Creation Care: “A Crossroads for Humanity”

Noah’s Ark. Edward Hicks

And God said, “Let us make a human being in our image, by our likeness, to hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and the cattle and the wild beasts and all the crawling things that crawl upon the earth

And God created the human in his image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and fill the earth and conquer it, and hold sway over the fish and the fowl of the heavens and every beast that crawls upon the earth. And God said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth and every tree that has fruit bearing seed, yours they will be for food.” And to all the beasts of the earth and the fowl of the heavens, and to all that crawls on the earth, which has the breath of life within it, the green plants for food. And so it was. And God saw all that he had done, and, look, it was very good. (Genesis 1:26-31)

The Hebrew Bible: A Translation, by Robert Alter

The human vocation is clearly stated, defined, and given context on the Bible’s first page.

  • To reflect the image of the good Creator.
  • To live in God’s blessing, multiplying and filling the good home God gave all creatures.
  • To conquer the evil forces present in God’s good creation.
  • To exercise stewardship over the other creatures God made.
  • To tend and feed upon the creation, which was designed to bless and nourish all creatures.

And yet, today, we read this.

The world is failing to address a catastrophic biodiversity collapse that not only threatens to wipe out beloved species and invaluable genetic diversity, but endangers humanity’s food supply, health and security, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued on Tuesday.

When governments act to protect and restore nature, the authors found, it works. But despite commitments made 10 years ago, nations have not come close to meeting the scale of the crisis, which continues to worsen because of unsustainable farming, overfishing, burning of fossil fuels and other activities.

“Humanity stands at a crossroads,” the report said.

…As with climate change, scientific alarms on biodiversity loss have gone largely unheeded as the problem intensifies.

Last year, an exhaustive international report concluded that humans had reshaped the natural world so drastically that one million species of animals and plants were at risk of extinction. This year, the World Economic Forum’s annual global risk report identified biodiversity loss, in addition to climate change, as one of the most urgent threats, saying that “human-driven nature and biodiversity loss is threatening life on our planet.” Last week, a respected index of animal life showed that, on average, the populations of almost 4,400 monitored mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish had declined by 68 percent since 1970.

…The biggest driver of biodiversity loss on land is habitat destruction and degradation, mainly because of farming. At sea, the biggest problem is overfishing. Climate change will play an increasing role as its effects intensify over the coming years. And the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. For example, since trees soak up and help store carbon, clearing forests intensifies climate change, while restoring them helps mitigate it.

…Despite the overall failure, the report highlights areas of progress around the world, bright spots showing that people have the power to protect and restore nature, not just destroy it. Conservation efforts have prevented an estimated 11 to 25 bird and mammal extinctions over the last decade; without these actions, researchers calculated, the number most likely would have been two to four times as high.

“If you put in place the policies, they do work,” Mr. Cooper said.

…The report calls for eight urgent transitions in the way we use lands and oceans, grow our food, eat, build our cities, manage our fresh water and more. For example, we must eat less meat and fish, bring nature into cities and quickly stop burning fossil fuels.

With these bold changes, it is not too late to slow and ultimately reverse this crisis, the report found.

“We still need this planet to live on,” Ms. Mrema said. “And we still need this planet for our children.”

The subject of climate change rose to a new prominence in the presidential campaign this week as both candidates responded to the wildfires that are raging on the west coast of the U.S. President Trump said that global warming will somehow reverse itself. “It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he said. When Wade Crowfoot, head of California’s Natural Resources Agency and an expert in climate and sustainability issues, replied, “I wish science agreed with you,” the president replied, “I don’t think science knows actually.” On the other hand Joe Biden said, “We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. Unless we take urgent action, it’ll soon be more catastrophic.”

