by Kara Ball
Each year, Jim takes it upon himself to write our Christmas Letter. I'm so grateful for his work compiling all our activities, work and service for the year. This is a helpful contribution to our advent activities as we prepare for Christmas.
Each year for the past couple of years, he's chosen to end our Christmas Letter with a "note" from one of our animals. This year, our iguana Iggy is prominently featured. Being an herbivore, Iggy's note to our friends and family is "May you have all the kale you desire this holiday season."
I'm glad that Jim chose Iggy to end our Christmas Letter. It seems an appropriate reminder as we celebrate Jesus' coming that He came to reconcile all things to the Father:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20, NIV)
This Christmas I am grateful for the opportunities we have to be co-agents in caring for God's creation. Whether you're a conservationist by vocation or avocation, your talents and dedication are helping provide sufficiency and contentment for all God's creatures, human and nonhuman. There is much work to be done in God's harvest field of creation care, so in the coming year I pray for continued strength and commitment for all those working in the field, and that others will join us.
On behalf of Iggy, Merry Christmas.
by Kara Ball
Last Thursday night I was privileged to join citizens of Harrisonburg, Virginia at the Massanutten Regional Library to discuss climate change. It was especially meaningful for me to be there because Harrisonburg is a rural agricultural community very similar to Bedford County, Pennsylvania where I lived for a number of years.
I was encouraged to learn there are so many groups already speaking out and acting on climate change in the Shenandoah Valley, including the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Harrisonburg Mennonite Church Creation Care Group, and many others.
We discussed the consensus of the vast majority of climate researchers most actively publishing in the field that global warming is real and that humans are causing it. This consensus is confirmed by every National Academy of Science of every major country in the world, including the United States.
We also discussed how climate change is related to the extreme weather events we are seeing increasingly more of here in Virginia, the United States and around the world, such as devastating droughts, fires and floods. Many states shattered flood records this year. 252 of Texas' 254 counties had wildfires this year. Nearly 400 million people around the world were affected by exceptional drought in the first half of 2011. Estimates of increasing drought intensification around the world on vast, populated areas are dire unless we act on climate change soon.
Some in the room who have been actively speaking out and acting on climate change expressed discouragement that others don't always listen. We discussed how this can be frustrating but that this shouldn't stop us from speaking the truth. None of our loved ones or neighbors will be left unaffected by the impacts of climate change, so we are morally obligated to speak out and act on this issue.
In the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the lion Aslan is king of the magical land of Narnia. Four children from our world enter Narnia and have adventures, fight evil and in so doing become more who God intended them to be. In one scene in the Prince Caspian book, the child Lucy sees Aslan but her older brothers and sisters don't. When she talks with Aslan later and uses this as an excuse for why she didn't follow him, Aslan gently says to her "why would that stop you from coming to me?" He also stresses that, whatever happened in the past, what matters now is that going forward, she can still make a difference if she is faithful to what she knows is true.
Likewise, even if we've been discouraged from speaking about and acting on climate change because of the denials of others, what matters now is that we can still make a difference for our families and loved ones if we act now to confront the climate crisis.
by Kara Ball
I didn't expect the severe rains and flooding we received in Washington D.C. last month from Tropical Storm Lee. As streams overflowed their banks from the intense rains, my route home flooded and my normal, 20-minute commute stretched to four hours. Others fared far worse. Tragically, four people lost their lives, including a 12-year old boy from the church we attend who had gone to look at the flooding stream behind his house and slipped in. The storm drenched eleven states from Louisiana to New York, causing further floods, evacuations, and deaths.
As the earth warms, the severity of weather events like Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene and their attendant devastation is expected to increase. Warmer air can hold more water vapor and each additional temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit increases the capacity of air to hold water by 7%. There is already 4% more water vapor in the atmosphere above the oceans than just 30 years ago. Because of the stronger storms we're now experiencing, scientists are considering adding a new category to the hurricane rankings: a Category 6.
Floods, property damage and loss of life from stronger storms are just a few of the multitude of impacts expected from global warming, including the threat that 30% of the world's species will face increased risk of extinction if temperatures increase by 2.2 " 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
As Christians, what are we to do when faced with global warming?
First, we are to seek and speak the truth. When I first became a Christian, some of my friends and family gave me a quizzical look when I shared the news. Not everyone was on board with my decision. What about you? Did you experience something similar?
