I found this profile of Mark Tercek, the former Goldman Sachs managing director who was tapped to head the Nature Conservancy, raises some profound issues concerning the relationship between economics and the environment:
Tercek, 55, didn’t come to the Conservancy to fight financial brush fires. With the help of his board and the input of the Conservancy’s 600 scientists, he wants to remake the face of the American and global environmental movements. He has no quarrel with the current model—largely built on the strategies of confront, litigate, regulate. But by itself, that approach has proven inadequate. “All the things we care about—forests, coral reefs, fish stocks, biodiversity—we have less of instead of more of, despite everyone’s best efforts,” Tercek says.
Environmentalism, he fears, has become too elitist, too white, too partisan, too full of doomsayers, too concerned with saving nature from people instead of for them. He’d like to expand environmentalism to include the world’s largest polluters so that ecologists and corporations can work jointly to preserve nature because it’s the smart economic choice.
That last point is critical. Sustainable and responsible economic growth is based on properly valuing the natural environment. All too often environmental damage and degradation is due to improperly valuing and inadequately appreciating natural resources. In many cases it is because of a lack of well-defined property rights and responsibilities.
To use the language of Acemoglu and Robinson, unsustainable economic activity is extractive rather than inclusive. Consider how Tercek is actively and positively engaging Dow Chemical for an inclusive approach:
Tercek’s biggest bet yet is the Conservancy’s five-year partnership with Dow Chemical (DOW), announced a little more than a year ago. During the project, 20 Conservancy scientists are getting unprecedented access to Dow’s facilities, starting at Dow’s sprawling Freeport (Tex.) plant. The idea is to help the chemical giant do an inventory of its global land and water assets as a way of allowing Dow to put a value on its “natural capital” and to determine how to best protect and enhance it.
“I know there’s a lot of skepticism about these corporate initiatives, but for Dow to agree with us philosophically that it relies on nature for business reasons and to begin to put a business value on its natural assets, that’s huge,” says Tercek.
During the 50 years following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, much has been written to discredit the science of her landmark book. Little, however, has been written on the environmentalist cult it helped spawn.
Until Silent Spring at 50, that is.
Subtitled “The False Crises of Rachel Carson,” Silent Spring at 50 is a collection of essays specially commissioned by the Cato Institute and edited by Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers and Andrew Morriss. Much like Roger Scruton’s recent How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism, the essays present a unified indictment not necessarily of Carson per se but of the disastrous results wrought by the policies she inspired.
In “The Lady Who Started All This,” environmentalist William Kaufman presents an admiring portrait of Carson as a scientist who unfortunately took a left-turn from her previous works — based on objective, empirical research — when she endeavored to write Silent Spring shortly after her cancer diagnosis. For this ill-conceived approach, Kaufman blames Wallace Shawn, the New Yorker editor who prompted Carson to abandon her “disinterested scientist” voice in favor of a more “adversarial” tone. Since the famous editor signed Carson’s check, the author readily complied. (more…)
In the context of changing demographics, the increasing cost of health care services, and continuing federal budgetary pressures, Medicare has become one of the most controversial federal programs. To facilitate an informed debate about the future of this important public initiative, this article examines and debunks the following ten myths surrounding Medicare: (1) there is one Medicare program, (2) Medicare is going bankrupt, (3) Medicare is government health care, (4) Medicare covers all medical cost for its beneficiaries, (5) Medicare pays for long-term care expenses, (6) the program is immune to budgetary reduction, (7) it wastes much of its money on futile care, (8) Medicare is less efficient than private health insurance, (9) Medicare is not means-tested, and (10) increased longevity will sink Medicare.
Global human population is projected to reach nine billion by 2050, which means food production will need to expand by 70% to keep up. Fulfilling this demand will place unprecedented pressure on ecosystems, including the planet’s grasslands, especially as competition grows for scarce natural resources. How to meet this daunting challenge while ensuring the health of land, water, wildlife and people will be one of the great tasks of the 21st century. In this conference, we will explore a variety of innovative practices that are already successfully intensifying food production while preserving, maintaining, and restoring the natural world. Speakers will share their hands-on experience and ideas for feeding all life – from the ground up.
Altruism has many motivations, including religious motivations. Perceived religious experience plays a strong role in the life of many religious individuals in the U.S. and can be a strong motivator of altruistic behavior. Religious altruistic behavior can be described by an economic theory of religious/spiritual health. Empirical tests using a theoretically and statistically valid set of instrumental variables show a strong causal link between perceived religious experience and the frequency of altruistic acts. An additional weekly event during which an individual perceives feelings of love that they believe come directly from God results in individuals increasing their altruistic acts by an average of 4.7% over a one-year period.
