Invasive Species and the Call to Christian Environmental Stewardship


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for tenure by

Todd T. Tracy, Ph.D.

Department of Biology, Northwestern College, Orange City IA 51041









Invasive species: So what?



“Invasive species”…  words that strike fear in the hearts of… well, almost nobody.   Despite the fact that invasive species are one of the largest and most easily preventable causes of the loss of biodiversity on our planet, most Americans have never heard of them and are completely unaware of their existence, except perhaps for the dandelions[1] in their lawn.  Unfortunately, what we don’t know can hurt us, and as we in our ignorance do nothing about invasive species, their spread across the globe accelerates, wreaking ecological havoc everywhere from the alpine tundra of Colorado to the icy terrain of Antarctica.


What is an “invasive species”?


An “invasive species” is a rapidly spreading species introduced, either directly[2] or indirectly[3], intentionally2 or unintentionally[4], into a new geographic area by humans, with negative ecological and/or economic consequences (GISD 2005a; Brennan & Withgott 2005 p. 152; Lockwood et al. 2007 pp. 7-8).  Because the new environment lacks the interspecific interactions (i.e., competition and predation) that kept their populations controlled in their native areas, invasive species tend to ‘take over’ their new area, supplanting native species and, in many cases, causing the extirpation[5] or extinction of these natives (GISD 2005a; Lockwood et al. 2007 pp. 7-8).  The spread of invasives ranks second only to habitat destruction in the global loss of biodiversity (Brennan & Withgott 2005 p. 466; GISD 2005a). 

A classic example of an invasive species is the cane toad Bufo marinus.  A native to Central and northern South America, this species was introduced onto myriad sugar-producing islands around the world, including Australia in 1935, as a “biocontrol” for the sugar cane beetle, whose larvae were destroying sugar cane crops.  The plan in Australia and elsewhere was for the toads to eat the beetle larvae, but instead the toads focused their voracious appetite on more delectable treats such as native invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and bird eggs and hatchlings (e.g., Australia’s endemic rainbow bee-eater Merops ornatus; Boland 2004).  Adding insult to injury, cane toads exude a neurotoxin from their paratoid and other epidermal glands when grabbed, killing almost any species attempting to consume them.  Cane toads present an ever-present danger to unsuspecting children attracted to them, and human and pet fatalities have been reported as a result of ingestion of eggs[6], tadpoles, and toads (Lever 2001).  From the original release of 101 toads at a site near Gordonville, Queensland, the cane toad’s range now exceeds 1.2 million km2 in northern and eastern Australia, with numbers exceeding 200 million individuals (UQ IMB).  Given the cane toad’s invasion history and prolific nature (one female toad can produce upwards of 50,000 eggs per year), some expect the cane toads to double the size of their current range in Australia (Urban et al. 2007) and further effect the extinction of several Australian endemics (Murray & Hose 2004).

            While most invasive species are trans-oceanic transplants, “home-grown” non-natives can be just as detrimental and thus may be just as worthy of the “invasive” designation.  For example, eastern redcedar Juniperus virginiana is generally classified as an invasive species in the central U.S., despite the fact that it is a native tree.  This species has become problematic in that it is spreading (via birds passing seeds through their digestive tracts) across the grasslands and rangelands of the central U.S., areas that historically have burned frequently enough and/or been sufficiently trampled by buffalo to prevent woody species from taking hold.  Until recently, redcedar’s range was limited to river bottoms and cliff faces where trampling and fires were less likely to have occurred.  The facilitation of the spread of the trees into upland areas where they would not have naturally occurred has been greatly aided by farmers, ranchers, and state Departments of Transportation planting the species as a windbreak (Wisconsin DNR; USDA NRCS; Drake & Todd 2002).  Although the species is useful for windbreaks and building material, economic losses from lost rangeland and lost hunting leases, decreased stream water quality, and lowered water tables appear to outweigh the benefits of the species in many areas (Drake & Todd 2002).  The pastureland owned by Inspiration Hills (the RCA retreat center in northwestern Sioux County) is seriously impacted by eastern redcedar, and the camp is losing profits from its pastures because of the decreased grass production caused by the invaders.  Terra Nova and our ecology and environmental science students have spent many hours eradicating redcedar from prairie remnants at Oak Grove Park and from the mixed-grass prairie at the Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Preserve in north-central Nebraska

            Another example of a home-grown invasive is the house finch Carpodacus mexicanus, a species of which I have grown quite fond, as I did my Ph.D. dissertation work on the species in Colorado and have studied the songs of Sioux County house finches during the summers of 2003 and 2005.  The eastern half of the U.S. was house finch-free until 1940, when a pet-store owner in New York City transported a handful of finches from California to sell illegally as pets.  As federal agents moved in to arrest the store owner, he set the evidence free.  This population of house finches barely survived the next few years, but by 1951 it was apparent that these birds had become a permanent part of the avifauna of New York City (Elliott & Arbib 1953).  The last half of the 20th century found the eastern house finches slowly, then rapidly, expanding their range westward, and in 1989, the eastern and original populations are believed to have initially converged in central Oklahoma (Tyler 1992).  The house finch is now found in all 48 contiguous United States.  As far as invasive species go, the house finch does not stand out as being particularly insidious, and their warbling song and bright red coloration are admired by many backyard birders.  Furthermore, the spread of the species in the eastern U.S. appears to have led to a steep decline of the much-maligned invasive house sparrow Passer domesticus (Cooper et al. 2007), a serious agricultural pest[7] intentionally imported from Europe in the 1800’s.  House sparrows steal nests and nest sites from eastern bluebirds Sialia sialis and purple martins Progne subis, causing sharp declines in those species’ numbers in the 20th century (GISD 2005n).  It was actually the arrival of the house finch in Chicago in the mid-1980’s that piqued my interest in ornithology (the bird was refreshingly different from the crows, robins, and house sparrows that I’d grown up with), led me into the realm of research on bird songs, and may have in fact affected my decision to pursue an advanced degree in zoology rather than chemistry.  Although I am reluctant even to classify them as invasive, house finches are classified as such by many because of evidence that they have displaced native purple finches Carpodacus purpureus from the southern edge of their range (Hill 1993), and because of their negative economic impact, as they have a penchant for fruits, grain, and other crop seeds (GISD 2005c).  However, house finches also help control weeds by eating weed seeds and dandelion flowers (Hill 1993), and they have helped control the house sparrow, an even more serious agricultural pest.  I would furthermore argue that the species would have eventually spread throughout the eastern U.S., as the Great Plains seems no longer to be an effective barrier for other species and subspecies whose ranges had previously been restricted by the Great Plains (e.g., red-shafted and yellow-shafted flickers Colaptes auratus, and Baltimore Icterus galbula and Bullocks orioles Icterus bullockii).  Of course, the Great Plains are no longer an effective barrier because humans have changed the habitat and food availability in the region[8], and any species expanding into and negatively affecting new areas as a result of human habitat alteration would still be considered invasive, so even if house finches had made it to the eastern U.S. on their own, they might still be classified as invasive. 

            Even pets and livestock can become feral and wreak havoc on native ecosystems.  The red-eared slider turtle Trachemys scripta, bullfrog Rana catesbiana, domestic cat Felis catus, domestic rabbit Oryctolagus coniculus, pig Sus scrofa, and goat Capra hircus all rank among the world’s 100 worst invasive species (Lowe et al. 2000).  The cat, rabbit, and pig have had particularly profound impacts on islands onto which they were intentionally introduced (GISD 2005a).  For example, the black stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae in New Zealand and the Cayman Island ground iguana Cyclura lewisi are threatened with extinction because of feral cats (GISDh), while pigs introduced onto the island of Hawaii kill native trees by felling and barking them, and they uproot large areas of land, threatening not only native vegetation, but also native birds, as the bare, uprooted land becomes a breeding ground for invasive mosquitoes that carry diseases against which native birds have no defense.  In his book Hawai’i: the Islands of Life, Gavan Daws (1989) summarizes the effects of feral pigs on the Hawaiian Islands as follows:

“To the Hawaiian rainforest, the pig is death: consuming ground-cover plants, churning the rich ground into foul muck, the forest dies from the bottom upward and the rains wash the soil away to smother coral reefs with silt.”



Are invasive species mentioned in Scripture? 

Although there are many references to weeds, thornbushes, thistles, etc., mentioned in scripture, I could find only a single scriptural reference specifically mentioning non-native species being brought into Israel:

You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines  [KJV = strange slips], though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain. (Isaiah 17:10-11)


While the disease and pain prophesied by Isaiah appear not to have been directly precipitated by the imported plants themselves, it appears that God’s people cared more about their exotic plants than they did for God himself.  As explained by Matthew Henry (1706) in his Bible commentary:

The destruction itself [was] aggravated by the great care they took to improve their land and to make it yet more pleasant. Look upon it at the time of the seedness, and it was all like a garden and a vineyard; that pleasant land was replenished with pleasant plants, the choicest of its own growth; nay, so nice and curious were the inhabitants that, not content with them, they sent to all the neighbouring countries for strange slips, the more valuable for being strange, uncommon, far-fetched, and dear-bought, though perhaps they had of their own not inferior to them. This was an instance of their pride and vanity, and (that ruining error) their affection to be like the nations. Wheat, and honey, and oil were their staple commodities (Ezekiel. 27:17); but, not content with these, they must have flowers and greens with strange names imported from other nations…”


Interestingly, although the passage is not explicitly about invasive species during Biblical times, it does describe the invasive-species scenario that has played out many times in human history.  Humans, unsatisfied with the native flora and fauna of an area, bring in seductively attractive species from elsewhere, only to find out the hard way that such was not a wise thing to do.  Kudzu Pueraria montana, initially introduced to the southern U.S. in the 1930’s as an attractive vine useful in controlling erosion, now covers 2 to 3 million hectares in the southeastern U.S.  Kudzu out-competes native vegetation, completely covers and collapses trees, and costs over $500 million in lost productivity and control efforts annually (GISD 2005o; NPS).  Kudzu is also an alternate host of soybean rust Phakopsora pachyrhizi and could facilitate a major outbreak of the disease in the future, devastating soybean crops in the southern U.S. and potentially farther north (MSU 2005).  The “beautiful” water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people along the shores of Lake Victoria (see below).  Miconia Miconia calvescens, a beautiful palm-like tree with purple undersides to its leaves, has been intentionally introduced onto several Pacific islands.  Consequently, it now covers more than 70% of the island of Tahiti, directly threatening between 40 to 50 rare endemic plant species, and it is now spreading rapidly on the islands of Maui, O’ahu, and Hawaii (GISD 2005l; National Geographic).  On the attempts to “improve” the Hawaiian islands, Clements and Corapi (2005) state that it “is not a little ironic that so many people who have come to “paradise” have sought to “improve it” by modifying the native flora and fauna.”  There are 1,131 native plant species on the Hawaiian Islands, and humans have introduced over 10,000 non-native vascular plants to the islands, with over 1000 of these species now naturalized.  (Clements and Corapi 2005).


Why should we care about invasive species?


a) We should care because species are being forced into interactions that would not have otherwise occurred.


