Category: News and Events

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
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A new NBER working paper promises to blow up the myth that it is primarily the wealthy that will bear the cost of taxes on carbon emissions. In “Who Pays a Price on Carbon?” Corbett A. Grainger and Charles D. Kolstad explore the possibility that “under either a cap-and-trade program that limits carbon emissions or a carbon tax that imposes an outright tax on these emissions, the poor may be among the hardest hit. Because they spend a greater share of their income on energy than higher-income families, households in the lowest fifth of the income distribution could shoulder a relative burden that is 1.4 to 4 times higher than that of households in the top fifth of the income distribution.”

One of the assumptions of the study is that “all costs are passed on to the consumer,” which seems to be appropriate given the state of things in the oil refining business, for instance. As Christopher Helman writes in Forbes, “Even though rising fuel costs and taxes can mostly be passed along, they depress demand for refining. That causes refining margins to implode.” This brings up another set assumptions in the NBER study, however, that doesn’t account for modifications in demand, worker wages, or investor returns.

The authors are also improbably sanguine about the possibility of using the government to redistribute tax revenues to the poor to offset the regressiveness of the tax: “A price on carbon could yield substantial government revenues, and careful recycling of these revenues could offset the regressive nature of a national GHG [greenhouse-gas] emissions policy.” These revenues could also form the basis for a whole new government bureaucracy, which is much more likely than “careful recycling.”

But even with all those caveats, the point that the poor are almost always disproportionately impacted by policy decisions like this is an important one, which raises moral considerations beyond the dominant paradigm surrounding the question of carbon emissions, which simply pits the the impoverished two-thirds world against the developed world.

If ever G.K. Chesterton’s old quip about heresy being “truth gone mad” was in full view, here comes a report from England whereby Fr. Tim Jones, an Anglican minister, had actually encouraged the poor to shoplift from large chains this holiday season.

… the minister’s controversial sermon at St. Lawrence Church in York has been slammed by police, the British Retail Consortium and a local MP, who all say that no matter what the circumstances, shoplifting is an offence.

Delivering his festive lesson, Father Jones told the congregation: ‘My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

‘I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

It is true, according to St. Thomas Aquinas and a long tradition of Christian social teaching that private property, while sacred, is not absolute, so that in certain, rare and exceptional circumstances those whose lives are endangered may avail themselves of the property of another. (See this section of the Summa Theologica, for example.)

What is it about Fr. Jones’ language that raises the suspicion that he is less motivated by the well being of his poor parishioners than he is by a disdain for private property, especially when it is employed successfully (i.e., becomes “big chains”)? Follow the consequences of such a disregard for the 8th Commandment: levels of shoplifting rise in chain stores, which disproportionately attract lower income shoppers; the chain stores respond by either passing on their losses to their customers (thereby making life even more difficult for them) or the retailers reduce their overhead and fire their marginal employees (made up of lower income workers).

Need I continue? Anyone who wants to support a scholarship for Rev. Jones or other clergy like him to come to Acton University in June, please contact Kara Eagle here.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 21, 2009
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I saw the latest blockbuster Avatar last night, and the early plaudits are true: this is a visually stunning masterpiece of “hybrid” cinematography, a “full live-action shoot in combination with computer-generated characters and live environments.”

But there are other, less compelling ways, in which Avatar is a hybrid of sorts. There are literal hybrids in the Avatars themselves, the genetically-altered bodies combining both elements of Na’vi and human genes to act as bodies for the Avatar “sleep walkers.” Other commentators have noted the lack of originality in the plot. Indeed, Avatar’s narrative seems to be a combination of other films and stories, and Avatar‘s only original contribution is the setting on the planet Pandora. In one sense, you could think of Avatar as The Mission set on an alien planet and with scientists instead of Jesuits.

