[Rector]

Sustaining the environment

 

The notion of taming of our environment is causing us some problems. As population pressures increase and our resources begin to deplete, so we catch a glimpse of the coming holocaust. Not enough forests to trap carbons and release oxygen, not enough timber for building, not enough soils for food production, depleted mineral resources.

Some environmentalists have called for the acceptance of a basic principle which could be used to assess all decisions of Government and Private Enterprise. It is that all development be tested against the principle of maintaining a sustainable environment.

Yet the trouble is, that at the moment much of the environmental debate centers on specifics rather than generally applicable principles. Debates rage over the saving of a tree rather than the preservation of forests, over restrictions on urban development rather than the preservation of a sustainable environment. We find ourselves up in arms over a new subdivision in our suburb while blinking at the daily clearing of thousands of acres of land.

New Age Philosophy - a type of Westernized Eastern Mysticism - also clouds the environmental debate. With this type of thinking humans are regarded as vermin interfering with pure nature. If the choice is between a human and a tree, the tree wins out. Yet humans are part of the natural environment, and along with all living things, affect that environment. We might as well get into poisoning trees that crack the sandstone escarpment if we want to exterminate humans because they harvest forests, cultivate and mine the land.

The issue is surely the maintenance of a sustainable environment. Ancient man harvested the land by regularly burning off - greening it. This caused tremendous changes in the natural environment. When we look at the bush today, we often distinguish between "natural" as against "cleared", as though one has been unaffected by humanity and the other affected. Yet natural bushland bears the marks of eons of creative human involvement.

Mankind has a great capacity to destroy the environment. Testing proposed developments in line with the principle of maintaining a sustainable environment could curb once and for all the degradation of nature. This leaves open the shaping, changing, creative role given us by a loving God - the "ordering" of creation for the good of all. We need not be afraid of affecting our environment, of placing our mark on it, we need only fear its destruction as a life-sustaining habitat.