What are human responsibilities to the earth

Taking responsibility for creation


God's creation is entrusted to us humans that we cultivate and preserve it. But do we take this responsibility sufficiently? Do we not burden nature and the environment in an irresponsible way or do we fail due to shortsightedness and ignorance despite good will in our responsible task?

Christians have recognized more and more how much the questions of our environment also include ideological, cultural and religious aspects. When it comes to protecting animals, plants and natural living conditions, it is also always about the perception of our responsibility before God the Creator.

The Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the German Bishops' Conference are addressing this important issue to the public with a joint declaration. They make it clear that responsibility for God's creation must be properly assumed. The declaration concentrates on basic questions of the understanding of nature, the image of man and above all on the biblical theology of creation. That is why she wants to address the Christians themselves above all else.

The threat to nature and the environment worries many people to a great extent. The discussion about these questions is also determined by profound contrasts. Concern about possible further dangers or inadequate remedies has created walls of incomprehension that lead to separations and conflicts. The joint declaration aims to recall the biblical statements about God's creation and to point out that they are current. She promotes a sober, open-minded and factual discussion. Dealing with environmental problems is a common task that demands a change in behavior and a new way of thinking from everyone.

Hanover and Cologne, May 14, 1985

Joseph Cardinal Höffner
Chairman of the
German Bishops' Conference

Regional Bishop D. Eduard Lohse
Chairman of the Council
of the Evangelical Church in Germany

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1. The environmental crisis and its causes

1.1 The common concern for the environment

  1. The belief in progress and the carefree, demanding attitude towards life that prevailed in the 1960s have visibly been on the decline for about two decades. Today none of us can consciously evade the knowledge that we are threatened by environmental damage that could bring about a regional or global collapse. The danger seems more threatening to many than ever before. With their efforts, the state and society have achieved initial successes in getting the acute threats under control. It is true that the efforts of the economy to drastically reduce the pollution of the environment are impressive. Many have sounded the alarm: scientists and publicists, citizens' groups and project groups, associations and political parties, a number of other organizations and institutions, and last but not least, individual enthusiastic fellow citizens. But the damage development continues.
  2. Basic problems of the environmental crisis, for which the private consumers are just as responsible as the state and the economy, remain unsolved: Noise pollution, pollution of air and water, toxic by-products in various branches of industry, their deposition in the soil, toxins even in organically produced foods, the endangerment of plant origin such as animal species richness, unnecessary suffering of animals in research and factory farming, wasting raw materials and energy supplies without any sense of economical management. Tree death is an obvious warning sign of a disastrous development.
    The countries of the third world are not exempt from the environmental crisis: The spread of the deserts in Africa, the rapid decline in forests in Nepal and India with the result of severe soil erosion and the concentrated use of pesticides in plantation management have been particularly popular in the last ten years its quantitative and qualitative consequences have become recognizable. There are diverse relationships between the pressures on the environment in Europe and the Third World, and their interactions worsen the overall situation considerably.
  3. The loads and damage currently occurring can be characterized as follows:
    • Hardly or not at all regenerable natural resources are wasted;
    • Natural foundations of life are influenced to the detriment of health, ecological relationships are destroyed by (only seemingly) limited interventions;
    • The industrial society favors the emergence of extremely unstable and thus politically unstable areas of different quality of life on a regional, national and global scale: industrialized countries and raw material countries, industrial conurbations on the one hand and agricultural priority areas such as protected areas on the other.
  4. Environmental pollution and environmental disasters have always existed, but there are decisive differences between the current development and earlier phases:
    • The extent and intensity of interventions in natural causal relationships have risen threateningly;
    • the resulting processes are rapidly increasing in speed;
    • The number and concentration of toxins is constantly increasing;
    • the scope for decision-making for ecological action is becoming ever narrower.
  5. As a consequence, the livelihood of any creature is threatened.
  6. (5) The danger that man himself will ultimately become a victim of the disastrous development can no longer be overlooked. He himself set the cycle of damage in motion through an initially naive, then reckless treatment of nature, through short-sighted interests and careless technical behavior; now man has to recognize himself as the author and the person affected. The price that the majority has to pay for the successes of progress has become too high.

