Today, the planet is losing something which makes it a unique place in this solar system. if not the universe. Each day unrestrained human activities, either unknowingly or knowingly (which is definitely much worse), will lead to the perturbation, degradation or even disappearance of a component of the biosphere. This currently unchecked destruction of our only home, planet Earth, has reached such magnitude and such a rate that the scientific community at large considers that our impacts rival the natural processes that shaped the different geological eras. Hence they have given the current era a name: the Anthropocene.
The forces that we have unleashed, primarily through our human greed and lack of restraint and respect for dignity in our relationships with our brothers and sisters and with God´s creation are putting at risk societies, environments, and life as a whole. We are tinkering with systems that sustain the planet and hence us – a needless tinkering in most cases. We are tinkering with societies, and we are tinkering with nature: ultimately we are tinkering with life. This essentially uncontrolled experiment is called Global Change. Global change is the combination of all human driven environmental changes together with the social changes (loss of rural populations, deculturization, transculturization, globalized mono-markets) and their interactions
We have forgotten that our lives are bio- and geo-dependent. Our zest for technology distorts our vision of reality, making us mistakenly believe that we can do anything, including replacing nature. Such a wanton, self-centred vision undercuts our roots with nature and with our fellow humans. We do not fully appreciate that the world we live in is a complex combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes, in which apparently (only) haphazard combinations of various processes result in the present state of the planet.
To begin with, we must accept that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; i.e., that the earth as such is much more than the mere juxtaposition of physics, chemistry, geology and biology. Our unique planet has been shaped by life, even to the extent that the evolution of the Earth´s cortex is very different from other planets due to the presence of a gas that is usually rare gas in planetary atmospheres: oxygen. Life on Earth has been so powerful in producing this gas through photosynthesis that its abundance resulted first in abundant mineral oxides, in oxygen rich waters. Our atmosphere, with a 21% oxygen content, is an absolute oddity, at least in our solar system and in any neighbouring ones.
Vitally, our atmosphere is a product of life and is regulated by life. To us Christians this fact should sound familiar: life that giveth life. Hence, when we pollute the atmosphere, destroy biodiversity, ruin soils, and deregulate the water cycle we are destroying the essence of this planet: Life. I am afraid that includes us too.
In essence, life is what we are talking about when we discuss climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification and soil degradation, land-use changes, water pollution and deregulation, over production, over-consumption and extractivism. All of these issues are not independent; they all interact with each other through multiple links and feedbacks, which are highly complex and non-linear. By non-linear, we mean that a combination of small changes can result in major consequences. Furthermore, non-linear systems such as the biosphere function around mean equilibrium states. Small changes to such equilibrium states can result in abrupt change into other unknown states of equilibrium. And that is what our greed, inequalities and discriminations are doing to our beleaguered planet.
To speak about life implies that we are speaking of love. For us Christians and for all women and men of good will, knowingly or unknowingly – we are speaking about Love. When we speak and discuss the environment, humanity, and their relationships, we are ultimately talking about God´s gifts to all, about His Love expressed throughout the material world that surrounds us and his endless gift of life. Hence, we are dependent on nature not just through its material dimension, but also because it is a gift of God. As such we must understand this gift and take care of it because this gift is not ours; it belongs to us all –- past, present and future. And it just does not belong to us humans, it belongs to all of God´s creatures because, as Pope Francis recently pointed out, God loves all of them.
In order to love and cherish creation, we must first understand what nature is and how it works. Indeed, love grows and blooms when we understand the object of love. Understanding creation implies understanding both its material dimension and its spiritual dimension. Hence, science can help us part of the way, to make this love bloom.
Dear reader, in subsequent postings to this blog – I will attempt to explain, in simple terms, what climate is and how climate change is dangerous. Hopefully with that knowledge you will care more about the atmosphere and the environment, thus opening a path for you, and through you to others, for ecological conversion and improvement to your daily life.
Written by Dr. Pablo Canziani, a GCCM founding member, Investigador Principal CONICET (Senior Scientist, Argentine Research Council) and member of the Board of the Lay Department of the Argentine Conference of Bishops.