Monthly Archives: December 2014

Gullible Press Brands Evangelicals as Climate Deniers

Several week s ago, we asked the question: “Climate Change – Who Speaks for Christianity?” We traced the formal resolutions adopted by the largest Christian denominations and ecumenical bodies around the world. And we found that churches comprising over 90 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians have formally acknowledged the reality of manmade climate change and its harm to the poor.

Apparently, the New Republic, a prominent progressive magazine, did not read our findings.

We know this because the New Republic just bought hook, line and sinker the claims of a libertarian fringe group – that they speak for Evangelical Christianity in America when it comes to denying the findings of climate science. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s what happened.

The New Republic just published an article titled “Pope Francis Has Declared War on Climate Deniers.”  Overall, it’s a pretty decent little essay. Yes, Pope Francis is planning to publish an encyclical on climate change in 2015. Yes, most Catholics around the world are united in demanding strong climate action. Yes, Christians everywhere recoil at the injustice inherent in carbon pollution, where rich countries pollute heavily, and poor ones suffer the bulk of the consequences.

So far, so good. But then they note that not everyone is cheering. And here’s where they go completely astray. “Evangelical Christians,” says the New Republic, “have already warned that they will protest” the Pope’s encyclical and related actions.

Photo by: Pastor Augustine Joseph of Disciple Union Ministries , Pakistan

Photo by: Pastor Augustine Joseph of Disciple Union Ministries , Pakistan

Really? So who – in the view of the New Republic – speaks for “Evangelical Christians?” Maybe the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals? Maybe the massive World Evangelical Alliance? Maybe major mission agencies like World Vision International?

No, nope, and no-siree. Instead, they chose to listen to a guy named Calvin Beisner. He’s not a pastor or an evangelist. He doesn’t represent any Christian church or denomination. But he does have one of those libertarian think tanks, and he’s a treasure trove of climate denial quotes.

“The pope should back off,” said Beisner on behalf of the controversially-named Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the U.S.”

That’s what the New Republic settled on as the voice of American Evangelicals.

Oh my. A think-tank spokesman named Beisner speaks for “millions of evangelical Christians” in the U.S.? Well, I suppose that would be hard to disprove, wouldn’t it? In a majority-Christian country of 316 million living souls, it’s entirely possible that “millions” might indeed join Beisner in his denial of climate science. We suspect millions of others might believe that Elvis is still alive, or that the President faked his birth certificate.

But what do we really know about evangelical beliefs about climate change? Well, for starters, we could look to the National Association of Evangelicals, the biggest affiliation of evangelicals by far in the U.S.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE): In 2011, the NAE published a survey of the impacts of climate change, called “Loving the Least of These.” The NAE’s president, Rev. Leith Anderson, introduced the work with these words:

“While others debate the science and politics of climate change, my thoughts go to the poor people who are neither scientists nor politicians. They will never study carbon dioxide in the air or acidification of the ocean. But they will suffer from dry wells in the Sahel of Africa and floods along the coasts of Bangladesh. Their crops will fail while our supermarkets are full. They will suffer while we study…. Please read with an open mind and with open hands. But most of all, join me with an open heart for the poor.”

Okay Rev. Anderson, our minds are open. And what does the Evangelical report actually say? Regarding climate science, the NAE is measured, but firm: “The global average temperature has risen at a rate that is most likely greater than natural variability can account for. Evidence suggests that an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accounts for much of the warming over the last 50 years.”

The Evangelical group urges us to listen to the scientists: “Look to official joint statements from professional societies,” they write. “For example, the nation’s top scientists in the National Academies of Science (NAS) and other professional societies represent the conclusions of tens of thousands of scientists.”

And for all their scientific acumen, the NAE majors in ethics and ministry, not science. That’s why they devote most of their ink to the injustice of rampant climate pollution. With eyewitness testimonies from missionaries and Christians around the world, they tell us of increasingly erratic weather, of glaciers disappearing, of sea levels rising, of increasing water stress and drought, of the loss of forest habitats, of disappearing fisheries, of malnutrition and spreading tropical diseases.

In summary, the institutional leader of Evangelicals in America issues this call to action: “If the things we have been reading are true—that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor, that our climate is changing, and this change will affect the poor most of all—then we, the evangelical family, have no choice but to act on this problem.”

It’s clear. The U.S. National Association of Evangelicals believes that the global climate is being threatened, and that we’re complicit in the harm. But what about Evangelicals all over the world?

