The basic premise of ecology is that everything is connected. The very definition of ecology embodies this truth: the word ecology comes from two parts –eco from the Greek oikos, for “household,” and logia, for “the study of.” Anyone who has grown up in a household understands that it is a complicated web of interrelated relationships.
In essence, the word ecology draws attention to the relationships between living things and their environment. It implies that if one tinkers with one bit of the world, the effects are felt in radiating ripples throughout the rest of the world. To paraphrase John Muir, tug at this bit of creation and you find it is attached to everything else.1
The Old Testament prophets were perhaps the first ecologists, drawing a picture for their listeners of the consequences of actions and choices that ripple out into the wider web of relationships. The prophets’ genius lay in the way they extended the concept of ecology beyond the natural world to include humankind’s broken relationship with God – which then leads to a broken relationship with other people and with creation itself. Consider the words of Hosea 4:1-3.
Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.”
Creation’s suffering is intrinsically linked to humanity’s faithlessness, lack of love, and failure to acknowledge God. The trickledown effect of our brokenness is a land that mourns and all (humans and non-humans) who live in it waste away. This is certainly what we are seeing around the world today.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports species extinction rates that are between one thousand to ten thousand times the natural background rates (the natural rate without human interference). According to their research, we are currently facing the possible extinction of 12% of birds, 22% of mammals and 30% of amphibians worldwide.2 These are staggering figures that should raise alarm bells for all who believe that creation is the handiwork of a loving God.
But environmental degradation does not just affect the fish, birds and beasts, as Hosea so aptly points out. Humans suffer too. The UN recently reported that “environmental refugees” (people who are displaced because of environmental degradation) already outnumber those who are refugees as a result of conflict. Conflicts will, in fact, be increasingly driven by the scarcity of natural resources.
In our experience with A Rocha [a Christian environmental stewardship organization working in conservation, environmental education and sustainable agriculture], it is our brothers and sisters in the developing world who understand the dire implications of degraded ecosystems best and are calling us to change. Our friend Stella Simiyu, a native Kenyan and a Senior Research Scientist in plant conservation at the National Museums of Kenya, writes this about the predicament of the poor:
If you look at Africa, the rural poor depend directly on the natural resource base. This is where their pharmacy, supermarket, power company and water company are. What would happen to you if these things were removed from your local neighbourhood? We must invest in environmental conservation because this is how we enhance the ability of the rural poor to have options and provide for them ways of getting out of the poverty trap.3
Stella and her countrymen and women are calling us to what God has called us all to: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) They are calling us to acknowledge that when we in the industrialized West tug on the thread of our extravagant consumption, the web quivers all over the planet in the form of species extinction and social injustice.
Edited excerpt from Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling and Community, a book by Leah Kostamo, who along with her husband Markku co-founded “A Rocha Canada”