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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'