Nurturing Creation News
Here is a list of environmental news, events, and opportunities to learn and engage in the DC metropolitan area compiled by Reid Detchon of the St. Columba's Environment Committee. Published monthly, it captures the efforts of those engaged in nurturing creation in our local neighborhoods, to inspire your thinking and invite your participation. Help us build green practices in the DMV!
Published July 22, 2019
Hot enough for you?! It’s hard just to blame global warming – it was a hot July night 50 years ago when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And many more like it since then…
What’s really concerning, though, is what’s going on behind it. Our hemispheric weather system is driven by the temperature difference between the Equator and the North Pole. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet, so the differential is getting smaller. We don’t know how that will play out, but so far it has made the jet stream more erratic – and right now that means the big heat was stuck over most of the country this week. But it looks like relief is in sight.
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Spreading the word: Thelma Triche, our zero-waste czarina, responded to an inquiry from an outfit called Recycle Leaders, LLC that wanted to know about special-event templates for recycling and composting in places of worship. Thelma provided the St. Columba's guidelines and got this response from Beth Gingold: “Thank you so much for sharing these! They are so great!! This is the first time I have seen instructions from a church for outside organizations that use the building as an event. How wonderful! If you don't mind I'd like to share these with some other places of worship. Also, if one of the churches is interested in coming to visit and seeing it in action, would you be willing to host a little composting tour?”
Beth added, “I used to manage the recycling program for DC Public Schools, and we created ‘DCPS Recycles! ambassador schools’ that were great examples and also were willing to host visits from other schools. I would love to have you in mind in case there is a church, especially another Episcopal Church, that might be interested in starting composting.”
Of course, Thelma replied favorably: “Please feel free to share them. We'd be delighted to host a tour to show others how we try to practice zero-waste. As you are undoubtedly aware, it does require ongoing education, monitoring and reinforcement.”
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In case you missed it: In May, Governor Larry Hogan announced that he would not veto the strongest climate legislation ever passed in Maryland, and the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 thus became law. It is expected to create 20,000 solar industry jobs and reduce carbon pollution equal to taking 1.7 million cars off the road. The bill requires that half of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources – such as wind, solar and hydroelectric – by 2030. The previous goal was 25% renewable energy by 2025.
The air in Maryland is also going to be cleaner because of a bill championed by Clean Buses For Healthy Niños – creating a grant structure for school districts to begin transitioning their school buses to an electric fleet. Electric buses cost more to buy, but they can help local school districts save $10,000 to $12,000 money per year in maintenance and operation costs.
Nor was Maryland the only state to take positive climate action – far from it. Check out the Clean Energy for All update from the League of Conservation Voters. Posted in June, it is already out of date, with Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, and Washington seemingly leapfrogging each other with aggressive state policies. Just this week, New York one-upped them all with a 30-year plan for 100% renewable energy and a massive commitment to offshore wind.
On the transportation front, the U.S. Climate Alliance comprises 25 governors, and all but one (Michigan) recently endorsed “a strong, science-based national standard, in California and across the country, that increases year-over-year, provides certainty for automakers and consumers, reduces greenhouse gases, and protects public health.”
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In Maryland, all that success is running ahead of itself. According to the Baltimore Sun, the state’s electric vehicle rebate is so popular it ran out of money even before the fiscal year began July 1. It reports:
Maryland’s tax credit program – designed to entice buyers – cannot keep up. The state doubled its spending on the incentives for the fiscal year that began this month, but a backlog of applications meant the money was doled out quickly.
Clean car advocates say the popularity shows the program is achieving its goal: helping to accelerate sales of emissions-free vehicles as more come on the market, and at prices inching closer to parity with gasoline-powered vehicles. The number of electric vehicles registered in Maryland doubled from 2017 to 2018, and reached more than 18,000 as of February.
“Everyone wants us to sell more electric vehicles, which is great,” said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association. “The effect is, this money keeps running out sooner and sooner.”
