A Religious Response To Electricity Production and Use in the United States  

Laura Blazer and Joseph Rowley

 Earth is a very fruitful, but finite place.  It not only provides us with critical life support systems, but also furnishes us with the fundamental resources we need to sustain ourselves.  One of the most useful and valuable resources available to the earth is electrical energy in its many forms.  With global population on the rise, world electricity consumption is expected to increase by 60 percent from 1999 to 2020.[1]  Increasing demand for energy resources by a growing human population will, in the very near future, seriously strain earth’s ability to support its many inhabitants, including humans and other life forms.
       With increasing electricity demand, humanity is faced with difficult decisions in terms of how we choose to produce and appropriately use electrical energy without wreaking havoc on the planet that sustains us.  We, as citizens of the United States, entrust elected public officials with the ability to make informed decisions regarding policies that affect our lives.  The current political framework in which decisions are made is often a market-based framework, based upon economic theories, cost-benefit analyses and interest group politics.  We believe this framework, with its short-term goals, should be enhanced with fundamental moral goals and guidelines so that policies regarding electricity production and use may be evaluated more holistically by individual citizens as well as by elected officials.

Our Mission
As students in the interdisciplinary environmental ethics program at Marquette University, we wish to expand and fortify the current decision-making framework to include ethical and spiritual rationales for establishing long-term goals relating to electricity production and use in the United States.  From the informed, legitimate perspective of a Catholic, Jesuit institution, we wish to take a moral stand as well as articulate ethical principles upon which legislators, individuals and decision makers on all levels may draw to evaluate, plan for and enact policies regarding escalating electricity demand in the United States.  In short, our purpose is to illuminate an ethical framework from which electrical energy policy and action may be addressed, using a perspective of what ought to be done.
       Drawing from an lecture given by Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J., the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, we will illuminate three themes from Ignatian spirituality that we believe to be most fruitful in addressing the energy crisis.  Then, we will employ the wisdom of Aldo Leopold, a former University of Wisconsin professor and a widely celebrated environmental ethicist, to shed light upon the human role in the biotic community.  Finally, we will apply the principle of subsidiarity and identify the spiritual motivation for generating and using electricity from an ethical perspective.  
       In the Jesuit tradition, we are dedicated to serving God by advancing our knowledge of the current energy situation to better enable us to serve the global community.  The pursuit of knowledge, justice and public service are three goals we believe to share with many individuals as well as elected officials.  As such, we hope you will carefully consider our proposal and take to heart our ideals.

Collaboration with God
On August 22, 1998, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, spoke at the opening of Arrupe College, Jesuit School of Philosophy and Humanities in Harare, Zimbabwe.  His speech, entitled “Our Responsibility for God’s Creation,” explored the current condition of the global environment and the proper role of the human being on this finite planet.  Fr. Kolvenbach opened with some words from Pope John Paul II that are appropriate to this report as well:  “Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past… A new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge…The ecological crisis is a moral issue.”[2]
       Saint Ignatius recognized the special role of the human in “the three-fold relationship of the person to other persons, to the environment (the world) and to God.”[3]  Recognition of this relationship is requisite to living properly.  According to Fr. Kolvenbach, Ignatius insisted that  “a person cannot find God unless he finds him through the environment and, conversely, that his relationship to the environment will be out of balance unless he also relates to God.”[4]  To live out our unique role in this tripartite relationship, we must be collaborators with the environment and with each other.  If we neglect our relationship with God, we risk upsetting the balance of our relationship with nature.  Thereby, deeming ourselves unable to accomplish subsistence within the environment upon which we ultimately rely for all physical needs.
       In collaboration with nature, we glorify God as full citizens of the community of creation.  Foundation for this model is grounded in Holy Scripture, most distinctly in the meaning of the Noah story.  In this ancient traditional story, when God sent the Great Flood to wash the sinful off the surface of earth, God charged Noah with the duty of preserving the diversity of creatures on earth, including humans and all the other species.  After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah and with “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”[5]  Here the intrinsic worth of earth’s species is evident.  Just as in the ancient Bible story Noah was called to responsibly preserve the earth’s biodiversity, so is modern humankind.

