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Nowadays, there are countless journals, magazines, radios, televisions and internet sites reporting about global warming, floods, droughts and typhoons. These occur as consequences of science and technology involving the manufacture, storage and use of carbon monoxide. The state of the natural environment is in crisis, and we are living in a new stage of changes in the natural environment, experiencing global warming and drastic changes of season. These events have become serious issues for us today. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned,
The danger posed by war to all of humanity and to our planet is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming.
This statement reminds us that ecological changes of the natural environment need urgent attention.
This paper will explain the ecological crisis in Kachin context, then will analyze its consequences not from the political outlook but from the socio-economic and ethical perspectives, and finally will place the ecological crisis in a Christian context. Readers must be aware that this paper is only an overview of the major issues of the ecological crisis in Kachin State.
1. Kachin?s Understanding of Ecological Crisis
For almost three decades (1962-1988), Myanmar had been a closed country living like a hermit nation avoiding any external influence for the purpose of developing ?selfhood?. However, Myanmar could not be totally kept apart from but opened to foreign relationship. Myanmar then, with its multi-natural resources and cheap labor, has become one of the counter parts in the global economic enterprise.
The declaration of 1996 Visit Myanmar Year had become an obvious establishment of share market in Myanmar. Collaborating with the local government, transnational companies from countries such as China, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Japan, Europe and United States have come and promoted their factories and industries to compete with their business in Myanmar where raw materials are plentiful and labor is extremely cheaper than those of other countries.
As a result, the vast area of land and tropical forest has turned into industrial estates, highways, bridges, dams, airports, golf courses, resort centers, prawn farming, crops production and various kinds of plantations. This has resulted in deforestation and the destruction of the environment. It has consequently caused ecological crisis in Myanmar such as flood, climate change, land dehydration, soil erosion, air pollution and water pollution. As being a part of Myanmar, Kachin State is no exception, but has also been kept under its grip.
Kachin State is very rich in natural resources: jade, gold, platinum, coal, iron, timbers and herbal plants. Many rarest natural species are also observed such as black orchids, white pheasants and others. Karin Dean is right therefore when she says,
The Kachin state is still covered with forests, being one of the region's last remaining areas of large, intact natural forest ecosystems. Another natural resource, Jade, is the state's best known asset. The world's largest mines where Jade is industrially extracted are in Hpakant, 148km west of Myitkyina. Gold and Iron are other resources that the state is believed to be rich in.
By its virtue of multi-natural resources, Kachin State has become one of the fascinating and most attractive states in Myanmar for neighboring countries. Many transnational companies have come and are competing with their mining and logging businesses in Kachin State, utilizing and exploiting the entire natural resources and distributing the refined stuffs to markets inside and outside Myanmar.
1.1 Gold and Jade Mining
Gold and Jade mining takes place along Nmai Hka and Mali Hka rivers, Hugawng valley and Hpakant. According to KNDG?s report, 16,083 sq. km or 18% of the entire Kachin State were under concession for mining in 2002. Only in Hugawng valley, the number of main gold mining sites increased from 14 in 1994 to 31 with 100 active hydraulic and pit mines in 2006. Popular types of gold mining nowadays in Kachin State are 4? x 4? pit mining, mining on land and under water by manual labor, by machines, and by bucket dredges.
During 1994-1995, about 500,000 people were concentrated in the mining areas around Hpakant. However, the population of Hpakant area has now decreased to about 200,000, which means, thousands of people have lost their job because of the incoming of many transnational companies that use machines like bulldozers and loaders instead of men to mine jade. This event illustrates that a large scale of land including forest had and still has to sacrifice for the profits of 500,000 people, and then for the profits of many corporate and private companies.
Logging is another major commerce being carried out in Kachin State. According to Global Witness? report, in the year of 2004 more than 1 million cubic meters of timber, about 95% of Burma?s total timber exports to China were illegally exported from northern Burma, Kachin State, to Yunnan Province. Jon Buckrell of Global Witness said,
On average, one log truck, carrying about 15 tons of timber, logged illegally in Burma, crosses an official Chinese checkpoint every seven minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; yet they do nothing.
In short, hectares of our virgin land are being exploited for mining purposes. All the natural resources like timber and bamboo are cut down for commercial logging purposes without any plan for restoration of the consumed natural resources. Air and water are comparatively polluted and subjugated, without thinking of preservation and cleanliness. All these events have led to changes in environment, local and regional ecology. As a result, people living in Kachin State are suffering from climate change, soil erosion, water pollution, air pollution, flood and many others. This is Kachin?s experience of ecological crisis.
The ecological crisis in Kachin State therefore can generally be understood as the byproduct of transnational (corporate) companies and national (private) companies through their mining and logging businesses that destroy land and forests.