World Evangelical Alliance:  The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) represents 600 million Christians in almost 200 countries. And it’s no secret what the WEA thinks either. In 2010 and again in 2012, the WEA sponsored global gatherings of Evangelicals under the banner of the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism. And each time, the conferees issued global calls to action on climate change.

“We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its bio-diversity,” they wrote in 2010. “Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. This will disproportionately affect those in poorer countries, for it is there that climate extremes will be most severe and where there is little capability to adapt to them. World poverty and climate change need to be addressed together and with equal urgency.”

World Vision International (WVI): When Evangelicals want to engage in missional giving to the world’s poorest people, more often than not they turn to World Vision. And if evangelical associations like the NAE and WEA are calling for action on climate change, their concerns pale in comparison to WVI, which is constantly combating the ravages of drought, flood and famine.

And what does WVI think about climate change? Christopher Shore, WVI’s Director for Environment and Climate Issues, speaks with a passion driven by first-hand experience among the world’s poorest:

“For the people whom World Vision serves throughout the world, climate change is not a fictitious or a far-off threat. It’s a very real intensifier of poverty today. For those already struggling under the weight of poverty, climate change increases vulnerability to environmental shocks that are outside their control, and it decreases the resources that would help them cope. The effects have already undone years of development investment by driving people climbing out of poverty back down the development ladder. Climate change is a global phenomenon that affects people everywhere, but it hits the poor hardest.”

So please listen, New Republic editors. For the sake of the Christian church in America, I deeply wish that evangelicals were more vocal about protecting the world that belongs to our Savior. And I wish that we were much quicker to demand justice for those who suffer from the effects of manmade climate change. But when you run to non-credentialed fringe elements as spokesmen for Christianity, and ignore clearly recognized religious associations and authorities, you participate – unwittingly, I’m sure – in a gross distortion of the witness of the church of Jesus Christ in our country.

If you take the time to look, you’ll find that evangelicals everywhere know who this world belongs to, and who has been appointed for its stewardship. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the Psalms tell us. And mankind was placed in the Creation to “tend and keep it” on behalf of its Creator, whom we love.

Please take the time to look. Climate deniers speak for themselves and their sponsors, not for the rest of us.

Climate Change: Who Speaks for Christianity?

The global Christian church is by far the world’s largest religious family. Among its various denominations, it accounts for more than 31 percent of the earth’s population – almost one out of every three people in the world.

For the casual observer, it’s hard to know exactly what the global church thinks about the topic of climate change. Here in the US, some Christian activists stand with he late-great Rev. John Stott, who warned that “of all the global threats that face our planet, climate change is the most serious.” But others go with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, claiming that global warming is “the greatest hoax” ever sold to mankind.  Still others see the effect of climate change, but believe it to be a sign of the “end times.”

When you have 2.1 billion people in your church – and tens of thousands of denominations – it’s not so easy figuring out the “official position,” is it? But it’s not impossible either. And that’s because within global Christianity, there are major segments whose adherents follow and respect specific authorities and governing bodies. Here’s a brief tally:christian-traditions-chart-1

Roman Catholic Church: The largest entity in global Christianity is the Catholic Church, representing 1.2 billion adherents, or 53% of global Christianity. And just this month, Catholic Bishops from around the world assembled to issue a call to “overcome the climate challenge and to set us on new sustainable pathways.”

Their spokesman, Monsignor Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference, said: “We bishops from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe have engaged in intense dialogue on the issue of climate change, because we can see it’s the poorest people who are impacted the most, despite the fact they’ve contributed the least to causing it.”

The U.S. Bishops, it turns out, are in full agreement, having issued many calls to address climate pollution. “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures,” they wrote in 2001. “It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis asked his fellow Catholics to acknowledge the truth of climate change and to protect the planet: “… if we destroy Creation,” he said, “Creation will destroy us!” Next summer, the Pope plans to release an encyclical specifically addressing climate change. But until he does, let’s stick with the Bishops, and put the first 53% of the global church in the climate-change-believer column.

Orthodox Church: And for simplicity, let’s turn next to the Eastern Orthodox Church. At 210 million adherents, they’re a somewhat-smaller 9.3% of global Christianity. But the Orthodox Church also has a linear authority structure, so it’s comparatively simple to know where they stand. And where they stand is no secret. Patriarch Bartholomew, sometimes called the “Green Patriarch,” has frequently spoken about climate change:

“In our efforts to contain global warming, we are ultimately admitting just how prepared we are to sacrifice some of our selfish and greedy lifestyles. When will we learn to say: ‘Enough!’ When will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible on this planet for the sake of future generations?”

