By Tom Rowley, A Rocha USA Executive Director
The big idea behind PBS’ wonderful new series EARTH: A New Wild is that nature is lovely AND valuable. And that the key to protecting nature lies in its value. In the words of series host Dr. M. Sanjayan, the conservation movement must embrace “the notion that unless human communities account for the value of nature, saving nature will rest precariously on the frivolity of loving nature.” And furthermore that humankind must understand that “neglecting nature has consequences not just for wildlife, but for us as well.”
Agreed and amen.
But when Dr. Sanjayan goes on to say that “…the reasons for saving nature really become about saving ourselves”, I must respectfully disagree…to a degree.
When writing for a largely Christian audience, the term “saving” must, of course, be used quite carefully. I’ll go with “protecting” to avoid any salvific confusion. And clearly, protecting ourselves is one reason for protecting nature. But only one, and not the primary one.
According to the Bible, the primary value of nature (let’s call it “creation”) from which reasons to protect it derive, has little to do with humans and a lot to do with God. God created it. God deemed it good. God owns it. It glorifies God.
I understand Sanjayan’s argument. Self interest as driver of societal good enjoys a long, if under-examined, place of honor in western society. The invisible hand and all that. And it works up to a point. As did the approach he seeks to replace…up to a point.
But it strikes me that a utilitarian view of nature (What’s in it for me?) is how we got into such trouble in the first place. Humans—some more than others—have long seen trees as timber, mountains as ore and streams as sewers. In short, we have too often merely valued God’s creation for the services, money and conveniences it provides us, forgetting its intrinsic worth. Thinking that same approach will now get us out of trouble seems just as irrational as the predominant environmental stance it now seeks to replace— the one that “rest[ed] precariously on the frivolity of loving nature” for its own sake and without regard for human needs and relied primarily on fences, regulations and lawsuits.
Neither works. Perhaps because neither is biblical.
Next week: A more in-depth look at a biblical framework for environmental action.