2. Some Possible Related Consequences of Mining and Logging
Generally speaking, mining and logging increase deforestation, resulting in the destruction of most of the land and forest. However, the consequence of mining and logging is wide. Its impact is deeper than what we perceive. It is therefore necessary to examine some related consequences of mining and logging in Kachin State.
2.1 Gold and Jade Mining
Popular types of gold mining in Kachin State are 4? x 4? pit mining, mining on land and under water by manual labor, by machines, and by bucket dredges. Mining on land by machines destroys land including forest, resulting in soil erosion. Mining under water by bucket dredges causes irreversible damage to river systems. This becomes the root cause of flood. Every year, the rivers overflow their banks and the water spread out covering the entire area on which houses stand. When the flood waters subside, yellow sticky mud covers anywhere: on the roads and inside the houses.
Mining under water by bucket dredges also destroys riverbeds and collapses riverbanks. Consequently, river courses have changed, and some permanent breeding habitats for fish and water creatures like frogs and turtles are disappearing due to the gradual decrease of healthy habitats. It is clearer when the Pan Kachin Development Society explained,
Gold mining brings about a complete structural change to affected rivers. Dredging operations clearly cause silting and create waste rock piles in the river. The pits and shafts of land-based gold mining also cause erosion and again silting as the soil runs into streams and rivers. Structural changes like displacement of riverbeds, changes in the seasonal variance of water levels, shift in sedimentation areas and increased riverbank erosion have been described by many interviewees. Techniques like sluicing and hydraulic mining take up large amounts of water that has to be diverted from rivers. All these interferences in the natural river system have reportedly increased the danger of flooding.
The same things apply to jade mining.
In the present day, gold mining by the machines along Irrawaddy River was banned by the state authority from the end of April 2003. However, chemical wastes from the gold and jade mining process such as diesel and mercury have already contaminated water, rocks and soil. Contaminated water is harmful to drink, bathe, and wash clothes. Fish are unsafe to eat. Wild animals and fowl drinking from polluted water sources are dangerous to hunt and consume. Vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, and mustard grown in contaminated areas are poisonous to eat.
Mercury is a bio-accumulative poison which can pass from one living thing to another. For instance, it can pass from mercury- contaminated fish and animals to people who consume those fish and animals, and also from a mother to her fetus. Mercury can cause irreversible nervous system such as loss of motor control, numbness in limbs, blindness, inability to speak and many others. According to Lasi Bawk Naw, mercury effect can remain for many years or even forever.
Commercial logging destroys forests, including various kinds of precious herbal plants. Deforestation pushes natural species to extinction, and ruins our relationship with the earth and her natural species. Deforestation also causes climate change and climate change endangers the people. This is the irreversible destruction and degradation of the ecology of the earth and damages the habitat of life.
Kachins live in an economy with land, water and biodiversity as their primary capital, their means of production and their economic security. Natural resources are about their everyday life. Kachin culture and spirituality are also closely linked to their natural environment. Kachins call their natural environment ?a gift from God.? Privatization of their natural resources, deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution take away the basis of Kachin identity and survival, killing the very source of life of Kachin people. Soil productivity is diminished, native vegetation is destroyed, and millions of living microorganisms in the topsoil are killed. Polluted land might no longer be able to support basic farming economies, leading to poverty, hunger, malnutrition and forced migration, with their related social implications.
These signs of the time have therefore become more alarming and must be interpreted so that we can take steps to change for the integrity of creation as a whole. This is a great challenge and an enormous assignment to which the Churches in Kachin State have to give an active response.
3. Rereading the Signs of the Time
We have heard that our natural environment is groaning and waiting for its liberation. We are challenged by the woundedness of our natural environment itself. In order to see the reality that affects our natural environment or to understand the root cause of our ecological crisis, we need to reread the signs of our time. Prawate Khid-arn is right when he says,
A sustainable planet requires that we listen more carefully to the groaning of nature?? so that we can understand why nature is so cruel to us,?
When we observe the signs of our present time, we can see that the current ecological crisis in Kachin State is also directly related to our utmost unqualified embrace of economic development and modernity. In this modern time, economic development and modernity seems to be ?a matter of life or death? to every developing nation, including Kachin. This situation looks like a force encouraging those, who don?t have human and financial capital but only natural resources, to think that the creation of wealth and prosperity through their natural resources can bring economic development and modernity as life-security into all aspects of their life. It has been quite right for us, because in collaboration with transnational companies and private companies, we have occupied hectares of our virgin land, mining and logging in term of growing economic development and modernity for our lives, our society and our land, without any plan for restoration of the consumed natural resources.
