Fellow West Wing addicts will remember the great episode (1:8 Enemies) in which Bartlet & Josh figure out a way to foil a Republican plan to commence strip mining on federal land in Montana – because of the Antiquities Act, the President has the power to create National Parks.
The Catalyst for the Antiquities Act
I’d completely forgotten all about this little moment – but was reminded of it while reading David Reynolds’ quite brilliant book, America: Empire of Liberty. It’s a book so full of fascination that I feel sure i’ll be quoting from it again in the future – I can’t recommend it enough if you want a sense of the factors and paradoxes in her history make the United States what she is today. But because this year’s All Souls World Need Sunday focussed on the Bible’s First Great Commission – the call to be stewards of creation – it seems very apt to turn to it here for Reynolds’ account of what spurred Roosevelt to pioneer the Antiquities Act. And remarkably, it was his passionate concern for the environment:
It was President Theodore Roosevelt who put this issue firmly on the national agenda. In 1906 he signed an Antiquities Act, allowing presidents to declare as national monuments ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest…
… In a quite unheard-of way T.R. Devoted large parts of his annual messages in the 1900s to what was being called ‘conservation’ – articulating a mood of deep disquiet in America’s progressive middle classes. He insisted, for instance, in 1907, ‘The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our National life… We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas, and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately. (p291)
In the light of recent history, for a President to be suggesting such things seems at best rather incongruous (though not perhaps since the 2008 election). But to think that a White House occupant was talking about this a century ago, a century characterised by unbridled resource consumption and exploitation, is nothing short of prophetic.
Care for Creation to Care for the Poor
As if reasons for caring for creation were needed, this Sunday’s primary angle was the simple fact that caring for the Environment is one of the key ways to care for the poor (the primary aim of our annual World Need Sunday). And while the causes are debated, the realities of the environmental crisis are obvious. Peter Harris was the main speaker – one of the founders A Rocha – and he gave one or two chilling stats.
- To sustain the present rate of consumption, we would need 3 planets Earth
- By 2050, between 23 & 37% of all the species on earth will be extinct – 1000x the natural rate of extinction.
As a way of seeing that the poor are always the first to suffer from environmental degradation, he mentioned that in 2007, 2 hurricanes of exact size hit similar lengths of coastline:
- one hit Texas: there were 140 deaths
- one hit Myanmar: there were 135,000 deaths
The difference was not meteorological – it was that the latter hit a poor country. And that IS of profound Christian concern.
What can one do? These are huge problems and private action can feel pointless. But if everyone did things…? Well, check out Peter Harris and others’ stuff follow up some of the things on the A Rocha site… Many Christians don’t. He mentioned that if you go to an international development conference, a large percentage of the individuals and NGOs will be Christian; but if you go to a conservation/environment conference, there may well be individual Christians – but chatting to Peter, he was saying that A Rocha is usually the only organisation. We really are far too late into the game on this one. And yet, there is a despair amongst many environmentalists. For the last few decades they have pumped millions into education – and it’s not worked. People haven’t changed. Simple education is never enough. Peter’s contention is that in the end it is a spiritual issue – in which the human heart needs redirection away from the selfish consumerist to the worshipper of God. Which is a whole other ballgame! And a Christian approach to creation care actually offers a right perspective – I suppose you could put it like this: God worship for creation care, not creation worship for creation care.
It doesn’t matter where you start: at least recycle even within the home before putting things in bins; work out how to carbon-offset; use heating less etc etc; but above all, do something…
For those who missed it, here is The Branch Church’s beautiful compilation of BBC footage for Brian Doerksen’s Creation Calls: