The call to care for the Earth

Jubilee 3


Starving families in Africa. Coral dying in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Child Poverty in Toronto. Sweatshop labour in Thailand. Zooplankton, a primary link in the food chain, disappearing in Ontario lakes. And everywhere you look, growing disparities between rich and poor.
These are signs of a system in trouble. The list is mine; the opinion is that of 30 Canadian churches and organizations allied under what they refer to as the Jubilee Initiative.

In a 31 page booklet entitled A Call for Jubilee: A New Beginning, they see a root cause for the malaise. It is « the idolatry of the market currently dominating mainstream thinking.’’

It’s an idolatry that plunders nature, and is creating « an ecological crisis of catastrophic proportions,’’ the booklet says. And because « our world is (being) reinvented on the principle of maximized profit, achieved by the tool of the globalized `free market,’ ’’ we see « increased suffering and disorder.’’

Involved in the initiative are the Anglican, Roman Catholic, United, Armenian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Baptist, Quaker, British Methodist Episcopal, Christian Reformed, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Evangelical Lutheran, Polish National Catholic, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Mennonite churches, as well as church agencies, and some non-religious organizations such as the Aboriginal rights Coalition.

They turn for inspiration to Leviticus, verse 25, where God is handing down His laws to Moses, instructing him that every fiftieth year would be a Jubilee year, in which debts would be cancelled, and land redeemed. They see the passage as a metaphor, demanding a fair distribution of wealth, and « ecological justice.’’

« The Biblical narrative is full of references which make clear the call to care for the Earth,’’ the booklet says. « We forget that humans are only one part of the web of life which God has created.’’

Among the booklet’s lengthy list of proposals are calls for cutbacks in the use of fossil fuels, reining in the profligacy of consumer lifestyles, eliminating « anti-ecological subsidies which … promote the use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy over sustainable alternatives (such as) solar or wind’’ power, clear labelling of genetic foods, and « pressuring governments to keep — and indeed exceed — the commitments’’ on limiting greenhouse gases made at Kyoto in December 1997.

Greenhouse gases are a good example of the kind of interdependence that the alliance is talking about.

They cause global warming, and because temperatures are rising, many areas around Ontario lakes are drier. There is less rain, and less runoff into the lakes. Because there is less runoff, less dirt (which scientists call dissolved organic carbon) gets washed into the lakes.

Dirt in lakes acts as a sunscreen for phytoplankton, microscopic plants that float in water and are eaten by zooplankton. Without the sunscreen, ultraviolet light (UV-B) prevents the phytoplankton from creating carbohydrates, thereby starving the zooplankton. With fewer zooplankton the fish food chain begins to collapse.

And here’s where our understanding of interdependence has taken a new leap. Scientists are discovering that global warming also helps destroy the ozone layer. It allows more moisture to reach the stratosphere, and when it arrives, it prolongs the cold periods that precipitate the chemical reactions that destroy ozone. Destruction of ozone lets more UV-B reach ground level, adding to the disappearance of zooplankton.

So, because we burn so much fossil fuel, creating carbon dioxide and global warming, we are beginning to wreak havoc in our lakes, and we are beginning to cripple a supply of food, not only for wildlife, but for ourselves.

There’s a passage from Matthew’s recounting of the Sermon on the Mount (7:17) that Stephen Dunn says stands as a metaphor for our economic system: « A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.’’

Dunn is a professor of Christian ethics and director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. I’m an atheist, but I’ll take Matthew any day over oil company executives who pooh-pooh global warming.

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