Generally speaking, our present economic system has brought us to a stage of development or standard in some aspects of life, which we have never been before, such as roads for transportation, electricity, education schools and health care centers in some of our local areas. Also, a few of us can enjoy a taste of modern living with luxury houses, cars, etc... The questions for us are: Do we simply assume that the natural resources are just for our own profit? In other words, is there no reason in nature for existence except to serve mankind? What is the ethical status of the earth nature as an entity in creation? What is the proper relation of humanity to the earth and its resources?
The nature of economy emphasizes unrestrained competition for profit, consumerism, the limitless economic growth and accumulation of wealth. Consequently, economic competition breeds selfishness, not compassion. Consumerism and accumulation of wealth breed greed, not content and sharing. Kyaw Win said that economy is always fraught with competition, greed and selfishness. Unfortunately, we have been ruled by greed and selfishness, and driven without alternative to relentlessly earn an endless flow of profits from the natural resources. As a result, our lifestyles and economy have become exclusive and exploitative to our natural environment and her resources for our own interests.
Our policy of economic development and modernity has plundered our land and severely damaged its environment. In other words, our indifference, shortsightedness, selfishness and greed for economic development and modernity have uncompromisingly exploited and still exploit our natural environment, ensuing in the destruction of most of the land and forest of the whole state. This has resulted at a disastrous cost to us and our ecology. Deforestation, land dehydration, soil erosion, climate change, flood, the loss of natural species and threats to fresh air and water are among the devastating consequences.
Having observed these events, the author assumes that our current economy is economy against ecology; our present development is development against environment; we are people against integrity of natural ecosystem; and the ecological obligations and protection are subordinate to us and to our process of economic development and capital accumulation. These are non-sustainable and unethical. If things are going on this way, the Kachin State will become a barren land very soon, and the ecological crisis may continue to deepen for sure. The author thus agrees with Prawate Khid-arn when he says,
The calamities remind us that there is a limit to everything. We are not living in a boundless warehouse of resources, but a creation with finite boundaries. This message needs to be brought to the whole world!
Today, we need to show the necessity and urgency of active response to the challenges of our time. Following this conclusion, the critical question for us is: How can we respond this issue?
Human selfishness, greed and carelessness are moral problems that require a moral solution. A change of morals requires a change of the mind and the heart, and it is only God who can change minds and hearts. This leads us to root ourselves firmly in our biblical base as we respond to this challenge.
4. Some Biblical References for Responding Ecological Destruction
In order to respond the current ecological crisis in Kachin State, this paper is responsible to find out some biblical references so that we can respond it in the light of biblical teaching, which means, we need the guidance of God?s Spirit to carry out this job.
4.1 ?God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.? (Gen. 1:31)
The Bible says that God is the Creator; He made everything (Gen.1-2:3); and ?without him nothing was made that has been made? (John 1:3b). As a result, including human being, light and darkness, sea and sky, fertile land and all kinds of plants and creatures, a variety of weather and a pattern of annual seasons, have come into being. Now, "the earth is the Lord?s and everything in it" (Ps. 24:1). ?God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.? (Gen.1:31). The Genesis account of creation proposes that all living things, species, and peoples are good by themselves as God created them, and they all have equal rights to survive or exist on earth as a harmonious whole of biological diversity as God values them. Vandana Shiva is right when he says,
All species, humans and cultures have intrinsic worth. They are subjects, not objects of manipulation or ownership. No humans have the right to own other species, other people or the knowledge of other cultures through patents and other intellectual property rights.
This helps us understand the relationship between mankind and the rest of creation in which we all have the responsibility to protect and share the rights and welfare of our natural environment and all her species, including ourselves. There are no disposable or dispensable species or people. We are all members of the earth community. The most basic right we have is the right to life.
4.2 ?Fill the earth and subdue it? (Genesis 1:28)
This verse tells us about the Christian and Biblical basis of land conservation and stewardship. God made human being in His own image and entrusted him to fill the earth and subdue it (and rule it). According to New Bible Commentary, ?to subdue and to rule? does not mean to abuse of God?s creation or to exploit the earth and its resources. According to George Perkins Marsh, the earth was given to human being for fruitful use alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste. Therefore, Gen. 1:27-28 is to be understood as being neither a license to abuse and waste the environment nor a prohibition against its use. According to Preston Bristow, ?to subdue and rule the earth? is not phrased in politically correct speech, but,
On a worldwide scale, subduing and ruling is like managing and administering. Humankind has been given the honor and privilege of managing and administering God?s creation, with the expectation that we will do it responsibly.
This statement helps us to better understand about our role as the stewards of the earth?s resources. In other words, we have the rights and duty to use and to protect the earth?s resources for the common goodness. According to Vandana Shiva, the rights to protect the earth and its resources are God-given rights as well as birthrights or natural rights. These rights are neither given nor assigned nor extinguished by states or any institution. They belong to all people by the fact of existence on earth, and all human beings have the responsibility to protect the earth?s resources. Rights and responsibility are tightly interconnected and interpret each other.
