Christian economists, environmental externalities and ecological scale


Published on

The environmental economic response to mainstream neo-classical economics’ disconnect from the natural world was to value external environmental costs and include those into decisions about human welfare. The ecological economic response, heavily influenced by systems ecology, brought the concept of ecological scale or carrying capacity, as a limit to human choice. The divisions between these two theories are not merely cosmetic as illustrated by the high-stakes in the policy debates on the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and following a publication by Rockström et al on planetary boundaries in the journal Ecology & Society as well as in Nature.

This paper concerns itself specifically with the question how Christian economists position themselves towards the unfolding ecological-economic crises. It is shown that the main positions taken in the policy debates on economy and ecology are closely mirrored in the broader Christian economic community, raising the question whether the Christian economic tradition does have anything particular to offer in response to the ecological-economic crises. We approach this question from two angles, first, reviewing the literature, and in particular an earlier debate by the Association of Christian Economists on what Christian economists should be doing and, second, reviewing the empirical literature on the relationships between Christianity and environmental beliefs and behaviour. A synthesized categorization of the wide range of Christian responses to economics and the environment is presented.

With reference to literature on the varying ontological views on the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation, and on different expectations of the eschaton, it is shown why such diverging positions are taken among Christian economists. Nevertheless, the reality of Jesus Christ demands a particular Christian ethics and –behaviour, which in turn, kindles fertile questions for Christian economists in their engagement with the economic and ecological sciences.

Published in: Economy & Finance, Technology
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Christian economists, environmental externalities and ecological scale

