Associate Professor of Biology
Toward a Sustainable Global Environment: Concerns About Science and Public Policy in the USA
Dorothy Boorse is an associate professor of biology at Gordon College, in Wenham Massachusetts. She has a Masters degree in Entomology from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Oceanography and Limnology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Global City, an interactive CD-rom of environmental activities published by Prentice-Hall with the Richard Wright's textbook, Environmental Science. She has also written several articles on science and faith interactions and environmental ethics. Her field research interest is in vernal pools and salt marshes. In 2005 she testified before a U.S. House Resources subcommittee about the Christian Stewardship ethic and about the need of species for habitat corridors.
Toward a Sustainable Global Environment: Concerns About Science and Public Policy in the USA
A recent international effort to summarize the state of the environment, The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (1), documents many unsustainable trends around the globe. In order to promote better environmental health, protection of biodiversity, and care of those harmed by environmental degradation, the US needs to be a leader in environmental care. US science can be a part of this goal. To do so, the US needs to support scientific integrity, increase science education, invest in science and environmentally friendly technology and share those technologies with others.
The world is watching the US response to global warming, biodiversity loss, and other environmental problems (5, 6). Unfortunately, there is widespread concern in the American scientific community that sound science is being ignored in the making of US public policy. In 2004, over 60 leading scientists including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Science, signed a statement, "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making", now signed by over 9000 scientists (2). This statement decried the politicization of science and government pressure on scientists to change data or fail to report data unsupportive of administration political goals or the demotion and harassment of scientists who refused. In 2003 the White House required the EPA to rewrite sections about global climate change in a large environmental report. In protest, scientists removed the whole discussion of climate change from the report (3). In 2005 extensive review of the writings and funding of three individual leaders in US climate change science was required by some members of Congress in spite of the fact that much of the decades-old research had nothing to do with climate change (4). Unfortunately, the undermining of scientific integrity has a negative effect on our ability to be credible world leaders.
In order to prepare the next generation of scientists and to have a public able to make wise decisions about big scientific issues, we need to strongly support science education. Recent studies have shown that US children are weaker in science and math than those in other developed nations (7). For the US to maintain credibility in world discussions about environmental issues we need to have a culture of scientific literacy.
Finally, we need clear political mandates to drive the search for sustainable technologies forward and to share such technologies with others. There are huge opportunities to develop alternative energy technologies, sustainable agricultural methods, and energy or water-efficient tools. Efforts to improve chemistry manufacturing through "Green chemistry" (8, 9), for example or recent interest by US auto manufacturers in hybrid vehicles are a start (10). Environmental degradation in developing countries stems in part from rapid economic expansion using environmentally unsound technologies such as dirty-burning coal power plants in China (11). In order to be world leaders in sustainability, the US must find ways to collaborate with rapidly expanding economies and develop and fund environmentally sound technologies.
A Christian perspective:
The Christian stewardship ethic supports a long-term care for the earth's sustainability and care of those most vulnerable to its degradation. Sometimes this is called "creation care" (12). Briefly, this view is that the earth is God's and humans are holding it in trust. While the earth and its processes should not remain static, it is not ours to allow creation's destruction. In fact, our role is to protect the creation as representatives of God, the owner.
To fulfill our mandate, we need to understand the natural world and its processes. This means that Christians should be supporting scientific integrity, education, and development of technologies that protect resources. Christians in the U.S. are in an important position because they have a chance to influence policy in a country with many resources. Indeed, they also have an obligation to do so. We need to promote policies that take the best science into account, particularly favoring long-term solutions, and care of the poor over policies that favor increasing the gap between rich and poor or only short term gains.
The use of the Christian stewardship ethic as a basis to increase scientific integrity, education, and development of technology in US policy is based on three principles. First, the stewardship ethic best describes the relationship between humans and the rest of Creation. This is seen in the original plan of God described in Genesis. The Christian stewardship ethic is fleshed out in a robust body of literature including the writings of Cal DeWitt, Stephen Bouma-Prediger, and others (13, 14, 15). In the Reformed Tradition, the stewardship ethic is seen as a part of our call to redeem the world and bring the kingdom of God (16). It goes back to Christian antiquity, most famously lived out by St. Francis of Assisi (17). Today the stewardship ethic is the basis of several key statements in modern Christianity including the statements by the Evangelical Environmental Network, An Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation (18) and the statement coming out of Forum 2002: Global Climate Change, a meeting in Oxford England, Oxford Declaration on Global Warming: Climate scientists and Christian leaders call for action (19).
Sustainability is an important part of our stewardship call. The ethic is not only about species, but ecosystems and their processes, including those that provide basic human needs such as flood control, oxygen production, and food production. Thus, care of creation is intertwined with care of our neighbor.
