|公 法 评 论||惟愿公平如大水滚滚，使公义如江河滔滔
et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis
Christianity and Reflexive Modernity:
Population, Environmental Risk
and Societal Change
Susan P. Bratton
Lindaman Chair of Science, Technology and Society
Christians and the environmental debates
Today, after three decades of intensive development of Christian environmental thought,1 Christian ecotheology remains a minor or peripheral concern at most seminaries. Meanwhile, environmental studies is increasingly becoming a field in its own right. Sociologists and policy experts are identifying environmental concerns, such as the impacts of an ever-growing human population, the world-wide increase in environmental risk, and continued degradation of renewable resources as central to the continued success of the "human project." The purpose of this paper is to review the work of one of the major sociological analysts of environmental issues, Ulrich Beck, and to develop Christian responses to Beck's central models, particularly the concepts of "reflexive modernity" and "the risk society."1 I will propose that Protestantism developed along with the industrial and scientific traditions discussed by Beck, and that this long association may cause us to be uncritical of some key sources of our present environmental difficulties, particularly the management of science itself. Although Christians, and Evangelicals in particular, have often been cautious of heroic science, and its claims of transcendence and universal knowledge, the Christian tendency to reactionary modernism, with its eclectic embrace of some technologies and rejection of others, has led to naive and often ineffective responses to modernity. This paper will first review the principal sources of environmental debate, and then present Beck's major theses. The conclusion will develop a Christian response to Beck, and will present some suggestions for theological reflection.
1. There is no environmental crisis
At the national and international level, the first major division in the debates over the future of the environment is centered on whether any major action needs to be taken at all. Economically and politically conservative interests have declared the entire issue to be exaggerated. They argue that fears about global changes such as climatic warming are neither real nor scientifically verified, that the earth can sustain at least 35 billion people, and that worries over toxins are the product of a fearful and misinformed public. They hold that the free market economy can respond to most of the difficulties, and that science and industry can regulate themselves. This is the tact of the so-called "wise use movement" in the United States, which advocates abolition of the Endangered Species Act, privatization of public lands, and a reduction in government environmental regulation. These interests ignore existing scientific data on environmental damages and can offer no proof their economic schemes will function on a changing and increasing competitive national or global natural resources base.
Many Christians, particularly Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, favor what might be best termed "environmental denial." Behind this response is an implicit faith, not in Biblical principles, but in industrial society. The American passion for technology was forwarded by progressive Protestantism and its enthusiasm for Enlightenment thought. As Appleby, Hunt and Jacob point out:
The nineteenth century Anglo-American view of science never entirely escaped its seventeenth-century Puritan and revolutionary context. The Puritans bequeathed to modern thought, and particularly to the nineteenth-century university, a union between God's word and his work, between the study of the Bible and of natural science. This tradition established an important, distinctively Anglo-American variation on the heroic model of science...2
Although the U.S. university has become a very secular place indeed, the American religious mainstream is still very accepting of scientific progress, and of universities that are:
...the creation of a distinct and inherited version of Western high culture: secular because of late-nineteenth-century reformers like [Andrew] White [of Cornell University], deeply confident in the power of heroic science, and committed to excellence in every branch of science and technology, regardless of how or to what purpose it might be applied.3
Main stream Protestantism has also been linked to the rise of the middle class in Euro-American culture. Religious dissenters, including Friends, Presbyterians, and Baptists, were leaders of the 18th century industrial revolution in England, and in the rise of higher education in applied fields like engineering.4 Commentators such as Max Weber have tied an entire wing of Christianity to specific economic strategies. The belief that a "free market" is the solution to our environmental woes is based on the successes of industrial expansion within specific national contexts, over the last two to three centuries. Further, as Beck aptly notes, the nuclear family is an industrial phenomenon, and replaced the kinship structures of earlier, land-centered agrarian societies. Present Christian pro-family politics therefore protect an industrial social tradition, rather than a specifically Christian institution.