Protestants: So that’s the low-hanging fruit: Catholics and Orthodox constituting 62% of world Christianity, on record as serious about climate change as a matter of faith. But the rest is a little more fragmented. For example, 750 million people identify themselves as Protestants, but there are thousands of denominations. Fortunately, most have affiliated themselves with ecumenical bodies that speak out on vital issues of the day. For Protestants, there are some prominent ones: The Lausanne Movement on World Evangelism, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the Anglican Communion. Together, they cover the bases for most Protestants: evangelicals, charismatics and mainline church members. So where do these bodies stand?

Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town, 2010

Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town called the church to address climate change

  • Lausanne Cape Town: Representing evangelicals from more than 200 countries, more than 4,000 Lausanne conferees met in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010 to adopt this statement: “We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its biodiversity. Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.”
  • Lausanne Jamaica: The Cape Town declaration called for subsequent meetings to further develop evangelical action plans. In 2012, a global creation-care working group met in Jamaica to affirm this statement: “Many of the world’s poorest people … are being devastated by violence against the environment in many ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress and pollution are but a part. We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.”
  • World Evangelical Alliance: Claiming to represent 600 million evangelical Christians from 129 nations, the WEA co-sponsored the 2012 Jamaica conference with the Lausanne Movement, and contributed to its declaration, summarized above.
  • World Council of Churches: The mainline-Protestant WCC is deeply engaged in matters related to climate change, and has issued the following statement, among many others: “Human-induced climate change is being precipitated primarily by the high-consumption lifestyles of the richer industrialized nations and wealthy elites throughout the world, while the consequences will be experienced disproportionately by impoverished nations, low-lying island states, and future generations. Climate change is thus a matter of international and inter-generational justice.”
  • Anglican Communion: 85 million people in 165 countries identify themselves as Anglican or Episcopalian. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been unequivocal about the threat of global warming. Among many statements on the topic, in 2009 he said: “We all have to do more to face the challenges of climate change.  Faith communities have a crucial role to play…. We must do our bit and encourage others to do theirs. Together we can and we will make a difference”.

No doubt, there are Protestant churches which are not affiliated with any of these entities. But they represent a small fraction of the 750 million Protestant believers around the world. So for all intents and purposes, we can add most of another 33% – the world’s Protestants – to the movement of Christians whose churches affirm the need to address climate change as a matter relevant to their faith. And that brings us to the range of 90-95%.

And what about the churches that have gone on record denying the importance of climate action? Well, we’ve looked and looked. And while we’ve found scattered instances of climate deniers who cite faith as a basis for their disbelief, none (so far) actually represent any Christian churches or denominations.

In your church, you might have thought that climate change was a controversial topic, something to avoid so as to steer clear of a nasty spat. But unless we’ve made some unlikely math errors, the overwhelming majority of your brothers and sisters – or perhaps all of them – belong to movements on record as committed to climate stewardship as a core matter of faith.

And that’s good news! Now, you don’t have to be a “crazy prophet”   to speak out about caring for God’s creation in a world beset by drought, flood, famine and extinction.

China-US Collaboration on Climate Pollution

Much has been made of the historic agreement between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping – representing the world’s two largest carbon polluters – to finally begin cooperating on cutting CO2 emissions. After an initial deluge of sniping from US politicians, the world seems to have concluded that this could be the breakthrough that the Creation has been groaning for.

Ms. Elwood's indoor clothesline

Ms. Elwood’s indoor clothesline

We are thankful for the progress, and hopeful that India will come along next, leading to a global agreement in Paris next summer. But not all cooperation in caring for God’s Creation is between governments. Citizens can make a difference too.

Consider Barbara Elwood, American grandmother and keeper of laying hens. Ms. Elwood has just installed a new indoor clothesline, offering a little more comfort to the wintertime clothes-drying at her home in New Jersey. The grandkids like to pretend that the drying laundry is a jungle, and happily take their afternoon naps beneath the colorful assortment of tee-shirts and boxers.

In a matching gesture of East-West cooperation, Mei Lin Wong of Hong Kong has installed window clothes-drying racks outside her 24th story apartment windows, together with two-thirds of her fellow tenants. On a breezy day, Ms. Wong’s building flutters gaily with the wash hung out to dry, sparing the world thousands of pounds of CO2 pollution every year.

Ms. Wong's laundry hanging form the 24th floor in Hong Kong

Ms. Wong’s laundry hanging from the 24th floor in Hong Kong

In Nearby Guangzhou, Kue Ching Zhao hangs the week’s laundry from the wrought iron of her 4th story balcony, joining virtually all her neighbors in drying the laundry without drawing on China’s coal-choked power grid.

And some thirty miles to the southwest in Macau, Lifen Huang dries the wash for her three daughters on an impressive latticework of iron bars and improvised closet hardware, all suspended three stories above the narrow street below. Ms. Huang reports that, despite the copious loads of laundry drying in the breezes of the South China Sea, she has never lost even a single handkerchief to the winds.

Ms. Zhao's laundry drying on the 4th floor in Guangzhou (l.); Ms. Huang's in Macau.

Ms. Zhao’s laundry drying on the 4th floor in Guangzhou (left, upper balcony); Ms. Huang’s in Macau.

Together, Ms. Elwood and her Chinese collaborators are saving amazing amounts of carbon pollution. In the US alone, some 88 million electric dryers consume 106 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year, and account for an incredible 109 million tons of annual CO2 pollution. Half of that pollution is absorbed into the oceans, raising acidity, killing off coral reefs and threatening entire marine ecosystems.

“Year by year,” said Ms. Elwood, “people I know are becoming more aware of the impact of climate disruption and carbon pollution. Clotheslines almost disappeared from our households for a time, but they’re making a much-needed comeback. Kudos to my Chinese partners for their remarkable achievements!”

We were unable to reach Ms. Wong, Zhao and Huang for comment. But given the intense pollution of China’s air and water, we’re confident that they feel the pretty much the same.

Note: A 40-foot retractable clothesline of the type used by Ms. Elwood can be had for less than $10 by clicking here.71gPg9RugzL._SL1500_

The Parable of the Corals

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:3-5)

On the evening of June 11, 1770, Captain James Cook and his fellow explorers aboard His Majesty’s bark Endeavour sailed cautiously under a full moon along Australia’s east coast – a wild terra incognita never before seen by Western eyes. The calm of the tropical night was broken only by the sighing of the wind in the sails, and call of the “leadsman” in the ship’s bow, throwing his lead-weighted line into the black water ahead to measure its depth beneath the ship’s keel. For days now, the passage between the massive landmass to the west and the Great Barrier Reef to the east had been narrowing, and vigilance was required to assure the safety of the ship’s 94 living souls, now almost two years into an epic journey of discovery.

Austrialian replica of HMS Endevour

Austrialian replica of HMS Endevour

“Fourteen fathoms,” came the call from the leadsman – 84 feet, a comfortable depth for any ship. “Sixteen fathoms.” No worries disturbed the quiet evening. “Seventeen fathoms.” More than one hundred feet of blessed, deep water.

The leadsman prepared to cast his line again, but the throw was never made. With a sickening, splintering jolt, the Endeavour came to a jarring halt, the sea grinding the ship’s broken timbers on sharp corals with every swell, pouring into the hull beneath the gunwales.

Stricken and alone in the remotest corner of the world, the wreck and subsequent rescue of the Endeavour offers an inspiring story of courage, leadership and resourcefulness on the part of a desperate ship’s crew. But years later, the wreck left Captain Cook wholly perplexed by the “wall of Coral Rock rising almost perpendicular out of the unfathomable Ocean.”  He knew that coral reefs were biological in origin. But if so, how had it come to be so massive a wall – to be “thrown up to such a height?”

Corals turn out to be among the world’s most amazing creatures, capable of building structures that dwarf the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, or even the monstrous tar sands pits of Canada. The Great Barrier Reef, where Captain Cook nearly met his end, stretches for 1,500 miles, and is as thick as 500 feet from top to bottom.  And coral reefs range throughout tropical waters around the globe, from Australia, to Belize, to the Red Sea, and thousands of places in-between.

As any reader of the gospels knows, Jesus Christ had a habit of calling on familiar natural objects to illustrate his teaching. “Consider the lilies,” he would tell us in our worries about food and clothing. “My sheep hear my voice,” he said, comforting his anxious followers. “Foxes have dens, and birds of the heaven have nests,” in contrast to his own enduring homelessness.

