The pandemic has made many people think that viruses are a bad thing. However recent research has shown that viruses are critical agents for life. They convert energy and organic matter at the bottom of the food chain into a form that provides us with what we need to live on Earth.
An algae called Emiliania huxleyi uses sunlight and nutrients from the ocean to produce massive algae blooms in the ocean. If it stopped there, the presence of the algae would be detrimental to ocean life. We all know about the “red tide” that afflicts coastal areas of Florida where algae are destructive.
But there is more to the story of Emiliania huxleyi. A virus called coccolithovirus infects the algae, killing it and produing organic matter that is the base of the ocean food chain supporting higher forms of life. Kay Bidle of Rutgers University is the chief author of the study. She says that this relationship is likely to apply to other virus-algae interactions in the ocean.
This new discovery is related to changes in the ocean observed from the International Space Station. The magnitude of this process is huge, and may provide a solution to some of our biggest environmental problems.
Viruses are critical agents for life. They are tools that God has built into the creation to provide the food and energy we need. Like all viral interactions, the virus works with other created things, in this case algae, to accomplish its provision for life’s existence.
One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.
The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.
Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.
I am totally in awe of how much pets mean to people and how much they do for their owners. As people become more and more aware of the need to take care of planet Earth, they realize the environmental impact of the care and maintenance of pets.
When God created life on this planet, He built balance into all life. There were natural limits to the population of animals. There was a healthy relationship between prey and predator. Then humans killed off certain predators and transported animals to new areas where they had no predators. They sometimes adopted wild animals as pets and later released them or allowed them to escape into the wild. Those actions upset the balance, and today we are paying the price for that disturbance.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service tells us that cats, many of them feral, kill billions of birds every year. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that wild and free-roaming dogs are a threat to the survival of almost 200 species around the world. Sometimes people obtain a cute baby crocodilian for a pet, and when it grows too large, they release it into the wild where it can become a danger to other animals or people. The Florida Everglades has a problem with Burmese pythons, which people released when they became too large for pets.
With a growing human population, environmental toxins, the warming of our planet, and the shortages of potable water, we recognize that Earth is under stress. News reports tell of people dying because of ecological problems. It is essential to understand that all of this pain, death, and turmoil are unnecessary. When God created planet Earth, He built into it many self-correcting tools for survival. If you name a major problem that threatens the long term existence of humans, I believe there is a built-in device that can correct the problem. God designed the Earth to withstand even the abuse that selfishness, ignorance, and greed have brought upon it. Here are a few examples of God’s environmental solutions:
Carbon dioxide and global warming. Several greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, but the main one is carbon dioxide. Not only do animals exhale carbon dioxide, but fires produce it, so human-caused fires are a contributor. God beautifully designed planet Earth with tools to contain carbon dioxide. Plants take it out of the air and release oxygen as a product of photosynthesis. This system is highly efficient as a single tree can take care of the carbon produced by one human. Plants in the ocean do the same thing. Human deforestation of both the land and the sea thwarts the system God put in place to sustain life on Earth. God’s environmental solutions are there if we will use them.
Water. Oceans cover roughly 3/4ths of Earth’s surface, but water shortages plague a significant percentage of the world’s population. The obvious problem is that because of minerals in the water, ocean water cannot be consumed directly by humans or most animals or plants. But the 50-quadrillion tons of minerals in the oceans, including 4.5 billion tons of uranium, have 14,000 industrial uses. God’s environmental solutions not only provide enough water for every living thing on the planet but also a wealth of minerals to sustain an advanced society.
Toxins. In the past five years, science has discovered that a Chinese brake fern (Pteris vittata) can survive on arsenic. Arsenic is a significant pollutant poisoning millions of people in the world, causing skin lesions, cancer, and other illnesses. Finding a plant that removes arsenic from the environment is a significant breakthrough. Over the past several years, we have mentioned other plants that provide environmental cleansing. Scientists have found bacteria that eat plastics and others that consume crude oil. These are more of God’s environmental solutions to tackle the plastic trash and oil spills in the ocean.
I am writing this article near Redding, California. We have been involved in lectureships in California during this month of August 2018. The fires that are burning in this state have been a constant source of inconvenience for us. They are a major tragedy for people here who have lost homes, businesses, and health. Smoke makes travel difficult, but for people with respiratory problems, the smoke can be lethal. Over and over we have heard references to “why did God do this to us” or in other cases “thank God for…” While we understand the emotions that go with all that is happening, we need to stop blaming California wildfires on God.
