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WORLDVIEW: Unsustainable goofiness rules at the World Summit

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–How goofy was the United Nations-sponsored “World Summit on Sustainable Development” held recently in South Africa?

This goofy: One of the participants asserted — with a straight face — that the introduction of the flush toilet was a bad thing. Uses too much water, she explained. Not good for the environment.

Tell that to the hundreds of millions of people in poverty who still have no choice but to live next to open sewers, who struggle daily to find drinking water not contaminated by human waste.

The developing global fresh water shortage is real, but household consumption worldwide accounts for only an estimated 8 percent of total human water usage. Agriculture accounts for nearly 70 percent, while industry uses 23 percent.

Facts don’t bother the environmental extremists who descend upon such conferences as the World Summit, however. Another delegate declared that the introduction of electricity into the countless rural villages that still lack it would destroy local cultures.

“I don’t think a lot of electricity is a good thing,” said Gar Smith of the Earth Island Institute. “It is the fuel that powers a lot of multi-national imagery.”

Better to keep villagers in the dark, one presumes, so they can continue to live undisturbed by negative influences like free communication, education, literacy, rudimentary health care — or the gospel. Let ’em continue burning wood for fuel and light, which contributes to massive deforestation, soil erosion and air pollution (an estimated 85 percent of meals in the developing world are cooked over wood or charcoal).

The attendees at the World Summit sure didn’t go without flush toilets and electricity in their luxury hotel rooms. They reportedly produced 53 gallons of wastewater — per delegate, per day — along with a daily 118-megawatt-hour increase in demand for electricity in Johannesburg, the host city. They also produced some 400 tons of trash, and consumed 55 million sheets of paper. Weep for the trees.

After all that, Friends of the Earth International’s Richard Navarro claimed the summit had been “hijacked” by the three sinister forces most loathed by militant earth-firsters: free-market economics, multinational corporations and the “backward-looking, insular and ignorant United States.”

Backward-looking compared to whom? The Luddites who want to stamp out human technology in order to “save” the earth?

I’m not an uncritical fan of global capitalism — or of the United States. We have become a selfish, materialistic, decadent society in many ways, and God will judge us for it if we do not repent. Don’t even get me started on bloated, one-occupant SUVs. But the mindless hatred of America and capitalism by eco-wackos and warmed-over Marxists will not solve the environmental problems faced by the human race. Neither will the virtual (or actual) worship of nature rather than its Creator.

The ideology of environmental extremism may have little basis in reality or science, but it carries great weight on American university campuses. Even now, you may be paying the salaries of some wild-eyed professors to harangue your kids with it.

A better model of respect for God’s earth was applied by the greatest environmentalist I’ve ever encountered: Southern Baptist missionary Harold Watson (now retired). He started out picking cotton during the Depression as a Mississippi farm boy, and went to the Philippines as an agricultural missionary in 1964.

There, Watson was confronted by the crushing poverty of tribal families struggling to scratch a living from barren uplands stripped of arable soil by logging, slash-and-burn farming and erosion. So he and his Philippine Baptist colleagues developed SALT — Sloping Agricultural Land Technology — a simple method of planting lines of leguminous shrubs and trees between lines of food crops to stop erosion and enrich soil.

Today the method and its many successful variations attract agriculturists and government representatives from all over Asia to the demonstration farm Watson started on Mindanao. Watson’s ideas are being applied in India, China and many other countries. They’re helping restore highland soil, stopping disastrous erosion — and transforming the lives of millions of rural farmers, many of whom learn about the saving love of Jesus Christ as they learn how to save their land and feed their families.

Watson, who still travels to Asia to consult with governments and agricultural institutions, is an unapologetic environmentalist. But he worships the God who created nature, not nature itself.

“We are a part of God’s creation, and God gave it to us to take care of it,” he says. “We’ve done a pretty lousy job. Our land is sick and part of our Christian responsibility is to heal it” — without ignoring the spiritual and physical needs of the people who live on it.

That’s a Scriptural approach worth emulation by young people concerned about the global environment.
Bridges, whose column appears twice-monthly in Baptist Press, is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges