Saving Planet Earth
The big environmentalist push is on. The warnings get shriller and the media hype is being turned up. We are told that planet Earth is in grave danger and, unless we act quickly, it may already be too late. There is concerted action on several fronts. In December of last year, the United Nations sponsored a ten-day conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia. It attempted to find a consensus for limiting carbon dioxide emissions. This conference was a follow-up of the Kyoto Protocol reached ten years earlier. Among those attending was former American Vice-President, Al Gore, who has continued to be active on the environmental front. His film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth ’, graphically portrays the dire consequences of inaction. The movie continues to have considerable influence, helped no doubt by the fact that many school children all over the world have seen it. Climate change is so much of a hot topic today that even the Nobel Peace Prize committee got into the act by awarding Al Gore, together with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize for 2007. In our own nation, the issue of the environment and climate change has become a top concern for voters according to recent polls. Worry about the climate was ranked even higher than concern for terrorism and the fragile nature of world peace and for young people climate concerns took precedence over getting ahead at work. 1
What are we as Christians to think of all of this?
God’s Mandate to Mankind
God entrusted the care of planet Earth to the crown of creation, mankind. He set Adam and Eve, and thus all humanity, as rulers over the beautiful world God had made. He blessed them and gave them the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to rule over all creation (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:5-8). Man, however, was not to do this task selfishly; he had to take care of what was entrusted to him (Genesis 2:15) and to do so in the awareness that he was responsible to God who gave him this task. After all, the earth and all that is in it belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). Christians should therefore have a strong sense of stewardship when dealing with environmental issues. Indeed, Christians should be at the forefront of seeking to protect the earth’s finite resources from abuse and waste. They should also be at the forefront in the struggle against pollution.
Does all this mean that we embrace Al Gore as our hero and environmental activist David Suzuki as a “patron saint,” as he has been called? Not really. There is more going on here than meets the eye. One remarkable element in the whole discussion of climate change is the inability of scientists and experts to agree on all the critical data and conclusions. There is, for example, not even agreement among experts on whether carbon dioxide emissions are indeed causing global warming. A report from the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released on December 20, 2007 detailed how over 400 prominent scientists – experts in dozens of fields of study worldwide – say global warming and cooling is a cycle of nature and cannot legitimately be connected to man’s activities. 2 Similarly, at the time of writing this article, Swedish scientists reported in the prestigious journal Nature that the warmer Arctic is not the result of man-made climate change but comes from atmospheric energy transfers from southern latitudes to northern. This is a cyclical phenomenon which has happened before. 3 Yet, in spite of scientific studies which show that there is by no means any unanimity about the reasons for climate change, a global hysteria is being fomented by mainline media and United Nations scientific committees as if their conclusions that we have manmade climate change are undisputed.
Where is the truth? Al Gore’s film is a case in point. It is somewhat ironic that about two days before he received the Nobel Peace Prize, October 10, 2007 to be exact, a British court judged his film to be unsuitable for viewing in schools because of the untruths and exaggerations it contained as well as the propagandistic and politically charged nature of the film. Furthermore, it is good to remember that as recently as 1974, the big climate fear, based on a wide assortment of scientific research, was global cooling and mainline media spoke of a possible new ice age. 4 Now, a mere three decades later, the big fear is global warming. Actually, this is the fourth time in a century that scientific climate change views have changed. “We went from global cooling to warming, to cooling to warming again.” 5 No wonder it is often difficult to discuss the adduced evidence for all of this in a rational manner.
Why is the current hype on global warming so highly charged? One reason seems to be that the environmentalists who especially push the climate change scenario are deeply religious in their convictions about saving planet Earth. For many the point has been reached that not reason and fact, but emotion is driving much of the rhetoric.
The Religious Nature of Environmentalism
It is no secret that the current mindset in our society is tilted against Christian values and Christian principles. The evidence is plain to see especially in moral issues such as society’s toleration and even defence of homosexual values. The roots of secular environmentalism fit within this general hostility to Christianity. Christendom has been blamed for encouraging the destructive use of creation by promoting ideas such as man’s dominion over the natural world and the desacralizing of nature, that is, teaching that nature is not divine. There is no doubt that Christians have erred in the past in not fully realizing the need for a more careful stewardship of the environment, but to blame the teachings of God’s Word on a perceived climate crisis goes far beyond the evidence.
In rejecting biblical teaching on the unique place of man over against the rest of creation, environmentalism considers humans as a threat to the environment and has embraced pantheistic ideas of the sacredness of nature which must be safeguarded at all costs. Indeed, it has come to the point where the welfare of animals and plants is sometimes being given a greater priority than that of mankind. This neo-pagan approach is religious in nature and helps explain the fervency of environmentalist and climate change advocates. It is striking that Al Gore, who is a Baptist, nevertheless suggests that it is obvious that a better understanding of the ancient pagan earth goddess worship could offer us new insights into the nature of the human experience and our relationship to the environment. 6
A Christian Response
As Christians we reject any neo-pagan principle that may be energizing current environmentalism hype and alarmism and offering worldview solutions. At the same time, we will do everything possible to protect the environment. If certain human activities are indeed detrimental, we should limit or cease those activities to the best of our ability. Our reasons for doing so will, however, be radically different from those of environmentalists. We will do it not because the earth or nature is sacred, but because it is God’s creation for which He has given man responsibility to manage and take care of. We will also want to be good stewards of the natural bounty God has placed at our disposal. We will do so in the full realization that the Lord our God is at work in this world. It will also be this world, delivered from its present brokenness and groaning, which will be renewed (Romans 8:19-21).
Planet Earth is a very special place. It is not just a speck in the universe. This is where God has placed the crown and ruler of his creation, mankind. Because of man’s rebellion against God, planet Earth is a place that needs to be saved. But ultimately humans cannot rescue it from its troubles. The Earth is therefore also the place to which the Son of God has come to redeem an entire creation lost in sin. This is the world which God has entrusted to our care. And so we must care for it to the very best of our ability, for it is the place to which a new heaven will descend. It will then be an earth renewed, purged by fire, where righteousness will dwell (2 Peter 3:6-13; Revelation 21:1-4).