Proposals for papers and panels are invited on the following topics in Ethics, Society, and Cultural Analysis: Pedagogy and Ethics, History and Ethics, Christian Social Ethics, and Moral Theology. Also of interest are reflections about comparative theological and ethical discourse featuring reflections on Jewish Ethics, Islamic Ethical Perspectives, Indigenous Religious Moral Perspectives, Buddhist ethics and Christian ethics. Constructive treatments of ethical issues including immigration, transnationalism, bioethics, global economics and poverty, health care, food and hunger, environmental ethics, ecofeminism, ecowomanism, medical ethics, theological ethics, sexual ethics, and the use of Scripture or tradition in ethics are also invited. Proposals may also discuss Womanist ethics, Mujerista theological ethics, Latina/o ethics, Native and Indigenous religious ethical perspectives, LGBTIQ ethics, and Feminist ethics.
I belong to the Christian Reformed Church, and our synod this year decided to formally adopt a report and statements related to creation care and specifically to climate change. I noted this at the time, and that one of the delegates admitted, “I’m a skeptic on much of this.”
He continued to wonder, “But how will doing this hurt? What if we find out in 30 years that numbers (on climate change) don’t pan out? We will have lost nothing, and we’ll have a cleaner place to live. But if they are right, we could lose everything.”
Over at Think Christian today, I reflect on the delegate’s question and try to begin to answer it in “Climate change and the church.” I do so primarily by attempting to inject the idea of opportunity cost into the discussion about climate change and specifically ecclesial responses.
This recognition of opportunity cost is closely identified with a central insight of economics, and it is informative to see how natural scientists and social scientists, like economists, approach the question of climate change. It’s also intriguing to see whether and how these two different groups are given platforms to speak to (and sometimes for) the church. Robert Murphy has a lengthy and worthy entrance into this broader discussion, which includes this critical observation about the insights of economists on the climate question:
The general public has no idea that the “consensus” (if we wish to use such terminology) of economic studies shows net benefits from anthropogenic climate change for decades.
Are the conclusions of such economic studies relevant to the question of how churches, groups of Christians, and individuals address the question of climate change? I submit that they are. And I also submit that Murphy’s general conclusion should chasten the confidence with which non-experts (which includes nearly everyone involved in church leadership) engage these issues:
The scientific modeling of climate change, and its possible impacts on human welfare, are very technical areas requiring years of study to master. When experts try to summarize the fields for the layperson, they sometimes present matters in misleading ways, however inadvertent.
The Acton Institute’s staff is heavily featured in the July/August issue of Legatus Magazine. First, there is a brief review of the Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book, ‘Defending the Free Market’:
He shows why free-market capitalism is not only the best way to ensure individual success and national prosperity, but is also the surest route to a well-ordered society. Capitalism doesn’t only provide opportunity for material success, it ensures a more ethical and moral society as well.
Next is Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research. His Ethics column for Legatus focuses on the vocation of the Christian business person, as outlined in the document ‘The Vocation of the Christian Business Leader’ (VCBL), from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:
This means that business leaders confront, often on a daily basis, enormous ethical and economic difficulties. The subsequent choices they need to make are not simple. While VCBL suggests that the state has a role in addressing many of these issues, it wisely refrains from entering into detailed policy recommendations about how governments should act in these areas. Instead, it indicates that in many instances the primary responsibility for addressing many such challenges lies with business leaders themselves.
Finally, Gregg is extensively quoted in the feature “Benedict: The ‘Green Pope’, which notes not only Benedict’s strong commitment to the preservation of natural resources, but the misguidance of the Green Movement:
“The Greens’ view of humanity is that we are just another aspect of the natural environment,” said Gregg. “Most are grounded in pantheistic ideology. Within the Greens’ ideology, human beings are bad and it’s better if there are fewer of us. This is why they are so adamant about mandatory contraception for developing countries and why they are so pro-abortion.”
The Catholic Church teaches that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God — and that they are intrinsically good and capable of innovation.
“What’s distinctive about Pope Benedict is that he asks the Greens why there is this degree of disrespect for the human person, which comes out in Green policies,” Gregg said. “They have a false conception on anthropology. Within deep Green writings on the environment, you see a certain ‘humanophobia’ at work, which is materialistic and paganistic.”
But that ambivalence seems to be history, as yesterday Michigan State University and the city of Detroit announced an agreement under which MSU “will invest $1.5 million over the next three years to help turn the city into a world hub for food system innovation.”
“We want to demonstrate that innovation based on metropolitan food production can create new businesses and jobs, return idle land to productivity and grow a more environmentally sustainable and economically vital city,” said Bing.
