a Christian response to the ecological moral hazard

November 16, 2008

I’ve been wondering what the unique ethical response to ecology from a Christian perspective would be for the past while, and if there would actually be one! Mostly, I think that there is no unique response, and that the ethics would look similar whether from a Christian or humanist perspective. But David Keith talks about the moral hazard regarding ecology and geoengineering: if geoengineering (basically fixing the atmosphere after we messed it up) is possible on a large scale, then it lessens the motivation to stop messing up the ecology, since we can just fix it up later.

So, the unique Christian response? Well, from Christian ethics ecological awareness is not simply a response to a messed up ecology, but inherent to Christian ethics (yes, I know that the Christian tradition doesn’t have a good record, but there is also the mystics who had a radical approach to nature). So, geoengineering doesn’t lessen the Christian responsibility one wee bit! Could the same be said from a humanist perspective? Probably, since, as Keith points out, geoengineering can’t be the final solution, but even if it weren’t so, the Christian response would be to care for ecology no matter how well we are able to just fic it up later…

What do you think? Is there something like a unique Christian ethic when it comes to ecology?

6 Responses to “a Christian response to the ecological moral hazard”

  1. Lourens Says:

    I would have to agree with you that we can’t neglect our responsibilities as caretakers just because we can fix things. Otherwise it is just another incident of fixing things for our own good, for our own benefit, while being a caretaker implies that I do what is right, even if it is not popular, but because I no it is for the good of others (in the long run sometimes) and also for this world to which I was appointed as a steward. When God said that man should reign over the earth the implication was always that of a responsible king who reigns with wisdom, righteousness and love. If I am made in the image of God does that not mean that this is His characteristics that I have to make visible in my life while on earth? I remember being a 6-7 year old boy coming out of a sermon where the minister preached on this text. I remembered that we were taught at school not to litter and I connected the dots. It is only a small example, but is representative of the challenges and responsibilties we have as stewards of creation and people.

  2. Jake Belder Says:

    I would be inclined to agree that there may not be a unique response as Christians toward ecology, but both our motive for initially engaging in ecology and the reason for being committed to it are different than the world at large.

    I don’t have a very specific view on economics and such things as that, but I am aware that a discussion on those sorts of things would have to go along with economics, which is something I have not seen as much in our general culture and society. Sometimes it seems that in their attempt to do justice to environmental and ecological concerns, they inadvertently do an injustice to other parts of society. It’s essential that we keep all those in perspective.

    So in regards then to a unique Christian ethic toward ecology, I do think there is one. It begins with the root of our involvement in it (because this is God’s good earth and we are His stewards and caretakers of the earth), and dictates our ecological practices (both protecting the earth and acting in a way that brings justice to everything ecology affects).

  3. cobus Says:

    Jake, from an African perspective, I’d say there is not way you can talk ecology without talking economics. Let me make this short:
    – At some point Africa is gonna start developing
    – At that point Africa might have near 2 billion people
    – What is gonna prevent Africa from also doing the China thing, using cheap dirty technology for a fast economic boost?

  4. Jake Belder Says:

    I have a friend who is originally from Bloemfontein, now living in Canada with whom I’ve had some very interesting discussions about Africa’s future, and the questions you’ve posed have actually come up between us. That is a very, very interesting discussion to have. Africa has such an incredible abundance of natural resources, and you’re right…what will happen when significant economic development comes? Like you said, one hopes that it will not result in gross exploitation that we’ve seen in other parts of the world.

  5. cobus Says:

    I did a lecture on sustainable development in a final year engineer ethics class this year, and the question I tried to answer in the end was: why should engineers in Africa worry about global warming while the whole of Africa contribute less than 3% of the global CO2?

    The above argument was my one answer. The other can be found by visiting Google earth and checking out Africa… we don’t have water! If things start to heat up, Africa is going to have hell of a time, literally! And we don’t have the technology to provide short-term answer to global warming, the only option might be death for a mass of people…

  6. Jake Belder Says:

    …which would be a tragic instance of cruel injustice, thus demonstrating our need as Christians to be involved in—perhaps even at the forefront of—ecological discussions!


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