4.3 ?Love your neighbor as yourself.? (Matthew 22:39).
Matthew 22:39 is the second of the great commandments motivated by our Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of ecological crisis, who is our neighbor? Clearly how we interpret the word ?neighbor? and ?love? in this commandment will affect our decisions and actions towards our environment. According to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), anyone whom we can show love is our neighbor, and love is an action to behave in such a way that we help our neighbors for the sake of their goodness. According to Barry Richardson, our neighbors can be understood as those of our future generation, those whom we share natural resources, and our natural environment and her species. As soon as we show our love to them, they become our neighbors. Therefore, briefly speaking, today it is necessary to show our love to those of our future generation, those whom we now share our natural resources, and our natural environment and her species by caringly, creatively, efficiently and equitably protecting the sustainable resources of the earth for the common goodness. To love God is to love one another (I John 4:20).
Summing up, through the teachings of the Bible mentioned above, today God is saying us to hear the groaning of creation and to give an active response to the ecological crisis. All of us are called to live together in harmony with our nature. Ofelia Ortega said,
Effective mission means understanding the gospel in a holistic manner and rejecting a dichotomy between gospel and culture. Healing and restoration of whole life including creation is the concrete mission today.
Ecological crisis is not just ?an issue? to be addressed, but rather it goes to the heart of our confession of faith. How can we say that Jesus Christ is the Lord over all life, and not stand against everything that denies the promise of fullness of life to the world? ?If Jesus Christ is not Lord over all, he is not Lord at all.? We Christians believe that the death and resurrection of Christ completed the work of reconciling humanity to God. ?God "was pleased ... through him (Christ) to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross" (Col. 1:19-20). Creation was hence made new (Rev. 21:5). Once subjected to the bondage of sin and decay (Rom. 8:21), it has now received new life while "we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pt 3:13). God thus " made known to us the mystery of his will?. which he proposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment, to bring all things in heaven and things on earth together under one head, Christ" (Eph. 1:9-10).
In the context of ecological crisis, first we have to understand that all creation has intrinsic dignity and a right to survival or life to share goodness and to protectively help each other for the common goodness. Second, we have to change our minds, our lifestyles, our economic systems and consumption patterns from the selfish, greedy, dominant, exclusive and exploitive culture of violence, destruction and death to the inclusive, protective and sharing culture of non-violence, creative peace and life for the sustainability, justice and peace of the whole creation. Most of all, we need a new paradigm and movement to retransform the people against the earth into people valuing and protecting the integrity of God?s creation, the economy against ecology into economy caring the sustainable order of ecology, and development against the environment into development including the symmetrical beauty of natural environment.
When we care for our natural environment, we care for each other. When we degrade the environment, we degrade one another. A healthy environment is the necessary foundation of life in fullness for all.
5. What can we do?
In the encounter of ecological crisis, the following examples are the tasks that the Kachin Churches can and must take up for the purpose of the fullness of life for all, present and future: human beings, species and nature.
1. Re-studying the Bible through the eyes of ecology, interpreting it with the awareness of ecological crisis, and transforming our theology and attitudes for the solutions of the betterment of our natural environment.
2. Building up spiritual life through worship, bible study and prayer, based on ecological integrity.
3. Educating the importance of ecological integrity to church members of all ages through Sunday School Classes, through particular Sunday Fellowship Meetings (Youth, Men, and Women), and through awareness trainings, workshops, articulations, and other alternative ways.
4. Engaging ecological issues in mission work.
5. Adopting congregational mission statements that include and implement ecological integrity.
6. Developing in sustainable and cooperative initiatives for the betterment of our natural environment.
Ecologically, our Kachin State is under serious threat. Our natural environment is dominated, exploited, raped and murdered for profit by greedy companies and selfish human beings. Lands are damaged. Forests are destroyed. Fresh air and water are polluted. Natural species are displaced. People are suffering from climate change, flood, soil erosion, air pollution, water pollution, and many other related consequences. These are the consequences of human destruction of natural environment. The Kachin Churches therefore should give an active response to the challenges of the time in order to accomplish their holistic mission task of liberation, reconciliation, transformation, justice and peace.
However, this paper does not claim that the Kachin Churches could answer all the structural issues of the current ecological crisis. The effect of ecological crisis is wide, wild and deep. It transcends the borders of individual states, which means, its solution cannot be found solely on a local level. The ecological crisis affecting Kachin State affects the whole Myanmar, then Asia and finally the whole world. This reveals the absolute need for both individual and corporate action to solve ecological problems. Therefore, not only the Kachin Churches but also all legal, institutional and political structures and organizations from the local via the national up to the global level must actively endeavor in sharing the responsibility to prevent the destruction of the natural atmosphere and biosphere in Kachin State so that all may live in harmony with each other and nature.