2. Northern industrial lifestyles are for everyone
The second major international division over environmental issues is the alignment of the poorer nations, and nations with extensive natural resources but little developed industry, against nations with heavily industrial economics, in the realm of international policy. This has been dubbed the "north-south debate" because many of the Third World nations are equatorial or in the southern hemisphere, while many, but not all of the industrial nations, lie north of the equator (major exceptions are Australia and New Zealand). All of the historically or predominantly Protestant nations are in the "north," although not all northern nations are historically Christian (e.g. Japan). Contemporary Christian responses to questions of environmental responsibility, therefore, involve not only economic hegemony, but also deep questions of values, such as the main-stream Protestant emphasis on progress, which may cause a reticence to participate in international agreements that limit science or industry.
The spread of Christianity out of Europe and west Asia coincided with an era of European political and economic expansion and colonialism, and with the development of techno-industrial culture. Modern transportation and communications have greatly benefited Christianity, and have increased both the total number of adherents and the geographic range of the religion. Again, Christians may be uncritical of the great well-spring of these gifts, which has not been faith alone, but also industrialization and the rise of science. Without the development of improved charts and navigational aids at the time of the renaissance, for example, it would have been difficult, if not impossible to sail west from Europe or to safely traverse the equator. In Christian terms, the "north" may still secretly believe that religious benefits of technological change are so great, that thoughtful review of industrial and scientific products is unnecessary.
3. Religion is not responsible for what science and technology have wrought
Most of the main stream environmental organizations in the United States, e.g., the Audubon Society, are presently considered to be reform oriented. They have offices in Washington, and their senior staff have historically been upper middle class white males. They actively lobby through official channels and seek compromise with industry, who are often also major donors (which produces oil company ads for Nature Conservancy projects). They accept the industrial economy as it stands, and do not propose radical changes. Most of them have their roots in 19th or early 20th century progressive politics. The Sierra Club, for example, founded by John Muir, has fought for National Parks and sponsored numerous anti-pollution bills. It works primarily by containing industry or excluding wildlands from industrial invasion, rather than by modifying the social structures produced by the industrial economy. Even Green Peace, with its history of anti-nuclear demonstrations and attacks by French intelligence agents, now resides in the kingdom of main stream politics. Christian environmental responses have also largely come from the reform/compromise tradition. According to Donald Worster, environmentalism in the United States was encouraged by the "formative Protestant qualities" in John Muir and its other early leaders. These qualities include: moral activism, ascetic discipline, egalitarian individualism, and aesthetic spirituality.5
Radical environmentalists of several ilks have attacked the reform oriented environmentalists as unrealistic, ineffective, and too given to compromise with unacceptable societal structures. Among the critics are eco-warriors, deep ecologists and eco-feminists. Deep ecologists, for example, believe nature has intrinsic moral worth, and should be protected for its own sake. They also believe that "reform environmentalism" largely serves the northern middle class and the economic establishment, and in the end, therefore, can not be effective. The radicals often reject Christianity as old-fashioned or as a source of bad environmental attitudes, and are often interested in "alternative spirituality." Socially astute commentators find the attitudes of the radicals to be "excessively mystic," or lacking in political pragmatism.
Although the repeated attacks of radical environmentalists on Jewish and Christian traditions seem unjustified, the radical recognition that religion and environmentally problematic values are linked is valid. Most of the radicals, however, are "romantics" and they tend to view the roots of the world's environmental difficulties as rooted in an ancient paradigm shift, such as the rise of "patriarchal" religions. Ulrich Beck, in contrast, places more responsibility on modern science and industry, and patterns of economic development that are rooted in the 18th and 19th centuries. If there is a fundamental difficulty with Christian response in this context, it would, therefore, not lie in the basic structure and values of the religion (especially in terms of its founder and his original followers). Instead, the gravest problem would be Christian inability to appropriately critique and to evaluate scientific-technological culture, and Christian confusion over the origins of some supposedly "traditional" Christian values, such as the nuclear family. In other words, when Christians, without reflection, claim modern industrial social structures and traditions as their own immutable heritage, they lose their ability to ethically evaluate these structures and their impacts, both for good and ill. Further, modern society compartmentalizes religion, thereby separating it from science and technology, and denying it any legitimate right to review these expert-dominated spheres. As Beck points out, inappropriate application of science is one of the major sources of modern environmental risks. Christian fear of intruding into science and disinterest in developing dialog with this unyielding "religion of modernity" can spawn a myriad of deadly consequences.
