Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: dwbosch
Thursday, November 16, 2006
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[UPDATE: Goldberg at the Corner invokes a variation on the skepticism theme: "Anti-clericalism was certainly partly driven from the suspicion that priests and other clergy were preaching their versions of the gospel simply to empower themselves. I’ve long argued that one of the reasons Washington-based reporters are liberal, or statist, is that if the subject they cover is considered hugely important, then they in turn will be considered hugely important." A reader responds with Cui bono.]

University of Colorado’s R. Pielke Jr. (hat tip)

If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.

What he’s saying is that the scientific method involves both establishing an hypothesis, and making a diligent effort towards disproving that hypothesis to see whether one’s original assumptions still hold up.

I’m not sure many of the outstpoken global warming moralists in evangelical circles today get this. That’s because people of faith don’t normally operate like this.

Other than notables like McDowell who found Christ while trying to disprove him, Christians are geared from children’s church onward to absorb and apply church doctrine based on the concerted studies of biblical authorities, or in the case of Scripture, first-hand witnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit. While we might critically analyze biblical truth as it applies to our lives today, we rarely set ourselves toward disproving the Bible itself as a way to establish it’s veracity.

There is an important distinction, then, between aggressively promoting environmental stewardship as a God-ordained moral ethic (which it is), and aggressively promoting a particular area of human-derived environmental science as a moral ethic (which it is not).

Being salt and light in the world means making this distinction evidently clear to all.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world… — 1 John 4:1

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
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The UN has been busy updating the Chicken Little fable into a contemporary context. You know the story where the little chick runs around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

In this edition, however, the looming disaster is (predictably) climate change. The news comes courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (HT: NewsBusters).

Sedna, the Mother of the Sea

The Gaia motif is perhaps the most revealing part, as in “Tore and the Town on Thin Ice,” (PDF) the title character is visited by “Sedna, the Mother of the Sea” who claims to be “the one who created and cares for the sea creatures – whales and walruses, seals and fish.”

Sedna is the Inuit goddess of the sea, and apparently the link between environmentalism and paganism is a natural one at the United Nations Environment Programme.

Of course the Christian faith provides a more than adequate basis for true stewardship of the environment, which neither divinizes the creation nor absolutizes human power over the world.

The Lord who “created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind” also made man the “ruler over the works” of his hands, including “the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”

If it is true that the sea life is suffering, I think it is less a sign of the distress of Sedna than it is something else…the day of the Lord, perhaps? See what some of the prophets have to say about this, particularly Ezekiel and Zephaniah.

But perhaps that story is too scary for the UN. It prefers the Chicken Little myth and the illusion both that human action is the direct cause of and the potential solution for all disasters.

Blog author: dwbosch
Thursday, November 9, 2006
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Prior to yesterday’s vote, Republicans for Environmental Protection had announced its slate of endorsed candidates for U.S. Congress.

‘Each of these candidates is a conservation-minded Republican dedicated to responsible environmental stewardship,’ said REP President Martha Marks. ‘While our party as a whole is not where it should be when it comes to environmental stewardship, electing this slate of Republican candidates would represent a giant stride toward changing that.’

Thought it might be interesting to see how they did in the election. Did being green garner them any turn-out-the-vote support?

Here’s how things shaped up. Incumbents are denoted with an asterisk. Info in [ ]’s is their League of Conservation Voters Environmental Score and whether they featured the environment prominently in their campaign platform based on Google hits and my review of campaign websites. Click the name for their REP endorsement (in .pdf form) if one was available. Other notes are in ( )’s.

(more…)

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
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In response to Sir Nicholas Stern’s cost/benefit analysis of dealing with climate change, Christopher Monckton, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and journalist, has published an article (a second will be published next week) and what looks like a very long, researched and documented paper [pdf] explaining why the “consensus” regarding global warming is not correct. Here is a summary of his argument:

All ten of the propositions listed below must be proven true if the climate-change “consensus” is to be proven true. The first article considers the first six of the listed propositions and draws the conclusions shown. The second article will consider the remaining four propositions.