1.2 In search of causes and responsible persons

  1. It is by no means easy to get an accurate picture of all the pressures and damage to nature. On the one hand, they are evident, on the other hand, profound impairments are suppressed or overlooked; on the other hand, some environmental problems may be deliberately exaggerated. That is why it is difficult to name the causes and those responsible. In addition, the discussion in this problem area is burdened by negligence, excessive polemics, ideological fixation, trivialization and intolerance.
    The main reasons for the problem are ideological, structural, conceptual, social-psychological and moral causes. Such a list does not contain any ranking or order. everyone can judge for themselves how far they are responsible for the causes.

1.2.1 Weltanschauung causes

  • The main cause of human failure in the environmental crisis is likely to be inadequate basic insights. B.
    • an understanding of nature that falsely focuses on people, regards nature merely as an object, overestimates human abilities to preserve natural life and does not perceive the intrinsic value of nature;
    • an understanding of the technology that interferes with nature with mechanistic ideas and ignores the side effects; at the same time also a general hostility towards technology, which also fails to recognize natural technical possibilities and hinders adapted technical solutions;
    • a belief in progress that trusts in the solvability of every problem, but does not perceive the conflict of goals between technical progress and preserving closeness to nature, and without hesitation accepts ecological damage in favor of economic management and industrial growth;
    • an ethical insecurity, due to whose reverence for the living, humility, consideration and awareness of problems no longer take the place they deserve.
  • 1.2.2 Structural causes

    1. Environmental damage can also be traced back to structural inadequacies. Not only every individual, but also those responsible in politics and business, authorities and organizations often enough come across narrowly limited options for action.
      Particular mention should be made of:
      • The complexity of the problems, which usually only enables interdisciplinary experts to grasp the interrelationships in international cooperation;
      • the compulsion of those responsible in a representative democracy to achieve quick success and political pragmatism;
      • the narrowly limited responsibilities in politics and administration; they lead to an uncoordinated handling of different natural resources with at the same time increasingly competing interests in use;
      • the often inadequate financial possibilities for the necessary, extraordinarily high investments in alternative technologies;
      • the collision with other pressing societal needs that require high investment and considerable effort, such as the fight against mass unemployment.

    1.2.3 Conceptual causes

    1. Paradoxically, it is not always just irresponsibility, but often precisely the conscious will to greater responsibility and rapid action, which stands in the way of a solution or at least a minimization of environmental problems. The hands of those responsible seem tied. Particular mention should be made of:
      • Conflicting goals, e.g. B. between unemployment and environmental protection and unilateral prioritization;
      • different interests and obligations, such as the purpose of the companies to generate income and to maintain competitiveness in the market at all costs and on the other hand the inevitably necessary environmental protection;
      • the consistent adherence to some environmental policy strategy, which often turns out to be a mistake only after a considerable delay, which in turn causes new environmental problems.

    1.2.4 Social-psychological and moral causes

    1. (10) Not only ignorance and excessive demands play a causal role in the occurrence of environmental problems. We have to assume that people willingly (if not always knowingly) evade their responsibility and refuse necessary solutions. Here are to be mentioned:
      • A collective repression of environmental problems from consciousness, which is characterized by trivializing, not wanting to be true and not wanting to understand;
      • a sense of entitlement that adheres to habits and standards as "possessions" and is one-sidedly designed to gain pleasure;
      • an indolence and laziness that excludes willingness to learn and alternative ways of life and goes the path of least resistance and the "cheapest" as well as the latest solution when solving problems;
      • Abuses of power, political conflicts that prevent the solution of environmental problems, or military conflicts that lead to the greatest destruction of the environment in armed conflicts;
      • criminal environmental offenses that must be prosecuted and punished accordingly.