4. Our environmental attitudes can be changed with abstract models
Philosophical and theological ethicists have responded to global environmental conflicts by attempting to create universal models, such as rights for natural objects, or proposing nature has intrinsic value. Most of the philosophical theological ethical models have to do with ideal systems and questions of epistemology and they therefore remain a quantum leap away from realistically tackling problems such as fisheries collapse or the pollution of Boston Harbor. Further, acceptance of many of the proposed philosophical models, such as intrinsic value of nature, does not appear to result in significant behavioral modification at the individual, much less behavioral change at the societal level. It would be better to become a Benedictine (true reduction of birth rates), because a Benedictine inherits in new community. Most theological environmental critiques are also too given to separating environmental issues from other societal problems such as under-employment or international debt to offer practical solutions. One of the values of the eco- feminist perspective, in fact, is their recognition that degradation of the environment and poor quality of life for women often have common sources. Further, the ethicists, the radical environmentalists and the concerned scientists often have an undemocratic streak. They are the experts or the true saviors of the planet, and they should make the decisions. Ironically, this type of thinking on the part of science and industry has created many of the environmental risks in the first place.
The risk society
In the mid-1980s, Ulrich Beck began to develop a new model of our "late-industrial" society. Beck, a sociologist, has suggested that the 19th century concepts which established industrial culture are now ineffective. We are now living with traditions which emerged over a century ago, and which are undergoing radical sociological change. In Germany, for example, at the turn of the century industrialization was accompanied by a strongly hierarchical class structure, where people identified primarily with members of their associated group, such as working class men. Social mobility was low, but many societal responses were defined by these class-structured interest groups. Beck proposes we are undergoing increasing individuation, and our personal paths are determined more by an individually defined sequence of educational and professional experience. This reduces our association with like-members of society, and changes the characteristics of our political responses. This process is also helping to unravel the nuclear family.
Beck suggests that, environmentally, we are becoming a "risk-society." This has several major implications for solving environmental dilemmas. First, Beck proposes that we can not see the environment solely in terms of impacts on nature. We must integrate the human component both in terms of cause and effect. Much of our denial concerning environmental impacts actually concerns the known and unknown impacts of science and industry on humans. Secondly, we must accept and cope with certain types of change in this late-industrial era, such as modification of (and perhaps the loss of) the nuclear family. Thirdly, we need to recognize that how wealth is distributed is not the only determinant of societal equality. Quality of life is also determined by the distribution of risks, such as exposure to chemical wastes or the fall out from Chernobyl. (Interestingly, Beck's first book was written prior to the Chernobyl disaster. His audience has certainly risen since.)
Beck emphasizes the point that is not how we think about nature alone that is important, but it is how we think about and control science and its offspring. Beck suggests that science (and technological advance) in the 19th century were essentially religious dogma, immune to criticism, and purporting the infallibility of scientists. Although science, in the form of ecology, appears to be criticizing science itself, science is still not truly self-reflective and is not subject to proper democratic controls. Beck gives the example of genetic engineering, which can potentially initiate tremendous societal change. The public have never voted on whether they wish to eat mutant strawberries or drink milk from genetically engineered super cows. Science and industry are offering these up, with almost no review or regulation. The research is essentially free from any strict democratic control.
Beck also points out that many of the most devastating environmental abuses have been provided by science, such as release of Chloro-flourocarbons into the atmosphere, without proper risk assessment, or with the only risk assessment provided only by interested and non-objective parties - science and industry themselves. A first major step in protecting nature would therefore be to debunk the myth of scientific objectivity. In numerous cases science has not played by its own rules. When power companies and ambitious governments began to construct nuclear reactors, they evaluated risks based on protected rates of failure, rather than on experiments with reactors with real human operators. Scientists almost invariably underestimate human failure (since they believe they are the god-like interpreters of holy Nature). The reactors themselves thereby became a series of experiments. It turns out the "experts" estimating of nuclear risk where complete Pollyannas and the rate of reactor failure and leakage have actually been quite high, given our present technology.