  1. That the debate is over and all credible climate scientists are agreed. False
  2. That temperature has risen above millennial variability and is exceptional. Very unlikely
  3. That changes in solar irradiance are an insignificant forcing mechanism. False
  4. That the last century’s increases in temperature are correctly measured. Unlikely
  5. That greenhouse-gas increase is the main forcing agent of temperature. Not proven
  6. That temperature will rise far enough to do more harm than good. Very unlikely
  7. That continuing greenhouse-gas emissions will be very harmful to life. Unlikely
  8. That proposed carbon-emission limits would make a definite difference. Very unlikely
  9. That the environmental benefits of remediation will be cost-effective. Very unlikely
  10. That taking precautions, just in case, would be the responsible course. False

While I tend to disbelieve the general “consensus” that our world is warming at exceptional rates, sea levels will rise twenty feet, and we’re all going to die in 50 years because we didn’t ratify Kyoto, I do think it’s generally good stewardship to try not to pollute and to take responsibility for the pollution that we put into the air, water and land.

Anyhow, read the article, and let us know if you share Monckton’s skepticism, or if you are unpersuaded by his analysis.

Following the recent Medico-Legal Society of Ireland’s Golden Jubilee Conference in Dublin, the Irish Medical Times provides a timeline of the history of genetics, beginning in 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.

Other more recent highlights include the year 2003, in which “scientists at the University of Shanghai successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs, reportedly the first human-animal chimeras (a mixture of two or more species in one body) created.”

Earlier this year, “Irving Weissman, director of Stanford University’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, helped create the first mouse with an almost completely human immune system. The mouse is used to test drugs to fight AIDS.”

Weissman also directs work with mice and neurobiology,”Prof Weissman has also begun injecting human neural stem cells into mouse foetuses, creating mice whose brains are about 1 per cent human.” He has also “proposed creating mice whose brains are 100 per cent human.”

I have previously examined some of Weissman’s work, in conjunction with a survey of a panel of the President’s Council on Bioethics, here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 2, 2006
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Bjørn Lomborg responds to the Stern Report (discussed here) in today’s WSJ, “Stern Review.”

For those still interested, the latest installment of the Bill Moyers/Cal Beisner saga is in (for those of you who need refreshing, check out the posts here, here, and here. Moyers summarizes his side of the story with links here, under the section titled “Moyers and Beisner Exchange”).

Last week, on Oct. 25, Bill Moyers circulated another letter to Beisner (linked in PDF here). As of Friday, Oct. 27, Beisner said, “Granted that I hope to pursue reconciliation consistent with 1 Corinthians 6, I have chosen not to respond publicly.”

However, presumably due to the further communication on behalf of Moyers by his legal counsel (dated Oct. 31 and linked in PDF here), Beisner has given permission to post the following public response:

“First, I didn’t lie but wrote honestly from the best of my memory. Second, the conversations on which my memory were based occurred before and after the recorded interview, as I reported in the October 12 issue of the ISA newsletter (before ever hearing from Moyers about the October 9 issue) and were not taped.”

About a month ago I posted some responses to the editorial position taken at the Economist. One of their claims was with regard to the Kyoto Protocol and that “European Union countries and Japan will probably hit their targets, even if Canada does not.”

At the time I registered skepticism with respect to these estimates. Turns out my skepticism was well-founded.

From Wired News:

Between 1990 and 2004, emissions of all industrialized countries decreased by 3.3 percent, mostly because of a 36.8 percent decrease in the former Soviet bloc, the U.N. reported. Since 2000, however, those “economies in transition” have increased emissions by 4.1 percent.

Well, I’ve examined the decreased emissions in Russia before, which has been due in large part not to any government action but by the extensive contraction of the Russian manufacturing sector. The decrease in carbon emissions came at a huge economic cost, all of which was incidental and unrelated to the ratification of Kyoto.

More from Wired,

Of the 41 industrialized nations, 34 increased emissions between 2000 and 2004, the U.N. reported…. Among countries bound by Kyoto, Germany’s emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain’s by 14 percent and France’s by almost 1 percent, the U.N. reported. But Kyoto signatories such as Japan, Italy and Spain have registered emissions increases since 1990.

Looks like Russia might have some buyers for those carbon credits after all.

In a report commissioned by the UK government, Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, argues that the cost of waiting to take action to curb CO2 emissions will outpace other economic arguments against action on climate change.

