My goal is to show that the conclusions reached decades of ecological thought are in line with, and were already present in Christianity.
Before the fun begins, a little note. Whatever cogent belief systems we have include a perspective on other belief systems, which fits them into a framework. Even though this may be done respectfully it does gut the subordinate system. Example: In Bill Mollision's Permaculture Hand Book, religion is accorded a branch inside the venn diagram of permaculture, and is social rather than true. Christians, Muslims Buddhists &etc would see it the opposite way.
This doesn't preclude meaningful dialogue, but it is a fundamental opposition that we will bump our heads into if we don't know its there.
In the beginning
The bible is understood by Christians, not as a manifesto or archaic reference piece, but as the authoritative word of God, given to people.
Our understanding of the role of humanity begins in creation:
In Genesis 1, God acts to create everything. The three parts of our eco-system are created: heavens (space), sea/sky and land/vegetation, and then they are sequentially filled with with sun/moon/stars, fish/birds and finally domestic & wild animals and creepy crawlies.
So far so good. This is not how a biologist would categorize the living world, but its a decent schema for many of us.
But how could this be taken chronologically, factually seriously? Let me just say that the purpose of these chapters are to define human roles in relation to God, creation and each other. Not to lay out a chronology. And secondly, belief in a young earth or an individual literal Adam is not a prerequisite for acceptance in God's kingdom.
Now onto mankind:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
We are sentient. We are walking neocorteices. When animals beavers chew down trees by instinct, we have the choice to cut them down. This is a potential for doing even better than nature, if we understand it and work with it. Its also a potential to disrupt and destroy nature. This is what it means when God has given us "dominion."
Its also a mandate, a purpose. Whatever our place is here, it has something to do with nature.
And third, there's a gift with it, but also a dependence. We are given seeds and fruits to eat, but we need them (nature) to survive and pursue our purpose.
Now a snag. How many millions of acres of America were logged, and burned, how many buffalo were shot, how many fields were turned by the moldboard plow and washed down the river in pursuit of greed, but justified by the language of "dominion" and "rule over?"
Way too many. So let me stop that here.
First, the Bible shows us that we were created to manage nature. Nature was not created for our benefit. Second, though words like "rule" seem very strong, human rulership in the Bible is always supposed to be benevolent, not self-serving.
Consequently we can't thoughtlessly bend nature to our desires and appetites.
Though we (humans) are given stewardship of God's creation, he retains ownership. This means that we don't really own anything in a complete way. Most cultures throughout history have not had such a reductionist view of land ownership as our modern, western world. In a sense my land is everyone's land, and in a sense, it's God's land.
This has an encouraging side effect: Though we are responsible for what we do, we, individually are not ultimately responsible for all of creation. God will take care of that. He has made creation more intricate and more durable than we expect (failed doomsday predictions have discredited ecology more than anything else), and has promised to renew it.