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Creation Groans | World of Wounds

We explore some of the wounds to the planet that often go unseen and we realize that the path to hope begins with the acknowledgement that the wounds are deep and troubling. 


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burned trees

We explore some of the wounds to the planet that often go unseen and we realize that the path to hope begins with the acknowledgement that the wounds are deep and troubling. 

Description

How should we respond to a problem that seems unsolvable? This is the question we ask in a series about the environmental crisis as we explore the fine line between hope and despair. In this episode we explore some of the wounds to the planet that often go unseen and we realize that the path to hope begins with the acknowledgement that the wounds are deep and troubling. 

This is the first of three episodes in the Creation Groans series. 

Before You Read

Dear reader,

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Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

Transcript

Hoogerwerf: 

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Colin Hoogerwerf.

Last summer we put out a series of podcast episodes called Uniquely Unique. We started that series off by inviting our listeners to come on a journey with us, to explore what it means to be human. 

Well, I want you to come on another journey with me, if you will. It’s a journey I’ve been on, really for most of my life, but more earnestly this past year. It’s a journey into the reality of our environmental situation. And so you can probably guess that it’s not going to be an overly cheery adventure, or some stroll through the park.

If you come along with me, we’re going into the darkness. In fact, that’s the title of next week’s episode, Into the Darkness. And let me warn you too, this is a journey I’m still on, we’re all still on. So there is no clean, happy ending or clear destination. But there is hope. Hope, that’s where the journey is going to take us. And that’s where we’re going to try to get by the end of the third episode. It’s the only reason it’s worth going on this journey. But here’s the other thing… I think we all have to go on that journey, which goes through darkness, in order to get to hope. We’ll talk more about all that. 

So we’ve got three episodes for you. And like our Uniquely Unique series, we’ll have experts and sages joining through the series. And Jim Stump, your usual host, is going to tag along too, ask some pesky questions and challenge me if I try to go too far. And it turns out he’s been thinking about these things as well. I’m curious, Jim, when did the environmental crisis really become apparent to you? 

Stump: 

I’ve had a pretty sheltered and privileged life so it was never something that I was forced to pay attention to. And unlike your education that had a significant component out in nature, philosophical education—at least of the variety I had—takes place indoors. And though I have spent a lot of time outdoors recreationally, I didn’t have the eyes to see the problems that are apparent to people with an ecological education. So I’m chagrined to say that the crisis was not apparent to me until the last several years as BioLogos began devoting some time and energy to the topic of creation care. I think the first thing I ever wrote on the topic was in 2015, just after Pope Francis released his groundbreaking encyclical Laudato Si’. I wrote a blog post for BioLogos called “The Pope is Right: Creation Care Needs Both Scripture and Science.”

Hoogerwerf: 

We’ll link to that article and to the encyclical, which I have heard described as one of the best pieces of religious writing on our environmental situation. 

Stump: 

Well what about you? You say you’ve been on this journey in the last year. But you’ve been aware of the problems we’re facing a lot longer than that. What changed in this last year? 

Hoogerwerf: 

I can’t say exactly what changed. But you’re right. I studied all this stuff in school, got a master’s degree in Environmental Management. I’ve had some knowledge, maybe even a lot of knowledge about what’s going on. 

Stump: 

But just knowing something is different than really engaging with it.

Hoogerwerf: 

Yeah. I think that’s even more true than I knew. Over these past years I kept my knowledge mostly sedated. It was like a sleeping bear and as long as it slept quietly in the corner I could go on without having to deal with the fact that I was living with a 700 pound carnivore. And every so often something would happen, the IPCC would give a new report, wildfires and heat waves would make the front pages and I’d have to deal with that.

Stump: 

So what happened? You eventually woke up the bear?

Hoogerwerf: 

Well, one of the things I had come to terms with is what I think is a very common predicament nowadays, which is that becoming informed and engaging with current events of just about any kind means that there’s a good chance that things are going to get dark and depressing and maybe dangerous. You might even be asked to change your life. It’s why I tip-toed around the issue for so long. I didn’t want to invite all that gloom into my life. I didn’t want to wake the bear but at some point I realized I’d rather do it on my own terms. 

Stump: 

I imagine if listeners have gotten this far, they might be able to relate to this a bit, if not with environmental issues, with something else, something that they know to be the case in the world, but have kept it at a distance for fear of what they might be asked to do if they really open themselves to it.