Vehicles are the largest source of carbon emissions in Maryland and across the Northeast, prompting Maryland and eight other states to form a partnership last year to create a regional cap-and-trade system for transportation-related pollution. Electric vehicle use is a key element of strategies to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases and health-harming pollutants.
With that in mind, Maryland began offering its electric vehicle tax credit in 2011, providing about $15 million toward the purchase of 7,200 plug-in vehicles since then, according to legislative analysts. The program offers $100 for each kilowatt hour of capacity in the vehicle’s battery, up to $3,000. A federal income tax credit also provides up to $7,500 toward purchase of qualified all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.
As sales of the vehicles have accelerated, so has demand for that money. Anyone buying or leasing a new plug-in vehicle from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2020 can file for the state credit, and many do so with the help of auto dealers before they drive a car off the lot. But as more people buy electric cars, a waiting list for the credit has grown – with each new infusion of state money disappearing more quickly every year.
The $3 million allocated for Maryland electric vehicle tax credits in fiscal 2019, which ended in June, was gone by November. The money went to drivers of 1,178 vehicles.
Twice as much money was allotted to the program by the governor and legislators during the General Assembly session that ended April 8. But the credits were used up even before fiscal 2020 began in July. State transportation officials said more than 2,400 applications, many of them on file with the Motor Vehicle Administration for months, were approved by April 22. That meant this year’s money was already spoken for when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the legislation a week later.
[Now] the waiting list for the state tax credit is more than 700 people long, and growing.
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Pope Francis has repeatedly embraced the call to protect God’s creation, mostly notably in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home). More on his leadership below, but closer to home: Catholic Energies, a program of Catholic Climate Covenant, announced plans for the largest solar ground array and pollinator field project approved for construction to date in the District.
The 2-megawatt system, comprising more than 5,000 panels, will produce more than 2.7 million kilowatt-hours per year, nearly 100% of the current power requirements of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. It will be built on approximately five acres of a site in Northeast Washington that will also continue to house The Gift of Peace Home operated by the Missionaries of Charity.
Dan Misleh, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, said, “This project is a prime example of creative thinking by Catholic Charities. So many good things are happening here: lowering carbon emissions, saving money on electric bills, supporting vital services and being a witness to the wider faith community on the importance of caring for God’s good gift of Creation.”
In addition, the project will include a five-acre pollinator meadow to support pollinator populations, such as bees and butterflies. About 650,000 pollinator and nectar-bearing flowering plants will be at the base of the solar panel array. By reinvigorating pollinator habitats through projects such as this, researchers hope to curb the decline of vital insect species and help bolster the agricultural industry.
“Making productive use of the land under and around ground-mounted solar farms is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create new acres of habitat for the butterflies, birds and nature that gives us a sense of peace,” said Rob Davis, director for the Center for Pollinators in Energy. “With plans for a beautiful new flowering solar park, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington are helping to grow this important national trend of pollinator-friendly solar.”
According to National Catholic Reporter, Catholic Charities estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual energy cost savings. In all, Catholic Energies has roughly a dozen projects representing an estimated $30 million in its pipeline at various stages, Misleh said. He hopes the Catholic Charities project, as well as a Virginia parish that recently converted to 100% solar energy, will signal to more and more Catholic organizations that energy projects are possible.
The solar project was featured in "Our Common Home," a special reporting series that explores the role of faith and religion in responding to climate change, which the pope has called a matter of moral urgency and "one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day." Other recent stories include “A key question about the climate crisis: how to talk about it” and “Amid climate threat, Catholics pursue ecological conversion in US church.”
Catholic Climate Covenant recently helped organize a conference on Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church at Creighton University. To learn more, tune in to a webinar on Tuesday, July 30, at 2 pm – register here to hear about key takeaways and next steps from the plenaries and eight ministerial tracks: Adult Faith Formation, Advocacy, Creation Care Teams, Energy Management, Higher Education, Liturgy, School Education, and Young Adult Ministry. The webinar will be recorded and sent to all who register.
