Catholic Social Doctrine: Custody of the Environment
international community draw up uniform rules that will allow States to exercise more effective control over the various activities that have negative effects on the environment and to protect ecosystems by preventing the risk of accidents." (Compendium, No. 468).
At the very minimum, the various states should actively endeavor within their own territories "to prevent destruction of the atmosphere and biosphere, by carefully monitoring, among other things, the impact of new technological or scientific advances . . . [and] insuring that its citizens are not exposed to dangerous pollutants or toxic wastes." (Compendium, No. 468) (quoting JPII, Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace)
Though addressing environmental issues is a responsibility that cannot be shirked, it presents a complex problem that requires an interdisciplinary approach, one which invokes sciences of all kinds, industries of all kinds, government, and ecological groups. Decisions must sometimes be made when the data are not clear, when there is a state of uncertainty as to the data's interpretation.
An example that may be cited is whether there is global warming, and, if so, whether it is natural or man-made, and, if man-made, how much of it is attributable to controllable human causes. Sometimes the scientific data and the interpretation of that data are complicated by hidden agendas, by irresponsible propaganda, by self-interest and self-regard.
Histrionics sometimes hides scientific facts.
In the light of uncertainty or probabilities, a "precautionary principle" may be adopted as a guide to practical, yet prudent, action:
"The authorities called to make decisions concerning health and environmental risks sometimes find themselves facing a situation in which available scientific data are contradictory or quantitatively scarce. It may then be appropriate to base evaluations on the "precautionary principle", which does not mean applying rules but certain guidelines aimed at managing the situation of uncertainty. This shows the need for making temporary decisions that may be modified on the basis of new facts that eventually become known."
"Such decisions must be proportional with respect to provisions already taken for other risks. Prudent policies, based on the precautionary principle require that decisions be based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives, including the decision not to intervene. This precautionary approach is connected with the need to encourage every effort for acquiring more thorough knowledge, in the full awareness that science is not able to come to quick conclusions about the absence of risk. The circumstances of uncertainty and provisional solutions make it particularly important that the decision-making process be transparent." (Compendium, No. 469)
The problem requires rational solutions, solutions based upon dispassionate assessment of the environmental problem, of its causes, of possible cures. It must take into consideration a variety of factors, including: nature itself, the kind of resource involved (whether renewable or non-renewable), economic and market factors, industrial interests, cultural idiosyncrasies, the just imposition of costs associated with environmental restrictions, the divergence between rich nations and the poor, with the urgency of developing the wealth of the latter, alternatives that may be available, the current state of science or technology.
There simply is no one right answer to this very complex problem. But that does not excuse us from not trying. It may be a situation where angels fear to tread, but then we shouldn't rush in as fools.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: green, ecology, stewardship, environment, environmentalism, Social Doctrine, Catholics, Pope benedict XVI, Andrew Greenwell
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