This Book – now thousands of years old has the most astonishing description of the creation story and of the nature and role of mankind. It clearly describes Mankind as the pinnacle of creation and as being made in the “image of God”. Furthermore, it states that men and women are equal when it comes to the management and control of the planet on which we find ourselves. In this respect it is miles ahead of any other ancient or even modern writings.
But it is the “instructions” given to Mankind that intrigue me. In Genesis He says to us “multiply, subdue the Earth and rule over everything.” Since then we certainly have followed instructions. We have multiplied – we are now 7 billion and climbing, we have subdued the earth (although every so often we get a sharp reminder that we are vulnerable) and we think we rule over everything.
For me it is interesting that the first major State to adopt Christian principles in its Constitution and in the way it governs itself – the USA, has also become the greatest example of a modern industrial State with a high standard of living, in the world. It is no coincidence. But in doing so, the US has established a model to which all other countries now aspire. China is still a long way behind but catching up fast, Europe is close and the rest of us are straggling far behind.
But the harsh reality is catching up with us. When we look back at ourselves from deep space, we recognise that we, alone in this vast endless Universe, are a tiny blip of blue in the blackness of Space. Any ideas of emigrating anywhere because life on earth has become impossible, is just a mirage created by space scientists who want us to spend money on their useless toys. Let’s get used to this truth – we are alone and our planet is fragile and has limited resources.
So we come back to the question, “How then shall we live?” That is the key question for this and any other Century and for every generation. It is the key question of our day and how we react or respond, will determine the kind of world we leave behind when our day is done.
The first assumption we have to agree on is that we are all in this together. This is what made the “America First” policies of the Trump Administration so unacceptable. Even the Chinese leadership acknowledged this. We sink or swim together. Christ acknowledged these principles with the basic law – “love your neighbour as yourself.”
Human migration is everywhere a declaration of failure – the news today, that 5 million Hong Kong residents might leave their homes for residence in Britain, is an acknowledgement of failure. The presence of millions of Zimbabweans in South Africa, is an acknowledgement of failure. The bodies of children on the shores of Greece is an acknowledgement of failure.
The second assumption, or truth we have to agree on, is that we are all stewards of the Planet we subsist on in the vastness of space. That thin sliver of air that covers our planet, is all there is. The water sources we drink from, is all there is. The energy resources that have enabled us to climb mountains in terms of economic growth and prosperity, are finite. The only seeming endless resource is the empty space that encompasses our world.
We face challenges, but that is what makes all life worth living, rising up to and beating all challenges. Perhaps the only unlimited resource made available to us are our intellectual and management abilities. So far these have enabled us to subdue the world and to exploit it for our benefit – exactly as God envisaged at the start of time.
The new President of the USA has clearly stated that one of the primary goals of his administration is going to be curbing climate change. The focus is on clean energy and I accept that in every way but what I want to do is focus on an area that seems to get very little attention but which in my view has the potential to create more damage than most of the other issues being addressed. In summary, it is the management of natural grassland resources.
We tend to take it for granted that grass grows under our feet. What we do not understand that this stuff is one of the most important life forms on the planet. In Africa and the Far East, deserts are expanding massively. The Sahara, once a vast area of savannah teaming with wild life and people, the granary of the Middle East, is now just sand dunes. I can clearly remember the first time I flew to Europe on a daylight flight and watching below as we crossed the tropical forests of Africa and then, suddenly, just barren sand and rock. Desert.
Parts of the Sahara receive more rain than Britain but when it comes, it comes in tropical storms and when they are past, the water simply evaporates. The Kalahari Desert is expanding rapidly; the deserts of China threaten the Capital City. In Zimbabwe in the region where I grew up and where once we enjoyed rivers that ran all year, beautiful canopy forests and spring flowers in abundance, now only dry sand and leafless trees and bare ground. When the summer rains come we have flash floods and millions of tonnes of one of our most precious resources, our top soils, are flushed out to sea.
Looking at Zimbabwe from space via Google Earth, you can quickly identify what is going on and recognise that perhaps a quarter of the country is becoming desert and soon will not support human life. Nothing wrong with the world we live on, it’s all good as Genesis says, it’s how we manage what we inherit.
We burn the African veld every year – hundreds of millions of hectares. Much worse than California or Australia or even the forests of Brazil. We burn because it is open Savannah covered with bush and grass. We have a long dry season and when the grass is bone dry it ignites and burns very easily. When it does it exposes the soil to the sun which burns up what is left so that any humus that might hold water and protect the thin layer of useable soil, is naked and can be washed away at the first rains.
Then we in Africa and in 82 per cent of the planet, do not allow people to own rural land. It is a “common good” in our culture. It is the national pension scheme, old folks home, a refuge from calamity of the loss of my fragile job in a City. So no one looks after it, there is no self interest in protecting it or managing its use so that it, in turn, can support us. In the process we destroy our wetlands, our rivers and springs and we strip nature of its created protective layers that have enabled it to be what it should be – beautiful, productive Savannah Veld.
I have a good friend who is a Professor at London University and one of the top scientists in the realm of atmospheric changes. He comes from Mberengwa in Zimbabwe and he tells me that sometimes in the UK you can smell Africa. Smoke and dust. What you cannot see from London, is the sheer human misery that lies underneath those toxic clouds. Cattle, goats and sheep and their shepherds with ribs showing through their skins, eyes in deep sockets that seem to speak of the living dead. Those images that the World Food program loves to screen whenever they want some money to put a food band aid on the problem.
Poverty and land degradation and climate change go together. We know how to fix these problems and food aid is not the solution. Even development assistance is of little help. We need to treat the disease itself and that is how we as humanity, are not looking after our planet as mandated by our Maker when He set us down on earth. We are not good stewards of what we already have.Post published in: Featured