Posted by: Tom Rowley | May 13, 2010

We’ve Moved!

Please see our new blog at our new website! http://arocha-usa.org/_blog/A_Rocha_USA_Blog

Posted by: johnnydogmatic | April 2, 2010

Where will all the fish be?

Japan, it seems, is trying hard to encourage its citizens to eat more fish….so I read in the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703775504575135952519129266.html)

Yuka Hayashi’s article states….

Fish consumption[in Japan] has been steadily declining. Per capita fish-eating fell below that of meat for the first time in 2006. …So Japanese bureaucrats are resorting to unusual means to keep their nation’s fish gobbling from shrinking further.

Rock singers dressed as fishermen sing paeans to ocean creatures through supermarket sound systems. Fish-promotion associations take schoolkids to beaches and fish markets and issue “Fish Meister” certificates to grown-ups. Others are trying to take the inconvenience out of eating, offering up filleted fish—and prompting hand-wringing by traditionalists concerned about the decline of Japanese gastronomy.

Then there is a quote:

“We were born in a nation with a gift of great fish,” said Yusuke Ochi, a 29-year-old ad agency employee who got hooked on fish after working on seafood menus. “It’s a shame not to enjoy it.”

Well, God’s gift of fish is running out. Ironically, Japan has been pulling out all of the stops recently to prevent a ban on bluefin tuna fishing. No matter that they are leading the rush towards the tuna’s seemingly inevitable extinction. They succeeded: despite the United States’ efforts, at a recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the proposed ban was stopped – Japan, Canada and other countries decrying the effects that such a prohibition would have had on fishermen (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8574775.stm)

Naturally, the concept of maintaining fish populations so that fishermen’s jobs could be sustained proved too abstruse an argument for the delegates. Instead, we are seeing a reprise of the Canadian cod disaster –driving the fish AND the fishermen’s jobs to oblivion at the same time.

The European Union, although it tried to support the ban this time, has not covered itself in glory over the years. They have, in fact, consistently lobbied for much higher catches than the science indicates is sustainable (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/2010/03/the_frustration_of_conservatio.html)

Few countries, it seems, have the guts to think long-term. And lest you feel this article to be a tad smug – rest of the world irresponsible, USA on the side of the angels – of course America has not been too consistent in its pursuit of environmental excellence. We got one right this time, though.

So what on earth can be done? Again, it is down to us individuals. We have to choose sustainable fish or NOTHING. Thankfully, fishmongers and supermarkets are finally getting the picture. I have a local Wegmans (www.wegmans.com, and also in detail, https://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10052&partNumber=UNIVERSAL_17269), which is making spectacular progress in serving fish that is genuinely fished sustainably, or farmed in a verifiably non-polluting, non-destructive way (as farmed fish can be just as destructive to the environment). If this topic interests you, visit the wonderful seafood guide found at the Monterey Bay Aquarium site (http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx) and learn more about the issues with the Ocean Conservancy (http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ftf_home).

It’s up to you and me.

Posted by: johnnydogmatic | March 8, 2010

One picture

by John Humphreys

The Audubon Magazine is one of my favorite reads – I love birds and, in fact, all wildlife, and their back page is always an arresting photograph. Often funny, or simply beautiful…but  this month’s is a horror story (http://www.audubonmagazine.org/onepicture/onepicture1003.html).

It is of a fledgling albatross – from a species already fighting for survival because of longline fishing dragging individuals to a watery grave. We killed this one even sooner. It choked to death…or, in fact, even worse…its stomach and intestines were full of plastic. All the garbage that civilized man discards…ending up in the Pacific Ocean for the bird’s parents to feed their chick on.

You will have read of the huge amounts of plastic waste afloat in our oceans (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8534052.stm). We do not just “throw away” something. It does not GO away.  It drifts through our rivers and streams and drains until a turtle or bird chokes to death on it.

Many people, including Laura Bush, are campaigning on this issue (see http://www.plasticsnews.com/blog/2007/11/laura_bush_speaks_on_plastics.html)…

…but we have a long way to go before, once more,  God’s proudest birds can fly the oceans free of care.

*Humphreys is a biochemist working in pharmaceutical software. He has been mad about natural history since the age of 5 and is an ardent conservationist and pragmatic environmentalist.

Posted by: Tom Rowley | March 1, 2010

For the Trees, Birds….and Kids

March 1, 2010

By Thomas D. Rowley*

Like parents everywhere, those living on the edges of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve and National Park on Kenya’s coast want a better life for their kids. And like parents everywhere, they realize the key to that better life is education. Finally, like parents everywhere, they’re finding that education can be horrifically expensive. While primary school in Kenya is subsidized and therefore affordable, secondary school is not. Tuition costs nearly $300 per student per year. And for the 100,000 people living next to the forest on less than $1 per day, that is a princely sum.

Sadly, one of the only ways for families in the area to try and raise money for tuition is by plundering the forest and its waters through illegal timbering, poaching and over fishing. The resulting damage to flora and fauna is great even if the monetary returns are not. Much of the timber cut is the native Muhuhu tree used in wood carvings for tourists and for export to Europe and the United States. Not surprisingly, however, most of the profits end up in the pockets of outsiders and middlemen, not in those of the local people who cut the trees and need the money so desperately. As a result, 90 percent of the children qualified to attend secondary school do not. They simply don’t have the money.

To help both the people and the environment, A Rocha Kenya launched in 2001 the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Eco-tourism Scheme–ASSETS for short. The concept is elegant in its simplicity: replace the incentives for local people to damage the forest with incentives for them to protect it. How? By building viewing platforms and a 270-meter suspended walkway into the forest and training guides to show eco-tourists the forest’s incredible and endangered wildlife. (Arabuko-Sokoke is home to six globally threatened bird species and one of the most species-rich yet most endangered regions in the world). The eco-tourism revenues fund school scholarships for local kids—provided their families agree to refrain from environmentally destructive practices. Now education is paid for not by cutting trees, but by preserving them.

Unlike other eco-tourism projects that benefit only those employed in the industry, ASSETS spreads the benefits by making scholarships available to children throughout the communities in the region. The program also teaches environmental stewardship and awareness of the connection between the economic health of the people and the health of the forest. Finally, ASSETS provides each of its scholarship recipients with seedlings to establish their own sustainable woodlots for use as fuel and for wood to sell.

As has become abundantly clear in the last half century, the future of the natural world depends in large measure upon the behavior and wellbeing of the people who interact with it. We are an integral part of the environment. Regulations are not enough. Nor are platitudes and bumper stickers. If ecosystems, habitats and species are to survive, local people must value them—as critical inputs to their health and wellbeing and as God’s good creation. And they must act upon that value. ASSETS in particular, and A Rocha projects in general, help people do just that. According to A Rocha Kenya Director Colin Jackson, “As Christians, we have a responsibility to look after God’s creation. An as human beings, we are part of the environment. We can’t conserve ecosystems, habitats and species without including people and working alongside with them. It’s a crucial thing to work with the communities.”

For more information on the effort, please see http://assets-kenya.org/

*Executive Director of A Rocha USA

Posted by: Tom Rowley | February 22, 2010

The Big Deal

By Mike Wilbanks*

“What’s the big deal?” I used to ask myself when environmentalists warned that spotted owls were being endangered. I didn’t care much, to be honest, about habitats that were being decimated by encroaching civilization. These sorts of issues did not seem to be the sort of thing that ought to concern a Christian like me because I was sure that animals and trees were not high on God’s value system. Rather, as a Christian I assumed I should be focused on spiritual issues, since that was what our faith was all about. The physical world was just the temporary vehicle for what was of eternal value… or so I thought.

I’ve now become convinced that the physical world, this earth along with the rest of the “stuff” God made, is not to be looked down on as of little importance. And it is not a temporary stop for us on the way to our spiritual home.

As I study God’s word, I become more convinced that what we do with this world God put us on matters. Not just our souls belong to the Lord. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” And he likes what he made! This point hit me again today as I read Isaiah. In Isaiah 14, Babylon is personified as “the man who made the world a desert.” (v.17) Certainly, Isaiah uses metaphorical language liberally, but even in metaphor, the point is noteworthy. Babylon’s wickedness is compared to something truly awful­­– stripping the world of the richness and beauty, which God has given it. God condemns Babylon not only for killing people, but also for destroying the land. (Isa 14:20) God gets angry when what he made is not treasured.

