Humankind has a special gift: the ability to find just the right questions to be sure we never find an answer. Amazing, isn’t it?, that we get in big arguments about answers as if they mattered as much as the questions. The truth is that questions are far more powerful than are the answers. And apparently they are far more difficult to frame.
In our culture we’re arguing about whether climate is changing and, if so, how much of the change is due to human factors which we can correct.
The first question should be simple enough: The climate is warming. People have to try very hard to squirm out of that obvious answer.
The second question should also be simple: Of course we are contributing to the change (although the exact degree of our contribution is not possible to determine) and of course we can and should be making the behavioral alternations that will alleviate the problem.
If the answers are so simple, why can’t we agree on them? The vast majority of people do, in fact, agree. But those with vested financial interest in the status quo — and those beholden to them -are making enormous profits off our dependence upon fossil fuels. Because many of those indebted to the profit-makers are politicians, Washington is crippled by the dishonest and irresponsible politicians who pretend the questions are still unanswered. At root, the problem is the moral evil of plain, old-fashioned greed. Our oil companies and our conservative politicians are gripped by it.
A major part of the problem, however, lies in the questions themselves. The deeper and more important question, which will provide the proper context in which the first two can be asked and answered, is simply this: ARE WE RESPONSIBLE FOR EARTH-KEEPING?
Biblically, of course, there is no doubt at all. The story of our creation is centered in these words:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:26ff).
Read those words very, very carefully. It doesn’t matter whether you are are Christian or Jew or Muslim or agnostic or atheist — these are at the very least words of great wisdom which we cannot afford to ignore.
Notice these ideas from among the many others here: We are created in God’s image, created to be like him. We are mandated to subdue and have dominion over the rest of nature.
Everything hangs on what is meant by “subdue” and “have dominion.” If we interpret the words the way they have come to be used today, we will be ignoring the first verse and therefore taking “subdue” and “dominion” out of context. That is a dishonest way to read.
We are to subdue and have dominion over the earth because we are in God’s image. That is, we are to care for the earth the way God does. He is creative, imaginative, highly sensitive to beauty and strength and harmony. There is no suggestion that he gave the earth away, simply that he entrusted his earth to our care. He has not told us that the earth is no longer his.
What is it like when you give a gift to someone who then proceeds to abuse and misuse that gift? Then how does our Creator feel about our abuse of the earth?
Therefore, before we even consider the specifics of climate change, we must agree that we are responsible for earth-keeping, for stewardship of our planet. We are not irresponsible owners but responsible caretakers. We are capable of severely polluting the earth — and we have often proven — and we are capable of ceasing to pollute — as we have often proven. Anyone who smelled the stench of Los Angeles forty years ago and smells Los Angeles today knows that we can do great harm or great good. And likewise for those who have seen western North Dakota four years ago and sees it today, badly maimed by fracking.
Which is the responsible choice?
If Ronald Reagan hadn’t halted our progress toward alternative energies, we would not have such serious problems today. We are paying a very great price for his short-sightedness.