Unity of Creation
A central theme in Ignatian spirituality is the unity of all inhabitants of earth.  This unity stems from the intimate relationship that exists between God, humans and the environment.  God enabled the creation of the earth with all its inhabitants, making the entirety of creation valuable and essential.  As Fr. Kolvenbach draws upon the familial terms of St. Francis of Assisi when he restates that “’Sister water, brother fire, sister moon, brother wind’ – these terms express the lowering of the human being from his lofty position far above all other creatures to a democratic presence among brothers and sisters, all created by the almighty and loving God.”[6] 
Humans, the natural world, and all of earth’s inhabitants share a common origin in God.  This close connection unites us in a community of subjects, in relation to one another, and makes us responsible before God, our Creator, for the good of the whole.  Fr. Kolvenbach reaffirms this when he states that humans and the environment are in such a close relationship with each other and with God, that each cannot find and praise God unless it does so through the other.  These relationships to God and to the rest of creation are the ones we humans must cultivate by acting prudently and in unity with our brother and sister inhabitants of earth.
       There is no doubt that God enabled the creation of humans with a special purpose.  God entrusts humans with the ability to reason and make decisions based upon complex thought processes and deliberations.  This ability does not make us more important or valuable than other creatures, nor does it justify our dominating and exploiting creation.  Rather, it gives us a responsibility to act cooperatively with God in sustaining the order and proper functioning of creation.  We are expected to care for creation and contribute to the sustaining of the whole, not to act independently of God in using the world for our own benefit. 
To use the earth and its resources solely for human benefit is to ignore the needs of our fellow inhabitants and to deny our relationship with God.  By denying our relationship with God, we only create disorder in the world at the expense of other creatures.  In a document published from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Jesuits from around the world affirmed:  "At the origins of the ecological crisis is denial – in deed even more than in word – of the relationship with God.  To cut with God is to cut with the source of life, it is to cut with the fundamental love and respect for life.  When we are so cut off, then we permit ourselves to destroy life, and ecologically speaking, the conditions for life."[7]
This denial of our relationship with God is the source and root of all environmental problems.  When we are in a proper relationship with God we will learn to love and protect the earth and all its inhabitants.  Should we consider ourselves God-loving people, we must learn to protect and care for the earth, therefore contributing to the sustainability of all life forms. 
       In order to affirm the unity of creation and act appropriately in our relationship to God and the rest of creation, humans ought to follow four virtues associated with living a virtuous life:  prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.  We ought to act prudently in making our decisions regarding electricity generation and use by being cautious to do good and avoid evil.  We must have foresight to the future and be open-minded and willing to consider all possibilities and viewpoints.  In acting prudently, we should only support and enact policies that will contribute to the sustainability of the whole of creation, not just to the benefit of humans.  We ought to be just and assure everyone is provided for, including future generations as well as non-human species.  We ought to exhibit temperance with earth’s limited resources by only using what we absolutely need to live.  We ought to demonstrate fortitude by maintaining resolve and hope for the future.  We ought to lead a virtuous life filled with prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude out of our love for the Creator and respect for the family of creation.  Humans ought to step up to the life-giving, life-protecting task that God has entrusted us with, and act only in harmony, unity and friendship with all beings.

Solidarity with the Poor   
Solidarity is another pillar of our Jesuit community.  The traditional purpose of solidarity is to empathize with the human poor, the less fortunate of our societies.  The promotion of human dignity is strengthened when the right to a healthy environment is upheld.  Every human person, now and in the future, deserves clean water, clean air and healthy land to live on and cultivate.  In this way, ensuring human well being and the survival of the less privileged is dependent upon ensuring the health of the environment.  Human fate is intertwined with that of the environment.  If we wish to exist, we must ensure the health of the planet that sustains us. 
       Our commitment to the poor out of a sense of justice is extended to include the suffering of a new class of poor, that of species and natural ecosystems.[8]  Just as human beings can be marginalized and quiver on the threshold of existence, so can non-human species and ecosystems that are threatened by human action or inaction.  Our responsibility toward this "new poor" is perhaps more profound if we recognize the vulnerable and voiceless nature of non-human species and ecosystems that are at the complete mercy of human actions.  They need and deserve an equal share of our moral concern, and as such deserve our utmost attention and respect. 
Included in our sense of solidarity are the needs of future generations.  Humans who have yet to exist are at a disadvantage due to their inability to affect current decision-making.  Because the decisions we make now will undoubtedly have consequences, good or bad, for the people of the future, we have a huge responsibility to keep the earth intact for our descendants and ensure they will have the same ability and resources available to live as well and be as happy as we are today.  To ignore the needs of future generations would be an immense injustice.   
o fulfill the vow of solidarity with the poor, both traditional and new, we must live simply, consume and waste less, and consequently be less of an ecological burden.  In the reports that follow, we will show how we believe such solidarity can be achieved, in relation to electricity production and use, through the protection of human well being and the protection of the natural world.

The Biotic Community
Aldo Leopold was a professor of wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin from 1933 until his death in 1948.  He is celebrated as one of the most eloquent and profound ethicists to have raised his voice for environmental concerns.  His book, A Sand County Almanac, is often called the bible of the contemporary environmental movement.  Leopold’s concept of the biotic community is one that we would like to explore in terms of its relevance to the religious framework we are proposing.
       To Leopold, ethics were a kind of “community instinct in-the-making.” [9]  He claimed that politics and economics are “advanced symbioses in which the original free-for-all competition has been replaced, in part, by cooperative mechanisms with an ethical content.”  No system, be it political, economic, or social, can survive when all members care only for themselves and run rampant with limited resources for their own purposes.  Such systems are self-destructive, miserable and short-lived.  For this reason, systems that employ a community-based ethic are more successful, happy and stable in the long run.
       Like Leopold, we feel that the boundaries of what humans consider communities ought to be broadened to include plants, animals, soils, waters, or collectively the biotic community.  Humans ought to step down from thinking about ourselves as conquerors of the earth, and instead recognize that we are plain and ordinary citizens of the earth.  Not only our interests, but also the interests of the entire biotic community, must be taken into account.
       The development of an ecological conscience and biotic community-based ethic culminates in one simple phrase from Leopold himself:  “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”[10]  This ecological conscience, as Leopold describes, is a perfect supplement for the Jesuit-based framework that we have been discussing.  It puts us in relation to all of God’s creation and allows us to show our respect and love for the Creator by acting prudently, temperately and in unity within the community of creation.  

