Whether it's global warming, air pollution, lack of safe drinking water, or the extinction of species, from the looks of things we humans have created a mess. It was for this reason that Earth Day was born in 1970. Inspired by a devastating 1969 oil spill off our own Santa Barbara County coast, a movement was born that called the nation's attention to the fact that we had clogged our rivers and streams and fouled our air with any number of pollutants, making the earth less livable for all of God's creatures. Much progress has been made since then, but work remains to be done.
In recent years the issue of climate change has grabbed our attention. Although some in national leadership pooh-pooh global warming as some kind of environmentalist scam, and some preachers have called this ecological movement a Satanic distraction, the scientific evidence continues to mount that we humans contribute significantly to a burgeoning crisis. If current trends continue, we will likely see increased drought, the melting of the polar ice caps - hastening the extinction of species such as the polar bears and rising sea levels, which would displace millions of people. Deadly storms such as Katrina could become more frequent. So, if there's still time to turn things around, what can we do?
I find the biblical injunction that “the earth is the Lord's” compelling. If the earth belongs to the Lord, what's my responsibility for its welfare? I could begin by listening for God's voice emanating from the earth itself. St. Paul offers the image of the creation “groaning in labor pains” waiting for its redemption (Romans 8:22-23). And, if I understand my faith correctly, God will act redemptively through us, which means we have a divine mandate to care for that which God has given us.
There are a number of statements written from a faith perspective about the environment, but I think this particular statement - “An Evangelical Statement on the Care of Creation” (www.creationcare.org) - catches well the ideal that we're responsible for the environment.
Because we await the time when even the groaning creation will be restored to wholeness, we commit ourselves to work vigorously to protect and heal that creation for the honor and glory of the Creator. ... We and our children face a growing crisis in the health of the creation in which we are embedded, and through which, by God's grace, we are sustained. Yet we continue to degrade that creation.
In response to this call for repentance, I confess that I'm not as environmentally sensitive as I should be. I waste too much water, gasoline, and electricity. I contribute more than my share of garbage to the landfills. Yes, I've tried to be more responsible: I drive a compact car and have exchanged all but a few light bulbs for fluorescents. I'm fortunate to live in a climate that's neither too hot nor too cold, so my use of heat and air conditioning is limited, but if I lived elsewhere, it might not be quite so easy to be a good steward of energy resources. Yes, I do some, but not nearly enough, and what is true for me seems to be true of Americans in general.
Confession is a start, but Earth Day is a call to action. It calls us to limit our ecological footprint and reclaim the environment. To do so isn't to worship nature, but rather it's recognition of a gift to be treasured and cared for.
How often do we hear that making fuel efficient vehicles or finding alternative sources of energy is too costly? Where, I wonder is the American sense of ingenuity and creativity? Much of our technology is decades old. The incandescent bulb hasn't changed all that much in 50 years, and electricity is transported through the same inefficient lines as when I was a child. Yes, it will take some money and some political will power to make changes, but progress never comes easy or cheaply, at least in the short run. But if we will commit ourselves to protecting and reclaiming the environment, and make the difficult choices now rather than later, then I expect that in the long term we will reap great benefits that can be shared across the globe.
If the earth is the Lord's, then let's celebrate Earth Day by heeding the call to redeem God's creation so that later generations will have an earth to enjoy!
*Originally appearing in the Lompoc Record, April 22, 2007, this essay can be found in my book Worshiping with Charles Darwin, (Energion, 2103, pp. 69-71)