BFM's Environmental Sustainability Group Concern for Earth What to Do? Spiritual Resources Education and Witness

Concern for Earth

It would go a long way to caution and direct people in their use of the world that they would be better studied and known in the creation of it. For how could man find the confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator stare them in the face, in all and every part thereof? — William Penn, 1693

If an apple is dropped in the woods and forgotten, bugs and worms and small creatures will discover its sweetness. Some will feast, and use its sugar to better their lives. Some will start new families, even to hundreds and thousands. A few days later the apple and the families will be gone. It is up to the humans of our time, whether earth is treated as such a transient gift, or treated with greater care and kept. It falls to us to be among the first human generations to have this responsibility on a global scale.

In these times we see frequent reminders of changes in our planet that are due to our astonishing success as a species, risen from jungles and caves to live throughout the world and even to scatter space with works in steel. Life exists by changing the world, and in a balanced ecosystem each creature's changes support the whole, each creature's wastes support the ferment that maintains earth's richness. Our inventions as humans transcend that balance, giving us the power to break it, and thus the responsibility to maintain it. Many human inventions have upset earth's balance in various regions, raising threats to animals and peoples. One invention in particular puts all at risk, through its global impact on oceans, air and climate: fossil fuels. Following on humankind's defining tool fire, and our invention of the Steam Engine as a way to harness energy from burning carbon, we now live in a world where fossil fuel based energy is central to our culture. Even the inconvenient truth, learned a generation ago, that this fossil frenzy is risky in the long term, has not prevented a massive increase in its use.

It is simpler than science and simpler than morality that a thriving dominant family, continually growing and expanding, may someday press up against the finite capacity of its home. We are that family, earth the home, and that day is now. — N. Akira

Fossil fuels leave carbon (dioxide) in the air, which helps trap heat, warming the earth. Science rejects certainty, but the established principles of chemistry and physics squarely support that inference. And we need only check the thermometer, or Florida flooding records, or pictures then and now of vanishing glaciers and snowcaps, to confirm that earth is warming. Evidence points to anthropogenic (human-generated) causes for the current patterns of warming and climate changes around the world. The evidence can be summarized using this graph:

The blue line is a mere sketch, but it approximately follows human population, nearly flat and steady for eons, then suddenly and recently leaping up; doubling twice in the last 100 years. The blue line also parallels carbon burned worldwide, long small (when our only fuels were wood and animal oils), then suddenly spiking in the age of coal and petroleum. The blue line also closely matches measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere over the centuries (measurements from long ago are made using air trapped in glaciers, etc.). The correlation between those three trends (population, carbon burned, and carbon measured in air) builds support for the science involved. The blue line also parallels measurements of temperature, in both air and oceans, globally. The temperatures were fairly steady for most of human history, then recently going up, as carbon increased, and now rising sharply. All four of these "hockey stick" trends have a similar moment in history when they start to shoot up; this supports (but does not prove) the idea that they are related. Beyond that simplified minimalist account; science has a lot more to say. The United Nations Climate Report underscores the worldwide scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. Here are some of the relevant graphs, with real data.

Besides carbon dioxide, methane is another form of carbon that is equivalent to unburned natural gas, the lightest of the fossil fuels. Methane is about 20 times stronger at heat-trapping than carbon dioxide. Methane is invisible and hard to monitor, but is released into the air from oilfield drilling, leaky wells, pipes and fuel operations worldwide. Curiously, it is also released in large amounts by animals like cows, so that the human use of beef and cow's milk contributes significantly to another relevant "hockey stick graph": sharp recent increases in measured atmospheric methane levels.

Friends are advised to consider our possessions as God's gifts, entrusted to us for responsible use. Let use cherish the beauty and variety of the world. Friends are urged to speak out boldly against the destruction of the world's resources and the difficulties that destruction prepares for the future generations. Let us guard against waste and resist our extravagant consumption, which contributes to inequities and impoverishment of life in our own and other societies. — Advices, New England Yearly Meeting

Apart from climate effects, atmospheric CO2 goes into the oceans, where it makes acid, gradually poisoning the oceans (a similar effect, but more local, was seen as the "Acid Rain" problem in the northeastern U.S. in the last century). Fossil fuels and their residues foul the earth in many ways, causing enormous health impacts. Unfortunately they are not just central to the world economy (that sounds somewhat abstract); they bring essential food (by trucks, ships, etc), home heating, and/or energy for cooking to most human beings. They have enabled the recent dramatic increase in the size of the human family, and they continue to enable most human life.

As George Fox spoke of living "in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars", let us now find ways to live that enable us lay down the sources of pollution which degrade the earth and thereby bring injury, want and hardship to remote countries and future innocents. — P.V. Allen

So, if we call for reduction in fossil fuels, will this not cause hardship? Can we balance our lives with the need to protect earth's climate? Are alternative energy sources available, to meet human needs? To find the best answers to such questions, let us see ourselves as a family. A family must care for the young, must acknowledge the needs of future generations. A family applies ideas of fairness among its children. With this principle we can find ways to care for our planet that consider the needs of all its creatures. Since the impacts of a neglected earth fall most heavily on the innocent, the poor and on future generations, justice calls us to speak and act in part for them. The Baltimore Yearly Meeting's 2015 Shared Statement on Climate Change begins with these words: As Quakers, we are called to work for the peaceable Kingdom of God on the whole Earth, in right sharing with all peoples. We recognize a moral duty to cherish Creation for future generations.

As to our own planet which God has given us for a dwelling place, we must be mindful that it is given in stewardship. The power over nature that scientific knowledge has put into our hands, if used for lust or greed, fear or hatred, can bring us to utter destruction. If we choose life we may now feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick on a world scale. But many of our resources are limited. If by condoning waste and luxury we overspend the allowance God has given us, our children's children will be cheated of their inheritance. — Norfolk Quarterly Meeting, 1957