Hoogerwerf: 

I think that’s probably right. But on the other hand, there are some things that are just really hard to see without a bit of guidance or training. That’s one of the problems with the environmental crisis is that it can be invisible. And there’s a good metaphor that has helped me to think about this that comes from Aldo Leopold. In his famous book, the Sand County Almanac, which Leopold wrote back in 1949 he wrote a line that has become one of his more famous quotes. He said: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” 

Stump: 

I’ve heard that line before, and I guess that’s what I meant when I said I didn’t have the eyes to see what was really going on in nature. But if Leopold wrote this in 1949, he probably wasn’t talking about climate change then, right?

Hoogerwerf: 

Right. Some of the science of heat trapping gasses was known back then, but no one knew anything about the human impact on our climate. Leopold was noticing a lot of other problems though, especially biodiversity loss, which he saw to be really damaging to  ecosystems. And today, obviously, climate seems to be the main thing we think of when we think of environmental issues, but all those other things Leopold noticed are still issues today. 

Stump: 

So who was Leopold?

Hoogerwerf: 

Aldo Leopold has been called the father of the modern environmental movement. And even though he didn’t somehow foresee climate change, in many ways he was ahead of his time. He spent much of his life living and working in the forests and prairies of Wisconsin and the deserts and mountains of the Southwest.  As he learned the biology and ecology of these places, he also started to see the ways in which they were wounded. 

Bouma-Prediger: 

Yes, we live in a world of wounds. I tell this to my students, be careful what courses you take, especially environmentally related courses, because it’ll open you up to world of wounds. You really want that? That can be painful.

Hoogerwerf: 

Some listeners might recognize that voice. That’s Steve Bouma Prediger. 

Bouma-Prediger: 

I am the Leonard and Marjorie Maas Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Hoogerwerf: 

Steve has been on the podcast a number of times. And I’ve talked before about being one of his students, where, sure enough, I was opened to the world of wounds. 

Stump: 

He’s not the only one who feels the wounds of our world. Rick Lindroth is an ecologist from the University of Wisconsin, another previous podcast guest.

Lindroth: 

I’ve carried this existential angst about the fate of the world for environmental reasons for decades. And I can’t get away from it. It’s just always there, right? Does that mean I go around morose and down all the time? Absolutely not. But it is a cloud that follows me everywhere. It’s just there. It’s omnipresent. It’s always there. For me it’s perhaps similar to my understanding of the actual literal, whatever fall and the disruption of our relationships. Things are not the way they should be. And they’re not going to get to be the way they should be. So there is this kind of existential angst that I just carry with me.

Hoogerwerf: 

Veronica Frans is another scientist who related to this idea. She’s a graduate student studying ecology at Michigan State University. 

Frans: 

I am an ecologist and the more I study, the more I see where there are these wounds in the world, where there are kind of like these imbalances. And I especially, not only do I feel, kind of guilty about the contributions that we, as humans, have done, but I also feel overwhelmed by it.

Stump: 

And here’s another. 

Wirzba: 

For me, it  was just a shock to wake up to the fact how much we’re ruining the world because I grew up in Southern Alberta. We were farming. The Rockies were my western horizon. You know, the air smelled of sweet grass. And it was pretty idyllic, I would say.

Hoogerwerf: 

This is Norman Wirzba.

Wirzba: 

I’m Gilbert T. Rowe distinguished professor of Theology at Duke University and also a Senior Fellow at Duke’s Keenan Institute for Ethics.  

Hoogerwerf: 

It took leaving the idyllic place where he grew up for the world of wounds to become apparent to him. 

Wirzba: 

And then I made my first road trip, and discovered that there are places like Gary, Indiana, which were utterly foul and putrid. And I just remember being in my car, driving along there, and screaming, saying, “how can we do this?” This is just, it’s just desecration. So it was a real shock to me. And then, you know, what didn’t help is when I went, you know, I was on my way to Yale Divinity School. And I got to Yale Divinity School, and nobody was talking about this. And so there was like a double lament right. It was the lament about the fact that we could be so awful to the world that we live in, in our economic industrial practices. And then the second lament was being at a divinity school in which this wasn’t registering in the minds of hardly anyone as something that is of theological interest, so it was a double lament for me. 