This is because the created world is an important medium for the revelation of God’s glory and has a lasting place in his plan. It will not be tossed aside at the end of the age as I had been led to believe. We will not be taken away to an ethereal heaven when we die, so that our spirits can dwell forever with the Lord. No! God will bring heaven to earth and raise us physically from the dead. In that day, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:9)

Moreover, our redemptio­n– and that of all creation– rests not on a spiritual transaction that occurred in the heavens. It is founded on what God did for us in a human body that was hung up on a piece of wood. Our hope is sure because Jesus was raised, not spiritually, but bodily. How could I not have seen all this before? This world and everything in it matters that much to God … and that’s a big deal!

*Associate Pastor at Santa Barbara Community Church, Santa Barbara, California

Posted by: Tom Rowley | February 12, 2010

The Local Church: God’s People Working Out of Love

By Robert Campbell*

The right place is where people meet on a manageable scale with the restorative power of divine love. I will begin this section with a lengthy quote from Wendell Berry in his article, Word and Flesh:

“The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one which is in some precious way different from all the others. Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence—that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.

What can accomplish this reduction? I will say again, without overweening hope but with certainty nonetheless, that only love can do it. Only love can bring intelligence out of the institutions and organizations, where it aggrandizes itself, into the presence of the work that must be done.

Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, ‘the least of these my brethren.’”

Elsewhere, Berry tells of  a woman who came up to him after a lecture and said, “I just love the environment.”

“No, you don’t,” he wanted to respond. “We name the things we love.”

And so the people we are called to love as the Santa Margarita Community Church have names. They are Dave and Nancy, Jason and Brooke, Dave and Lori, Matt and Su, Kevin and Edee. Personal is very different. And, often, our love is shown in part by how we spend our money. We buy breakfast from Carrie. We buy tea from Carol, wine from the Arnold Family, a fine dinner from Jeff and Lindsay Jackson (whose daughter went to school with my son), gas from Chris, and beer from Chris over at Dunbar Brewing. These are particular people in a particular place. This is the kind of impact that a local church can have that no one else can have because God has placed us.

It was just a few years ago, while many of these thoughts were coming to fruition in my mind, that I was sitting on a patio on the campus of Trinity Western University in Langley British Columbia. One of the pastors there said that his church was planning to reach 500 people in the next 5 years. The request came in response, “Name them.” The shock of that phrase brought us to new conversation. Why? We will do things differently when we have actual people in mind. If there are 500 nameless, faceless people, we will put an ad in the newspaper. If they are friends and neighbors we will invite them over for dinner. This is where the difference is for the local church. We can know the people where we live.

So, too, can we know and love the places where we and those people live.

Recently, at our annual creek clean-up day, we removed all the debris from the creek so that it won’t flood, as it often does. We were working next to John and Carol’s house. If we did not remove the debris, it would be John and Carol that would be flooded, not just some distant community we see on the news. The name makes all the difference in the world. We are God’s people in the right place for the job. So for us, it’s not just about loving neighbors, it’s about loving Dave and Lori, it’s about Carol, Sam and Christopher. It’s not just about the environment or some nameless creek; it’s about Yerba Buena Creek.

Let me finish with a story that connects people and place in a very personal way.  Here in Santa Margarita not long ago, a  man was arrested for dumping his own waste in his neighbor’s well. Not surprisingly, the neighbor had become violently ill and did not recover until this dreadful act was discovered and stopped. This is what I am talking about. We all know that our environmental actions have an impact…somewhere and upon someone. But if we stop and think that “somewhere” is a drinking well and “someone” is a person with a name and a face and a heart, the impacts of our actions become much more real, much more personal. It takes a hard heart indeed to pee in your neighbor’s well. And if I couldn’t do that to my neighbors, Dave and Nancy, I shouldn’t do it to anyone. Not in Santa Margarita, not in the Gulf of Mexico, not on the other side of the world.

