The creeping things got here first, scripture says.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind; and it was so (Genesis 1:20-24, KJV).
The creeping things got here first. That’s the way Genesis (and Charles Darwin) tell it. Human beings showed up later. In Genesis 2, ADAM is formed “from the dust of the ADAMAH (earth, ground), and then come the animals, because, God says, “It is not good that the man [humanity] should be alone” (2:18, KJV).
“The report is the most comprehensive investigation of biodiversity and ecosystem realities ever conducted.”
That was then; this is now: It appears that millennia later humanity is working diligently to reverse creation and be alone again, documented in an apocalyptic warning from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), recently released by the United Nations. The 3-year investigation involved 145 scientific authorities from 50 countries, including the United States, plus an additional 310 contributors. The report is the most comprehensive investigation of biodiversity and ecosystem realities ever conducted.
An IPBES summary begins: “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely. . .” Its cataclysmic candor documents that as many as 1 million animal and plant species are nearing extinction, “many within decades.” In our lifetimes, the prophetic calculations found in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Paul and Anne Erlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) have become “end time” realities for planet earth.
The data anticipate environmental catastrophes related to five specific global, humanity-engendered actualities: “(1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution; and (5) invasive alien species.” Such insidious pursuits extend from oceanic overfishing, fossil fuel pollutants, plastics that contaminate water, food and air, all the way to “bug zappers” and weed-killing toxins in our own backyards. The threat covers a wide spectrum of living things including fish, whales, penguins and polar bears, insects seen and unseen, and plants in almost every category of fauna, 90 percent of which require pollination by some of the most endangered birds and insects.
In a May 13 New Yorker essay, Elizabeth Kolbert highlights “synthetic pesticides, which don’t distinguish between insects that are useful and those that are unwanted.” She warns that while such “chemicals are supposed to prevent crop failures . . . they may end up causing them.” Kolbert also cites the IPBES report’s assertion that population increases lie at the center of these declining resources in a world of 8 billion human beings, a statistic double what it was 50 years ago. Feeding, clothing and housing that multitude has “significantly altered” some 75 percent of the world’s land areas evidenced in the destruction of 75 million acres of forest in the last decade, literally taking our breath away.
“Adam and Eve broke the rules required for life in the Garden. These days it appears that we’ve broken faith with the entire planet.”
Such deplorable statistics indicate that the Genesis 1:28 mandate, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” has become a throwaway proof text for abuses, from the industrial revolution and the atom bomb to mountain top removal. “Dominion” became the seedbed of extinction. In Genesis, Adam and Eve broke the rules required for life in the Garden. These days it appears that we’ve broken faith with the entire planet, chopping down the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” all together, a devastatingly unoriginal sin.
The earth and its creatures have served us well. Now it is our turn to serve them. As Christians, here are three steps we should consider:
1. Connect with faith-based groups working for environmental justice and reconciliation.
Some groups have been steadfastly addressing these concerns for a long time, including Target Earth, A Rocha Trust, Evangelical Environmental Network, Plant with Purpose, Sojourners and National Religions Partnership for the Environment, among others. (I should note that American Baptist Churches USA, formally addressed environmental dangers as early as 1977, and global warming by 1991.)
2. Confront political recalcitrance with prophetic demands.
The IPBES report does offer some hope, but only if “transformative changes” related to “production and consumption of energy, food, feed, fibre and water” are set in motion ASAP. At present, however, such hope is difficult to muster, particularly in the U.S. When the White House and the Senate are controlled by persons who not only deny the findings of IPBES and related studies, but also promote policies that exacerbate nature’s devastation, apocalyptic environmental cataclysms will continue unabated.
3. Challenge our churches and ourselves.
To be blunt, are you prepared for your home, business, place of worship or neighborhood to be washed away, blown away, burned down or otherwise destroyed by environmental catastrophes related to climate change, but consistently derided and discounted as “fake news” by conservative news media and conservative politicians, religious leaders and radio talk-show personalities?
Individually and collectively, we must confront these environmental emergencies without further delay, “witnessing” to government officials in behalf of environmental justice and spiritually preparing congregations for the environmental “end times” when all of us are “left behind.”
For what if Jesus should finally return “with a shout” at “the last trumpet”? And there’s no one to greet Him? Not one “living thing.”
Katherine Smith | Earth Day: an urgent call to creation care and environmental justice