We have a responsibility to the earth. The Bible seems pretty clear about that. But is it
to care for or
to have dominion over or
to tend or
to subdue the earth?
As the list above suggests, we seem to have at least two different reasons that motivate us to care for the earth.
Some of us read Genesis and other Biblical texts and come to the conclusion that the creation has value and needs to be cared for by us because of what creation can do for us. Everything in the world has been given by God to us for our use. In this view the earth and everything in it exists for us. Things in the natural world have value because we can use them for our own good. Usefulness to humans is what gives things in nature their value. Certainly we need to use nature wisely, but that wise use is defined by our needs.
Others would read Genesis and others Biblical texts and say, while we certainly do use minerals, plants and animals to our benefit, these things have value and worth apart from their utility to us. In this view the natural world is loved and valued by God because God loves and values what God has created. Creation's worth and value come from God and are not located in usefulness to humans. Our use of natural resources must take into account the intrinsic value of creation.
On one level this is an interesting philosophical and theological question. But it also has real world implications. How many times have you heard someone say, "Why did God create mosquitoes? What good are they?" Since mosquitoes serve no readily apparent use for humans and in fact cause us discomfort and disease, why do they exist? What possible purpose could mosquitoes have? This is a trivial example but we seem to expect even the insect world to be "on our side".
There are of course, more serious examples. Should designated wilderness areas be off limits to any human use? Should there be designated wilderness areas at all? Can we require people to move out of wilderness areas? Should farmers be allowed to graze cattle on public wilderness lands? Should we open ANWAR to oil drilling? Is it important to have an endangered species list and to spend resources to preserve those animals? You can add you own questions to this list.
It seems to me, that before we tackle these quite difficult questions we need as a society, to spend some time thinking about the more basic question. So I'm asking, what is the proper motive for caring for the creation?