“Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his statement for the 2015 World Water Day makes a number of assertions that, while inspired by morally good ideals, are morally and practically problematic,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Chief among them is his assertion ‘that environmental resources are God’s gift to the world’ and so ‘cannot be either considered or exploited as private property.’”
While certainly not absolute, the Orthodox Christian moral tradition doesn’t reject the notion of private property. In fact, property is valued “as a socially recognized form of people’s relation to the fruits of labour and to natural resources.” Included here are the “basic powers of an owner,” such as “the right to own and use property, the right to control and collect income, the right to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property” (The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, VII.1).
On a practical level, Bartholomew’s concern for “sustainability” reflects what George Will calls an idea whose “premises are more assumed than demonstrated” and which “as a doctrine of total social explanation, transforms all ills and grievances into environmental causes, cloaked in convenient science.” When embodied in public policy, sustainability empowers “government planners and rationers to fend off planetary calamity while administering equity” allowing them “to supplant markets in allocating wealth and opportunity.”