On the Feast of St. Scholastica, we continue our interview with Dr. Christiana Z. Peppard, Assistant Professor of Theology, Science, and Ethics at Fordham University, about her new book Just Water.
Part 1 of the interview can be found here. The last installation will be posted tomorrow—the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
|Photo by Daniel Foster|
- Fresh water is sui generis (unique, non-substitutable) and sine qua non (a baseline for all kinds of existence, from individuals to societies to ecosystems and economies).
- These features are universally true but manifest differently in various places. Context matters: Seattle is not the Sahara. So there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fresh water scarcity.
- Technology is an important tool but not a panacea. It must be deployed within a long-term ethical, economic, and policy framework that puts human and ecosystem flourishing at the center of value.
- People living in poverty, especially women and children, deserve special attention because they are the first to suffer when water systems fail or water becomes scarce.
- Corporations must be accountable for safety and must prove that their chemicals and processes are not toxic to humans or other forms of downstream life. This is, in other words, the precautionary principle. Moreover, any potential downstream costs must be internalized, despite the economic temptation to externalize costs. (The case of West Virginia is a good example of the flaws of our current approach, which seems to privilege the trade secrets and income of a corporation above the downstream health and water access of residents.)
- For all of these insights, there is robust resonance with principles of Catholic Social Teaching (chapter 4, “A Right-to-Life-Issue for the Twenty-First Century”), which I deploy in a central way in the book. It will come as a surprise to most North American Catholics that in terms of thinking about the ethics of fresh water, the Catholic Church is way ahead of most municipalities in the U.S.! So, I suggest in the book that there can be a fruitful dialogue between precepts of the tradition and contemporary water realities. Do I think that the Catholic Church has all the answers? No. It’s not a water management entity! But I do think that the principles resonate with some deep concerns about fresh water scarcity and ethics—especially questions of value and human life—in the 21st century. There is wisdom here, and we need to pay attention to it, because water is and will continue to be a fundamental right-to-life issue—indeed, the right-to-life issue par excellence for global humanity.