As noble as the idea of stewardship is, where’s the evidence that it’s working for us?
For decades, we’ve been relying on the notion that we can be effective stewards of our world.
Let’s examine that assumption. What do stewards do?
They are responsible for something—in this case, keeping the air, water, animals and earth clean and healthy. They are accountable to something or someone—if you’re a believer, it’s God. If you are not, it could be the people with whom you share the planet, or your kids, or future generations in general.
Stewards are considered responsible. Kind of like when you pass your driver’s test and your mom or dad loans you the car so you can take a date out for the evening. They don’t really expect you to call them because you weren’t focused on the road and wrecked it.
Stewards are trusted because they are trustworthy—except when, as it turns out, they aren’t.
Believing responsible human beings will have a positive effect on the environment…doesn’t seem to be doing the job in Pennsylvania.
It’s the beginning of March, and the temperature outside is just about right for May in my corner of the northeast. Snowdrops are supposed to be peering out of, well, snow. Instead I’m pulling up random weeds that have already taken root around them. Some of the daffodil bulbs the former owner planted are showing green shoots. I can see other perennials beginning to poke their heads above the ground. It’s gorgeous. Just the right weather for doing cleanup in the garden, taking a walk, bird-watching on the deck.
But it’s also totally bizarre. Because the same unseasonal warmth we greet with relief (c’mon spring!) is heating up the oceans, causing temperatures to rise in the Arctic, glaciers to calve off and polar bears to starve to death because their habitat is being destroyed.
A long, long time ago, the writers of the Bible (they were probably storytellers, grandparents passing on tales to grandchildren until someone picked up a papyrus or animal skin and wrote something down), spoke of human “dominion” over the earth.
We were the rulers, the top dogs. Made in God’s image, we were supposed to know what was best for the rest, from flying birds to creeping snakes.
Didn’t really matter whether you were religious nor not, though. Humans were natural dominators. We cut down forests to build our homes. We sprayed pesticides on apples because shoppers wanted perfect-looking red apples. We sprayed pollutants into the atmosphere, turning skies over cities like New York (look at the skies over Beijing if you want to see the New York of 50 years ago,) grey and sooty with smog.
Then we started to wake up. Was this the way it was supposed to be? Because it sure wasn’t working out for species like the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet, forms of life that don’t exist anymore because of human behavior.
Though there were environmentalists as far back as the 19th-century, the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. Americans started to be worried about conservation, oil spills, the dangers of coal, and overpopulation. We adopted a new label for ourselves: “stewards.” Instead of being destroyers, we were going to be conservers, saving the earth for future generations.
Churches got involved in designing sanctuaries that were environmentally friendly. YMCAs put out recycling containers. Solar panels started to pop up everywhere.
And yet the planet continues to warm, the seas to rise, the bee populations to die off. Yes, it’s good that we recycle – but are we really saving the planet? And a deeper, darker question—if it’s already very late in the game, are we responsible?
How is this stewardship thing working for a suffering planet?
I humbly suggest that we all, religious, atheist, or somewhere in the middle, need a new model—one that acknowledges how badly we have screwed up in taking care of this beautiful world, and the creatures who live in it.
Perhaps it begins with repentance, an apology to the earth we have come close to ruining with our human-centered selfishness.
I have a feeling it includes citizen advocacy and activism, because our problems can’t be solved by us alone. We need help from our leaders, both here and abroad, if we are to have a chance to make a difference for those who come after us.
Most of us, we sure could benefit from a sense of urgency. Reputable scientists keep telling us the clock is ticking. Why do we keep trying to move the hands backwards? We’re in a race, and we can’t really dawdle.
I love those soft, balmy March days without a coat, low heating bills and green tree buds promising an early spring—but I love the seasons and the backyard birds, the clear blue skies and a healthy planet more. You?