Resiliency, sustainability, and multidisciplinarity are at the core of People, Policy, and the Environment.
We are concerned with assessing a range of ethical and political perspectives on the sustainability of societal goods and services in the face of climate change, widespread pollution, and other changes to the physical and biological environment. Major stressors to the environment destabilize human capacity to provide sufficient food supplies, reliable energy, safe drinking water, and other essential services that make for healthy communities and strong economies.
How we understand and value the natural world will shape the way we approach problems of sustainability. From the perspective of policymaking, there is great need to increase the resiliency of both natural and human systems to make them more robust to changing conditions, whether due to chronic stress or catastrophic events. We believe that an integrated approach to the consideration of the welfare of different biosystems, including the dominant human one, is vitally important. Nowhere is this challenge greater than in third world countries beset by poverty, famine, and political instability.
Our responses require more than scientific and technological innovation. Ethical investigation of environmental issues needs to be interdisciplinary, technically informed, and socio-politically savvy. Consideration of religious issues and their intersection with specific values and motivations for change are also extremely important to consider.
Example areas of inquiry in the Reilly Center
Climate Change Adaptation
Climate change is not a threat of tomorrow; it affects lives and livelihoods worldwide today. Greenhouse gas mitigation is essential to confronting the climate crisis, but addressing that problem needs to be alongside careful consideration of the political, scientific and ethical premises of adaptation in order to take steps towards reducing key vulnerabilities to climate change. Adaptation invites us to redefine human and natural systems and forces difficult investment decisions in partnership with those communities that are most severely impacted. Adaptation actions will have positive and negative side effects that may be distributed unequally.
Disproportionate impacts of climate change and other environmental degradation between and within nations must be addressed. Those with the least economic and political power are also highly vulnerable to global changes and may be the least able to adapt. Climate change and other global environmental threats invite essential questions of intersectional inequity (that is, multiple compounding and interlocking inequities), including gender inequity, that can only be addressed at the intersection of ethics, values, and environmental science.
Decision making in both the public and private spheres is often generationally myopic. That politics and markets respond to the interests of the present day is obvious; what is less obvious is the pervasiveness of our presentism, even in the face of abundant evidence of future harms. How can today’s decision-makers better account for the interests of our children and their children? Such questions are made more pressing by the threat of climate change and the growing social cost of widespread environmental degradation.
Other areas of interest
- Food-energy-water nexus
- Genetic engineering
- Nuclear issues
Learn more about the many relationships members of the Reilly Center cultivate with scholars and organizations to pursue such research.
The leads for People, Policy, and Environment are
- Jessica Hellmann, Associate Professor, Biology
- Celia Deane-Drummond, Professor, Theology
- Bruce Huber, Associate Professor, Law