While it is true that competitive interactions and predator-prey relationships occur naturally in all biological communities[9], the involvement of humans in spreading invasive species is causing species that otherwise would never have contact with each other to directly interact with and/or compete with each other.  One of the classic questions in ecology is why a certain species is found in one area and not another.  Sometimes the answer relates to physiological limitations.  For example, red-eared slider hatchlings cannot supercool[10] and cannot tolerate the freezing of their body fluids and thus are limited to areas of the southern U.S., while painted turtle hatchlings Chrysemys picta, a closely related species, can supercool their body fluids and thus range as far north as south-central Canada (Packard et al. 1997).  In other cases, the answer relates to the dispersal capabilities of the organisms themselves.  For example, why were there no House Sparrows in North America before humans introduced them?  The environmental conditions in North America were not beyond the physiological capabilities of the species, but dispersal onto this continent was beyond the capability of the species, and without our help, the species likely would never have settled North America.  Just as the Romans forced interactions between early Christians and lions, humans are now forcing (albeit sometimes unintentionally) interactions among species that otherwise would not naturally have come into contact with each other, so the argument that “invasive species are natural and that therefore we should not be concerned about them” is not very persuasive.  Rather than introducing new species wherever we want them (or wherever we, out of ignorance, accidentally introduce them), a more appropriate approach is to honor the adaptations of organisms in an area by not introducing species to which the native organisms have not adapted.  For example, in reference to the human-facilitated introductions of non-native predators onto the Hawaiian Islands, Holmes Rolston III (1994) suggests that, rather than considering it “catastrophically tragic” not to have charismatic megafauna such as mammals and reptiles on the remote islands, that “Hawaii be an especially remote test of oceanic mobility,” thus honoring the adaptation of birds that have made it to Hawaii on their own by not forcing these birds to compete with species that we introduce to the islands to “enrich” the landscape. (pp. 116-117) 


b) We should care because invasive species lead to the loss of biodiversity and homogenization of our environment.


            Species on many islands have had no contact with, and therefore have evolved no response to, ground predators, so they have no defense against ground predators introduced onto their islands.  For example, the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake Boiga irregularis onto the island of Guam has directly caused the extinction of 9 out of 12 native species of birds and 2 out of 11 native species of reptiles (GISD 2005b).  The small Indian mongoose Herpestes javanicus was brought to the West Indies, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands in an attempt to control rats in sugar cane fields, but instead the mongoose has decimated endemic populations and in Hawaii threaten the nene goose Branta sandwicensis, Hawaiian crow Corvus hawaiiensis, Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia, and several other species with extinction.  Mongoose-induced extinctions and imperilments have likewise occurred in Costa Rica and on the Virgin Islands, Amani Island, Jamaica, Honduras, Japan, Haiti, Hispaniola, Grenada, Fiji, Viti Levu Island, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, and Bermuda (GISD 2005j).  I list and describe the values of biodiversity (and all of creation) in chapter 2 of this paper. 


c) We should care because invasive species directly affect humankind’s welfare and ability to use and enjoy the Earth’s natural resources.


While concerns about the induced unnatural interspecific interactions and the loss of biodiversity caused by invasive species are great among scientists and most environmentalists, the majority of Christians are not particularly interested in such issues and thus show little concern about invasive species, and indeed, about environmental degradation in general.  What is overlooked, however, is the fact that most, if not all, invasive species have some negative impact on humans.  Invasives can cause increased disease infection rates in humans and livestock[11], either directly or indirectly inhibit food production, outcompete valuable native species, and even impact our ability to enjoy God’s Creation. 

            In some cases, the impacts of an invasive species are readily apparent and are directly related to the activity of the invasive.  For example, until Hurricane Katrina laid waste to much of New Orleans, Formosan subterranean termites Coptotermes formosanus were already doing so, albeit more slowly than Katrina did.  The termites, inadvertently brought over from the China Sea in shipping crates after World War II, left their own trail of destruction within the city and eventually throughout the South as they trees and destroyed wood-frame homes (National Geographic 2005; GISD 2005d).  After Katrina, a major fear in termite-free areas of the country was that the termites would spread to new areas via cheap wood mulch produced from the debris in the New Orleans area.  Costs from damage and control of the termites in the U.S. exceeds $1 billion annually (GISD 2005d).

            While some invasive species present direct negative effects that are readily apparent, other invasives present themselves initially as being quite innocuous, and their indirect effects on humans often initially go unnoticed.  The water hyacinth, an attractive aquatic plant native to South America, was initially brought to Africa for ornamental purposes (GISD 2005g; National Geographic 2005).  The plant first showed up in Lake Victoria in 1990, and by 1995 over 90% of Uganda’s shoreline along Lake Victoria was covered with the hyacinth, with profound negative economic and health effects on the people of the area (Williams).  Incidence of human schistosomiasis[12] infections rose because of the increase in snails associated with the increase in hyacinth (National Geographic 2005).  The hyacinth also caused a spike in the incidence of malaria, as the stagnation of water created by the plant provided perfect a breeding environment for Anopheles mosquitoes[13] (Williams; National Geographic 2005). Rotting vegetation contaminated water supplies, and with the vegetation clogging the shoreline, fishing in the lake became a challenge.  Even a hydroelectric plant was forced to close because of the invasion (GISDa; Twongo & Balirwa 1995 as cited by Williams; Plummer 2005).

            Another invasive species whose impact on humans might not be so readily apparent is the European buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica[14], a shrub/tree initially brought to the U.S. from Europe in the 1800’s for ornamental purposes (GISD 2005p).  European buckthorn in the understory of a forest alters soil properties (Heneghan et al. 2002, Heneghan et al. 2006), outcompete native saplings for light and other resources (Fagan & Peart 2004), increases songbird nest predation (Schmidt & Whelan 1999), and may possibly even poison other plant species via the plant’s allelopathic capabilities[15] (Vincent 2006).  Areas of forest invaded by the closely related and invasive glossy buckthorn Rhamnus frangula have been shown to have reduced herbaceous groundcover growth (potentially increasing erosion) and native sapling recruitment relative to uninvaded areas of forest (Frappier et al. 2003, Frappier et al. 2004).  In essence, once the trees of the native overstory die, there would be few trees left in the forest other than buckthorn because native saplings cannot survive beneath buckthorn.  

            In the parable of the seeds (Matthew 13), Jesus describes the effects of thornbushes on herbaceous cover and sapling recruitment, although he does not use those exact terms:

3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  (Matthew 13:3-8)


While European Buckthorn is not native to Israel, a closely related species called the Palestine buckthorn R. palestina is native to the area and may be described in this passage, although the term “akanthos” translated as thorns is thought to refer to a “generic” thornbush (Bible Plants).  On the other hand, it is believed by many that the Hebrew word “’atad” (translated in NIV as “thornbush”) as used by Jotham to describe Abimelech in Judges 9:14-15 does specifically refer to the Palestine buckthorn (NeXtBible; Bible Plants), and knowing what happens to plants growing in the shade of buckthorn brings new insights into the passage:

Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, 'Come and be our king.'  The thornbush said to the trees, 'If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!' 


            So how does buckthorn affect humans?  Beyond its myriad ecological effects, European buckthorn also manifests agricultural impacts as well.  Buckthorn is an alternate host for oat crown rust Puccinia coronata, which can cause 10-40% oat crop loss in heavily infected areas and total crop failure in individual fields (USDA ARS).  Buckthorn is also a wintering host for the soybean aphid Aphis glycines, an invasive from China that first appeared in the U.S. in 2000, probably as a stowaway on someone’s undeclared plant material sneaked into O’Hare Airport (Hartzler & Pope 2001; Regional Pest Alert; UM Extension).  Aphid-related soybean crop losses and treatment costs in Minnesota alone are estimated at $200 million per year (UM Extension).  The Asian lady beetle Harmonia axyridis was introduced to the U.S. in 1916 as a biocontrol for native aphids, and the beetles has been shown to be an effective predator of the soybean aphid as well.  Unfortunately, as is the case with many early biocontrol attempts, the introduced beetles became invasive, causing declines in native ladybird beetles, eating fall fruit crops[16], and creating a nuisance for homeowners and almost anyone out of doors (GISDi 2005).

            Beyond their negative ecological and economic impacts, invasive species can also negatively affect our recreational activities.  For example, Eurasian watermilfoil Myriophyllum spicatum, a freshwater aquatic plant thought to have been originally imported to the U.S. for use in aquariums, has now taken up residence in lakes and water courses in 45 states (USDA NAL).  Among its undesirable characteristics is the plant’s propensity to inhibit recreational use of our lakes by forming unsightly, dense floating mats of vegetation that interfere with boating, fishing, and swimming.  The plant also out-competes native aquatic plants and diminishes resources for fish, thereby further impacting recreational fishing (MPRB).  Watermilfoil is currently spreading into uninfected bodies of water via dirty fishing gear, boats, and boat trailers, as small plant fragments transported in bait buckets or adhering to the boat, trailer, or equipment are capable of rooting and can survive for some time out of water.  Millions of dollars are spent annually controlling this weed, with chemical and mechanical control costing $200 to $2000 annually per acre treated (MPCA).  The inhibition of recreation activities has severe economic impact on the tourism and recreation industry, as people do not want to vacation in areas where the watermilfoil grows out of control.


d) We should care because God calls us to care for His creation.


            Invasive species and environmental degradation affect people.  Since Christians are called to care for our fellow human beings, the mere fact that invasive species have profound negative impact on humans should be sufficient reason for us to care about invasives.  But beyond the human-centered reason for Christians to care about invasives, Christians should also care because God has given us a stewardship responsibility toward his creation.  This would be a pretty short tenure paper if the idea of “creation care” were an easy sell, but I realize that many Christians are unaware of God’s stewardship directive and probably need a little convincing that they should care about (and for) the environment.  In order to understand God’s stewardship directive, one must first understand that creation exists for reasons beyond use by humans.  In the next chapter, I discuss God’s purposes for his creation and explore reasons for the general apathy toward the environment among Christians.  I expound on one of these reasons for apathy in chapter 3, and in my final chapter I examine our call to stewardship, with particular consideration of how invasive species relate to this call. 



Creation: God cares, we don’t



As we explore and consider the appropriate Christian response to environmental stewardship and invasive species, we must explore the purposes of God’s creation and examine the reasons for Christian apathy toward the well-being of creation. 


What are some of God’s purposes for creation?


· Human use

· To glorify God

· General revelation

· To teach us biblical lessons

· God’s enjoyment


1.  Human use


            Perhaps the most obvious purpose for creation among most Christians is that God provides creation for human use.[17]  Often referred to as the “instrumental value”[18] of creation, there is much support throughout scripture, beginning with Genesis 1:28-30, for the argument that creation is for our use:

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." 29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so. 


Although God’s providence of plants for food might seem to relate back to the dictate to “subdue” the earth, Genesis 1:30 describes the same providence to all animals, not just humans.

            Psalm 104:14-15 speaks of a God who not only provides for our needs (i.e., bread), but through creation also provides for our enjoyment: 

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-- bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.


Although God provides creation for our needs and enjoyment, this use is not without its limits, as there are several places in scripture where God warns us against wastefully destroying creation and overusing creation’s resources beyond its capacity to regenerate itself.  For example, in Deut. 20:19-20, God’s law forbids the wanton destruction of trees:

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?  However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.


In Deuteronomy 22:6, God forbids the taking of a mother bird for food, seemingly because doing so would deplete the population of birds:

If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young.


Dave Mahan (2001), Director of the Great Lakes Program of the Au Sable Institute for Environmental Studies, cites this verse as evidence that God has “also given us the responsibility to maintain the natural fruitfulness of the world...  While we can use the natural world for sustenance we must preserve its capacity to reproduce.” 