Hoogerwerf: 

This revealing of the wounds of the earth is not a simple curtain that is pulled back and you see beyond it to how things really are. I think every little bit of education reveals more of the woundedness. Different kinds of education reveal different wounds. And so there is always that first revealing, like Norman had on his trip through Gary, Indiana. For me it was a slow build throughout middle school, high school, and college as I learned about ecology and was able to discern the difference between healthy and unhealthy ecosystems. 

I think this metaphor works really well in the case of invasive species. For example, there is a little nature preserve in Grand Rapids that I have been to many times, with a very short trail. In the summer the trail is a tunnel of green. The preserve is just off the highway, so you can still hear the cars, but I’ve walked the trail with many people and often they would marvel that there could be a hidden place like this so close to the city, that nature was so much closer than they realized. For me, what was hidden was not the preserve from the city but there was actually a fragile wetland ecosystem hidden from that very trail by a layer of invasive species so thick you could not see through it. When I walked the trail I saw a history of neglect and an uncertain future threatened by foreign invading plants.  

Stump: 

OK, that’s interesting. But it brings a couple of questions to my mind.

Hoogerwerf: 

I’m sensing that we might be coming to our first philosophical rabbit trail. 

Stump: 

Yes, invasive species? So, we argued a bit back in the Uniquely Unique series about what a species is, but now what is an invasive species? Something that didn’t used to be here? Well didn’t everything used to not be here? And is the goal of ecologists to keep everything the same?? That doesn’t seem possible, and is certainly not consistent with what we know about evolution and the continual development of life and ecosystems.

Hoogerwerf: 

Yeah, you’re probably right. If we look back millions, let alone billions of years, nothing is native. But we’re talking about different time scales when we’re talking about, say, a plant species finding its way to some remote island on the belly of a bird, versus rats coming off ships that people sailed on. Sure, there must have been plants or animals that came to a new spot, long before humans were around and caused some other species to go extinct. But humans are introducing invasive species at a much quicker rate and the devastation is more widespread, even if it is invisible to a lot of people who haven’t learned the difference between native, exotic, and invasive. 

Stump: 

OK, so we’re just talking about relative timescales for something to be classified as native or invasive. But what about the desire to keep ecosystems in stasis? Should that really be the goal?

Hoogerwerf: 

I don’t think stasis is the goal. Aldo Leopold has another quote which I think is helpful. He says, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” I think integrity is a good word here. Integrity allows for change. But what we see happening today is that invasive species are wreaking havoc, causing massive damage and reducing ecosystem resilience around the world. That’s bad for ecosystems, but it’s bad for us too because those ecosystems provide important services to us. And this brings us back to the importance of learning to see the invasive species as a wound. 

Stump: 

OK, but invasive species is not the only example of a wound that becomes more visible as a person gains ecological knowledge? 

Hoogerwerf: 

No, there are many others. A study of earth’s climate will reveal some deep wounds to systems like ocean and atmospheric currents that are invisible to many of us. An in depth study of any creature or any ecosystem will reveal very specific wounds, such as the impending collapse of a population. Part of coming on this journey is to invite listeners into the world of wounds. But we don’t have time to really thoroughly reveal all the wounds. 

Stump: 

If you want to go deeper, you can find links in the shownotes to other episodes we’ve done and to website articles, where we’ve talked specifically about the problems we face. And other organizations are devoted to doing this, many of them from a Christian point of view. We have links to many of those in the shownotes as well. 

Hoogerwerf: 

But beware. Steve Bouma-Prediger’s warning to his students to be careful what classes they take because they might open themselves up to a world of pain is a real and important warning. We know from social psychologists that fear is a poor motivator and that an understanding of the woundedness could be overwhelming, leading to despair. That tension has left me confused for a long time. I have been timid myself of diving too deeply into learning, knowing from experience that more wounds will be revealed. And with those new wounds I will be faced with more hard questions. 

Stump: 

OK, so there is some cause to be hesitant to reveal the full woundedness of the planet out of worry that the recipients will become immediately overwhelmed. There is some sense in which ignorance is bliss? 

Hoogerwerf: 

Well, there might be some superficial bliss in the easy solutions that don’t require us to know the depth of the wounds we’ve caused to the planet, things like recycling, changing your lightbulbs, or using paper straws. But even if those do make people feel better, the environmental crisis continues to spiral. Here’s Rick Lindroth again.

