Chapter 6 of For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger is “What kind of people ought we be?” In this chapter, the author develops seven ecological virtues:
1. Act so as to preserve diverse kinds of life.
Biodiversity is an intended result of God’s wise and orderly creative activity.
Creatures exist to praise God and are valuable irrespective of human utility. From this theological theme comes the ethical principle of intrinsic value.
We have an obligation to protect our watershed not only to preserve safe drinking water for the people who live there but also because we have a direct duty to the trout and herons and muskrats who inhabit that watershed.
We are obligated to preserve nonhuman species except when other moral considerations outweigh or overrule this duty. And since such species cannot exist without their homes, we are also obligated to preserve habitats.
There are many practical reasons to preserve biodiversity that Bouma-Prediger doesn’t go into here. Instead, he focuses on the moral and theological arguments.
2. Act so as to live within your means.
We have a prima facie duty to preserve nonrenewable resources and conserve scarce though renewable resources.
The author doesn’t advocate austerity, but rather discipline and self-restraint, as individuals and as a society.
3. Act cautiously.
We are to act cautiously in our relationship with the creation both because we are finite and because we are faulted. Because we are finite, we don’t understand all of the implications of our activities. Because we are faulted—fallen into sin—we are “alienated from God, other humans, ourselves, and the earth.”
4. Act in such a way that the ability of living creatures to maintain themselves and to reproduce is preserved.
It is God’s will that the whole of creation be fruitful, not just people. — Calvin DeWitt
We are permitted to use the fruit of the earth, but we are not allowed to destroy the earth’s ability to be fruitful.
Ecologically speaking, foolishness is the disposition to act as if the earth is endlessly exploitable and expendable.
5. Act in such a way that the creatures under your care are given their needful rest.
In the ten commandments, the command for sabbath rest doesn’t just apply to humans, but to their livestock as well.
6. Act so as to care for the earth’s creatures, especially those creatures in need.
Dominion does not mean domination but responsible care.
To till (‘abad) means to serve the earth for its own sake, and to keep (samar) means to protect the earth as one caringly guards something valuable. In Aaron’s benedictory blessing, in which God is called upon to bless and keep his people (Num. 6:22–26), we catch sight of what it means to be a keeper. We are to serve the earth for its own good and protect creation as God protects us.
It is not enough merely to refrain from doing harm; in certain cases we are morally required to do good.
7. Act so as to treat others, human or nonhuman, fairly.
It is not that animals are equal to humans, but that we have certain responsibilities toward them because of our position over them.
In the face of ecological apathy, ignorance, and fear, it takes courage to persevere.
Grace and Peace