Operation World — missions and the Earth and environmental sciences

One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.

The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.

The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:

  • “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
  • “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
  • “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
  • “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
  • “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
  • And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).

Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:

Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.

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Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.

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Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.

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Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.

a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.

b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.

c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.

d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:

i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.

ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).

iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).

iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).

v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.

These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration

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Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.

a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.

b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.

c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.

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Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.

Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?

Operation World can be purchased from Amazon.com and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.

Grace and Peace

Pleistocene Park

From Yahoo! News/AP — One scientist’s hobby: recreating the ice age

CHERSKY, Russia – Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.

Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

Unlike “re-wilding” ideas in the United States (e.g. Montana), where most land is used for one thing or another, this one is along the Kolyma River (of gulag fame) in Siberia, which is about as isolated as one can get.

Isn’t this a little taste of what nature was meant to be, with the earth, sky, and sea “swarming with swarms of living creatures?” (Gen 1:20,24).

Grace and Peace

Related news: Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue

Bjorn Lomborg — the “skeptical environmentalist” is skeptical no more

From Yahoo! News: Noted anti-global-warming scientist reverses course.

With scientific data piling up showing that the world  has reached its hottest-ever point in recorded history, global-warming skeptics are facing a high-profile defection from their ranks. Bjorn Lomborg, author of the influential tract “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” has reversed course on the urgency of global warming, and is now calling for action on “a challenge humanity must confront.”

Grace and Peace

Melting glaciers, changing borders

Video from BBC News: Glacier melt changes Italian border. I can’t embed it, so you will have to go to the link.

This reflects a different view of borders than what we have in the United States. In the US, if a river that marks a boundary changes course (e.g. the Mississippi), then the border stays where it was. In Europe, it seems that if a glacier melts, then the international border can move 100 meters or so.

Grace and Peace

Creation Care and Climate Change

There is no inherent reason for a scientist to not be a Christian, nor for a Christian to care deeply about the creation.

From the Harvard Divinity Bulletin: The Greening of Jesus by Mark Pinsky.

Riding the train down to London last summer, after a two-week fellowship session on science and religion at the University of Cambridge, I noticed an article in the Independent newspaper about a new book which reinforced that notion of an increasingly irreligious Europe. It is true that outward signs of faith—apart from biblical passages emblazoned on London’s famed red double-decker buses by jesussaid.org—are difficult to come by.

But I found deeply felt Christianity alive and well in an unlikely setting: the academy’s scientific community. To many, this may seem counterintuitive. The evangelical theologian Alister McGrath told us he once believed that “science was the ally of atheism.” Yet among our other lecturers at the Templeton-Cambridge program were major figures in science, from cosmologists to biologists to particle physicists, who pronounced themselves believers. Of course, given the interests of the late Sir John Templeton, who endowed the fellowships, in the relationship between science and religion, this should not have been surprising.

Still, these towering figures—Simon Conway Morris, John Polkinghorne, Sir Brian Heap, Sir John Houghton—characterized themselves as evangelicals as well. Polkinghorne, author of Science and Theology, preaches at a Cambridge church on weekends. To be sure, these are evangelicals of a particular sort. By and large, they reject creationism and intelligent design, embracing the concept of “theistic evolution,” a God-created, billions-years-old universe. None numbered themselves among any of the apocalyptic American evangelical tribes of arrogant dominionists or fanciful premillennial dispensationalists of the “Left Behind” stripe.

[emphasis added]

The article goes on to describe the increasing acceptance of man-made global warming in the Evangelical community, led by Evangelical Christians such as Sir John Houghton, former head of the British Meteorological Office.

The Harvard divinity school is hardly a bastion of Evangelicalism, the article contains a good description of what is going on.

HT: Crunchy Con

Grace and Peace

Climate change survey

From CNN: Surveyed scientists agree global warming is real.

The results of a University of Illinois survey of scientists include the following:

  • 90% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures have risen compared to levels from before 1800.
  • 82% agreed that human activity been a significant factor in this increase of mean global temperatures.
  • 97% of climatologists surveyed agreed with anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
  • At the other end of the spectrum, only 47% of petroleum geologists agreed with this.

The researchers chose scientists listed in the the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments, 2007 edition.

Geologists in general have been more skeptical about AGW than have other scientists, though I’ve noticed a considerable shift on this in publications of the Geological Society of America and the American Geological Institute. Two reasons for this skepticism that have been proposed are:

  1. A deep historical perspective. Geologists know that Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout its history by purely natural means, and that a number of factors have caused this, including changing brightness of the sun, changing oceanic circulation patterns, plate tectonics, and cyclical variations of Earth’s orbit. The Quaternary Period, i.e. the past 1.8 million years, has had an especially variable climate, with long glacial maximum periods, punctuated by interglacial periods, such as the one we live in now.
  2. The close association of geology to the fossil fuel industries. Perhaps there is something psychological here, with a denial that the oil, gas, and coal that we are so closely tied to are the cause of something bad.

I think it is significant that 97% of climatologists surveyed believe global warming is real and that humans have been a significant factor in this. But climatologists will continue to need the input of geologists to gain a fuller understanding of how Earth’s climate works, in both the short term and long term.

Grace and Peace

Global warming and solar cycles

If you are a regular reader of The GeoChristian, you know that I lean towards the validity of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), which is the idea that human activities are causing the Earth to become warmer. Much of the debate–on both sides–is driven by ideology more than science, but I have found the scientific arguments on the AGW side to be stronger.

The AGW proponents say that variations in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are the primary drivers of climate change at the present time. They acknowledge that the Earth’s climate naturally varies, and that greenhouse gases are not the only factors in climate change, but warn that the present changes in climate are outside of the natural range.

The Earth is an incredibly complex planet, and it is difficult to integrate all of the factors that go into something as complex as weather and climate. The issues involved include greenhouse gases, variations in the intensity of solar radiation; cosmic rays, ground cover, ocean circulation patterns, orbital variations, and others. Despite decades of intense research, it is still not possible to say with certain how much of the Earth’s natural greenhouse warming comes from the various greenhouse gases present, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. (Don’t forget that the greenhouse effect itself is an extremely good thing; Earth would be about 30°C (50°F) colder without it).

The London Times has an article on the influence of solar activity and cosmic rays on climate: An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change. The article examines recent experimental evidence that indicates that observed fluctuations in climate, both now and in the past, have been the result more of changes in solar output than greenhouse gases.

AGW advocates would say that we cannot wait for a couple more decades of research in order to take action. Overall, I agree, because many of the actions they say we must take are good whether AGW is true or not. Examples include increasing energy efficiency, simplifying our consumptive lifestyles, and developing sustainable, renewable energy alternatives.

Grace and Peace