Being good stewards of God’s creation is not a passive activity. Since humans have walked the earth, men and women have altered their environment in order to survive and make life more comfortable. Some romanticize the Native Americans as a people who lived in harmony with nature, barely touching the woodlands they passed through. In American Slavery, American Freedom, historian Edmund S. Morgan paints a different picture:
In particular, they had achieved great tracts of meadow. Their fires for turning woodland into cornfield must have often escaped; and the same was true of their fires for hunting, which were apparently set in grassy areas. The periodic large-scale incineration of young shrubs and trees tended in the long run to produce and preserve grasslands. As a result, there was probably more open land in Indian Virginia than there is in Virginia today.
Today, with much more sophisticated technology, we can alter our environment in far more powerful ways. This new knowledge and technology has brought forth many good things, but it can also be destructive if we are not mindful of what we are doing. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis declares:
Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. The earth is the Lord’s (Ps 24:1); to him belongs the earth with all that is within it. (Dt. 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me. (Lev 25:23)