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Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day, part 2

Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22nd, in 1970.

In yesterday's post, I showed that the Bible teaches that God is creator and sustainer, that humans have responsibility to care for the earth, that God's creation is diverse, and that God will create a new earth. I would add, to the last point, that the present creation is no longer "very good," as God put it during creation, because of the effects of the Fall.

Some Christians deny these truths. They have acted like the most important word in Genesis 1:26 and 28 is dominion. They have ignored replenish. There are reports that some Christians have claimed that Christ is coming back so soon that we don't need to worry about caring for the earth. (Apparently, James Watt, Secretary of the Interior during the Reagan administration, did not believe this, although he has been accused of such a belief.) I have no evidence that any Christian leader has claimed this, although it is possible that some have.

Here are two different statements by groups of Christians, on the current environmental situation in the earth. The first is "An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation." The emphasis is on human sin as the root cause of environmental problems. The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship was signed by Jewish, Catholic, and non-evangelical protestants, as well as some evangelicals. The emphasis is on humans as the solution to evangelical problems. There are some good points about both of these Declarations, but the second strikes me as less humble in tone. The National Association of Evangelicals has produced "For the Health of the Nation," a document on civic responsibility, which has a section on the environment. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, himself an evangelical, reacting to that statement, claimed that trying to clean up the environment, and, in particular, concern about global warming, is a distraction from what Christians ought to be doing, which is evangelizing. I tried to point out that Thomas was being inconsistent, as he has argued strongly for other social issues that don't have anything to do with evangelism. For some reason, the very phrase, "global warming," seems to set off alarm bells in the minds of many Christians--not because they believe that it is a problem, but because they believe that there is no such thing. Most scientists who have studied in this area are convinced that there is such a thing, and that it is a real problem.

The environmental movement has made some mistakes. Environmentalists have cried "wolf", claiming imminent disaster when the disaster isn't quite so near, or when there isn't a disaster. Some environmentalists have been pantheists, or otherwise denied the deity of Christ. However, even if these things are true, that doesn't alter the responsibility of Christians to take care of the environment.

The current administration (like all administrations going back to the time of the first Earth Day, at least) claims that it is conscious of the enviroment, and trying to improve things. Many people, including some Republicans, are not convinced. The National Resources Defense Council says:

This administration, in catering to industries that put America's health and natural heritage at risk, threatens to do more damage to our environmental protections than any other in U.S. history.

The NRDC goes on to elaborate, claiming that environmental regulations have been weakened, that the panels of scientists that review various proposals have been stacked with those who want to weaken environmental regulation, and that scientific reports that have not advanced the administrations pro-industry agenda have been modified to suit that agenda. (Other organizations and individuals have made the same claims.) I am not expert enough to support, or deny, any of these charges, which are denied by the White House. Since, rightly or wrongly, the U. S. is often looked to as a Christian nation, and there are unquestionable ties between the Bush administration and evangelical Christians, I hope that these charges are not correct.

The House of Representatives voted, on April 20th, to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Opponents claim, with considerable justification, in my view, that doing so will do little or nothing to help with current high gas prices, will harm a unique habitat, and will especially benefit the oil companies. From its beginning, the Bush administration's view of energy policy seems to have been to ask oil companies what they want, and give it to them. Vice-President Cheney led a task force to draw up energy policy, and apparently didn't invite any environmental advocates, only representatives of energy companies. More could have been done to encourage conservation, and development of energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Industry (including farmers) usually claim to have little or no bad effects on the environment. Many of their claims may be true. However, we have had spectacular environmental disasters of various kinds, such as the Bhopal disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and others not so spectacular, which were directly caused by mistakes by various industries.

We are imperfect in our knowledge, and even sometimes in our motives, but, I believe, God calls us to environmental stewardship, taking care of His earth as best we can.

I don't have all the answers. No human does. For further reading, I suggest the evangelical ecologist, a blog.

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