Scientists are trained to experiment on and manipulate nature. In the laboratory, there are currently few restrictions (other than humane treatment of vertebrates). The application of science through technology involves massive changes of scale. We are presently, for example, conducting a gigantic experiment by changing the composition of the gases in the earth's atmosphere without having any clear idea of what the long term consequences might be. Science can only project from past climates and from physical models of gas behavior the possible out comes. The earth's atmosphere is partially regulated by biological processes, which we can evaluate only by estimate. Therefore, some variables will have to remain guess work, until we see the final outcome of doubling or tripling the carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere. We have no way of creating a microcosm in the laboratory which can even closely replicate the function of a farm pond, much less the earth's oceans, atmosphere, and terrestrial ecosystems combined.
Beck suggests demystifying science, and making it subject to much greater societal scrutiny. He points out that, at present, in our industrial adventuring we have no control at the center. Today's science makes the truth claims and has the freedom, that the church had in the Middle Ages. Democratic society must both question science and make science properly verify its claims. Further, science must become self-reflective and more aware of potential societal and social impacts. (The latter is going to require a major change in mind set. Why should someone with almost totally freedom of objectives and potential actions give it up?) Beck suggests that we must develop a reflexive-modernity, where democratic process and individual interests can interact with the directions taken by science and industry.
A second necessary change is in public awareness of the risks produced by our own wealth generating activities. Even environmental advocates are given to misinformation, and the scientific experts have not been held accountable. At present we encourage solutions that allow industry to make profits off mistakes. One firm abandons a pit full of toxic chemicals, for example. This creates a local crisis, where, rather than have the first company manage the mess, the government hires a second firm to conduct an expensive clean up. The specialization of industry means that many firms do not have the expertise to manage their own wastes, which quickly become public property. In a case like Chernobyl, defense against health risks and damage becomes an international crisis, where the Laps end up slaughtering their reindeer herds and Cambrian farmers pull their sheep off their pastures. The greater the responsibility that can be expected (or demanded) of the parties producing risks, and the greater the controls that are exercised before disasters can occur, the more impacts will be reduced. As Beck points out, we have to grasp the fact that the enemy has changed. When Francis Bacon was suggesting science could and should be used to exercise control over nature, the major threats were plague and hunger. We have proportionately reduced, although not defeated these demons. The growing danger is now the by-products of our own science and industry. Science has evolved from an heroic defender into a sneaky mugger.
Beck introduces the idea of the shadow society, because so many of the industrial risks are invisible. Although the public can see the destruction of the rain forests as perpetrated by chain saws, they often do not tie the chain saws to oil refineries, or recognize that the general trend is destruction of forests worldwide, and it has been for centuries. In Europe, for example, forest decline is destroying even well managed and protected stands of trees. Air pollution not only wilts leaves and encourages disease, acidification may be changing soil chemistry over hundreds of thousands of hectares and leaching critical nutrients into now sterile lakes and streams. Creating a couple of national parks in the Amazon basin is not an adequate solution - in fact - this strategy tends to deny the magnitude of the problem.
Beck suggests that we have to confront the question of fair distribution of risks and deal with the growing boomerang effect. Historically, the wealthy often could foist the environmental impacts off on someone else. The first houses with electricity were not owned by the miners who produced coal for power plants. Wealthy families, who made fortunes in minerals, oil, and steel, donated hefty sums to help found national parks like Great Smoky Mountains, and Acadia. They also established estates in the suburbs outside of New York City or Pittsburg, and escaped the pollution of their own ventures. Today those participating in industrial culture find the shadow world of risk is everywhere. Dusts from Chernobyl drifted over European royal families (perhaps that's their problem). Everyone eats food with traces of pesticides. The Gulf War vets may well be ill from exposure to chemical weapons the US and NATO (and not Iraq) developed and tested for their own use.
We know that the poor are more subject to environmental risks and polluting industries. We also know that among the poor, racial and ethnic minorities are far more likely to live next to a toxic dump or a chemical plant than are disadvantaged white. Further, problems with toxic disposal are spreading to developing nations. In order to deal with our current environmental situation, we need to ask in response to Elizabeth Dodson Gray;'s question: "Why the green nigger?" "Why, the African American environmental nigger?" When we start to answer both questions simultaneously, we will be extending both our protection of the natural world and of our fellow humans.
