And God said, “Let us make a human being in our image, by our likeness, to hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and the cattle and the wild beasts and all the crawling things that crawl upon the earth
And God created the human in his image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and fill the earth and conquer it, and hold sway over the fish and the fowl of the heavens and every beast that crawls upon the earth. And God said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth and every tree that has fruit bearing seed, yours they will be for food.” And to all the beasts of the earth and the fowl of the heavens, and to all that crawls on the earth, which has the breath of life within it, the green plants for food. And so it was. And God saw all that he had done, and, look, it was very good. (Genesis 1:26-31)
• The Hebrew Bible: A Translation, by Robert Alter
The human vocation is clearly stated, defined, and given context on the Bible’s first page.
- To reflect the image of the good Creator.
- To live in God’s blessing, multiplying and filling the good home God gave all creatures.
- To conquer the evil forces present in God’s good creation.
- To exercise stewardship over the other creatures God made.
- To tend and feed upon the creation, which was designed to bless and nourish all creatures.
And yet, today, we read this.
The world is failing to address a catastrophic biodiversity collapse that not only threatens to wipe out beloved species and invaluable genetic diversity, but endangers humanity’s food supply, health and security, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued on Tuesday.
When governments act to protect and restore nature, the authors found, it works. But despite commitments made 10 years ago, nations have not come close to meeting the scale of the crisis, which continues to worsen because of unsustainable farming, overfishing, burning of fossil fuels and other activities.
“Humanity stands at a crossroads,” the report said.
…As with climate change, scientific alarms on biodiversity loss have gone largely unheeded as the problem intensifies.
Last year, an exhaustive international report concluded that humans had reshaped the natural world so drastically that one million species of animals and plants were at risk of extinction. This year, the World Economic Forum’s annual global risk report identified biodiversity loss, in addition to climate change, as one of the most urgent threats, saying that “human-driven nature and biodiversity loss is threatening life on our planet.” Last week, a respected index of animal life showed that, on average, the populations of almost 4,400 monitored mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish had declined by 68 percent since 1970.
…The biggest driver of biodiversity loss on land is habitat destruction and degradation, mainly because of farming. At sea, the biggest problem is overfishing. Climate change will play an increasing role as its effects intensify over the coming years. And the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. For example, since trees soak up and help store carbon, clearing forests intensifies climate change, while restoring them helps mitigate it.
…Despite the overall failure, the report highlights areas of progress around the world, bright spots showing that people have the power to protect and restore nature, not just destroy it. Conservation efforts have prevented an estimated 11 to 25 bird and mammal extinctions over the last decade; without these actions, researchers calculated, the number most likely would have been two to four times as high.
“If you put in place the policies, they do work,” Mr. Cooper said.
…The report calls for eight urgent transitions in the way we use lands and oceans, grow our food, eat, build our cities, manage our fresh water and more. For example, we must eat less meat and fish, bring nature into cities and quickly stop burning fossil fuels.
With these bold changes, it is not too late to slow and ultimately reverse this crisis, the report found.
“We still need this planet to live on,” Ms. Mrema said. “And we still need this planet for our children.”
The subject of climate change rose to a new prominence in the presidential campaign this week as both candidates responded to the wildfires that are raging on the west coast of the U.S. President Trump said that global warming will somehow reverse itself. “It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he said. When Wade Crowfoot, head of California’s Natural Resources Agency and an expert in climate and sustainability issues, replied, “I wish science agreed with you,” the president replied, “I don’t think science knows actually.” On the other hand Joe Biden said, “We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. Unless we take urgent action, it’ll soon be more catastrophic.”
There are growing pockets of concern being expressed about “creation care” in Christian communities. Some followers of Jesus, especially younger ones, are talking about environmental issues more and more. Some organizations are making the stewardship of God’s gift of creation their mission. Here, for example is a statement from Operation Noah, a Catholic organization that was set up in 2004 to provide a Christian response to the climate crisis. They approach the issues from a “faith-motivated, science-informed and hope-inspired” perspective.
What has the climate crisis got to do with being a Christian?
Operation Noah believes that the likelihood of runaway global warming raises questions that go to the heart of our Christian faith.
We believe that God’s creation is a gift that we have a duty to care for and that the wellbeing of all creation matters to God. We must repent for the damage we have done to the earth.
We also believe that climate change is about justice, because the poor of the world – those who have done the least to cause it – are already suffering the devastating consequences of the climate crisis. Acting on climate change is about loving our neighbours: that means those in other countries and future generations too.
Here is a list of other faith-based groups focusing on ecology (I don’t know enough about many of them to recommend them or not, but you can do the research).
The report cited above is indeed a further wake-up call for me. I’ve made a new commitment to read and learn more. I’ve begun with E.O. Wilson’s book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, which I was first introduced to by singer Paul Simon a couple of years ago when he was recommending it at his concerts. I’ll let Wilson have the last word today, and give you a glimpse at the radical solution he proposes to protect the creatures of the earth.
You will note that Wilson is extremely skeptical about religion’s role in this. He has a right to be, given our record. But I don’t share his dismissal of people of faith. The calling should be abundantly clear to us — one need not go past the Bible’s first page to see a robust description of it. If only we will listen and put it into practice.
What is man? Storyteller, mythmaker, and destroyer of the living world. Thinking with a gabble of reason, emotion, and religion. Lucky accident of primate evolution during the late Pleistocene. Mind of the biosphere. Magnificent in imaginative power and exploratory drive, yet yearning to be more master than steward of a declining planet. Born with the capacity to survive and evolve forever, able to render the biosphere eternal also. Yet arrogant, reckless, lethally predisposed to favor self, tribe, and short-term futures. Obsequious to imagined higher beings, contemptuous toward lower forms of life.
…We need a much deeper understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered. We would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. The Half-Earth proposal offers a first, emergency solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.
• Half-Earth (pp. 1-3)