(If interested, the article from the Marine Ecology Progress Series is here. After the download, scroll to page 251.)
The findings suggest that in the marine world, the use of “protected areas” do not adequately protect the variety and health of species—certainly not to the extent necessary. I’ve covered the decline in biodiversity elsewhere and this new news shows that the problem is not going away.
But there’s a double threat to the story. Besides understanding and mitigating the loss of global biodiversity, we must also understand its root causes. Scientists and commentators often claim two related ones: overconsumption and overpopulation. The adjective they often use is anthropogenic, which means you and me. People are the problem, some say, because we consume too much and there’s just too many of us.
In fishnewseu.com, Dr. Peter F. Sale, one of the study's authors, says this:
"Our study shows that the international community is faced with a choice between two paths . . . One option is to continue a narrow focus on creating more protected areas with little evidence that they curtail biodiversity loss. That path will fail. The other path requires that we get serious about addressing the growth in size and consumption rate of our global population."Now, I don’t know what Dr. Sale means by getting serious, but if he means—like so many do—that we are to encourage artificial birth control and abortion, then I take issue. One does not protect life by waging war against it.
This is exactly where ecology benefits critically from a Catholic perspective, most especially the Holy Father’s third letter to the Church and the world, Caritas in Veritate. In it, he connects the many hurdles facing the human race, and he does so by offering as a solution the Christian anthropology of relation and love and the recognition of human dignity.
Dr. David Cloutier, an associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, writes about all this in the winter 2010 edition of Communio, a theological journal founded with others by Joseph Ratzinger. Cloutier’s excellent essay “Working with the Grammar of Creation” uses Wendell Berry's writings to get at the Holy Father's concerns. In Berry, we hear an American voice exploring issues of industry, sexuality, marriage and, especially, community, all in context of what it means to be human. When we're not what-it-means-to-be-human—when we're not in a healthy relation with our world, our community, our environment, our family, our neighbor—we create problems, the kind we read about in the papers. There's so much in Cloutier's article, you really should read it all yourself. For the present, I'll just note that Cloutier brilliantly places Berry in dialogue with the pontiff’s important words. And the pontiff does have much to tell us. For instance, from Caritas in Veritate, we read that
in order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.Benedict XVI's next words are those used in the masthead of this blog.
We must take from these warnings that in discussing issues like planetary biodiversity losses—or the world economy, or the health care system, or any discussion about people’s relation to the world—there are moral and ethical issues at play that can not be ignored because they drive everything.
World strife and ecological crises will not be solved with a view that other humans are the cause. One can not love thy neighbor and then wish to control them. Humans can only begin to address worldwide ills when we live in solidarity—in communion. We must see ourselves as creatures of relation, because only then will we realize ourselves that we really do affect everyone else. Only by living in accord with our true nature—that of being in relation to each other, to creation, and especially the Creator—can we as a race live within our planetary means and still live very, very well.
And so to the authors of this most important study, I would add what the pontiff wrote elsewhere, “it is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.”
May God bless these researchers in their work, and may they always be guided to the fullness of truth.