While working in California, we are blessed to be with Keith Crummer. Keith has been an ecosystem manager and forest management expert in California for over 30 years. He has degrees in forest management from the University of California at Berkeley and from Oregon State. As we discussed the incredible damage of this current series of fires, Crummer just shook his head in sadness. He told us that what is happening in California was caused by human ignorance and mismanagement.
One fact that astounded me is that there are more trees in the United States now than have ever existed in the history of this area. Before the white man arrived on the scene, trees grew and died just as they do today. When the biomass accumulated on the forest floor, small fires set by lightning or by spontaneous combustion eliminated it. Those fires wiped out small trees and allowed grasses to flourish which in turn supported deer, elk, and other mammals. That made the forest less dense. While fires existed, they were small fires that ran out of fuel very quickly.
Then humans moved in and stopped the fires and allowed vast amounts of biomass to accumulate on the forest floor. The trees became so dense that grass could not grow. Crummer said that scientists know that managing the forest involves harvesting the material that falls to the forest floor, thinning the trees, and using the energy that is available from them. This would eliminate the potential for uncontrolled burning because massive amounts of fuel would not be available. It would also allow animals like deer and elk to proliferate. The current fire catastrophe is 100% due to the mismanagement of the environment by people who thought they were doing the right thing by eliminating fires and refusing to allow cutting down trees or removing brush.
In the Genesis account, God told the first humans to “…fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth” ( Genesis 1:28-30). “The Lord God took man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it…” (Genesis 2:15-16).
God did not tell them to merely preserve the creation. The creation is a living, changing, dynamic entity. It is our job to facilitate the changing Earth. Working and keeping the Earth means to control those things that would destroy what God created including the animals that live on it. We need to stop blaming California wildfires on God. After the fires in Yellowstone National Park, the elk and deer populations returned to levels close to what they were before humans arrived. If we had done what God commanded in Genesis and worked the forests of the western states, the fires today would not be spreading as they are.
We live at a time where there is great concern about the environment. We have seen the effect of human carelessness in dumping wastes into the atmosphere, rivers, and lakes. As an earth science teacher in the public schools, I always was disturbed by the complacency of students and administrators toward this critical issue. In my lectureships, I have sometimes had skeptics suggest that the problems of ecology are due to Christianity. In Genesis 1:28 God told the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Someone has commented that this is the only command God ever gave that man completely obeyed, and there might be some truth to that. Atheists have maintained that this is the cause of human abuse of the natural world in which we live.
From a biblical standpoint, this is a misuse of the message of the Scriptures. Any statement in the Bible can only be properly understood if you look at who write it, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. Genesis 1:28 was written to let us know that God expects us to control the Earth and its resources, but it gives no indication of how to do that. In Genesis 2:15, God told the man to, “take care of the Garden, to dress it and to keep it.” In Genesis 3:23 we are told that after the man had left the garden, he was to “work the ground from which he was taken.”
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, a great emphasis is placed on the beauty of the creation and the great wisdom and power that created it. Proverbs 8:22-31 puts an emphasis on the wisdom involved in all that was done to prepare the Earth for human life. The Psalms are full of references to God’s creation, and Jesus in Matthew 6:26-30 calls his followers to consider the beauty of the creation. Even more important, throughout the Bible humans are viewed as caretakers and guardians of what God has given us. Nowhere is there an instruction or suggestion that the creation is to be exploited or abused.
In our age of scary stories about global warming when alarmists are warning that humans are destroying the Earth by our huge carbon footprint, it is always good to hear something positive. That is especially true when that positive thing is something people have held up as negative for a very long time. I have stood on the edge of a huge swamp in the southern part of the United States and wondered what possible use an area like that would have. You can talk about providing a home for insects, birds, or rare tropical plants, but the swamp still looks like a wasteland with its mile after mile of muck and dead vegetation.
Imagine a swamp that covers 56,000 square miles and has a depth of 20 feet of ugly black muck. Why would God create a place like that? What possible use can it have? That huge swamp is the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in Africa’s central Congo Basin, and it has been accumulating for nearly 11,000 years. We now know that this particular swamp is a huge carbon sink. Recent measurements by scientists show that this one swamp holds about thirty billion tons of carbon. That’s the equivalent of 20 years of United States fossil fuel emissions. Satellite measurements have shown this swamp is sixteen times larger than previous estimates. Chemical studies show it is highly acidic and devoid of oxygen so it traps carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.