There are growing pockets of concern being expressed about “creation care” in Christian communities. Some followers of Jesus, especially younger ones, are talking about environmental issues more and more. Some organizations are making the stewardship of God’s gift of creation their mission. Here, for example is a statement from Operation Noah, a Catholic organization that was set up in 2004 to provide a Christian response to the climate crisis. They approach the issues from a “faith-motivated, science-informed and hope-inspired” perspective.

What has the climate crisis got to do with being a Christian?

Operation Noah believes that the likelihood of runaway global warming raises questions that go to the heart of our Christian faith.

We believe that God’s creation is a gift that we have a duty to care for and that the wellbeing of all creation matters to God. We must repent for the damage we have done to the earth.

We also believe that climate change is about justice, because the poor of the world – those who have done the least to cause it – are already suffering the devastating consequences of the climate crisis. Acting on climate change is about loving our neighbours: that means those in other countries and future generations too.

Here is a list of other faith-based groups focusing on ecology (I don’t know enough about many of them to recommend them or not, but you can do the research).

The report cited above is indeed a further wake-up call for me. I’ve made a new commitment to read and learn more.  I’ve begun with E.O. Wilson’s book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, which I was first introduced to by singer Paul Simon a couple of years ago when he was recommending it at his concerts. I’ll let Wilson have the last word today, and give you a glimpse at the radical solution he proposes to protect the creatures of the earth.

You will note that Wilson is extremely skeptical about religion’s role in this. He has a right to be, given our record. But I don’t share his dismissal of people of faith. The calling should be abundantly clear to us — one need not go past the Bible’s first page to see a robust description of it. If only we will listen and put it into practice.

Noah’s Ark. Marc Chagall

What is man? Storyteller, mythmaker, and destroyer of the living world. Thinking with a gabble of reason, emotion, and religion. Lucky accident of primate evolution during the late Pleistocene. Mind of the biosphere. Magnificent in imaginative power and exploratory drive, yet yearning to be more master than steward of a declining planet. Born with the capacity to survive and evolve forever, able to render the biosphere eternal also. Yet arrogant, reckless, lethally predisposed to favor self, tribe, and short-term futures. Obsequious to imagined higher beings, contemptuous toward lower forms of life.

…We need a much deeper understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered. We would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. The Half-Earth proposal offers a first, emergency solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.

Half-Earth (pp. 1-3)

70 thoughts on “Creation Care: “A Crossroads for Humanity”

  1. @Mule, I’m pretty sure that referring to people of color as “duskies” is offensive to them. But you probably already know that.; that’s why you referred to them with that word.

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  2. Trump from early childhood was taken by his parents to Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church. He imbibed Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking theology far more deeply than the occasional Communion wine. He’s mentioned the power of Peale’s teaching over the years as important to his own way of viewing and navigating the world. I think he really believes that if you will something with enough focus, never giving up your intention, you can make it happen. Just keep saying it, just keep believing it, and it will happen. He actually is pretty close to many Pentecostal Christians in mentality and attitude; Peale was teaching much the same thing, but from within a liberal theological tradition. No wonder the Court Evangelicals/ Pentecostals crowd around him — they recognize him as one of their own. Name it, and claim it.

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  3. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

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  4. *** NORBERT for President ***

    a little therapy (dog) will do us all good these last days before the election

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  5. Yip. Very good stuff. The only sad thing about Saskatoon berries is that the season is really short!

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  6. I recently learned of something called Saskatoon berry pie, I believe it’s called. And that someone is making a liquer from it as well. The berry, not the pie.

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  7. Sigh…

    My only thought as a biologist and in having worked in environmental public health for 35 years and then reading these comments.is from the movie Terminator 2.

    John Connor: We’re not gonna make it, are we? Humans, I mean.
    The Terminator: It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.
    John Connor: Yeah major drag, Huh?

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  8. Society doesn’t run on absolute numbers.

    Evangelicals are somewhere between 8%-18% of America. And look at their influence.

    The engaged/affiliated matter, the disengaged/unaffiliated don’t. That, simply put, removes the majority of Americans from the equation; most people prefer not to matter.

