World Religions and Clean Water Laws

By Fisher-Ogden, Daryl; Saxer, Shelley Ross | Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

World Religions and Clean Water Laws


Fisher-Ogden, Daryl, Saxer, Shelley Ross, Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum


It is also the breath, along with water and thought, that connects all living things in direct relationship. The interrelationship of water, thought (wind), and breath personifies the elemental relationship emanating from "that place that the Indians talk about," that place of the Center where all things are created. (1)

And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let the dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. (2)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.  Introduction
II. The Human Relationship with Land and Nature
    A. An Overview of Current Legal Views and Theories
       1. The Human Relationship to Land and Other Resources
       2. Substantive "Environmental" Rights
       3. Procedural "Environmental" Rights
    B. Religious Views and Their Influence on Clean Water
    Laws
       1. Buddhism
       2. Hinduism
       3. Indigenous Spirituality
       4. Islam
       5. Judeo-Christian Outlook
III. How Religion Informs U.S. Clean Water Legislation
     A. Introduction
     B. Effluent Limitations and Best Available Technology
     C. Water Quality Standards
     D. Nonpoint Sources
IV. Conclusion

I. INTRODUCTION

Religion could help save the ecology of our planet. Religious values are core to many people in this world (3) and we must speak to this core to realize the radical ethical changes required to save our planet. (4) Laws designed to prevent environmental degradation must be crafted and implemented with recognition that, in the face of scientific uncertainty, religious values play an important role alongside the traditional cost-benefit analysis, typically claimed to constitute rational decision-making, (5) In this article, we have chosen to examine the religious path to an environmental ethic in order to offer "a framework that raises ethical issues and expects ethical conduct. (6) We hope that religious principles will serve as a "stepping stone[]" in bridging the gap between human-centered utilitarianism (7) and the environmental moralist approach. (8)

Scientific uncertainty exists in many environmental decisions. (9) Therefore, value choices must be made in the absence of known future consequences. (10) Religious values, as well as other values informing policy decisions in the face of uncertainty, should be acknowledged so that they may be debated openly and honestly. (11) Indeed, like other religious activism in the United States that led to political movements such as abolition, the ban on the sale of alcohol, and the civil rights movement, the "environmental movement today continues to draw much of its strength from a religious inspiration." (12) Nevertheless, sometimes religious values and ideals are suppressed in public discourse about environmental law and policy choices because "many Americans are nervous about mixing religion and government." (13)

Deep concerns about environmental degradation in the modern world did not come to the general public debate until attention to the influential writings of Aldo Leopold, (14) John Muir, (15) and Rachel Carson (16) converged in the 1960s and resulted in a flurry of environmental legislation in the 1970s. (17) In addition to providing a rallying call for environmental preservation through legal action, these writings and others provided the foundation for environmental ethics as a new discipline. (18) Professor Eric T. Freyfogle, a major legal scholar in this new discipline, wrote in 1990 that this "field hardly crystallized in 1970 is today rich and vibrant" (19) and he quoted the leading Leopold scholar, J. Baird Callicott, who described this diverse field as "includ[ing] articles by and in criticism of animal liberationists, biocentrists, deep ecologists, strong anthropocentrists, weak anthropocentrists, nonanthropocentric holists, neo-pragmatists, ecofeminists, process philosophers and theologians, Taoists, Zen Buddhists, Christian apologists, Muslim apologists, natural and unnatural Jews. …

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