  1. 1. Christianeconomists, environmentalexternalities and ecological scalePaper presented at Kuyper Workshop‘Economics, Christianity & the Crisis, 8-9 January 2013ByMartin de Wit1
  2. 2. Typology of a crises• Mainstream neo-classical economic disconnect fromthe natural world• Central idea that limitations of natural resources andecosystems services can be captured in market prices– In the event of absolute scarcity -science, technology, innovation and markets would be ableto solve the problem• Supply-side constraints, depletion effects, peakoil, accumulation of carbon dioxide seen as evidence ofan emerging ecological crises and the inability ofeconomic theory and practice to respond.2
  3. 3. Typical theoretical responses• Internalising external environmental costs (Environmentaland Resource Economics)– Better defined property rights– Better price signals in well-functioning markets– Value lies in exchange– Better technologies to circumvent resource scarcity• Limits of ecological scale (Ecological Economics)– Earth as thermodynamically closed, not growing in materialsense– Limits to growth by natural laws governing materials and energy– Value in use of (biophysically constraint) objects.– Price signals do not capture limits, more pluralistic approachneeded to achieve ecologically desirable outcomes3
  4. 4. Deep divisions, high policy stakes• Stern Report on Climate Change• Social costs of carbon too high for economies (5% of global GDP if inaction, average SCCof $311t/C)• From crises to boon– Decoupling, innovation and technology, efficiency– Cost of action = 1% of global GDP (later revised to 2% to stabilize under 500ppm CO2e )• ‘New Green Deal’: more, but greener production and consumption– Prominent environmental economists highly critical on treatment of futurerisks and intergenerational ethics• Mean value for SCC closer to $23t/C assuming gradual warming scenario• Rockstromm et al on planetary boundaries• ‘safe space’ for human development• Safe minimum standards, limits to growth, precautionary principle• Humanity already transgressed three planetary boundaries: carbon dioxide, biodiversityloss and global nitrogen cycle.– Nordhaus reply to Rockstromm:• Question empirical evidence of planetary thresholds, relevance rather on regional orlocal scales, and little or no evidence of impact on human welfare• Pretence of Earth Science in interface with policymaking4
  5. 5. Christian positioning• McFague: justice and sustainability– Cosmological context of Christianity; away from narrow psychological focus– Planetary household, relational: humans, living things and earth processes =>ecological economics– Theologically justified wrt parable of the feast where everyone is invited• Wilber: justice (CST)– Co-creators, participating in redemption world and Kingdom– Preferences of humans are judged in the light of moral values– Protecting the poor and controls market failures such as environmentalpollution => environmental economics– Theologically focussed on justice• Bouma-Prediger: creation care, stewardship– Doctrine of creation– Humans entrusted with responsibility to God to take care of creation– Theologically justified on human beings created in the Image of God– Very diverging positions ranging from faith in free markets (neo-classical) tostronger governmental control (ecological economic)5
  6. 6. Earlier debates among Christianeconomists• Constructive engagement– Quality economics work in the mainstream (Richardson, 1994; duPlessis, 2011)• Engage, but distinctively (Tiemstra, 1993; 1994)– Normative behaviour not seen as self-interested– Moral and religious agents• Reject and reconstruct (Gary North)– Reject all secular economics– reconstruct on basis Biblical laws and guidelines• Radical and unnoticed (Heyne, 1994)– Not impose values on fallen society– Radical following of Jesus, but privateNo common ground…6
  7. 7. Christians and environment• Kearns (1996): three main responses to Lynn White’s(1967) call fora rethink or new religion– Christian stewardship: rethink in own tradition– Creation/eco spirituality: a possible new religion– Eco-justice: liberation theology• Van Houtan&Pimm (2006): Christian worldviews on the value ofbiodiversity and its conservation– Earthkeeping: recognizes the biodiversity crises and seeks a biblicalresponse to it– Skeptics: question the validity of conservation science– Priority: more priorityto other moral issues, often emphasizing thatJesus is not saving the environment, but souls– Indifference: does not see conservation as a relevant topic at all• Curry (2008): Christian responses to climate change– weak relationships between Christianity and particular environmentalbeliefs/ behaviors and a great deal of complexity in these relationships.7
  8. 8. Synthesis?• Empirical research in the US has reached aconsensus that Christians have vastly differentviews on the environment.• The thesis that such differences havetheological roots, is also mirrored in thedebate on what Christian economists shoulddo• Thus, attention shifts to a focus on underlyingtheologies…8
  9. 9. Earlier reactions• On what basis do or should Christians take position onissues regarding ecology?– Standard eco-theological response• Critique on Christians:– biblical view of humans made in the image of God and given dominion overthe earth introduced a dualism between humans and nature and a license forexploitation– inadequacies of Christian eschatology’, accusing Christianity ofotherworldliness and little rationale for creation care• Creation: from dominion to stewardship• Eschaton: from destruction to transformation– Critique on standard response:• Deriving morality from a religious interpretation of cosmology(Jenkins, 2008; Conradie)• Hermeneutics: too much focused on a ‘recovery’ of a positiveecological narrative of creation care (Horrell 2010)9
  10. 10. A Christo-centric alternative• The objective reality of Jesus Christ demands a particular Christian ethicsand –behaviour (O’Donovan 1986)• foundations of Christian ethics lie in what ‘God has done in Christ’• Objective order of Christ:– Vindication of created order and introducing dawn of kingdom– Creation and redemption; natural order also in sphere of revelation• Free response to this order– New relation to natural order, a restored lordship (knowing the ‘mind ofChrist’), Faith working through Love.– Our response is a focus on rescuing order from emptiness, not overthrow afallen order• Love as overall form of moral life, of human participation in created order• The task of Christian ethics is the ordening of love “in accordance with theorder discovered in its object”– Creative, perceptive, appreciative10
  11. 11. What must we do? Who we are?• Human Acts– Wisdom:• Intellectual apprehension of order of things• careful discernment of God’s future already bound, recognisingchange, case-by-case learning - often through conflict/exclusion• Conservatism or consequentialism seen as weak strategies offinding order and stability– Delight:• joy of life in the world and before God• Affective attention• Human Character– Acts disclosing character– True virtue as love for God11O’Donovan, 1986
  12. 12. Intermediate application• Reactions to ecological crises in economic theories signal deepdivisions and have high policy stakes• Biblically motivated positions on sustainability, justice andstewardship tend to mirror these theoretical divisions in economictheory• Positions on what economists should do and positions onenvironment are divided on theological ‘fault lines’.• Eco-theology criticised for cosmological focus and positive eco-hermeneutic.• No convincing case can be derived for Christian economists tojustify positions ex ante:– Christian economists can grow in wisdom to discern unity in economicand ecological interactions.– Christian economists have all reason to find delight in both the unity ofthings and in the particular.• Christian economist do have an eschatological vision where thefuture is already objectively bound in Christ– leading to ‘cooler heads’ in times of crisis?12
  13. 13. A point of departure• The work of a Christian economist will be mostly in a non-Christianculture, thus the tension between ideal and the actualneeds tohang together in a workable solution(O’Donovan 2001:96).– In private and social ethics• The theological divisions driving polarized outcomes is not anexcuse to solving complex ethical questions on economics andecology without an appeal to the objective morality in Christ, but– a motivation to enter the challenging, but also delightful, path ofmoral learning on how His love shapes and relates to everything• The future is already bound by the work of Christ and our task liesin a free response to this objective order– The task of Christian ethics is the ordening of love “in accordance withthe order discovered in its object” - a task of careful discernment13
  14. 14. Concluding thoughts• Stewardship, dominion and creation care– Concept in need of revision– within a priority ordering of love– In careful discernment– In process of moral learning• Externalities or scale?– Ontological and epistemological discernment• Ontologically different points of departure makes this a false choice exante• Choice ultimately depends on– careful interpretation of reality in context of Christ-ordered objective reality» Case-by-case, perceptive, attentative to both universal and particular» A moral learning process in wisdom and delight and often rewardedwith true virtue– Empirical examination of theories14
  15. 15. Critical tensions in ecotheology• creation order, cosmology and/or eschatology as fragmented orabsolutised sources of environmental ethics– without a clear attempt to root these in the person and all-encompassing work of Jesus Christ• the idea of creation order as a source of ethics invokes tension betweenthe universal and particular revelation of God,– between the cosmos and the Word of God as resources of revelation and between theperceived importance of reason and science in relation to faith and the workings of theHoly Spirit.• the cosmological focus of ecotheology in tension with soteriology asultimate sources of Christian ethics.• an expected continuity and discontinuity of creation in the last days15De Wit, 2011.
  16. 16. Beyond the tensions?• These critical tensions further call for:– a careful interpretation of the all-encompassing work ofChrist when making ethical claims on the basis of anyconcept of created order– a careful interpretation on how the work of Christ relate tocreation– connecting the insights of eco-theology to soteriology, andthereby including Christian resources on the meaning andvalue of suffering and pain in a broken world– a position of faith in God’s promises, leaving the end openin mystery and surprise.16De Wit, 2011.