    Any studied organizer can tell you that you only need to hit a hard 3%-4% to begin to swing things one way or another. If 3%-4% of people are motivated enough to show up [very different than asking them if they care] then the system will move. That is how delicately balanced our system currently is, and why things feel so polarized [when they really are not].

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  9. Operation “Noah”? An odd name for an environmental organization, especially one faith based. I think people are so enamored of boats and animals they forget the original significance of the story. This doubtless also explains all the children’s books. The other example of cultural cognitive dissonance that comes to mind is the popular use of Leonard Cohen’s great song “Hallelujah” at weddings! “It’s not about one who saw the light…”

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  10. But that led to his downfall, as it set the stage for the voyage of Eärendil into the West.

    There is always hope.

    Or let me quote from a very different source – The Sandman (Neil Gaiman):

    CHORONZON: I am a dire wolf, prey-stalking, lethal prowler.

    MORPHEUS: I am a hunter, horse-mounted, wolf-stabbing.

    CHORONZON: I am a horsefly, horse-stinging, hunter-throwing.

    MORPHEUS: I am a spider, fly-consuming, eight legged.

    CHORONZON: I am a snake, spider-devouring, posion-toothed.

    MORPHEUS: I am an ox, snake-crushing, heavy-footed.

    CHORONZON: I am an anthrax, butcher bacterium, warm-life destroying.

    MORPHEUS: I am a world, space-floating, life-nurturing.

    CHORONZON: I am a nova, all-exploding… planet-cremating.

    MORPHEUS: I am the Universe — all things encompassing, all life embracing.

    CHORONZON: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

    MORPHEUS: I am hope.

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  11. If the total population of African Americans in the United States is only 13 percent I don’t see how the Church could be changed drastically to turn the tide

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  12. Evangelicals are worthless.

    But I can only begin to imagine what is possible if the Black Church in America begins to prioritize this issue. That could contribute to a turning of the tide. Another reservoir of hope in this mess of a nation; they are the Gondolin of American Christianity, IMO.

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  13. This is a pretty good list.

    > Don’t have children, (although eventually someone will have to)

    There will be plenty of places to import them from.

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  14. Then relax and let everyone get through this in their own way.
    You could also enjoy your garden as long as you can.

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  15. I doubt the monks at Holy Cross Monastery are panicking either.
    As you said. Austerity can take many forms, many of which will actually be quite comfortable.

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  16. I have zero delusions about my personal chances as it all flushes down the drain. As the analyst hero of *Red Storm Rising* said, I’d much rather be wrong and be free to go back to puttering in my garden. But we’re not there.

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  17. In another post by the same author I linked to above, he projected that the vast majority of earth’s landscape below 65N latitude will be uninhabitable within a few centuries, and if we (as in *H. Sapiens* we) are lucky, maybe 50 or so million people will be able to scrape by on subsistence agriculture around the Arctic Circle by 3000CE. Take that with whatever amount of NaCl grains will suit your taste buds.

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  18. People are people, coming from a hell hole or not.

    It is something that Macro analysis cannot account for; however on point and informed it is.

    I am by no stretch of the definition a Techno-Optimist. No new wonder technology is coming. I am a through-and-through “End of Growth” Gordonian.

    I am not panicked because there is, in reality, no civilization to collapse. Because reality doesn’t work that way.

    There will be losers, and there will be winners. Local innovation [not necessarily technological] is a very real thing. Human societies have flourished in some crazy corners of the world under various extreme conditions to from ice shelves to deserts. People in a pinch are phenomenally clever.

    Also the predictions of abject misery, IMNSHO, rest on the EXTREMELY narrow vision of success held by White America. I live in a ‘bad’ neighborhood, with a paltry median household income of $34K/yr. And every couple of years the Health Department passes through to perform their analysis…. and the results are consistently “A” for grade-your-community-as-a-place-to-live. People are not miserable. Yet, my goodness, listening to the chatter you’d think everyone should be trying to find their way out; this is much the same thing.