In terms of protecting the earth's ecosystems and its productivity (not to mention its fittness for human habitation), we have to recognize the numbers of times even ecological science has been wrong or its results have been manipulated by immediate economic interest. This has often occurred even in the face of data that indicated severe damage or systematic degradation was in progress. A recent, very dramatic example, is the collapse of the Grand Banks fishery, and of our west coast native salmon fishery, and of the serious decline of several other major fisheries worldwide. We have known for decades, for example, that the salmon fishery was in serious decline. All negotiations concerning its future concerned too areas - development of hatcheries (a scientific/industrial solution), and division of the remaining resources among native Americans, commercial fisherpeople and sport fisherpeople. In the last decade, biologists themselves have confessed that the hatcheries are not working and that hatchery reared fish do not survive well in the wild. The actually have genetically weakened and forwarded the decline of wild stocks. Further, most attempts to get migrating fish over major dams have failed. The public believed for years that the fish ladders were working. The division of the remaining fish has quickly depleted the wild stocks, as the hoped for replacements have not arrived. If no one had trusted science, until science proved it could supplement the wild stocks, at least the division of the spoils might not have depleted the fishery so quickly.
The fisheries decline is also an example of scientific and expert abuse of negative proof. The experts are managing the fishery properly, until someone proves otherwise - putting the burden of collecting evidence of mismanagement on the public and on disgruntled commercial fishermen. A reversal, where science and industry must prove that their remedial actions are effective or their activities are not harmful would help greatly in these cases. For example, if it were established social practice to always radically reduce fish harvests when stocks of adult fish begin to decline (rather than to present some mathematical model that suggests it is possible to harvest more fish if they are smaller), a reflexive approach to fish population declines would be in force, and might inhibit, although not necessarily stop, overfishing. In a majority of cases, expert models have actually rationalized depletion of fisheries because of societal pressures not to economically damage fishermen or reduce the availability of fish for market.
The fisheries problem has much to do, not only with how we actually apply science, but how much we actually trust scientists. Scientists are not totally to blame here. A number have been fired after they protested government or industry intervention in adjusting catch restrictions. Yet the way we have approached the problem is drenched in 19th century heroic science, and this has simply not, over several decades, protected the fishery, or, in the end, the livelihood of the fishermen.
In the 19th and early 20th century, Protestantism in the US followed two paths in regard to science. One was the track of the Protestant main stream who welcomed science and new technologies as progress. The other was the more skeptical path of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who doubted the truth claims of science, and selectively rejected technologies thought to lead to personal sin (the phonograph and birth control pills). With the exception of a few old order Anabaptist groups, however, religious convictions have merely slowed the adoption of industrial technology, rather than prevented it. Only the agrarian sects continue to resist taking factory jobs, working on computers, and sending their children to college. Fundamentalists still argue over Darwin and evolution, but the Protestant "mainline," who have historically supported scientific enterprise, and Evangelicals, who retreated into their embarrassed, intellectual shells after the Scopes Trial, remain unwilling to morally evaluate scientific culture as process. Protestantism , after all, emerged in the same revolution against the established church, that produced modern science. One of the first beneficiaries of the technology explosion, beginning with Guttenberg, was that tract and Bible publishing theologian, Martin Luther. If Beck is correct, Christians need to ethically challenge our contemporary scientific elite, not just on Biblical grounds, but in terms of scientific principles and sociological outcomes.
Beck's conclusion that increasing individuation is one of the key social processes in late-industrial culture, suggests that one of the reasons that Protestant Christianity has been taking a confused stand concerning changing demography is that a Protestant value - egalitarian individualism - is at stake. Rather than originating in respect for others, or individual salvation, however, this form of individuation is the product of educational opportunity, economic growth, and modernization. The trend in our late industrial society is toward individuation. Although Christian concern about increased isolation of persons is very appropriate, we may not be distinguishing our attachment to our recent past from the realities of our late (or post)-industrial future. Protestant Christianity has encouraged or been fueled by individualism, and has helped to establish a more egalitarian educational infra-structure that has increased social mobility and has reduced the limitations placed on the individual by social class. Christian responses to changing demography may therefore be rooted in traditions shared with the industrial era. We thus, in the case of demographic change, may both deny the inevitable and fear the wrong consequences. Christians in the US interpret individual freedoms through a cloudy lens of social class, economics, and industrial heritage. Conservatives who argue against government funding for family planning, are essentially trying to maintain control over sexuality within the nuclear family and within the social class group (as it was in the 19th and early 20th century). Further, attachment to social patterns originating with the industrial revolution potentially inhibits international Christian dialog over demographic issues, since many "southern" Christian communities do not share this heritage with the "north."