Another film worthy of comparison to Avatar is last year’s CGI masterpiece, WALL-E, as both tread some of the same territory, so to speak. In both films humans have laid waste to the Earth, which is no longer capable of supporting a viable ecosystem. WALL-E spends a great deal of time set on the damaged planet, but Avatar only makes vague references to the “dead” planet where there is no green, and that the humans, the sky people, have killed their mother (Mother Earth).

It’s here that Avatar‘s message stumbles the most. Whereas in WALL-E responsible stewardship of the world was set within a compelling criticism of consumerism and waste, it is emotionally powerful without being sentimental, preachy, or clichéd. Avatar misses this kind of nuance. It plays on the worst stereotypes Westerners have about native and indigenous peoples to present a naive portrayal of the Na’vi, the alien inhabitants of Pandora.

In WALL-E, when humans use up the Earth, they essentially gorge and pleasure themselves in space, passively waiting to return to home one day. In Avatar, humans maraud other innocent worlds, looking for other ecosystems to kill. Now as Bill Easterly points out, this alone shouldn’t be enough to raise the ire of conservative critics against Avatar.

There is much that rings true in the film’s depiction of human greed and disregard for those considered to be “other.” As Easterly writes in another context, “those of us of Euro-American heritage would be a lot more convincing on Individual Rights by acknowledging that we have had as much trouble applying them as anybody else. We were pioneers in applying them to our own ethnic group, but we kept handing out free passes to kill other people’s rights.” This is one of the core messages of Avatar that is right on, and pundits and commentators on all sides of the political debate should be able to see this.

So it isn’t in its critique of genodice or murder that Avatar fails, but rather in its tone, its caricature rather than prophetic depiction of the human condition (war-mongering Marines come off especially flat and unconvincing). As an indictment of a kind of space colonialism, Avatar functions well, sometimes reaching a meaningful level of authentic rebuke. As a screed against the favorite peeves of the radical environmentalists and a paean to the neo-pagan deity, however, Avatar falls flat.

Blog author: ken.larson
Friday, December 18, 2009
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Those three words Just Sign Here are what you’re told when you sign up for a cellphone, or buy a car or take out a bank loan. And it’s what you’re told to do when you buy a house whether or not there’s a mortgage. Just the buying part involves many disclosures about the nature of the property and pages of stuff to read and acknowledge. Over the years I’ve heard more than one escrow officer admit, “if you read all that stuff you’d probably never sign it.” But most of us learn to read it all — carefully.

My own children have been “misinformed” with at least one of their cellphone providers. “Yea but,” my daughters would tell me while complaining about a bill they had received. “They said I’d get free minutes and that I could quit anytime I wanted. I didn’t think they’d be charging this much, Dad.”

“Where’s your contract,” I’d ask.

“There’s one online somewhere — I think.”

Where am I going here? Healthcare Legislation and Climate Agreements.

Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada in The Senate of The United States of America will preside in that assembly over the next several days and press the elected members who are supposed to represent the citizens of their individual states, to vote on a proposed piece of legislation — ObamaCare — that they very likely will not have read, shown Republicans in the Senate or digested in conference. They are calling the exercise “historic” and brow beating anyone who is challenging them. As I write that includes 62% of the citizens in the U.S.A. according to pollsters.

In Copenhagen an assembly of what appear to be anti-Capitalists from around the world are pressing their enablers to agree to a treaty [read "law among nations"] that will commit the “rich” to pay the governments of the “poor” money — huge sums of money — to offset effects of climate change. This is happening within the context of what seems to be a gigantic hoax recently revealed by some errant emails. The Copenhagen idiocy is having its problems due to an issue of sovereignty. Some countries don’t want people looking at the way they spend money brokered to them through places like the United Nations [think Kofi's son and the Iraqi oil for food scam and the French diplomat who skimmed millions off the top for personal gain and remember that the majority of nations in the UN have governments that lack "a rule of law."].

For the Republicans and most politically conservative thinkers, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell describes the situation at his web site. But I’m drawn to the more mundane remembrances of times past when my childen rushed and made a bad judgement in the mobile user they signed with.