            Although scripture clearly describes God gifting us with his creation for our use and enjoyment, human use is not the be-all and end-all of God’s purpose for creation.  Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in the book of Job.  Of the behemoth, God asks:

Can anyone capture him by the eyes, or trap him and pierce his nose?” (Job 40:24) 


Of the leviathan, God asks:


“Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope? 2 Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? 3 Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words? 4 Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life? 5 Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls? 6 Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants? 7 Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?” (Job 41:1-7) 


God seems to be making it pretty clear in these passages that He created the leviathan and behemoth[19] for purposes other than human use.  Perhaps one of their purposes is to keep humans humble, as Job 41:33-34 says of the leviathan:

Nothing on earth is his equal-- a creature without fear.  He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud. 


            Value ascribed to creation beyond human utility is typically referred to as “intrinsic value”---value in and for itself (Bouma-Prediger 2001 p. 127).[20]  On the intrinsic value of creation, Bouma-Prediger states:

“Individual creatures and the earth as a whole have an integrity as created by God and as such have more than merely instrumental value.  Creatures exist to praise God and are valuable irrespective of human utility.  From this theological theme comes the ethical principle of intrinsic value.” (p. 142)


2.  To glorify God


            As Bouma-Prediger notes, Creation exists to praise and glorify God, the Creator of the universe.  On this purpose of creation, Van Dyke et al. (1996) state:

“At the time of God’s pronouncement on the goodness of his creation, after God had ordered all things, no humans were yet present.  Human beings are not created until the pronouncements are complete (Genesis 1:26), arriving as the last act of a nearly finished work.  They are not asked to applaud, evaluate or critique.  Their own opinion... is not solicited.... Creation is good... and its value exists because its Creator exists.  It was brought into being to glorify God.” (p. 48)


Accordingly, Psalm 148 calls for all of creation[21] to praise the Lord:


1 Praise the Lord. 2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts. 3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. 4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. 6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away. 7 Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, 8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, 9 you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, 10 wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds


Isaiah likewise speaks of the heavens and mountains shouting and singing praises to God:


Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. (Isaiah 49:13)


You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)


While it can be argued that these and other similar verses throughout scripture are speaking poetically/metaphorically and that trees cannot “clap their hands” and mountains, etc. cannot literally “sing,”[22] the point is that scripture tells us repeatedly that all of creation gives praise and glory to God, however the praising and glorifying physically manifest themselves.  Indeed, this should not be a foreign concept to us, as when we sing the Doxology, we acknowledge that all organisms (or at least all animals)[23] praise God, not just people:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow

Praise Him, all creatures here below

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (T. Ken)


On the worship of God by all of creation, Tony Campolo (1992) writes:


“We humans are by no means the only creatures who can worship God.  All of nature was created for this end.  The catechism may say that the main purpose of God’s people is to worship Him and adore Him forever, but such a calling belongs to all His other creatures too (Psalm 103:20-22).  I increasingly believe that it is a humanistic distortion to think that nature was created by God solely for the benefit of [humans].  The idea that nature is there simply to provide blessings and gratification for humans seems to me to be more of a manifestation of anthropocentric exaggeration than an expression of how things really are.” (p. 127) 


3.  For General Revelation


            “General Revelation” is God’s use of creation to make known his power and divinity, providing the context for Special Revelation through Scripture.  Calvin addresses this idea in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“...he not only sowed in men’s minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe.  As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.  Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divineness far escapes all of human perception.  But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance... wherever you cast your eyes there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory.” (Institutes, I.V.1)


Calvin cites Romans in support of his reasoning:


What men need to know concerning God has been disclosed to them... for one and all gaze upon his invisible nature, known from the creation of the world, even unto his invisible power and divinity. (Romans 1:19-20)


General Revelation is mentioned elsewhere in scripture as well.  For example, Psalm 19:1-4 speaks of the revelation of God’s power, divinity, and creativity as displayed in the heavens:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.


4.  To teach us Biblical lessons


            Creation helps us understand Biblical lessons.  For example, in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus uses birds and lilies to teach us about the love and providence of God:  

25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


In his book Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life, author Douglas Schuurman writes about this very passage and God’s voice in creation, and he includes mention of the chorus of creation glorifying God:

“God’s redemptive grace opens deaf ears to hear again the voice of God calling through creation.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, men and women enter into Christ’s sense of absolute dependence upon God the Father...  In Christ there is freedom from anxiety and fear, and freedom for a pervasive and profound sense of dependence.  Our dependence is both a gift and a task: a gift because sin has not totally destroyed God’s good creation, and a task because creation calls us to add our voices to the chorus declaring God’s glory.  The ethical imperative attached to our sense of dependence is to preserve and enhance life, and to resist the powerful forces bent on destroying creation.” (p. 55)


            Scripture is rich with “environmental” metaphors.  The righteous man is compared to a tree planted by streams of water in Psalm 1.  God’s protection is compared to that of a mother bird protecting her offspring in Psalm 91.  Jesus calls himself a vine and us branches in John 15.  The church is a cedar shoot in Ezekiel 17.  God’s people are compared to heartless ostriches in Lamentations 4.  Would Isaiah 40:31 (“...They will soar on wings like eagles...”) be very meaningful to us if DDT were not banned and bald and golden eagles had gone extinct during the second half of the 20th century?  In fact, would it not be a little disquieting to read that passage if such had been the fate of eagles?  Indeed, many environmental metaphors in scripture have little meaning for us.  If a righteous person were a tree around here, s/he definitely would NOT want to be planted near one of our local streams, since they are all so polluted.  The towering cedars of Lebanon no longer exist.  Exactly why is an ostrich considered heartless?  How many of us have never seen a field of lilies?  Indeed, many of us have never even seen an eagle soar effortlessly, lifted by an invisible force, and therefore really cannot appreciate the words of Isaiah.  And isn’t a coney[24] (Lev. 11:5) a chilidog?  

In his book The Birds Our Teachers: Biblical Lessons from a Lifelong Bird Watcher, John Stott explains one of the most marvelous “natural” lessons in all of scripture, the lesson of the house sparrow.  Probably the most common of all land birds, the house sparrow has few redeeming qualities except for being clever and adaptable[25].  It is a nuisance species that aggressively attacks other species of birds, its nests are incredibly untidy, it damages grain crops, and with our assistance it has now invaded much of North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand, supplanting native species of birds.  Deliberately choosing the most seemingly worthless creature he could think of, Jesus said of these sparrows that “not one of them is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6) and that not one of them will “fall to the ground” apart from God’s knowledge and will (Matthew 10:29).  Jesus also told his followers, “Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7)  “The largely negative assessment of sparrows makes Jesus’ positive reference to them all the more striking,” says Stott.  “For these little creatures, lacking both colourful plumage and musical song, are nevertheless cherished, remembered, and protected by God.” (p. 35)  If God our creator notices and cares so much for the lowliest of animals, how much more so does he notice and care about us?!


5.  For God to love and enjoy


May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works... (Psalm 104:31-32)


Creation exists for God’s enjoyment.  Most of us can relate to God in this regard.  Perhaps as a reflection of the likeness of God in us, we like to create and build things and look at them afterwards.  My wife enjoys quilting.  When she’s done with a quilt she can look at it with a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment.  Granted, it may bother her that her sewing machine slipped a stitch here or there, or she may wish in retrospect that she had not juxtaposed two certain pieces of fabric, but she nevertheless finds enjoyment in the end-product of her creative toil (as well as the subsequent gifting of the quilts for others to enjoy).  Likewise, while vacationing in northern Minnesota this summer, my 3-year-old son Tommy took great pleasure in building sandcastles and planting bushes around them (well, they were actually pine cones, but he called them “bushes”).  Why does God’s creation exist?  Because we have a creative God who enjoyed/enjoys[26] creating and enjoys his creation.  Just as Tommy was annoyed and disappointed when he discovered that someone had trampled the sandcastles and bushes he had worked so hard on, I suspect that God is even more so as He looks upon his creation that is being “subjected to frustration” (Romans 8:20) at the hands of humankind.

God enjoys and loves all of His creation.  Attesting to this is John 3:16, one of the most memorized verses in scripture:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


While this verse is usually viewed as a promise of salvation for humankind, the word translated as “world” is actually the Greek word “kosmos” and, as explained by Tony Campolo (1992), refers to:

“anything and everything that is in the universe, including the animals, flowers, insects, and fish---God loves them all…  Of course, God loves us humans most of all.  But we must not allow His great love for us to obliterate the fact that He loves all of His creation.” (p. 13)


Thus, Jesus was ultimately sent not only for the redemption of the human race, but the redemption of the entire cosmos[27].  As Van Dyke et al. (1996) explain:

“Christ’s death and resurrection have not only personal consequences for me but also cosmic consequences for creation.  God’s saving grace through Christ not only pays the price for people but redeems an oppressed cosmos.  This does not demean the work of Christ, but rather amplifies it.  Just as the sin of Adam affected all creation, so the sacrifice of Christ begins the redemption of it.

      “Such consequences are always clearly understood throughout the New Testament.  The reconciliation with God achieved through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ extends to all creation.  This was clearly Paul’s understanding when he wrote: ‘He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; ... all things were created by him and for him...For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things... by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.’  Clearly the “all things” referred to in this context are the same “all things” that Christ created--- the entire physical universe.” (p. 86)


Indeed, in Romans 8:18-23, Paul points to the ultimate redemption of all of creation:


18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.


Arguments that this passage does not describe the redemption of all of creation typically involve an interpretation of verses 19-22 as specifically referring to humans, but “whole creation” in verse 22, and “Not only so, but we ourselves” in verse 23 seem to dispel the argument.   Others argue that the rest of creation will cease to exist, thus ending its groanings,[28] but, as pointed out by Campolo (1992), “annihilation is not deliverance.” (p. 58)  Moreover, I personally would not wait eagerly to be annihilated, and I’m doubting that creation would do so.  On the groanings of creation mentioned in verse 22, Campolo writes:

“[The Bible] is not only about a Savior who came into the world to make us into people who can love and worship His Father; it is also about a Savior who came to deliver the rest of creation from its “groanings” so that it too can offer up worship to God.” (p. ix)


We will further consider the “groanings” of creation in the next chapter.




If our God cares so much about his creation, why do so many Christians care so little?


While an encouraging amount of “greening of the Church” has occurred in the past few years (see McKibben 2006; Moyers 2006), Tony Campolo’s 1992 criticism of the church in America still largely rings true today:

“A list of impending ecological disasters is readily available, yet there has been little response from the church... The more theologically conservative church members are, the less likely they are to show any interest in saving our planet from what is certainly an impending ecological holocaust.” (p. 12)


In 1993, Wendell Berry, similarly underwhelmed with the church’s response to the plight of the earth, wrote:

“Christian organizations, to this day, remain largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and of its traditional cultures.... The certified Christian seems just as likely as anyone else to join the ... conspiracy to murder Creation.” (p. 39)


So why do many Christians not seem to care about the environment?  Cal DeWitt considers ten “stumbling blocks to creation’s care and keeping” in his 1994 article “Christian Environmental Stewardship: Preparing the Way for Action”.   Some of his stumbling blocks now seem dated (e.g., environmental stewardship is too New-Age), but the article is nevertheless worth reading if one is interested.  I wish to focus attention on four of the reasons given by DeWitt (and indeed, by many other authors) and add a reason to the list that DeWitt discusses later in his article but does not specifically include in his “Top 10”:

· “It’s all gonna burn anyway.”

· “People are more important.”

· “Caring for the environment is something liberals do.”

· “Dominion means oppressive domination.”

· We cannot care for what we don’t know.




a) “It’s all gonna burn anyway.”


As previously mentioned, many Christians believe that the earth and all the rest of creation will cease to exist.  These people point to 2 Peter 3:10 as evidence that creation as we know it will be destroyed, therefore negating responsibility for the care of said creation:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. [KJV]


Steven Bouma-Prediger (2001) states that “this verse represents perhaps the most egregious mistranslation in the entire New Testament,” arguing that the Greek verb translated as burn is a derivative of the word heureskein, “to find.”  “In other words, the text states that after a refiner’s fire of purification (v. 7), the new earth will be found, not burned up.” (p. 77)  Bouma-Prediger points to the work of Tom Finger, who concludes in his survey of four major eschatological schemes[29] that:

“All evangelical eschatologies anticipate significant degrees of continuity between our present earth and the future world.  To be sure, this contrasts greatly with what seems to be believed in some evangelical churches: that our ultimate destiny is an immaterial, spaceless heaven, and that our present earth will be wholly destroyed.  Wherever these views may come from, they have no sound foundation in either evangelical theology or Scripture...  The general environmental implications of this affirmation would be that since God will transform the earth we now have, this earth must be precious to God, and that proper stewardship of nonhuman nature is a task with eternal consequences.” (p. 77)


The mistranslation continues in 2 Peter 3:11:


Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness


The word translated as “dissolved” in this verse is the Hebrew word “luvw”, which means “to set a person or animal free” ( and is translated 27 times in the New Testament as “loose” (e.g., Matthew 21:2…  I don’t think Jesus wanted his two disciples to “destroy” or “dissolve” the ass and colt), while being translated as “destroyed” and “dissolved” only twice each.  So in essence, the original text is describing creation’s release from bondage, but it is translated as creation’s destruction.  Po-ta-to, po-tah-to!

A “philosophy” related to the “it’s all gonna burn” philosophy is the belief that Christ’s return is imminent, the world is falling apart and we can’t and shouldn’t do anything about it.  Supporters of the “earth is irrelevant” philosophy point to Colossians 3:2, which tells us to “set our minds on things above and not on earthly things.”  On this philosophy, Campolo (1992) writes:

“Those who hold this opinion suggest that all we Christians can do is tarry patiently until the trumpet sounds and the Lord returns to set everything right again.  This kind of thinking often promotes a kind of passive quietism that makes being a Christian nothing more than a quest for a personal holiness that will render us ready for “that great day.”  Such … thinking… disengages Christians from those activities designed to improve society and, in the case of our discussion, from participating in those social programs designed to save the environment.  What is worse is that this kind of theology can get people to throw caution to the wind and act irresponsibly…  ‘No matter what I do, the world will just get worse and worse until He returns, so I might as well enjoy what God has put here on Earth for me to enjoy and not worry about the social consequences.’... Thinking like this creates a Christian version of ‘eat, drink, and be merry’.” (p. 93)


Ultimately, those who believe that the earth will be destroyed believe that heaven is “somewhere else” and that we are just “passing through,” and therefore we should not care for this temporary place.  As a counterargument Bouma-Prediger notes that, just as it is not permissible to plunder someone’s house just because it will be torn down someday, it is likewise “non sequitur to argue that because the earth will be destroyed in the future, humans, therefore, should exploit it in the present.” (p. 78)  It could also be argued that we do not trash hotel rooms simply because we are just passing through... though I suppose many of us do abuse our rental cars...



b) “People are more important.”


As explained above, God clearly uses creation to provide for our needs.  However, God warns us about the wise use of our resources.  Although scripture makes it clear that God provides for our enjoyment and not just our needs (e.g., the wine and oil in Psalm 104), scripture also makes it clear that God condemns luxurious self-indulgence

(e.g., James 5:1-5)[30], and in American society today, we often confuse our wants with our needs, such that we can rationalize any environmental abuse if it makes our lives more pleasurable.  Speaking to our inability to put environmental concerns above our own, Campolo (1992) writes:

“[The] truth is that there is something radically wrong with human nature.  There is an innate sinfulness at the core of our being that lies at the base of all our troubles.

      “Greed in the human heart drives us to use everything and everybody around us to get what we want…  This perversity allows you and me to participate in the destruction of the rainforest and cause suffering for millions in order for us to satisfy our own appetite for beef... The condition called “original sin”… is what makes us unwilling to adopt a more socially and environmentally responsible lifestyle.” (p. 32)


Campolo explains that the clearing of the Amazon rainforest for such reasons as beef production ultimately contributes to the suffering of people of Africa: “The moisture from the jungle forms rain clouds that float across the Atlantic to fall upon the parched soil of such countries as Mauritania, Senegal, and Mali.” (p. 16)  As destruction of the rainforest continues, fewer clouds form and less moisture reach Africa, and more and more arable land is converted to desert, leading to mass starvation, he argues.

Humans are inextricably linked to their environment, and virtually all environmental abuses ultimately affect humans.  Like all other organisms, we “breathe” air (using the term “breathe” loosely), and we “drink” water (ditto).  Like all other heterotrophs, we eat other organisms for survival.  We suffer when water hyacinth clogs Lake Victoria.  We are eaten out of house and home by invasive termites.  We lose crop yield to erosion and invasive pests.  We lose potential drug treatments when yet-untested plants are driven to extinction in the Amazon rainforest and elsewhere.  Even our relationship with our Creator suffers when we abuse our environment.  Whether or not it is readily apparent, humans are affected by the groanings of creation, so we need to tread carefully when we abuse the environment by “putting people first.”



c) “Caring for the environment is something liberals do.”


            Despite the lack of coherency, this may be the biggest reason for Christians not concerning themselves with environmental issues.  For example, many Christians dismissed Al Gore’s global warming movie, not because of its loose content, but because the message was Al Gore’s.[31]  Whether or not Al Gore is a believer, God is clearly not beyond having unbelievers do His work.  DeWitt (1994) points out that in Isaiah 45, Cyrus was anointed to do God's work, even though he was an unbeliever:

“The Bible makes it clear that if God's people are unwilling or unable to do God's work, God sees to it that the work gets done nonetheless. As we should not deprecate Cyrus for doing his God-given work, we must be careful not to deprecate any worldly people out there who clearly are doing God's work. More importantly, we must not excuse ourselves from our God-given task as stewards of God's creation if we see those who do not acknowledge God doing God's work.”


On this same subject, Campolo (1992) writes:


“…insofar as the church does not heed His call to be His rescuers of creation, He will use instruments outside the church to accomplish His will…  God is even now using groups like Greenpeace, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and the National Wildlife Federation to carry out His renewal plan for our… planet… We in the church must be about the tasks God has given us to do lest the privilege of doing them be taken from us.” (p. 184)


Campolo is also concerned that the apathy of Christians toward the environment is leading seekers to other religions such as Buddhism that are more nature-friendly:

“If we fail to develop a biblically based theology of nature that fosters feelings for nature, then other religions and New Age gurus will move in to offer alternative belief systems that do.  If the church cannot teach the citizens of our century how to enter into the sufferings of creation, those false prophets who play with the occult will.  Then charlatans will be the only ones to offer people a spiritual basis for being pro-actively responsible for their environment.” (p. 99)


If we are serious about reaching the unsaved, and the unsaved are caring for the creation that God cares so much about, then Christians have a “bonus” reason for caring for creation.



d) “Genesis 1:28 gives us dominion over the earth, and dominion means oppressive domination.”

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Gen. 1:28) [KJV]


            Not only Christians, but many critics of Christianity also point to this verse to argue that Christians have been given orders to subdue and vanquish the Earth.  Taking the verse in isolation, such an interpretation seems plausible, but upon consideration of Scripture in its entirety, such an interpretation seems wildly flawed.   Says Wendell Berry (1990) of this interpretation:

“Such a reading of Genesis 1:28 is contradicted by virtually all the rest of the Bible… The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made.  He thinks the world is good, and He loves it.  It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it.  And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it.  If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it?” (p. 98)


DeWitt (1994) points out that not only is the dictate from God delivered prior to the Fall, but given Jesus Christ’s servanthood as our model for dominion, it is clear that “dominion” means care and service, and not oppressive domination.  Indeed, we find not many verses later, in Genesis 2:15, that God delivers the directive to take care of the Garden (and presumably the earth), not to vanquish it:

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.




e) We cannot care for what we don’t know.


More than ever, humans have become disconnected from their environment.  We don’t know where our water comes from, we don’t know where our trash goes, we don’t know where our waste goes when we flush the toilet, we cannot name plants and animals native to our area, and so on.  Says DeWitt (1994) of this serious problem that remains even after all his stumbling blocks are addressed:

“...most people today have been alienated from the Creator and God's creation, and thus it is difficult to love, uphold, and make right again a world that we really do not know. Therefore, many will first have to become aware of creation and its God-declared goodness.”


In his article, DeWitt presents a “framework” for creation care: Awareness → Appreciation → Stewardship.  In my next chapter, I will elaborate on this framework, including thoughts on why and how we have lost touch with God’s creation and what invasive species have to do with our environmental disconnect.



Our creation disconnect



 “… I have never really felt like I was ‘from’ anywhere; home to me … is  a shared electronic dream of cartoon memories, half-hour sitcoms and national tragedies.” --- Douglas Coupland (1995, p. 174)


Think about the place where you live

Wonder why you haven't before --- R.E.M.’s Stand (1988)


Two of the classic responses to the warnings about global warming are “Great!  It’s too cold here in the winter anyhow!” and “I don’t see any changes going on.” In response to the former, it’s not so great for organisms that are incapable of automatic climate-control.  As for the latter, not seeing environmental changes does not mean that the changes are not occurring.[32]  Either a) change is so gradual that we acclimate to our changed environment without noticing it,[33] b) we are not looking in the right place, or c) more than likely, we have become so disconnected from nature that we are not looking at all.  In his recent book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv (2005) laments the current state of environmental detachment among children in America:

“The shift in our relationship to the natural world is startling, even in settings that one would assume are devoted to nature.  Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions.  As likely as not today, “summer camp” is a weight-loss camp or a computer camp.  For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality.  Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear --- to ignore.  A recent television ad depicts a four-wheel drive SUV racing along a breathtakingly beautiful mountain stream--- while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen, oblivious to the landscape and water beyond the windows.” (p. 2)


This detachment is best exemplified in the simple quote of a 4th grade boy that Louv interviewed in San Diego, who said, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” (p. 10)  Ultimately, detachment from nature has led to a condition that Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder,” which he posits can either manifest itself as or exacerbate the effects of ADD, ADHD, autism, and obesity in children (pp. 98-111).

