Category: Environmental Stewardship

Every year on Earth Day events are held around the globe to demonstrate support for environmental protection. You aren’t likely to see any celebrations of fossil fuels, though, despite all the ways they have improved the environment for human life and flourishing. As Alex Epstein says, maybe we should reflect more on how fossil fuels has made our environment cleaner and healthier.

(Via: AEI Ideas)

hippy environmentIn an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, the director of Acton’s Rome office, Kishore Jayabalan, offered his thoughts on the upcoming papal encyclical on the environment. Jayabalan told the Reporter’s Brian Roewe that he did not deny that climate change exists, since it indeed changes all the time. Jayabalan’s concern is that the upcoming encyclical won’t be based on sound scientific research.

To say that the science requires us to do X, Y and Z, I’m skeptical about that because I’m not sure exactly if the problem has been adequately understood and described so that everyday people can make sense of it and help us understand what we should do about the problem,’ he said.

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That’s one of the questions that comes to mind when reading Bill McGurn’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Many free-market advocates, including yours truly, have already expressed concern over what may appear in the papal encyclical due this summer. McGurn concurs but, like a good entrepreneur, also sees an opportunity:

The fears are not without cause. There are many signs that do not augur well, from the muddled section on economics in the pope’s first encyclical [Actually, it was an apostolic exhortation. — K.J.] to his posing for a photo while holding up an anti-fracking T-shirt, to press coverage anticipating he will be to the fight against greenhouse gases what Pope John Paul II was to the fight against Soviet communism.

Even so, the topic is ripe for precisely the kind of corrective a pope has to offer: a reminder that God’s creation is meant to serve man—not man the environment. And its corollary: It is the have-nots who pay the highest price for the statist interventions so beloved of the Church of St. Green.

The term “human ecology” was used by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (see my lecture on the topic), not only to speak about trendy environmental issues such as climate change but ones less popular among Western celebrities, especially the importance of marriage and family and the evils of population control. In doing so, the popes showed themselves to be pro-social-justice and pro-life/pro-family at the same time.

It’s possible, however, that the opponents of capitalism will use the occasion to attack economic freedom once again, even if it ultimately hurts the poor. Nothing very human about that kind of ecology.

On Naharnet, a Lebanese news and information site, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg and Director of Istituto Acton Kishore Jayabalan comment on Pope Francis’s forthcoming environmental encyclical, which the news organization says is planned for release this summer. (Note: The article describes Acton as a “Catholic” think tank but it is, in fact, an ecumenical organization with broad participation from Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians and those of other faith traditions.) Naharnet notes that “a papal encyclical is meant to provide spiritual guidance to the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, but among advocates of climate action hopes are high that this one will resonate far beyond the church.”

Samuel Gregg, research director of the conservative Michigan-based Catholic think tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said he doubts that the pope will weigh in on the science of climate change or on any particular political course of action.

“Individual Catholics—lay people, as well as bishops—have a variety of views on the science of climate change, and as citizens, they’re quite entitled to hold those views,” he said. “It’s not the church’s responsibility, nor does it have the authority to say that Catholics must support this treaty, that treaty, or any treaty. It doesn’t fall into the area of faith and morals. And this is often a distinction not understood outside the Catholic Church, or even by a good number of Catholics themselves.” (more…)

pollution-permitsA key way to reduce pollution is to provide a mechanism that allows some firms to pollute as much—or even more—than they normally would. That idea may sound ridiculous—reduce pollution by allowing pollution?—but it’s been proven to be a surprisingly effective means of cleaning up the environment.

In 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act were added which included market-based incentives to reduce pollution, such as “emissions permits” for certain pollutants. As Robert W. Crandall explains,

These are, in effect, rights to pollute that can be traded among polluters. Imagine a giant bubble that encloses all existing sources of air pollution. Within that bubble, some emitters may pollute more than the control level as long as other polluters compensate by polluting less. The government or some other state or regional authority decides on the desired level of pollution and the initial distribution of pollution rights within an industry or for a geographic region—the “bubble” that encloses these sources. Purchases and sales of permits within the “bubble” should reduce the total level of pollution to the allowable limit at the lowest total cost.

The method not only works, it has shown to reduce pollution to even levels lower than could have been achieved by an across-the-board cap on all polluting firms—and at costs that are significantly cheaper.

MRUniversity recently released a video that explains the economics of these tradable pollution permits.

geoengineering-the-planetFor at least forty years, scientists and policy makers have considered addressing climate related issues by means of climate engineering, or as it more commonly referred to, geoengineering. A prime example is found in a story published in Newsweek that proposed (albeit with reservations) to use geoengineering to fix a climatic “problem”:

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. [emphasis added]

That quote comes, of course, from the now infamous 1975 Newsweek story about the dangers of global cooling. Nowadays, melting the Artic ice cap is considered a problem in need of a solution, not a solution to fix the problem.

More recently, other ridiculous geoengineering ideas have been proposed, such as shooting millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere or taking similar actions to put reflective particles in the atmosphere to block some sunlight.

While such proposals are frightfully absurd, it appears cooler heads are beginning to prevail on ideas about how to “fix” global warming. According to a new report by the U.S. Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine, and National Research :
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blue lakeAt The Stream, Jonathan Witt questions why nations with free economies have cleaner water. After all, wouldn’t it seem more likely that countries with heavy government regulations regarding the environment have cleaner water?

An examination of the most polluted rivers and streams in the world paints a different picture. With only a handful of exceptions, the dirtiest rivers in the world are located within some of the most restrictive countries. In contrast, three of the top five cleanest streams or in the world are located in “mostly free countries.”

Take a single vivid example. New Zealand is considered one of only six completely free nations in the world — even the US doesn’t fall into this category — and its Blue Lake, located in the Southern Alps, is fed by the purest mountain streams coming from glacial Lake Constance. With the clearest natural fresh water in the world, visibility extends up to 80 meters underwater.

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hot_temperature_41During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.

For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”

Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.

Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.

I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.

Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.
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JBER turns landfill gas into energyAt Wired, Issie Lapowsky says most of us are paying rent on our garbage. Not that we think of it that way.

Millions of businesses are paying billions of dollars in rent on their garbage. They don’t think of it that way, of course, just as the fees they pay trash haulers to pick up their junk. But a significant portion of that money covers the cost of the landfill space itself. And what is a landfill if not a stinky, seething plot of real estate with garbage as the primary tenant?

What choice do we have? We fill our trash bags, put the bags in the cart and haul it to the curb once a week. Then a garbage truck takes the garbage away and we don’t think about it anymore. But Nate Morris has been thinking about it. A lot. (more…)

Aunt louisaOver at the Federalist, Gracy Olmstead wonders “what happens when people bring the country to the city?” She goes on to argue that “urban farming could have conservative implications and outworkings—and we should encourage these endeavors as much as possible, in our efforts to bring traditional principles back to urban environments.”

Is there a way to bring the city mouse and the country mouse together?

I’ve argued for the need for urban farming initiatives in the context of renewal movements in places like Detroit, and Michael Miller has cogently pointed out the entrepreneurial reality at the core of farmers’ markets.

But as Olmstead points to the diverse benefits of urban farming, I’m reminded of a story that pushes us beyond merely material and utilitarian calculus. The economist Wilhelm Röpke was a devotee of allotments for gardening and farming (Schrebergärten) commonly found in Europe, particularly after World War II.
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