The second chapter of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care is “What’s Wrong With the World? The Groaning of Creation.” It is difficult to deny that we humans, though given the divine mandate in Genesis 1 to be caretakers of the Earth, have had a serious negative impact on the world we live in. The author refers to Calvin DeWitt (professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin and a co-founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network), who lists “seven major degradations brought on by our assault on creation”:
- land conversion and habitat destruction, e.g., deforestation
- species extinction
- degradation of the land, e.g, loss of topsoil to wind and water erosion
- resource conversion and production of wastes and hazards
- global toxification, e.g., oil spills
- the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion
- human and cultural degradation, e.g., the displacement of agriculture by agribusiness
The author, Steven Bouma-Prediger, goes through these degradations (and others), and I’m not going to restate those here. It is clear that much of human impact on the Earth is not just bad for woodpeckers, wildflowers, and walruses; it is bad for us as well.
I do have concerns with how Bouma-Prediger deals with human population issues. He has a section on “population” as an area of environmental concern, and I have no problem with including this. Having large numbers of people in an area has environmental consequences, and when Christians address environmental issues we cannot just ignore the impact that 6.6 billion humans have on the world today, or the impact that 10 billion humans will have on the planet in 2050. When non-Christian environmentalists bring up “overpopulation,” they often do it in a way that portrays humans as no more than parasites on the Earth, rather than being the only creatures created in the image of God. My concern is that Bouma-Prediger quotes the population-control people in regards to the impact humans have on the environment without balancing this at this point by emphasizing that humans are not a cancer on the Earth. He does address this issue well in later chapters, but it would have been nice to have a short statement at this point.
Many of the environmental problems addressed in this chapter aren’t because there are so many of us, but because the rate at which we consume natural resources to feed our affluence. We consume trees, water, arable land, energy, and mineral resources at a rate that is not sustainable over the long run; and pollute the Earth in the process. Bouma-Prediger asks a very good question in regards to this:
Does our soaring consumption really make us happy?
I don’t think so.
The upcoming chapter, “Is Christianity to Blame?” is the best chapter in the book, and I look forward to sharing some thoughts with you soon.
Grace and Peace