On Saving the Earth

Ignatius of Loyola teaches that man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God and by this means to save his soul. Modern man thinks little of saving his soul, if he has one. He wants to save the earth. He does not want dominion over the earth to achieve his worldly and transcendent purposes. His transcendent purpose is immanent, to save the earth from himself. Save it for what? Well, for future generations. For whom do future generations save the earth? For generations beyond the future, and so on, down the ages.

The “dominion” priorities in Genesis are today not much in vogue. Man today has no transcendent meaning that would explain why he temporarily inhabits this green earth. He pursues a worldly global purpose in lieu of a transcendent personal one. What might this purpose be? The old twentieth-century ideologies thought it was some inner-worldly political society with all the exploiters out of the way. But man, in his present arrangement, is not likely to be perfect. In the current view, we must find a way to protect the earth from the common man’s greed and exploitation.

How do we do that? At the presumed demise of communism, Paul Johnson, the English historian, surmised that totalitarianism was not dead. It just needed a new domicile. He shrewdly suggested that environmentalism might do the trick of putting ideology and state-control back in the saddle. Morality would now function to conserve the earth’s resources for the indefinite future. Individuals had to be subsumed back into the whole; their every act watched.

What had impeded the triumph of ideologies was human dignity. Man was not just a means, but himself an end. The old Christian prejudices implied that the earth was for man. But individualism also seemed to be indifferent to the earth. Earth was a means in that older perspective to be used. But ecology put a damper on notions that man was individually absolute in any sense. He only exists if the fragile, finite earth supports him. He was responsible not to his ancestors, but to his posterity. Natural resources were rapidly running out as population and consumption increased and self-discipline decreased. Then someone discovered global warming. Apocalyptic panic set in.

I notice in recent news reports that the earth has actually been cooling slightly over the past ten years. In my Iowa grammar school, we used to worry about the return of the Ice Ages (it happens periodically for rather long periods). We had charts and maps about how far into Iowa the glaciers penetrated. I was quite concerned about it.

Considerable evidence exists that the earth alternately warmed and cooled before any human beings existed on it. We are now told that the ice caps are melting. We can expect the worst, even though a warmer earth might in fact be a good thing. But some spirit is abroad that says we need to do something. We need to control man.

To claim to be saving future, not present, generations, gives any government a transcendent purpose: To save man from himself. What could be nobler or more statesman-like? Human beings are mired in original sin. They need to be redeemed, protected from themselves. They need laws and regulations. They need to be subject to a Spartan regime where everything they eat, drink, or do is factored into the good of future generations—who do not yet exist, indeed may never exist, since population control is allegedly part of the answer to warming.

How much longer will this planet last? We are sure it will eventually collapse as the sun cools. Our immediate worry is natural resources. We have told that we have already used much of the world’s oil, gas, coal, zinc, copper, and who knows what. Though there seems to be no impending scarcity. Still, governments need to be empowered to control us, we are told. That’s it. That gives it real purpose.

Much of the world’s supply of oil is under Arab lands. It was there for ages. Few knew it was there or what to do with it. Arab governments with western theories of profit and property became rich by selling it. But the market was invented by someone else. Suppose the Arab rulers were modern men who wanted to preserve the earth. They would have then said to the potential purchasers, No thanks, we are saving the oil for future generations.

No one knows what future generations will need or want or know how to do. The Lord probably created a world in which just enough resources are present for His intentions. With the help of the human brain, the only real resource, human beings might reach the end for which God created them. The end God intended is not in this world. The earth-warmers are really heretical theologizers who somehow think the purpose of the species man is to spin round and round on this planet forever, with the aid of much government control. Meanwhile, all actual men will have died, after being told that their only purpose in life was to save the earth.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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