Regular readers of CleanTechnica and the other myriad sites that make up the Important Media network will (hopefully) recognise the name Joshua S Hill (i.e., me). I’ve been writing for Important (and its predecessor Green Options) Media since September of 2007 (and no, I’m not linking to my first article – it’s probably atrocious). Writing about and covering the world of global warming and clean technology has been a big part of my life – nearly a third, to be precise. I am not only passionate about clean technology for the sake of technological innovation, but also because I believe our planet is one of the greatest gifts humanity has ever received.
Keen-eyed readers of my work may have run across my small bio that appears at the bottom of every article. It reads, in part, “I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket!” Many of you have introduced yourself to me to share your own passion for clean technology and your faith – and I appreciate your taking the time to say hello.
Some readers may have questioned why I included the label “Christian” in my small bio and wondered what it has to do with anything at all. However, in my mind, and in my experience, my Christian faith is not just the most important aspect of what makes me me, but it is also the driving force behind my passion for clean technology and my desire to highlight the threat of global warming. My current (public) career path is as a direct result of starting out as a science journalist, which in turn turned my attention to developing an idea which I call “Godly stewardship”.
Simply put, if I am to take seriously the commands given to me by God in the Bible and entrust my life to faith in God, then one of the key tenants of my life should be Godly stewardship – stewardship of my finances, my relationships, my possessions, and most relevantly to this article and the readers of Cleantechnica, stewardship of the environment and this planet.
You don’t necessarily need to share my beliefs about Christianity, faith, God, and the Bible – and I’m not here asking you to. However, what is important is to see that the Bible doesn’t simply suggest we should look after the planet and its environment, it’s a fully fledged command that Christians must contend with if we are to take the Bible seriously. My intent is not to evangelise, but rather to clearly delineate the obvious discrepancy between those who claim Christian belief but in turn pit themselves against environmental and clean technology policies and ways of thinking.
Let’s first tackle the definition of what I am calling Godly stewardship. This is important, not just to let you the reader into my thinking, but to lay out an argument against the unBiblical treatment of our planet, environment, and resources that is espoused by those labelled collectively (but incorrectly) as “evangelical Christians” – a term that once had a genuine theological definition but has not been corrupted by a) conservative, right-wing Christians, and b) liberals and, as a result, the mainstream media, which now uses the phrase as a catch-all for Christians. It is not, and evangelicalism as a larger and more important term is thus threatened.
Many proponents of clean technology and advocates for halting global warming will have encountered these right-wing conservatives who attempt to (and often succeed in) prevent the development of policies that would support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Their primary argument is often economic – ie, they think that they must stand up for coal miners or prevent excessive tax burdens supporting clean technology. The reality is that their concerns are economic, but the nuanced version is that they are concerned with their own economics – their investments, their ownership, their priorities, etc.
Unfortunately for Christians such as myself, many of these climate and clean technology sceptics also tend to publicise and root their arguments in a quasi-religious worldview that, upon closer examination, bears very little resemblance to reality — be it religious or economic.
If you were to open your Bibles to its first pages you would not need to look far or be well-versed in theological technicalities to discover God’s first (and in my opinion primary) command to Godly stewardship:
The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. – Genesis 2:15
The garden of Eden was that first perfect garden, and literal or otherwise, the importance of what Genesis has to tell us about the garden’s first occupants is important. Of course, there might be those who point out that this is only the garden of Eden and not the whole world. They might point to a preceding verse and argue the rules between Earth and Eden are different:
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28
This is a perfectly legitimate point to raise, as the word “subdue” seems to leave no question as to man’s role on earth – ie, rule over it and subdue it to his wishes. However, one of the single most important things about reading from and understanding the Bible is to look at a verse in its context – both its immediate context (the surrounding verses) and the larger Biblical context (what the Bible as a whole has to say on the subject). It’s no good pulling out a verse which appears to say what you want it to say only for it to actually be completely out of context and, therefore, criminally inaccurate.
If you look at this verse in its proper immediate context you will see that it follows immediately after God has created “living creatures according to their kind” ranging from beasts of the air, land, and sea, and has looked upon what He created and “saw that it was good” (1:25). God also then “created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). Only then does God instruct His two-legged creations to “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”
In other words, the context is for humans to rule over God’s creation — creation that God looked upon and declared good!
God saw that it was good.
When a creator looks upon his creation and considers it good, does he then proceed to destroy it, ruin it, or mangle it beyond repair? Does the creator place his creation under the protection of caretakers expecting they will promptly ravish and obliterate it? Of course not! A creator places his creation under the protection of caretakers so that they will take care of it! And in the same way, as we saw in Genesis 2:15, God created man and placed him in authority over the earth to be its caretaker. We may eat of the beasts the planet creates and utilise its resources, but not to the destruction and detriment of God’s creation!
