian environmental advocates and ministries; use sustainable forms of energy; switch off unneeded appliances; purchase necessities from companies with ethically-sound environmental policies; join local conservation societies; avoid overconsumption; and recycle as much as possible.
But more important than any list of do's-and-don'ts is Stott's sense that creation care is essential to discipleship, however rare in the modern American religious landscape. He quotes his colleague Chris Wright in calling Christians to repentance:
"It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles, they contribute to it."
Christians who want to follow Stott in "radical discipleship" will do well to remember who it is that owns this planet we call home: "To the Lord your God belong the heavens, the earth and everything in it" (Deuteronomy 10:14).
by John Elwood
It's a blistering 110 degrees in Dallas today.
Ho hum" That makes 34 days straight in DFW above 100. The record heat wave and drought in Texas make for some curious news. A reservoir in West Texas has turned blood-red, with dead fish floating in the last pools of steaming water. "Exploding pavement" is cropping up everywhere, as extreme heat causes pavement to buckle and shatter. And railroad rails are buckling in the heat, slowing train traffic by 20 miles per hour.
So, summer's hot in Texas, you say. Tell me something I don't know.
Okay, how about this: Texas' State Climatologist is warning that this is the beginning of the "new normal" for Texas, and that it's going to get much worse.
Really, no kidding. Much worse. Since 2000, John Nielsen-Gammon has been Professor of Meteorology at Texas A&M University and the Texas State Climatologist. Together with a large number of Texas climate scientists, he's written a book called The Impact of Global Warming on Texas, and you can get it online (here). Writing in 2008, he called 2000-2008 "the warmest period on record" for the state. He is projecting a further 2-degree increase in Texas temperatures in 2020-2039, and close to a 4-degree increase in 2040-2059.
That would make today's 110 degrees a pleasantly cool day, for whoever's still living there.
But sadly, heat's not all you get in Texas these days. Texas is in the throes of a crippling drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor calls Texas "disastrously hot," exacerbating "exceptionally dry conditions." Amarillo broke records for consecutive 100+ degree days two weeks back, and it's not letting up. Tyler is on course to double the previous triple-digit record of 20 straight days, which it also surpassed two weeks ago.
And the result? The U.S. Drought Monitor tells us that 91% of Texas pastureland is now "poor to very poor." 59% of Texas' cotton crop is also "poor to very poor." Texas farmers are getting killed by this thing.
When it's "abnormally dry" in Texas, the Drought Monitor tells us that soil moisture content is 20-31%. Today, Texas soil has 0-2% moisture almost all over the state. That's about like talcum powder.
Every week, the Drought Monitor maps the U.S. with color-coded drought conditions: from white (no drought), through progressively worse yellow, beige and tan, to red (severe drought) and finally dark brown (exceptional drought). In recent months, Texas has been almost entirely dark brown. Dark brown means: "Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies."
So Texas is blisteringly hot, and disastrously dry. And the leading Texan climate scientists are warning that this is child's play compared with what's to come in the new age of climate change. You'd think that their politicians would be leading the charge to prevent this outcome, wouldn't you?
Well, in fact, in April, Gov. Rick Perry did issue a proclamation calling on Texans to pray for rain. But even devout Christian climate activists might consider this to be a suspect strategy for mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases. And for good reason: it hasn't worked so far, as the drought has only strengthened its grip on the Lone Star state.
What's more, in Congress, the Texas delegation consistently ranks among the most anti-climate-science group of legislators of any in the House. For example, almost 75% of them voted to specifically prevent FEMA from planning with other agencies on how to respond to natural disasters caused by climate change. And in the ongoing House debates over the EPA, a similar Texas majority supports amendment after amendment to strip the agency of powers to protect us from the effects of greenhouse gas concentrations, mercury pollution and other environmental threats.
So if you're a person of faith in Texas today, pray (indeed!) for rain and relief. But when you're finished talking, listen carefully for the answer. In my experience, God usually changes praying people to become His active instruments in the world.
It may be time in Texas to pray for our Father's world to be released from the grip of environmental torment.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
re-posted with permission
John Elwood is the author and publisher of The Clothesline Report that deals with the effects of environmental degradation and climate change.
by John Elwood
"When your mum comes, we will cut a chicken!"