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The Sunrise Movement, the “army of young people” advocating for the Green New Deal, is working to elevate the discussion of climate change in the Democratic presidential debates. Already, it reports, it has had success. Co-Founder Varshini Prakash writes, “Back in January, when we launched the call for this action, we had a goal of getting a quarter of major candidates to back the Green New Deal. Today, 16 of the 20 leading candidates back the Green New Deal, and 18 have signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge.”
Sunrise is inviting people to host a Presidential Debate Watch Party on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 30 and 31, when the Gang of 20 gather in Detroit, and also is pushing for a resolution calling for the Democratic Party to either host a climate debate or stop preventing any independent climate debates when the Democratic National Committee meets in San Francisco on August 23.
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Looking further ahead, a number of student strikes are planned immediately before and after the Climate Action Summit that will be hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in New York on Monday, Sept. 23. Much like Pope Francis, Guterres has taken up the cause of climate change with increasing passion and alarm. Here’s what he said recently at a preparatory meeting for the summit:
“It is plain to me that we have no time to lose. Sadly, it is not yet plain to all the decision makers that run our world. On the plus side, we have the Paris Agreement on climate change and a work programme agreed last year in Katowice. But we know that even if the promises of Paris are fully met, we still face at least a 3-degree temperature rise by the end of the century – a catastrophe for life as we know it. Even more worrying is that many countries are not even keeping pace with their promises under the Paris Agreement. That is why I am convening a Climate Action Summit in September. …
“My message is clear: Solutions exist. First, let’s shift taxes from salaries to carbon. We should tax pollution, not people. Second, stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Taxpayers’ money should not be used to boost hurricanes, spread drought and heat waves, and melt glaciers. Third, stop building new coal plants by 2020. We need a green economy, not a grey economy. New infrastructure must be climate-smart and climate-friendly. And we must provide sustainable, clean and affordable energy for the more than 800 million people who still live without access to power.
“What we need is a rapid and deep change in how we do business, generate power, build cities and feed the world. And the past decade has shown that we have the tools to do it. I am asking all leaders, from governments and private sector, to present plans – at the summit or at the latest by December 2020 – to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and get to carbon neutrality by 2050.”
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The youth climate strikes planned for Friday, Sept. 20, will be featured at the next meeting of 350MoCo, on Tuesday, July 30, from 7 to 9 pm at the Aspen Hill Library, 4407 Aspen Hill Road, in Rockville. The guest speaker will be Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, 350.org's North America director. Optional (but appreciated) RSVP here.
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One of those student strikers was recently featured in a UN Foundation blog called “4 Lessons on Supporting the Youth Climate Movement.” Here’s how it starts:
Every Friday, you can find 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor sitting outside United Nations headquarters at work on her “full-time, unpaid job.”
The job? Saving people and planet from the climate crisis. Whether in rain or shine – or even in sub-freezing temperatures – Alexandria is determined to call for greater action on climate change. (Earlier this year, she was almost unrecognizable keeping warm in a giant orange sleeping bag.)
She is one of many youth climate strikers around the world demanding leaders to protect their future – first inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who started striking last August in the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement. Over the past year, strikers like Greta and Alexandria have rallied at two global climate strikes in March and May, each bringing out more than 1 million young people.
As the youth climate movement spreads, with another global strike planned days ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in September, many adults and organizations are questioning what they can do – and what they shouldn’t do – to support young people.
(Key lessons: Listen and respect. But read the full blog to get it all.)
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Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, “Ice on Fire” is an eye-opening documentary that focuses on solutions designed to slow down our escalating environmental crisis. The film goes beyond the current climate change narrative and offers hope that we can actually stave off the worst effects of global warming. You can stream it online here.
