A duty of respect for the integrity of creation

Faith and Reason Pollution is theft, writes Margaret Atkins. We all have a part in the dispute between Greenpeace and Shell over the disposal of the oil-rig Brent Spar.

Jon Castle is either a hero or a fool. Who else would choose to spend his time a hundred feet below sea-level in the company of tons of oily sludge, radioactive waste and poisonous gas? Mr Castle is no stranger to uncomfortable situations: he was the skipper of the Rainbow Warrior when French secret agents blew her up in New Zealand. He lived to fight again; this time to defy the allied forces of Shell and the British police. Greenpeace is back in the news.

Shell want to dump the disused oil-rig Brent Spar at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Greenpeace argue that the waste will poison the sea: the structure should be removed and disposed of on land. Shell reply that the costs of this would be enormous and would be met by the tax-payers; and some environmental risk would remain.

The radicals catch the headlines; but it is not only the radicals who insist that we should take full responsibility for the effects of our behaviour on the rest of the material world. Although the new Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is usually seen as a conservative document, it contains plenty to encourage a green campaigner.

The basis of this encouragement is simple. When God created the world "he saw that it was good" (Genesis i). All creatures have value, each reflecting "a ray of God's infinite wisdom and goodness". In their beauty we catch a glimpse of the all-encompassing beauty of their Creator.

The earth is ordered and harmonious through the diversity of her creatures and through their relationships of interdependence. They exist "in the service of each other". St Francis is quoted: "May you be praised, My Lord, for sister earth, our mother, who bears and feeds us and produces the variety of fruits and dappled flowers and grasses . . . Praise and bless my Lord, give thanks and serve him in all humility."

The Catechism does not merely leave us to admire the wonders of creation. It insists, as Pope John Paul II himself has long insisted, that the gifts of creation carry with them a serious responsibility. "Use of the mineral, vegetable and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives." Our dominion over the earth is not absolute: we must always exercise it with attention to the way we affect our human neighbours, including future generations and with a "religious respect" for the integrity of creation as a whole.

The moral teaching of the Catechism is structured around the Ten Commandments. The section on "respect for the integrity of creation" is included under the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not steal." To abuse the gifts of creation is to show both disrespect towards the Creator and injustice towards our fellow human beings.

Polluting, it follows, can be assimilated to theft: the theft of the clean air and the clean water which ought to be our shared inheritance. That is why we must take full responsibility for the consequences of our use of natural resources. And because the world is an ordered, interconnected whole, those consequences will often be distant and far- reaching. Brent Spar is our problem.

I could, of course, have chosen many Christian sources other than the Catechism. It is important that Christian concern for the environment is not the exclusive property of any one group, whether conservative or radical, pragmatic or idealist, moderate or fanatical. It is based on tenets so fundamental that no shade or variety of Christianity could do without them; that the earth is the gift of God our Creator; that we are to treat one another fairness and with love; that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions.

The responsibility does not belong to Shell alone. We all benefit from their products. It is reasonable, then, that we should all share the bill, whether as tax-payers or as purchasers, for the real cost of the safe disposal of their waste.

Nicholas Schoon suggested in the Independent that Greenpeace have diverted attention from the more important issues of pollution and from over- fishing. But without Greenpeace most of us this week would have neglected the North Sea altogether. It is always easier to forget the distant effects of our ordinary everyday activities. The value of activists such as Mr Castle is that they remind us of uncomfortable truths.

Daily life is warmer, safer and easier than ever before in our little patch of the planet. Thanks to Shell we can turn on our radiators and jump into our cars. Thanks to organisations like Greenpeace we might learn to do so responsibly. That is the least return we can offer for the privileges of material progress, in justice and charity to our fellow creatures and in gratitude to their Creator.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions