Live Within the Biosphere


The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

John 3

In the post Three Themes three ideas for theological discussion in an Age of Limits were presented. They are:

  1. Understand and tell the truth;

  2. Accept and adapt; and

  3. Live within the biosphere (this one).

Thoughts to do with the third of these items — Live within the biosphere — are provides at this page.

The Biosphere

At the root of many of our difficulties lies an unstated assumption that we are somehow outside of nature, and that we are able to control nature for our own benefit. Even church environmental groups can exhibit this way of thinking when they form committees with titles such as “Care of God’s Creation”. A name such of this suggests that we see ourselves and creation as being separate from one another, and that we are in control of both. The climate crisis tells us that this way of thinking is no longer appropriate; we need to see ourselves as being within nature, as part of the biosphere — not outside of it. In Genesis 1:28 we are instructed to “fill and subdue the earth”. We have succeeded all too well in following that instruction — if we continue, we will destroy ourselves and our environment.

The book of Genesis provides justification for the older way of thinking of how we relate to the natural world. The following passages comes from Genesis 9. The Lord is speaking to Noah following the flood.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird in the air, and on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea: into your hand they are delivered.

 

It will be important to determine just why we want to preserve the natural world and the creatures in it. Are we taking these actions for the sake of the natural world itself, or because a healthy biosphere is of benefit to humans and to our way of life? Should we carry out activities to protect nature not for its own sake, but for ourselves? Is the natural world its own justification? Should we stop the use of insecticides and herbicides, and accept the additional human suffering that will result  as a result of reduced food production? Does living within the biosphere mean that we offer the same protection to malaria-carrying mosquitoes as we do to cute animals such as koala bears? After all, even the COVID-19 virus is part of God’s Creation. These are tough questions. None of this is easy.

 

Questions such as these will pervade almost everything that we do. For example, the chemical industry has manufactured billions of tons of artificial fibers such as polyester and nylon to make fabric and clothing. When the clothes wear out or fall out of fashion, we throw them “away”. But that begs the question as to where “away” may be located. These fibers do not degrade quickly, and many of them wind up in the ocean. Tiny threads of microfibers are now being found in the internals of fish that live in the deepest parts of the ocean. If our concern is to do with “nature” then we should stop manufacturing polymers for use in clothing and we should revert to wearing clothes made of natural materials such as wool and cotton. Yet these artificial materials allow us to have comfortable, hard-wearing clothing at an affordable price. And even if richer people could afford to switch to natural materials, many people toward the lower end of the economic scale cannot. So, should we continue to use polymer fibers and let the fish take their chances?

Gaia

 

Gaia

It is probable that the faith community will take increased interest in the concept of Gaia in the coming years. In this way of thinking  the Earth is a living entity, and the living creatures, including human beings, that live on the Earth are part of that entity. The page Gaia discusses this concept in greater detail.