            Louv describes the factors leading to our children’s detachment from nature, including television, commercialism, park rules, poorly designed outdoor play areas, apprehensive parents keeping their children close to home, mandated school curricula that do not allow for time to play outdoors, and even the proliferation of organized sports and other opportunities for our children:

 “The cumulative impact of overdevelopment, multiplying park rules, well-meaning (and usually necessary) environmental regulations, building regulations, community covenants, and fear of litigation sends a chilling message to our children that their free-range play is unwelcome, that organized sports on manicured playing fields is the only officially sanctioned form of outdoor recreation...  We tell our kids that traditional forms of outdoor play are against the rules... Then we get on their backs when they sit in front of the TV – and then we tell them to go outside and play.  But where?  How?  Join another organized sport?  Some kids don’t want to be organized all the time.  They want to let their imaginations run; they want to see where a stream of water takes them.” (p. 31)


            Louv points to a 2002 British study that found that 8-year-olds were “better able to identify characters from ... Pokemon than native species from the community where they lived.” (p. 33)  My hunch is that children can also name more species of dinosaurs than they can extant native species of birds.  It is with reluctance and great embarrassment that I recount the following incident from my family’s vacation to northern Minnesota this summer:  My 3-year old son Tommy and I were standing on the shore of Lake Itasca (where the Mississippi River begins), looking out over the lake, when a swallow began flying back and forth over the water some distance away.  I had just pointed out the great-blue heron on the far shore and then said “Look Tommy!  There’s a swallow!”  “What kind of swallow?” asked an intrigued Tommy as he watched it glide above the water.  “I think it’s a barn swallow,” I said.   Tommy then looked at the swallow through his binoculars (although I’m not convinced he’s skilled enough with binoculars to see something flying around) and declared “I think it’s a tree swallow.”  Now, sometimes Tommy might contradict me just to be ornery, but in this instance he seemed genuinely convince that it was a tree swallow...  and wouldn’t you know... he was right.  So this 38-year-old Ph.D. ornithologist was duly put in his place by his 3-year-old son!   The point of this digression is that if we take interest in our native plants and animals, we can easily pass this interest down to our children. 

            Television is an easy target for those who want to cast blame for our environmental disconnect, but Louv posits that television is only one facet of a larger cultural shift in American society:

 “… each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10% the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders by age seven.

      “This information is disturbing.  But television is only part of the larger environmental/cultural change in our lifetime: namely, that rapid move from a rural to a highly urbanized culture.  In an agricultural society, or during a time of exploration and settlement, or hunting and gathering---which is to say, most of mankind’s history---energetic boys were particularly prized for their strength, speed, and agility.  … [A]s recently as the 1950’s, most families still had some kind of agricultural connection.  Many of these children … would have been directing their energy and physicality in constructive ways: doing farm chores, baling hay, splashing in the swimming hole, climbing trees, racing to the sandlot for a game of baseball.  Their unregimented play would have been steeped in nature.” (p. 100-101) 


Louv suggests that commercialism contributes to our detachment from nature in that nature is not a product for sale.  Advertisers want children to buy their toys and video games, not go out and climb a tree or explore the nearby woodlot.  However, nature did eventually find its way into our commercialism in the form of nature-oriented retailing.  Louv describes the rise of the Nature Company, the mall outlet where one can buy such things as inflatable snakes and dinosaurs, brass pine cones cast from actual cones, and cd’s of nature sounds. (p. 60)  We now surround ourselves with sterilized pseudo-nature and even build subdivisions with nice environmental-sounding but completely incongruous street names like “Valley View Drive” and “Meadowlark Lane” to substitute for any meaningful connection with God’s creation. 

            Steven Bouma-Prediger and other Christian scholars have described our environmental disconnect as losing our “sense of place” and point to environmental abuse as a manifestation of this loss.  Says Bouma-Prediger:

“We care for only what we love.  We love only what we know.  We truly know only what we experience.  If we do not know our place---know it in more than a passing, cursory way, know it intimately and personally---then we are destined to use and abuse it.  For we will care for our home place only if we love it, and we will love it only if we know it, and we will know it only if we experience it firsthand---only if we see the great blue heron arch its prehistoric wings in flight, only if we hear a song sparrows and the chickadee, only if we smell the scent of a skunk or wild onion, only if we feel the warm sun of spring or the brisk breeze of autumn, only, in short, if we have and take the opportunity to know our place.” (p. 37)


Much of our loss of a sense of place can be attributed to our new-found mobility.  Dave Mahan (2001) points out that Americans move an average of fourteen times during their lifetime, thus making it easy to lose a sense of place.  He likewise posits that:

“We also live in time rather than place.  We know how long it takes us to get somewhere, but we are often oblivious to the countryside we pass through….  If we don’t appreciate, understand and care for the land where we live, aren’t we in an ecological sense really homeless?  … If you have a sense of place then nature is much more than scenery or backdrop for the important stuff in life; the natural world is a key part of the reality of your daily life. 

      “Living without a sense of place is significant because it directly impacts our environmental behavior.  In the course of feeding, heating and covering ourselves we all engage in environmentally destructive actions…  Our environmentally destructive behavior is generally done out of ignorance.”


According to Wendell Berry (1990) and others, colleges and universities contribute to this problem of “homelessness.”  Says Berry:

“The child is [no longer] educated to return home and be of use to the place and community; he or she is educated to LEAVE home and earn money in a provisional future that has nothing to do with place or community.” (p. 163)


 Bouma-Prediger (2003) shares this view:


“Colleges and universities … Christian or secular, tend to educate for upward mobility, to alienate people from their local habitation, and to encourage the vandalization of the earth... Students who have no intention of staying anywhere too long... demonstrate a profound geo-political, historical, and aesthetic ignorance...  Without any sense of commitment to place, one pays no attention to neighbors, cares little about the dynamics of local community politics, never comes to understand the stories that have shaped this place to be the place it is, and never hangs around enough to appreciate the art, literature, poetry, and folk traditions that this place has fostered.” (p. 281 & 283)


Ultimately, as DeWitt (1994) posits that, because of our alienation from the Creator and creation, we cannot “make right again a world that we really do not know… We cannot appreciate [and value] that of which we are unaware… [and] appreciation leads to … stewardship.”  Bouma-Prediger calls the attitude of care the “hardest piece of the puzzle” (p. 24) to cultivate.  Accordingly, he calls for experience as the first step toward caring: “We care for only what we love.  We love only what we know.  We truly know only what we experience.”  We thus have two conceptually similar formulas for becoming effective stewards of creation:

· DeWitt: Awareness → Appreciation → Stewardship 


· Bouma-Prediger: Experience → Know → Love → Care


In essence, the first step toward creation care is to see, too smell, to hear, to name… to intentionally enter and re-connect with our natural world.

            Unfortunately, beyond the myriad forces that have acted to disconnect us and our children from God’s creation, Louv sees several other “barriers” to getting our children re-connected with nature, including the lack of unstructured free time, lack of quality environmental education, and the not-necessarily-irrational parental fear of traffic, crime, stranger-danger, and nature itself (what Louv calls the “Bogeyman syndrome” [34]).  He explains that our children are taught about the rainforests and how to “save the planet” by recycling.  They are shown videos of indigenous people displaced by development, and that “between the end of morning recess and the beginning of lunch, more than 10 thousand acres of rainforest will be cut down, making way for fast-food, ‘hamburgerable’ cattle.  But “...lacking direct experience with nature, children begin to associate it with fear and apocalypse, not joy and wonder.” (p. 133)  Likewise, Van Dyke et al. challenge science educators to change how we teach about creation: “We must begin to teach students how to celebrate creation and not merely measure it.  And we must make these things the foundations of our teachings, not merely a ‘devotional’ appendage.” (p. 38)  


Sensitivity to the bondage to decay


As we experience and become aware of God’s creation, we will likely become acutely conscious of the “bondage to decay” that creation is experiencing.  Case in point, I took my environmental science students out to Northwestern’s prairie near Hawarden to do some IOWATER water testing of Sixmile Creek.  One of the water quality measures is to quantify what species of benthic macroinvertebrates are present.  The presence of highly sensitive species would indicate good water quality, while the presence of only those species tolerant of pollution and contaminants (or the complete absence of species) would indicate low quality.  I gave my students little dip nets to catch critters with, and within a few minutes, one student came back and asked me whether “turds are a low-quality species,” as he had scooped some cow(?) poop out of the stream as it floated past.  Of course, all the students were repulsed by the thought of cow turds floating in our waterways.  Upon learning that this was not an aberration and that most of the waterways in Iowa are not safe for recreational use, these students were suddenly having second thoughts about participating in the Battle of the Mighty Floyd.  From these and other experiences in my class, these students became acutely aware of the groanings of creation that they had blissfully ignored for so long.


The “groanings”


As we increase our awareness of God’s suffering creation, what do we see?  In his book For the Beauty of the Earth, Bouma-Prediger summarizes the groanings of creation as human population growth,[35] hunger,[36] deforestation,[37] water scarcity and impurity,[38] land degradation,[39] waste production (i..e., trash), energy misuse, air pollution and acid rain, global climate change, and loss of biodiversity.  Since loss of biodiversity is a key impact of invasive species, I will focus this groaning.

Bouma-Prediger estimates the current rate of loss of biodiversity to be approximately 3 species of plants and animals per day, which is 100 to 1000 times the “background” extinction rate, the rate of extinction occurring in the archaeological record of the recent geological past.  Of this “biotic holocaust”, Sheldon and Foster (2003) write:

“We would argue that it is this human-induced extinction that a steward must guard against.  Scientists tell us that the present rate of extinction matches that of the 5 major extinctions in the past.  What is different today is that one species, humankind, is clearly driving the process.” (p. 375)


According to Brennan and Withgott (2005) and many other environmental science textbooks, the major causes for species extinction are habitat alteration, invasive species, pollution, human population growth, and overexploitation,[40] although the authors acknowledge that “the reasons for the decline of any given species are often multifaceted and complex and, as such, can be difficult to determine.” (p. 470)  

            Some may argue that environmentally speaking, change is natural and that species that cannot adapt to change are naturally selected against.   After all, the environment is not a static system.  Much of the present-day midwestern U.S. at one point in the past was submerged beneath a shallow ocean and was covered with ice as recently as 10 to 12 thousand years ago (Prior).  Since that time, species have redistributed themselves across the continent (Townsend et al. 2003 p. 62) and in some cases have probably gone extinct.  Even when climate is stable, the natural process of ecological succession typically occurs, wherein certain species supplant other, earlier successional species.  Weedy annuals are typically replaced by perennials and woody species (e.g., trees), and later-successional and climax species, being more shade-tolerant than early-successional species, germinate and grow in the shade of the early-successional species, eventually outcompeting them for resources and excluding them from the area.  Gradually a climax community would become established, and early successional species, having been squeezed out, recolonize the area only after some kind of disturbance.[41]  In extremely dry areas (e.g., short-grass prairie), succession often does not lead to the establishment of trees, with exception being along water courses, where sufficient moisture is more readily available.[42] 

            The argument that environmental change is natural and therefore it’s “too-bad-so-sad” for any species unable to adapt ignores the fact that virtually all extinctions occurring on this planet are caused by humans.  While God has wisely gifted species with the ability to adapt to changing environments, the rapidity of the change that we are forcing upon the rest of creation is unparalleled at a large scale except perhaps for the changes that induced the five historic mass-extinctions found in the earth’s fossil records.[43]  The timescale necessary for an evolutionary response is typically much longer than the amount of time we now give many species to adapt to their new environment.  For example, birds on isolated islands that have lost the ability to fly over thousands of years because there were no ground predators to evade cannot be expected to regain their flight upon the sight of a feral cat or a brown tree snake (or human, for that matter[44]).  Given the prolific nature of these and other invasive ground predators, the flightless birds do not stand a chance, evolutionarily speaking.  So while some point to the nature of evolutionary processes to mitigate our responsibility for the global loss of biodiversity, the fact is that humans affect the system in such a way as to remove the evolutionary time scale from the equation, and therefore the “too-bad-so-sad” argument is not very persuasive.[45]  This argument also ignores our stewardship directive (see next chapter) and the fact that God loves his creation and receives glory and praise from all of His creation:

“As our wanton exploitation of nature renders increasing species of animals and plants extinct, there are fewer kinds of praise that can be raised to the Lord… there are fewer and fewer trees that can point upward to God and rustle their leaves in applause to the King of the universe.” (Campolo 1992 p. 129)


            With our increased ability to transport organisms across the globe, the story of the invasive species plays itself out time and again, with a new actor playing the role of villain.  Students often ask me why God created invasive species.  God created the species; humans make them invasive.  For example, feral pigs have been decimating the native Hawaiian ecosystem for years.  As Clements and Corapi (2005) point out, “The pig is simply living out its pigness wherever it finds itself,” (p. 50) which in this case is where humans have placed it.  “The pig has no instrumental value to organisms other than humans in this habitat, and severely impacts the instrumental and intrinsic value of the ecosystem.” (p. 50)  They therefore conclude that in order to protect the integrity of the native ecosystem, it is our Christian responsibility to remove the pig from the island.   

