I think we can do better than Conservation. Conservation, as perhaps exemplified by the conservation movement, looks backwards, restoring things (habitats, rainforest, species). It wants to wind back our atmospheric carbon dioxide to the level at, or ultimately before, the level at the start of the Industrial Revolution. (This latter idea, is, of course, hard to disagree with given that wreckage that a sudden increase is causing. )
But on that perspective Conservation starts to look like other programmes that thrive on grievance and nostalgia. There’s even an undercurrent that Planet Earth would be a lot better better without nature-munching humans. Greens, on this view (and I mean political greens rather than the members of the brassica family), could start to look regressive and repressive, just like the populist right.
This is sub-optimal and sub-Christian. I really like and definitely prefer the alternate messages that spill out of the gospel.
- Seek the common good. This is tons better than ‘preserve the environment’. Because it (a) embraces both humans and the rest of creation together, (b) gives a coherent framework for reponsible decision-making (c) is open-ended, creative and replete with possibility, and (d) is centred around love. It’s a million times better than just winding back the clock, and it enables us to consider all our actions (flying across the Atlantic for example) in the light of the best loving options, rather than simply the tedious and ill-defined business of minimising our feelings of guilt or indulging in self-justification.
- The future is brighter than the past. This is a deep Christian assumption. Creation–according to the apostles– groans, waiting for God’s people to be unveiled. In the meantime, we humans are to foreshadow and pre-echo and anticipate that future by how we live and what we do now. This also makes us look at Conservation in a different light. The nature that Conservationists are wanting to return to is in large part cruel and bloody. A lot of animals (if you watch the BBC nature programmes anyway) seem to spend their days fearing for or fleeing for their lives, while chasing down and eating other animals along the way. Consider a puffin with a mouthful of sand-eels, trying to stop a gull from stealing the eels out of its beak. Which animal is doing well here? The gull? The puffin? The sand-eels? Creation appears to be subject to frustration, which idea crops up now and then in the Bible. What’s the better way? Humans and nature thriving together. What’s the future? The trees clap their hands, the mountains sing together, the sea-monsters praise God, the lion lies down with the lamb and eats hay like the ox. The whole creation thrives and flourishes, people and nature singing along together. Obviously, as with all things eschatological, we can neither foreknow the details nor make them happen, but we can witness to them by the way we live now. And it opens up a world.