A talk delivered in Bangalore, India “Spirituality and Theology of Creation” organized by Missio-Aachen
1. IntroductionEnvironmental and ecological justice: the distinction between these two terms was first brought to academic discussion by Nicholas Low, lecturer of the Faculty of Architecture in Melbourne and Brendan Gleeson of the Australian Urban Research Program.
“The struggle for justice as it is shaped by the politics of the environment,” they write, “has two relational aspects: the justice of the distribution of environments among peoples, and the justice of the relations between humans and the rest of the natural world. We term these aspects of justice: environmental justice and ecological justice. They are really two aspects of the same relationship.”
Some humans experience a good environment like the highly ecological and liveable cities in Europe bragging about their bike lanes or use of renewable energy. Some could not even breathe a fresh air like those in Payatas with its stinking garbage and eternal muddy grounds even inside the shanties where they live. As I drive every single Sunday to this place, I see young boys segregating waste on running garbage trucks. Since we do not have recycling machines, these waste coming from the richer sections of the city is processed by human hands. These boys do not have food as they work; they eat pagpag – food directly coming from the garbage. Ironically, on radio, I hear the announcer who proclaims: “Forbes Park – the most elite subdivision of Manila – is the most ecological quarter because there waste segregation is most successful.”
Fighting for environmental justice means to work for equal distribution of these environmental goods for all humans, not only for the more privileged ones but for the whole of humanity. I am not only talking of Payatas, I am referring to 3.8 billion people (half of the world's population) who live on 2.5 dollars a day, as of the latest United Nation’s survey.
But the term environment seems to be inadequate to describe the world in which we live. The non-humans in the Earth community like animals and trees, space and oceans, should not only be defined according to its function to the human world.
Ecological justice means justice for all of created beings in the Earth community. The question refers to distribution but also recognition and representation between humans and the non-human world.
La Mesa dam on the background. Payatas Landfill on the foreground.
Though there are problems with questions of distributional justice in the environment like Payatas, there is a greater problem of how the humans of Manila treat the non-human world. It is not known to many that the garbage dumpsite of Payatas is just one or two kilometers away from the source of potable water supply for the whole of Manila, the La Mesa Dam. The way this society treats its waste and refuse also destroys this nearby water resource. The leachates coming from the garbage mix with the water level destroying not only humans who depend on it but also the water supply itself and its existence. Ecological justice refers to this relationship.Environmental JusticeThe notion of environmental justice, at least in the English-speaking world, started with the North American social movements which protested against the dumping of industrial waste to areas where blacks reside.
Mainstream environmentalism, like waste segregation and other ecological programs, was seen as a “white middle class” movement. For many poor communities in rural areas, there is in fact no waste to segregate. Like the Marie Condo craze from Japan to Hollywood stars, now to some sectors of the Manila populace, there is in fact nothing to declutter among the “have nots”.
But it in the context of the US in the 1970w, toxic waste dumping on poor black immigrant sections amounts to what was then called white middle class’ “environmental racism”.
Fighting against it means fighting for just distribution of resources and risks; basic rights to clean water, air and land use; equal access to food and basic commodities; intra-generational in intergenerational solidarity, etc. All these rights do not exist in situations like Manila and many other countries in the Third world. The same injustice is present within poor countries themselves where small pockets of affluence stand side by side with large areas of filth and garbage, separated as they are with imaginary and real walls.
Environmental justice expanded the notion of justice from “social justice” to how humans appropriated their environment. Three dimensions are contemplated to expand the notion of social justice: distribution, recognition and representation. “Distribution” refers to equal distribution of environmental benefits and perils. “Recognition” points to the way we look at other peoples, other races, other sectors. If we do not recognize the indigenous peoples, for instance, as possessing rights to their ancestral domains, no equal right is due them. They are not considered as equal partners in development and the search for environment justice. “Representation” in decision making processes is only possible after just recognition.
