A week ago, I listened to a speaker at the Glen Canyon lecture series, William DeBuys, discuss the impacts of climate change on the world in general but specifically on the Southwest, which my uncle often referred to as “God’s Country.” The news is dire, and “even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immediately, Earth’s climate would continue warming for at least another generation.”
We are not looking at global warming, as we once called it, but at episodes of catastrophic weather events — droughts, massive fires, tornado outbreaks, severe freezes and blizzards.
There is a small squirrel — the Mt .Graham red squirrel — that lives in a very limited environment, the Pinaleno Mountains near Tucson. It survives high up in the mountains, isolated from other squirrel populations by the lack of contiguous forest. When the Mt. Graham Astrophysical Site was first proposed in the late 1980s, there was great concern over the fate of this small squirrel. Would its construction and subsequent human traffic disrupt the habitat to the point where the squirrel became extinct? A monitoring program was established concurrent with construction and use of the facilities.
It turns out that the squirrel’s fate depended as much on available food as on an undisturbed habitat. Populations fluctuated as the food supply increased or decreased. Now in 2012, the major factors affecting the fate of the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel are drought, fire and insect infestation, all of which are making far greater inroads in destroying its habitat than a research facility.
Why should we as Christians care about a small squirrel that most of us will never see? Just as the squirrel lives in an island home, so do we. When the earth loses much of its habitable area, where will we go? Will we have found ways to colonize other planets? Will we have come to our senses before that happens and work to restore the earth as a healthy planet for future generations?
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those that live in it.”
The first verse of Psalm 24 reminds us that the earth is not ours, but God’s. We are here as caretakers of this precious gift from God, its creatures, seas and land, and ourselves. We should be protecting it, using it carefully, and thinking about our impact as we take advantage of all its resources. Instead, we see our world and all its resources as ours to plunder, heedless of the impact on its survival. Is that really what God wants us to do?
This is the time of year when many communities and churches celebrate the gifts of the earth with county fairs, harvest celebrations and our own Day of Thanksgiving. Whether we believe that the earth was created by God in six days, or evolved over a period of 4 billion years, we need to think about how we use this amazing gift, this earth, our island home.
Jody Gebhardt is the parish administrator for St. David’s Episcopal Church.
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