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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Overusing Resources Causes Strife

Reading: Genesis 13

Today's chapter discusses Abram (Abraham)'s inheritance of Canaan and his agreement with Lot.

After leaving Egypt Abram and Lot run into some trouble due to the size of their wealth in livestock, silver and gold.

"6 Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. 7 And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” (emphasis mine)"

Though unsaid, it is likely that Abram and Lot's decision to split up was also influenced by their sense of stewardship and a desire to not to harm the land.

It is interesting however that the reason given is a desire to prevent strife over scarce resources. This is quite an interesting topic. The fact is that we live in a world of limited resources, and strife and conflict often accompany the distribution or claiming of these resources. Countless wars have been fought over resources such as water, oil and gold. It is disturbing to predict what kind of conflicts may be caused in the near future by our ever expanding population as developing nations begin to demand the lifestyle of the west. The harsh reality is that there are not enough resources for everyone to live as we do. We are faced then with an ethical dilemma- how can we continue to consume at a rate that would take several planets to support if everyone did the same, while others go without? And if we ignore the inequality that exists in the world will we be forced by war or strife to defend what we have?

One of the many reasons I think we should have switched to renewable energy sources years ago is because I wonder what will happen if we reach peak oil unprepared. What will happen to the global economy, stability and peace when we suddenly realise we are about to run out of oil? What will powerful countries like America do to obtain the last stocks of oil? And what will happen to those countries, and places unlucky enough to have oil stocks? When America can already be accused of going to war over oil twice and has a rampant debate over drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge(!) not to mention the incredible forests they are destroying with the previously unviable sand oil mining. What's next? Oil drilling in the Great Barrier Reef? We are going to allow shark finning there to make a bit of money in spite of the ecological concerns so why not?

Then there is climate change. As precipitation patterns change worldwide and masses of environmental refugees are created by sealevel rise and starvation we can likely expect wars- especially over water and arable land.

Economics was created as a method of distributing resources in an 'efficient' manner; using scarce resources to meet unlimited wants. I confess deep disappointment however in our modern systems of economics however as by placing value only on that with a price we have massively overlooked nature. The world's ecological systems provide billions of dollars worth of what is known as 'ecosystem services' (clean drinking water, decomposition of wastes, genetic diversity) each year. Yet as there is no price on the use of these resources they are given little value and have been abused- some beyond recovery (at least on local scales). We are beset by problems like the 'Tragedy of the Commons' and the 'Prisoner's Dillemma'. Impacts upon the environment are simply labelled 'negative externalities' and undervalued or not even counted.

Unfortunately the solution available to Abram and Lot is not available to us. We cannot simply split up and find new pastures. We only have one planet, and we have to live with what we have. We cannot delude ourselves that we can move to Mars or some other planet- the problems we are facing are too urgent and the technology to do so to far away. Besides, how ethical is it to destroy this planet then move on to another? Are we to leave behind a string of planet-sized wastelands? Don't tell me we wouldn't. It would be uneconomic and would require time and effort to clean up the Earth after we moved to Mars. I don't think it would happen.

One more verse I want to discuss:
"10 And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. (emphasis mine)"

Don't you find it interesting how our view of the land is always linked to where we come from, and often where our family comes from as well? It seems to me that you will always picture the land as it was where you grew up. For example, if you mention a tree to me I will think of one of the red ironbarks near where I grew up; if you mention a forest I will think of the open sclerophyll forest those ironbarks made up with the understory of acacias and pea flowers. Yet if you mention hills or farms I will picture something green and rolling like the pictures I have seen of English or Irish countryside. I hate that I think this, and enjoy this picture, as I want to think of Australian grasslands- yet this is a leftover of my family history, and perhaps too much TV. Many people who move to Australia never quite come to terms with the harshness and often dryness of the landscape. Indeed, this inability to adapt has destroyed vast swathes of our land. The colonisers simply couldn't seem to get it through their thick heads that Australia was not England. Hence the crops they grew, the way they grew them and the animals they raised. Hence the introduction of rabbits and foxes, and the war against our native wildlife. Hence their view that land was only good if it was 'improved' (clearfelled, stumped and left open to erosion, monoculture and weeds). This was the worst possible expression of a deluded group of settlers and a 'dominion' mentality. Let's hope we have learnt our lesson.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+