The Destruction of Biodiversity:
A Challenge to Christians
Last week the Australian Catholic bishops issued a landmark statement on climate change and biodiversity. In this special report for Online Catholics, noted environmentalist Father Sean McDonagh provides a background to the issue.
The destruction of life is one of the most important ecological and religious issues of our time. It is now estimated that between one third and one half of the creatures of the planet face extinction in the next 60 or 70 years unless we protect the vulnerable habitats which are rich in biodiversity. Those particularly under threat today are topical forests in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Coral reefs are also under threat from over fishing, the use of dynamite and cyanide, sedimentation and global warming. These are one of the richest habitats for species diversity in the world. A report released by the World Conservation Union during the last week of October 2005 announced that, without intervention, half of the world’s coral reefs will be gone by 2045.
Lest we think the problem is somewhere else, Australia has its own problems with the destruction of species. Land clearing for European style agriculture and the spread of cities and towns has destroyed many habitats in Australia. Since Joseph Banks visited this land with Captain Cook it is estimated that, at least, 41 species of bird and mammals and over 100 plant species have become extinct.
The extinction of species is not treated formally in the Scriptures. Yet appreciation for life, gratitude to God for the gift of life and a strong belief that God cares for life and wishes humans to emulate this care are central features of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
The Genesis text tells us that human sins destroy our relationship with God, sever human bonds and disfigures creation. The good news of the Gospel is about restoring all these fractured relationships. Protecting and restoring creation must be at the heart of promoting the Reign of God in our contemporary world.
The first thing we need to do is to realize that we are living in a finite planet. Lifestyles of high material consumption must yield to the provision of greater sufficiency for all. For the rest of the world to reach US or Australian levels of consumption with existing technologies would require four more planets like our present one.
The Church should also support international agreements that promote awareness and action in the area of biodiversity. At the Earth Summit
in Rio in 1991, 150 countries signed the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). The object of this convention is to protect biodiversity and ensure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of any financial benefits derived from these biological and genetic resources.
As part of the CBD each country, state and county is expected to draw up a biodiversity data base and a plan to protect any species that might be in trouble. The Church should give ethical and religious underpinning to the work of the CBD globally, nationally and locally.
Thankfully the Catholic Church is beginning to take the environment seriously. Recently the Vatican representative at the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, spoke at the 60th session of the UN General Assembly. He said:
“Responsibility and solidarity are connected in such a way that actions in favour of the environment become an affirmation of faith in the destiny of the human family meeting around a common project, which is crucial for the common good.”
Archbishop Migliore went on to say the “cost of the natural ecosystem must be considered in every economic decision”.
This is a first step; we need to work assiduously to protect life.
Father Sean McDonagh, SSC, is an environmental commentator. This is a summary provided by him to Online Catholics of a talk he gave at the Australian Catholic University, North Sydney, on Tuesday November 22, in conjunction with Catholic Earthcare Australia.