Protestants often associate maintenance of democratic process with protection of their Christian religious heritage. Emphasis on "the free market," however, often neglects the fact that unequally distributed economic interests may outvote individuals, especially when dealing with international issues. In the "risk society," distribution of toxins and radiation must be minimized, while distribution of economic benefits should be optimized. Reducing risk in a world of boomerang effects and global hazards means moving outside the framework of not just the town meeting, but also of religious nationalism (another sibling of European Protestantism). Both in our own regions and internationally, we need to find both just and democratic ways to share risk. Pure economic control over industry will not work as it does regard the needs of the majority of those who may receive scattered toxins or fallout.
In terms of social responsiveness, Protestant asceticism, the old bulwark of US environmentalism, may have too narrow a framework. Protestant asceticism has never discouraged financial gain, at least at the respectable middle-class level. It does discourage ostentatious display of riches, and encourages responsible stewardship. Historically, it has probably served primarily to reduce obvious between social class differences, and to expand the borders of the Christian middle class. It has done little to inhibit economic participation, much less exploitation of natural resources. In the "risk society," this form of asceticism may need redefinition, because so many sources of injustice are invisible or part of shadow world. In colonial times, a Puritan or Friend would have worn plain clothes, so as not to out-do or stand above others. Today, class status is linked to risk production. The offense to the neighbor is secret or invisible, and may actually be touted as beneficial "development." Further, Protestant asceticism may be too accepting of "middle class" economies, to be objective about the roots of environmental damage worldwide.
Ironically, much of the Christian failure to cope with environmental questions is a failure to extend democracy. Christian advocacy of industrial development without a local voice or without the vote of those who may be negatively affects, is essentially a disavowal of the need for democratic control over technology. Christian proclamation that economic growth will cure the world's ills overlooks how undemocratic decision making by economic interests can be. As part of "reflexive modernity," that takes industrial and scientific impacts seriously, Christians should pursue not just stewardship of the environment, but democratic stewardship - that includes the voices and views of those who bear the risks of late industrial global culture.
An exceptionally ironic Christian denial of democratic process lies in the area of family planning and provision of contraceptive technologies to women and men internationally. Christian resistance to international family planning de facto assumes that the typical family outside the US can not make responsible moral decisions concerning their own reproduction. Rather than leave the issues to the experts, either medical or theological, it would be better to facilitate "educated" access to the technologies. Families and individual women need to understand the risks, both physical and moral, and the benefits of these technologies. Population may turn out to be the ultimate environmental boomerang. However, informed decision making on the part of millions of families is far more likely to produce humane outcomes, then coercion on the part of governments or interference on the part of skeptical religious organizations.
Christians may be adding to the lack of control at the center, by both ignoring both the deep questions about the function of democratic society at the international scale, and by assuming that the best way to relate to science is to leave it alone. It is time to educate a generation of younger Christian scholars who are both scientifically literate and adequately skeptical about science's ability to regulate itself. Evangelicals, particularly, must be able to meet science on its own ground and to protest logically and appropriately when science on "over drive" threatens the well-being of humans and of the creation.
From a perspective of Christian environmental stewardship and activism, certain aspects of Beck's program are valuable for us to explore. The first step is self-reflection both on our social and scientific history, and on the adequacy of our present preparation for a late-industrial, or post-industrial age. Some areas for reflection are:
1) How does our salvation theology and ecclesiology encourage or discourage the process of individuation on an international scale. Can we minister to people, who move between social classes, geographic regions, and even from family to family? What can we offer that fills the needs of someone who finds their only stability and comfort is in material possessions, or a "career-track." Is our individuation so great that we place ourselves at increasingly greater environmental risk?
2) Are there ways in which Protestant rationality, and emphasis on egalitarian individualism have encouraged the present trends?
3) Can we improve our ability to evaluate and contest inappropriate application of science, without taking up the relativism of the post-modern critics?
4) Is Protestant asceticism adequate to contemporary environmental tasks? In the past it has maintained middle class values and life-styles? Does it need revision?
We can act to reduce the impacts of industro-technological culture by:
1) demystifying science, demanding that science and industry take direct responsibility for damages; Evangelical fear of or disinterest in science may
have profound negative social consequences.