*Robert Campbell is Pastor of Santa Margarita Community Church, an Evangelical Free Church on the Central Coast of California. This series of essays comes from remarks delivered at the A Rocha USA symposium in Santa Barbara, CA, October 8-10, 2009.

Posted by: johnnydogmatic | February 7, 2010

Unique; Extinct

by John Humphreys

Extinction is for ever. The American naturalist Charles William Beebe put it most evocatively:

“The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”

In fact, this quote was one of Gerald Durrell’s favorites – the wildly talented naturalist, author and conservationist – and motivated him like nothing else to work to protect animals from extinction. It was he, with the Jersey Zoo in the Channel Islands off the French coast, who was among the very first to think of breeding ultra-rare animals and birds in captivity so that you could, down the road, reintroduce them to the wild if the causes of their near extinction have abated. He and his colleagues – and those he inspired –  have been quite successful:  captive breeding and reintroduction programs have been set up for animals from the spectacular (like the Mauritius Kestrel) and very strange (the aye-aye lemur) to the modest but still beloved by God (Indian Pygmy Hog).

The California Condor, for one, would have been snuffed out long ago were it not for such an initiative.

Durrell espoused the idea that we should never neglect the small and obscure – land snail, lizard, frog, snake, tiny bird – however non-photogenic they were.

One is reminded of what the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Daniel Ciobotea, is meant to have said: “Extinction is a loss of our knowledge of God – erasing his fingerprints”

And I want to focus your minds on one such case.

There was once a miracle, a little frog. Just two inches long, it was – even for the infinite wonder of God’s creation – an extraordinary beast. Once the frogspawn was fertilized, the mother swallowed the eggs and let them turn into tadpoles in her stomach. She didn’t eat until they were big enough to be let go. The babies did not get digested by the frog’s stomach because they had the biochemical trick of switching off the normal stomach acid.

This almost ridiculously wonderful creature did this to give its young the best start in life. Well, too late now, For through logging of their native forests, over-collecting, an invasive fungus, maybe climate change…who knows?  – this frog is gone. To be remembered in a few slices of film and a Wikipedia entry.

If this moves you to tears, as it does me, we need to do something. Let’s not let this happen again on our watch. Visit www.durrell.org to get some ideas.

*Humphreys is a biochemist working in pharmaceutical software. He has been mad about natural history since the age of 5 and is an ardent conservationist and pragmatic environmentalist.

Posted by: Tom Rowley | February 4, 2010

On Wendell Berry’s “The Gift of Good Land”

See Tom Rowley and other creation care leaders on Wendell Berry’s The Gift of Good Land at Flourish Online

By Robert Campbell*

The right place is where people meet on a manageable scale with the restorative power of divine love. Let’s build on that now.

Sometimes, we as churches forget we are in a place, we forget that we are part of communities. I served for many years as an outreach pastor. Every 4th of July some would ask, “Why don’t we have a float in the parade?” I would point out the members of our church on the Boy Scout float, the Library Foundation float and so on. We were already a part of the parade, just not in a way that demonstrated we were separate. We were actually involved.

Not long ago I was speaking with a group from a church plant who told me excitedly about how they set up a booth at the side of their local 10k run to hand out water bottles with their church name on it. I said, sarcastically, “What a great way to show you are not part of the community.”

If we are part of the community, we will be running in the race, serving on the planning committee, helping to clean up afterwards. We would work, play, live alongside the people that God has sent us to rather than as a separate group fishing in.

When we remove place from our definition of church, the people become more abstract. The bigger the geography, the broader the demographic of people. The bigger the geography, the more general people and things become. When we become abstract, we lose our ability to restore actual people and actual place. Christian engagement in conservation has to happen on a manageable scale.

Here is the standard Random House definition of scale: A certain relative or proportionate size or extent.  When we talk about scale we are talking about size, a geographic area and number of people. In God’s economy, all things function on an interconnected scale. If we increase the size of houses, for example, it impacts soil, water, air…and people.

Scale in our conversation includes both people and place. There is a scale at which the work of the church becomes inevitably impersonal and un-neighborly. There is a scale at which it no longer matters if 1000 or 5000 sit down for worship – we will do the exact same things anyway. I don’t know what that number is, but if a local church is people and place, then scale matters.

In Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemna, he quotes an old agricultural text which I appreciated:“Farming is not adapted to large-scale operations because of the following reasons: Farming is concerned with plants and animals that live, grow and die.”

Christian engagement in conservation may not be adaptable to large scale either because we are concerned with people, plants and animals that live, grow and die. We are concerned with the real people and place that we are sent to. Local is always personal.

Most communities have a “localvore” movement, a movement of people dedicated to a diet of only locally grown foods. Where I live, it is a “SLOcalvore” movement—named after San Luis Obispo (SLO), our nearest “big town”. Environmental issues are always hot and personal. In Santa Margarita, it’s even more so. Any attempts to develop, build on, plant or alter the historic cattle ranch that surrounds our community will affect everyone. As a local church we must be involved in those conversations, but carefully. To actually make a difference in the lives of the people in our town, and in the place where we live, a small stumbling local church, like ours, is far better than an excellent regional church on video. Local is a manageable scale. We can actually make a difference where we live.

*Campbell is Pastor of Santa Margarita Community Church, an Evangelical Free Church on the Central Coast of California. This series of essays comes from remarks delivered at the A Rocha USA symposium in Santa Barbara, CA, October 8-10, 2009

Posted by: Tom Rowley | January 25, 2010

The Dwarfs Need Not Be for the Dwarfs

by Virginia Vroblesky*

The dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle were afraid of being taken in.  After all, a sly cat had already deceived them, disguising a donkey as Aslan (Lewis’ Christ figure) to bend the dwarfs to its will. Fooled once, the dwarfs relegated themselves to the sidelines, shooting arrows at both sides in Narnia’s final Great War, mere scoffers rather than participants in the struggle. “The dwarfs,” they said, “are for the dwarfs.”

In this era of opinion-based news, the politcalization of environmental issues and the implied use of science for advocacy, we often, if unwittingly, identify with the dwarfs.  We don’t know whom to believe and we don’t want to be taken in. At the same time, we—rightly–want to help solve some of the world’s great problems.  How to begin?

Psalm 1 offers us three pieces of advice with which to counter our scoffing sideline tendency. The first relates to where we “sit” or allow our hearts to dwell. Certainly, these are times of trouble—species extinction, habitat destruction, and mass suffering. But a heart dwelling on the truths of God finds refuge, wisdom, discernment, innovation and hope. The secret is to center the heart on his, not our, perception of the world.

Second, we are made not just to sit, but also to walk. For the Israelites, walking meant following God through the wilderness. For us, it means looking to see what God is doing today and joining in. As an example of this, Simon Stuart, Chair of the Species Survival Commission at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and former A Rocha International Trustee, regards his secular conservation work as part of his Christian life:

“I could now see the Global Amphibian Assessment, for example, as God’s work. It was something that he wanted me to undertake, and the results enabled us to understand what is happening in God’s world more clearly. Moreover, as I felt the pain and sadness of the decline and disappearance of some remarkable species, I now understood that this was in fact God’s pain arising from his own deep love and care for all that he has made.”

Unfortunately, too many of us today see faith as strictly a personal matter. We think it is all about us. Author and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland Kathleen Kennedy Townsend writes that we have given up our engagement on social issues in favor of a focus on our own inner selves. “Ask not what you can do for God, but what can God do for you” characterizes these last decades. We can’t fix the world, she says, so we seek to fix ourselves.

In Psalm 1, “to stand” provides the alternative to this personal focus. To stand as in a soldier on watch—immovable from his guard duty. Or a tree with deep roots bearing continuous fruit. Remaining where we have been placed for the welfare of that place. As it says in Jeremiah 29:7: “to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile for in its welfare you will have welfare.”

By taking the advice of Psalm 1—dwelling our hearts in God’s truth, following God as He works in the world today, and standing strong where God has placed us—we defend against Narnian dwarfdom. The dwarfs need not only be for the dwarfs.

*Vroblesky is a freelance writer, co-author of Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living and was the founding Director of A Rocha USA.

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