Saturday, July 29, 2006



The earth's ecosystems are finely tuned to temper climate, purify and store water, recycle wastes, produce food and support the continued existence of all the living things. Physical life rests on an ecological base from which we extract food for survival and resources to build our communities, produce goods, and dispose of wastes.

A century ago the exploitation of natural capital wasn't viewed as such a problem because the earth's bounty seemed infinite. This situation has changed dramatically over the last 40 years. In this brief period, we have consumed more of the world's natural wealth than in the entire prior history of humankind. (New Internationalist, April 1996) There is now a solid body of research documenting the rapid ecological destruction of the planet as forests are hacked down, deserts spread, fertile soils are ruined by erosion and salinization, fisheries are exhausted, and ground-water reserves are contaminated or pumped dry.


• The United States which contains less than 6% of the world's population, consumes about 40% of the world's natural resources. Canadians consume four times above the level that is environmentally sustainable. (Earth Council, 1997)

• Almost half the forests that once covered the earth are gone with nearly 200 million hectares of forests destroyed since 1980. (Worldwatch Inst., State of the World, 1999)

• Deforestation is resulting in the erosion of 12 million hectares (25 billion tons) of topsoil annually. Latest studies suggest that as much as 41% of the earth's land surface is seriously affected by desertification. (Green Teacher, Winter 1998/99, Toronto, p.57)

• Agricultural bio-diversity which includes the genetic resources from plants, forests, animals and fish, are being lost at an unprecedented rate. A fifth of all freshwater fish are either extinct or endangered and about 70% of the world's marine species are in rapid depletion. (N.I. March/97) The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that 75% of the world's agricultural diversity has been lost.

• Since the early 1990s, fish stocks have been declining in 11 of the world's 17 major fisheries. (UN FAO)

• Globally, food production is growing at its lowest rate in four decades and is on the decline in 90 countries. The world production of grain has been declining since the mid 1980s. Globally the average grain harvest dropped from 30 million tons a year in 1984 to 12 million tons a year in 1992. ("Nature's Limits" by Lester Brown in State of the World 1995, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, 1995)

• Global warming is causing the melting of polar ice caps, the expanding of oceans and with it, unstable weather conditions throughout the world. Since the end of the last century, average global temperatures have crept up by 0.6 degrees Celsius. In regions such as Alaska, Siberia, and parts of northern Canada, average temperatures have risen 4 degrees Celsius since 1980. (Time, September 4, 2000) Nine of the hottest years in recorded history have occurred since 1988, with 1998 being by far the hottest year ever recorded. A top US federal government climatologist stated that the warming of the Earth in this century is without precedent in at least 1,200 years. (Jonathan Overpeck, Director, US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration; Toronto Star, Dec. 9, 1998)

• In March 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that global warming is real, it’s man-made and it’s happening faster than previously thought. If the process continues, we can expect to see more severe weather patterns causing more agricultural disasters, along with the flooding of coastal areas and islands.

• Increasing water shortages throughout the world will have a devastating impact in the coming years. According to the World Bank, chronic water shortages affect 80 nations and 40% of the world's population, while the demand for water doubles every two decades. According to studies presented at the 2nd World Water Forum in March 2000, as much as half the global population will lack adequate clean water supplies in 25 years.
Scientific evidence strongly confirms that the uncontrolled exploitation and consumption of natural resources has pushed the world beyond the sustainable limits of nature. The ecological crisis has escalated over the last half century as the impact of human activity continues to grow.

Defining Characteristics From a Biblical Perspective

There are at least four characteristics that help define a biblical perspective on the environment.

1. As the Creator of all things, God exists separately from His creation.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The Genesis account of creation states that the cosmos has its source in a living person who is holy, righteous, loving and merciful. All the original species of the earth were good because they reflected the knowledge, wisdom and infinite genius of our Creator. (Dean Ohlman, Dinosaurs and the Bible, RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001)

Nature’s balance is the result of God’s purposeful and intelligent design: “He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.” (Jer. 10:12) The belief that all of life was designed, significant and purposeful is in contrast to the naturalistic worldview that the cosmos is the product of unguided evolution, the unintended result of matter plus time plus chance. The relationship of God to the earth and all that is in the universe, is one of creator and owner (Psalm 24:1).

2. The bible recognizes that humans were created in the image of God and thus have many attributes that set us apart from all other living things.

