Daniel P. SCHEID, The Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics: NY: NY, Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. 248. $29.95 ISBN 978-0-19-935943-1. Reviewed by Nathan R. KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618.
Air, water, food, habitat are essential for all life. Should they be equally distributed for all life or should humans have a privileged place in this allotment? Maybe the best choice is to let everything go wild and let “nature” find its own equality? Is it immoral for anyone to destroy life and/or the essentials for life without cause? Should life be privileged over non-life such that non-life is at life’s absolute control? These are some of the questions that arise once we begin to face the fact that our air, food, water, and habitat are being destroyed at such a rate that life, as we know it, will change radically – perhaps cease to exist.
Daniel Scheid looks at what we have done to our earth and asks what God asks us to do within the cosmos. He does this by presenting the results of his research and his reflections on the religious grounds for ecological ethics in the Anthropocene, our present geological epoch. His research places us within the ethical challenges presented by the ecological disaster we are living through. His reflections are offered in two parts: “A Catholic Cosmic Common Good” and “The Cosmic Common Good” and “Interreligious Ecological Ethics”. His written style of presentation favors condensed and itemized thoughts. This may, at times, result in repetition but it provides a clear, logical, means of dealing with a very complex topic.
He argues that a unifying framework for ecological ethics begins with revising principles from Catholic social thought by applying them to the cosmic common good. When he does this he is able to demonstrate that we are responsible for humanity’s fuller participation in earths ecology. Consequently what we humans owe to the cosmos is a matter of justice not some type of feeling of communality. From this perspective all beings in the cosmos have rights; all beings have to respect the rights of others.
These rights are seen as the following:
1. The right of the Earth to exist as Earth
For Biota and Abiota
2. The fundamental right of all Earth creatures to cosmic participation
3. The right to fulfill the basic creaturely inclinations one possesses as a member of one's species
4. The right to be free from excessive interventions by humans or any other moral agents in the ability of this creature, species, or ecosystem to perform its cosmic participation
5. The right to reproduce one's kind naturally
6. The right to habitat
7. The right to sustenance and to self-defense.
For Degraded Nature
8. The right to restoration such that degraded ecosystems and their creatures are brought back, as far as possible.
For Wild Nature
9. The right to designated habitats free from human occupation (wilderness).
10. The right to fulfill creaturely inclinations in ways perceived as destructive by human beings or other creatures.
For Domesticated Nature
11. The right for domesticated creatures to be treated as humanity's companions.
If you would like to delve more deeply into how to argue for these rights this is the book for you. It is both an excellent condensation and expansion of other charters such as the Earth Charter and Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter. Yet all such rights and charters share to challenge any of us who work with marginalized people share; who speaks for them when they are unable or unwilling to speak? And, if a non-marginalized individual speaks, who are they representing, themselves or the marginalized? In this instance, for better or worse, a human or humans formulate these rights and charters. We might wish that humans do not have a privileged place in the Anthropocene but we do. To act or think without seriously taking this epistemological reality into consideration is a failure of method.