Lindroth: 

Commonly when I’m talking with friends, associates, family, about environmental issues, the immediate thing that comes up is well, I recycle. You know, and that is such an inappropriate bandaid to the magnitude of the issues that we’re that we’re, we’re facing, and yet it provides people with an out. It provides them with a sense of doing something that, okay, now, you know, they’ve recycled their plastic bottles and their cans, and so they can feel good about how they are dealing with the environment. And, you know, what we need to deal with goes so vastly beyond recycling and composting. I kind of wish that easy out didn’t exist.

Hoogerwerf: 

So we can’t scare people, but we also have to impart the seriousness of the issue. And here’s where I have become convinced that Christians have a special role to play. The church has the tools, the rituals, the community, the social, economic and political power, and centuries of tradition, to help us to see the truth of the suffering of the planet and not fall into despair, to do the work that needs to be done and to see that work as participation in bringing the kingdom of God to earth.

I believe this in part because I experienced it. Last year, as a kind of experiment, I decided to see what would happen if I opened myself fully to the reality of the environmental crisis. I read dozens of books with names like Dark Ecology, and The End of the End of the Earth. I listened to interviews, watched documentaries, read scientific articles, and I talked to a bunch of people, people you’ll hear throughout this series. And I found a level of darkness that was scary, that felt insurmountable. I became truly worried for the future of my children, if not for myself. And I found many others who felt the same way, but who continued to work toward solutions, who did not despair.  

Stump: 

In the next episode we’re going to talk even more specifically about grief and lament and how the Church can help us through the darkness, but for the rest of this episode we’re going to open the world of wounds just a bit more, revealing more about where we are, because we think you can handle it, and because as the body of Christ we’ve known suffering before. Suffering leads to hope. As Paul says in Romans, “we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character hope.” 

[musical interlude]

Hoogerwerf:

I’ve always loved coral reefs. I grew up in Michigan, so I can’t say that my love came from any kind of close proximity, and I’ve still only seen a few examples of reef ecosystems in person. 

But my very first experience with a reef was during an educational trip I took to Costa Rica in middle school. One day we visited a beach on the pacific coast. A few of us got a hold of some snorkels and masks and swam out to see what we could see. What we saw was a bleached coral reef, though I didn’t know that was what I was looking at at the time. The coral was pure white and, I found out when I dove down, very sharp. It was beautiful, in a way, like rock or crystal, in the way that only non-living things can be beautiful. I came back to the beach, my hands and legs full of tiny cuts where I had been bumped against the coral by the waves or currents, only to hear someone tell us to make sure not to touch the coral if we went swimming. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to understand that what I had seen, while outwardly beautiful in an eerie kind of way, was also a skeleton. 

Miller: 

It’s difficult, I mean, being a coral scientist has been a difficult traumatic career path, as it has been, I think, for climate scientists, perhaps more than any of us necessarily expected when we got into it.

Hoogerwerf:

This is Margaret Miller. Margaret is a coral ecologist. 

Miller: 

I currently serve as the Research Director for a conservation organization called SECORE International.

Hoogerwerf: 

I’ve always been a little worried that I’ll never be able to bring my kids to see a coral reef. I wonder even if I might have missed my chance to see a really healthy and vibrant reef before it is too late. So I wanted to know from Margaret what that status of corals really is. 

Miller: 

To be honest, the current forecast and the current perspective is extremely bleak for corals especially in the Caribbean, and again, most of my direct experience is in the Caribbean region. Coral reefs and coral populations have really been drastically declining for several decades already. And so we’re pretty far down the slippery slope, where we now have seven species of corals that are listed on the US Endangered Species Act. So that means we say that there is a credible understanding that they are at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. 

Hoogerwerf: 

The situation for coral is no better outside the Caribbean.

Miller: 

This is the thing, too, about coral extinction risk, many of the corals at extinction risk are not the rare species, right. In most ecosystems, you look at endangered species, and you expect them to be the little rare species that, you know, are not common to begin with. In coral reef ecosystems it’s like the redwood, it’s like the forest trees, the oak tree.

The sort of existential existence of corals and many coral species in terms of extinction risk is also a very, a very real possibility. I mentioned the US Endangered Species Act listings. But the international IUCN Red List, which is the other sort of international accounting of extinction risk, has shown that corals are among the most endangered groups of organisms, and certainly that their degree of endangerment is advancing faster than any other group of organisms.

