over the Kyoto Protocol at the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg headlined
for many days as China, Russia and Canada all moved to ratify this agreement
in contrast to previous opposition. Only two nations now refuse to adopt
the protocol, which seeks to reduce the emission of Ozone-depleting gasses
in an effort to combat global warming – Australia and the USA. Is there
a response to be made from a christian perspective?
When the level of global population and industry posed no threat to the environment, and the major challenge facing human beings was the threat of natural disaster or from the animal kingdom, traditional theology explained the human role as “having dominion over creation”, which was interpreted as exercising power over it, or alternatively seeking to tame it.
A brief return to the creation story reveals three principles in relation to creation: OWNERSHIP by God, RELATIONSHIP between God and all creation, particularly humanity, and STEWARDSHIP by humans of this creation. Humans were to recognise the ownership of all creation by God, and exercise stewardship by taking care of it. The christian church has emphasised the relationship aspect often at the expense of the other two on the basis that “since we die and go to heaven, what does it matter”?
When the Apostle Paul wrote that “all creation groans awaiting … redemption”, he speaks of a redemption that impacts all of God’s creation, not merely some disembodied and detached ‘soul’.
But there is a further imperative which drives this gospel call to consider the environment: that of justice. If global warming continues at the current rates, nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, whose highest land peaks are less than 5 metres above sea level, will be engulfed by a rising ocean. Is it christian to live a lifestyle which contributes to the destruction of another’s home land?
The ecological footprint measures how much land space is required to keep a person of a particular nationality alive. It requires 7 acres to keep one American alive – the most resource-draining nation on earth. New Zealand is second, and Australia seventh on that list. Contrast India, which requires less than 0.2 acres per person.
The earth is God’s, and everything in it – for His people of all nations to enjoy. The questions raised by the Earth Summit are questions of faith, of spirituality, because they are questions of justice. When we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as in the Lord’s prayer, it includes our stewardship of creation.
September 8, 2002