F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
June 18, 2000
Judeo-Christian Environmentalism

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Environmentalism is nothing new. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In its proper form, it's called stewardship.

"Many people mistakenly view humans as principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards," say the signers of the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship (www.stewards.net). "Consequently, they ignore our potential, as bearers of God's image, to add to the earth's abundance. The increasing realization of this potential," the Cornwall Declaration affirms, "has enabled people in societies blessed with an advanced economy not only to reduce pollution, while producing more of the goods and services responsible for the great improvements in the human condition, but also to alleviate the negative effects of much past pollution. A clean environment is a costly good," the Declaration continues, "consequently, growing affluence, technological innovation, and the application of human and material capital are integral to environmental improvement."

Assembled last fall in West Cornwall, Connecticut under the auspices of the Acton Institute, the 25 clerics, theologians, economists, and environmental scientists who drafted the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship expressed concern that "romanticism leads some [environmentalists] to deify nature or oppose human dominion over creation." They emphasize that their own position, "informed by revelation and confirmed by reason and experience, views human stewardship that unlocks the potential in creation for all the earth's inhabitants as good. Humanity alone of all the created order is capable of developing other resources and can thus enrich creation," they assert. "Human life, therefore, must be cherished and allowed to flourish."

The signers of the Cornwall Declaration distinguish between environmental concerns that are well-founded and those that are not. Among the well-founded concerns, they cite those that "focus on human health problems in the developing world arising from inadequate sanitation, widespread use of primitive biomass fuels like wood and dung, and primitive agricultural, industrial, and commercial practices; distorted resource consumption patterns driven by perverse economic incentives; and improper disposal of nuclear and other hazardous wastes in nations lacking adequate regulatory and legal safeguards." Among the unfounded concerns, they list "manmade global warming, overpopulation, and rampant species loss. . . . Public policies to combat exaggerated risks," the signers admonish, "can dangerously delay or reverse the economic development necessary to improve not only human life but also human stewardship of the environment."

The Declaration signers insist that "God in His mercy has not abandoned sinful people or the created order, but has acted throughout history to restore men and women to fellowship with Him, and through their stewardship to enhance the beauty and fertility of the earth. Human beings are called to be fruitful," the signers assert, "to bring forth good things from the earth, to join with God in making provision for our temporal well-being, and to enhance the beauty and fruitfulness of the rest of the earth. Our call to fruitfulness," they conclude, "is not contrary to, but mutually complementary with, our call to steward God's gifts. This call implies a serious commitment to fostering the intellectual, moral, and religious habits and practices needed for free economies and genuine care for the environment."

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