Why Conservation Is a Gospel Issue

Christians who care about conservation are still too rare a species. A report from the World Conservation Congress.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources convenes its World Conservation Congress every four years. So this year’s gathering in Honolulu, Hawaii, which continues through Saturday, September 10, is held in the shadow of the World Wildlife Fund’s 2014 report claiming that in just 40 years, over half of the world’s wildlife has been lost.

Until recently, the conservation movement has been overwhelmingly secular. But the sense here is that this is a moral and even a spiritual crisis. As Gus Speth, who helped found the Natural Resources Defense Council and was dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, told a British radio presenter in 2013:

I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these proble ms, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.

Reflecting this shift in emphasis, a “Spirituality Journey” is included in this year’s conference program for the first time. The conference’s location in the Pacific region, where spiritual life is less segregated from public life than in Europe, may also make a difference. At the opening ceremony, in language that differed markedly from previous Congresses, “Our heavenly Father” was thanked for his “creation.”

Indeed, many conservation professionals and scientists, particularly but not at all exclusively from the Global South, have a living Christian faith. Integrating it into ...

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