The secular concept of environmentalism and climate change activism is based upon the idea of nations exercising rights through occupation and proximity. If a people group occupies territory or is in proximity to territory, then it has a “right” to that territory and even possesses ownership. But this is not a biblical idea.
Imagine that space aliens came to settle on the earth. By our “being here first” we would say that the alien has no right to settle here without permission. In our way of thinking, we “own” the earth. But what if the aliens wanted to settle on the moon? Does man own the moon because it is in proximity to the earth? The earth needs the moon to maintain its weather patterns and eco-systems. Our proximity to the moon and our need for it would seem to imply that it belongs to us. The same can be said for the other worlds in our solar system. If they did not exist, life on earth would be impossible. Thus, our need and proximity imply right and possible ownership. If we are the only life in the solar system, does that mean man possesses the solar system? This is the way the world works. Throughout history we have taken territory and conquered to take possession. The world’s way is to “take” what we need and claim ownership whether we do so through conflict or negotiation. But the biblical model is different. It is the idea of “gifting” rather than taking.
Adam and Eve were given the Garden of Eden to steward and its resources to use. Israel was given the promised land which gave them a divine right to take it. Other nations, the Bible says, are given their territory by God. “Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” (Deuteronomy 2:5). When the new heavens and earth are revealed, we will be given dominion again, through our relationship with Christ.
Because of sin, territory is taken away. Adam and Eve sinned and were exiled from the Garden. Israel rejected God and God drove them into exile from the Promised Land. Death itself is a form of exile for sin. Because of sin we are exiled to an eternity in hell where we cannot enjoy the benefits of a given territory (earth or heaven) unless we come into relationship with Jesus.
The difference between the secular view of earth and the biblical view of the earth is that man owns the earth vs man stewards the earth. God states, “All the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5). Even regarding nations, the Lord claims the same thing for himself. “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23).
The modern environmentalist movement from which climate change proponents make their case is predicated upon the idea of ownership. Now, at the surface, this is denied. The environmentalist would acknowledge his stewardship role and say that the earth belongs to all life, not just man. There is some truth in this. But the intention of controlling the earth’s processes (as in climate change), is a fundamentally religious idea that implies ownership with man’s right to control the earth. It places man in the position of God. Consider that God is sovereign and can remake the earth as he sees fit. We can see this in the history of the earth. Millions of years ago the earth rotated faster and its climate was more suited for other forms of life rather than for man. As the environment changed over eons so did its usefulness for different kinds of life. Only recently in geologic history did the earth become suitable for man’s use. The earth’s climate will certainly change in the future and God will remake it for new purposes (Revelation 21:1). God is sovereign and has the right to reshape the earth, including using man’s abuses, for his own purposes over time. We do not possess this right.
If man launched himself into space and settled on another planet thousands of light years away, he would take possession, regard his new home as his own, and proceed to act in the same manner as he has on the earth. Man assumes that occupation and proximity imply ownership. But, biblically speaking, they do not.
The biblical view is one of gifting. We do not take possession of our own accord. We are first given territory and then are charged with its management (Genesis 1:26-28). We don’t own the earth anymore than your children own the house you live in. You own the house, they live in it and have responsibilities for keeping it clean and useful for their enjoyment. As the owner you have a right to expand the house to add a room, retile the floor, or put in a sunroof. Your child does not. He must care for the portion of the house you have given him. So is our stewardship of the earth. Therefore, occupation and proximity do not imply ownership. They may entail some rights, but not ownership.
Environmental engagement is a good thing. We should care for the home that we have. But, when we cross over to the idea that we should control the earth’s processes, then we have assumed an ownership position which solely and rightly belongs to the sovereign God alone.