As we look at a landscape or biological community that is changing gradually and imperceptibly, by the time we notice that there is a problem it is often too late to do much about it, or it becomes a goliath task to do something about it.  For example, almost immediately after the cane toads were introduced to Australia, people realized that the toads were not “doing their job,” and the 300 or so cane toads on the continent at that time would have been easily removed.  It was not until the toads numbered in the thousands and became a nuisance that people realized the problem on their hands, and although there are a few promising leads in the efforts to eradicate the toads from Australia (e.g., introducing an all-male gene into the population; Taylor and Edwards 2005), the probability that these expensive efforts will be 100% effective appear slim at best. 

            Just prior to the introduction of the cane toads, scientists had observed a short-term, significant inverse relationship between cane toad and cane beetle numbers after the introduction of the toads onto the islands of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and they erroneously concluded that cane toads were putting a dent in the beetle population.  Of course, correlations do not prove cause/effect, and soon after the cane toads were introduced to the Australian continent, scientists determined that they do not eat cane beetle grubs and that the correlation was spurious.  Thus, in the case of the cane toads, no information on the imprudence of the introduction was available at the time of the introduction, but today many invasions are facilitated despite readily available evidence of the potential harm.  Although not so challenging a problem as the cane toad, the Eastern redcedar is often aided in its spread by a blissfully ignorant public and is another example of a species not recognized as a problem until it is out of hand.  Hundreds of acres of mixed grass prairie at the Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve near Valentine, Nebraska, are being invaded by redcedars spreading from those originally planted by a neighbor as windbreaks and shelter for his cattle.  As the planted redcedars matured, the females began producing berries that were eaten by birds, which then defecated the seeds across the Nature Conservancy’s land.  By the time John Ortmann, current manager of the preserve, was hired, he had hundreds of acres of prairie pastureland peppered with thousands of small cedar trees that had spread into the preserve.  If allowed to mature, the redcedars in the preserve would further reduce the grazing capacity of the land and would take over the pastures, as cows and buffalo will not eat them.   The neighbor has now decided that he has “just the right amount of cedars.”  Of course, he now has hundreds of acres of mature redcedars in his pastures that are getting bigger and bigger and are producing thousands upon thousands of seeds.  He’ll probably soon come to his senses and begin removing the cedars, but if he doesn’t it will mean that the Nature Conservancy may be fighting a battle they cannot win.  The hillsides at Inspiration Hills now face the same peril.  Hundreds of small to midsized redcedars dot the hillsides, and it will take the coordinated effort of many individuals (perhaps a church group and/or dorm) to return the landscape to pre-invasion condition.  Inspiration Hills actually leases the hillsides for grazing, and they are losing money because of the decreased production due to the cedars.  If the cedars are allowed to mature, they will become too large for hand tools and cumbersome chain saws will be necessary, so expeditious efforts to eradicate the redcedars are warranted.

            Our environmental ignorance manifests itself in one species invasion after another as people discard their pets into the environment, smuggle produce on airplanes, fail to clean their fishing gear, boats, and trailers when transferring them from one body of water to another, and even knowingly plant species that they know are invasive.  Someone in Paullina has a yard full of purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, a species whose spread has reached epidemic levels in many states.  The species completely alters wetland ecosystems, threatening the bog turtle Clemmys muhlenbergii and many species of plants in the northeastern U.S. and elsewhere (GISD 2005k; WSDE).  Although sale of the plant has wisely been banned in Iowa, it is not illegal to possess the plant or give it away, and this person happily shares his plants with whoever wants some, as “the plants not spreading out of control in my yard.” 


             Ultimately, we cannot care for what we do not know.  We cannot be good stewards of God’s creation if we remain disconnected from and disinterested in creation and make no attempt to re-connect with nature and raise our own ecological awareness.  As Campolo (1992) explains:

“Respect and concern for the environment has to come from this special kind of spiritual sensitivity to nature.  Statistics on the depletion rates of the rainforest or the facts about the destruction of the ozone layer won’t do it.

      “Only if we, as a people, once again fall in love with nature and subjectively empathize with the sense of the transcendent that can be encountered there will the careless destruction of the environment distress us.  Only if we … “have eyes to see and ears to hear” the sacred presence in the midst of the natural is there any real possibility that we will become caretakers of God’s creation as He has called us to be.” (p. 122)


Beyond being grounded in such spiritual sensitivity toward nature, our acts of stewardship should also be “informed by our scientific understanding[46] and by stewardship principles given to us in scripture.” (Mahan 2001)  With an understanding of the causes and effects of our disconnect from the rest of creation and a framework for overcoming this environmental ignorance, we further explore scripture and our stewardship responsibility in the final chapter of this paper. 





Our call to stewardship



“Somehow the awe over Noah’s ark has fallen through the cracks of the adult church.  Christian church discussions about creation are much more likely to focus on the Creation vs. evolution debate than on stewardship of God’s world.” (Sheldon & Foster 2003, p. 365)


            Quilts are used for keeping warm.  There are two ways to keep warm with a quilt: by covering up with it, and by burning it.  When my wife gives away a quilt she’s made, it would be pretty short-sighted on the part of the receiver to burn the quilt in a fireplace in order to keep warm.  Instead of keeping people warm in perpetuity (or at least until it falls apart), the quilt is gone.  Not only would we deem it foolish and short-sighted for someone to do that, we would also view such action as incredibly inconsiderate and ungrateful of the love and care that went into making the quilt.  And if my wife learned of the fate of the quilt, she would not be pleased, to say the least.  It might even make her more reluctant to give away quilts in the future.  The gift of God’s creation is much more amazingly beautiful than one of Mary’s quilts.  What shall we do with this gift?

            Actually, this quilt analogy is not quite perfect, as Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.


So technically, God’s creation does not even belong to us.  God has gifted us the use and enjoyment of creation, but it is not ours.  Since it is not ours to do with as we wish, we turn to scripture to learn what God’s “fair-use” policy looks like … that is, what God expects of us regarding the use and stewardship of creation.    

In the above passage and repeatedly throughout scripture, God reminds us that all of creation belongs to him, which in and of itself should tell us to treat creation with care and respect.  Of course, as we saw in a previous chapter, we have the oft-misinterpreted Genesis 1:28 telling us to oppressively dominate creation.  Many people (especially non-Christians wanting to blame all environmental woes on Christians) do not even make it to Genesis 2:15, where God tells Adam to take care of the Garden. 

We see the appropriate response for being given dominion over God’s creation in Psalm 8.  In this psalm, David seems to be in awe of God, his works, and his love for humankind, and he seems humbled by the position given to humankind as “ruler” over God’s works:

3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!


Of course, we have already examined scripture regarding the many purposes of creation beyond human use, including the fact that God enjoys his creation and uses creation to reveal himself.   We have likewise examined scriptural support for the argument that all of creation groans in its bondage to decay, awaiting the same redemption promised to all believers.  When I ask my environmental science students about God’s purposes for creation, every so often a student will propose that God uses creation as a “training ground” for his servants.  In essence, those who are faithful in their responsibilities on earth will be given greater responsibilities in heaven,[47] reflecting Jesus’ words in the parable of the loaned money:

His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' (Matthew 25:21)


Likewise, Jesus describes the faithful steward in Luke 12:42-44:


Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.


Not only does God establish in scripture that those who are faithful will be rewarded, he also has some choice words for those who put themselves first and ignore their stewardly responsibilities, with verses in Ezekiel and Revelations specifically mentioning environmental abuse:

That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  (Luke 12:47)  


Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?  (Ezekiel 34:18-19)  


The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great-- and for destroying those who destroy the earth.  (Rev. 11:18) 


Given that a) creation is God’s and not ours, b) God purposes creation for much more than just use by humans, c) God loves his creation, d) God has given us stewardship responsibility[48]  for his creation, e) God condemns those who abuse the earth and do not sustain its resources for use by others, and f) the appropriate response is one of gratitude when given any gift (especially a gift from the creator of the universe!), it behooves us as God’s people to change our attitudes about God’s creation and to take our stewardship responsibilities seriously. Wendell Berry (1993) refers to our destruction of nature as tantamount to “flinging God’s gifts into his face,” raising more than a few eyebrows and ruffling more than a few feathers with his position that our abuse of nature is blasphemous:

“…[W]e and all other creatures live by a sanctity that is inexpressibly intimate, for to every creature, the gift of life is a portion of the breath and spirit of God...  We will discover that for these reasons, our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy.  It is flinging God’s gifts into his face, as if they were of no worth beyond that assigned to them by our destruction of them....  We have no entitlement from the Bible to exterminate or permanently destroy or hold in contempt anything on the earth or in the heavens above it or in the waters beneath it…  We have the right to use what we need but no more…” (p. 41)


Others (e.g., Sheldon & Foster 2003) have since also jumped on the “blasphemy” bandwagon:


“The loss of species at the hand of the steward rather than the owner, the pollution of the air and the defiling of the water that supports life are blasphemous acts and mark our failure as stewards... It is the steward’s job to ensure that problems do not arise as a result of human disregard or neglect.” (p. 368)


Even if we ignore our God-given stewardship responsibilities and simply consider how our abuse of the environment affects humans both now and in the future, the logical conclusion is that we must immediately do whatever we can to stop the irreparable harm occurring to the environment.   


How and where do we start?


Unfortunately, even knowing what God calls us to do, many people will still not respond to God’s call to creation care.  Why is this so?  In her (secular) essay Symbols, writer Kris Hardin (1993) explains that our lifestyle and consumption patterns are so ingrained that we resist making real changes in our lifestyles and instead just do those actions symbolic of concern for the environment, such as donating money to environmental causes or slapping an environmental bumper sticker on the family car: 

“There are countless examples of environmentally conscious actions that have been adopted in the flurry of a cause only to be abandoned when the next cause appears...  These and many more instances show that we have chosen the easy way out.  Anyone interested in stewardship must begin to ask why this is so.  The answer can only be that we really don’t want to make changes or even adjustments to the lifestyle and consumption patterns that are embedded in the... human psyche.  It is much easier to decide to put a bumper sticker on the family car than to decide not to use that car three days a week...  Recognizing this is a first step toward, if not changing, at least working against this ethos.  Another step is to begin to ask questions about our place in the world and the consequences of our actions for that world.” (pp. 28-29)


Van Dyke et al. (1996) blame the inertia preventing people from taking action on the sinful nature of humanity:

“The sinful nature of humanity is nowhere more evident in a world in which we possess the means to care for creation but not the will.  And to admit this is one of the most penetrating and painful confessions that an unbelieving world can make.  Yet the facts force this admission upon us.” (p. 63)


As Clements and Corapi (2003) point out, stewardship may impact our time and financial resources,[49] two things Americans hold near and dear, and until we individually decide that obedience to God’s call is more important than these two things, we will not work toward restoring creation.