Words can change their meaning, but when put in the greater context of the Bible, words like “subdue” and “dominion” do not give us the leeway to trample across creation with no thought of our repercussions. God expected common sense and keen-minded stewardship.
Common Biblical Cents
The concept of Godly stewardship doesn’t rely solely on the opening chapters of Genesis, however, but is represented throughout the whole of God’s inspired Scripture – evolving, being fleshed out, and fully formed so that humanity can excel at being good caretakers of God’s creation. To be sure, humanity sinned and fell into disrepair itself – needing the saving work of Jesus Christ upon the cross – but our inherent sinfulness does not absolve us of our role as caretakers. We might not be as excellent at our jobs as we could be, but the Bible nevertheless lays out the case for Godly stewardship in the hopes that some of us will take heed.
The Bible, by virtue of the time it was written and to whom it was written for, is restricted in what sort of “dominion” humans are to exercise. In other words, they had cows and fields, not haul trucks and open-pit mines. But the teaching is the same – Godly stewardship applies to both fields and mines. The proverb writer said, “A righteous man cares about his animal’s health,” (Proverbs 12:10a) and, in a particularly evocative commandment, God explains how to treat the environment during war:
When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can get food from them. You must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human, to come under siege by you? – Deuteronomy 20:19
Common sense interpretations of the Bible’s passages and commands to do with Godly stewardship of the environment give us a very clear picture of what God expects of and for His creations.
Of course, a Biblical case for Godly stewardship does not solely stem from or refer to things which are green and leafy, or that walk on four legs, swim through the sea, or fly through the air. There is a much greater case for Godly stewardship that must impact the whole of a Christian’s life – from how they steward their finances and talents, to how they steward their friendships, careers, and responsibilities.
There is a very helpful parable that Jesus told that is recounted in Matthew 25:14-30 (and Luke 19 – but I’m going to focus on the Matthew version). The concept of a parable is simple; Jesus would use a story with cultural and local significance to teach those listening of a greater principle. In this case, Jesus describes a rich man who leaves a specific sum of money with three of his servants – five talents, two talents, and one talent (a talent being around 6,000 denarii at the time). Upon the return of the rich man he calls the three servants together and demands to know what they accomplished with the money he gave them. The first and second both doubled their money and were rewarded appropriately. The third, however, was scared of his master and hid his money in the ground so he wouldn’t screw up, but his cowardice is punished.
At the end of most of Jesus’ parables, He summed up what He was trying to teach. In this case, Jesus said:
For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. – Matthew 25:29
This passage definitely gets into some heavy themes about judgement that are surplus to requirements here – though no less important in the greater sphere of Christianity. But, simply put, this parable – and Jesus’ summation – have to do with Godly stewardship of what has been entrusted to us. God is the rich man and we are the servants to whom God has bestowed great blessings. The question is what will we do with His blessings? American New Testament scholar Craig L. Blomberg puts it well:
(1) Like the master, God entrusts all people with a portion of his resources, expecting them to act as good stewards of it. (2) Like the two good servants, God’s people will be commended and rewarded when they have faithfully discharged that commission. (3) Like the wicked servant, those who fail to use the gifts God has given them for his service will be punished by separation from God and all things good.
The word “talents” here does not simply refer to financial resources, but to all that God has given us – which, to the mind of a Christian, is everything in our lives; money, talents, friendships, material possessions, etc.
The wicked servant does not intrinsically represent non-Christians, but rather all those who misuse what God has entrusted us with which, as we know, is not neatly divided between religious boundaries. There are many Christians and non-Christians alike who are mistreating the blessings bestowed upon them — be it financial, environmental, relational, etc. In comparison, those who are good stewards over what they have been given are rewarded – in some instances, they are rewarded with more here on Earth, and for the Christian, they will be rewarded in Heaven.
Ownership? What Ownership?
I have spent over a decade involved in covering, to one extent or another, the science, policy, finance, and development pertaining to global warming and the transition to a low-carbon society. There are many arguments in favour of limiting global warming and transitioning to a low-carbon society, ranging from common sense, scientific, human rights, environmental, and – at long last – economic. There was a time when clean technology was expensive and did require government intervention. We are very quickly passing the time where this is any longer the case, however, and numerous studies – not to mention repeated real-world examples – show that the low-carbon society is also the most economically viable society.
And yet, resistance exists. Why?
I think one good explanation for the existing resistance to combatting global warming and supporting a transition to a low-carbon society comes down to a common human trait – greed, and in particular the greed of ownership and its attendant concept, entitlement.