Anticipating the arrival of his American friend's family, young Gonja Saulo excitedly drew his forefinger across his throat to underscore the chicken's fate, and the happy thought of eating meat sometime soon.
To my son, Nathan Elwood, a chicken dinner was a lot less novel. But his neighbors in western Uganda almost never ate meat, except for very special occasions. And a visit from Nathan's family meant meat. One meal, to be shared lavishly with us.
After that visit to East Africa two years ago, the Elwood family started eating a lot less meat. We aren't vegetarians, and we're not even particularly nice to animals that invade our garden or prey on our laying hens. But we figured that we'd never learn how to embrace the world's 6.6 billion non-Americans if didn't rethink our national meat binge in the midst of an ever-hungrier world.
It turns out that we Americans eat a lot of meat. Not including seafood, the average American eats 208 lbs. of the stuff every year. That's 60 percent more than Europeans, and four times as much as a person in the developing world, like young Gonja. In fact, American men eat about twice the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein. For our children, it's worse: we feed them four times the RDA. Health experts tell us that this pattern of consumption leads to exposure to toxins, and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. And as I posted last week, meat consumption results in much more greenhouse gas emissions per pound consumed than other proteins.
So a few weeks ago, we decided that Mondays in our household would be meatless. Meatless Monday. We thought that " for us " it would be more consistent with the gospel, and might even catch on with others. So imagine our surprise at reading the Environmental Working Group Report last week and learning that Meatless Monday is a well-established national program already! (Get the report here.) Better late than never, perhaps?
And what good can Meatless Monday do? Well, EWG reports that if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day per week, over a year, the effect on carbon emissions would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Think of it: 7.6 million cars!
So consider joining us with Meatless Monday. And if you stop by Good Hand Farm, you're welcome to join us for as much black beans and rice, eggs and garden veggies as you like. But if you want meat, you'll have to come back on Tuesday.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)
P.S. Some related, interesting facts:
Trash: About 20% of U.S. edible meat gets thrown out. For salmon, it's 44%.
Cheese: The yummy stuff is the 3rd most carbon-heavy protein, behind lamb and beef.
Fertilizers: They generate nitrous oxide, which has 300 times the global warming effect of CO2, making a strong case for organic food.
Manure: Commercial feedlots generate three times more of it than all human waste; and much of it emits methane, which is 25 times more warming than CO2.
Buying locally: Local veggies have as much as 25% less related CO2 emissions, due to reduced transport requirements.
re-posted with permission
John Elwood is the author and publisher of The Clothesline Report that deals with the effects of environmental degradation and climate change.
by John Elwood
(front page photo by Nick Lucey)
I was invited to a delightful dinner last Saturday by a couple in Chicago: one a long-time friend, and his wife, who I only just met. They are living proof that love is stronger than politics -- he, a conservative Republican, and she, a Chicago Democrat.
Hearing that I was involved in issues of environmental justice, she asked me: "Why is climate change a political issue?" In essence, facts being facts, why would political affiliation so strongly determine what you think of an established line of scientific research?
I wasn't anxious to infuse politics into a pleasant evening among friends, so I deferred the matter for an hour or two. But eventually, the topic came up, and I gave Liberal Wife (LW) my best answer. At some point, Conservative Husband (CH) commented: "This is where John and I differ a bit. There is a lot of disagreement about whether the climate really is changing."
So now the argument was pretty much beyond avoiding. Allowing for my imperfect memory, here's how the exchange proceeded:
John: "Actually, there is very little scientific debate about whether climate change is actually happening."
CH: "Yes there is. I've read lots of arguments on both sides."
John: "I said, there's little SCIENTIFIC debate. Of course there are editorials and blogs. But the scientific consensus is very strong."
CH: "I'll send you plenty of articles I've read."
John: "Think of it this way. Right here in Chicago, you've got excellent universities. Not one of your universities -- Northwestern, Illinois, DePaul, U. of Chicago -- has an earth science professor who denies that climate change is happening, or that human activity contributes to it." (In fairness, I guessed at this, because it's so hard to find a research university professor who holds such a position.)
CH: "Yes, but those are LIBERAL universities!"
