This is Erin Manning’s fourth and final guest post here. It’s been a great month. We want to thank Erin for her hard work and great pieces. This last one is no exception. Maybe we’ll do it again in the future if she’d still be interested – Matt and Pat.

One of the attention-grabbing ads which ran during Sunday’s Super Bowl was this one from Audi, featuring the “Green Police” who go around arresting people for “compost infractions,” illegal light bulbs, unlawful battery disposal, and the possession and use of plastic.

And there’s something rather weird about that, as Jonah Goldberg points out here:

It’s a fascinating commercial. They even got Cheap Trick to rerecord “Dream Police” as “Green Police” for the soundtrack. But just as the satire becomes enjoyable, the message changes. Until the pitch for Audi intrudes, you’d think it was a fun parody from a right-wing free-market outfit about the pending dystopian environmental police state.

The pitch involves an “eco roadblock.” A young man driving an Audi A3 TDI is singled out by an inspector. “We’ve got a TDI here,” he says. “Clean diesel,” he adds approvingly.

“You’re good to go, sir,” the cops inform the driver. The smiling Audi owner accelerates to happiness on the open road. The screen fades to black and the tagline appears — “Green has never felt so right.”

So, instead of some healthy don’t-tread-on-me mockery, the moral of the story is that we should welcome our new green overlords and, if we know what’s good for us, surrender to the New Green Order.

There’s a reason why, as a Catholic, I remain uncomfortable with mainstream environmentalism, and this silly “Green Police” ad helps to illustrate this reason. Mainstream environmentalism, in its zeal to protect the earth, is fundamentally incapable of putting people first. Though the images in the Audi commercial of people being arrested for choosing plastic bags or installing incandescent light bulbs are clearly supposed to be funny and over-the-top, when compared to true stories of people losing their property rights because of the presence of an endangered species, or facing heavy fines for other penalties for failing to recycle, and so on, the humor wanes just a bit.

Of course, property rights violations and fines pale in comparison to mainstream environmentalism’s biggest attack on the concept of the primacy of humanity: their unqualified support for contraception and abortion, and their never-ending quest to superimpose a kind of contraceptive imperialism on the people of the third world, who still value larger families and who tend to reject the notion that “saving the earth” requires them to embrace population control measures as draconian as China’s one-child, forced abortion/forced sterilization programs. Most mainstream environmental groups would agree with these “experts” that overpopulation is the world’s biggest environmental challenge.

The amount of time, money and energy spent trying to reduce the fertility of third-world women is astonishing, and appalling. Even in first-world countries, though, the message is broadcast: have more than one or (at most) two children, and you’re polluting the planet. Canadian writer Diane Francis may have been one of the first to voice the sentiment in public, but she isn’t saying anything the population control forces haven’t been saying privately for decades.

So what’s a Catholic to do? Embrace the anti-environmentalist side of these debates?

The problem with that is that Catholics are supposed to believe in responsible stewardship. As Pope Benedict XVI said recently in his message for the World Day of Peace:

Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees”, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development.

So it would seem that we can’t, as Catholics, accept a purely commercial view of the environment either, one that shrugs off the potential environmental consequences of our actions and insists that we have the right to exploit the natural world for our own purposes.

The problem with both views of the environment, the commercial/exploitative view on the one hand, and the “man is a disease on the planet that ought to be (mostly) eradicated!” view on the other, is that each one contains at its core a fundamental misunderstanding about the proper place of humanity in the universe. The mainstream environmentalist view puts man as no more or less important than any other living creature on Earth; he is a purely material being whose control of the planet over less-sentient creatures is a kind of oppression that can only be ended when man himself agrees to become less numerous and thus less dominant over the other forms of life on the planet. But the commercial/exploitative view also sees man, and everything else, as materialistic–it sees man as the ultimate Darwinian survivor, whose fitness means that his tendency to exploit the material world for his own profit and gain is inherently justified.

In order to have a properly balanced view of nature and the environment, and of the duties of Christian stewardship of the planet, though, we have to be aware that man is not merely a material being, and that creation itself is not the result of a random accumulation of matter, but the work (however He chose to accomplish it) of a Divine Creator. Since creation is His work and reflects His glory, we are not free to exploit and destroy whatever we choose. But since humanity is His utmost creation, created in His image and likeness, we are also not free to elevate nature, animals, plants, and the like over the right of human beings to live and to survive. The intrinsic right to life of every human being takes precedence over lesser environmental concerns; people must come first in the hierarchy of creation.

And whether the threat to the primacy of the human person comes from a push for commercialism that forces people from their land and livelihoods, or whether it comes, not from “Green Police” arresting plastic-bag users, but a more sinister effort to control the fertility of third-world women, the problem is the same. Without understanding humanity’s true place in the universe, a proper respect and concern for the environment becomes increasingly difficult; it is as dangerous to have a godless exploitative view of humanity and nature, as a godless environmental view of them.