By Sr. (Dr). D. J. Margaret FMA –
Environmental degradation is defined as the degradation of quality and quantity of natural resources which is perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. It refers to the deterioration of the environment through depletion of natural resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of all life. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as the reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs.
Also read the first part: Environment Degradation and Restoration of Creation Are Inseparably Linked
Meaning of Human Agency
Within the context of environmental degradation, human agency can be defined as the ability of an individual or a group of persons or a community to value, to protect, to safeguard and to transform this world into a liveable and harmonious habitat fit not only for the present and the future human community but for the whole of creation.
In the light of Laudate Si’ let us now highlight the various ways through which human agency can play a vital role in caring and safe guarding the universe.
In the context of environmental deterioration the human agency has to point to the direction in which the human being can look for a more response-able and responsible ecological balance and ethic, which will engender attitudes and actions that are protective of the environment.
Human Agency as Care – Taker or Care –Giver
The human person created in “the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1.26) is an invitation to respect the divine goodness of creation. While each individual part of creation is described as “good” and the whole is described as “very good”. This special divine likeness and goodness comes with a special gift – God gives people authority over the plants and the animals (Gen 1:28). The authority or dominion that Genesis bestows upon humans is not a legitimization of senseless and reckless exploitation of nature. It is an obligation to protect and enhance God’s “good” and purposeful creation. Correctly examined, the doctrine of the creation of humans in the image of God is not a licence for the plundering and despoiling of the earth, but rather a “mandate for responsible representation of divine benevolence and justice”.
In fact, the Scriptures affirm that the created order is knit together and sustained by the same creative power that brought about the world in the first place (Col. 1: 16-17). The World Council of Churches held Canberra Conference in the year 1991 states that all creation lives and moves and has its being in this divine life. The inclusion of the cosmic order in the plan of redemption (Rom. 8:19-21; I Cor. 15:28, Eph. 1:10) illustrates God’s care and concern for the integrity of the human person, the earth and the rest of the creation. Therefore, any project that views the earth as an object to be pillaged in the pursuit of human ambition cannot be tolerated as it stands against the plan of God. The whole world is the object of God’s sustaining presence and also, God’s beloved habitat. As such, its integrity demands moral respect, responsible care and just order.
The fact that only the human persons can be response-able and responsible creatures in caring for the earth is an inescapable part of the human reality as being created imago Dei–in the image (selem) and likeness (demût) of God (Gen. 1:26). The pluralistic world realities and the humanistic ideals provide a fertile common ground for ecological sensitivity and environmental responsibility. The human community is called to recognize the common predicament it is facing now by irresponsible environmental destruction, and also the common benefits which will accrue if we manage the earth more responsibly. Human beings, as God’s co-creators and God’s responsible stewards, must join God in working toward the earth being “liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21).
Human Agency as Responsible Stewardship
Alkire defines human agency as the capacity and disposition to recognize and act in one’s own best interest and that of chosen others. Or alternatively human agency is a person’s ability to act on behalf of what he or she values and has reason to value. Human agency as stewardship implies that all humans must both care for creation and find ways to make the earth flourish. It is a difficult balance, requiring both a sense of limits and a spirit of experimentation. Even as the humans rejoice in earth’s goodness and in the beauty of nature, stewardship places the responsibility for the well-being of all God’s creatures. As faithful stewards the entire human community has to realize that fullness of life can come only by living this stewardship responsibly within God’s creation.
The biblical passage Genesis 1:26-28 indicates that one dimension of the human calling is mastery. The earth-creature is called to subdue (kâbâs) and have dominion over (râdâh) other creatures (Gen. 1:26-28). The human beings are called to dominion. But what does dominion mean? Dominion is the God-given role as steward and supervisor, as manager and overseer, as care – giver and care –taker; not an independent tyrant. Dominion was given never as a licence to exploit but it was dominion within a created order, the violation of which would naturally lead to imbalance and disaster.
God entrusted humans to be the earth’s stewards (Genesis 2:8). On a global scale, subduing and ruling is like managing and administering. Humankind has been given the honor and privilege of managing and administering God’s creation, with the expectation that they will do it responsibly. The right exercise of dominion yields shalom – the boom and the flourishing of all creation (Ps 72). This is the right understanding of dominion as stewardship. And Jesus, in the Gospel accounts, defines dominion in terms clearly contrary to the way it is usually understood. For Jesus, to rule is to serve (Jn 13). To exercise dominion is not domination, exploitation, and misuse of power rather it’s a self abnegation for the sake of the other (Phil 2: 1-11). Humans are called to serve and protect the creation.
Today human persons are placed at the crossroads, able to choose to save or to destroy. Every time the humans drive a species to extinction, they are stating that what God created, they can destroy, and what God wanted to live, they can put to death. Every time a species goes extinct, they are defaulting on the account that God has called them to manage. Often they do not realize that it is God who created the earth and the entire Cosmos (Jn 1:3; Col1:16-17) and He established a lasting relationship with all of His creation (Isa 43:20-21; Deut. 32:1-2; Job 37:14-18; Pss 104:25, 27; Matt 6:26).
Human persons are only agents and care takers of God’s creation. God’s power is made manifested in nature (Josh 2:11; Romans 1:20; Ps 104:24 😉 and all of His creation. Human beings are invited to worship God – the creator (Ps 19:1; Isa 55:12-13; Neh 9:6; Ps 8:3-8; I Chron. 16:7,30-34; Rev 5:13; Job 9:5-10) and behold His majesty in and through nature (Job 12:7-10;Rom 1:19-20; Isa 11:9). As His agents and stewards God expects humans to safeguard and nurture the nature (Gen 1:26; Lev. 25:23-24; Ezek 34:2-4; Ezek 34:10; Ezek 34:17-18; Isa 24:4-6; Jer. 2:7; Lk 16:2,10,13; Jam 5:5; Mk 4:19; Rev 11:18) and to exercise this stewardship as a delegated mandate and dominion. One can measure the responsible stewardship of human beings by healthy ecosystems and sustainable development, and responsible consumption (LS 220).
Sr. (Dr.) D.J. Margaret has an Under-Graduate and a Post-Graduate Degree in Mathematics. She holds a Diploma in Salesian Spirituality, Rome; a Bachelor and a Master Degree in Theology, VidyaJyoti College, Delhi. She has obtained a Ph. D Degree in Christian Studies from the University of Madras, Chennai, entitled, “An Inquiry into the Role of Spiritual Beliefs and Practices in Post-diagnosis Care of Women Living with HIV/AIDS”. In addition to research articles in the field of women studies, she has authored two books: “Women in Mission” and “Finding God in Illness and Care-giving”. Her intellectual pursuits are complemented by her commitment to education, formation and animation of young girls, women, and teachers.