The Correspondent, the Conservationist and the Chinese Dolphins

By Peter Harris, co-founder of A Rocha

Michael McCarthy’s poignant valedictory piece as Environment Editor of The Independentmakes sad reading, in many ways, for Christians. But it is hard to argue with his central points. I read it here in Hong Kong, where I have just had the privilege of spending time with Samuel Hung, inspirational leader of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.

Chinese white dolphin, or Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) by Samuel Hung

He must have one of the toughest wildlife jobs on earth, as massive land reclamation schemes and infrastructure projects are devastating marine habitats that he has been documenting for nearly two decades. In particular, he knows that as McCarthy says, people are the only significant danger to the highly threatened relict population of Chinese White Dolphins still somehow hanging on in these waters. So he entirely agrees with McCarthy’s essential point (in a reprise of arguments well known from those who read Genesis) that,

‘People are doing this. Let’s be clear about it. It’s not some natural phenomenon, like an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. It’s the actions of Homo sapiens. What we are witnessing is a fundamental clash between the species, and the planet on which he lives, which is going to worsen steadily, and the more closely you observe it – or at least, the more closely I have observed it over the past 15 years – the more I have thought that there is something fundamentally wrong with Homo sapiens himself. Man seems to be Earth’s problem child.’

Hung’s deeply Christian heart and mind would also lead him to agree with McCarthy that human nature cannot be seen as benign – we are, to use The Independent’s language, fallen. For the self-confessed ex-Catholic McCarthy our fallen-ness is the inescapable conclusion of his years of reporting on human devastation of our environment. For the Christian Hung, it follows from believing that if Christ came to save us and all things created, we need saving, and we have a real, and not an imagined, problem. But he’s sad that McCarthy feels he must reject the whole Christian story that gives insight into that kind of narrative. It is only because of Hung’s Christian faith that he has been able to keep going on the difficult and painful road as one of the region’s most respected conservation leaders and campaigners. Another environmental campaigner from Beijing told us exactly the same thing the following day.Both McCarthy and Hung were gracious enough not to raise the real problem – if human fallen-ness is at the root of environmental devastation, why is human saved-ness so rarely a global source of hope for creation? Why is it not more normally the inspiration for creative gospel work for Earth’s healing and sustainability?For McCarthy, the evidence that human nature can be redeemable is only found in people, those he calls ‘the green campaigners’, who have at least momentarily held back the tide with such tenacity and self-sacrifice. He writes,

In the Christian world view, humankind is not basically benign. People are not good. But they can be redeemed. That’s the point, the unique selling point, if you like, of Christianity; and tomorrow, Easter Sunday, is its celebration. And what ceasing to be Environment Editor of this newspaper in Easter week has put into my mind is just how many people I have also observed, over the past 15 years, fighting hard to save the natural world – because, in some way, these are the redeemers of humankind.’

Samuel Hung knows very well that of all the major Christian communities around the world, the Chinese-speaking church has been one of the slowest to understand that the Lord they serve so faithfully, and often with such fervour, calls them to care for his creation. So there are pitifully few examples of Christian businessmen, educators, preachers or farmers who are creation friendly in their everyday work. The traditional focus of Chinese Christian thinking about the future skips life on God’s earth for some vaguely defined future world to which believers escape – presumably having devastated this one in an uncritical embrace of materialism and individualism. There are many current casualties: family life, business integrity, a credible witness to Christ in the work place, parenting with purpose. And sadly, unless we see a miracle very soon, we may have to add the Chinese White Dolphin to the sad litany of loss. Oh, and Michael McCarthy’s disappointed leaving of faith.But in a small way, that miracle may be about to happen, as thirty Christian environmental professionals have now met in Hong Kong to pray and brainstorm about future projects.

We should all be praying with them.

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