Humans have a body, soul and spirit with a moral conscience and self-awareness. We are able to reason, establish laws, to love and forgive. Furthermore, we are able to enter into a personal relationship with our Creator. While many scriptures (Psalms 65, 104, 145, 147, 148) reflect God's love for all that He created, the Sermon on the Mount expressly states that God values humans above the creatures (Matt.6:25-34). We are not spiritually one with nature as New Age teaches. Nor are any living creatures gods as some belief systems advocate.

However, because we live in relationship with the natural world, we are responsible for how we manage it. The Christian belief that we were made for relationships (with God, others and creation) is in contrast to the naturalistic worldview that does not acknowledge God and denies the existence of any interpersonal or authoritative relationships and responsibilities aside from those that have evolved among people.

3. The source of the ecological crisis originated with the fall of mankind as described in Genesis.

The disobedience of the first man and woman had a devastating effect on the creation and altered the original relationships. One way God conveys the gravity of sin is through consequences. Life is disrupted by evil and immoral choices and by experiencing these consequences, people realize the importance of their choices. Like most sins, the effects of environmental destruction are not limited to the present generation nor can they be contained by geographic boundaries. The impacts are long-lasting and far-reaching, affecting many who share this fragile planet. Today, we are witnessing an intensification both in the magnitude and frequency of ecological disasters because of the continued sinful actions of humans.

4. God will complete His plan to restore the original glory of the creation.

The fourth difference between the Christian perspective and a naturalistic or animistic worldview is in relation to the future. The materialist believes that all living things (including people) eventually die, decompose and are gone forever. New Age, along with many eastern belief systems teach that we are reincarnated and go through a series of recycling experiences, hopefully for the better. Christianity however, affirms God’s commitment to restore what has been lost, to redeem the repentant and re-establish the glory of creation. The Bible explains that all creation is suffering because of human sin and awaits with expectation our final deliverance. Paul wrote:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (the redeemed). The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of child birth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:18-22)

The analogy is that creation is going through birth pains that must occur prior to the beginning of the new age which will be marked with by the return of Christ (Romans 8:22).

After stating that our present pain is nothing compared to the eternal glory that will come, Paul declares that creation will also be liberated from the curse that it is under. Creation is marked by pain and suffering because God's sentence of judgment made it a rod of discipline for sinful people. The liberation from this curse will be fully manifested with the return of Christ when all believers will be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-54 & 1 Thes. 4:16-17). These verses teach us that creation’s fate and ours are tied together and that both will share in the eventual restoration and reconciliation of all things (Acts 3:19-21; Col. 1:20).

God has already begun the process of reconciliation by offering up His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins and “...reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” (2Cor. 5:19) As we wait for the final phase of God’s plan to restore the original glory of creation (Isaiah 65:17-25), we have been commissioned to be part of that process and to use our creative capacities for His glory and in ways that are beneficial for humanity. As Christians, we should do all that is possible to manifest God's will both in our lives and in the management of His creation.

Christian Stewardship

The relationship of mankind to the earth is one of stewardship. As Christians, we have been commissioned to use our creative capacities to glorify God in service to others and in the management of His creation. In Genesis 1, we read that God instructed Adam and Eve to “ fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over every living creature” (vs 28). Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (vs 29). “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Even after the flood, God reaffirmed that all living creation was given to humans (Genesis 9:1-3).

God's command concerning the earth was to harness, rule over, manage and enjoy the things He created. The fact that God gave us the earth and all its beauty for our enjoyment is a reflection of God's common grace to all humankind and is cause for rejoicing. It should also cause us to seriously consider the great responsibility God has given us concerning creation. He put us in charge of developing all the potentialities He built into the natural world. God has given us the privilege of being co-workers in His kingdom and caretakers of His garden. In this, we are called to discover and unlock the secrets and design which lies concealed in nature (science), and to apply those laws (technology) in order to have dominion over the natural world and regulate the power that springs from it. (Darrow Miller, Discipling Nations, YWAM Publishing, Seattle, WA)

In industrialized societies, most people are not directly involved in the management of land and the production of food. For this reason, we tend to be unaware of the impact we have on the environment and mistakenly believe that we are not dependent on the fruitfulness of the creation for our health and survival. Scripture however states: “He (God) causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate - bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart” (Psalm 104:14-15). Because of our dependence, we need to pay careful attention to the principle of sowing and reaping. If we sow carelessly, we will reap negative consequences. What we eat, how we live, what we buy, and the amount of waste we produce, all affects the degree of stress experienced in the natural world. This is clearly seen in the current ecological crisis that is facing humanity. The magnifying of our ecological footprint should cause us to more carefully consider others in all that we do. We need to develop a renewed awareness, and along with it, adopt more modest lifestyles that promote conservation and good stewardship.

