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The Other Anthrax

In the urgency of these days of Mr. Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda, and an unknown -- maybe homegrown -- bioterrorist, it would be a good idea, although difficult, to keep in mind these are not the only ugly threats to our world, humongous as they are. While we look right, let's keep an eye left. There is something else on the screen, malignant and relentlessly growing around us, even as we sometimes pretend it's not there and try to diminish voices of genuine alarm. The following was written 6years ago. The problems stated are worse, not better, and they are as threatening in their own way as anthrax to our future. They belong on the urgent "to do" list of our leaders and public figures. They're deadly, too. They're the "other" anthrax. Are they still on our watchlist? In a time of upheavals, perhaps there's a chance to change these things, too.

(From an address by Klaus Topfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, to the World Council of Churches, 31 October 1999)

hen God said:

"Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.."


did God intend that we would multiply at the rate of nearly 80 million additional people a year, and be rapidly approaching a global population of ten billion in the next century€


that every day we would push an estimated 150 species of plant, animal and other living things that moveth upon the earth into extinction€

Was it God's plan that under human dominion, the global climate would be altered, with consequences ranging from more severe drought and more torrential rainfall not merely anticipated but being experienced today...


that we would put chemicals into the air, water and soil that would return to poison us and dramatically reduce our ability to reproduce€


that we would produce chemicals that destroy the ozone layer, exposing ourselves and all life forms to harmful solar radiation€causing higher incidents of skin cancer and suppressing our immune systems€


that we would mow down an estimated 11.4 million acres of tropical forests each year€


that we would allow over a billion people to live in conditions of extreme poverty, and allow 35,000 children to die each day of entirely preventable causes.

Surely this is not what God intended. The Hebrew word translated as "dominion" meant having responsibility for the well-being of the creation, not the right to destroy it. Man's dominion cannot be understood as license to abuse, spoil, squander or destroy what God has made to manifest his glory...

By acknowledging our rightful place within nature, we are accepting our responsibilities for its well-being, just as we take responsibility for the well-being of members of our families and friends. It's a matter of drawing a larger circle, not around your house, or your city or even your country, but around all life on Earth...

That would be something.

Source: Libby Bassett, John T. Brinkman, Kusumita P. Pedersen, eds., Earth and Faith: A Book of Reflection for Action (New York: Interfaith Partnership for the Environment, United Nations Environment Programme, 2000) 13.

- November 2001
- October 2005

Next - A Wish for 2001 and Beyond

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