Only in America can elected officials exhibit the same lack of common sense when reading a contract as do so many of our teenagers.

consensus_alert1Breaking news: India, China walk out of climate summit

So much for the “God moment.” Seeing as how this was our last chance and all, I think I’m going to take the afternoon off to go get my affairs in order.

Mind Boggling: How could world leaders not come to a consensus when Chin-Strap the Polar Bear and the Guardian Angels of the Climate were all in agreement?  Unity in diversity!  It was so spiritual!  The mind reels.

CONSENSUS! No, seriously, the science is settled!

LAST MINUTE MIND-BLOWINGLY AMAZING UPDATE: This new “non-binding working agreement” negotiated at the very last minute by a bunch of panicked politicians trying to save face after a complete failure of a conference is almost exactly what we needed, I bet!

DESPAIR! It looks like we’re doomed after all:

U.N. climate talks fell into crisis on Saturday after some developing nations angrily rejected a plan worked out by U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of other major economies for fighting global warming…

…Countries including Venezuela, Sudan and Tuvalu said they opposed a deal spearheaded on Friday in Copenhagen by the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil at the summit. The deal would need unanimous backing to be adopted.
Opponents said the document, which sets a target of limiting global warming to a maximum 2 degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial times and holds out the prospect of $100 billion (62 billion pounds) in annual aid from 2020 for developing nations, was too weak.

An acrimonious session long past midnight hit a low point when a Sudanese delegate said the plan in Africa would be like the Holocaust by causing more deadly floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas.
The document “is a solution based on the same very values, in our opinion, that channelled six million people in Europe into furnaces,” said Sudan’s Lumumba Stanislaus Di-aping.

I suppose the silver lining here is that at least for once it’s not global warming skeptics being likened to genocidal killers. But that’s small comfort as we watch the agreement to save the world from imminent destruction fall to pieces. Such a shame.

The question: Is this Copenhagen global warming conference an environmental pilgrimage for some? Says one demonstrator: “You can call it, like, some kind of a new religion, I don’t know … ” But the guy in the polar bear costume isn’t so sure.

Update: Naturally, right after I post this article, new information comes out that makes Climategate look even worse.  It’s been noted in the comments that Russian scientists are now saying outright that climate data from Russian weather stations has been tampered with in order to make it appear to substantiate claims of catastrophic man-made global warming:

On Tuesday, the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) issued a report claiming that the Hadley Center for Climate Change based at the headquarters of the British Meteorological Office in Exeter (Devon, England) had probably tampered with Russian-climate data.

The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory. Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country’s territory, and that the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports. Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations.

The data of stations located in areas not listed in the Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature UK (HadCRUT) survey often does not show any substantial warming in the late 20th century and the early 21st century.

The plot thickens!  Original post follows…

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consensus_alert1It’s been some time since we’ve had an update on the State of the Global Warming Consensus, and I’m happy to report that the Global Warming Consensus remains strong and unchallenged.  Well, strong and unchallenged barring that little e-mail and data leak from a few weeks ago that is really not an issue at all.  I mean, it’s not an issue at all except in the sense that it may have exposed some unethical scientific shenanigans by some of the biggest names in the pro-Anthropogenic Global Warming community, but that’s nothing to lose sleep over.  You might lose your job, but you shouldn’t lose sleep.  COPENHAGEN OR BUST!

