World Environment Day
Today is World Environment Day, as designated by the United Nations [Environment Programme].
Why should people of faith care? If we look to the creation story in the Bible, we hear words like “be fruitful and multiply…have dominion over the earth,” and later on, “I will take you to be with me in heaven.” So, a literal interpretation might lead one to believe that we can extract resources for our own personal gain, and we can do what we want to this planet because it’s not so much the planet as the hereafter that matters… That is how some people think. That’s not me. That kind of thinking makes me shudder.
In the last couple of months, I watched the National Geographic film, “Aftermath: Population Zero.” While it presents something of a frightening picture of the effect people have had on the planet – particularly since the industrial revolution, but also simply because of sheer population – it also shows something of a good news story. That is, while we may have cars that burn fuel that emits carbon into the atmosphere, while we may use power drawn from nuclear reactors that need cooling stations to deal with the waste or dams that have interrupted water-flow and flooded ecosystems, while we have destroyed natural habitats for all kinds of animals, while we have built monstrous buildings, while we have modified cereal crops, while we have domesticated animals for our own gain… even as we have done all this, plants and animals could return to a “natural” or “wild” state relatively quickly – within a few years. And, within about a century – if every person on the planet suddenly were gone – buildings would crumble and be over-grown so that they would hardly have any impact on the plants and animals anymore.
I believe that we – all of us regardless of age, race or creed – have a responsibility to the world. We have a responsibility to the environment in which we live – to care for it, and not to dominate it. (In fact, as we try to dominate it – genetically modified crops, for example – we find that nature, in a relatively short time, adapts and we end up with weeds or insects that we don’t know how to manage.)
There’s a first nations saying, I believe, which goes something like this: “we do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our grand-children.” Instead of thinking in terms-of-office, we need to be thinking in terms of generations-from-now. To me, World Environment Day needs to call us all to a new awareness of our place in the world. How is my living affecting the environment, and what will my impact on the planet mean for future generations?