The tragic consequences, whether it is the premature banning of DDT and the resulting resurgence of mosquito borne diseases, or the protection of animals at the expense of human being's health and welfare, starkly remind us that all voices need to be raised in the public square.
God and Man in the Environmental Debate
by Jay W. Richards, Director of Institutional Relations
I recently received a letter from a leading botanist at a prominent scientific institution. The letter was mostly agreeable and even complimentary. But near the end, when humanity became the subject, its tone darkened. The scientist said he disagreed with me that human beings were part of the plan, as it were. On the contrary, he complained about “the devastation humans are currently imposing upon our planet”:
"Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!"
Based on his public writings, I would expect this scientist to be personable and humane. Nevertheless, in his private correspondence, he casually wishes for the deaths of many millions of his fellow human beings. If he were merely offering an eccentric, private opinion, I wouldn’t be writing about it. Unfortunately, his desire is all too common among some self-described “environmentalists.” Our wellbeing, on this view, doesn’t really enter into the calculation. We are, at best, an accident of cosmic history, and at worst, despoilers and destroyers. Adding more humans to the planet, then, is as bad as adding more parasites to an already ailing host.
Again, this would be merely academic, except that such ideas have real world consequences. Every environmental policy implemented by government authority, for instance, stems from someone’s views about the nature of man and man’s place in nature. If those views are anti-human, the policy probably will be anti-human as well. Consider the ban on DDT in the 1970s.
The ban, which in hindsight we know was misguided, has resulted in the deaths of more than a million people a year. The vast majority of these deaths have been among the poor in developing countries.
Because environmental policies perpetuate certain notions about the human person, and because these notions have real world consequences, Christians have little choice but to engage the debate over the environment. In particular, we should strongly challenge the misanthropic strain in the modern environmental movement. Human beings aren’t an accident. We are an intended part of God’s good creation. And while God called everything he created “good,” he only called human beings, whom He created in his own image, “very good.”
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