    1.3 A common word from the churches

    1. These insights and experiences should be impetus enough for all of us to rethink the relationship between humans and nature from the ground up and to ask about a responsible approach to our environment. Mere course corrections are no longer enough. We must learn to understand that behind the environmental crisis there is ultimately our own crisis and our inability to properly assume responsibility.
      Efforts to find technical solutions have not overcome the problems at hand. Our technical potential is gigantic, but our skills in moral, cultural and spiritual areas are incomparably inferior. We have "improved" the products, the manufacturing processes, the yields, the types of grain and breeding animals. But have we also improved ourselves? We have great possibilities, and yet we face serious dangers if we do not change ourselves in our dealings with nature.
    2. In this crisis it becomes clear how much we have failed to manage nature as stewards of God. This is why the Church is faced with the task of clearly expressing our responsibility before God and of reminding us of the biblical understanding of man and creation. The churches also do not have patent solutions and do not require any special competence in technical questions. But they are able to take a stand on fundamental anthropological and religious aspects in dealing with nature and make our human responsibility clear. They can show the need for a fundamental reorientation, name assessment criteria and thus do their part to improve the current critical situation. You can also make it clear that the solution of environmental problems is a common task to which all forces in society must contribute cooperatively. The tough disputes over controversial environmental issues make the service of reconciliation and mediation necessary.
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    2. Previous attempted solutions and undesirable developments

    2.1 Overview: damage development faster than protective measures

    1. The history of nature and environmental protection shows considerable successes; it is a story of human insight - but at the same time a story of mistakes, omissions and failures. It is entirely determined by ideas, conceptions, values ​​and goals; But it is even more marked by the need to act in the face of the rapid increase in damage.
    2. Overexploitation of nature was already practiced to a large extent in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In the wake of the rapidly advancing industrialization and the rapid growth of the world population, however, it took on proportions, the effects of which were visible and noticeable to everyone and made countermeasures necessary. After the end of the Second World War, there was a tremendous acceleration in the burden on our natural environment. The curves of population growth, energy demand and industrial production expansion rose sharply worldwide after 1950, at the same time as the pollution of water and air (phosphorus, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, etc.), even though there were significant reductions in regional environmental protection efforts from 1970 onwards. The biosphere became increasingly impoverished. Animal and plant species, partly exterminated by trapping and hunting, partly condemned to death by the destruction of their habitats, died and are dying out to a greater extent than ever before in history. Such developments cannot be dealt with with the original "nature conservation romance". Overcoming our environmental crisis is becoming a central issue in our lives - and survival.

    2.2 Main directions in the history of environmental protection

    1. Three main directions of nature and environmental protection are characteristic of certain phases in the history of environmental protection: conventional nature conservation (around 1880), more comprehensive ecological commitment (around the mid-1960s) and the more recent pragmatic environmental protection as an independent approach (around 1970). However, these main directions do not simply replace each other historically, but continue to exist alongside one another to this day (with shifts in emphasis).

    2.2.1 Conventional nature conservation

    1. Traditional nature conservation, which began as a politically effective movement towards the end of the 19th century, lays decisive foundations for today's environmental protection. Nature protection is initially understood here as object protection ("monument protection"), as protection of special nature reserves, natural monuments and landscapes. Nature is seen as a cultural asset. Notions of home, cultural heritage, natural wealth, recreation and the usability of natural assets are of particular importance. B. for the rest of the people. Conventional nature conservation initially focuses on the protection of land and species, but it also develops comprehensive concepts for the beautification and maintenance of the landscape at an early stage. However, these far-sighted perspectives do not prevail sufficiently; they were later flattened and reduced. There are numerous founding of nature conservation associations, hiking and local history associations, beautification associations and protection communities. It is thanks to the effect of such associations that government agencies recognize their task and create competent authorities.
    2. In addition to the many merits, the limits of such approaches are also visible today: conventional nature conservation only represented individual protection concerns and at the same time tolerated the increasing burden on the landscapes next to the protected areas. The extent of the threats was mostly misunderstood. Above all, certain behaviors and human bad habits were viewed as endangering nature, but the overarching economic and political contexts were seen less so. Since the aim was to preserve existing things as unchanged as possible with the help of nature conservation, the objective was also relatively narrowly limited, according to the state of knowledge, and they were content with the creation of reserves. Exact knowledge of the ecological laws was hardly available, the organizational technical possibilities were limited.

