Faith on the QuadCatholic Environmentalism

The last few decades have seen a noticeable increase in concern for the environment. Organizations dedicated to protecting the planet have grown immensely in recent years, with Greenpeace currently claiming well over 2.5 million members worldwide, and the Sierra Club boasting 1.3 million members in America alone. In addition, the phrases "green" and "environmentally-friendly" have become huge advertising slogans, labeling products ranging from houses to clothing to food-packaging. The idea has taken over the media as well, making headlines in prominent publications time and time again, and becoming the theme of movies such as An Inconvenient Truth.

College campuses are not exempt from this environmental craze. These days, it seems that practically every college has an Environmental Club. College students are eager to donate their time, talent, and treasure to help save the planet from pollution and various species from extinction. Much scarcer are college students willing to work to save humanity from intrinsic evils such as abortion and forced sterilization. Why is it that the trees have suddenly become more important than innocent human lives? Perhaps the youth of the country have mixed up their priorities in deciding what they are willing to fight to protect.

The Scriptures include two consecutive accounts of creation. Together, they show the proper relationship of man to the created world. The first account, found in Genesis 1, describes God creating the world in stages. After creating the earth and all the animals and plants to fill it, God creates man on the sixth day. Man is clearly the peak of His creation, the summit of everything He has made.

The second story of Creation, found in Genesis 2, depicts God as creating man first, then planting the Garden of Eden and creating all the animals, bringing them to man. This account shows us that the rest of the world was created for mankind.

Within these two stories are explanations of man’s proper place in creation. After creating the entire world and all living things, the Lord tells Adam and Eve, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth" (Gn 1:28). We as humans are to subdue the created world and have dominion over it. We are not merely equals with the plants and animals around us. Rather, we have infinitely more worth than they do because we alone are created in God’s image. Gaudium et Spes tells us that man is "the only creature on earth which God willed for itself" (GS 24#3). Everything else was made for us.

This truth, however, does not give us license to abuse creation. The Scriptures also tell us, "The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it." (Gn 2:15) The words cultivate and care imply responsibility. Along with privilege, man is responsible for caring for creation. It is important to be responsible in our treatment of the earth. While we are welcome to use and enjoy the world around us, we must do so with the respect it deserves as part of God’s creative masterpiece.

With this understanding of the created world, we examine the environmental movement of today. Promoting the well-being and protection of the natural world is important if we are to be responsible stewards of creation. So environmentalism, if practiced properly, is a good thing. But many modern environmental groups go too far, suggesting that plants and animals are equivalent to human beings in dignity, which is simply not true. Extreme groups insist we need to practice population control to prevent humans from overrunning the animal and plant kingdom, and even suggest that we put the needs of these creatures before the needs of humanity.

This view shows a skewed sense of our worth as human beings, which is always higher than any animal or plant. While baby seals are being threatened by oil spills, baby humans are being threatened by abortion. Which is more important? Although the animals and plants are an important part of God’s created kingdom, they cannot even begin to compare to the immeasurable value and dignity of each and every unique human life. A single human life has infinitely more value than any plant or animal ever could. While it is important for us as humans to act as good stewards and protect God’s created kingdom, it is far more important to protect human life and dignity.

Therefore, we must strive to maintain the proper perspective. There is a great miscalculation of priorities when college students across the country are willing to fight passionately to protect animals and plants, yet act with indifference or acceptance towards abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and other grave violations of human life and dignity. It is the youth who will determine which issues of today will be the most prominent issues of tomorrow. We therefore have a great responsibility to keep our priorities straight and keep in mind the great worth of human life.

In all of our actions, it is important for us to keep in mind our call to be good stewards, responsibly caring for the earth and all of creation. We should not be reckless or wasteful. But at the same time, we cannot forget that after God, our first and foremost duty is towards our fellow human being, not the seals or monkeys or rainforests. We have limited resources – time, money, and effort. How should we be dividing these up and where should we be investing them so as to give the greatest glory to God?

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