Jul 31 2011

Is There Hope?

Last night I read a disheartening article about how the diversity of species around the world is plummeting despite the fact that over the past forty years there has been rapid and substantial growth in the amount of land and sea designated as protected habitat for species preservation.  Some of the reasons cited include pollution, the arrival of invasive species and climate change.  The article states: “The steady loss of biodiversity—defined roughly as the rich variety of living things—can, in turn, have profound implications for human civilization, which relies on healthy, variegated ecosystems to provide a host of ecological services from water filtration and oxygen generation to food, medicine, clothing and fuel.”  The article did not offer a lot of hope for improvement.

Ironically, in recent days I have been reading a wonderful book Rob gave me called Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey.  This book is by the renowned chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall.  Dr. Goodall has devoted over fifty years to wildlife research and preservation.  She is one who recognizes the importance of all species and how critical it is that we do what we can to preserve biodiversity.  Towards the end of the book Goodall says the question she is asked most often as she travels around the world is, “Jane, do you think there is hope?”

Jane Goodall is as familiar with the ecological problems facing the world as anyone.  She writes and lectures constantly about increased population growth, diminishing resources, and the destruction of nature, resulting in poverty and human suffering.  Still, she believes there is hope for both this planet and its inhabitants.  She says “I do have hope for the future—for our future.  But only if changes are made in the way we live—and made quickly.  We do not, I think, have much time.  And these changes must be made by us, you and me. If we go on leaving it to others, shipwreck is inevitable.”  She goes on to write, “If we put our problem-solving abilities in high gear and join hands and brains and hearts around the world, surely we can find ways to live that are more in harmony with nature, and start to heal some of the wounds we have inflicted.”

One of the reasons Goodall gives for her hope is her confidence in human intelligence.  She believes that humans have been given a remarkable intelligence with which problems can be addressed and solved.  Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether notes this too but adds, “The privilege of intelligence, then, is not a privilege to alienate and dominate the world without concern for the welfare of all other forms of life.  On the contrary, it is the responsibility to become the caretaker and cultivator of the welfare of the whole ecological community upon which our own existence depends.”  Jane Goodall would no doubt agree with Ruether.

I am encouraged by Goodall’s hope.  I am also challenged by her call for individual action.  As a Christian I am called to affirm life in its various forms and to care for the earth God created.  This concern has to be translated into action.  At one point in her book Goodall quotes these words of Albert Schweitzer: “A man who possesses a veneration of life will not simply say his prayers.  He will throw himself into the battle to preserve life, if for no other reason than that he is himself an extension of life around him.”  As children of the Creator we have many reasons to preserve biodiversity on this planet.  The question is, will we actually do it?


(All four of the species shown above [grizzly bear, bald eagle, sea otters, and giant sea turtle] have been listed as “threatened” or “endangered” at one time or another.  I was blessed to photograph these magnificent creatures.  Will those who follow me be able to do the same?)

Aug 19 2009

How Many Are Your Works, O Lord!

whale fluke 078Today my thoughts are still on that wonderful nature psalm, Psalm 104.  In verse 24 the Psalmist says, “How many are your works, O Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”   The Psalmist realized that there was an amazing diversity of life on this planet but could not have begun to imagine just how diverse and numerous that life actually is.  Scientists have identified between 1.5 and 1.8 million different species.  They believe, however, that there are many more that have yet to be identified.  Some estimate there may be as many as 50 million different species in existence!  Hearing numbers like that we cannot help but echo the Psalmist cry, “How many are your works, O Lord!”

The Psalmist declared that God made all of these creatures “in wisdom.”  He believed that all of God’s Creation was made for a reason and served a useful purpose.  Interestingly enough, the Psalmist realized that it was not just the land that was full of life, so was “the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small.”   Scientists today would concur with the Psalmist concerning the oceans being filled “with creatures beyond number.”   We have only begun to scratch beneath the surface in discovering all that lies under the waters.

In verse 26 the Psalmist mentions one particular sea creature, “leviathan.” This creature is mentioned several times in the Scriptures, usually with negative connotations.  Here, however, it is simply identified as one of God’s many creations and that God formed it to “frolic” in the seas.  Some speculate that leviathan was actually a whale.

In the next verse the Psalmist notes how all of the creatures God made look to Him “to give them their food at the proper time.”  The God who made all the earth’s many creatures also provides for them.  I think this indicates that not only did God make them “in wisdom,” He also made them in love and cares for every species He made.  It would seem only appropriate that we care for each species as well.


(A number of years ago I had a chance to spend a week on a small boat photographing the Inside Passage of Alaska.  This gave me an opportunity to photograph the humpback whale shown above “frolicing” in the icy waters.)