(Written June 2007, published in Baddow Life, Issue 16, Summer 2007)
Only a few decades ago it seemed normal to treat the earth as human property, plots of land, which could be used and abused however their owners wanted to. But by the 1960s it was becoming clear that human activity could ruin the planet on which we all depend, and so was born the environmental or “green” movement. Some people in this movement over-reacted to past abuse by treating the earth as divine. But the Christian view has always been a middle way between these extremes. The earth is neither property to be exploited, nor a divinity to be worshipped, but it is God’s good creation and a reflection of his character. He has appointed humans to be stewards or managers of the earth, to look after it, to use it and enjoy the good things it produces, and to pass it on in a good state from generation to generation.
And so it is our Christian responsibility, in the current jargon, to use the earth in a sustainable way. This means not using more than our share of its resources or doing things which cause long term damage to it. It is not sustainable, and so irresponsible, to use fossil fuel reserves laid down over half a billion years at such a rate that they will be gone within a century or two. And it is not responsible to pour huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when there is a high risk (if not yet a proved one) that this will trigger significant global warming with serious adverse consequences for future generations. Responsible managers do not risk the property entrusted to them on enterprises, however potentially beneficial, with a 98%, or even 50%, chance of disastrous loss.
Of course if the world is to get away from dependence on fossil fuels, individuals and governments need to make some hard and expensive decisions. The burden of the necessary changes should not be laid unequally on developing countries. All of us need to do our bit, like using low energy light bulbs, and not taking lots of holidays abroad just because flights are cheap. As we western Christians give a good example we can encourage and help others round the world to do the same. In this way, slowly but surely, we should be able to adjust our lifestyles so that we are managing the earth for God in a sustainable and responsible way.