2) changing the practice of risk assessment, and taking it out of the hand of non- objective parties.
3) restricting massive experiments on the public such as the nuclear testing of the 1950s and 1960s. Protection of "Christian" culture should never be utilized as a rational for dangerous military or industrial experiments.
4) changing the practice of negative proof, particularly in the case of resource harvest and in implementing new technologies, such as genetic engineering. Christians need to be more informed and more politically active concerning our technological futures.
5) democratizing the process of evaluating the societal changes initiated by science and technology. Those subject to the risks, as well as those controlling the wealth need to have a vote.
At the moment the post modern critique of science is inadequate, because it is not encouraging science to be properly self reflective. (And it is antagonizing much of the responsible scientific leadership.)
Specific exercises that may help include:
1) Interdisciplinary work (including a theological component) on specific cases -an assessment of fisheries collapse, for example, that encompasses ethical, and sociological and economic critique of the scientific, economic, and legal models employed
2) Development of reflexive risk assessment. Making more information available based on region, and specific characteristics of potential victims, rather than on average impacts.
3) Putting more government sponsored research and development programs on the ballot, instead of sheltering them with expert bureaucracies.
4) Making more global decisions about how much environmental degradation, such as forest or fishery loss can be tolerated, and finding new means of sharing both resource access and responsibility.
5) Finding better means of relating individual participation in an industrial economy to the types of risks the individual may experience; restructuring Protestant
asceticism and reform to engage a "risk society."
6) Further relating the risks for humans to the risks to non-human nature. In general the two are strongly interrelated, but we industrials live indoors in controlled environments and perceive critical changes in environmental health far too slowly.
The north-south debate is largely an argument over who harvests the wealth versus
who bears the risks. There can be little doubt the north, despite the speeding boomerang, has the advantage on the side of wealth, while the south is still disadvantaged in terms of risks. As Beck points out, one of the present trends is globalization or universalization of risks (e.g., warming) The north needs to recognize that the advantage to their side is decreasing and their unwillingness to enter into construction discussion over risk curtailment will mean inadequate societal response internationally. Further, the north needs to tackle reflexive modernity. Their communications and educational infrastructures are more advanced, and they are further into the late-industrial phase. Christians therefore need to find new means to develop democratic dialog with non-Christians over the impacts of their activities.
The deep ecologists and radical ecologists are too antagonistic to industry and science to show real leadership. Further, their models are strongly idealized and do not adequately consider human needs. Feminist antagonism towards science is also slowing their full engagement with the issues, but feminist ranks are among the most likely to study and critique the social changes accompanying reflexive modernity. Some reorganization of environmental interest groups would help. The Christian eco-justice movement actually considers many of the human risks presented by our present culture and is sensitive to the fact that risks as well as wealth are not equally distributed. The eco-justice crowd, however, have little influence in scientific circles, and confront industry largely through old 60s style protests. Adding additional scientific and economic expertise to Christian eco-justice activities would greatly expand their potential social influence.
Giving our present environmental ethicists a lead could be totally unhelpful. They are offering primarily abstract models, based on general concepts Environmental ethics needs to be restructured as an interdisciplinary field incorporating and perhaps based on sociology, and incorporating science in a more integrated and responsible way. Academics could take the lead in some of the necessary restructuring, just as they have in fostering the spread of the scientific revolution and its impacts (and cementing its wedding with technology). A major revision of the way science is applied and evaluated is needed. This will create institutional disruption, which is an unfortunate side effect of necessary change. It may in fact turn out to be the trial of Galileo in reverse. Galileo must stand before the people and give up control of the truth, just as he once claimed it before the Inquisition.
1 Beck, Ulrich. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications, 1992; and Beck, Ulrich. Ecological enlightenment: Essays on the Politics of the Risk Society. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1995.
2 Appleby, Joyce, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob. Telling the Truth about History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994, p. 45.
3 Ibid., p. 50.
4 See James Burke, The Day the Universe Changed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985, and note in the discussion of the industrial revolution, pp. 163-193 how often the developers of new technologies are religious dissenters or non-conformists.
5 Worster, Donald. The Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination. New York: Oxford Press, 1993, pp. 184-202.