Okay. There we are: back to politics determining scientific views. But I wondered: What about the conservative universities in Illinois? Did they really deny that the climate is changing?
By a stroke of good fortune, I had just attended a meeting of Evangelical Environmental Network, where I met a student from Wheaton College. Of course, Wheaton is an evangelical Christian school, and nobody's bastion of liberalism. I figured that Wheaton was probably among the most conservative major colleges in Chicago, and a great place to look for another view of climate science. My young friend gave me the name of Wheaton's Environmental Science director, Prof. Fred Van Dyke, so I looked him up.
Wheaton College Prof. Van Dyke:
Well, I can't say I was surprised, but Prof. Van Dyke not only confirms the findings of climate science, he has written a book titled "Redeeming Creation" (find it here) warning that "ominous signals of real climate change are coming in from many fronts." And he has endorsed an urgent warning about climate change -- called the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) -- issued by more than 300 prominent evangelical leaders. The ECI asserts that climate change is an urgent problem and that the Christian faith mandates a strong response to global warming.
Prof. Van Dyke calls the ECI "a very appropriate move in terms of a biblical basis and, in fact, long overdue." (Read more here.)
So where are the climatologists that Conservative Husband is talking about? Well, the Univ. of Illinois did a survey of 3,146 earth scientists in 2009, and found an overwhelming majority affirm that the globe is warming and that human activities contribute to it. In fact, 97% of climatologists -- those who study this question most carefully -- agree on these points. (Read about it here.) I suspect they're not all liberals, so the political influence must not extend to the scientists.
Well then, who are the scientific climate doubters? In fact, it turns out that there is a small corner of science where climate skepticism is strong: Only about half of the petroleum geologists agree that climate change is affected by human activities. Petroleum geologists! People who work for oil companies. Isn't that interesting?
by John Elwood
On a summer evening in 1787, a trio of 27-year-olds sat under an oak tree in the Kent countryside south of London. These days, age 27 is considered awfully young to impact the world. But these guys were different. That evening they decided to commit themselves the ending the worst injustice of their time: the African-Atlantic slave trade.
In their day, European ships were carrying African slaves to the sugar and tobacco plantations of the New World at a pace of more than 100,000 per year. The slaves were part of a great Triangular Trade: European manufactured goods to Africa; African slaves to the Americas; and American sugar and tobacco to Europe. A lot of people were getting rich, and many more were suffering unspeakable horrors. Over time, more than 10 million Africans were seized, chained, and dragged ship-board to a life of misery, or death en route. And more than 40% of them were carried in British ships.
Slaves from Africa were the lynchpin of the Atlantic trade
It happens that all three young men were named William. Two of the Williams would serve as Prime Minister (Pitt and Grenville). The other (Wilberforce) would become a tireless crusader against the slave trade, inspired by his new-found faith in Jesus Christ, to confront entrenched injustice upon which much of British wealth relied. It's probably just as well that he didn't know how desperately the beneficiaries of the trade would fight him, and how much of his life the fight would consume.
It might have seemed pretty easy, at first. After all, his friend and ally Pitt was a hugely popular Prime Minister (even at age 27), and many newly-awakened Christian churches were beginning to raise their voices against slavery. When Wilberforce introduced his slave-trade-abolition bill in 1787, Pitt mobilized the Privy Council to assemble data and testimony from many regarding the horrors of the trade.
As a result, Parliament was confronted with real data on the trade for the first time: the inconceivably cramped conditions aboard ship; mistreatment, rape and killing of slaves at the hands of sailors; the continual use of chains and shackles to prevent overboard suicides; the Caribbean practice of starving aging slaves at the end of their "productive" lives; and other disclosures unfit for civilized eyes.
This diagram of the slave ship Brookes shocked many Britons into action
But money talks. The British economy of the day reaped huge benefits from the Triangular Trade. From the textile mills of Manchester and London to the shipyards of Liverpool and Bristol, the British prospered on the backs of the captive Africans. In any age, you don't take on the "engines of prosperity" without bare-knuckle consequences. So perhaps it's not surprising the hear the arguments marshaled by the establishment:
The pro-slave-trade lobby even found churchmen willing to give the slave trade the sanction of divine authority, citing Bible passages that recognized the existence of slavery. And they persuaded others by redirecting the focus to domestic ills, calling for "reform at home before venturing to make romantic trials of compassion abroad!"