With eyes that see…

The “groanings” of creation can be deafening and overwhelming once you can “hear” them.  Blissful ignorance is not acceptable, and once we experience God’s creation and become acutely aware of its bondage, it is so easy to become depressed and just give up in despair.  Sometimes I wish as an ecologist that I could just enjoy a walk on a recreational trail or a hike through a forest without noticing all the things that are “wrong with the picture.”  I took seven ecology students to Colorado last summer.  As we drove down the west side of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, surrounded by creation’s incredible beauty, my students began commenting on the state of the park’s forests.  “Wow, this place is gonna burn!  Look at all the fuel,” noted one student.[50]  Another student commented on all the trees that been killed by bark beetles.  With eyes that see, it becomes difficult to enjoy creation… 

Although it is easy to despair because it seems like we cannot make a difference, God does not call us to fix everything.  We are simply called to work toward the restoring of creation in a work that ultimately will not be complete until the day of Christ’s return.  As Van Dyke et al. (1996) explain:   

“As God’s children, we have a special responsibility toward the rest of creation…  Indeed the Bible declares that all creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the children of God…  Because we live in covenant bond with God, we begin the process of restoring creation.  The completion of this work is an act of God, and we cannot presume to do that.  But we do, we must, demonstrate the reality of Christ’s work in our treatment of creation, and we should expect substantial healing to occur if we treat creation in obedience to the covenant God established with it.” (p. 88)


Van Dyke et al. explain that in our witness to the world, we are called to begin the work of redemption within our sphere of influence… in our own homes, churches, and campuses:

“The work of redemption must begin on lands entrusted to each Christian individually, and to us as a church corporately.  In homes and on farms, on church grounds and camps, at college campuses and retreat centers, we must begin to live out these principles...  Unless we show both commitment and practicality of doing things properly in our own house, it will never be an attractive option for our neighbors.  Yet it is precisely our neighbors whom we must influence.  The lands we can influence directly are small.  It is corporations and government which must be persuaded by words and deeds.  Only this way can we influence the redemption of creation that lies beyond our control...   For now, we must simply remember what it means to rule and subdue.  If we would rule as God rules, and subdue as God subdues, then we must change both our thoughts and our tactics.  To rule creation means to serve creation.  Any other response to nature is no imitation of Christ, no help to creation and no witness to the world.” (p. 100)


Within our homes and on our campuses, we can do simple things like recycle, use less electricity and water, and the like, but none of those things reconnect us with God’s creation.  Perhaps a trip to the garbage dump, wastewater treatment plant, or even a coal strip mine[51] is warranted, so we can see how simple actions like flushing our toilet and turning on a light affect our environment.   

  Even better, we can all work to restore a little piece of God’s creation.  Northwestern College has a thriving 16-acre restored prairie near Hawarden.  Margo Vanderhill gathered native prairie seeds from old cemeteries and railroad beds in the area, planted the seeds (with Rein’s blessing and assistance), and now has a restored prairie on her land just outside of Alton.  She brings school groups in to harvest seeds to be used for starting other native prairie restoration projects in the area.  Unfortunately, this restorative work is made more difficult by invasive species.  For example, in its infancy, Northwestern’s prairie was faced with an invasion of shattercane Sorghum bicolor, and only because of the vigilance, early detection, and quick action of wise ecology professors, a major shattercane invasion was thwarted.  The prairie now faces invasion by downy brome Bromus tectorum and Canada thistle Cirsium arvense, two invasive species that are always looking for new areas to conquer.  If one does not have the land and/or the wherewithal to attempt a new prairie restoration, one can find a “natural area” (to the extent that they exist around here) to protect against invasive species.  For example, not only does Oak Grove Park have problems with redcedar and buckthorn, an even more insidious invader called leafy spurge Euphorbia esula has found its way into the park.  Thought to have been brought into the park by a geocacher[52] inadvertently transferring seeds on his/her clothing, leafy spurge is now spreading through much of the park and actually puts other parks in jeopardy, as geocachers stopping at Oak Grove may inadvertently pick up seeds on their boots, sock, or pants, and transfer the seeds to geocaching sites in other parks.

On restoring an ecosystem groaning from invasive species, Clements and Corapi state:

“The end result of restoration… is a display of God’s glory, whether its object is a people held in captivity or vegetation like the o’hi’a tree (Metrosideros polymorpha) held captive to the onslaught of invasive species.” (p. 52)


My students find it incredibly rewarding to restore natural areas held captive by invasive species, as the “display of God’s glory” is visible and tangible (unlike other laudable activities like recycling and water conservation).  This kind of restorative work helps us see God’s creation up close and personal, allowing us to “meet” the captive local species and learn their names (probably the first steps toward caring)[53].  We are called to participate in the restoration of creation, and to the extent that we can work toward this restoration (or at the very least, work toward preventing the spread of invasives), we should aspire and strive to do so.  Psalm 24 reads:

I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.  I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest--  and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.  (Psalm 24:30-34)


A groaning creation awaits the unfolding of our hands…

Works cited


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Clements, D., and Corapi, W.  2005.  Paradise lost?  Setting the boundaries around invasive species.  Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 57(1): 44-54.

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[1]  The common dandelion Taraxicum officinale is believed by many to have been introduced from Europe as a food crop in the 1600’s.  Dandelions are successful in heavily disturbed and cultivated areas.  While generally classified as an invasive, it is actually not a very strong competitor, and unless it is growing in thick, dense patches, it is usually supplanted by other species (USDA Forest Service).  For example, dandelions had not been found in Northwestern’s prairie in 2003-2005 but showed up after the prairie was burned (i.e., disturbed) in spring 2006, and our fall 2006 survey revealed over 1% of the plants in the prairie to be dandelions.  This year (2007) the percentage has already dropped to <0.5% and will probably continue to decline.  Dandelions are ultimately a nuisance for Americans who like nicely mowed lawns (and therefore spend millions of dollars annually to control the weed) but ultimately do not impact native species nearly as negatively as do other invasive species. 


[2] E.g., the release of rabbits, cats, and pigs onto sensitive Pacific Islands resulting in the decimation of indigenous flora and fauna.


[3]  This typically occurs when humans alter an environment, creating an environment hospitable to a species that otherwise would not have been able to survive in the area.  For example, as Americans settled the eastern U.S., they fragmented the native forests, creating edge habitat for brown-headed cowbirds Molothrus ater, a nest parasite whose range until that point had been limited to the open expanses of the Great Plains.  The birds spread eastward and began laying eggs in the nests of other species of birds that had not evolved a defense against the cowbirds’ reproductive tactics.  The cowbird’s eggs hatch sooner than those of the host species, and the cowbird babies grow rapidly and outcompete the hosts’ own babies (if they even hatch), thus severely reducing the reproductive output of the hosts.  Kirtland’s warblers Dendroica kirtlandii and many other eastern species of songbird have been severely impacted by brown-headed cowbirds (Michigan DNR).


[4] E.g., the introduction of various fungi from Europe into our eastern forests, leading to the loss of elms via Dutch elm disease Ophiostoma ulmi (GISD 2005m), chestnut trees via chestnut blight Cryphonectria parasitica (GISD 2005f), and white pines via white pine blister rust Cronartium ribicola (GISD 2005e).


[5] Extirpation is the local extinction of a species (vs. global extinction).  For example, the greater prairie-chicken Tympanuchus cupido has been extirpated from the state of Iowa (as over 99.9% of Iowa’s original prairie has been converted to cropland), but they can still be found in every state surrounding Iowa.


[6] Eggs are often laid in pets’ outdoor water bowls.

[7] House sparrows eat ripening grain and fruit.


[8] E.g., increased woody vegetation by preventing fires and planting trees, increased bird feeders, etc.


[9]  Indeed, this paper does not concern itself with interspecific interactions of native species (i.e., not the result of human involvement).  Ecologists tend to look at those situations as natural selection in progress.  Typically the only time native species are a concern is when they (cont.)    [9](cont.) have  negative economic impact.  For example, the locusts that decimated crops in the Midwest in the late 1800’s would not be considered invasive because they appear to have naturally dispersed across the prairies from their mountain home before humans converted the prairies into cropland (Lockwood 2005).  


[10] “Supercooling” is the ability of a fluid to drop below its freezing-point temperature without ice crystals forming.  Organisms usually cannot survive the freezing of their body fluids.

[11] Indeed, many disease-causing pathogens such as bubonic plague Yersinia pestis are themselves considered to be invasive species (GISDa 2005).

[12] Snails are the intermediate host of Schistosoma, a parasitic flatworm.  Schistosoma larvae develop within snails and complete their development in human skin, lungs, and liver, feeding on red blood cells, causing abdominal pain, malnutrition, cough, fever, and fatigue, along with various other pathological manifestations.


[13] Anopheles quadrimaculatis is a species of mosquitoes invasive in North America and is the key vector of malaria in the Western Hemisphere.


[14] Laurie Furlong and I are currently researching the effects of European buckthorn on the forests of Sioux County, Iowa.  


[15] Recent NWC graduate Nic Boersma (’06) is currently studying the potential allelopathic properties of European buckthorn at Iowa State University.


[16] Potentially even contaminating wine made from infested grapes. 

[17] In all likelihood, you do not need convincing that God provides creation for use by humans, so I will spare you an overly detailed exegesis of this fact. 


[18] Instrumental values of creation, listed as “Benefits of biodiversity” in Brennan & Withgott’s (2005) secular environmental science textbook, include:

· food, fuel, and fiber

· shelter and building materials

· purification of air and water

· detoxification and decomposition of wastes

· stabilization and moderation of Earth’s climate

· moderation of floods, droughts, wind, and temperature extremes

· nutrient cycling and generation and renewal of soil fertility

· pollination of plants, including many crops

· control of pests and diseases

· maintenance of genetic resources as key inputs to crop varieties, livestock breeds, and medicines

· cultural and aesthetic benefits



[19] The identity of the behemoth and leviathan are open to debate.


[20] Much of the intrinsic value described in Christian stewardship writings could be better labeled as “divinely instrumental,” as God uses his creation for manifold purposes beyond use by humans, exemplified in this explanation of “intrinsic value” by Bouma-Prediger.

[21] Except perhaps for some plants and bacteria…  We’ll assume “small creatures” includes protists.  See footnote #7.


[22] A similar interpretive dilemma is faced throughout scripture.  For example, Psalm 104:19 states that “... the sun knows when to go down.”  Can the sun really “know”?  Does the sun have a brain?


[23] While I would personally normally consider “creatures” to refer specifically to animals, many Christian ecologists consider all organisms to be “creatures” since they were created.

