In light of the new encyclical coming from the Holy Father on nature, here is a good article from The Catholic Thing.
In Psalm 8, we read: “You have given him (man) rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet.” This passage recalls the “dominion” passage in Genesis (1:28). It means that the natural resources of the earth and cosmos are given to man so that, through them, he can live and attain his purposes.
This view is teleological. It finds that, discernible within the cosmos, things relate to each other. Each order of existing things, by being what it is, has a purpose. This abiding uniqueness of existing things is why we can study and know them with our minds. All non-human purposes are, by being good, themselves ordered to the purpose of man. It follows that, if we do not know both the inner-worldly and transcendent purpose of man, we do not know the purpose of the things we find in the universe.
I approach these comments on natural resources from a specific angle. Today, the world is not understood to be “for” man, but man is “for” the world. This deliberate reversal of the hierarchy of ends within the natural order means that the chief interest of man is not his own soul. It is rather the presumed carrying capacity of the earth, and perhaps the cosmos itself.
The “species” counts, not John or Suzie, who can be expendable. The “future” means, not eternal life, but the temporal on-going of the planet down the ages. Salvation means “saving” the planet, usually from some men for the good of presumed others yet to appear. In this context, estimates (and that is all that they are) of resource availability become the principal concern of men and states. Ethics becomes the “engineering” of this saving of some men through allocation of resources.
Talk of “rights” of trees or sparrows belongs to the same discourse of human “rights,” when “rights” mean whatever we want them to mean. “Rights” do not refer to something intrinsic to the being in question. Rather, as Hobbes said, they are whatever we want to make of them. We can endow “rights” on turtles but not on babies in the womb. This “liberty” is what “rights” are designed to accomplish….
Man himself is a “natural resource.” He exists on this planet from nature like everything else. He is different because he has a mind. This mind is the one anti-entropic power within the universe that sees what is there, what he is. The real natural resource is his mind in which what is not himself is known and placed in order.
The hallmark of the universe is not scarcity but abundance. Man’s “dominion” makes it possible for natural resources to reach their end. Man alone is the cosmic “natural resource” that must choose to accept his own end. The real drama of the universe lies with the “natural resource” that is man.
Retrieved January 6, 2015 from http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/01/06/natural-resources/