The state of our planet, like so many issues in politics and pop culture today, has become a hotbed for social media debate. I’ve never understood why people would question whether or not we should take care of our earthly home. After all, shouldn’t we want to take care of the place where we live. More importantly, aren’t we supposed to be good stewards of everything God has given us?
Far too often, people want to focus the discussion on whether or not humans are causing climate change and whether we are responsible for doing something about it. Instead of focusing on what we should be doing as responsible global citizens, I see some Christians arguing that we should just trust that God will take care of the current state of the planet and that if God really wants to fix our environmental issues, God is perfectly capable of doing it without our help. Instead of taking a step back and looking at our global environment with open eyes, they choose to remain near-sighted and wash their hands of any personal responsibility.
But our current global issues are so much more than a discussion of whether or not global climate change is a scientific fact.
Pesticides and fertilizers, while helping to keep crops alive and thriving, are causing our soil and rivers to become contaminated—the remnants of the unnatural elements permanently soaking into the ground (and eventually our food) and running into our water supply. I went to college in a small town in rural Nebraska, living in the same dorm that my father had lived in 25 years before. He loved to tell me how clean and fresh their water had been when he was a student.
By the time I was a student at the turn of the 21st century, water straight from the drinking fountains often tasted funny and at least once a year there was a warning that children and pregnant women should not drink the water, which occasionally became unsafe due to local fertilization and pesticide practices. In addition to the harm that this may cause to humans and animals, the overuse of certain chemical fertilizers and pesticides can also weaken the soil and deplete the necessary nutrients for healthy plant growth, a situation that will continue to have long term effects on the food supply for a growing population.
While the situation in the United States has improved, thanks to clean air laws, the World Health Organization reported in 2016 that 90% of the world population was inhaling polluted air, causing at least three million additional deaths a year. Even in the US, where cities have made significant strides, air pollution continues to plague major cities and impact natural landscapes. Living in the Houston area, which is the fourth largest city in the United States, we frequently see air quality warnings as the pollution from the commuting public fogs the air. Even on beautiful winter days, when the temperatures are in the low 70s and the sky is clear, newscasters will warn those with lung conditions to stay inside.
In the last year, we have seen at least three major chemical plant fires spew dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere, forcing local residents to shelter in place until the air cleared. Salt Lake City, which is home to beautiful landscapes and ideal summer temperatures, has seen those views significantly impacted by the deadly air pollution that settles over the city in the afternoons, impacting the health of all citizens in the surrounding area. And unfortunately, in the last couple years, some of the very laws that have been protecting the US atmosphere have been relaxed, which could expose even more people to dangerous air.
While Flint, Michigan is still making occasional headlines due to the ongoing water contamination crisis, other cities in the US also regularly deal with contaminated water, endangering the long term health of residents who cannot move to other, more affluent areas where water issues are less frequent. The problem is even more widespread worldwide. Globally, 844 million people lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion people lack access to clean sanitation. Overflowing trash in certain areas only exacerbates this problem, as exposed plastic, rubber, and chemicals seep into the soil and only the water supply available in some cities and villages.
Our landfills are overflowing, and we have garbage in our oceans and along our coastlines. It isn’t just oil spills. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating collection of trash, twice the size of Texas, that is currently floating and continuing to collect more pieces of plastic litter in the Pacific Ocean. The floating garbage continues to impact ecosystems and kill wildlife that gets trapped by the collection of disposed goods, most of which never saw a landfill.
Pollution, rising sea levels, urbanization, and development are seriously decreasing biodiversity, which is essential for a balanced, self-sustaining ecosystem. Several species of bees, which are essential for natural pollination of all things green, are dangerously threatened by the use of pesticides and human ignorance. Several species of bats, which are also responsible for flying insect control and occasionally pollination, are endangered in the US, particularly those populations that have been impacted by white nose syndrome.
Seventy-five percent of the virgin forests in the US have been cut down since European settlement started around 1600. And that is just in the US. That doesn’t take into consideration the loss of trees in other countries, including our globe’s incredibly biodiverse rainforests. Trees absorb the carbon dioxide that we breath out and that is produced in most of our factories. Trees don’t just look pretty, they are essential to our survival as a species.
And that is just the tip of the melting iceberg.
This is the state of the world that God gave us to take care of at the beginning of creation. How are we doing?
I struggle to see a positive answer to that question. I would argue that we are failing our Creator. If I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, then I also have to believe that it doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to God. And while yes, I believe God is ultimately in control, the Bible tells us that Adam was charged by God to care for the planet.
While Genesis 1:28 tells us that God told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it,” Genesis 2:15 tells us that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Humans were created to cultivate and create, not use and destroy.
Far too often I see Christians who claim to believe in Creationism argue that industry and lobby are trying to convince us that Climate Change is real so that they can make money off of new innovation. They argue that instead, we should continue to support the industries that keep our energy cheap, even though study after study has shown that these energy sources cause destruction of the very earth we were created to take care of.
And yes, some of the newer “green” technologies present environmental challenges of their own, but we were created to be innovative. Innovation means we keep trying until we get it right and create something better than before. And while it might mean the end of one industry, another better, more earth-friendly industry could come right behind it.
Then there is our love of waste. Last year, when Starbucks announced that they were phasing out the use of disposable straws in their shops, the internet exploded with people complaining about the loss of their precious straws, grumbling about how paper straws are annoying and ignoring the fact that reusable metal, plastic, and silicone straws are popping up all over the place (an important service for those who actually need straws). Instead of focusing on the reason they were getting rid of the straws (trying to save some animals from horrific deaths because of swallowing trashed straws), they focused on how it was going to have an impact on a convenient lifestyle. Christians are are not innocent in this (and unfortunately sometimes more guilty) of throwing away electronics instead of repairing or recycling them, wearing clothing for a single season and then putting them in the trash, wasting paper (seriously, someone should get on all of those junk mail companies about their paper waste), not using reusable containers, etc. We continue to support the very industries that are hurting our planet without insisting that they make a change.
We all need to take responsibility for the current state of our planet. Some might be more guilty than others, but we all are responsible. That doesn’t mean that we all need to change everything overnight, but it does mean we need to spend some time in prayerful reflection about how our actions might be impacting the home that God gave us. But more than anything, we need to work to stop intentionally causing harm to the environment or putting the interests of the few ahead of the interests of many.
Materialism isn’t godly. Greed isn’t godly. Far too often I see people arguing that we need to stop the earth worship, but that argument distracts us from what actually needs to happen. Respect for the earth isn’t worship; it’s a reflection of our worship of our Creator. If I believe that God created a delicate balance, then why wouldn’t I do what I could to help maintain that balance?
When we know better, we do better, and there is no planet B. God only gave us one.
We can see air pollution. We can see the trash on the side of the road and along our shorelines. We can see the overflowing landfills. And then there is climate change. Believing the science behind global climate change requires humility, not a rejection of an almighty God. It takes humility to admit that we may not know what we think we know, that we might be responsible for some of the mess our planet is experiencing. We can believe in an all-powerful God and God’s ability to set the world right and still recognize that we have failed to do our job—that we need to do better. Care of our earthly home is not a left or right issue. It is a human issue.
So what if Christians changed their lens from environmentalism to creation care? What if we started focusing on taking care of our planet as a demonstration of our love for the One who created it? What if we started working for a clean environment because of our love for our neighbors? What if we started showing concern for the plants and animals because we know that their survival is essential to our survival? What if we started seeing creation care as maintenance of the delicate balance that God put into place and taking responsibility for not intentionally destroying that balance?
It’s time we do better. Better by our neighbors, better by our families, and most importantly, better by our Creator.