restricted access Chapter 5. Multiscalar Christian Ecological Ethics
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94 Chapter 5 Multiscalar Christian Ecological Ethics 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 choices, and struggle to nurture a flexible, multiscalar approach to our work. This chapter brings Christian ethics into the conversation about multiscalar morality in order to develop a set of tools with which to address this question: How should Christians make choices between the conservation of the biodiversity immediately around us, the biodiversity of a broader regional context, and global biodiversity? A nuanced answer to this question requires two steps. First, we must recognize that Christians have resources within our traditions by which to develop a faithful multiscalar ethics. Drawing particularly on the Catholic ideas of subsidiarity and socialization, a theologically informed language of Christian attention to scalar issues will take shape. This language then helps in the second step, which shows how three Christian ethicists concerned about the environment have already begun developing multiscalar ethics and applying them to biodiversity. The works of Larry Rasmussen, John Hart, and Michael Northcott reveal that while naming ethics as multiscalar might be new, the careful and deliberate attention to scalar issues it signifies is not. The language of socialization and subsidiarity and the work of these three ethicists offer the insights needed to answer the question of scale for a Christian ethics of biodiversity, advocating a multiscalar attention that remains aware of the trade-offs and risks inherent at each scale of thinking. Resources for Multiscalar Theology: Subsidiarity and Socialization Perhaps the most useful Christian resources in the development of a multiscalar ethics are the Catholic principles of socialization and Multiscalar Christian Ecological Ethics 95 subsidiarity. Socialization affirms that individuals exist in and can only be understood within their social context: the communities, organizations , and nations of which we are a part inevitably shape our lives in significant ways. The complementary principle of subsidiarity asserts that the global systems of nation–states and global communities, while important, should be in service to rather than dominant over the more local and individual expressions of human life. In these two principles, we find a Christian attention to multiple levels of attention and a clear expression of multiscalar ethics. Neither has been formally developed in the context of ecological ethics or conservation, but close study reveals that they have much to offer this work. Subsidiarity, an idea often traced back to the twelfth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas, is widely influential today, frequently discussed by political scientists and government officials, and explicitly included in the constitution of the European Union. Within theological circles, its contemporary influence began with Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo anno. Written in response to the rapid expansion of economic powers and the increasingly interdependent nature of political life at the beginning of the twentieth century, this letter is in part an argument that theological morality is essential to modern political and economic life. In this context Pius asserts the principle of subsidiarity to affirm the continued importance of individuals and the local communities that shape them as moral beings. He admits that, given the growth of industrial technologies and the increasingly global scope of human influence, “much that was formerly done by small bodies can nowadays be accomplished by large organizations” and thereby justifies the existence of large and powerful nation–states. But Pius sees these states as “overwhelmed and submerged by endless affairs and responsibilities,” increasingly expected not only to manage national affairs but also to offer the moral formation and community that can be provided only by smaller-scale organizations. According to Pius, “true and genuine social order” depends upon a commitment to the common good, a commitment that takes shape only in more personal groups where members can be empowered and supported as individuals.1 The trend toward increasingly large-scale activities and governance cannot be sustained unless human individuals and their local communities continue to thrive. This situation justifies the principle of subsidiarity, which acknowledges that large social structures should see themselves primarily as in service to individuals and small communities. Pius writes: 96 the levels of biodiversity One should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own...


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