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Last week Amazon “Prime Day” came and went, unnoticed by many, I hope! This annual online shopping spree provoked a round of online commentary about consuming less, not more. Along with the usual suggestions, many focused on reducing or replacing the use of paper towels – e.g. through reusable terry cloth. This led me to a company I had not come across before, If You Care. It has an impressive number of environmentally friendly kitchen and household products. You can order through its web site or Amazon (!) – where you can also see reviews. Here’s what they say about themselves:
“If You Care kitchen and household products are carefully and deliberately crafted to have the least environmental impact and the lightest carbon footprint possible, while at the same time delivering to the consumer the highest quality and most effective results. If You Care is the leader in pushing the limits of environmental and social responsibility in its categories. If You Care analyzes the entire life cycle chain in developing products, from raw materials sourcing, to production process, to packaging, to disposal. Every step is considered in assessing environmental and social impacts. If You Care is committed to ethical sourcing. If You Care bases its environmental claims on the best available science, and in accord with national and international standards and regulations. If You Care backs its environmental claims with third-party verification and certification by the leading national and international certifying bodies.”
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Treating Our Soil Like Dirt? And Missing Out On Carbon Capture and Biodiversity At The Same Time
What’s the difference? Dirt is dead, soil is alive with a vast community of organisms that make it fertile. Leah Penniman writes in Yes! Magazine (Spring, 2019) that after the European settlers drove the indigenous people off of the land and began to plow, “It took only a few decades of intense tillage to drive around 50 percent of the original organic matter from the soil into sky as carbon dioxide.” Modern industrial agriculture is a major emitter, and not only from the fossil fuel mega-machines it uses to churn and poison the land. She goes on to say that because they leave cropland bare after the harvest, we lose about 24 million acres to soil erosion and “Soil degradation alone is projected to decrease food production by 30 percent over the next 50 years.” Creating good soil and growing plants captures carbon in the soil, but as Wendy MacNaughton says, “We’re treating our soil like dirt.” (“To Combat Climate Change, Start From the Ground Up,” New York Times, 5/2/2019) So we need to radically change agricultural and gardening practices to begin rebuilding healthy soils.
What is healthy soil? Anne Bikle and David Montgomery in “A DIY Soil Story” in Yes! explain that soil is a vast organic community made up of microbes, insects, worms and myriad other creatures who “circulate the basic compounds and molecules of life “and keep the “creaking wheal of life beneath our feet” turning. Modern agriculture and even spade gardening damages this highly complex symbiosis between these creatures and plants. Millions of microbes are an important part, bringing mineral elements the plants need for health while others make growth hormones. MacNaughton reports that “One tablespoon of soil is filled with more microbes than there are humans on the planet.” Soil is the most biodiverse place on the planet, but, as Bikle and Montgomery report: “North American agricultural soils have lost about half their original complement of organic matter – so far.” Bikle and Montgomery don’t even want to spade up their garden, so instead they make healthy soil.
How is healthy soil made? It’s made by not tilling, and instead adding compost. They harvest leaves from neighbors, save coffee grounds and other kitchen “waste,” get wood chips and even pooh from their nearby zoo! This is all added in a deep layer of mulch. “Restoring life to our soil gave us a ringside seat to the march of life in the rough order in which it evolved on Earth – from microbes and fungi to worms, spiders, beetles, birds and eventually mammals.
At the level of farms, restorative agriculture (sometimes called “conservation agriculture) can use no-till methods, including cover crops, mulches and manures. Take the animals off the CAFOs and return them to the farms so their manure can be used and they can churn the soil with their hoofs as they graze.
Almost everyone can garden, if only in window boxes. And every garden, however small, counts, especially if planted with native varieties to encourage pollinators. Just rethink the suburban lawn – how many millions of tons of food could be produced by pulling out the grass, restoring the soil as the Bikle and Montgomery have done, and how many millions of bees and butterflies can also be fed and so pollinate our food. Let’s change. You don’t have to make a 1000 square foot garden, but make a small start – maybe 5 x 5. Tomorrow.
