How healthy is this world for other living creatures, those living on land, in the seas? The extinction rate of species on earth may be over 1000 times greater than the natural or background extinction rate. Last year, a team of researchers reported the loss of nearly 3 billion birds since 1970 (30% of the bird population) from their long term population studies and radar imaging. The lead researcher stated the findings show that human-induced environmental changes lead to an inability to support birdlife. He said further that “this is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.” This year, swaths of dead birds have been discovered across New Mexico. The mass mortality is described as unusual by researchers.
Consequences of climate change, including increasing air and water temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification, have created harmful conditions for fish and other aquatic organisms. Elevated ocean temperatures kill off certain fish and some of their food sources. When local pollution impacts are also considered, the threats to these living conditions increase. Nearly half of the world’s population rely on fish as a source of food. Therefore, the loss of sustainably harvestable fish, which dropped by 4.1 percent from 1930 to 2010 due to the changing climate, is consequential on many levels: food supply, jobs, ecosystems.
There are different ways to digest this information, including the perspective of the canary in the mine; other living creatures are experiencing changes that will eventually manifest in the human population. This information is sad for those who understand and value the integral ecology of all living systems on a more heartfelt level. A friend recently suggested that if people are not able to show compassion for one another, it is unlikely they can care for other forms of life or about the state of the environment. Specific responses to the current coronavirus pandemic imply that many people fall short of feeling compassion for others, making the side step of caring for creation at least as challenging to address. When the simple acts of mask-wearing and social distancing are shunned, even with the full-proof understanding that tens of thousands of lives will be saved, we must acknowledge that parts of society do not fully value life. Human resistance to life modifications benefits the greater good, the rest of creation, and life itself.
I am grateful for those who continue to act on behalf of the greater good, especially health care workers, other front-line responders to the current pandemic, and the many other critical service workers. Many have lost their lives over the past several months working on behalf of others. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) I offer my thanks to those who display signs that support truth, kindness, and love. Thanks to the organizations who work daily to protect all of creation, including every individual who takes the time to respond in a healing manner for one another, the earth, and future generations. Follow the science and be safe for one another.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.