    Austerity can take many forms, it will take many forms; many of them will not be miserable.

    There is so much stupid fat in the systems we have built, that we experience today, there are resources to be found even in dismantling them.

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  19. Good.

    We’ll be the first to go. I like what Mr Brons says about the higher you are the steeper your fall. The Republican suburbanite evangelical megachurch massa damnata you loathe so heartily will fall to their hired security forces a la the Western Roman Empire. I’m preparing myself psychologically to kiss some very unsavory a$$.

    I like what the Archdruid said, quoting Dmitri Orlov: “Collapse now. Avoid the rush.”

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  20. Actually, Mr. Brons’ bullet list is pretty decent:

    Don’t have children, (although eventually someone will have to)
    Don’t give up the fight (to avert or alleviate disaster).
    Don’t be distracted (by side issues and/or relatively minor problems).
    Don’t trust the authorities and don’t trust the press.
    Develop and encourage compassion (i.e. aim to decrease suffering in everything you do).
    Find something “to keep you going”.

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  21. Yes. However, I also believe Providence has much bigger things on His mind than maintaining the comforts and dignities of Western Christians.

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  22. But the problem is *global*. Every single community on the planet would have to take these steps, simultaneously and in concert. Frankly, I don’t think any sort of organizing on that scale is even possible.

    Remember, I (and Mr. Brons) brought this up to argue that we are so far gone that any talk of convenient half-measures being sufficient is just turnip twaddle. And if (for whatever reasons) the actually necessary measures are impossible… What then?

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  23. President Trump said that global warming will somehow reverse itself. “It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he said.

    Which is now Inspired Inerrant SCRIPTURE.
    Remember Christians are THE most fanatical of Trump Fanatics.

    TRUMP Said It,
    I Believe It,
    THAT SETTLES IT!”

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  24. But Creation Care runs right up against “ALL FAKE NEWS!” and “IT’S ALL GONNA BURN!”

    The only solution a lot of Christians have is “Say the Sinner’s Prayer and wait for The Rapture”.

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  25. If the steps Mr Brons proposes could be taken by small, well-knit, committed communities rather than imposed from above by the well-meaning, yes, that would be a more Tolkien-esque scenario than the Mad Max, every-man’s-hand-against-every-other I seem to be championing.

    It would be nice if these small, well-knit communities, which will be the social Darwinism competitors of the late 21st/early 22nd century would be jewels of Glee/Barney tolerance and diversity, but my suspicions are that they will be based on DNA. That seems to be our default setting.

    What say you? Social cohesion will definitely be the reserve currency of the future. What will it be based on?

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  26. Imagine no AC, no industrial agriculture, much less electricity, greatly reduced long-haul transportation – and that’s just for starters. Can the area you live in reasonably support all the people that live in it strictly on local resources?

    “Two weeks after Push Comes to Shove, the most plentiful food source in our cities will be Human Flesh. Prepare to Do What Must Be Done to SURVIVE!”
    — Eighties Survivalist

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  27. “The reason why I call the scenario sketched in this article the “Lesser Dystopia” is partially because I don’t think anyone likes the idea. (But also to explicitly oppose it to Utopianism, and because I believe it is a Dystopian vision of the future.) Libertarians will hate it because of the key roles of the state and the restrictions on economic freedom and markets. Conservatives will hate it because it leaves little room for traditions, nations, and conserving anything else they find important (except for human civilization itself, which is exactly what the Lesser Dystopia aims to conserve).58 Socialists will hate it for reasons already mentioned in the previous paragraph. Anarchists will hate it because of the strong states. Nationalists, patriots, and fascists will hate it because of the rejection of the nation state and the obligation to ignore race, nation, and so forth when it comes to the state’s responsibility to provide food and shelter. And so forth. Basically, I expect everyone to hate one, more, or probably very many aspects of the Lesser Dystopia. This puts all of us in the same spot, of course: the Lesser Dystopia is everyone’s Dystopia. Nevertheless, it is the Lesser Dystopia, because the only alternative – catastropic global societal collapse – is even worse.