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Shifferd adds: Perhaps you know the jibe about the man who was caught up on his roof during a flood, and when a log floated by he refused to get on, saying, “The Lord will save me.” And a boat came by, and he sent them on, saying, “The Lord will save me.” And when a canoe came by, he said the same. Of course, he drowned, and on entering the pearly gates he complained: “I had faith, why did not save me?” And God said, “I sent you a log and two boats.” It is we who must take advantage of God’s grace and save ourselves from doing and suffering evil. We have been sent many solutions to the climate/extinction/economic crisis. We all need to get off the roof and on board.
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What does it take to communicate effectively about climate change, especially to Christians? A new research article from the Yale Center on Climate Change Communication concludes from national survey data that one of the top motivations is to “protect God’s creation.” Such stewardship messages lead Christians in the U.S. to increasingly view environmental protection as a moral and religious issue and to increase their belief in the social norm that other Christians care about environmental protection. These changes in beliefs, in turn, lead them to increase their own pro-environmental and climate change beliefs.
Another new research article from Yale investigates the role of climate conversations with friends and family in changing people’s beliefs and concern about climate change. Short summary: It’s important. Specifically, discussing climate change with friends and family led to enhanced understanding of the extent of scientific agreement about human-caused climate change. In turn, better understanding of the scientific agreement led to increased belief that climate change is happening and is human-caused and to increased worry about it.
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We’ve written often in these newsletters about the great climate change communicator Katharine Hayhoe – a climate scientist in Texas married to an evangelical pastor. Recently The Washington Post took note of her with a feature story in the Style section entitled: “One of America’s top climate scientists is an evangelical Christian. She’s on a mission to persuade skeptics.”
Here’s how it starts:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth, and the Earth was shapeless and barren, so God added light and water and land and sky and plants and animals and humans. If you extend this belief forward, then God also created coal and oil and gas, which we began burning to do our own creating, on a massive scale. Health and wealth flowered across the planet, but there were consequences: first for the poor and marginalized, who were more exposed to the pollution, and then for everyone, in the form of a changing climate that is endangering creation. Stretch the belief a bit further, and in 1972, God created Katharine Hayhoe, who would grow up to be both an evangelical Christian and a climate scientist. Join these identities together, and you get another of God’s creations: a prophet.”
The article later highlights Lindsay Mouw, 24, a co-chair in Young Evangelicals for Climate Action who lives in Brainerd, Minn. “Mouw studied abroad in New Zealand, in a Christian community centered on caring for the environment, and returned to her conservative home with a message about sustainability. Her family told her she’d been fed liberal lies.” … [But] “When she put the climate problem in terms of the heart and soul, not just the brain or politics, her family started to see. Taking care of the planet was another way to take care of people. Another way to love.”
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The Office of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church has launched a new series of weekly blog posts on Creation Care. Here’s a bit from the first one, introducing the topic:
“When we are surrounded by the abundance and wealth of the natural world, in awe of all that God has given us, we must also recognize that humans have changed earth cycles, surface, creatures and climate. As Christians, we are called to be stewards of creation as a way of respecting our God, its creator. Through the General Convention, The Episcopal Church has remained committed to addressing environmental issues through policy, charging the Office of Government Relations to take on significant issues pertaining to energy reform and environmental justice. …
“In the weeks to come, we will share educational pieces that outline evolving policy, from various proposals on carbon pricing to focusing on renewable energy. We will also provide an action item to add to your efforts, for while it is important to minimize your individual environmental impact, we must also make sure we collectively take care of our natural resources that our lives depend on.”
Creation Care Prayer
God, maker of marvels,
you weave the planet and all its creatures together in kinship;
your unifying love is revealed
in the interdependence of relationships
in the complex world that you have made.
Save us from the illusion that humankind is separate and alone,
and join us in communion with all inhabitants of the universe;
through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer,
who topples the dividing walls by the power of your Holy Spirit,
and who loves and reigns with you, for ever and ever. Amen.
– Liturgical Materials for Honoring God in Creation, Reported to the 78th General Convention
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As noted above, Pope Francis continues his activist leadership on climate change. From BBC News last month:
The pope has told oil company bosses that climate change threatens the future of the "human family". The oil executives had been invited to the Vatican in Rome for an audience with the pontiff.
