Environment Handbook for PNG Christians - an Introduction
This handbook of principles and practice grew out of a partnership between the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a UK-based ecumenical conservation foundation, and the Evangelical Alliance of PNG, as part of a World Bank initiative on Faiths and Environment. The World Bank provided substantial supplementary funding through ARC for a consultation on the Theology of the Environment held in Goroka, PNG, in May 2003. The 25 participant church leaders formulated a declaration on Christians and the Environment in PNG and committed themselves to producing a handbook and other materials as a contribution to improved understanding and appropriate action throughout the churches and the nation of PNG.
A follow-up workshop in April 2004 brought together a group of 15 leaders, practitioners, thinkers and writers to carry forward the process of writing the handbook. With assurance of further funding support through World Bank/ARC, the writers continued their work through the next year. The resultant publication is the combined product of many contributors.
Several participants in the 2004 workshop also committed to begin immediately to communicate the key messages reinforced at the workshop with their constituents – by way of sermons, studies, lessons and written articles. Some were also keen to initiate small conservation projects, following the example of one pastor who reported that as a result of the 2003 consultation he had established a successful tree nursery for distribution of seedlings and for sharing the related technologies. An up-to-date report on this project is included in the handbook.
The initial consultation was a response to the widely recognised need for the churches of PNG to play a strong and active role in the national program of conservation and rehabilitation of the environment. In PNG, the churches are uniquely placed to raise awareness about the key concerns, and to motivate their members towards embracing constructive attitudes and actions. It was agreed from the beginning that a holistic approach is essential: considering and communicating both the biblical message about God’s purpose for His creation and the relevant practical issues: ecological, economic, cultural and political.
|"For Papua New Guineans the environment is their supermarket, their religious shrine and their priceless heritage. The environment binds the people to the past and it releases them for the future. Christians Caring for the Environment in Papua New Guinea deserves a place in every home, on the list of essential text books for every theological and Bible college student, and as a worthy addition in all institutional libraries.” Rev. Dr. Joshua Damoi, Principal of Christian Leaders Training College, PNG.
Production of the handbook was considered to be the top priority for this agenda. The aim was for it to fill a significant gap by providing a comprehensive (but far from exhaustive) resource in both basic English and Neo-Melanesian (Tok Pisin). It is meant to provide a useful and easily accessible foundation for church leaders, educators, local “practioners” connected with the various technical sectors and community motivators. The hope is that, as a result, many in PNG will be better informed about the issues, more highly motivated and committed to respond to the challenges of environmental care, protection, conservation, and rehabilitation, and better equipped to ensure that their responses are appropriate and effective.
Of course the handbook will need to be used in conjunction with other materials, especially those covering the technical aspects of environmental responsibility in more depth and detail and those designed for communication and education in specific contexts. Some of these materials exist already; others will need to be produced in the future.
Very deliberately, the handbook is focused on the teachings of the Bible. The publishers and writers believe that this is the best perspective and starting point for formation of healthy attitudes and motives in relation to the environment. Christians have often been criticised by environmental activists – either for their lack of concern or, worse, for being the main causes of environmental degradation. As we shall see, this criticism may be partly true. Whatever the case in that respect, there is no doubt that the biblical material can only mean that Christians ought to be taking the lead in practical environmental care; we have the strongest of all environmental worldviews and the clearest set of faith-based guidelines.
The starting point is the Creator, not the creation, not people
From beginning to end, the Bible affirms that God is the Creator. This, and not the human condition, is the true starting point for both understanding and caring for the world around us. We discover who we are, and what the world is in relationship to God, rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, this understanding of God is at odds with the conviction that achieving human happiness is at the heart of the human enterprise, and thus of our environmental relationships. Assertions that belief in the Creator is not primarily an affirmation about humankind come as a big shock to most people, including the majority of Christians. . . . In Christian thinking we understand that we are, firstly, in relationship with God, and then in relationship with creation.
It almost goes without saying that we live in a beautiful, bountiful, marvellous world. Yet we see it being spoiled and polluted and degraded before our eyes. The situation in PNG was highlighted in very vivid and emotional terms by the participants in the Goroka consultation (2003) and the Goroka workshop (2004) mentioned above. These participants told personal stories of the changes in their childhood communities over the years since they were young. Almost without exception, the changes were dramatic and detrimental: dwindling rainforests, eroded hillsides, infertile soils, more frequent floods and landslides, silted up rivers, polluted and diminishing water supplies, poisoned and polluted streams, polluted air in the large towns, dying reefs, decreasing fish supplies, and reduced numbers of game animals.
The idea of working on a book that would give reasons for Christians to be involved in care of the environment arose from the experiences of a small conservation project at Hogave in the Lufa District of the Eastern Highlands. The people of this area were made aware of the many threats to their rainforest heritage, and the related impact on the whole environment, and they were helped to act to conserve their forests while still maintaining their livelihood.
Sadly, it is the human species, the pinnacle of creation, that is largely to blame for all the problems. In many cases, technical solutions are available, but these are not always widely understood. The remedy must include both technical knowledge and personal commitment. It will usually require group action and may even need strong political action.
For example, individuals and communities should:
• become more fully aware of the consequences of their destructive practices – and then work towards implementing constructive changes;
• participate in activities to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste to improve the environment;
• understand the ecological systems of an area and how to conserve and protect these systems – and take appropriate action;
• know how to enhance soil fertility using low-cost, environmentally-friendly methods – and adopt the best practices.
It is hoped that this handbook will suggest possible effective steps in all of these and more.
God has given mankind the responsibility of caring for the natural world and using its resources well. But we need to remember that, as well as being responsible for creation, we are part of it. When creation suffers, we suffer the most. When creation is healthy, we benefit.
“Human beings have become the predominant destructive force on Earth. With power of hands and minds amplified by machines, our impact exceeds that of great floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. The time has come when we can envisage the end of nature; the time has come to realise that we are able to destroy the Earth.”
“Man is dependant on the physical environment. Thus when man becomes careless in the usage of his natural resources he faces all kinds of consequences.”
Suffering environment and suffering people
People have a particular value: this is why Christians can never treat the environment as a free standing issue. Where nature is exploited, people are invariably being oppressed as well. The anguish of people and the suffering of nature are two sides of the same coin and it is irresponsible, if not impossible, to deal with one without also addressing the other.
• Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of some of the main environmental issues affecting PNG.
• In Chapter 2 the main biblical teaching on the environment is summarised.
• Chapter 3 is a detailed survey of the biblical material referring to the environment.
• In chapter 4, background considerations such as economics, injustice, traditions and culture, national development and modernisation are related to the environmental issues facing PNG.
• In chapter 5 the main environmental issues relevant to PNG are discussed in detail, sector by sector.
• Chapter 6 provides some brief suggestions and pointers for Christian response.
Link here to download the full text of Christians Caring for the Environment, though please take note that this is a 2.65MB document.