Few Britons ever saw slaves in chains
As the debate wore on the following year, they had persuaded many MP's of the value of collecting more evidence: Who knew if they could trust the Privy Council testimony? And once testimony began, filibuster tactics virtually ground things to a halt.
But nothing happens in a vacuum, does it? Across the Channel, the French had risen up against their king and nobility. Early English approval turned to disgust and alarm as royal heads began to roll. Anything looking like a challenge to the status quo began to look like the beginnings of revolution in the British Isles. And so, when Wilberforce's vote was finally called in 1891, it failed by a 2-to-1 margin. And the slave trade continued unabated for another 15 years, before Wilberforce could marshal enough votes to finally kill it.
The delay cost 1.5 million additional human souls their freedom or their lives.
Last Monday, the EPA announced that it was delaying by two months the release of a proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major pollution sources, in the face of intense opposition in Congress and from industry.
"The agency said it was pushing back the new greenhouse gas proposal to the end of September to allow more time to consider comments from generators of electricity, environmental advocates and others during public-comment sessions," reported the NY Times.
But nothing happens in a vacuum, does it?
John Elwood is author of the The Clothesline Report, a weekly blog, dealing with issues of environmental degradation, climate change, and their effects on people everywhere.
by John Elwood
No, this story isn't from the National Enquirer. Maybe you saw the original account in early August: Spurred by recordwarming temperatures in Greenland and the North Atlantic, one of the largest glaciers in the world suffered a major collapse, with a massive sheet of icebreaking off and sliding into the ocean between Labrador and Greenland.
Aerial photographs are accurate, but they don't capture the awesome mass and power of the event. This one shows the mouth of the Greenland's Petermann Glacier, with the newly-born Petermann Ice Island sliding down the fjord and into the ocean. First reported in early August, the glacier shed an enormous 100-square-mile floating island of ice. Researchers now report that this is the largest break of the Petermann Glacier to occur since record keeping began in 1876.
Really now, how big is this thing? Well, forstarters, it is really thick, at more than 600 feet. That's about as thick as New York's General Motors Building is high; or San Francisco'sTransamerica Pyramid; or the Chicago Board of Trade Building. We call it an ice sheet, but we mean something more like an ice plateau.
Of course, icebergs break off all the time, right? Isn't that what sunk the Titanic? Well, yes, but this thing is in a class of its own. It is about 100 square miles in surface area. How big is that? They say it's four times as big as New York's flagship borough, Manhattan.
Despite its massive size, however, Petermann Island came to an ignominious end last week. Floating intothe straits near Labrador, the behemoth crashed into a humble rock outcrop called Joe Island (Really, I'm not making this up!), and split in two. The fracture must have been an incredible marvel to behold, if anyone did. It will spend the next several years floating in several pieces toward Newfoundland,and melting.
But the real significance of this event is what it means for the Petermann Glacier. Like virtually all glaciers,Petermann is melting and flowing at an accelerating pace into the ocean. In the past, however, it was slowed and stabilized by this massive ice shelf at its base. Now, that shelf is mostly gone, and many researchers believe that the ocean-bound flow will pick up speed. All by itself, neither the huge ice island nor the accelerating Petermann Glacierwill do much harm. But together with virtually all the other melting glaciers in the world, they combine in a global pattern which threatens every creature and system that relies on stable sea levels.
Testifying before Congress after the Petermann collapse, Richard Alley of Penn State University, one of the country's leading glacier researchers said: "Sometime in the next decade we may pass that tipping point which would put us warmer than temperatures that Greenland can survive," adding that a rise in the range of 2C to 7C would mean the obliteration of Greenland's ice sheet. The fall-out would be felt thousands of miles away from the Arctic, unleashing a global sea level rise of 23 ft, Alley warned. Low-lying cities such as New Orleans would vanish.
"What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done," said Alley.
Whether or not this respected scientist is engaging in a bit of hyperbole, many who care about the billions of humans who level near sea level will note this event with alarm. Do you wonder if there's anything we can do?