Pope Francis said a radical energy transition is needed to save what he called "our common home". The head of BP agreed that the world must find urgent solutions to environmental problems – but said all must play a part. The pope warned him and other bosses: "Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization."
… The pontiff noted the release last year of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This warns there is only 12 years left to cut greenhouse gases and stay within a temperature rise of 1.5C. The pope underlined what he called the climate emergency, saying: "We must take action in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.
"Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation's irresponsibility. Indeed, as is becoming increasingly clear, young people are calling for change."
The meeting focused on a just transition to a lower-carbon world; carbon pricing; and transparency in reporting climate risk. Pope Francis said the transition can, if managed well, generate new jobs, reduce inequality and improve the quality of life for those affected by climate change. Deliberations, he emphasized, "must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done, and concentrate on what needs to be done".
Similarly, from National Catholic Reporter: Francis said "today's ecological crisis, especially climate change, threatens the very future of the human family, and this is no exaggeration."
"For too long, we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis and 'doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,'" he said, citing his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."
It would be grossly unfair for future generations to inherit "a greatly spoiled world," the pope said. "Pardon me if I want to underline this: They, our children, our grandchildren, should not have to pay, it is not right that they pay the cost of our irresponsibility."
… "A radical energy transition is needed to save our common home," he said, and the Catholic Church was "fully committed to playing her part."
"There is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided there is prompt and resolute action."
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From Yale Climate Connections: Scott Rodin was raised in Wyoming as a conservative evangelical Christian. As a child, he learned to love nature, but also to steer clear of environmentalism. He associated it with liberals and atheists. So as an adult, he was skeptical of global warming.
But then Rodin pursued a PhD in theology. And as he immersed himself in religious studies, he reflected on what it really means to be a steward of the earth: “Caring for God’s creation is one of the most important mandates that he gave us as his children. But when I looked at how I lived that out, I always just kind of gave it lip service and went on.”
He started to scrutinize his reasons for being skeptical about climate change, and he realized “None of them were biblical. None of them were coming out of my faith convictions. They were political. They were sociological. And I thought, you know what? There’s something wrong with this picture.”
So Rodin decided that he had to start speaking and writing about climate change and better stewardship of the earth. He shares many of his essays in an online blog. Here is one of those essays, entitled “Ruling as the Image Bearers of God”:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:26–28).
We were created in God’s image so that we might rule over creation just as He rules over us – with love, nurture, care, and compassion. As we consider our role as stewards of God’s creation, we must wrestle with this text that has been so desperately abused. Genesis 1:26 is written as one sentence for a very important purpose. There is an unbreakable link between God’s stated desire to make humankind in His image and His purpose in doing so – that we might rule. Our understanding of what it means to rule over creation is totally defined by the fact that we bear God’s image in everything we do. There are some in the evangelical world who treat this text as if there were no link whatsoever between these two parts of the same sentence. This has produced two extreme errors.
The first error is to equate “rule” with “own.” We have treated creation as if God said to the first couple, “I no longer own any of this; it’s all yours – rule over it and do with it whatever you wish.” And so we rule, not as bearers of the image of God, but as despots and tyrants, believing that creation is here simply for us to use for our own desires and good pleasure. Once we believe that we truly own this world, we make it subservient to our own pursuit of happiness. The ecological crisis we face around the globe bears witness to the fruit of this ownership mentality.
The second error is to rule over through neglect. That is, to believe the earth will always be here and nothing we do can change that. So, we live a self-centered life and ignore our responsibility to nurture and care for the creation. When we rule over it in a disinterested way, we lose the connection between bearing God’s image and His charge to us to rule over creation. The result is similar to that of the first error: a creation that is laid to waste because of our own self-interest and the abdication of our responsibility to be His caretakers.
