Category: Environmental Stewardship

Video source: The Harry Read Me File. More clips from the hearing here.

On Wednesday, the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, testified at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works. The hearing aimed “to examine the role of environmental policies on access to energy and economic opportunity … ” A report at the Energy & Environment news service said the hearing was “full of fireworks.” It was convened by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a sharp critic of the Obama administration’s climate policies.

“The true purpose of the president’s climate polices have nothing to do with protecting the interests of the America people,” Inhofe said. “Instead, they are meant to line the pocketbooks of his political patrons while promoting his self-proclaimed climate legacy.”

Democrats on the committee pushed back against those arguments. But it was majority witness Alex Epstein, the author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” who caused much of the contention at the hearing.

Epstein testified that rising carbon dioxide levels benefit plants and Americans. He defended fossil fuels as a driver of stability and prosperity in an ever-changing climate.

“The president’s anti-fossil-fuel policies would ruin billions of lives economically and environmentally,” he said, “depriving people of energy and therefore making them more vulnerable to nature’s ever-present climate danger.”

In a follow up report, the news service highlighted testy exchanges between Democrat members of the committee and Sirico: (more…)

cleancoallead2Electric cars are not a new invention, nor are they as popular as they once were. (They debuted in 1890 and by 1900 electric cars accounted for around a third of all vehicles on the road.) But over the past decade, thanks to Elon Musk and Tesla Motors, electric cars have become much more interesting.

Tesla rolled out the first fully electric sports car in 2008 and a fully electric luxury sedan in 2012. And earlier this month they unveiled the Model 3, a premium sedan for $35,000.

The Model 3 won’t be produced until 2017 but it’s already something of a success. You can “reserve” a Model 3 for $1,000, and so far the company has over 325,000 reservations. As Tesla brags, this corresponds to about $14 billion in implied future sales, making this “the single biggest one-week launch of any product ever.”

I confess that if I had $35k I’d gladly trade in my 2004 Toyota Prius for a car that goes 0 To 60 MPH in under 4 seconds. But as a conservationist and a conservative the idea of driving a car powered by coal and subsidized by the government gives me pause.

What’s that? You didn’t realize electric cars were powered by coal? That’s not surprising since you won’t find it mentioned in Tesla’s brochures. But it’s true that they are “fueled” by electricity that is created by coal or other fossil fuels (at least mostly in some states, exclusively in others). And it’s also true the government will, in the name of protecting the environment, give you a tax break for buying a car that runs on coal.

Tesla’s electric cars are beautiful, but they aren’t necessarily better for the environment. As environmental economist Bjorn Lomborg explains in this video, electric cars aren’t necessarily greener than conventional gasoline cars.

(more…)

This past Friday, I blogged about the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent decision to allow a vaguely worded proxy resolution proceed to a vote. The resolution was submitted by, among others, members of the religious shareholder activist group the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

The ICCR resolution calls upon ExxonMobil Corporation to take action intended to mitigate climate change. ExxonMobil requested the SEC deny the ICCR resolution on the grounds it was based mainly on nonspecific greenhouse-gas reduction targets and unclear strategies to achieve them.

Since that post, I received an email from a subject matter expert that helps place the SEC’s decision in perspective. Legal Director Allen Dickerson from the Center for Competitive Politics, a free-speech nonprofit, commented:

The SEC’s decision was routine. It is extraordinarily easy, under U.S. securities laws, to put a proposal before a company’s shareholders, and politically active groups have done so with increasing frequency in recent years. But these policy proposals are seldom adopted. Shareholders generally want corporations to maximize the value of their investment, as management is legally obligated to do, and rebuff attempts to turn the annual meeting into an extension of the broader political arena.

(more…)

The Blue MarbleYesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion at Calvin College, hosted by the Paul B. Henry Institute, focusing on challenges facing the next president. The topic of this inaugural panel for the series was “The Environment,” and there was what I thought was a very worthwhile conversation with Jamie Skillen of Calvin’s Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies department, moderated by Micah Watson of Calvin’s political science department.

I had the chance to prepare some opening remarks, and I ordered them as five basic theses each paired with its own corollary. To wit:

Thesis 1: Our world belongs to God. Corol. God’s world belongs to us.

Thesis 2: Humans have a unique stewardship responsibility. Corol. Humanity is of unique significance in the world.

Thesis 3: Stewardship involves being productive. Corol. A clean environment is a costly good (cf. Cornwall Declaration).

Thesis 4: Economic and environmental stewardship, rightly understood, are not fundamentally opposed. Corol. Short-termism is the enemy.

Thesis 5: Good stewardship of fossil fuels is the key environmental challenge today. Corol. Nuclear has to be part of the solution for transcending fossil fuels.

coal_power_plant

What just happened?

On Tuesday the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s effort to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. The vote was 5-to-4, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, to put a temporary halt on the implementation of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule change.

Why is this significant?

As the New York Times notes, the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court:

“It’s a stunning development,” Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former environmental legal counsel to the Obama administration, said in an email. She added that “the order certainly indicates a high degree of initial judicial skepticism from five justices on the court,” and that the ruling would raise serious questions from nations that signed on to the landmark Paris climate change pact in December.

In negotiating that deal, which requires every country to enact policies to lower emissions, Mr. Obama pointed to the power plant rule as evidence that the United States would take ambitious action, and that other countries should follow.

What was the EPA rule change?

In June 2014, the EPA issued a proposed rule change on “emission guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units.”

Specifically, the EPA is proposing state-specific rate-based goals for carbon-dioxide emissions from energy producers (mostly from 600 coal-fired power plants) and setting guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to achieve new state-specific goals.

Is this is an important change?
(more…)

Conference Panel for "In Dialogue With Laudato Si'", December 3, 2015

Conference Panel for “In Dialogue With Laudato Si'”, December 3, 2015

Today at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, the Acton Institute has organized a half-day conference called “In Dialogue With Laudato Si’: Can Free Markets Help Us Care For Our Common Home?” in response to Pope Francis’ appeal in Laudato Si’ for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” In advance of the conference, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico was a guest on Vatican Radio’s “Vatican Viewpoint” to discuss the nature of free markets, how they can effectively protect the natural environment when allowed to function properly, and how to avoid some of the consumerist pitfalls that have been associated with the market economy in the West.

You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.

Climate-Change-Report-23For the past few years Pope Francis has made it clear he considers climate change to be an essential issue of concern. In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, he wrote that climate change is one of the “principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Has Francis been able to convince American Catholics to share his concern?

Maybe so. A new Pew Research survey shows that Catholics, along with people who are unaffiliated with major religions, are more likely to agree with the pope’s position than are Protestants in the U.S.
(more…)