“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” ~ Psalm 84:3 (NIV)
For those who knew her, there was no doubt that Florence (‘Flossie’) Simpson’s absolute favorite hymn was His eye is on the sparrow. The song could never appear often enough for her in the church worship bulletin. So, it was no surprise to anyone in the congregation that during her funeral we heard those familiar and comforting words wafting down from the choir loft:
“I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.”
This gospel classic was my Mother’s heartfelt affirmation that the Deity, made known in the person of Christ Jesus, has had a benevolent eye on all creation, all creatures great and small from the very beginning, and will do so to the very end. But way back then, when my Mother was alive and I had not yet ‘fledged’ from the nest, I had no inkling how difficult God’s work of keeping a watchful eye on the sparrows (and all the rest of Mother Earth’s fauna and flora) would become in the decades to follow.
That ambitious job of maintaining all life forms on a thriving planet is the topic of a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) publication, ‘The Living Planet 2022.’ This biennial study examines global biodiversity and the health of the planet. The latest paper reveals an astonishingly rapid decline in the population of wild creatures. It’s as though the rug of Mother Nature’s home has been pulled out from under the world’s vertebrate species (mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians) to the tune of a 69% loss over just the past half century. It is the enormity of such a decline that leads to the opening statement of the report: “Today we face the double, interlinked emergencies of human-induced climate change and the loss of biodiversity, threatening the well-being of current and future generations.”
[graphic from The Living Planet 2022]
The “well being of current and future generations” mentioned in the WWF report should not be thought of as applying only to wild creatures, but to Homo sapiens as well. When we no longer hear the ‘canary singing in the coal mine,’ it spells trouble not only for the bird but for every person in the mine. The report reinforces the reality that our terrestrial home is rapidly becoming a less habitable planet for all life forms, threatening the very survival of human civilization.
So, what is it that is driving what scientists now see as the 6th great mass extinction? Could it be that my Mother’s faith that God’s eye has been on the sparrow from the very beginning to the very end was merely ‘pie-in-the-sky’ wishful thinking? Has the Creator, the giver of life on planet Earth taken God’s eye off the sparrow? Is God foreclosing on the “sparrow’s home” and the “swallow’s nest where she may have her young?” Can we attribute this astonishing loss of life in all its diversity to an ‘act of God’ as we do to other natural disasters?
The answer, of course, is NO, not on your life! Neither the Master Creator nor Mother Earth with her natural cycles nor random cosmic collisions are to blame for this 6th great mass extinction. The birds of the air who “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns” (Matthew 6:26) are still being fed by the abundance of the Creator, as are all God’s creatures great and small. There is still plenty to sing about joyfully in praise to a creating, redeeming and sanctifying God of grace that has provided all that is needed not only to survive but to thrive, to live life abundantly.
Rather, it is as the report clearly indicates:“Unlike previous extinction events caused by natural phenomena, the sixth mass extinction is driven by human activity, primarily (though not limited to) the unsustainable use of land, water and energy use, and climate change.” Right now land-use change (the process of converting wilderness ecosystems into commercial, residential or agricultural land) is the greatest threat to nature. However, our failure to reduce greernhouse gas emissions is likely to make climate change the primary cause of biodiversity loss. We have converted approximately 30% of all land that sustains biodiversity into food production. Modern industrial agricultural practices worldwide are now responsible for 70% of freshwater use.
A 2018 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America highlights the impact humanity has upon biodiversity and wildlife on Earth. The study indicates that since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83 percent of all wild animals and 50 percent of all plants. Simultaneously, livestock farmed for human consumption represents a large portion of animals on Earth. Other studies estimate that livestock are now 60 percent of mammal life on the planet, humans are 36 percent, and wild mammals are just 4 percent. Seventy percent of birds now on earth are farmed poultry, while just 30 percent are wild birds.
According to One Green Planet: “An estimated 26 percent of land worldwide is used for grazing livestock and 33 percent of land worldwide is used to grow livestock feed. That equals out to about two-thirds of crop land that is used to grow food for livestock – only eight percent of crops are used to feed people directly. A recent study found that around 80 percent of tropical deforestation stems from agriculture.” Deforestation around the globe is a major driver of global warming due to the loss of carbon capture, but in regards to habitat loss forests are also home to more than three-quarters of the world’s life on land.
Turning to the oceans which comprise approximately 71% of the earth’s surface, many folks have heard that by 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the seas than there are creatures. Furthermore, along with the negative impacts of over fishing and coastal land development and pollution, according to a 2019 NRDC report: “A third growing driver of marine biodiversity decline is climate change, which is expected to decrease ocean net primary production between 3 and 10 percent and fish biomass by 3 to 25 percent by the end of the century. As the oceans—which have absorbed 93 percent of excess heat from climate change since the 1970s—get warmer, fish populations are projected to migrate poleward. Despite increasing migration to cold waters, rapid sea ice loss and acidification are likely to prevent biodiversity increases in polar waters. In the tropics, more local species are likely to go extinct, and coral reefs are projected to undergo more extreme warming events with less recovery time in between, causing large bleaching episodes with high levels of mortality.”
Whether it be on land, sea or in the air, the bottom line is, to quote Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US:“The world is waking up to the fact that our future depends on reversing the loss of nature just as much as it depends on addressing climate change. And you can’t solve one without solving the other. Everyone has a role to play in reversing these trends, from individuals to companies to governments.”
God’s watchful eye has been, is now and will forever be on the sparrow and all species sharing planet Earth as their home. But in the grand scheme of things, humanity has been ordained to minister to all God’s creation, serving as God’s eyes and ears, hands and feet to preserve and protect the gift of life for all creatures great and small. In the midst of the 6th great mass extinction, everyone has the ministerial role to play in reversing the biodiversity loss of flora and fauna, from governments to corporations to you and me.
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”