From the Dean

Gregory E. Sterling

I can vividly recall one of the great ethical debates back in the 1980s when I was a Ph.D. student in Berkeley – an uproar over potatoes.

A scientist who lived in the house in front of my garage apartment had developed a new version of the frost-resistant potato. It was regarded as the latest breakthrough in the fight against world hunger, a way to give farmers large and small a better chance against the volatilities of weather. But passions were also high against such research. Wasn’t genetic manipulation of nature a dangerous thing? Wasn’t it hubris to try to outfox nature and create “Frankenfoods” that could have monstrous, unintended consequences?

The debate wasn’t resolved, then or now. I could see the arguments of both sides. On the one hand, we needed more food for people; on the other hand, unintended consequences can be devastating.

Thirty years later, the world population has grown to seven billion, and the ethical debate is as vigorous as ever. Genetic modifications are embedded in the food system. An alternative food sustainability movement has mushroomed in response. Still, food deserts persist. Food insecurity affects some two billion people. Drought in the western U.S. and elsewhere is reaching historic and traumatic pro- portions. Climate change – with its effect on our food, water, and survival – is emerging as a central preoccupation of the global community.

This issue of Reflections was produced in a spirit of urgency and care about the interlocking complexity of food and water and environmental debates, and with conviction that people of faith must join the fray.

Joining might mean starting a community garden on the church grounds. Or it might mean exercising our voices in very public ways to ensure that basic human rights – including the right to food security and the right to clean water – are front and center in our national and international conversations.

People of faith bring a perspective to these un- yielding challenges that other discussants lack: God has given us the responsibility to be stewards of earth. It involves a Janus-like capacity to look in two directions at once. As creatures, we must be wary of Tower of Babel-like arrogance and overreach, but as creatures in God’s image we must also be willing to apply our intelligence and creativity to human problems.

We know some human-made “solutions” can go too far and be too destructive. Yet world population will reach 10 billion or more this century. Going organic isn’t enough. We have to produce food on a massive scale – and distribute it justly on the same massive scale. We need technical solutions – but also moral perspectives, supplied by a Christian witness in partnership with the humane, ethical visions of others.

Thanks to the many voices who contributed to this Fall 2014 Reflections for making pathways to a just and sustainable future.