Sometimes, talking about global warming can bring a similar response. Nonetheless, because of its impacts, seeking and speaking the truth about global warming is part of what it means to be a Christian today. As my husband Jim emphasizes in his book Global Warming and the Risen Lord, Christ will be at our side as we do our part to overcome global warming.
by Kara Ball
A few weekends ago, my husband Jim and I visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore. This excellent facility has amazing exhibits highlighting freshwater, tidal freshwater, and marine ecosystems and their species. We enjoyed exhibits of Maryland freshwater streams, sharks, jellyfish, kelp forests, moray eels, sting rays,sea turtles, poison dart frogs, dolphins, and many other wonders. The aquarium also had mini biomes of the Australian desert and Amazon rainforest. It's a terrific facility and we recommend it. Here's a video that Jim took at the jellyfish exhibit.
As a conservationist by vocation and avocation, I was heartened that on a Saturday afternoon, the aquarium was filled with children and their families enjoying the awesomeness of creation. Kids all around us were looking, pointing, gasping in delight at the variety of fish, marine mammals, and other plants andanimals. I can only imagine that somewhere in the facility there might have been a future conservationist who that day was having the kind of wonderful experience that will help foster a lifelong passion for caring for God's creation.
God made His creation in such a way that we may delight in it. "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." (Ps. 33:5, NKJV)
In The Color Purple, the author writes "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it." I don't know if it makes God angry or not but I do think it pleases God when we appreciate the colors of his flowers, the sway of trees in the breeze, and graceful movements of a jellyfish.
When was the last time you took time to simply delight in God's creation? If it's been too long, go outside this evening and enjoy the sunset. Go for a walk outside today. If possible bring someone along to enjoy it with you. God gives us the wonders of His creation to delight in each day and to share with each other, if we will only take the time to appreciate it.
Check out the EEN Facebook page to watch a video of a jellyfish at the Baltimore Aquarium.
By Kara Ball
A few weeks ago my husband Jim and I planted a pollinator garden in our front yard. We had a fun time providing what we hope will be habitat for a variety of butterflies, bees and other pollinators. We dug up the grass (Jim did that part), worked the soil and saved the earthworms, and selected plants from the local nursery and planted, watered and mulched them.
Pollinators are an indispensible part of the productivity of God's creation.1 For example, a recent study found that wild, native bees pollinate more than a third of California's crops. This "service" is worth up to $2.4 billion a year to California, which produces half of our nation's fruits and vegetables. The study suggests that it's worth conserving habitat that supports native pollinators and planting habitat buffers near crops for wild bees.
In his recent book Global Warming and the Risen LORD, Jim further explains how pollinators are vital to providing us with the fruits of God's creation.1 Pollinators are essential to the production of three-fourths of the world's main crops 2 and their global economic value is estimated at $30-$60 billion. Jim highlights one example: "A study in Costa Rica found that 'forest based pollinators increased coffee yields by 20% within 1 kilometer of the forest (as well as increasing the quality of the coffee)'"[and] 'increased the income of a 1,100 hectare farm by $60,000 a year."4,5 Global warming threatens 20-30% of the world's species with increased risk of extinction this century.6 What will happen if these pollinators disappear?
I understand the importance of the "ecosystem services" that God graciously provides to us through pollinators and a healthy ecosystem. Yet protecting the ability of nature to provide these services is only part of the reason that, as Christians, we are to care for God's creation.
Jim and I recently finished reading Simply Christian by Bishop N.T. Wright. Bishop Wright emphasizes that, through Jesus Christ, God has begun and will one day complete His new creation, putting to rights creation's current brokenness and decay. He says that as Christians, ""we are called to be part of God's new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now"7 and in our words and by our actions we are to invite others to join in. So all of our work for creation care, whether it's providing habitat for pollinators, conserving land for other creatures, or fighting for policies that protect against global warming, is part of what it means for us to be God's true image-bearers in Christ in the world.
 Jim Ball, Global Warming and the Risen LORD (Evangelical Environmental Network: Washington, D.C.; 2010), p. 114.
 United NationsEnvironment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC),Biodiversity and Poverty Reduction: The Importance of Biodiversity forEcosystem Services (UNEP: Cambridge, May 31, 2007), p. 16
 Sir Nicholas Stern, The Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, (Cambridge University Press,2006): p. 71, Table 3.2; http://creationcare.org/blog.php?blog=19
 UN Environment Programme(UNEP), Ecosystems and Human Well- being: Synthesis of the MillenniumEcosystem Assessment, (UNEP/WRI: 2005) p. 56;http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/Synthesis.aspx.
 Ball, GlobalWarming and the Risen LORD, p. 114
 Intergovernmental Panelon Climate Change, AR4, WG2; Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation andVulnerability; Contribution of Working GroupII to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange; M.L.Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds.; (Cambridge UniversityPress, Cambridge, UK, 2007) pp. 213, 242; http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_ipcc_fourth_assessment_report_wg2_report_impacts_adaptation_and_vulnerability.htm
 N.T. Wright; Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperCollins: New York, NY; 2006), p.236
By Kara Ball
I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., so when my work with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy took me to rural Bedford County, Pennsylvania I had a lot to learn about country life. My new neighbors taught me many things, including how to care for my sheep and how to tell whether my hens had laid a 'boy egg' or a 'girl egg' (yes, you can tell by looking).