There are many arguments to be had over ownership. Americans and Australians (I’m an Aussie) alike can argue over who owns the land; those who were here first — indigenous inhabitants — or those who came along afterwards — colonizers. The average citizen can debate who owns the land upon which their house is built – do they, or does the government? Entire nations can supersize the debate over who owns the strip of grass between two houses when they get into a shouting match over a border, or a small intervening country. One need only look at Russia’s fear of expanding NATO influence in countries it deems within its “sphere of influence” to see the potential catastrophes awaiting us.
Pull it out even further and you can have the discussion relevant to the environment – who owns it? Do corporations own the patch of ground they are mining, logging, drilling for oil, building new buildings, etc? Go even further! Do we as humans get to proclaim ourselves owners of anything at all? Expand the horizons again and ask, is our current generation more important than the ones who came before, or the ones who will come after? Do we own the planet and its environment more than our ancestors or our descendants?
For the non-Christian, this debate could go on forever (and likely will). I’m sorry. I can’t really contribute to that debate because I am a Christian and my faith (as it must) impacts everything I do and think, and as a result, I inherently do not believe humanity owns or is entitled to anything at all. Evangelical theologian R. Scott Rodin explains it this way:
…this creation is not “ours.” Despite the ability to own land, buy natural resources, purchase mineral rights and so forth, we at no time are ever the ultimate owners of any part of this creation. We did not create it; we do not cause the rain to fall, the sun to shine, the seeds to grow, or any of the natural forces that characterize this splendid creation. For all that science and technology have done for us, they deceive us when they lead us to believe that whatever control we may be able to harness carries with it the right to absolute ownership.
Again, I do not expect non-Christians to fully support this principle – it’s Biblical in nature and therefore for Christians to obey. I’m not explaining this as a means to defend my position or to convert a non-Christian’s point of view on these matters. Rather, I’m intentionally highlighting the Biblical view so that all, regardless of religious inclination, are able to compare the actions of Christians preventing the low-carbon transition against what the Bible instructs. This juxtaposition shows that those who profess to be Christians, but who actively interfere and oppose environmental and clean technology policies and thinking, are deluding themselves and actively disobeying God and His commands. Those who claim faith in God but then actively trash His creation, or those who participate in policies and economics which achieve the same end result, have either missed something along the way or are actively ignoring God’s instructions.
This is not a difficult premise to get behind, and raises specific questions about those who do stand against these principles?
- What’s in it for you?
- What’s your stake in the discussion?
- What do you have to lose?
The discrepancy is blindingly obvious for those who choose to make their Christian faith public but continue to work in favour of fossil fuels, logging, pollution, etc; who work to propagate false climate science or those who raise doubts about the integrity of the scientific majority; those who rail against the transition to a low-carbon economy using falsehoods and out-of-date arguments. There’s something else at play. The Bible does not support ravaging the planet based on some theological argument over prioritised human-ownership and -entitlement – it argues and commands the opposite. Non-Christians should have a much easier time of arguing such concepts than a Christian because they need not worry about God’s commands as written in His Word. The Christian, however, must answer for their actions – both now, and in the eternal future.
For the Christian, the Bible is clear. Humanity is not entitled to anything – everything we have is a gift from God, from our health to the world around us — and as with any gift God has given us, we must prioritise Godly stewardship.
There is no legitimate Biblical argument that gives Christians the right to fully support continued use of fossil fuels, actively prevent the transition to a low-carbon economy, or continue the global warming debate as if there’s something left to debate. The evidence is in! There are many contributing factors to our warming planet, but a significant factor is carbon dioxide – and other greenhouse gases – stemming from fossil fuels. Not only does the scientific majority concur, but the risk of acting and being wrong is insignificant when compared to the risk of not acting and being right.
This is not an argument against common sense energy and environmental policy. Some might like to magically switch off all coal-fired power plants tomorrow, but we can’t do that yet. Fossil fuels are too firmly entrenched in the workings of society – both developed and developing – for an overnight switch to work safely. Unthinking ambition is not what is called for, but neither is excessive caution — not to mention outright refusal to participate in the switch to low-carbon energy generation. The low-carbon transition has proven itself economically beneficial to every corner of the globe it touches, as well as environmentally advantageous.
If you are not a Christian and stand against this transition, then you have a number of arguments to rely upon – though you are wrong. If you are a Christian, however, you have one simple question to ask yourself: am I being a good steward of God’s creation?
 Interpreting the Parables, Craig L. Blomberg, p. 271
 Christian teachers are very pleased and frustrated with how this aligned
 Stewards in the Kingdom: A Theology of Life in All Its Fullness, R. Scott Rodin, p. 80
 We can have a debate over how all people should be Christians, but again, that’s outside the scope of this article.