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An Ethics of Biodiversity

Christianity, Ecology, and the Variety of Life

Kevin J. O'Brien

Publication Year: 2010

Life on earth is wildly diverse, but the future of that diversity is now in question. Through environmentally destructive farming practices, ever-expanding energy use, and the development and homogenization of land, human beings are responsible for unprecedented reductions in the variety of life forms around us. Estimates suggest that species extinctions caused by humans occur at up to 1,000 times the natural rate, and that one of every twenty species on the planet could be eradicated by 2060. An Ethics of Biodiversity argues that these facts should inspire careful reflection and action in Christian churches, which must learn from earthÆs vast diversity in order to help conserve the natural and social diversity of our planet. Bringing scientific data into conversation with theological tradition, the book shows that biodiversity is a point of intersection between faith and ethics, social justice and environmentalism, science and politics, global problems and local solutions. An Ethics of Biodiversity offers a set of tools for students, environmentalists, and people of faith to think critically about how human beings can live with and as part of the variety of life in God's creation.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Human beings are degrading Earth's ecosystems, creating serious problems for all creatures and causing unknown long-term changes to our planet. This is not a controversial statement in most circles. However, it is not a particularly clear statement, either. Which ecosystems are most degraded and what are the most urgent threats to...

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pp. ix-xi

First thanks go to my teachers. The religion faculty at Earlham College deserve enormous thanks for teaching me how to take human faith traditions seriously while I first learned to think critically about the diversity of life in our world. The faculty and students at Union...

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Introduction: Christian Ecological Ethics and Biodiversity

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pp. 1-15

The birds to be shot are barred owls, a species native to the eastern side of the continent that has expanded its range, becoming particularly numerous in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s. The birds to be saved are northern spotted owls, one of the most famous subspecies protected by the Endangered Species Act and an icon of environmental...

Part I: Defining Biodiversity

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Chapter 1. The Variety of Life

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pp. 19-37

One of countless subjects to ponder at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is the changing role its scientists and curators understand for themselves. Older exhibits tend to feature specimens and models in cases, with descriptions that offer fascinating insight into how scientists ask questions about the world....

Part II: Why Biodiversity Matters

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Chapter 2. Valuing Life and Ecosystems

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pp. 41-57

The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was a milestone in the work of conserving global biodiversity, when leaders from 150 nations formally embraced the idea that the variety of life is both important and under threat. By signing the Convention on Biodiversity (Convention,...

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Chapter 3. The Sacramental Value of the Variety of Life

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pp. 58-75

In a frequently told and possibly apocryphal story, a member of the Christian clergy anxious to engage in dialogue asked the early-twentieth-century biologist John Haldane what his studies of the natural world had taught him about its creator. Haldane replied that God seems...

Part III: The Levels of Biodiversity

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Chapter 4. Scaling Conservation

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pp. 79-93

An Inconvenient Truth, the book released alongside former Vice President Al Gore's celebrated presentation and film about global climate change, begins with two pictures of the Earth from space, one of which Gore credited with changing the consciousness of humanity and helping...

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Chapter 5. Multiscalar Christian Ecological Ethics

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pp. 94-109

The scientists and thinkers cited in chapter 4 demonstrate that an ethics of biodiversity should be multiscalar, attending to multiple levels of attention and learning from ecological theory about how to identify and distinguish those levels. Conservationists must be aware of the scales of our attention, recognize the trade-offs inherent in scalar...

Part IV: Political and Morally Formative Conservation

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Chapter 6. Regulating Biodiversity: The Endangered Species Act and Political Conservation

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pp. 113-130

Responding to a French naturalist who had dismissed the new world as impoverished and capable of sustaining only "cold men and feeble animals," Thomas Jefferson wrote a long tribute to the North American mammoth in his Notes on the State of Virginia. He knew this animal only from reports of its...

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Chapter 7. Christian Care for Biodiversity: Moral Formation as Conservation

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pp. 131-149

Scholarly discussions of the relationship between Christianity and environmentalism invariably engage Lynn White Jr.'s famous essay, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," and this book is no exception. White's essay has served as a source and foil for theologians and ethicists ever since it was published...

Part V: Social Justice and the Conservation of Biodiversity

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Chapter 8. Biological and Cultural Diversity

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pp. 153-172

In 1983 Dwight Dion Sr. was arrested for hunting and killing four bald eagles in South Dakota. At the time eagles were a severely threatened species, protected not only by the Endangered Species Act but also by the Bald Eagle Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1940. The earlier...

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Chapter 9. Diversities and Justice

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pp. 173-192

Habitat destruction is a problem for spotted owls, salmon, and polar bears. It is also a problem for human beings, who lose their homes, food sources, and ways of life when the ecosystems around them are degraded and destroyed. Economist Norman Myers has characterized...

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Conclusion: The Work of Conserving Biodiversity

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pp. 193-202

This book offers an ethics of biodiversity developed from a Christian perspective in dialogue with scientific ecology, and its foundation is a set of data about the variety of life. These data are endlessly complex and intricate, but it is nevertheless worth trying to summarize with a...


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pp. 203-213


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pp. 215-221

E-ISBN-13: 9781589016644
E-ISBN-10: 1589016645
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589016453
Print-ISBN-10: 1589016459

Page Count: 242
Publication Year: 2010