October 18 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Catholics must fight for environmental justice, but reject anti-human policies of extreme campaigners

Brandon McGinley finds divine purpose in environmental action.

Regardless of the precise decimal points or data analyses or mechanisms of action, the idea of man made climate change just makes sense to me. Who could be surprised that a global civilisation that has so thoroughly wrecked the family, institutionalised social injustice, and elevated unrestrained desire-satisfaction to a virtue might also have a disordered relationship with the rest of God’s creation?

But it’s important to understand exactly what that ‘disordered relationship’ is. Too much popular rhetoric about the environment treats the natural world as if it is radically distinct from humanity and has interests opposed to our own.

In fact, just those words—‘environment,’ ‘natural world’—set up this opposition, as if we aren’t part of God’s creation, as if that creation is supposed to be the unchanging backdrop for the drama of human affairs. And if ‘the environment’ is vastly larger and more enduring than mere humanity, then it is certainly more important.



For this reason, proposals to preserve the natural world that are based in this ideology are invariably anti-human, such as fraudulent claims of overpopulation followed by calls to sterilise and abort the global poor.

This kind of environmentalism, which is at least as disordered as exploiting God’s creation for profit, is not about finding and maintaining a healthful symbiosis, but about bringing into reality a fantasy: a world that looks as if humans weren’t here at all.

Secular environmentalism gets the diagnosis correct, at least in part: from the global level down to the local, we too often treat the natural world as an abuser treats his partner—as an object to be dominated and subjugated in satisfaction of our own desires—whether for corporate profits or some more mundane convenience.

But because secularism lacks an eternal horizon and a hope for genuine justice imbued by grace, it can only imagine a reversal, where mortal humans become subservient to a deified natural world.

We can do better. Understanding humanity’s divine origin, dignity and destiny, we can see ourselves in our proper place of dominion and responsibility: elevated by our nature above the rest of nature, but therefore responsible for developing and nurturing creation, both for its wellbeing and for our own.

That is, following Pope Francis in Laudato Si and the voice of Catholic tradition through the ages, we can imagine and live out a fully integrated existence with both the natural order and the divine order.

Humanity is in a unique position between these two orders. By the Incarnation of Christ and through the ministry of His Church, alone among earthly creatures we can allow God’s grace to unite us to the higher order of Heaven.


Natural order

In turn, we have the authority and duty to maintain the lower natural order—not to keep it in some kind of primordial (and deeply unnatural) state, but to develop it in a way that allows forests and rivers and the animal kingdom to fulfil their nature and purpose better.

What is that purpose? To sustain the crown of God’s earthly creation: human beings. Creation fulfils its nature best not when it is left untouched (though parks and preserves obviously serve a wonderful purpose) nor when it is recklessly subjugated, but when it is thoughtfully and prayerfully developed to sustain the expansion of human life in all its diversity and magnificence. And—this is important—that requires long-term thinking about how to manage natural resources for as long as we might be permitted to inhabit this world.

More than big thinking, this requires the discipline of virtue. To live in authentic harmony with creation requires living in authentic harmony with its Author.


Divine justice

Like authentic social justice, authentic environmental justice requires divine justice: in other words, both living in order and peace with our fellow men and with nature requires living in order and peace with Christ. To eat different and maybe even less food than we’d prefer; to sacrifice certain infrastructure conveniences for the sake of healthy waterways; to accept limitations on economic expansion to conserve resources; to ensure that the drawbacks of sustainability policies don’t disproportionately impact the poor: these are sacrifices we can make as individuals and societies that we can dedicate not to the anti-human gods of environmentalist ideology but to Christ.

Treating creation with respect is an expression of our divine dignity. Indeed, it’s part of the duty we owe to God, fulfilling the authority He has given us over His handiwork. We can and must do our part to heal the planet—and the inhuman ideologies that too often pass for justice.

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