At the beginning of 2020 the coronavirus was a bit of an enigma. There was a lot of uncertainty about the severity of the virus and attitudes about its impact were mixed.
By the middle of 2020 many people were forced to come to terms with a new way of living as Covid-19’s true severity was revealed and the reality of living through a pandemic set in. Covid-19 took billions of people off the streets, out of lengthy commutes, and countless international air routes became irrelevant.
As nations, economies and life as we knew it ground to a halt, those across social media looked at the positive side of this worldwide slowdown of everyday life. This ease of pace was having some very welcome side effects! Take leatherback sea turtles for example. The Guardian reported that Thailand saw the largest number of nests in more than two decades—attributed to the collapse in tourist numbers that has freed up the beaches for wildlife.
According to NASA and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites, there have been significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide over China. Nitrogen dioxide is a noxious gas emitted by cars, power plants and industrial facilities. Experts say the drop in pollution is attributed in part to the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. Similar reductions were also seen in Italy and parts of Europe as national shutdowns were implemented.
Residents of Los Angeles were flooding social media with images of a smog-free city, while in Italy, Twitter users uploaded videos of jellyfish and other marine life visible in the canals of Venice due to a reduction in boat traffic through the city. All these people staying at home had seemingly eased the collective burden off the shoulders of our global environment.
I don’t know about you but hearing these stories inspires in me a great sense of hope and relief. There’s a book I’ve been reading with my three-year-old that she picked out from our local library. It’s called Glacier on the Move. The colourful and exciting pages take you through the story of the way that glaciers are formed and charge forward then retreat in the different seasons.
It’s one of her favourite books but every time I read it, I can’t help but think of the untold side of the story, the reality that some glaciers are becoming an endangered species themselves. It feels kind of strange that it would elicit such an emotional response!
Why do we care so much about our world? Some like to think that we are a selfish species—in some ways the environmental effects of the global lockdowns are a good case study of humanity’s selfish desire to take and not give back. I like to think that at the heart of humanity we have a yearning to see our world thrive.
Genesis, the first book of the Bible, gives us a beautiful insight into the origins of our world. We see God lovingly creating the sun, stars and moon, the plants, trees, birdlife and animals. The whole process reaches its climax with the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.
The Bible tells us that God gave Adam and Eve “dominion” over His newly created earth. Dominion in the English language generally has some negative connotations—we tend to think of it meaning “to dominate” or “to exploit”. But in the original Hebrew language this whole phrase takes on a much deeper meaning—it refers less to the way humanity interacts with the earth and more to the role of humanity.
Therefore, we can see that humans were given the job of caring for the world—for the sake of the flora and fauna, not for the sake of humanity. We do not own the world but we are charged to manage it and ensure that it thrives. Everything we do and every interaction we have should be framed by the question, Is this in the best interests of the earth that we’ve been entrusted with? It’s not so much environmental awareness and earth care because it’s the right thing to do, but an expression of our love for God and His creation.
This concept actually has a name: stewardship. Stewardship, simply put, is an ethic that embodies the responsible management of resources. As Christians, we believe that all the world’s resources originated from God, therefore we have a responsibility to carefully manage them. This also applies to us as individuals—our unique personality, our defining characteristics, our passions, our aspirations, our goals and our dreams. If God is the originator of all, then all belongs to Him and we are simply taking care of it for a time.
While Covid-19 pushed the “pause” button on many aspects of our lives, it also reaped unexpected benefits for the environment. Let’s hope that it will jolt us into recognising that we are not owners of this world, but rather caretakers and stewards who are entrusted to do what we can to nurture, serve and care for it.
Lyndelle Peterson is an Adventist pastor and church leader in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her young and growing family.