The nature of self-governance

I came across this story from It’s about a New York town seeking to protect itself from an anticipated boom in requests by gas companies for horizontal hydrofracking gas drilling. The story says that this technique poses “potential health and environmental risks 100 times greater than existing vertical gas wells.”

For now, I don't wish to focus on the nuances of hydrofracking, but this New York Time story gives some good background related to the Empire State.

What does interest me is the philosophy of what the town is asserting, as well as why and what presuppositions are behind their goals. Towards the end of the story we read this:
Facing these overwhelming forces, and aware of the health and safety risks associated with hydrofracking, the tiny Town of Wales recently outlawed new gas wells using the horizontal, hydraulic fracturing drilling technique.
The law asserts that the people of Wales possess certain natural and inalienable rights, including: the right to form a local government to promote their welfare, not the economic interests of corporations; the right to healthy local ecosystems and clean drinking water; and the right to protect themselves — even from harmful state actions.
First, let me say that as a regulator, I understand the frustration communities can go through when waiting for the state or feds to do what they need to do. Little ever goes the way we plan it or as fast as we want it—and that’s just as true in the world of regulation as it is everywhere else. After all, a regulator must weigh as much information as possible and they must do it very well, with all voices being heard. This takes time.

But more importantly, there is a fascinating facet hidden in this story about Wales, New York that has to do with the nature of transcendence.

The people of Wales seek to govern themselves and protect their rights. This is exactly what America’s founding fathers wished, and did. But our nation's founders knew where their life, liberty and the promised ability to pursue happiness came from—God. But of late, in a world that increasingly worships at the altar of Separation-of-Church-and-State (and often for good reason), the location of something prior to liberty—and thus that ensures liberty—becomes difficult to pin down.

It’s interesting that the people of Wales are claiming their rights within the context of ecological protection and public health. Human rights—and human being defined as a person from conception to natural death (and, actually, beyond that, too)—are embedded in the logic of the cosmos. And as Catholics proclaim, that logic—that logos—is indeed Jesus Christ, who was there in the beginning, when the Spirit moved over the waters and God spoke creation into existence.

I wish the people of Wales well and I will pray for them. I also look forward to learning more than what this news story could provide. I would be delighted to find that these good people see their rights as rooted in the logic of creation, in which all human beings are made in God’s image and thus must have their dignity affirmed at all times. In doing so, they will find an important link between protecting creation and their desire to protect—and govern—themselves.

As His Holiness writes in Caritas in Veritate,
On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself — God's gift to his children — and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it. This means being committed to making joint decisions “after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying”[120]. Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet[121]. One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of “efficiency” is not value-free.
[120] Benedict XVI, Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 7: AAS 100 (2008), 41.
[121] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, New York, 18 April 2008.

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.