Scholars Debate What a Just, Sustainable Earth Would Look Like


When we think about issues of sustainability, such as water shortages or mineral depletion, we tend to think of them as huge, planet-wide phenomena.

But if you’re a fisherman in Micronesia whose catch is shrinking every day thanks to the effects of global warming, the global becomes the personal in very distressing ways.

Just Sustainability: Technology, Ecology, and Resource Extraction (Orbis Books, 2015) a new book co-edited by Christiana Peppard, PhD, assistant professor of theology, science, and ethics, brings together the personal and the planetary in a series of 30 essays from 20 countries from six continents.

It’s a topic Peppard is well acquainted with, having recently published Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water CrisisJust-Sustainability (Orbis Books, 2014).

The volume is the third in a series commissioned by the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church. The previous volumes tackled the history of Catholic theological ethics and feminist theological ethics. Peppard’s co-editor was Andrea Vicini, SJ, associate professor of moral theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

For this volume, Peppard and Vicini solicited original writing from scholars across the globe; the result is a series that is not dominated by North American voices.

“We tend to dominate discourses, whether it’s about environmentalism or public policy or sustainability of economics, so many volumes are very North-American-centric in their perspective,” Peppard said.

The writings are split into three sections. The first consists of 1,500 word long stories about local issues such as the aforementioned overfishing in Micronesia, and extractive mining in the Congo. The second breaks down political/economic structures or tendencies that inform and shape many of the issues that people are facing, such as neo liberal economic policies and advances in technology. The final chapter features essays that link it all back to Catholicism.

“They range from theological analysis of fossil fuel energies and what might be theological justifications for moving toward renewable energies, to much more traditional reflections on what being a global church means in the 21st century,” Peppard said.

Justice is the constant theme running through the book. It’s a concept for which Catholic theology has had plenty to offer, going all the way back to the writings of 13th-century scholar St. Thomas Aquinas.

“We want to ask, what does a just sustainability look like, and how is that enriched and deepened locally and globally by drawing on this variety of catholic and conceptual resources?” Peppard said.

“Understanding ourselves and our responsibilities as fundamentally earthly creatures is entirely appropriate to the task of Catholic theology.”