Published in the April 2023 issue of the Fishkill UMC newsletter. Will be published in the Spring 2023 issue of “God and Nature.”
In April 1970, I was a junior at Northeast Missouri State College (now Truman State University). After a rather tumultuous sophomore year and a change in the academic calendar at the beginning of my junior year, I was beginning to feel things were smoothing out.
But I made a mistake. The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970, and I ignored it. In retrospect, I probably should have paid more attention.
When I began writing this piece, my memories told me that nothing happened on campus.
But thanks to Dan McGurk, one of the reference librarians at Pickler Memorial Library, I discovered that that it was an announced event, that the town of Kirksville had issued a proclamation in support of the day, and there had been a meeting of some 300 students that focused on the topic.
But my mindset was otherwise. My academic plan was almost back on track, I was in a relationship, and I was involved in a chemical research project. Things were looking pretty good. And we still had the Viet Nam war to worry about (the Kent State Massacre would occur twelve days later, on May 4, 1970).
What I did not realize was that the movement that began that day was a continuation of what I had learned and done while in the Boy Scouts. Now, I do not consider myself an environmentalist but, as anyone associated with Scouting will tell you, you cannot be involved in Scouting and not come away with an appreciation for the environment.
But one does not have to have been a Scout or be currently involved in Scouting to have an appreciation for the environment. At the beginning of Creation, God charged humankind to take care of the earth and all that was in it (Genesis 1: 26 – 28).
For a long time, humankind held the view that the charge in Genesis to be good stewards of this world meant that we could do anything we wanted. We dumped our trash in the streams, the rivers, lakes, and oceans, confident that there was always going to be fresh water left over. We filled the atmosphere with noxious gases, confident that the atmosphere was big enough to diffuse the pollutants.
In our greed and ignorance, in our lack of care for the welfare of this world, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.
Perhaps it will not be through nuclear war or some other violent process, but we are beginning to see that if we do not change our ways right now, we will destroy this world and ourselves.
The writers of the Old Testament emphasized that this world was God’s creation and that we must answer to Him when it is done.
In Deuteronomy, God reminds us to look at what He has done for us. At the end of the Book of Job, God reminds Job (Job 38: 1 -18) that it was He who was responsible for the creation.
That alone should remind us of the role science has in our daily lives, for it is through science that we find the ways to take care of this world and those with whom we share its resources and space.
We are beginning to see that what we once thought were unlimited resources are beginning to run out.
We are also becoming aware that our continued use of fossil fuels and the emission of “greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have an effect not only on the physical world, but on those who live here as well. Climate change is not just a science problem; it is a social and economic problem as well. As the climate changes, this forces changes, welcome or not, on the people of this world.
We have made great strides in reducing air and water pollution, but we still seem to have a cavalier attitude towards the materials we use to maintain the style of life we seem to desire.
There are solutions to the climate change problem. There are things that one can do, individually and collectively, to counter the effects of climate change (see How Four Churches Flourish by Caring for Creation – Science for the Church – https://scienceforthechurch.org/2022/10/11/how-four-churches-flourish-by-caring-for-creation/?mc_cid=4c1d68fa2f&mc_eid=a90f1704f9) for a discussion on what individual churches have done.
But is our concern for God’s creation limited to just the physical world? In Matthew 5: 21 – 29, Jesus speaks of the Ten Commandments and our relationship with others. Our concern for the Earth must include how we care for those with whom we share this planet.
The solutions offered to offset climate change may not be as optimal as one would like. It does no good to develop a solution that generates its own source of problems. (When I was teaching introductory college chemistry courses, I would ask my students to consider the pros and cons for various alternative energy resources – see Alternative Energy Resources Reading Assignment | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2023/03/23/alternative-energy-resources-reading-assignment/). For example, there is a push to develop electric cars, but the batteries require minerals that must be extracted from the earth. And the extraction of those minerals will impact those who live on the lands that will be mined.
The future belongs, as it always has, to the next generation. But it is our generation that must teach them how to see the future. But we have lost our ability to imagine and envision the future, preferring to live in the present and teach for the moment.
We have become quite good at answering the questions when the answers are in the back of the book.
The recent report on the state of the climate tells us that we have time to fix the problems but to do so requires other changes as well.
We will not find the solutions to climate change, what it is doing to this world and the people who live here, in the back of the book because that book hasn’t been written yet. And unless we change our mindset about the present educational process, that book will not be written.
We once taught people how to think analytically and creatively. And this allowed us to go to the moon and begin to see what we were doing to this world. We must return to this style of teaching.
Fifty-three years ago, I made a mistake because I wasn’t paying attention. But I recognized that I had done so and have worked to correct that mistake.
Today, we have heard the voices of the modern prophets warning that we are about to make the same mistake, of ignoring the signs that we have not cared for the world that has been our task since the beginning days of humankind. Unless we change what we are doing, unless we find new and innovative ways to meet the needs of society without endangering society, we will find that our vision and the vision of the next generation will be dark and society will come to an end.
I trust that we will not make that mistake.