Our challenge is to use the land, resources, life and our time in a way that will honour God and bring blessings to others. Because of God's curse on the earth due to our original sin, and because of the continued destructive actions of humans, we are compelled to work hard to maintain dominion and attain ecological harmony. In so doing, we must remember that we are servants in charge of the Master's property, and that we will one day be answerable to Him for what we have done (Mt. 25:14-30; Luke 12:45-48; 16:1-2; Rom. 14:12).

Being good stewards in a world that believes we are owners is a difficult challenge. The following general points can help us develop a Christian perspective on the environment (from Celebrating the Wonder of Creation, RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998):

• Acknowledge God as creator and reverently reflect on the many ways His creation reveals His attributes to us.

• Acknowledge God's care and compassion for the entire creation and seek to do all we can to demonstrate that care by adopting lifestyles of moderation and being conscious of how our actions impact the environment, others and future generations.

• Acknowledge that God's creation is the material source of health and life for all creatures, and seek to protect and preserve its capacity to be fruitful by refraining from exploiting and abusing what He has created.

• Acknowledge God as the rightful owner (Psalm 24:1) and seek to be good stewards of that which He has blessed us with, prayerfully considering how we are to occupy His territory and manage His works in a manner that glorifies Him.

Specific Criteria/Actions to Build Environmental Sustainability

1. Support the Promotion of Diversified Economies that are Locally Controlled

Much environmental destruction is occurring because of the unregulated actions of transnational corporations which are locked in a competitive global struggle for profit and dominance. In recent years, there has been a trend towards removing the barriers to trade so as to permit the free flow of goods and capital throughout the world. This has resulted in a decline in the sovereignty and capacity of national governments to regulate and control resource development within their political borders. National sovereignty must be strengthened in order to ensure local control over resource development and to counter the efforts of transnationals to define the environment as a trade barrier or a commodity to be patented and exploited.

To play their essential role in relation to the market, each government must have jurisdiction over the economy within the borders of its territory. Governments should be able to set the rules for the domestic economy including those that regulate the affairs of corporations conducting business within its jurisdiction. In order for this to work, economic boundaries must coincide with political boundaries. If not, governments become impotent, and democracy becomes a hollow facade. (David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, p. 92)

Many less developed nations are dominated by outside forces due to a lack of economic diversification and a dependence on the export of a few commodities for their survival. Greater diversification of local economies will help nations break free from being held hostage by a global market over which they have little control. To increase the possibility that the environment will be protected and that resources will be used wisely, economies must be regionally controlled and locally rooted. Whenever possible, countries and communities should use locally produced goods made from renewable resources.

2. Include Environmental Costs in the Value of Products and Services

Conventional economics does not place a value on natural resources. Yet, the natural assets of the creation - water, air, soil, forests, minerals, and all living creatures - are the basis from which comes most economic activity. International trade laws and national governments should implement a system that forces companies to cover the costs of restoring the environment to its original state after resources have been extracted. These costs could then be included in the final value placed on goods produced or services rendered.

Reality seems to indicate that unless producers as well as consumers are forced to pay the true cost of what they sell and consume, the current ethos of "enjoy now and pay later" will continue to prevail. To prevent this, the environmental impact of natural resource exploitation should be factored into the production cost and reflected in the final market value placed on all products and services. This added cost would help pay for environment protection and rehabilitation. Governments could further promote this concept by replacing the economic measurement of Gross National Product (GNP) with Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). The GPI would assess the overall well-being of a nation and its people by factoring into the economic equation, the costs of crime, war, the depletion of non-renewable resources and long-term environmental damage. In this way, GPI could provide countries with a more accurate picture of the state of their societies and the environmental conditions in which they function. (What We Can Do, In Common, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, 1998)

3. Monitor & Promote Environmental Protection and Proper Resource Management

Provincial and national governments need to be active in protecting and improving the environment, and ensuring the proper management of ecosystems. The restoration of degraded land and the protection of water, soils and forests is critical to sustainable rural development and the alleviation of hunger. The over consumption of forestry products needs to be curbed so the remaining forests can be preserved and rejuvenated. Community mapping is needed to achieve consensus on the development of infrastructure and the proper management of land.

