Creation Care is Pro-Life, Revisited
Caring for the planet God gave us isn't earth worship. It's about caring for the needs of every person we share creation with.
In Embracing Curiosity, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life, exploring my faith and politics with curiosity and nuance.
I originally wrote this piece for Earth Day 2020. I wrote another similar piece that was republished on Red Letter Christians. I’ve decided to revisit the piece and add a few new reflections for this year’s celebration of Earth Day.
The first time I fully understood the human cost of climate change was two years after we moved to the Houston area. My husband and I, both raised in the Midwest, watched with fascination and then concern and then deep sadness as we witnessed Hurricane Harvey's fury unleashed on our adopted city. In the two years prior, we experienced at least two massive flooding events that temporarily shut down our city, one of which kept the kids and myself out of school for a full week. But this was different. The rain never stopped coming, we kept pumping the water out of our backyard and toward the street, and as the waters receded, we delivered supplies to our church and drove around to show our kids the local aftermath of a storm that never seemed to go away.
The floods destroyed the homes of rich and poor alike, but it was the poor who suffered the most long-term damage. They lost their homes, places of work, and the polluted waters and increase in mold counts from houses that were not fully gutted on time affected their health. The significant homeless population in our area had nowhere to find refuge since most of their preferred locations were covered in water and then littered with toxic debris.
Hurricanes are a natural part of living along the Gulf coast. Everyone living near an ocean knows there is a very real possibility that they will eventually experience severe tropical weather. But the years leading up the Harvey and the Atlantic and Gulf storms that followed in the next two months demonstrated what could continue to be an increased reality for those who live near oceans: an increase in both storms and intensity as the oceans continue to reach higher temperatures and remain warmer for longer.
Climate change isn't just about storms. Changing climate patterns have also caused some crops to dry up and others to drown in expansive flood waters.This doesn't just hurt the livelihood of farmers and those who work their fields. It affects the food supply chain around the world. While famine seems out of the question for developed countries, famine in developing countries, which are already struggling for economic survival, is a cause of tribal warfare, high infant mortality, and increased refugee crises. Those wars and refugees often spill over into other countries, making famine a global issue. Rising oceans threaten people who live along coastlines across the globe, and it isn't just the rich oceanfront property landowners who are impacted. People of varying economic status around the world live near water, and there are fears that others could be pushed out of their inland homes as people move away from coast lines to escape higher tides. And as with hurricanes and typhoons, it is the poorest amongst us who are most likely to lose their homes and livelihood.
Creation care is not a belated reaction to global climate change. It is a position that is consistent with a belief in God and his role in the creation of the universe. It is an understanding that we are all interdependent, that our environmental behaviors, for better or for worse, impact others. It is an acceptance of responsibility for being good stewards of the planet and our finite resources and ensuring that there is enough for all of our planet’s inhabitants.
Because there are some environmental issues that just shouldn’t be up for debate.
Air pollution decreases life expectancy and creates chronic health issues for individuals who have been exposed to significant concentrations of pollutants their entire lives. COVID-19 showed us the impact of air pollution on human health (those who had weakened lungs due to years of exposure continue to be more susceptible to the virus and prolonged illness) but we also saw clear skylines in major cities around the world; in some cases we saw those skylines for the first time in over a decade. While 2020 showed us that our global economy cannot survive a permanent shut down of industry and an end to people driving cars, we saw how quickly our air can clear when we cut down the pollutants we've been pumping into it for decades.
Water pollution doesn't just hurt those who are living in an area with contaminated water. It also has lifelong implications in the physical and mental health of the unborn if their mothers are exposed to water pollutants throughout their lives. Flint, Michigan isn't the only city that has struggled with lead poisoning, which doesn't just cause major health issues but also can severely impact the mental abilities of children who are exposed at young ages. Approximately 30% of the global population does not have easy access to clean drinking water. This doesn't just affect the water they consume, but their ability to stop the spread of disease by being able to practice hygiene, a significant problem as a pandemic continues to spread.
There are many who criticize environmental movements for raising plants and animals to the same status as humans. Some complain that the determination to protect an endangered plant or animal prevents development for human use. And it is true that some environmentalists forget to examine at the historical record which shows indigenous peoples changing the landscape for the good of civilization. Not every example of environmental engineering is another Lake Mead water crisis brewing.
But just as we are dependent on other humans for our survival, we are also dependent on the ecosystem that makes up our home. Plants provide us with food, oxygen, shelter, clothing, shade, and provide those same things to the animals we have come to depend on for food, clothing, and sometimes companionship. Bats help to control our insect populations. Grazing animals help control overgrowth in fields and forests. Carrion birds help to clean up death and decay. A balanced ecosystem benefits all of us and should be a priority.
There is nothing inherently wrong with elevating human beings in the grand scheme of progress. The problem is that when we sacrifice the health of the planet in the name of progress, we do so to our own detriment. Humans are not living in a bubble where we are not adversely affected by the damage our progress has caused. Instead, from our health to our homes, we are seeing what happens when we do not take care of the land, fellow creatures, water, and air that God gifted us with. Progress that destroys our home is not progress. It is instead a deterioration of the very lives we claim we want to build.
Being a pro-life environmentalist means you care about the planet because you understand all the ways a damaged earth negatively impacts the health and well-being of your fellow humans, particularly those who are most vulnerable. When we know better, we do better. We prioritize creation care because we understand that a healthy planet is essential for the fruitful survival of the humans charged with its care from the very beginning. We want to see safe environments for all children to grow into a healthy adulthood and beyond.
Creation care may not look the same for everyone, but if there is anything that the last decade has taught us, it is that inaction has already cost us far too much. And doing something could actually mean a better future for all of us.
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In fact, we saw severely flooded fields from Indiana through Arkansas on our spring break trip this year. It was shocking to see fields that were so flooded that there were whitecaps formed by the high winds.
This episode of the new podcast Make Me Care About had a fascinating look at our sewage systems: https://shows.acast.com/6405044deff3ce0011dc51cc/641dd08a297763001038de87