One concern about the MSU partnership is whether this might encourage government to over-regulate gardens, and therefore stifle innovation. As I have observed in the past, the city’s own incompetence and incapacity has actually in some limited cases provided an environment that allows entrepreneurship and revival. But there’s always legitimate worry over whether a government embrace of an industry might become crushing.
One of the ways of better understanding the public role of science is to understand precisely what consensus does and does not mean. As Summers writes in the context of delineating “scientific consensus,”
science develops confidence in its findings on the basis of evidence accumulated under the methodological norms of the field, but it does not conclude in a final sense. Thus, a product of scientific inquiry may be highly robust—having well explained all available data and made accurate predictions—but it is not a final and absolute truth claim because it is predicated on evidence that continues to accumulate with time.
A related point is that consensus, no matter what kind, whether popular or expert, is an imperfect indicator of truth and not determinative of it. That is, truth is not created by consensus but rather by correspondence with reality.
Modern science is dominated by distrust when it comes to our own deepest sense of life, and that distrust is nothing but unbelief. What people lose thereby they attempt to recover by locating their fulcrum in the consciousness of the prevailing majority. Whatever is generally regarded as true in scientific circles people will dare to accept for themselves.
What people generally agree upon in this manner is called the truth, the truth that people profess to honor. Pressed a bit further, they sense that such a general agreement constitutes no proof at all, so they suppose that only what I can make so clear to all persons of sound mind and sufficient education such that they finally understand and agree with it belongs to what is scientifically established.
The role of scientific consensus is absolutely central to determining what ought (or ought not) be done by various institutions (governmental or otherwise) with respect to climate change. As Andy Crouch’s original piece illustrates, the scientific “near-consensus” on climate change is the latest in a long line of scientific determinations (such as evolution) to which the public is bound to accommodate itself.
But if we confuse consensus with absolute truth, and conflate scientific conclusions with ethical imperatives, we are unduly influenced by the “priestly voice” of science and invite the tyranny of scientific consensus.
There is a near-consensus in the scientific community that climate change is occurring and very likely is caused by human activity.
Human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue.
The CRC is compelled to take private and public action to address climate change, especially since those who are already most impacted by it live in poor countries.
A broader report on creation care was also passed by the synod. I should echo this broadest sentiment of the synod, and note that there is no debate about whether or not the Scriptures mandate Christians to be good stewards of all of God’s gifts, including those of the natural order, environment, and resources. The first specific instance of the cultural mandate from Gen. 1:28, “to fill the earth and subdue it” and to exercise dominion, is given to Adam, when God “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
But my concern here has to do more with the prudential wisdom of synod adopting specific statements like this as official policy of the denomination regarding climate change. In my lecture this week at Acton University, I dealt with outlining the role of the church as both institution and organism in God’s economy, his management of the entire world and all that is in it. I focused on the defining characteristic of the institutional church’s responsibility to be that of “proclamation” of the gospel, consisting of the closely interrelated activities of preaching, administration of the sacraments, and exercise of church discipline. This distinction is also present in my critique of the ecumenical movement’s particularly economic (rather than environmental) activism in Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.
So I was disappointed to read yesterday that my denomination had decided to speak so specifically to a social issue like climate change that really is so contentious and divisive. It seems to me that the discussion has not really advanced all that much in the last 5 years or more, and that the true situation is perhaps even less clear now than it was even a decade ago.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
What really stuck out to me in reading some of the reports about the decision was the sentiment expressed by Rev. Steven Zwart, a delegate from Classis Lake Superior. Here’s what he said:
“I’m a skeptic on much of this. But how will doing this hurt? What if we find out in 30 years that numbers (on climate change) don’t pan out? We will have lost nothing, and we’ll have a cleaner place to live. But if they are right, we could lose everything.”
I think among those at synod who were (or are) inclined toward skepticism “on much of this,” Zwart’s sentiment was likely broadly shared. What, indeed, do we have to lose?
Believe in God though he does not exist, Pascal argued, and you lose nothing in the end. Fail to believe when he does in fact exist, and you lose everything. Likewise, we have little to lose, and much technological progress, energy security, and economic efficiency to gain, if we act on climate change now—even if the worst predictions fail to come to pass. But if we choose inaction and are mistaken, we will leave our descendants a blighted world.
At the time I responded in a piece, “Pascal’s Blunder,” as I would now to the question, “How will doing this hurt?” One critical component of the answer has to do with the basic economic concept of opportunity cost…what other good might we do with the resources directed towards advocacy on climate change? That’s your answer. That’s what we have to lose: all the other good that we might or ought to be doing.
At the time Andy was generous enough to engage in a more extended conversation on these issues, and I’ll pass along the links for those who want to do more reading about the question, “But how will doing this hurt?” As I’ve said, I don’t think the analysis or discussion has advanced much in the last seven years, at least not in the CRC.