Some background:  the Global Warming Consensus Watch/Alert series dates back to April of 2007, and from the start has been all about reminding us that the much-vaunted Scientific Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming was not nearly as untouchable as folks like Al Gore would have us believe.  The reality of the situation is slightly more nuanced than the Goracle would have us believe:  indeed, the planet has been warming over the last century, and has been since the end of the Little Ice Age.  The questions being confronted over the last few decades – and most intensely over the last couple of years – are whether the warming that has happened in the 20th century is primarily caused by human activity or is part of a larger natural process; and whether or not the warming poses significant problems for human society in the future.  (Dr. Jay Richards had a presentation on this very topic as a part of the 2008 Acton Lecture Series; you can view it here.)
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Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
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The Acton Institute welcomes a new writer to the commentariat today with this piece on Climategate. The Rev. Gregory Jensen is a psychologist of religion and a priest of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest (Orthodox Church in America). He blogs at Koinonia.
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Science and the Demands of Virtue
By Rev. Gregory Jensen

Contrary to the popular understanding, the natural sciences are not morally neutral. Not only do the findings of science have moral implications, the actual work of scientific research presupposes that the researcher himself is a man of virtue. When scientific research is divorced from, or worse opposed to, the life of virtue it is not simply the research or the researcher that suffers but the whole human family.

Take for example, the scandal surrounding the conduct of researchers at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University in the UK. Whether or not the recently revealed emails and computer programs undermine the theory of anthropological global warning (AGW), it is clear that current public policy debate is based at least in part on the research of scientists of questionable virtue who sacrificed not only honesty and fair play but potentially the well being of us all in the service of their own political agenda.

All of this came to mind recently when a friend sent me a talk on the environment (Through Creation to the Creator) by the Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Ware argues that all creation is “a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe.” Unlike the Gnosticism that holds sway in many areas of life (including scientific research) the Christian Church argues that the secret of creation is both knowable and known. Creation, Ware says, points beyond itself to “the Second Person of the Trinity, the Wisdom and Providence of God” Who is Himself both “the source and end” of all created being. Insofar as the Christian tradition has an environmental teaching at all it is this: Jesus Christ is the “all-embracing and unifying” Principal of creation. (more…)

Via Beliefnet, Rev. Richard Cizik, formerly of the National Association of Evangelicals, who once called global warming the “third rail” of evangelical politics, and who also said that evangelicals “need to confront population control,” is at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

In this video, Cizik speaks of the critical role that “people of faith” have in translating the challenge of climate change into concrete political action. He says in part, “I don’t believe this moment in time is not without significance. I believe there is a kind of ‘God moment’ here politically for the nations of the world, the leaders of the world to move us forward.”

There’s much more background information in the joint Acton-IRD paper, “Climate Control to Population Control: Troubling Background on the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’.”

In his essay, “Intellectuals and Socialism,” Friedrich Hayek asked how it was possible for a small group of people to have such influence on the ideas and politics that affected millions. He argued that it was because the socialists influenced the “influencers”–those “secondhand dealers in ideas” like the press, educators, and editors, who spread socialist thought into the mainstream.

A parallel can be seen in the cultural battles over religious symbols during the Christmas … I mean, the holiday season. One would think from media coverage that there exists an overwhelming consensus that religious symbols have no place on public property. But the reality is quite different. There may be a clear consensus among the secular intelligentsia, but it doesn’t hold for most Americans.

A recent poll showed that a majority of Americans are perfectly happy with displays of religious symbols and believe it is fine for schools to celebrate religious holidays.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 76% of adults believe religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah menorahs and Muslim crescents should be allowed on public land. Just 13% disagree, and another 10% are undecided.

Eighty-three percent (83%) believe public schools should celebrate religious holidays. This figure includes 47% who think the schools should celebrate all religious holidays and another 36% who believe they should only celebrate some. The question did not single out which holidays should be celebrated and which should be excluded.

Only 14% think the public schools should not celebrate any religious holidays.

Additionally–news for retailers: “Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 72% of adults prefer “Merry Christmas,” while 22% like “Happy Holidays” instead.”

So why the widespread sense that Christmas is the holiday that must not be named? It’s another example of a small minority of Scrooge-like secularists spreading their gloom to the rest of us in the guise of enlightened tolerance, a secular Uniculturalism that strips America of our traditions and vitiates the human experience.