[24] “True” coneys are better known as pikas.  These small burrowing mammals are closely related to rabbits and are found in mountainous areas of Asia and North America.  The Biblical coney could also be a hyrax, a small ungulate that can be mistaken for a well-fed rabbit or pika.  Coneys are declared as unclean in the Law, which may tell us something about chilidogs.  ;)


[25] I confess that the house sparrow was my favorite species of bird when I was a young child, but there weren’t many other species of birds in my Chicago neighborhood at the time and indeed, the sparrows were the only birds that would come and eat the bread crumbs we threw out.

[26] Whether God is still actively creating remains open to debate and is not relevant to this paper.


[27] The view of the redemption of all of creation is widely accepted by Christian writers, even those whose main focus is not “creation care.”  For example, in his book on vocation, Schuurman states:

“This larger theological perspective, in which God’s purpose includes the redemption of human life in its entirety, including institutions, and even the cosmos, encourages Christians to (cont.)


sense God’s purpose and call in all of life.  The Spirit of God not only gives “spiritual” gifts to be employed in the service of the community of faith; it also gives “natural” gifts for the benefit of the wider human community. In light of the comprehensive character of God’s kingdom and purposes, it is legitimate to (cont.)

extend the New Testament emphasis upon gifts and calling in the church into gifts and calling in the broader society.” (p. 36)

Strangely, although Schuurman discusses the redemption of all of creation, his book seems to focus solely on vocation as it pertains to the direct service of humans and society as a whole (For example, he posits: “Because leisure and recreation are important needs, producing products to serve those needs can be a vocation.  But the deepest integration of faith and life occurs when the essential needs are met through one’s products, and when they are met for the most vulnerable and needy of the world...  insofar as one is able, one should seek occupations that meet the needs of others.” (p. 170)  Unless “vulnerable and needy” includes non-humans... but that’s not the impression I get.


[28] Whether the “groaning” is physical and audible to God or just metaphorical is open to debate.  The greater issue here is that redemption of all of creation is not metaphorical.  

[29] Historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism, and dispensationalism


Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 

[31] I wonder whether the movie would have been better received if The Terminator were delivering the message... 

[32] I do not wish to expound on the topic of global warming, as I am intentionally avoiding having to spend scores of pages of writing simply convincing the reader that the phenomenon is real.  


[33] Speaking to this phenomenon of acclimation with regard to the urbanization and development of our natural landscape, Black Hills resident and author Dan O’Brien (1993) states, “It strikes me that the human characteristic that is perhaps most unfortunate is our ability to get used to almost any insult to our senses if it comes gradually enough.” (p. 19)  In essence, unless one is in close relationship with one’s environment, small, gradual changes will go unnoticed.

[34] As an example of parental reaction to the Bogeyman Syndrome, Louv points to the proliferation of indoor play areas at fast-food restaurants: “Seeking a safe alternative to outdoor play, some parents drive their children to fast-food restaurants and let them loose in admission-free indoor tunnel-mazes and accompanying “ball pits.” (p. 129)  Louv points out that, ironically, the ball pits are almost never cleaned and can harbor bacteria and viruses, and are thus a health hazard to children.  He also points out that “the Environmental Protection Agency now warns us that INDOOR air pollution is the nations #1 environmental threat to health” (via toxic mold, allergens, bacteria, carbon monoxide, radon, and lead dust), with indoor air quality being two to ten times worse than outdoor air quality.  (p. 130)


[35] This in and of itself perhaps should not be considered a “groaning,” as it is the impact of these people on the planet’s resources that is the issue.  If everyone on the planet were to live the lifestyle of the average American, the carrying capacity of the planet would be 1.8 billion people, meaning that we would need almost five Earths, as there are now 6.6 billion people on the planet (U.S. Census Bureau).  The overuse and misuse of resources causes creation to groan, and the more people, the more overuse and misuse will occur.


[36] According to Bouma-Prediger, 1.2 billion people on the planet suffer from undernourishment.  Our ability to catch/harvest and produce food has leveled off, and current population trends and with more of our crops being put into alternative fuels, the number of undernourished will rise.  


[37] According to Bouma-Prediger, at least 200 million hectares (an area larger than Mexico) of forest on our planet vanished between 1980 and 1995.  Beyond the forests being cut for wood, many of our other forests are dying from disease, acid rain, air pollution, etc.


[38] Beyond the obvious problem of water pollution, our world and its inhabitants suffer from a lack of fresh water.  Rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers are all drying up as we overuse our freshwater resources.  The Aral Sea, once the 4th largest lake, now holds less than ¼ of its previous volume, and once supplying humans with 44,000 tons of fish per year, no longer contains fish.  The Colorado River no longer reaches the Gulf of California.  The San Joaquin Valley in California has subsided over 75 feet from the depletion of the groundwater aquifers beneath it. 


8 desertification, erosion, etc.


[40] overharvesting and overconsumption of resources

[41] An example of a small-scale disturbance would be mature tree dying and creating a break in an otherwise closed canopy.  A large-scale disturbance might be a forest fire or clear-cut (Townsend et al. 2003; Brennan & Withgott 2005).


[42] Our tallgrass prairie faces a tenuous fate in that over 99.5% of the original 38 million acres of tallgrass prairie in the north-central U.S. and Manitoba has met the fate of the plow and has become “functionally non-existent over the past 100 years,” while much of the remaining prairie, without proper prescription of a burning regime and/or grazing and trampling, will be overtaken by woody plants and trees (USFWS).  Case in point, the Loess Hills, which run from just north of Sioux City south to the Missouri border, are an almost solid swath of forest and agricultural fields, but prior to the 20th century and the removal of fire and grazers, the hills were almost entirely prairie.  Today there are some relict patches of tallgrass prairie left in the loess (cont.)

[42] (cont.) hills, but many of these patches are heavily managed because they are constantly being invaded by woody species (Perley).


[43] For example, the Creataceous extinction of 65 million years ago is thought by many to have occurred as a result of an asteroid or large comet colliding with Earth (Campbell & Reece 2002 p. 491).


[44] Students sometimes ask me whether humans might be considered an “invasive species.”  The dodo birds Raphus cucullatus would probably think so, but we can’t ask them...


[45] The “too-bad-so-sad” argument is also based on flawed logic…  People today would find it unconscionable to land on a heretofore undiscovered, remote island and then run around bludgeoning all of the native flightless birds, but many of these people would have no qualms about introducing house cats onto the island, with the cats then killing all of the birds.   In both scenarios, humans have caused the extinction of the birds, but in the latter scenario, humans are removed from the carnage, which of course makes it ok…


[46] Kenneth Petersen (2003) echoes the importance of scientific knowledge in being effective stewards in his essay The Educational Imperative of Creation Care:  “The immensity of this stewardly responsibility is imposing, and we readily appreciate that we can steward with wisdom and competence only if we understand Earth’s fabric and creatures and its processes and rhythms.” (p. 433)  Although Petersen sees education as foundational to our effectiveness as stewards, he also faults our educational system for much of our current state of affairs: “But if the … trends in the planet’s condition and in educational output are true, our educational systems are, at best, lacking something, and have, at worst, misdirected many generations of young people.  For it is the “well-educated” of the world that are primarily to blame for the aforementioned groanings of creation, and more of the same kind of education will only exacerbate the pain.” (p. 434)

[47] However these heavenly responsibilities may manifest themselves…

[48] Our role as stewards of ALL of God’s creation is often acknowledged and described in Christian vocation books, although the role of serving non-human creation is generally de-emphasized.  For example, in his book chapter entitiled The Product of Work: Vocation Creates Meaning, Douglas Schuurman ultimately lays out a seemingly incomplete view of “religiously meaningful” work by failing to mention service to non-human creation (although a wise reader would understand that a healthy environment is a “human need”):

“The product of one’s work is another source of meaning.  Knowing that fruit of one’s labor is meeting the genuine needs of others creates meaning and adds joy to work... By meeting the needs of others through their work, workers participate in God’s providence, as agents through which God’s care and love are expressed in the world…  The needs of people are numerous and varied... Through various callings, God’s provident care for the world is expressed.  Insofar as work meets genuine human needs, then, it is religiously meaningful as cooperation in God’s provident care for the world.”(p. 168) (cont.)

[48](cont.) In his book Here I am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing?, author Quentin Schultze seems to present a more explicitly inclusive view of “vocation,” summarizing our stewardship role as follows:

 “Just as God cares for his entire universe, we are called to be caretakers of God’s world.  God calls us to love Jesus Christ by caring FOR and ABOUT our neighbor.  When we live faithfully as caretakers under God’s authority, our many stations become opportunities for us to participate in Jesus Christ’s renewal of all things... Our overall vocation is to care for God’s world.... By the grace of the Triune God, wholehearted caring transforms our compensated or volunteer stations into royal service under the King.  God redeems us and invites us to a partnership in this divine purpose.  “All things” are ours for caring service.  Each station offers an opportunity to participate... in the renewal of his broken world.  ... we tend to concoct short-term, egocentric plans.  We think in small, secular terms, wrongly assuming that the world is merely ours and that we humans can determine the future apart from God.  As a result, we fail to care for the world as God’s special creation. 

      “True caretakers accept responsibility for others’ needs under God’s authority (like the Samaritan)...  If we reject this higher calling, we become carelessly selfish.  For example, we might drive recklessly, speeding, skipping stop signs, and throwing trash out of car windows.  Instead we should drive carefully, leaving notes of apology and responsibility when we ding someone else’s vehicle.  We should offer rides to friends when they are emotionally distraught, overly tired, or have been drinking.  By God’s grace, we can accept our own vehicle and driver’s license as gifts for caretaking.”  (pp. 45-49)

While acknowledging our responsibility as caretakers of “all things,” Schultze relies on examples that directly involve our relationship with other people.  One might argue that throwing trash out of a car window affects the environment as a whole and not just people, but its main impact is felt by people in that a) people have to look at it, and b) people have to clean it up.


[49] According to Clements and Corapi, “Passion for the well-being of creation should arouse more than a utilitarian ethic.  From a  biblical perspective, humans have a priestly role, and we are called to intercede on behalf of creation, seeking to restore proper relationships.  The priestly role requires a sacrificial spirit that may impact our time and financial resources.” (p. 51)

[50] We had just completed a 3-day fuel-reduction service project at the YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park.  Because small ground-fires have been prevented in the area, dead wood (“fuel”) has accumulated on the ground.  One way to protect one’s property from a catastrophic wildfire is to remove all the dead wood from the ground.  We did so in a particularly “bad” area of the YMCA grounds.  The prevention of small fires has also contributed to the development of catastrophic wildfires by allowing too many trees mature to adulthood, overcrowding forests that were not designed to have adult trees touching each other.  With trees touching, a crowning wildfire can spread directly from tree to tree.  Some forests in the Colorado Rockies have upwards of 100 times the number of trees as a “healthy” forest. 

[51] My students and I visited the Cordero Rojo coal mine near Gillette, Wyoming, while on our trip last summer.


[52] Geocaching involves the use of a handheld GPS unit to hide and find waterproof containers containing a logbook and trinkets.  Trinkets are exchanged, and their whereabouts are logged and tracked on the worldwide web.  While this is a wonderful opportunity to re-connect people with nature, the unfortunate by-product of this activity is that it gives hitchhiking invasive species easy access to remote areas where they may never have reached on their own.

[53] In his book, Louv describes his interview with Elaine Brooks, who single-handedly worked to protect from development a 30-acre natural area in La Jolla, California.  Brooks (and many Christian ecologists) believe that people are unlikely to value what they cannot name.  “One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new,” said Brooks.