The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s145g06 Sunday 33 19/11/2006
'there will be famines' Mark 13.8
In much of Australia we are experiencing a very dry 'winter'. Where I live, in western New South Wales, there are large tracts of land where significant rain has not fallen for five years. It has recently been said that this is a one in a thousand year event. Nearly every news bulletin has an item on 'global warming' and 'climate change'. And I guess I am not alone in thinking how precarious our existence is as humanity on this earth.
But for all the difficulties we are having in Australia, we are not likely to suffer a famine as a result of our prolonged drought, as places like Somalia and Ethiopia seem to live in a constant state of famine and people are actually starving.
I sometimes wonder at the balance between the masses of the sun and the earth and other planets as we blithely send space vehicles hither and yon. But then the sun emits huge amounts of energy and therefore mass perhaps our space exploration serves to maintain the equilibrium? Of course the relative masses of space vehicles and celestial bodies are enormously differing, yet even an infinitesimal difference can build up over time. It is the problem with humanity being so intelligent we find that our knowledge opens up bigger questions.
If we do not get any other message we surely begin to realize that our continuing existence on this earth is problematical.
I want to make some observations and the first is that this is a very 'first world' concern. Many other people in this world still struggle to survive. My refugee friends from the Sudan wonder at the affluence available to us who live in Australia and not unreasonably want to share in this. I find it astonishing that it is impossible for such arrivals to our country to do any sort of continuing education without a computer connected to the Internet. Technology has become indispensable.
The obvious exceptions to the above observation that this is a first world concern are those low-lying Pacific islands whose very existence is threatened by rising ocean levels. They know only too well the effects of our western affluence.
And it is hard to know whether there is an answer in technology anyway. One proposed solution is hydrogen-powered cars the ultimate in pollution free transport. But will not more coal need to be burned to produce the extra electricity needed to separate water into its constituent gasses, one of which is the hydrogen? This will inevitably mean that nuclear power will be necessary, but many people see the safety and security of this option problematical and if they are right this seems a high price to pay for our mobility.
The use of ethanol fuels is fine, except that this depletes the laying down of vegetation for the earth to produce coal and oil for any future generation.
It is a long time since I studied physics and chemistry, but pumping compressed carbon dioxide into the earth seems difficult surely it would need to be kept at a low temperature?
I wonder if it would be cheaper for the world to band together and build Iran a nuclear power plant capable of supplying their needs free, having it run by the world community rather than take them on militarily? How much is one human life worth?
As I am moving into my own home I am struck by how I have managed to live the last nine months with only the bare minimum of my possessions unpacked. I only use one or two saucepans when I actually have 7. I reflect on just how many books I have in my bookcase that I haven't read for years, yet I have brought them all with me, the whole 1155kms (720 miles) from Adelaide. Of course I haven't done some things, simply because it would involve unpacking more than I wished to. As I travel from home to the hospitals, perhaps 5 kilometres (3 miles) apart, in my modest 4 cylinder car, I recognise that it is hardly warming up and I get less than 400 kilometres a tank when doing a decent distance I would get 500 or more. Fortunately the price of petrol is coming down a bit.
It is one of the joys of the communications revolution that we now know that there are people starving in third-world countries, that there is a problem with the ocean levels rising for low-level islands in the Pacific, that other people are affected by our actions and beliefs and so we can do something about it. It has brought us an appreciation of how we are dependent on one another, how our world is small and in the scale of the rest of the universe pretty insignificant.
The NASA composite picture of the earth at night - http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/49259main_flat_earth_nightm.jpe - gives us a pretty fair picture of those parts of the world where our very affluence is contributing to global warming and the other parts of the earth where poverty and famine are rampant.
Yet our economy is dependent on our affluence. All the money spent on space flights stays firmly on the ground.
I am moved to draw a parallel between occupational health and safety officers. In some ways they merely remind us of what is good common sense. In times past when people got injured they were quietly sidelined. Now there is an army of people trying to reduce workplace injury. They perform a vital function and are appropriately renumerated. Similarly there are people who make a living recycling obsolete and discarded goods.
So, no doubt, someone somewhere will find a way of making a profit out of reducing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They will find a way of planting more trees, or some other method to convert carbon dioxide into complex and useful compounds, that vegetation has quietly done for millennia.
One of the patients in hospital commented to me recently that the first aircraft flew in 1903. In 1911 the first bomb was dropped from a plane. In 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped.
But modern technology does not always bring destruction. So:
"It is difficult to obtain accurate data for periods before the 19th century, but the best estimates are that life expectancy only a few centuries ago was in the 20-30 year range [CITE]. "The United Nations estimated that in 1950/55 the world life expectancy rate was 46.4 years .. By 1998 world life expectancy increased to 63.0 years .. (McDevitt 1999, p.A49). "That represents an increase in life expectancy of close to 40 percent for the world .." (http://www.overpopulation.com/faq/health/mortality/life_expectancy/)
We cannot go backwards. I have little doubt that there is sufficient food for each and every person living at this moment a direct by-product of modern technology the problem is that it is locked away by our capitalist system. God is the great dis-respecter of 'systems' when it comes to the welfare of the poor and needy, and the communications revolution that has invaded our lives shows us only too graphically the suffering that others are enduring.
It is a good thing to evaluate our lives and how much we actually need. It is a good thing to plant trees. It is a good thing to lobby governments to try to address the issues. It is a good thing to research possible solutions. We as humans have been given the earth to care for, and it is a good thing to try to do this responsibly. We have also been given intelligence and ingenuity and no doubt brighter minds than mine are wrestling with these problems even as the rest of us flounder.
We are so interdependent. We depend on trees and nature. We cannot dismiss others, be they environmentalists, scientists and technologists or the developers and economists. We need to pray for one another, listen to one another and respect one another. This isn't a perfect world and it will never be there will be famines. But we do well to care for our world and share with others as we are able.
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