Q: I hear different things from different Christians. Some think that being sensitive to ecological issues is a matter of faith. Others dismiss it as a fad and based on faulty science. Is someone committing a sin by denying the moral implications of ecological choices?
A: Releasing toxic chemicals into a river during the night would be sinful, whether done by an individual or a company. That’s why it is done when it is unlikely to be detected. Choosing to drive to work rather than take public transportation may not be the most responsible ecological choice, depending on your circumstances, but it is hardly a sin.
The basic moral principle here is that the right of private property is very real but not absolute. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation” (2415).
Dismissing ecology as a fad based on faulty science sounds more like a political slogan than the conclusion of a properly formed conscience. Ultimately, polluting air, water, or soil is a form of theft because it deprives other people of a healthy environment to which they have a natural right.