People, especially elites and wannabe elites, love to talk about being ‘green’, ‘renewable’, ‘environmentally friendly’, or any number of other buzzwords that tie back to the same goal: fighting climate change (real or imagined) by changing the way people live to align with a set of standards laid out by scientists, activists, and politicians. There are numerous problems with the assumptions of environmentalists, like their ahistorical assumption that the global climate doesn’t shift naturally, but the problem I want to address is the fundamentally un-christian presupposition that underlies the environmentalist movement. That presupposition is that the planet, meaning not just the rock hurtling through space but also local and global ecosystems, is more important than humans.
For an example of this, consider renewable diesel. Renewable diesel is a fuel refined from cooking oils, as opposed to regular diesel, which is refined from (inedible) crude oil. Cooking oils are not just useful for feeding people, they are crucial for poor people who can’t take access to food for granted. Not to mention the fact that plants grown for processing into renewable diesel consume acreage, fertilizer, time, and energy that could be put into growing food for human consumption. This kind of scarcity is, as Thomas Sowell explains, unavoidable where resources have competing uses. Crops will be used for food or for fuel and in a true free market system they will be allocated to whichever use is more necessary, because it will also be most profitable for the farmer.
Thanks to environmental regulations and government subsidies, handed down by a small minority of the population backed by government authority, taxpayer dollars, and the money printer, agriculture companies are incentivised to sell their crops to biofuel producers first, then sell what’s left to be used as food; which drives up the price of food, because the crops that food producers need have to be bid away from biofuel producers. These input costs are then passed on to consumers, because otherwise grocery stores would go out of business.
In a globalized economy, the price increases ripple through global markets, affecting everyone to some degree or other. While Westerners in the upper and middle classes can absorb these costs, the same cannot be said of the poor, both in the West and globally, who spend a larger portion of their income on food. In the best case, inflated food costs make it very difficult, if not impossible, for people to increase their standard of living, which is a bad thing. In the worst case, it results in starvation. What is behind the push for renewable diesel, that is supposed to be worth such a high cost? Lower carbon emissions, primarily in the state of California, one of the leaders in the implementation of environmentalist policy.
The same phenomenon plays out time and again in the environmentalist movement. The wellbeing of people, especially the poor, is sacrificed for the (supposed) benefit of the planet. Whether it comes through replacing reliable power sources like coal, natural gas, or nuclear, with unreliable and inefficient solar and wind power, trying to get people to eat the bugs, or discouraging growth of the human population, environmentalism actively works to put nature first and humans second.
Compare this with how God says people are to treat the planet in Genesis 1:28:
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Where environmentalists put the planet before people, God puts people before the planet. Not only does He want the human population to grow, unlike environmentalists, He also wants humans to subdue the planet.
To subdue something means to conquer, vanquish, or bring it under control. When God says to subdue the earth, He means for us to go forth and conquer it, and exercise control over the environment. Of course, this command was given before the fall, so we do have to be careful not to use the planet for sinful purposes, but the fact remains that God created the planet for us to subdue, and use to glorify Him.
Subduing the earth glorifies God because in doing so we are imitating Him in bringing order to creation. Recall Genesis 1:1-2:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was a formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
When God created the universe, He created it first as an empty, formless mass. Then, over the next six (literal) days, He proceeded to shape and organize it as it pleased Him to. Instead of leaving the universe in a state of primordial glop, He imposed order on it; separating things from other things, laying down laws for how those things would behave, and organizing them into an immense and complex system of things whirling around other things without bumping into each other or randomly exploding. The universe is an extremely complex and well-ordered place, even after the Fall.
When He created mankind, God gave us the mandate to imitate Him, albeit on a much smaller scale. When people cut down rainforest to grow crops, bulldoze trees to build a subdivision, or dam up a river, we are imitating God by enforcing order on the chaos of nature, and bringing Him glory in the process by making nature useful to us. That’s what it means to subdue the earth; to put the planet and its natural resources to good use in supporting God’s image bearers.
As image bearers of God, human beings are more important and more valuable than nature. The trees and the furry woodland creatures weren’t made in God’s image, we were. That means we, the human race, take precedence before the trees and the furry little woodland creatures. Obviously this doesn’t give us carte blanche to just go around destroying stuff because we feel like it. We are to subdue the earth, not destroy it. This also doesn’t mean we should worry about making as little impact on nature as possible. God gave us the world, and its natural resources, to use. A pristine wilderness is just as useless as a burnt-out wasteland, because neither one benefits people. Nature exists to be used, not wasted, whether by wanton destruction, or by neglect. If we view nature rightly, keeping in mind the creation mandate, we can be equally comfortable planting more trees in the city and strip mining a mountain. Trees help to make cities feel less like crushing, oppressive hives of concrete and glass, while the resources in the ground are needed to make the stuff that makes human lives better, and the mountain is in the way.
This principle extends beyond using resources just to build stuff, and includes the energy sources that we use. As Vaclav Smil explains in his book Energy and Civilization, our standard of living, which includes things like medical care, access to food, transportation, etc. is directly correlated with the amount of energy we can use. This energy use can be direct, such as using electricity to power a refrigerator, or indirect, for example, the energy used to extract resources, refine and transport them, and turn them into a refrigerator. The higher the standard of living, the easier human flourishing, which is another way of saying being fruitful and multiplying, becomes. One of the hallmarks of the environmentalist movement is the effort to limit the use of certain energy sources through top-down regulation by governments, in the name of sustainability. The effect of this is to make energy harder to come by and more expensive, which hurts human flourishing, and is thus an undesirable outcome. A Christian view of the environment, that it exists to be used by people to our benefit, must reject such intrusions by modern Earth-worshippers who would sacrifice the well-being of God’s image bearers for the perceived well-being of the planet. Christians should support, for example, more drilling for oil, and the building of more nuclear reactors, because increased access to energy will make people’s lives better.
In addition to being good for people, the Biblical approach of using nature to benefit people is actually a good thing for the environment, in terms of preventing species from going extinct. Take cows as an example. Of all the animal species in the world that are considered endangered, cows never make that list, even though hundreds of millions of cattle are killed for food every year. Why aren’t cows an endangered species? Quite simply because cows are tasty, and if they went extinct it would be bad for farmers’ bottom line. Thus, farmers and big agriculture companies have every incentive to sink huge sums of money into keeping the cow population healthy, so that they can slaughter them and sell them for food. The same effect can be seen in the alligator population in the United States. Alligators, which used to be considered an endangered species, no longer are, because entrepreneurs (a.k.a. capitalists) started alligator farms, which raise and slaughter alligators for their meat and hides. By farming alligators for the benefit of people, they were saved from extinction not by environmentalists, but by capitalists who saw an opportunity for profit. Nature is at its best, not when left alone, but when made useful to God’s image-bearers.
Environmentalism, far from being a beneficial movement for humans or nature, is really just the plaything of secular elitists who care more about their vision of how the world should be than about their fellow man. Christians should reject this movement, in favor of doing what God created us to do, making more humans and subduing nature so that it is useful to us. This is a stewardship that we have from God and, much like in Jesus’ parable of the talents, not making beneficial use of the resources we have been given is displeasing to God. He gave us the Earth and its resources to use, so we should use them.
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