News item: Minnesota State Representative Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) says he wants more coal-burning power plants in Minnesota because God will fix global warming, so we don't need to worry about it. (read more on him). He believes God will prevent the planet from running out of fossil fuels while also eliminating the harms associated with climate change, and that it is "arrogant" of us to think we can do anything to harm God's Creation or destroy the Earth unless God wills it.
This guy happens to be a Christian, but I have run into similar attitudes among religious Jews recently, most notably an email that claimed Israel was never under water during the Great Flood (based on an ancient story about Noah's dove getting the olive branch from there) so Israelis needn't worry if the ocean rises from polar ice melting. The Holy Land, this email claimed, will always stay high and dry. So not to worry about climate change.
These are not, of course, the opinions of all religious people. Not everyone is sticking their head in the sand (which ostriches really don't do, they are actually lowering their heads to guard their eggs -- but the metaphor has entered the English language, so you all know what I mean.) A lot of denominations have come out with more responsible directives concerning our stewardship of the Earth. (See for example Interfaith Power and Light, an org working to educate congregations about environmental issues.)
As for the possibility of Humans harming the Earth, there is an ancient rabbinical teaching (at least 2000 years old) which disagrees with Representative Beard. Jewish tradition says:
"When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
So, on the one hand, Judaism teaches that God created the Earth and everything in it for us. But on the other hand, we are charged with taking care of it and not destroying it. The fact that God tells us not to destroy it means that we do have that ability. It comes along with our free will. God has set the stage, but the choice is ours whether to act responsibly or not. And to face the consequences of our actions.
The Jewish interpretation of having "dominion" over the world is one of stewardship, not exploitation. And our tradition goes even further. Another midrash says:
"Last and first You created me" (Psalms 139:5) ... If man is worthy, he is told: You are first among the works of creation. If he is not worthy, he is told: The flea preceded you, the earthworm preceded you." (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 14:1)
From this we learn that our "dominion" is not absolute. It is dependent on our behavior. We were created last, and that can either mean we are the "crown of creation," or it can mean that we came after the worms and fleas. ( I remember being told back in the 1960s that if we ever had a nuclear war, the cockroaches would be the most likely to survive the radiation.) Genesis 2:15 says:
The Lord (YHVH) God put the human being (literal meaning of "Adam") in the Garden of Eden, to work it and guard it."
Yes, we are allowed to use the resources of the Earth ("to work it") but we must also guard and care for it. Even in the innocence of Eden, we are charged to protect the environment. But I suppose that even in the time of Noah there were people like Beard who said, "What? A flood in the desert? Impossible!" And we all know what happened to that generation...