Integral Ecology, Epigenetics and the Common Good

Journal of Catholic Social Thought 14 (2):291-320 (2017)
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With the release of Laudato Si (2015) Pope Francis has introduced new conceptual language into Catholic social teaching (CST), what he has called "integral ecology." His intent appears to be grounded in the realization that "It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions with natural systems themselves and with social systems" (LS, no. CXXXVIII). Pope Francis goes on to make the case that ''We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis with isboth social and environmental" (LS, no. CXXXVIII). Consequently, in order to solve this crisis we need to utilize "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time pro­ tecting nature" (LS, no. CXXXVlll). This perspective represents a major development in CST whereby the encyclical connects the dots between ecology/environment, economics and society, three essential aspects of what many in the environmental community and elsewhere see as in­ dispensable for humanity to achieve a sustainable relationship with the Earth. While this is extremely important for articulating a Catholic vision of sustainability, that is not the direction we take in this article. Rather our intent is to use the concept of integral ecology to do three things:(1) examine a current case in the U.S. that has received signif­ icant media attention as well as notoriety-the water crisis in Flint, Michigan; (2) describe how our recent understanding of the epigenetic impacts of environmental toxins casts a new and ominous light on this crisis and on other instances of environmental toxin exposure, and (3) propose some ideas on how epigenetic research might enlarge our in­ terpretation of basic aspects of CST highlighted in Laudato Si such as human dignity, justice and the common good.
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