    Unfortunately, its Dystopian character, and the fact that very few people will wholeheartedly support it because of it, make it even less likely that the Lesser Dystopia will ever be realized.”

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  28. My area (central Saskatchewan) could, sort of. Lots of grains, some vegetables can easily be grown on greater amounts, lots of berries, some apples, and lots and lots of meat. Population density low. However – we can’t grow coffee here. That is a rather critical problem… 🙂

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  29. If – IF – those rosy projections of NE and the Midwest becoming nicer due to climate change pan out, what will they do will all the people who want to move away from the hellholes?

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  30. Coming from you, it is not surprising you’d go the “my not being inconvenienced is more important than any deaths or suffering of people I will never meet” route.

    Are we not all our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers?

    But, as you are well aware, Mr. Brons knows full well your position will win, and we will all go down suffering. He specifically stated what would be necessary to avoid the catastrophe, not that it was in any way possible.

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  31. Funny enough, Tolkien’s works were reactionary to the industrialized free market dystopia you seem to prefer. He reacted against the ridiculous nationalisms and chest thumping that gave cause to WW1, where the trench warfare inspired his Mordor.

    And to be sure, preferring a dystopian wasteland because the other guys don’t like chest thumping nonsense and one or 2 might have literary differences with oneself, is a rather infantile take.

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  32. > Finn’s summer home? – yes (Good work, Finn)

    Thanks! 🙂

    “””Once-chilly places like Minnesota and MICHIGAN and Vermont will become more temperate, verdant and inviting…. Cities like DETROIT, Rochester, Buffalo and Milwaukee will see a renaissance, with their excess capacity in infrastructure…”””

    Some bets are better than others; everything is a bet.

    There is lots of available space in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio

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  33. All true, in North America. But part of that is because we exported our degradation to other parts of the world. China, Brazil etc etc.

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  34. Las Vegas – nope
    Most of Florida – nope
    Georgia – maybe
    Most of the American West – nope
    Siberia – YES!
    Hudson Bay basin – yes
    Finn’s summer home? – yes (Good work, Finn)
    Southern California – Getouddaheah

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  35. Not weeping.

    Coming from Eeyore, it is not surprising this is a heavily statist “solution” dependent on laws and subsequent obedience to those laws. Although the multiplication of laws is a characteristic of a declining society, so also is widespread disregard of those laws.

    Eventually, the moral calculus of 60,000,000 dead duskies in some place I cannot pronounce < some threat to me and mine is going to overwhelm the cluck-clucking of the UN/WCC/GlobalVilage heirs of the Puritans. What the MAGA crowd, or the BLM crowd, or the ¡Mi Raza! crowd find perfectly acceptable, even desirable, could tuck itself very comfortably into those portions of Mr. Brons’ rhetoric where he doesn’t want to meditate on ‘unacceptable’ situations.

    When I found out that Mr. Brons considered Tolkien’s works poorly-written reactionary garbage, that sealed the deal for me. I think I’d prefer the Greater Dystopia/Mad Max/Free Market Thunderdome. Tolkien’s works are reactionary, of course, but that’s the point.

    I gotta stop binge-watching The 100.

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  36. VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) is the ‘insurmountable’ problem in North Amerca: Auto Dependence. And it does not matter what their power source is.

    The largest, by a good margin, source of oceanic plastics pollution is auto tires – – – the plastic [rubber] dust as you wear them down. That goes into your air and soil, then eventually into your water.

    From the SB150 final report [California]: “””Even if the share of new car sales that are ZEVs grows nearly 10-fold from today, California would still need to reduce VMT per capita 25 percent to achieve the necessary reductions for 2030.”””

