By Dan Smith
I read a text on a friend’s smartphone recently that said: “Save the Earth; it’s the only planet with chocolate!”
As we approach Earth Day, April 22, it’s good to reflect on the value of something we often take for granted: the Earth itself. People of faith, like me, affirm immediately that the Earth belongs to God its Creator. And because we believe in God, we believe in taking care of what God has entrusted to us.
Another word for this is “stewardship,” and it has crept even into secular environmental literature in the past few decades. What we do with the resources we are blessed to enjoy for our sojourn on Earth says quite a bit about us, and I daresay future generations will judge us based on how we do.
Of course, we are also of the Earth. The Bible refers to humans as “Earth creatures,” it’s what the name “Adam” actually means. But we are more than merely Earth; we are also spirit, which means we are part of the community of life.
The community of Davis welcomed environmental activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, to speak at UC Davis this past year. With his usual candor and encyclopedic knowledge of the facts, McKibben painted a pretty dismal picture of the planet, with a level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere beyond what is sustainable for life as we know it on Earth: 350 parts per million. We are now at 394. Yikes.
On one level, Earth Day is a day to be grown-ups. Earth is, after all, our planetary home. And we all know that at the end of the day, someone has to wash the dishes, pay the bills and do the laundry. We wouldn’t go on trashing our own homes without ever accounting for the damage it would do, so why do we think it’s any different on our planetary home?
The truth is that humans — and especially industrialized humans with an economic framework of free-market capitalism – have done more damage to the Earth than most would like to acknowledge. Climate change is just one of the ways we can account for this, and it is perhaps the most dramatic — and scary.
However, we are also blowing the tops off of mountains to get at dirty forms of energy like coal, throwing our plastic waste into the ocean and making our rivers and streams more toxic with chemicals in the never-ending cycle to one-up Mother Nature. This way of living is, simply put, unsustainable.
The good news is, we have an opportunity to do something about it now. If we make changes in our lifestyle and in our public policy in relation to the Earth itself, future generations will reap the benefits of our wisdom and self-restraint. If we do not, well, I’d rather not think about it. For people of faith, it means caring for God’s good and sacred creation. For everyone, it means working together to preserve the only home we have.
However, personal virtue may not get us very far. As McKibben said, doing the right thing for the environment in our own personal lives, using less energy, recycling and eating more local and more vegetarian are all necessary but insufficient. He’s right. We need a multi-layered approach to this problem that recognizes both our own complicity in environmental degradation, while at the same time demanding that our political leaders help us to have access to better choices.
Many of us want to do the right thing, but we don’t know how, or can’t imagine a different future. If we are part of the problem, that means we can also be part of the solution. Perhaps our most important asset right now is the imagination to see things in a new light and live differently with planet Earth. From my perspective, I don’t see any way around it.
— The Rev. Dan Smith is the pastor at Lutheran Church of the Incarnation in West Davis. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org