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The Gardeners’ Dirty Hands

Environmental Politics and Christian Ethics

Noah Toly


Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publish Date: May 21, 2019
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0190249420
ISBN-13: 9780190249427

The past three centuries have witnessed the accumulation of unprecedented levels of wealth and the production of unprecedented risks. These risks include the declining integrity and stability of many of the world’s environments, which face dramatic and possibly irreversible change as the environmental burdens of late modern lifestyles increasingly shift to fragile ecosystems, vulnerable communities, and future generations. Globalization has increased the scope and scale of these risks, as well as the pace of their emergence. It has also made possible global environmental governance, attempts to manage risk by unprecedented numbers and types of authoritative agents, including state and non-state actors at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

In The Gardeners’ Dirty Hands: Environmental Politics and Christian Ethics, Noah Toly offers an interpretation of environmental governance that draws upon insights into the tragic – the need to forego, give up, undermine, or destroy one or more goods in order to possess or secure one or more other goods. Toly engages Christian and classical Greek ideas of the tragic to illuminate the enduring challenges of environmental politics. He suggests that Christians have unique resources for responsible engagement with global environmental politics while acknowledging the need for mutually agreed, and ultimately normative, restraints.



Noah Toly

Noah Toly is Professor of Urban Studies and Politics & International Relations at Wheaton College where he directs the Center for Urban Engagement. He also serves as Non-Resident Senior Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and as a member of the faculty at the Free University of Berlin’s Center for Global Politics.



  1. The Gardener’s Dirty Hands
  2. The Symbolism of the Tragic
  3. The Macondoization of the World
  4. The Cruciform Imaginary
  5. The Constant Rigor of the Anthropocene


“[A]n unexpectedly deep work of political and theological reflection … Toly’s work helps us, believers and non-believers alike, to articulate a more hopeful response. It is not a recipe for something that our own contradictions ought to warn us away from, but rather a recommendation for a hope which can co-exist with tragedy, a hope for endurance and grace as we do the hard, difficult work which this planet we have changed calls us to.

— Russell Arben Fox
Front Porch Republic