The conservation and proper management of natural resources must be strictly enforced and take priority over production and profits. Industrial pollutants are being flushed into the sea and pumped into the atmosphere with dangerous regularity. Cleaning up industrial pollutants won't happen without strong community and government pressure, strict laws and rigorous enforcement. Activities that contribute to pollution or a deterioration in the environment should be taxed or fined most severely in order to curb these actions. A total ban on all industrial dumping on land and in the sea needs to be strictly enforced. This would serve to deter the wasteful use of non-renewable energy and would encourage recycling and reduction. Governments should also agree to strict time-lines to end international trading of products that harm the environment. During the transition period, tariffs should be imposed to discourage trade in such products.

In addition to chemical pollutants, most of the world's human waste flows as untreated sewage straight into the sea. The contaminated waters then spread serious contagious diseases. As the world's urban population grows, the need for sewage treatment and water purification plants increases. All countries need to divert resources into this basic infrastructure.

Beyond the policing role, governments could promote the use of renewable energy resources through incentives and subsidies, rewarding those that invest in environmentally safe technologies. Loans and subsidies could be directed towards clean-energy projects and energy efficiency. They could also promote the use of public transportation through improved service and invest heavily in recycling programs.

4. Promote Ecologically Sustainable Agricultural Practices

A growing number of scientists and environmentalists warn that the earth cannot sustain the current rate of agricultural production unless the environmental problems caused by heavy irrigation, pesticide use, monoculture and poor soil practices are addressed.

Governments should promote the move away from agribusiness with its high dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and replace this with a more labour intensive, ecologically-sustainable agricultural model. Farmers should be encouraged to adopt ecologically sustainable agricultural practices including soil conservation, terracing, composting, integrated pest management (use of natural predators for pest control), inter-cropping and crop rotation. Indigenous knowledge should be combined with modern science to effectively manage water supplies, forests and soils.

Using intensive farming techniques of agro-ecology could enable farmers to better preserve the soil, improve diversification of crops and provide more employment for people. The agro-ecology model is the only one with the potential to end rural poverty, feed everyone and protect the soil fertility for future generations. It is also an effective way for lower-income nations to increase production without becoming more dependent on industrial countries for credit, fertilizer, pesticides and machinery.

The strategy should also include action to resist the corporate drive to place patents on various forms of biodiversity and to adopt genetically altered seeds. Governments need to curtail transnational investments in agribusiness and their efforts to further commercialize the production and provision of food. Instead, elected officials should promote ecologically sustainable agricultural practices, with diversified production. Local communities should be encouraged to establish and maintain seed banks to protect genetic resources and biodiversity.

5. Adopt and Promote Sustainable Living

As much as possible, communities should use resources that can be easily generated or renewed without destroying the base from which they come. A sustainable community grows within the limits of its ecological base. The use of appropriate technology should be promoted and community living should be designed with the capacity to be sustained over the long-term without future generations being forced to bear the environmental costs and consequences of our present material extravagance. As Christians we need to set an example by making every effort to reject the material trappings of the world and live modest lifestyles.

Human activities are generally more sustainable when they:

• Involve the reuse and recycling of materials.
• Use continuously reliable sources of energy.
• Focus on quality improvement instead of quantity accumulation.

Human activities are not sustainable when they:

• Require continuous inputs of non-renewable resources.
• Use renewable resources (water, fish stocks, forests, soil) faster than the rate of renewal.
• Cause harmful damage to the environment and lead to the extinction of species.
• Require resources in quantities that could not possibly be available to the vast majority of people in the world.

6. Become Advocates for the Environment

Attaining an environmentally healthier planet will require strong government intervention in the current free market along with a dramatic increase in public awareness and a strong commitment to change. Based on the record to date, self-regulation whether at the market, community or individual level, appears to fall far short.

We need strong and effective pressure from civil society to move politicians to resist the current global economic tide and take the necessary action to prevent the growing ecological crisis. Community organizations can educate and mobilize local populations in order to lobby at national and international levels to address the previously mentioned issues and press for adherence to the highest environmental standards. NGOs can collaborate with environmental organizations in Canada and overseas to promote citizen participation in sustainable development practices.

Christian development organizations could become strong advocates by:

• Forming a strong and united voice as part of civil society to effectively pressure policy makers and hold governments accountable for healthy and sustainable environmental policies including accords formulated at Earth Summits.

• Participating in the education and mobilization of local populations equipping them to lobby around environmental issues at national and international levels.

• Setting an example by actively modeling waste reduction and the reuse and recycling of materials in our respective organizations, as well as by supporting the implementation of these principles in our various development projects. (Recognizing that many of our Southern partners can teach us a lot about reuse and recycling.)

• Adopting a position and values of conservation in relation to the use of non-renewable sources of energy in development initiative.

• Ensuring that environmental impact assessments are a key component of our development activities.


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