Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

A New Narrative for Biodiversity

Why should we care about biodiversity? Geoffrey Bowker, the new director of the Santa Clara University Center for Science, Technology, and Society, led a group of SCU faculty, staff, and students through an exploration of various ethical approaches to this question at a recent Center program.

After laying out the utilitarian arguments-the value of diverse species to medicine, food, fuel, climate regulation, pollination, etc.-Bowker argued that utilitarianism was inadequate, especially for thinking about the future.

He had a different set of issues with the stewardship approach as it has developed in Protestantism. He reserved special scorn for the branch he termed "wise use," which holds that because all non-human creation has no moral status, it cannot be sinned against.

Bowker was more impressed with the Catholic tradition of solidarity. Pope John Paul II made the connection between solidarity and biodiversity in his Message to Jacques Diouf on the occasion of World Food Day 2004.
"Solidarity, therefore, by overcoming selfish attitudes regarding the order of creation and its produce, safeguards the various ecosystems and their resources, the people who live there and their fundamental rights as individuals and community members. If solidarity is firmly founded on this reference to the human person, with his or her nature and needs, it can draw together plans, norms, strategies and actions that are perfectly sustainable."

Bowker also described an ethical approach that emphasized the unity of creation, in consonance with the "Gaia Hypothesis," which regards the Earth as a single organism. He said that he sees the human person not as a single being but as a sort of "commonwealth," with the rest of creation actually existing within us in such forms as mitochondrial DNA.

In an interesting Q&A after his presentation, Bowker talked with the audience about the need to create a more compelling narrative about our relationship to the rest of creation, one that does not emphasize either domination or losing ourselves in the natural world. Commenting on why it has been hard to engage the general public in the issue, he said, "We tell our stories wrong. Biodiversity is not just about the science. We also need celebration."

May 2005

New Materials

Center News