To avoid both errors, we must always hold together these two parts of this important proclamation from the Creator; we bear God’s image as we rule over God’s creation. In everything we do as leaders in relationship with His created world, we are to be the hands, the heart, and the presence of the God who lovingly created it and who provides for it every day. It is our humble privilege to be coworkers with God in tending to this incredible planet. When we set aside our desire to own and reject the temptation to neglect, we take upon ourselves the mantle of the faithful steward and steward leader. We lead our organizations in serving as caretakers who rule over creation just like God rules over us: with love, compassion, tenderness, and sacrificial service. That is the only way we can truly bear God’s image in our role as rulers of creation.
Imagine that you have created a wonderful little vegetable garden. You have spent countless hours in the hot sun constructing raised beds, installing a watering system, selecting the right soil, and carefully planting row after row of seeds. Your hard work and patience paid off, and the garden is in full bloom. Every day you go out and pick the weeds, make sure the water is working well, and check the fence to make sure no rabbits or other animals can get in to eat your crop. And then you decide to go away for a week. You ask a dear friend to take care of the garden for you while you are gone. To make sure this friend understands exactly what needs to be done, you write a very careful list as a guide. Take a moment and write down for yourself what you think you would include on that list. Be specific: watering twice a day, weeding, checking the fence, looking for bugs, harvesting as needed, etc. Now take a look at that list and ask, as one who has been given the supreme privilege and vocation of representing God in caring for this world, what kind of list has God left you as a steward of creation? How well do you know what is on that list, and how faithful are you in carrying it out as you bear His image in this world?
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For our closing reflection, we turn to the Rev. Canon Dr. Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who offered these sermon notes last month on the “Sustainable Preaching” web site – this one entitled “Sinning Against the Earth?”
In 1997, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated the following: “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease by contaminating the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances – all of these are sins.”
In Galatians 5:1, 13-25 there is a list of those issues which we normally consider to be sins:
5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are mostly individual sins, and the Church has tended to focus very much on one or two of them, such as sexual immorality or drunkenness. And yet the passage goes on to say:
5:14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
God has given us certain commands: How can we say we are loving our neighbor if we are destroying the web of life on which our neighbor depends for life? When our lifestyles are causing misery for the poorest of the poor in terms of flooding, drought and soaring food prices?
The Law of God includes some basic teachings: The creation of the world by the loving Creator (Genesis 1:26), Genesis 2:15 (we are commissioned to serve and preserve creation), Genesis 9:8-17 (the covenant between God and the world), and Ezekiel 34:18-19 (abuse of creation and injustice to our neighbor), as well as the Lord’s Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) and Mark 16:15 (the Great Commission – preach good news to the whole of creation).
So therefore if we break the law of God, by not caring for creation and by not loving our neighbor, we are sinning. Our neighbor is not just the person who lives downstream of our waste and carbon emissions, “our neighbor” also refers to the generations to come.
And yet, it is not only the command to “love our neighbor” that we are breaking. A powerful quote from Gus Speth, former environmental advisor to President Bill Clinton, said the following: “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that 30 years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
Selfishness, greed and apathy – these are all ‘individual sins”. Climate change is a symptom of the underlying cause, which is greed and inequality. Our access to cheap consumer goods comes from abuse of the environment and abuse of workers. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Authentic Christianity has always been deeply suspicious of materialistic views of prosperity – “you cannot worship God and Mammon”, and yet over the centuries we have rationalized this saying away. We need to move from a vision of development as ever-increasing industrial growth, to a vision of life and community sustaining civilization.
Biblical archaeology studies looking at the ruins of ancient Israel reveal that during the period when houses were more or less the same size, the prophets grew silent. At other periods when huge houses stood next to tiny dwellings, the voice of the prophets rose, and they thundered for justice.
A sense of sinfulness, of lament can lead to repentance and change. We live in a global community, where our selfish actions impact on those most vulnerable. In the words of Bono: “I think that God is on His knees to us, to the Church, waiting for us to turn around this supertanker of indifference. Waiting for us to recognize that distance can no longer decide who is our neighbor. We can’t choose our neighbors any more.”
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On behalf of the Environment Committee,
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