But if Jesus were teaching the Christian church in North America today, I think he might point us to the corals. “Consider the corals,” he might begin.

Why corals? Because, of all God’s creatures, corals display the beauty of unified community, nurturing an explosion of life in otherwise barren places. And whatever else might be said about the Church today, surely we need someone – or something – to help us to nurture unity and life-affirming patterns.

Unity Amidst Diversity: The New Testament is packed with pleas for – and shining examples of – unity among Jesus’ disciples. In his only recorded prayer for the Church that would follow him, Jesus asks the Father “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you …” (John 17:21). St. Paul carries on the theme, calling us one body with many vital parts – the Body of Christ, drinking of one cup, partaking of one Spirit, serving one Lord and Father of all. And perhaps most coral-like, St. Peter calls us “living stones” being built together as a single house of worship.

Hundreds of species of coral polyps at work

Hundreds of species of coral polyps at work

All these scriptures speak of the Church. But perhaps they also could describe those amazing corals. Let me explain.

At the heart of every coral reef are millions of tiny animals that we call polyps. Coral polyps are invertebrates related to anemones or jellyfish, only a few millimeters in diameter. Despite their soft bodies, they’ve been endowed with the ability to build exoskeletons – rock-like shells, made from the building blocks of the ocean’s chemistry – through the process of calcification. And as they multiply, those exoskeletons build upon one another to create massive formations, rich in calcium, and home to complex ecosystems.

They are, quite literally, “living stones.” A coral polyp on its own is practically nothing. But on a reef, billions of polyps belonging to as many as a hundred different species are all devoting themselves to the same basic task. Building together, sharing nutrients with one another, and providing mutual protection, they form what appears to be a single rock formation, strong enough to sink ships of wood or steel, and tame the fiercest ocean waves.

I’m afraid we have much to learn from the corals. In Western culture, we have developed a once-unimaginably individualistic world-view – possibly the most inhospitable to real community in human memory. Our technology, our wealth, our rampant consumption and our national myths all conspire toward individual comfort and isolation, in ways never before possible. We often drive our cars alone. One in four of us lives entirely alone. In Los Angeles, more than 75% of us have our own solitary home, cutting off the beautiful messiness on which community thrives. Our long commutes guarantee plenty of “elbow room,” safe from intrusion by meddling neighbors. We shop with the click of a finger. And even when we’re with others, our ear buds and smart phones block out the messy community around us, as we tune in our private play-lists and videos.

So it’s not surprising that our Western brand of Christianity tends to reflect this hyper-individual mindset. God has a plan for my life…. I come to the garden alone…. My Redeemer waits for me at gates of gold…. I change churches frequently, rather than reconciling personal conflicts, or seeking common ground amidst divergent perspectives, beliefs and tastes. Ultimately, perhaps, I drop the whole church thing entirely, while insisting that I remain deeply “spiritual” – in some individualized conception.

But I wonder if we can imagine Jesus speaking to us: “Consider the corals….”

If lilies of the field and birds of the air can be our teachers, then why can’t they? The tiny polyps are distinct individuals; real animals with their own God-given value, representing many distinct species. Each one builds a small bit of calcified shell during its life. But those shells are fused together with the entire coral community, eventually yielding massive rocks of every color, shape and size. Not only that, but each polyp extends its tissues to link with its neighbor, so that each can share nutrients with all the rest. No coral polyp hungers – or prospers – alone.

But the communitarian enterprise does much more than unite coral to coral. In fact, none of world’s reefs would be possible if corals did not also welcome and shelter other species into their homes. Although corals are animals, each polyp harbors tiny plants known as zooxanthellae. Protected by the coral structures, these plants produce carbohydrates via photosynthesis, and polyps harvest the carbohydrates to support their growth. As long as ocean conditions are stable, this symbiotic relationship drives the growth and health of all reefs.

Father, may they all be one…. Like corals, perhaps? Wouldn’t that be remarkable!

Nurturing Life in a Barren Place: I love the sapphire blue of tropical waters, don’t you? But appearances can be deceiving. In fact, tropical waters are clear and bright precisely because they are low in nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, the marine equivalents of deserts. Paradoxically, however, it’s these waters that spawn an explosion of sea life without which the ocean ecosystems would collapse.