    2.2.2 The wider ecological commitment

    1. Since around the mid-sixties, traditional nature conservation has been accompanied by a more ecological-political understanding. This commitment comes less from parties, politically responsible and state institutions than from those affected and groups who are committed to it, and strives for an overall concept of environmental protection. This commitment is comprehensive insofar as it not only pursues biological and state conservation-ecological aspects, but also strives for societal and economic relationships and recognizes the principle of comprehensive "networking". The value concepts that have come to the fore here are characteristic of these efforts become: Justice, integrity, even peace. One propagates goods such as life, health, biodiversity, advocates virtues such as modesty, thrift and naturalness and is committed to prevention, care, welfare and protection.
      This direction. is supported by individual representatives of science (state curators, ecologists, biologists, futurologists, theologians and social ethicists), publicists, politically active citizens in parties, associations and initiatives, but also by supporters of an "alternative subculture". Particularly characteristic here are the committed groups, from traditional associations to citizens' initiatives of our day.
    2. These committed ecologists have often been right with their pessimistic prophecies. This has now been confirmed by the general public and the legislature, albeit with a delay. It became clear that not infrequently behind some prejudices and ideologically determined accents of idiosyncratic groups lay a critically important partial truth and thus a realistic insight into damage.
    3. Of course, the limits of this approach also become clear:
      • Scientific insights, which are empirical findings, are often converted directly into value positions and ethical principles for action; descriptions of facts become ethical and political demands; Conflicts of aims of the acting politics and the realpolitical conditions are not recognized.
      • Occasionally, overly radical conclusions are drawn, such as: B. the call for the replacement of industrial society in principle.
      • Occasionally one falls into illogical conclusions and raises the protection of the "most sensitive living being" to an exclusive standard by which ecological policy as a whole should be oriented.
      • Ecological issues are often overloaded with ideological premises. The arguments are variously determined by anti-institutionalism, hostility to technology and overemphasis on the "group"; current power relations are one-sidedly included in the considerations. Some, in turn, blame private control over the means of production as a major cause of environmental pollution; Central government economy and classless society are portrayed as "closer to nature".
      • In many cases, one succumbs to the risk of making far-reaching overall theoretical demands that have no chance of being realized. Not infrequently the dramatic assessment of the development turns into a pessimistic-apocalyptic view, which is characterized by resignation and hopelessness.

    2.2.3 The pragmatic environmental protection as an independent approach

    1. As a result of the growing pressure of problems, a pragmatic environmental protection has emerged (since around 1970) that aims to provide practical remedies through laws, measures and planning. The concern of this type of nature and environmental protection is no longer primarily oriented towards natural beauties and monuments, it is more about pure "protective measures". The advocates of this approach are aware of the need for a compromise between ecology and economy and mainly pursue damage reduction or pollution minimization (setting upper limits for pollution, requirements for industry, exclusion of protected areas, funding of individual projects to test alternative technologies, etc.), whereby compromises be sought between economy and ecology.
      Such measures by those responsible in municipalities and the state come primarily from pressure from nature conservation associations, the public, the grassroots political parties, individual scientists and the state administration. It is particularly noticeable how much the impulses come here from the population, which urge the state and the municipalities to act.
    2. Of course, the limits and sore points of this environmental policy also become clear: