The Environment: Who Cares?

Posted on August 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm,

There is a lot said and written about protecting the environment. However, very little of it addresses the vitally important issue of why we should care. Whilst arguments like the phenomenal cost of not taking action to prevent climate change are important to bring up in public policy debates, they aren’t very effective at changing individual behaviour. It doesn’t bring home the individual responsibility to do anything. Many people think that their actions make no real difference, or that it’s somebody else’s problem.

The key to overcoming such objections is to persuade people that it is actually a moral imperative to care for the world around us. Our beliefs about who we are as human beings and how we should, as a result, relate to the rest of the universe are the key to motivating ourselves to do our part in caring for the planet. Obviously there are many who live in ways that do not reflect their stated beliefs, but this is often because they do not realise the implications of those beliefs.

This post is the first in a series which seeks to address the fundamental reasons why Christians should care about the environment. I’m writing this with two distinct audiences in mind. Firstly, the Christian who wants to know what the Bible says about the environment. Secondly, the Green activist who wants to be able to persuade Christians that they should care. If you’re in either of those categories, or are please read on.

For a Christian, the core reasons for caring about the environment are rooted in the doctrine of Creation. The word “creation” is the nearest Biblical equivalent to the modern word “environment”. Whilst it is a much broader term (the sun, moon, and stars are part of creation, but are not the environment), it usually refers to the same things (the Earth and everything that lives on it).

Therefore, a Christian response to environmental issues depends fundamentally on our understanding of our place within creation. A wrong understanding of this doctrine will produce a fundamentally unChristian approach to the world around us.

The most prominent Biblical reasons for caring for the environment are that it is God’s and not ours and that God gave the whole of humanity the task of looking after it (both of which I will expand on later in the series). However, the reason that many Christians find most compelling is the link between poverty and the environment.

The Bible again and again talks about the need to care for the poor. To pick a verse on the subject at random, Proverbs 14:31 says “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him”. Christians who have the right attitude to the poor are halfway towards really caring about environmental issues.

The link between poverty and environment is well understood by those who work amongst the really poor. On the local scale, attempts to help subsistence farmers out of poverty must ensure that they take account of the environment in which they live. It is no good teaching a farming method that produces higher yields in the short term if it destroys the soil quality. This is just common sense, but it doesn’t require any substantial impact on the way those of us in the rich world live.

What does require such an impact is the big global environmental issues. It is pretty universally accepted by scientists that human-caused climate change will lead to a significant rise in sea levels as a result of melting Antarctic ice. The brunt of the human impact will be borne by those living in poor countries. Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, will see millions of people lose their lives and their homes under most models. As with all natural disasters, the rich will be able to escape the worst consequences, whilst the poor will be more likely to lose their lives, their homes, and their livelihoods.

If Christians have any love for the poor, then we must take action to substantially reduce our own carbon emissions, persuade others to do the same, and lobby our governments to take effective action via legislation – something about which much is said, but little done.

4 Trackbacks

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