    We ***MUST*** ***MUST*** ***MUST*** reduce VMT. We ***MUST*** have fewer automobiles.

    Any plan without reducing the absolute number of automobiles as a high-priority goal is not a real plan.

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  37. You bring out a good point. So many have been concerned (rightly) with the problems caused by the burning of carbon based fuels, I have been less aware of all the fundamental damage we are doing in other areas. But, I am actually optimistic we can stop the damage from the other things. I use North America as an example. We actually have more trees, less farmland, and less chemical dumping than we had 50-80 years ago. Our cities and suburbs are more concrete, but outside suburbia of large cities the land is actually healing.

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  38. “What if some significant portion of the present social and personal suffering is a RESULT of the present production and consumption.”

    Oh, it is. But that does not mean that curtailing that production and consumption is something our societies can survive – let alone us. Imagine no AC, no industrial agriculture, much less electricity, greatly reduced long-haul transportation – and that’s just for starters. Can the area you live in reasonably support all the people that live in it strictly on local resources? I guarantee you the WMA cannot.

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  39. Some collapses are more urgent than others. This one is definitely in the “more urgent” end of the spectrum.

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  40. > I suspect that it won’t be enough

    It can’t be. They needed to start doing this decades ago. They are like someone who shows up at the scene of a burning building carrying a smoke alarm and a phillips screwdriver, saying: “Hey, guys, I think we should install this.”

    > civilization that is collapsing

    It is important to remember, for perspective, that civilization is always collapsing.

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  41. “””certainly have to involve worldwide reduction of production and consumption, most of all of energy, and the attendant social and personal suffering, on a global scale, that that would necessarily involve”””

    I am less Pessimistic. What if some significant portion of the present social and personal suffering is a RESULT of the present production and consumption.

    “””a recognition of limits, and an acceptance of suffering, finitude, and death”””

    The great majority of Humanity does not struggle with this acceptance, they are well trained by their situation.

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  42. I commend the efforts to call Christians to greater care of the planet. But I suspect that it won’t be enough – and I’m fairly certain that most people and governments will take the necessary actions – assuming it is not already too late to avert disaster.

    So, yes, by all means let us consider our obligation to care for God’s Creation. But perhaps we should go one step further – how should we Christians minister to a planet that is dying and a civilization that is collapsing?

    Over to you, Damaris…

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  43. It is likely that, if the necessary level of effort is actually undertaken, I and the majority of humanity would be compelled by a much smaller fraction of humanity to cooperate with the efforts they devise to address the problem. In that case whether or not I or anyone else can get over any personal hurdles will be irrelevant. I just hope the smaller fraction actually knows what they are doing, but in any case, they will be in control and likely not take much advice from the majority of humanity. I’m not anticipating good outcomes in any direction — and certainly not rendering the biosphere eternal, if that would be a good thing.

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  44. I’m skeptical of humanity’s ability to work in the kind of unison it would require to address this enormous problem. It is more likely that a small fraction of humanity would have to force the rest of humanity to undertake whatever the necessary steps might be, provided the small fraction actually has the knowledge and commitment to undertake those steps methodically and consistently. The steps would certainly have to involve worldwide reduction of production and consumption, most of all of energy, and the attendant social and personal suffering, on a global scale, that that would necessarily involve. That would not involve rendering “the biosphere eternal”, as Wilson suggests — whatever that might mean it certainly sounds like the kind of hubris and refusal of limits that got us into this situation — but a recognition of limits, and an acceptance of suffering, finitude, and death. In short, it would require a level of spiritual maturity that most of humanity does not seem to be in possession of; I know I certainly don’t possess it, and I haven’t met many people who do. I guess I’m pessimistic, and I guess that isn’t helpful; to help I’m sure I would need to get over this pessimism, but that in itself, aside from the necessary work of creation care-taking, is a big hurdle for me and much of humanity to get over before we even really get started.

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