Some crucial parts of Laudato Si point to this need for environmental justice. To name a few, the following texts directly respond to the need for social justice:
· Quoting the Bolivian bishops, he wrote: “the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest” (LS, 48) · Eco-social approach: “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS, 49) · Intergenerational solidarity: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. (LS, 159 – quoting the Portuguese bishops) · Common but Differentiated Responsibilities: “The countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused”. (LS, 170)
Corollary to the view of environmental justice is the stewardship model. From the “dominion model” founded on the exegesis of Gen. 1: 26-28, the Christian view of creation moved into the concept of “stewardship”. It acknowledges that the earth is God’s gift to us. The call is to “till and keep it” (Gen. 2: 25). To “till” means to serve; and to “keep” means to protect. The first man Adam is adamah which means “earth” or in Latin humus. Humility not arrogant domination characterizes the attitude of the steward. As stewards, we need to examine our habits of consumption, the way we use natural resources because we still owe this to the future generation. Intergenerational solidarity is thus founded on the stewardship model. An Indian proverb expresses this well: “We do not borrow the world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
However, the stewardship model has been criticized as too managerial, hierarchical and androcentric with God acting like a patriarch or absentee landlord. If you are a steward, you also decide on how to dispose of other ‘things’ – living or non-living – for one’s use. Responsibly as you should but still the rest of creation is disposable. What comes out is still the life of utility and function other Earthlings have within the network of human community. No matter how evenly distributed are the goods of the earth, the recognition and representation we give them are not taken in a serious manner. This brings in the concept of ecological justice.Ecological Justice Ecological justice understood as the relationship between humans and non-humans view that some non-humans are “recipients of justice”. Many moral theorists, John Rawls among others, exclude non-humans from considerations of justice. We owe the Earth our moral duty of compassion and responsible utilization but not duties of justice. Only human beings can be moral agents of justice, liberal discourses argue. Beyond that, ecological justice pushes to expand the world of justice from “social justice”, to “environmental justice”, to the relations of humans with the Earth community, or at least with some of its non-human forms.
What are the main principles of ecological justice framework? A group of ethicists and environmentalists with ecological biblical hermeneutics in mind, identified six principles as follows.
1. The principle of intrinsic worth: Earth and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.
2. The principle of connectedness: Earth is a community of inter-connected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.
3. The principle of voice: Earth is a living entity capable of voicing its cries against injustice.
4. The principle of purpose: Universe, Earth and all its components are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall goal of that design.
5. The principle of mutual custodianship: Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where humans function as responsible custodians with, rather than rulers over, Earth to sustain the balance and diversity of the Earth community.
6. The principle of resistance: Earth and its components not only suffer from human injustices but actively resist them in the struggle for justice.
How do we assess the position of Laudato Si vis-à-vis the ecological justice framework? Some principles are repeated in the following verses of Laudato Si.
· “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”. (LS 69, quoting CCC, 339) · “Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose.” (LS, 84) · “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings.” (LS, 138).Ecological HermeneuticsThe present challenge for Christians is to ground these ethical ecological principles on our foundational narratives like the Bible. Reading crucial texts has been already started by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. Cain’s murder of Abel did not only destroy his relationship with God and his brother but also with the earth (LS 70): “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground” (Gen 4:9-11). The story of Noah shows that God threatens to destroy humanity with forces from nature because of its failure to render them justice. The Sabbath rest (LS 68) is not only for humans but also for animals as well, “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12).
This is a challenging task because it has been acknowledged that biblical texts are decidedly anthropocentric, thus, also legitimizing the ecological degradation, as Lynn White already charged long time ago. Ecological hermeneutics consciously counters this direction.
I just would like to highlight the centrality of rereading our narrative to fit our new consciousness. As narrative ethics already taught us, narratives and how we understand them are crucial to the way we live our moral lives.
I would like to end this talk with the Genesis 1 read from the ecological justice perspective by an African ecofeminist, Musa Dube. Her exegetical conclusion runs as follows.
“God was present on Earth in every member of creation and God’s high standard of keeping the Earth sacred and good. It highlights that the Earth is characterized as a host of God’s Spirit, God’s word, God with us, the host of all members, the co-creator with God...
“This reading proposed that the whole Earth Community is made through the word of God thus and bears the image of God. The latter is extended to human beings through God’s consultative invitation, namely, “let us make humankind in our image”.
“For human beings to fill the Earth, to have dominion over living creatures, to subdue the Earth, to multiply and fill the Earth is a role that is understood as adhering to the God-given standard of recognizing the sacredness of all members and to work towards maintaining the goodness of all creation, thereby being mindful of the image of God in all members of the Earth Community.
“The dominating setting of verses 1–25 and the minority position of human beings in the passage, who occupy about four verses in the drama of creation, underlines the former as the main theme and message of Genesis 1.
“In the end, ‘God saw all that God had made and that it was very good’. The latter is a message human beings are invited to uphold as members of the Earth Community, which is made in God’s image.