Hoogerwerf: 

Corals are threatened from multiple fronts. Disease, pollution, destructive fishing habits. But as you could probably guess, climate change also plays a major role. 

Miller: 

As humans, generally our sort of optimum temperature, which is maybe, you know, high 70s in Fahrenheit, and whatever that is in Celsius, but like, our lethal temperature is way, way higher than that, like 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit higher than that. For corals, their optimum temperature and their lethal temperature are quite close together. And this is partly what makes them particularly vulnerable to heat waves. So whereas a coral’s optimum temperature may be, you know, again, 78, 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 28, 29 degrees C, something like that, they die at 31 to 32 degrees Celsius, most of them. Again, throughout most areas of the world that we consider that sort of the legal limit would be in the low 30s. So that’s a much narrower range of tolerance. And that’s why as climate change has really been manifesting in these early stages, we really refer to corals as this sort of canary in the coal mine situation, because their thermal tolerance is much narrower than other types of organisms, they suffer direct mortality much more quickly and that has been observed now.

Stump: 

OK, another pesky question: yes, it’s sad that we won’t have these cool things to look at any more. But are we just worrying that privileged people can’t go snorkeling in Hawaii anymore?

Hoogerwerf: 

Well, there are a lot of reasons we might want to try to keep corals around besides just the beauty they offer to snorkelers and divers. They provide homes to huge numbers of other species including the fish that provide food to many island communities. There is also a great potential for new medicines to come from coral reefs. And reefs often provide important protection from storm surges. So the loss of corals would have far reaching consequences. And the fact is that we are most likely going to lose many of the world’s coral reefs in the coming decades.

Miller: 

Many of my colleagues, you know, secular people, strongly secular people would express, you know, I’ve never cried underwater before this experience of visiting these reefs that I’ve perhaps studied for many years, or that I understand to be a relatively pristine and, you know, intact ecosystem, and seeing these massive levels of coral bleaching and death. That as I sad, just sort of continued for a year or more. And that’s part of what we understand with global warming as well, that, whereas in the past, as I said, Maybe these bleak coral thermal stress events would happen every eight or 10 years with, with an El Nino cycle, we’re now anticipating them happening, you know, every year, every couple years, and there’s just not enough capacity within the organisms themselves to be able to recover or within the populations, for the population level to recover in terms of allowing recruitment and growing back from those types of large disturbances.

Hoogerwerf: 

These wounds can be hard to bear, especially for those who have some attachment to coral reefs. But for a lot of people, the demise of the coral reefs may not feel like it has much effect on your life. We could instead tell the story of the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires. Jim and I had the chance to visit the site of the East Troublesome Fire in Colorado which burned almost 200,000 acres in October of 2020, making it Colorado’s second largest wildfire. The largest wildfire also happened in 2020. 

In the months after the fire, the community put together a small museum exhibit about the fire which held many items recovered from the homes that had burned, in some cases the only possessions that remained. There were steel tools melted into puddles and decorative dishes miraculously unscathed, children’s toys and singed photographs, that all told the story of the loss the community suffered. 

Stump: 

Seeing those artifacts from houses that burned was really moving. But I have to say that walking through the burned out forest was even more impactful for me. As far as we could see, there were just the charred trunks of aspens and other trees. It was really haunting and almost felt God-forsaken… until we’d come across a little patch of wildflowers re-emerging as a hint of the life that is to come. 

Hoogerwerf: 

Those artifacts remind us that wildfires around the world have threatened people as much as they have threatened wildlife and ecosystems. And those wildflowers are a good reminder that fire is often beneficial for many plants and animals, even crucial. But wildfire has a complicated role to play in the health of ecosystems. The severity of many fires now is such that recovery can be a much longer process than it otherwise would be. And those invasive species we talked about earlier tend to be the first to make a comeback. 

For many centuries, the complicated story was lost to a simpler idea: Fire is bad. That led to decades of fire suppression, which led to a build up of fuel and much worse fires. If you live in some parts of the world, fire might not seem like a big deal. But fire ecologists who look at the effects of fire and the history of fire, are seeing a trend that does not look good. Another wound we must come to terms with. 

