Wrestling with having dominion

During my studies an undergraduate theologian fifteen years ago, I first became aware of the term sustainable development as a response to humanity’s negative economic, environmental and social impacts in and on the world. I was also alert to the relative institutional silence of, and lack of practical action by, the established church in response to the idea.

Things have been changing for the better since, and this evening I learnt of the C of E’s initiative – given the catchy name, ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ – to reduce its ecological footprint. Whilst committing to a 60% CO2 reduction by 2050 – this despite cutting-edge opinion suggesting a 90% reduction is more apposite – the initiative is a start. And what’s laid out in the document, Sharing God’s Planet (£5.99 from the church publishing arm, Church House, but free here!), seems fair – both as a general compass to guide decision making and as an introduction to ecological concepts. Here’s a quote from the section ruminating on human impacts:

Christians will acknowledge that although the image of humankind having ‘dominion’ over the earth is a biblical one, it can become distorted into a justification for abuse and exploitation of the earth God has created. Thus, for example, the confident engineers of the Victorian era saw themselves as exercising their God-given right to command and control the world around them. Chicago businessman W. P. Rend said in 1892, “Smoke is the incense burning on the altars of industry. It is beautiful to me. It shows that men are changing the merely potential forces of nature into articles of comfort for humanity.”

(And Rend’s perspective is hardly out of date today, what with industry occurring on an unprecedented scale – mind-boggling pictures from China here – from which we in developed countries are, most would say, benefitting. China, of course, isn’t Christian…)

I’m glad, too, the Archbishop (Rowan ‘Cantuar’, as he signs himself in the Foreword) has cottoned onto the notion of contraction and convergence, which is probably the only equitable and constructive way the developed and developing worlds are going to move forward together in addressing climate change. The initiative’s website has a good set of links for making practical steps.


3 Responses to “Wrestling with having dominion”

  1. Aubrey Meyer Says:

    A DVD commissioned by the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change presenting Contraction and Convergence has been distributed to all UK MPs and Peers. It is endorsed by numerous eminent spokespersons who are interviewed at length on the DVD.

    Copies of the DVD can be obtained by written request to GCI aubrey.meyer [at] btinternet.com

    Alternatively, as a large file [overnight download] interview material is retrievable at this link: –

    The DVD also includes a heuristic animation of Contraction and Convergence for a risk analysis of different rates of sink-failure endorsed by prominent industry persons. This is a large file [overnight download] and is retrievable at this link:

    A context animation the arguments, presented at the Royal Institute of British Architects [RIBA] international conference in Venice last October, is here: –
    http://www.gci.org.uk/images/Final_presentation.exe or
    [Note: – touch buttons to advances *within* scenes and touch logos to advance *between* scenes].

    GCI’s definition statement for C&C is here: –

    General referencing for the C&C provenance is here: –

    A concept/context map of C&C comparing three rates of change for

    [a] Contraction and Concentrations
    [b] Contraction and Convergence
    [c] Benefits of Growth versus Damages from Climate
    [d] Contraction and Conversion

    is here: – http://www.gci.org.uk/images/Deepat_Bonn.pdf

    Some promotional material is here: –

  2. A.I. Editor Says:

    Do you have any very old pictures of England’s industrial revolution junk yard or smog pictures?

    I reckon a brief comparison with China’s present giant junkyard footprint might be interesting.

  3. Dr Frank Says:

    A.I. Editor, thank you for your comment. There are probably plenty of reproductions of paintings (maybe fewer photographs) on the web. Try Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Coalbrookdale by Night (1801); and Edward Butler Bayliss, Evening in the Black Country (c.1910). I think your implicit question — about the accuracy of the story that pictures tell — is a fair one. That said, China’s rapid industrialisation, at one to two coal-fired power stations a week, is unprecedented; the English industrial revolution wasn’t this fast and, of course, China’s is a far bigger and more expectant population.

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