The American Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists states some of the foundational principles of the stewardship ethic thus:
The beauty, joy, and health of human life on earth depend deeply upon the wide variety and great richness of plant and animal life God has provided. This abundant life brings immense and continuous praise to God (Psalm 148), leaving all people without excuse about knowing God's divinity and everlasting power (Romans 1:20). Beholding God's creatures and the whole creation supports our spiritual well-being while living in a world that sustains creation's marvelous variety protects our physical welfare. (20)
Second, the study of science is inherently good and its use is necessary to long-term planning, reflected in the general biblical principles of seeking wisdom, promoting justice, and peace-making. The importance of wisdom is upheld in the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and other places in the Bible. The importance of peace and justice is found throughout the Bible, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. Study of God's creation for the sake of God's glory is one of the jobs of humans. As Thomas Aquinas said, "any error about creation also leads to an error about God." (21)
Third, domestic or foreign policies not founded on sound science seem unlikely to promote justice or wisdom. Unsustainable use of resources tremendously lowers the quality of environment and harms those living in the most degraded areas. Rapid development in the third world is causing tremendous environmental degradation. But it is difficult for developing countries to afford or develop more efficient or less environmentally degrading technologies. Thus to make wise decisions and to support justice and peace, we need to support a Christian stewardship ethic and efforts to improve science education and application of science to better technologies both here and abroad.
© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College.
1. Union of Concerned Scientists 2006. Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking Available from: http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/interference/scientists-signon-statement.html. Accessed Nov 26, 2006.
2. UNEP 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Living Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well Being, Statement of the MA Board, at http://www.millenniumassessment.org//en/Products.BoardStatement.aspx (May 19, 2005).
3. Revkin, A. And K. Seelye. June 19, 2003. Report by the E.P.A. leaves out data on climate change. New York Times. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/19/politics/19CLIM.html?ex=1371441600&en=95b0a43f25f8e0c8&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND Accessed Nov.30, 2006.
4. Monastersky, R. Sept 8, 2006. Climate Science on Trial. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Available from: http://chronicle.com/free/v53/i03/03a01001.htm Accessed Nov 30, 2006.
5. Pegg, J. R. 2006. U.S. Supreme court agrees to hear global warming case. Environmental News Service (June 27, 2006) Available from: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jun2006/2006-06-26-10.asp Accessed Nov 30, 2006.
6. United Nations. 2006. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations Climate Change Conference - Nairobi, 6 - 17 November 2006. Available from http://unfccc.int/2860.php Accessed Nov 30, 2006
7 Gonzales, R., Guzman, J.C, Partelow, L., Pahlke, E., Jocelyn, L., Kastberg, D., Williams, T. (2004) Highlights from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003. (NCES 2005-005). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
8 Anastas, P. and J. Warner. 1998. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press: New York.
9 EPA. 2006. Green Chemistry. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/greenchemistry/pubs/whats_gc.html Accessed Dec. 3, 2006
10 Makower, J., R. Pernick, and C. Wilder. 2006. Clean energy Trends 2006. Available from: www.cleanedge.com/reports-trends2006.php Accessed Dec. 3, 2006
11 Xiaoxan Tang. 2006. Urbanization, Energy, and Air Pollution in China: The Challenges Ahead -- Proceedings of a Symposium (2004). National Academies Press: Washington, DC.
12 Calvin B. DeWitt. 1998. Caring for Creation: Responsible Stewardship of God's Handiwork, Center for Public Justice and Baker Books
13. Bouma-Prediger. S. 2001. For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. Baker Academic:
14. Robinson, T. and J. Chatrow. 2006. Saving God's Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church's Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship. Ampelon Publishing:
15. Sleeth, J. M. 2006. Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action. Chelsea Green Publishing Company:
16. Van Dyke, F. D. Mahan, J. Sheldon, R. Brand. 1996. Redeeming Creation: the Biblical Basis for Stewardship. Inter Varsity Press: Downer'sGrove, Il.
17. Jacobs, B. 2005. St. Francis of Assisi. Available from:http://conservation.catholic.org/st__francis_of_assisi.htm Accessed Dec 3, 2006.
18. Evangelical Environmental Network, 1994. An Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation. Available from: www.creationcare.org/resources/declaration.php Accessed Nov 20, 2006.
19 Forum 2002. 2002. Oxford Declaration on Climate Change. Available from: www.climateforum2002.org Accessed May 19, 2005.
20. American Academy of Evangelical scientists and Ethicists. 2005. The American Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists on the Critical Importance of Conserving Endangered Species. Available from www.noahalliance.org/documents/criticalimportance.pdf Accessed Dec 3, 2006.
21. Aquinas, T. Summa Theologiae. Quote available from: http://conservation.catholic.org/saints_2.htm Accessed Dec 3, 2006.