Stump: 

And I’m sure there are many other stories of the wounds to our world.

Hoogerwerf: 

Rising sea level and increased storm frequency and severity has already led to millions of displaced people around the world and estimates are that a billion people could become refugees in just the next few decades. Much of the world’s food sources are under severe threat from a warming climate, invasive pests, or drought. Melting permafrost in arctic regions has the possibility of waking up ancient diseases, like anthrax and smallpox. 

There are a lot of wounds. But there is another side to the world of wounds. Back to corals. 

Miller: 

I personally tend to be a pessimist. And maybe that sort of suited me for this field. But that means I’m often pleasantly surprised, and I’m rarely disappointed. And so I understand that these problems of, you know, local pollution and fishing and even climate change, because they’re problems that humans have caused, they’re also problems that humans can fix and can remedy. 

Hoogerwerf: 

Margaret knows the wounds that exist in coral ecosystems better than most. But she hasn’t quit her job yet. In fact, it only inspires her to keep doing the work. And this brings me to wonder whether Aldo Leopold missed something important. While a penalty of ecological education is that the world of wounds becomes visible, there is also the fact that when we become aware of the wounds we can treat the wounds. 

Stump: 

Remember Veronica Frans? She spoke earlier, relating to the fact that wounds become visible when you study ecology. But we cut her off the last time you heard her. She was quick to move from that idea to one of action. 

Frans: 

Even though I feel overwhelmed, this is literally what I study, I don’t stop, you know, I don’t stop moving. And I still investigate, I still want to understand. I want to understand these wounds. I want to understand these effects of us humans on the system, and how we can find that balance. And I guess, for me, I still, like through that kind of investigation and not giving up, I also have hope for it. Because I also understand the system, understand that, even though we have wounds, just like us, like if we’re wounded, we also have scars that heal. And so there’s hope in that, if we can see that in ourselves, we can also see that in the world and ecology in these systems. 

Hoogerwerf: 

Steve Roels is a Wildlife ecologist and was our tour guide when we visited the East Troublesome Fire. 

Steve Roels: 

You could rephrase it and say something like the value of an ecological education is to share the world of wounds with others. 

Hoogerwerf:

Steve Bouma Prediger brings up another critique of the Aldo Leopold line, which has to do with one word in that quote. 

Bouma-Prediger:   

The correction on that, though, is Leopold got it wrong, that we live alone

Hoogerwerf: 

I do think it’s true that the world of wounds is a lonely place, and it might have been more true for Aldo Leopold in the 40’s that he really was alone, at least among humans noticing the wounds. But Steve Bouma Prediger is right here too. In entering the world of wounds, we enter into a community of others who are lamenting the state of the planet. And here is where Christians, in particular, can draw from a long tradition of communal suffering. That’s what we’re going to talk about next week, and we’re even going to practice it a bit. 

Stump: 

But we’re not going to leave you here quite yet. We’ve done some work in this episode to open up the world of wounds, and we think that is important, for reasons we’ve talked about and will continue to talk more about. The arc of this three episode series is to bend toward hope, but we want each episode to at least hint at hope as well, kind of like the wildflowers we saw in the burnt-out forest in Colorado. 

Hoogerwerf: 

So we’re going to bring you out with two stories, one from Margaret on her work with Corals and another from Veronica on her research on Sea Lions. Here’s Margaret:

Miller: 

So the way the corals reproduce naturally is in these massive spawning events. And, for the restoration approach that I’m involved in, much of our work revolves around those natural spawning events where we are capturing the eggs and sperm that are released naturally from corals on a reef. And then, trying to serve as a midwife and raise those offspring up and assist them through many of those bottlenecks. But the event of a coral spawning and witnessing that is truly an amazing experience. Most often most species spawn at night, and which, which raises other logistical challenges, be those that they may. But witnessing—and many people have described it sort of as, as an upside down snowstorm, the eggs and the sperm are released by the colony, and they’re, they gradually float to the surface. And that’s where the subsequent steps of development proceed from there. But just the incredible synchrony the fact that these organisms that, you know, have no eyes and no brains, and no ears, are able amongst themselves to synchronize their spawning, all of the colonies in a population will spawn within a couple of nights of each other, within 20 minutes to an hour of each other. Just the capacity of those organisms is amazing. As I said, it reminds me that if we can get the environment right, the corals can come back, you know, they are fruitful. And that fruitfulness is impaired by the environmental changes that we’ve caused, but they are fruitful, and they can come back, they can repair themselves, those populations, if we give them the right conditions to do it. And so I guess the opportunity to be a witness of that natural phenomenon several times a year, I guess, I would call a ritual of hope.