Our friends at the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE) in Bozeman, Mont., have put together another strong slate of summer programs for clergy, seminary professors and other religious leaders with the aim of deepening their understanding of environmental policy. In its description of the program, FREE notes that many in faith communities “see an inherent conflict between a market economy and environmental stewardship.”
Major religious groups assert that pollution, deforestation, endangered species, and climate change demonstrate a failure of stewardship that requires reform. And of course they are correct—what, however, are the incentives and information generated by alternative reform policies? Some policies can have profoundly negative impacts on social well-being.
FREE’s goal is to help increase the understanding of religious leaders as they approach environmental policy. These leaders are influential nodes in a network of congregations, providing a conduit to disseminate market-based environmental ideas, potentially to millions of Americans.
FREE will help religious leaders understand the political economy dimensions of environmental policy reform. We will explain how basic economic principles can help achieve green goals with minimum sacrifice to social welfare. Together we will explore how a culture that values America’s founding ideals, secure property rights, and responsible prosperity, can also foster a healthy environment and promote social justice.
I’ve been to a number of these FREE events and have been impressed with the content — and that’s from someone who has grown “seminar averse” over the years. At FREE, faith leaders get the economic insights that are necessary for a deeper understanding of environmental stewardship. On the other side, policy analysts — including some of the FREE lecturers — get the faith insights that they do not ordinarily have access to in their own specialized fields. Yes, it is possible to bring together economic and moral thinking.
For PowerBlog readers, we’re posting the video from Andrew Morriss’ April 26 Acton Lecture Series talk in Grand Rapids, Mich., on “The False Promise of Green Energy.” Here’s the lecture description: “Green energy advocates claim that transforming America to an economy based on wind, solar, and biofuels will produce jobs for Americans, benefits for the environment, and restore American industry. Prof. Andrew Morriss, co-author of The False Promise of Green Energy (Cato, 2011), shows that these claims are based on unrealistic assumptions, poorly thought out models, and bad data. Rather than leading us to an eco-utopia, he argues that current green energy programs are crony capitalism that impoverishes American consumers and destroys American jobs.”
Morriss, an Orthodox Christian, begins with a quote from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Istanbul, Turkey-based hierarch. Bartholomew said this in response to the March 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed:
Our Creators granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy?
“The Ecumenical Patriarch and I don’t see eye to eye on this,” Morriss said. “I think he’s asking the wrong questions.”
In his book, Morriss and his co-authors warn that “the concrete results of following [green energy] policies will be a decline in living standards around the globe, including for the world’s poorest; changes in lifestyle that Americans do not want; and a weakening of the technological progress that market forces have delivered, preventing us from finding real solutions to the real problems we face.” Many of those lifestyle changes will come from suddenly spending far more on energy than we’d like. Green technologies mean diverting production from cheap sources, such as coal and oil, to more expensive, highly subsidized ones, like wind and solar. These price spikes won’t be limited to our electricity bills either, the authors argue. “Anything that increases the price of energy will also increase the price of goods that use energy indirectly.”
The better solution to improving America’s energy economy, the book shows, is to let the market work by putting power in the hands of consumers. But “many environmental pressure groups don’t want to leave conservation to individuals, preferring government mandates to change energy use.” In other words, green-job proponents know they’re pushing a bad product. Rather than allow the market to expose the bad economics of green energy, they’d use the power of government to force expensive and unnecessary transformation.
Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had a profound impact on our society. As an iconic work, the book has often been shielded from critical inquiry, but this landmark anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to reassess its legacy and influence. In Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson a team of national experts explores the book’s historical context, the science it was built on, and the policy consequences of its core ideas. The conclusion makes it abundantly clear that the legacy of Silent Spring is highly problematic. While the book provided some clear benefits, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance. Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s best-seller contained significant errors and sins of omission. Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong.
Morriss is the D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Angelich Jones Chairholder of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is the author or coauthor of more than 60 book chapters, scholarly articles, and books. He is affiliated with a number of think tanks doing public policy work, including the Property & Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, the Institute for Energy Research, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In addition, he is a Research Fellow at the New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law. He is chair of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. His scholarship focuses on regulatory issues involving environmental, energy, and offshore financial centers. Over the past ten years he has regularly taught and lectured in China, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Nepal.
Morriss earned an A.B. from Princeton University and a J.D., as well as an M.A. in Public Affairs, from the University of Texas at Austin. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After law school, Morriss clerked for U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders in the Northern District of Texas and worked for two years at Texas Rural Legal Aid in Hereford and Plainview, Texas.
He was formerly the H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law & Professor of Business at the University of Illinois College of Law and the Galen J. Roush Profesor of Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.