By Rev. Jim Ruyle, Hillsdale Community UCC, Portland, OR
As members of churches or other religious organizations, we care about environmental issues and want to do our part to protect creation. But the issues seem so huge, like global warming, that we may have difficulty identifying a special role that churches can play, other than just being good citizens, preaching about the issues, and doing our recycling. In fact, however, there is an issue in which churches are uniquely positioned to assume leadership, and it is an important one, right up there with global warming:
Scientists like E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, tell us that at the rate we are destroying wildlife habitat, we will have lost as much as half of all plant and animal species by the end of this century, one-quarter by 2050. Tell that to your children and grandchildren. Besides animal lovers, this has implications for all humans because a large percent of the animals at risk are insects that pollinate or otherwise convert plant life to the food we eat. We take away their food by replacing native plants with foreign species, not just English ivy and Himalayan blackberry but much of our modern landscaping material including lawn grass. Insects can’t and won’t eat plant material that they did not evolve with over millions of years. To show the important role of insects, Wilson says that if all insects vanished, eventually all life would vanish, including humans. (See his book, “The Creation.”) Ask yourself what good it will do if we fix every other environmental problem but not this one.
So we need to restore wildlife habitat. But what’s that have to do with churches? Douglas Tallamy, in his popular book, “Bringing Nature Home,” tells us that after the loss of space to agriculture and cities, the remaining space available for restoring wildlife habitat is suburbia. (National and local preserves and parks, while important, do not by themselves contain enough space for this purpose.) What we need to do is encourage suburban landowners to restore habitat on their properties. This doesn’t mean landscaping exclusively with native plants, only making more room for them. And they’re just as beautiful as foreign plants.
This is where churches come in. Most churches either own outdoor space or associate with churches that do. These churches can demonstrate habitat restoration on their properties and offer education to their communities about habitat restoration and how to do it on their own properties. Organizations like the soil and water districts often use churches as teaching venues. Here neighbors can learn about the need for habitat restoration and how they can incorporate native plants in an attractive way in their own landscaping. Considering that church properties are scattered all across the country and the world, think of the impact churches could have if they and their national bodies seized this opportunity. Churches could take the lead in saving creation.