There is a fundamental precept among climate change activists and radical environmentalists that man is an interloper in the natural world. All would be pristine if it weren’t for us. There seems to be little appreciation that humans are part of creation, that we are supposed to be here, part of the interplay among living organism in which there is both giving and taking.
The role of the human person in creation is developed quite explicitly in the Bible. In the very opening pages of the Scriptures we read of Adam and Eve:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:28-31).
Man is no mere observer or denizen of creation; he has the authority of a steward. The Hebrew word used in this passage is a strong one: kabash (subdue). It means to bring something into submission, to impose a kind of order. Scripture also says, Then the LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (Gen 2:15).
It is remarkable that these things are said even before Original Sin. Thus, even in the paradise of Eden there is something imperfect, something undone. Man was to work with God in the ongoing work of maintaining creation and helping it reach its potential and achieve its goals.
Original Sin harmed both man and the rest of creation. God said to Adam, Cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field (Gen 3:17-18). In spite of this, God reiterates the role of the human person:
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:1-3).
It is this sovereign stewardship that is celebrated in Preface Five for the Sundays of the year:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For you laid the foundations of the world and have arranged for the changing of times and seasons; you have formed man in your own image and set humanity over the whole world in all its wonder, to rule in your name over all you have made and forever praise you in your mighty works, through Christ our Lord.
And so, with all the Angels, we praise you,
as in joyful celebration we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy …
All these texts are an answer to the modern, secular, extremist notion that reduces man to an unnatural intruder in the created world. We are not. We are meant to be here. The world was made for us by God, and we are to exercise a dominion that brings order and greater productivity to the created order by God’s grace.
In our best moments, we have done this beautifully. Advances in agricultural science have almost miraculously raised crop yields such that abundant food can be made available worldwide for billions. Forest management has permitted us to reap the benefits of trees while keeping our forests from being depleted through replanting and other measures. Fisheries, animal husbandry, wildlife management, nature conservancies, and national parks bless millions and encourage appreciation for the natural world. We have developed an amazing ability to use the raw minerals and materials of the earth to build and make wonderful things.
Further, the rise of hospitals in the early Christian era and medical study that followed in the West has driven back disease, dramatically lowered infant mortality, and relieved an enormous amount of human suffering. Modern Western economies have raised the standard of living for huge numbers of people, drawing many out of crushing poverty and subsistence living and making food and consumer goods available in rich variety.
There surely have been times when we have polluted, been wasteful, destroyed forests, and engaged in agricultural policies that contributed to crises such as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However, we have also learned much, especially in the modern age.
It is unjust to demonize humanity in the name of environmentalism. We are tasked by God to take the world He gave us and make good decisions about how it should be used: some land for farming, some for forests, and some for cities and other developments. It is our role to help unlock the full potential of the natural world by using its resources to make everything from medicine to food, from paint to steel, from grapes to wines and jellies.
It is important to resist accepting the premises of an increasingly radicalized movement. Man is not the enemy. Too many activists propose morally unacceptable solutions such as abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia in the name of “population control.” Other proposals include heavy-handed government intrusion to limit family size, eliminate entire industries, and ban certain fuel sources violate subsidiarity and are likely to have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Creating hysteria about climate change and warning of impending extinction is an old tactic of this movement. I have been hearing similarly dire predictions all my life, but here we still are. Believe what you want about climate change and its causes, but be careful to note what this movement has become and the dramatic, anti-human policies it has adopted.
Humanity is the crowning glory of this planet. We are not intruders into the world of nature. God made this world and put us here in it. Irresponsible stewardship is a sin, but extremist solutions are also a sin—against the dignity of the human person.
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation