A century and a half ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Three thousand years prior to that, a Hebrew writer penned what would eventually become the very first chapter of the Bible. In those verses he talked about the beauty of Creation, all that which was made by the hand of God, and (a) how God looked upon it and said, “It is good,” and then (b) gave us “dominion over it” (i.e., “stewardship for it”). From the world of faith to the world of philosophy, voices have long been telling us that this earth is a sacred place and it is incumbent on us to take care of it.
This is Earth Week, a time set aside to remember the beauties of this planet and the things we can do to protect and enhance it. There is a long-standing and frequently heated debate about the climate change we are going through. Most scientists seem to agree that the erratic (and often violent) weather events we have witnessed over the past decade or so are the result of global warming, primarily caused by how humans have taxed nature’s resources through greed and overpopulation. Others, however, contend that the weather patterns we have been witnessing are simply part of the cyclical character of nature (dating back at least to the Ice Age with recurrent rises and falls in global temperatures ever since). I’m not a scientist, so I cannot say with certainty which answer is true. I do know, however, that whatever camp you’re part of, we all share the same planet, we all desire its health and inhabitability (not only for ourselves but for the generations yet to come), and there are things we all can do to protect Mother Earth.
We can recycle. It’s one of the easiest things imaginable. It only requires two trash cans instead of one and a commitment to take a few extra minutes to separate plastic, glass, metal, and paper from the remainder of your garbage. The results are the management of landfills, the protection of green spaces, and the reduction of gases emitted into air and water from items that can remain buried beneath the ground for centuries. We can purchase recycled paper goods. Recycled paper cleans up spilled milk or goes through our printers just as effectively. The results are more trees left standing and more forests spared, allowing those trees and forests to continue their business of filtering and cleansing the air we breathe. We can buy and use energy efficient light bulbs and electronic items. They don’t cost much more, they work just as well, and the result is that our usage of irreplaceable natural resources is dramatically slowed. We can car pool or use public transit. Doing so gets us from Point A to Point B just as quickly. The result is that our use of and dependence upon refined oil is substantially reduced, and curtailed gas emissions into the atmosphere allow our air to begin the process of healing. None of those acts demand much of us. And each can contribute to making the world a healthier place. We can’t fix everything. But, if all of us would just take simple measures, millions of us working together could have a significant impact. As people of Faith, exercising stewardship of the planet is not optional anyway. The Bible begins with the commandment that God’s people “have dominion over” (exercise care of) that which God has created. Thus, it is an act of faithfulness to God to keep this good earth healthy and clean.