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Caring for God’s Creation… as our world changes it’s up to us to face up to our responsibilities

13 March 2019

By John Sturges…  “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.  Genesis, chapter 1, verse 31.

God was pleased with his creation, and He chose to share it with Mankind; Adam and Eve were installed in the Garden of Eden, showing us that God’s intention was that we should all enjoy the fruits of his creation since we are part of it. In Genesis chapters 2 and 3 we learn that we are disobedient, fallen and banished from the garden. Today, it is apparent to us that the natural world we live in is a beautiful place, but in truth it also contains ugliness and we must admit that this ugliness is of our doing. For thousands of years during the Holocene era, we managed to live in reasonable harmony with our world, in that the impacts of our activities, production of wastes etc. were able to be absorbed by the natural world, and our demands for resources of materials and energy did not place an excessive strain upon the Earth’s natural systems.

In the first two decades of the 18th century however, men made two developments that changed the course of history. These were the discovery of how to smelt iron using coke (a non-renewable resource) instead of charcoal (a renewable material) in Coalbrookdale in the Severn gorge, and the harnessing of steam power to enable deeper mining for coal. This was the Newcomen engine installed in the Earl of Dudley’s coal mines in Worcestershire, and these two events took place close together in time and barely 20 miles apart, making possible the Industrial Revolution. Before this time, we relied on renewable forms of energy and materials, and our global impact was very much smaller, at a level with which the Earth’s natural systems could cope. These industrial developments gave us the power to greatly increase our demands for resources. In the early 18th century, the world’s human population was under 1 billion souls, now it stands at more than 7.5 billion. By being created and placed in creation, God called us to be its stewards, but because we are weak and selfish, we have used the world for our own selfish ends and not cared for it with love.

Sir David Attenborough’s recent series of programmes, Blue Planet II, succeeded in raising public awareness of the serious problem posed by the accumulation of millions of tonnes of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, together with the horrible damage it does to fish, birds and sea-life generally. In the same episode ‘The Big Blue’, after showing the floating plastic, he showed the image of a floating, dead whale carcass. I believe he ‘missed a trick’ in that he could have contrasted the way that in about 3 decades, the 30 tonne whale carcass was completely cleared up and recycled by natural systems, i.e. animals and fish that were ultimately solar-powered. In other words, God’s creation is fully capable of sustaining itself naturally, whereas we humans create disorder which is not cleared up, but which despoils and harms our world. We consume the riches of this world for our own selfish ends, with no thought for the creator who gave it to us, and it is human actions that bring the ugliness into our world. Also, when we make serious mistakes, we fail to learn the lessons.

On 21 October 1966, the Aberfan disaster killed 116 children and 28 adults in the village school. A huge pile of colliery waste became liquefied in heavy rain, turning it into liquid slurry which engulfed the school. On 25 January of this year, the village of Brumadinho in Brazil was engulfed in liquid slurry from iron mining when the dam behind which it was held failed, causing 166 deaths. In both cases, the mining companies did not wish to spend some of their profits on the safe disposal of the waste they had created. These failures to properly dispose of the plastic and mining wastes are examples of ‘externalizing of costs’. It has ugly and lethal consequences. 

In truth, we behave as if we were the lords of creation; taking whatever resources of materials and energy that we need with no thought or understanding of the consequences. We dishonour God by our spoiling and wanton destruction of His world. People increasingly refer to ‘saving the planet’, but these words are misleading; our planet Earth is in no real danger, what we are doing is putting in danger our future existence on the Earth, by threatening its capacity to sustain us. We ultimately depend on all of the other life forms on Earth, both plant and animal. Even vegetarians could not survive without the bird, animal and insect life that acts to pollinate crops and other plants. As humans, we are just a part of the world-wide web of life, the Earth’s ecosystems, and we could not survive without them. We are only now learning of the extent of our dependence on all of created life. We must recognise the fact that we do not ‘own’ our world, rather it has been entrusted to our stewardship for the duration of our lives, and that others, including our descendants will inherit the world and its stewardship after us. In depleting the world’s resources we are depriving our descendants of their inheritance. Finally, I am aware this piece has a serious tone, but it addresses a very serious situation that concerns every one of us.

What can we do to help?

  • Take an interest in how our world works, and take time to think of the impact that our choices place upon it,
  • Take care to correctly dispose of our waste materials,
  • Keep in mind that we should not so consume the Earth’s resources today that we deprive our descendants of the means to enjoy a good quality of life in their turn,  
  • Avoid the mind-set that says ‘it’s someone else’s problem’, or ‘the government should do something’. We must all do what we can.do by taking individual responsibility for our care of creation.

           j.sturges@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

 

 

March 2019

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