Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University

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Public Lectures

Environmental Problems and Conscience: What Should We Consider for the Future Generation?

Date: 2015/07/11 13:00-15:00
Place: RY107 (Ryoshinkan 1st floor), Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Lecture: Prof. Katsuhiro Kohara (Professor, School of Theology, Doshisha University / Director, Center for Study of Conscience)
"Environmental Ethics and Christianity: Considering the Individuality and Universality of Conscience"

Prof. Yoshihiko Wada (Professor, Faculty of Economics, Doshisha University)
"The Development and Application of Science and Technology Need to be under Constant and Critical Control of Multidisciplinary Eyes"
Prof. Kohara described one of the turning points for Christianity’s engagement with environmental issues as Lynn White Jr.’s 1967 paper, which pointed out that one cause of the ecological crisis was Christianity’s view of humans and the world. The paper argued that Western Christianity was anthropocentric and adopted a dualistic view of humans and nature, and needed to be revised to solve contemporary environmental problems. As an alternative, it proposed St. Francis of Assisi’s understanding of Christianity. Interestingly, Pope Francis, who took on St. Francis’s name, published the encyclical Laudato Si in June 2015, in which he pointed out the need to address environmental issues responsibly and conscientiously, seeking an ecological conversion.
The etymological meaning of “conscience” is to “know together.” One’s interiority is “together” with others and God. Thus, conscience is not individual but universal and cosmological. The Bible’s “love thy neighbor as thyself” has not yet been universally realized, and for various reasons the scope of “neighbor” is limited. The same can be applied to the object of "knowing together”; animals and nature have been excluded.
If an individual’s interior conscience does not connect and acquire a universal aspect, it is not possible to address environmental issues; there is a need to consider an ecological conscience. Spatially, there is a need for the perspective of a cosmological conscience, and temporally one that recognizes unfairness between generations. Prof. Kohara argued that an environmental conscience that is not excessively anthropocentric or centered on the current generation should be addressed.
Prof. Wada Yoshihiko first defined environment-related public harm as a phenomenon that negatively influences the lives and health of area residents and the local natural environment by discharging harmful substances from industrial activities, and stated that war is the most serious example of this.
While Tanaka Shōzō, who spent his life addressing the Ashio Copper Mine’s waste and smoke-related environmental disaster, was not a Christian but was considerably influenced by the religion. Furthermore, he was ahead of his generation by advocating non-violence and civil disobedience. Those who received his message were active throughout the country and spread his environmental consciousness. Three years after Minamata disease was officially recognized in 1956, the substance causing it was pinpointed, but the government took no actions to address the problem. This was willful negligence, and one could say that Minamata disease was a result of the government. Professors from famous universities were involved in this negligence. While it is thought that approximately 200,000 were affected, only 1/100 was certified as such. Following the recent Fukushima nuclear power plant incident, the government maintained that 20 mSv of radiation exposure was healthy (normally, it is deemed to be 1 mSv). Without the cause or nature of the explosion provided, it is rushing to restart nuclear reactors based on arbitrary criteria.
Incidents of environment-related harm to public health have a common pattern: first, their influence appears on small animals, followed by children and other weak individuals. Even if such harm is recognized, efforts are made to limit the scope of this recognition. Cost-benefit analysis is introduced and comparisons are made. Harm is not uniform; it is concentrated amongst the weak and imposed on future generations. Furthermore, there are researchers who support those entities causing harm – no one takes responsibility.
When new technologies are discovered, only the merits are emphasized. In the name of academic freedom, research is carried out in an unruly fashion without rigorous screenings. We must demand that bureaucrats and politicians respect the constitution.
Commenting on this presentation, Prof. Motoi Wada argued that at the root of environmental problems, such as the misuse of nuclear power, are people who make excuses for themselves. Since individuals behave and act based on their own view points, contradictions arise in the end. Scientists are often absorbed in research, and as a result do not address the possibility that their findings will be misused. They should pay attention to the larger context in which they carry out research. Environmentally influenced incidents on public health arise while scientists, the state, and industry are each engaging in their work from their own viewpoints and do not realize the damage being caused. After the damage is recognized, issues of criminality arise. There is a need to create a sound society that can address such public harm and environmental problems based on our better nature and conscience.

Tomoki Asaka
Postdoctral Fellow, CISMOR
*Admission Free, No Reservation Necessary.