The key to making positive changes toward the preservation of a healthy world environment for current and future generations lies in the principle of subsidiarity.  Treated by Pope Leo XIII in the Rerum Novarum encyclical of 1891, the principle of subsidiarity denotes that needs should be met on the most local level possible.  Prudent, moderate care for the environment must start with the individual, educated and empowered by the family unit, the municipality, the state, and the federal government, in order of appropriate level of effect.  The responsibility of the federal government is to accomplish what is essential for the welfare of the individual or locality, especially when the entity itself and intermediate entities are unable.[11]  Each higher order should exercise its authority and fulfill its responsibility through the education and empowerment of those within its influence, assuring that the needs of all are met.
       Applied to appropriate generation and use of electricity, this principle places the preponderance of the burden of responsibility on those directly in charge of the electricity plants and those who directly consume the electricity produced.  What is evident in light of the findings of the researchers in this seminar is that electricity production and consumption fail to be efficient and appropriate in many cases.  Economic factors triumph over human health and responsible moderation in the production sector, and short-term considerations trump long-term energy and fiscal savings in the consumption sector.  This deficiency in prudence and moderation must be remedied, and this remedy must be implemented at the most local level possible as required by the principle of subsidiarity.

Public policy is not made without good reason.  Weighing the various benefits and costs involved in electricity generation and use is exceedingly complicated.  What is lacking in such cost-benefit analyses is an experience, a connection with Earth that allows humans to see her as something other than a giant warehouse filled with never-ending supplies of resources.  In Romans 1:20 we learn about a value of wilderness that is seldom considered:  “Ever since the creation of the world, His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made.”  Natural creation is similar to a sacred writing through which we can learn divine truth and find God.  As Fr. James Profit S.J., describes it, “God dwells in all creation.  God labours and works in creation…  We experience the goodness of God through the creatures around us.  Therefore, we ought to use God's creations as pathways to and expressions of God.”[12]  This perception of the inherent value of God's creation raises caution about their instrumental value in meeting our physical needs in life. 
In addition to the inherent value of all creatures, the Christian tradition recognizes that all life shares a common parent who is God.  All life forms are related to all other organisms, as evolutionary and molecular biology demonstrate.  Because of this kinship, humankind has a special responsibility to exercise care, temperance and prudence to preserve the unity of the whole family and the healthy relation of the family to God, its mutual parent.  The familial connection of humans to all other life forms entails love.  This love for our fellow creatures is ultimately what motivates us to act in their best interest, and in doing so we behave consistently with our love for God and our responsibility to God to act accordingly.
       Furthermore, the moral position of the “father of environmental ethics,” Aldo Leopold, corroborates the moral position of the Catholic Church.  Both affirm the importance of a community of creation, to which all entities belong, and in which each entity must care for the other members to ensure the survival and happiness of the whole.  Whether one believes in the biotic rights of species to exist or simply hopes for the sustenance of future generations on the planet, the long-term ethical goal remains embodied in the Ignatian principles of collaboration, unity, and solidarity promote the well being of “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”[13]  We hope that you will take to heart these principles, reflect on them, and put them into practice during important times of decision-making on all levels when deciding how to produce and use electricity. 

[1]Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy.  International Energy Outlook 2002:  <http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/index.html> 9 April 2003. 

[2]Pope John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, Vatican City, 1 January 1990.

[3]Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. , “Our Responsibility for God’s Creation,” Arrupe College, Jesuit School of Philosophy and Humanities, Harare, Zimbabwe, 22 August, 1998, 11.

[4]Kolvenbach, "Our Responsibility for God's Creation," 12.

[5]Genesis 9:16.

[6]Kolvenbach, "Our Responsibility for God's Creation," 10.

[7]General Congregation (#35) of the Society of Jesus, “We Live in a Broken World," Promotio Iustitia 70 (April  1999): 27. 

[8]Sallie McFague, The Body of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999).

[9]Aldo Leopold,  “The Land Ethic,” in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, ed. Michael Zimmerman, 97-110 (Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 2001).

[10]Leopold, "The Land Ethic," 110.

[11]Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, Encyclical Letter On Capital and Labor, Vatican City, 15 May 1891.

[12]James Profit, S.J., "Spiritual Exercises and Ecology," address in Lusaka, Zambia, 30 December 2002, Ottawa, Canada: Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice, 4.  Http://www.jesuits.ca/justicecr/EcoProj_Jc/Exx&Eco2002/Exx&Eco2002a.html, 15 April 2003.

[13]Genesis 9-16.


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