The most important thing they taught me, though, was how important it was to them to look after their neighbors. Caring for others was an integral part of life in this community. It ranged from deep and heartfelt prayers at church for the needs of others to dropping off food for a sick neighbor or plowing a neighbor's driveway unasked after a deep mountain snow.
Sideling Hill Creek, the local stream that had brought me to the area, has rich biological diversity and water quality so high that the state designates Sideling Hill Creek an exceptional value stream. Sideling Hill Creek flows into the Potomac River, which in turn flows into the Chesapeake Bay. I realized that the water that we were sending downstream ended up in the literal backyard of the Tangier Islanders I'd met recently through my friend Susan Emmerich. I saw a wonderful opportunity to connect my neighbors with their neighbors downstream on Tangier Island.
Amazing things happened when the two groups met. As they realized that they were connected by the water they shared, they developed the bonds that neighbors have. They shared food, stories, prayers and concerns for the water and land that provided their livelihoods. Inspired by the covenant taken by the Tangier Islanders and wanting to commit to sending clean water downstream which would end up in the crab pots and fishing nets of their newfound neighbors, landowners in Pennsylvania took a similar covenant to care for their land.
When a teacher tested Jesus by asking him what the greatest commandment was, Jesus didn't give him one commandment but two: "Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Mt. 37-40, NIV)
We are commanded by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves because we can't love God without loving our neighbor. We all have neighbors downstream--those who depend on the air, water and land entrusted to us. Whether our neighbors are next door, downstream or across the globe, caring for creation is part of what it means to love our neighbor.
See the inspiring story of the Bedford County landowners and Tangier Island families who were faithful to Jesus' command to love their neighbors at When Heaven Meets Earth.
By Kara Ball
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land (Isaiah 5:8 NIV).
Cal DeWitt, one of my conservation heroes and a dear friend, shared this verse with me some years back. I think of this verse often because it reminds me that God intends the diversity of his creation to be a blessing to us.
I was especially reminded of this when I read For Many Species, No Escape as Temperature Rises. So many of God's creatures are already suffering from loss of habitat, pollution, overharvesting, or threats from nonnative species. Now they are facing the ominous threat of climate change. As areas are beginning to warm, species adapted to a particular climate must make other provisions to survive. Some can or try to move to a cooler habitat, either by moving upslope or towards the poles. But many species either don't have the means to move (trees don't have legs or wings), face fragmented habitats impeding their movement, or there isn't enough room where they are trying to go. Some simply won't be able to move fast enough to keep up with the rapidity of the changing climate. For example, under current climate change scenarios, plants must migrate 27 to 45 feet a day in order to survive. This is beyond the exceptional examples in fossil records of 9 to 13 feet a day.[i]
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that if global average temperatures rise 2 to 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, 20-30% of assessed species are likely to be at increasingly high risk of extinction.[ii] The actual number could be much higher. It also says that many of our ecosystems won't be resilient enough to adapt to the synergistic effects of multiple stressors if climate change pollution continues unabated.[iii] A new study further warns if we continue to not be proper stewards of God's earth, we could be beginning a sixth period of mass extinction.
Some species most at risk from a warming climate, like the Aberdare cisticola bird in Kenya, may seem small and unimportant to some. But Jesus, when reassuring his friends of their value before God, says "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God." (Lk. 12: 6 NIV). For this statement to make sense, the sparrows must have value in God's eyes too.
As God's creation provides us with life's essentials, it also expresses God's extravagant love and delight in His handiwork with its varied beauty, unexpected complexity, and abundance of God's other creatures. What a wonderful gift that God has asked us, as His stewards, to help care for His creation. As a woman committed to God's calling of creation care in my life, I've been encouraged by my many friends and colleagues whom God has allowed me to share my journey with, including my husband Jim, whose new book Global Warming and the Risen Lord describes the impacts of climate change on wildlife and people in detail. Those of you who have also dedicated yourselves to God's creation care calling in your lives have already done so much to help realize the full blessings of His creation that God intended for His people. Part of our calling now is to help reduce our global warming pollution and help God's other creatures adapt to a warming world, so we won't be alone in the land.
[i] SR Loarie et al. Nature 462, 1052-1055 (2009) doi: 10.1038/nature08649
[ii] Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds.
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 976 pp; Chapter 4: Ecosystems, their properties, goods and services Pp. 213, 243 http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter4.pdf
[iii] IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Parry et al, Chapter 4 p. 213 http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter4.pdf
The image of the Aberdare cisticola bird - PatrickL'Hoir 2009, www.bird-picture.eu