During September many viewers were left stunned having watched Sir David Attenborough’s latest television documentary Extinction: The Facts with the broadcast on the BBC deliberately timed to give publicity to the urgent report published by the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity a few days later. This report concluded that “humanity is at a crossroads and we have to take action now to make space for nature to recover and slow it’s ‘accelerating decline’.” Indeed, Sir David Attenborough warned that “we are facing a crisis – and one that has consequences for us all.” Not only did one expert state that of the eight million species on Earth, a million are now threatened with extinction, but the links between nature and the environment and our own future physical wellbeing were made abundantly clear. Alongside the familiar concerns of climate change, intensive farming and industrial scale encroachment upon the natural order by humans ravaging and plundering it’s natural resources, seas, forests, land etc, and polluting the environment – a stunning (and some would say somewhat controversial) link was made between the ever increasing ‘close contact’ of humans to animals resulting in the transmission of viruses from one species to another, leading to an increased likelihood of pandemics across the world, such as SARs, MERs, Ebola and the coronavirus Covid-19.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the convention’s executive secretary stated that “Things have to change. It is land. It is forest. It is agriculture. It is the ocean. It is pollution. So we need to change our production patterns, our consumption patterns. The choices of the food we eat, human encroachment in the wildlife, into the forest. So these need to change”.
The problem is that for so long we have viewed the earth as our domain, a simple resource to reap and plunder as we see fit. We have forgotten that first and foremost the Earth is not a resource but a gift! And it is not ours alone, but a gift for all generations. For so long we believed that there was enough food in the world to feed all it’s people, if only we could share it more equitably – but we underestimated the profit motive, the rapid advance of technology and the expansion of populations. Now we are struggling to feed the world and live sustainably. We are damaging the world and in a whole manner of different ways we are risking our collective futures. The time has come for change!
In his book Renewing the face of the Earth, David Atkinson reminds the Christian that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24.1) and that we have a royal calling to serve and protect it for the good of all, whether it be by our political involvement or personal living. We can hold governments and large organisations to account by the choices we make at the ballot box, the cash till and through the charities we support. Together as individuals and as communities we can make a difference! But this will require us to think and act generously in the best interests of others, and often sacrificially for ourselves, which mirrors the love of God for us in the person of Christ. Atkinson thinks it is not by accident that the Church’s Holy Communion service reminds the recipient that they are called to be ‘living sacrifices’ as they go out into the world, living generous and unselfish lives – which is in fact, is a sentiment that many of us could adopt if we wish to continue to live in a just, caring and sustainable world which does all that it can to preserve the environment, protect our biological diversity and promote our mutual wellbeing.
How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104.24