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The Wicked Problem of Climate Change

Christianity and Environmental Ethics Fifty Years after ‘Historical Roots’

Matthew T. Riley

Although best known for his perceived critiques of Christianity in his 1967 “Historical Roots” article, I draw upon Lynn Townsend White, jr.’s lesser-known texts and unpublished archival materials to argue that White made a significant, constructive contribution to environmental ethics. Through his rejection of anthropocentric and prudential forms of ethics, White proposed an ethic of compassion for nature rooted in his notion of a “spiritual democracy of all God’s creatures.” This ethical model, referred to here as Christian ecocentrism, is offered as a framework for Christian reflection and as a means for changing attitudes and behaviors on the “wicked problem” of climate change.

Thomas Berry

An Overview of His Work

Daniel T. Spencer

Peter T. C. Chang


Confronted with a looming ecological crisis, calls are intensifying for modern China to rekindle its ancient naturalistic worldview. My paper explores the practical implications of these exhortations, namely, the requisite actions to transform contemporary Chinese into citizenry committed to sustainable living. Two trademarks of the traditional Chinese moral enterprise will be elaborated. The first is the doctrine of concentric circle. I will explain that the Confucian strategy to fulfill humankind's universal obligation is to begin with rectifying the self, the local community and extending incrementally towards the embracing of all things. The process to heal nature's wounds henceforth must similarly commence with disciplined self-cultivation anchored in the nuclear family. The second is ancestral worship, which I plan to argue has efficacy in strengthening people's resolve to subsist sacrificially for the sake of their descendents. As a platform to venerate the dead, this ritual also serves as conduit to a spiritual realm that awakens the living and reinforces our bond to the future generation.

Ecology and Vision

Contemplation as Environmental Practice

Matthew T. Eggemeier

This essay analyzes the significance of contemplative practice for the development of environmental ethics. The writings of Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, and Tim Lilburn are examined as examples of the way in which the cultivation of a contemplative way of seeing the world constitutes an important environmental practice. While Oliver, Dillard, and Lilburn differ in the strategies they employ to facilitate this contemplative experience, they converge in their view that the work of learning to see the natural world with contemplative attention is a spiritual act that is not only significant in its own right but which also serves to support the development of an environmental ethics.

“All My Means are Sane, My Motive and My Object Mad”

Globalization, Inequality, and Climate Change

Daniel T. Spencer

Neoliberal economic globalization is motivated by the quest for ever-increasing profits and endless economic growth. Both the motive and means of economic globalization prove to be irrational in the context of the ecological limits of the planet. Rising rates of social and economic inequality coupled with growing ecological breakdown and climate change demonstrate that this economic model is neither socially just nor environmentally sustainable. Ethical analysis of different models of globalization provides alternatives rooted in moral norms of justice, equity, democratic participation and environmental sustainability. Studies of human happiness demonstrate that once basic needs are met, there is little to no correlation between increasing levels of per capita consumption and human wellbeing and happiness (Diener et al., 2009; Helliwell, Layard & Sachs, 2012). Hence affluent nations can and must decrease rates of per capita consumption, which can be accomplished while enhancing happiness and wellbeing. While economic growth for poor nations remains a priority to meet basic needs, affluent nations such as the United States need to shift away from neoliberal economics based on endless growth to more localized and sustainable ways of living.