World Environment Day 5th June is the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. Since it began in 1974, the event has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries. This year, 2020, the theme is biodiversity, or the web of life as it is sometimes called. Christians are called to remember our dependence on this web of life through a special Sunday, set apart each year on the Sunday closest to June 5th- Environment Sunday.
Genesis 9. 12-13: ‘12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’ The Christian scriptures begin with God’s affirmation that all of creation is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1.30). Humans exist within a web of life. This web is a complex, interconnected system in which each part plays an important role. We are part of a complex, delicate and interdependent web of life which we believe is created, sustained and redeemed by God. Humanity is called to reflect the image of God through godly leadership within the community of fellow creatures (Genesis 1. 26-28). Basic facts about global problems are well known. Few deny that there are serious concerns. There is less agreement, however, about the exact nature of the crisis. Is it essentially political, economic, or technological? Where do the roots of the crisis lie?
Although we understand our human responsibility to care and to act, the problems go beyond managerial failings. They are tied up with our relationship with our surroundings. There is a multitude of interrelated environmental crises, but the essential problem is an inner human crisis. Solutions require a profound shift in people’s feelings and attitudes towards the environment. Biodiversity matters because human wellbeing depends on stable and thriving ecosystems and the services they give us, from clean water and food, to oxygen, clothing and climate regulation and all the other ‘resources’ we use from nature. But if we value nature only for its usefulness to human beings we do not value it highly enough. Our view of nature is distorted. Today human action and behaviour has reduced biodiversity and modified wildlife populations structures at an unprecedented rate. There are multiple causes, from deforestation, habitat destruction, climate change and pollution of soil, water and air, including the tide of plastic pollution filling the oceans. In the last 50 years, the human population has doubled; the global economy has almost quadrupled and global trade has increased approximately ten times (www.worldenvironmentday/global). We are told that it would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make on nature each year; and more species are on the risk of extinction than ever before.
In recent years, zoonotic diseases – those transferred from animals to humans – have gained international attention. The recent Covd-19 crisis is one of these. In 2016 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern. Specifically it pointed out that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and that these are closely linked with the health of ecosystems. Ecosystems are various – woodland, forest, tundra, burning desert, icy polar and city/urban, for example. The solution is nature. Nature purifies the air we breathe, cleans the water we drink and produces the variety of foods we require to stay healthy and resist disease. It helps medical researchers to understand the causes in humans and provides the substance in developing medicines. It also helps to mitigate the impact of climate change by absorbing carbon, reducing air pollution and helping to cool cities.
For Christians too, and those who believe that all God’s creatures have value in themselves, there is also an issue of justice. It is often the poor and the marginalised who depend most immediately on the health of ecosystems and are affected seriously by the loss of productive soils, clean water, forests, fish and coral reefs. Biodiversity loss is a major factor in human migration. In developed and urban areas, again it is often the poorest who suffer the effect of carbon emissions from busy roads and motorways. ‘It’s time to revisit our relationship with nature and to build a more environmentally responsible world. It is time to better understand the web of life in which we live and appreciate that it functions as a whole system. It is time to reimagine our relationship with nature and put nature at the heart of our decision making’.