The BBC reports (HT: Slashdot) that Stern found “that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%,” but that this opportunity cost for not taking action immediately could be offset by moving now: “Taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.” This is essentially the same economic argument I’ve previously used against action on climate change, but reversed to endorse action.

UK prime minister Tony Blair echoed the report’s conclusions, “For every ਱ invested now we can save ਵ, or possibly more, by acting now.”

“We can’t wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto – we simply don’t have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto),” Blair said.

The BBC claims that Stern’s report “is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than a scientist.” This may be true in a sense, but the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 embodies the conclusions of a number of economists, although it does not, in point of fact, examine the issue at a length in excess of 700 pages.

The conclusions of the consensus differ from Stern’s. Robert W. Fogel writes, “The environment is considered to be important, but it is not yet time to do anything massive about climate change. But with continued research and development (R&D) it will be possible to address future catastrophes and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Vernon L. Smith concludes, “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favour initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases (ghgs) build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate dangers may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention.”

The group’s consensus is, however, that our knowledge of the problem and potential solutions will increase over time, so that they leave open the possibility of recommending action in the future. Nancy L. Stokey sums it up well: “Future decision makers will be better equipped to decide whether more aggressive action is needed.”

Is two more years long enough? Have we learned enough in the intervening period to give greater weight to Stern’s conclusions?

One other item that Stern notes is that he’s hopeful about the possibility of curbing climate change. “I’m optimistic – having done this review – that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently,” he says.

Stern puts the emphasis on acting internationally. “Unless it’s international, we will not make the reductions on the scale which will be required,” says Stern. Just what international organization is envisioned as the arbiter of global climate change policy? The UN? The WTO? Or some as-yet uncreated entity, a la the Kyoto Protocol?

In the review summary (PDF), Stern writes, “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol and a range of other informal partnerships and dialogues provide a framework that supports co-operation, and a foundation from which to build further collective action.”

Update: Arnold Kling adds some commentary on the report over at EconLog.

Futher Update: Not too surprisingly, an OPEC spokesman contends that the Stern report propounds “scenarios that have no foundations in either science or economics.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, October 26, 2006
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The Wired.com blog Autopia passes along this NYT story outlining some of the fundamental challenges facing plug-in hybrid electric cars. The basic formula for the appeal of such hybrids is as follows: “The electric system runs mostly on coal, natural gas and uranium, all relatively plentiful. Cars run mostly on oil, oil and oil, which lately has been expensive. Wouldn’t it be nice to connect the two?” And as attractive an option as this might be, the NYT story writes that “despite the hopes of policy makers, engineers say there is no prospect of this happening in the near future.”

Coal Burning With Scrubbers

John Gartner is not so pessimistic about the short-term prospects for plug-in hybrids, and concludes, “The competition between the oil companies and electric companies will result in cleaner and more cost-efficient choices for consumers, and that we can all be happy about.”

But here’s the kicker for advocates of plug-in hybrids: The main source of electricity for the United States is fossil fuels, according to the DoE providing “nearly two-thirds of our electricity,” and more than half of that comes from coal. So it isn’t the case that moving from gasoline-powered engines to plug-in hybrids will move us away from the use of fossil fuels. It will, for the most part, simply shift the consumption from oil to coal.

That has some attractive national security implications, since “one quarter of the world’s coal reserves are found within the United States,” as opposed to our need to massively import foreign oil. It is on this basis that Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. argues, “It makes eminent sense to make as rapid a transition to those plug-in hybrids as we can.” This of course assumes that the withdrawal of international trade actually improves rather than worsens the prospects for international peace. Let’s leave that questionable assumption aside for now, which contradicts Bastiat’s observation, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”

With respect to the “green-ness” of plug-in hybrids, their environmentally-friendly image belies the fact that such hybrids will to a large extent be running on the energy provided by coal. Until our nation’s electricity comes from renewable and alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear power, the environmental attractiveness of hybrids will remain illusory.

In a previous commentary examining some related aspects of these issues, I ask rhetorically, “Just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?” Well, if there were plug-in hybrid SUVs, they would to a great extent be coal-powered…and not so green as you might first think.