The Strange World of Planet Earth: Prophetic Criticism and Ecological Crisis
By Jack Holloway
“Since the world began, ever-inventive man has constantly pushed forward into the unknown. One by one, the frontiers of science have fallen before him. . . . Now he stands on the threshold of a new age—a terrifying age.”
So begins The Strange World of Planet X (or, Cosmic Monsters, as it was titled in the U.S.), a sci-fi film in which Dr. Laird, a scientist, has invented magnetic fields that can attract objects from outer space. The invention has disastrous side-effects, however, causing insects to mutate into giant monsters. The inhabitants of earth are then aided by a visitor from another planet, who warns them that continuing to use such technology will only result in further devastation.
In all likelihood, the film was originally intended to be a criticism of the use of nuclear power, but its prophetic warning bears a striking resemblance to what many are boldly claiming about our modern ecological crisis. The “terrifying age” of which we are on the threshold is the age of the Anthropocene, in which the environment bows before the short-term interests of human beings, with devastating consequences.
On June 29th, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) program, which consisted of regulations aimed at reducing power plant pollution. The reason for the Supreme Court ruling was that the agency did not sufficiently consider the costs their regulations would impose on power plants.
This decision oddly came only a month after Pope Francis released an encyclical on caring for the environment. In it he warned, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us” (20). In one corner, the Supreme Court demands that the EPA consider the costs of their regulations for power plants; in the other, Pope Francis urges the world to consider the costs of their behavior for the environment.
Milton Friedman wrote that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits,” but have we become a culture of business, in which the social responsibility of society is to increase business profits? Thus, Congress does not pass legislation without crosschecking it with lobbyists who represent special interest groups and large corporations. Thus, the EPA cannot consider the interests of the environment without crosschecking its approach with the costs for power plants.
Pope Francis offers a biting criticism of this cultural condition, saying that, “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention” (139). He charges us with the task of stewardship, making the common good our common goal. The most pressing issue is not what environmental regulation will cost power plants, but what the lack of environmental regulation will cost the earth. What Pope Francis offered was a prophetic call to difference.
The prophet comes as one from another planet, relentlessly demanding a high standard of justice from an unsuspecting world. Moses had the Promised Land. Jesus had the Kingdom of God. Martin Luther King, Jr. had the dream. The prophet is ahead of her time. She comes from the future, to warn us and beckon us toward justice.
Pope Francis took up the role of the prophet and spoke to us like the visitor from The Strange World: If you continue down this path, you will be met with catastrophe; but if you turn from your evil ways (as the prophets would say), then you will be met with abundant life.
“Why then will you die?” asked the prophet Ezekiel.
Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, 24 May, 2015, 20.
Milton Friedman, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits,” New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970.
Jack Holloway studies Karl Barth and Marxist Theory at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He is Secretary-treasurer of the International Society for Heresy Studies, and he holds a B.A. in biblical and theological studies from Regent University. He is also a musician, an avid beer-drinker, and a lover of film.