The Response of the Churches to the Destruction of Biodiversity

Apr 29, 2022 | 0 comments

The last great extinction – and here comes the next one, on our watch!

With humans the likely cause of the next great extinction of life, Ireland’s foremost eco-warrior can’t sit still and warns us to begin creating liturgies to awaken a resistance.

Sean McDonagh

Sean McDonagh

The publication in Paris of the Global Assessment Report in May 2019 confirmed that we are now living in the 6th largest extinction of life on earth since life began 3.8 billion years ago. The 1,800-page study incorporating the work of 450 scientists, shows that we and all future generations of species are seriously at risk unless radical action is taken immediately to reverse this trend. In the next few decades, at least, one million species are at risk of being wiped out.

The last time such a catastrophe struck the earth was 66 million years ago when an asteroid 10 to 15 kilometres wide crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It caused the extinction of 75 percent of animal life including the dinosaurs. This current extinction is being caused by one creature – humans. In 2019 a report from the Intergovernmental Science. Policy on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES). stated that we are now losing biodiversity up to ten thousand times faster than it was disappearing 100 years ago. In 2019, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 41% of amphibians, 25% of mammals, 34% of conifers, 13% of birds, 31% of sharks and rays and 27% of crustaceans are threatened with extinction.

In his pastoral letter The Cry of the Earth – The Cry of the Poor, Archbishop Dermot Farrell writes that “as an island nation, the deterioration of the oceans in recent times influences us all. Without the oceans our planet would be as inhospitable as Mars: no meadows, no insects, no forests, no flowers, no birds, no animals and no humans. Today the oceans are under enormous attack from many different sources.”

Wildlife populations have declined by 50 percent since the 1970s due to agriculture, deforestation, growth in human numbers and pollution, while the human population has doubled from 3.7 billion people to more than 8 billion today. Projections are that the human population will reach 10 billion by 2050. This growth in human population means encroaching on natural environments to build houses for humans and an increase in agricultural lands to meet our food needs. This will involve destroying the habitats for countless other species.1

The Unseen Danger of Insect Loss

Oftentimes when we talk of extinction we think of the future of giant pandas, cheetahs, lions, or elephants, but the destruction of insect species has been enormous. In 2017, a study by German scientists found that flying insect species, including pollinators have crashed by 75 percent since 1989. About one third of the world’s food depends on pollinators such as bees. If they become extinct, agricultural yields would plummet, causing widespread famine. People are being to speak about an insect apocalypse which poses a risk to all life on earth.2 According to the journalist, Padraig Hoare, flagrant law breaking, inadequate monitoring and poor public communication remain the biggest problems to solving Ireland’s biodiversity crisis.3

Unfortunately, concern for seriously addressing the destruction of biodiversity is not as strong as avoiding climate change. The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change took place in Glasgow in November 2021 and got a lot of publicity even though the event did not achieve its goal of insuring that the average global temperatures did not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. On the other hand, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity has been postponed four times in the past two year. COP15 was scheduled to take place in late in Kunming in China in April and early May of 2022. However, it is now it has been postponed to August 2022. This is a crucial moment for our planet. According to Eric Dinerstein, former chief scientist at the WWF “we have 10 years before we surpass critical tipping points that would lead to irreversible biodiversity loss.”4 The Churches should support this plan to set aside 30 percent of global lands and sea for nature in the next 10 years at the COP15 meeting later this year. But rich countries must also compensate biodiversity rich lower income to do much of the heavy lifting in this area. ..

In the encyclical on social justice and the environment, Laudato Si’, quotes Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in paragraph 9. He writes “for humans to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation. For human to strip the earth of its natural forests or destroy its wetlands; for humans to contaminate the earth’s waters, land, its air and its life – these are sins.” This is a new development in our Christian understanding of our ethical lives. When I was studying moral theology in the 1960s, the destruction of biodiversity was not even mentioned.

Furthermore, we Catholics, we need a special Extinction Liturgy in which we can express our sadness, pain and loss and culpability for the loss of these wonderful species which God has created over millions of years. We need to pray that many more religious people will take the destruction of biodiversity more seriously.

Every parish in Ireland should have many copies of Faith Communities: Action to help pollinators. This pamphlet was prepared by the National Biodiversity Data Centre to address the threatened extinction of bees in the island of Ireland. The pamphlet has many suggestions about how local parishes might help pollinators at this time.


  1. Stephen Rogers and Emily Beament, “90 percent of all land on Earth to be impacted by mankind by 2050.” Irish Examiner, 31st of October 2018, page 3.
  2. Damian Carrington, ‘Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists wans, The Guardian, November 13th 2019, page 3.
  3. Padraig Hoare, Biodiversity crisis undermines Ireland’s ‘green’ credentials, Irish Examiner, .
  4. Graham Lawton, 30 by30- A bold plan to set aside 30 per cent of global land and sea  area for nature by the end of the decade,  NewScientist, April 16, 2022, page 48.


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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