The reason? Of course, it’s the corals. They are perfectly suited to thrive in these waters. The reefs are natural construction projects that displace no creatures, but rather support thousands or millions of species with nutrients and shelter.

"Nurseries of the ocean: Reefs support incredible biodiversity

“Nurseries of the ocean”: Reefs support incredible biodiversity

Thousands of species? Consider: Author Elizabeth Kolbert interviewed an Australian researcher who broke apart a volleyball-sized chunk of coral, and found, living inside it, more than 1,400 polychaete worms belonging to 103 different species. She found an American researcher who collected corals from a one square meter of reef coral, and discovered more than 100 species of crustaceans. And in another square meter, a researcher discovered more than 120 species.

Corals work together to fulfill their singular purpose, and entire ecosystems spring to life. Indeed, the corals feed their guests in a more sacrificial manner as well. The corals are constantly being eaten away at by fish, sea urchins and burrowing worms. And yet, if ocean conditions are healthy, they grow fast enough to feed their guests while maintaining the health of their own community.

The Church after Pentecost comes to mind doesn’t it? No one claimed his possessions as his own; there were no needy persons among them; much grace was upon them all. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). Doesn’t it sound a bit like a spectacular coral reef community, built and maintained by those tiny polyps and their tinier zooxanthellae partners?

In Danger of Collapse:  The Acts 2 passage above goes on: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” It’s funny, but the more they gave away, the richer they became in brothers, sisters, and acts of grace. And in fits and starts, the Church of Jesus Christ has grown over the years to include 2.2 billion self-identified Christians, the largest faith community on Earth, and by far the most culturally diverse.

And once again, the corals reflect this picture of growth and global diversity. An enormous band of tropical waters stretching around the Earth has been filled and enriched by them. In temperate zones, our limestone quarries and fertile fields point to the presence of their ancient predecessors.

Can we imagine the Lord directing us to model our faith on the lives of corals? If so, we should pause to consider a dire warning. The Earth’s corals are dying.

This is not hyperbole. Take it from the chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, J.E.N. Veron: “Here I am today, humbled to have spent my life around the rich wonders of the underwater world, and utterly convinced that they will not be there for our children’s children to enjoy.”

Veron has plenty of company in his lament over dying oceanic ecosystems. In 2012, more than 2,600 of the world’s top marine scientists warned that coral reefs around the world are in rapid decline due to human impacts. The warning signs are everywhere. Virtually all reefs now suffer frequent “bleaching,” when the coral polyps expel their vital zooxanthellae guests in a desperate effort to survive the warming water temperatures. In the Caribbean, approximately 80 percent of coral reef cover is now dead, victim to the warmer waters of a changing climate, overfishing, pollution, and ocean acidification (climate change’s equally “evil twin”).

That last one – ocean acidification – might be a sleeper, but it’s absolutely devastating. Over the last 200 years, mankind has dug up and burned into the air fossil fuels containing more than 500 billion tons of CO2.  About half of all that carbon – roughly 250 billion tons – has been absorbed by the oceans. If not for all that ocean carbon uptake, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would easily be twice as thick as before the Industrial Revolution, and the Earth would be uninhabitable for many thousands of species.

But the oceans’ services have come at a cost: When CO2 dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid – H2CO3 – which effectively “eats” carbonate ions, the key chemical ingredient in calcification for creatures like corals, crustaceans and shellfish. Today, carbonic acid has raised the acidity of the oceans by thirty percent over pre-industrial times. And in these acidic waters, corals struggle to grow, or even begin to dissolve. Meanwhile, fish, sea urchins and other creature continue to nibble away at reefs, and humans continue to pump more carbon emissions into the atmosphere, further acidifying the waters that we all depend on.

No one knows for sure how long God’s generous corals can hold out against the onslaught of acids in our day. But many scientists give them no more than 25 years, or perhaps until mid-century, unless we make major changes in the way we consume and produce energy.

Christians believe that their Lord loves the things he made. Not one sparrow falls without God’s loving knowledge, Jesus told us. To him, the lilies of the field were far more beautiful than the most glorious royal wardrobes. And after every day of the Creation story, we hear the voice of Divine Pleasure: “And God saw that it was good.”

I’m convinced that God loves his coral reefs too. If only his Church could come together to nurture life the way they do! Indeed, if the corals are to survive – and the entire ocean ecosystem with them – they may need the Church to unite now in defense of its Master’s beloved Creation.