Stump: 

And here’s Veronica.

Frans:

I did research on the New Zealand sea lion. And for them, they’re a species that pretty much was decimated from mainland New Zealand and hadn’t been on mainland New Zealand in like 200 years. And  they’re kind of like sea turtles, where, you know, like sea turtles always come back to the same beach. And so, conservationists knew that the species had a very limited population, restricted to an island, something could have happened, like some sort of major catastrophic event where the whole population could disappear. And yet, they wouldn’t, they weren’t returning to the mainland because there were no more being born there. But there was one female. And she, they call her mum. But she came to the mainland of New Zealand. And she’s in like the Dunedin area. And she had a pup you know, and that was a spark of hope. And it was in the 90s. And then conservationists had like, they were like, “Oh, my goodness, wait, what?” You know, there are surprises that we get from nature, where as much as we know, still there is that resilience, like there’s still something that happens that can just bounce back. And now, we have some colonies that are occurring on the mainland, and, like 20 or 30 pups per year. And, you know, they also potentially can be found all over the mainland in the future, because there’s, yeah, there’s opportunity from those surprises. So it’s not only hope in me understanding the system, but it’s also hope in the things that I don’t understand. And I look forward to the surprises that the creation will give me as not only as I learn about it, but as I encounter with it, and as time passes.

Hoogerwerf:

In the next episode we’re going deeper into the darkness, exploring the importance of grief and lament and we’re going to lean into a long tradition in Christianity that teaches us how to practice these things appropriately and lead us to hope, joy and love, rather than to despair, fear and inaction. 

Stump: 

See you over there.  

Credits

Hoogerwerf:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Nate Mulder is our assistant producer. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you  will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Featured guests

Steven Bouma-Prediger

Steven Bouma-Prediger

Steven Bouma-Prediger (PhD, University of Chicago) is Leonard and Marjorie Maas Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He also oversees the Environmental Studies minor and chairs the Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee. In addition, Bouma-Prediger is adjunct professor of theology and ethics at Western Theological Seminary. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including For the Beauty of the Earth, is a former board member of the Au Sable Institute, and regularly writes and speaks on environmental issues.

Richard Lindroth

Rick Lindroth (Ph.D., University of Illinois-Urbana) is a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Ecology and recent Associate Dean for Research at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. His research focuses on evolutionary ecology and global change ecology in forest ecosystems. He has been a Fulbright Fellow and is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Ecological Society of America, the Entomological Society of America, and the American Scientific Affiliation. Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other agencies, Rick and his research group have published 250 journal articles and book chapters. He has served in numerous roles at his church, including many years on the governing board. He and his wife have two daughters and three grandchildren. For recreation, they enjoy road cycling, flyfishing and reading, though not necessarily in that order.
Veronica Frans

Veronica Frans

Veronica is a PhD student at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. She is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and is pursuing a dual PhD in Fisheries & Wildlife and Ecology, Evolution & Behavior. Her studies focus on human influence on species’ distributions. Veronica has lived, studied and worked around the world focusing on marine environments, community engagement, and conservation. She is active in many communities that discuss science and faith. She is a member of the American Scientific Affiliation and Christian Women in Science. She is also president of MSU’s chapter of Every Nation, a student ministry focused on discipleship, leadership and apologetics.

Norman Wirzba

Norman Wirzba is the Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School, and a Senior Fellow at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. He is the author of several books, including (most recently) This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World and Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land.
margaret miller

Margaret Miller

Margaret Miller is the Research Director for SECORE International, a conservation nonprofit dedicated to creating and sharing the tools and technologies to sustainably restore coral reefs worldwide. She has an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and a doctorate in marine ecology from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Steve Roels

Steve Roels

Steve Roels (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is the Senior Natural Resource Specialist for a municipal Parks and Open Space department near Denver. His graduate research and professional work focus on restoration ecology and conservation biology in tropical forests and prairie ecosystems. When not matching wits with wily prairie dogs in town, he enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains with his wife, Sarah Bodbyl Roels.

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