Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Coal has long been a target of environmentalist anger. Soot, strip-mining, smokestacks—so many ugly features. Much of that opposition is overblown, of course (we’ve got to get energy from somewhere), but some of it has merit. This story from Ohio exhibits one of the genuine problems. The state’s taxpayers have to foot a $300 million bill for cleaning up the environmental messes coal companies have left. Some, but only a small part, of that is being paid for by corporate fees and taxes.

Free-market environmentalists, like the good folks at PERC, insist that these kinds of externalities can be accounted for in a properly constructed market, rather than relying on the very blunt and usually inequitable tool of government to take care of environmental fallout from industrial activitiy. I’m inclined to agree, but I wonder how such a market would work in this case. Maybe the source of the problem is the 1978 federal law cited by the article, which requires states to help companies repair damaged land—did this encourage irresponsible practices by coal producers?

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 4, 2006

Joe Carter gives us some good context for today:

The fact that many people agree on something does not imply that what they agree on is true, whether the issue is climatology or farm subsidies. An appeal to consensus is merely a form of the argumentum ad populum fallacy (appeal to the majority). The status of the fallacy doesn’t change just because the members of the majority all have Ph.Ds. If you want to establish a consensus for your argument, you have to do more than appeal to a consensus.

What’s this context for? Today’s WSJ includes the text of a letter sent from Sens. Snowe and Rockefeller to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

In the missive, the senators berate ExxonMobil for its support of a “climate change denial confederacy,” which “has exerted an influence out of all proportion to its size or relative scientific credibility.”

But in the face of adversity, there is always the safety of scientific consensus to fall back upon:

While the group of outliers funded by ExxonMobil has had some success in the court of public opinion, it has failed miserably in confusing, much less convincing, the legitimate scientific community. Rather, what has emerged and continues to withstand the carefully crafted denial strategy is an insurmountable scientific consensus on both the problem and causation of climate change.

This related WSJ editorial properly excoriates Snowe and Rockefeller and their letter, which the editorial says is “of a piece with what has become a campaign of intimidation against any global warming dissent.”

I have read through the opening arguments (PDF) in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120) conducted yesterday morning before the Supreme Court. From a layperson’s perspective I would have to say that Jonathan Adler’s characterization of the nature of the proceedings in not quite correct.

Adler writes, “It is also important to underscore that this case is not about the science of climate change. There is no dispute that human emissions of greenhouse gases affect the global climate. Rather, the fundamental issues are whether the Clean Air Act mandates the sort of regulatory action the petitioners seek, and whether these (or any) petitioners are entitled to bring these claims in court.” It seems to me, however, that as much of the discussion focused on the issue of the petitioners’ standing, it necessarily included and touched on their ability to prove imminent threat of loss due to climate change.

As Lyle Denniston writes in summary of yesterday’s action, “The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the “standing” issue). And, it seemed clear that the deciding vote on that question probably lies with the Court’s key centrist Justice, Anthony M. Kennedy.”

With regard to Kennedy’s questioning, Denniston states, “Kennedy suggested that the Court could not bypass the larger question of whether global warming is a problem, in order to assess who might be harmed by it, ‘because there’s no injury if there’s not global warming.'”

Thus, the “science of climate change” is an issue…and a large one at that.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Supreme Court is hearing a case today brought by 12 states and a coalition of environmental groups that sued the Bush administration in 2003 for refusing to issue regulations limiting carbon emissions. “On a global scale, forced cutbacks in CO-2 emissions would create an unconscionable setback for developing countries where economic development is just beginning to pull people out of poverty,” writes Jay Richards.

Read the commentary here.

Right about now, the Supreme Court of the United States should be hearing the beginning arguments in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120). Not much attention has been paid to this case over the last few months, but recently a spate of media attention has arisen, citing this case as perhaps “the most important environmental case in many years,” as well as “one of the biggest environmental cases in years.” (Jonathan Adler responds to the NYT editorial at The Volokh Conspiracy.)

There are reasons to doubt the hype surrounding this case, however, and not just because of the dubiousness of the scientific “consensus” on climate change.

A spate of amici briefs Atlantic Legal Foundation and the National Council of Churches (PDF), the latter of which argues in part that scientific “uncertainty alone cannot justify inaction. To decide rationally whether climate change may ‘endanger public health or welfare,’ EPA must consider the harm that would result if the risk of climate change, however uncertain, is realized.” As I have argued against similar views elsewhere, such claims bring economic considerations, especially cost/benefit analysis of action vs. inaction, to the fore, which do not necessarily bear out the conclusion that the potential harm necessitates political action.

In fact, the EPA is not citing scientific uncertainty as its sole justification for refraining from regulatory action. One of its main claims is that it lacks the statutory authority to regulate CO2 emissions, and thus a large part of the case hinges on interpretation of certain provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Regarding the complexity of the case, Hugh Hewitt writes that “in one case do we get important issues of standing, legislative intent, deference to administrative agencies and, of course, the debate over global warming.”

He concludes, “The argument will be one worth listening to very closely, and the decision when it arrives in the spring will be, I predict, a duel between the justices who take seriously the idea of a Court of limited jurisdiction versus those justices eager for the EPA to get on with the urgent business of grappling with climate change.”

In a helpful overview of the case, Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes a similar concerns of a group of conservative law professors, including Robert H. Bork, that the petitioners’ claim is

part of a multi-faceted effort to draw the federal courts into one of the most important and controversial foreign policy and political battles of our time….Petitioners seek to remake U.S. climate change policy through litigation in the federal courts.

Likewise Rivkin and Casey in today’s WSJ, who filed an amicus brief in the case, conclude that “if economic growth is to be sacrificed because of global warming fears, the decision should be taken by Congress and the president, the people’s elected representatives, and not by the courts.”

At its current state, the petitioners’ claims were denied in a 2-1 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court, after which the appeal by the petitioners came to the Supreme Court. John Gartner of Wired’s Autopia warns, “If the Court sides with the EPA, it will be further proof that the judicial branch of government is out of step with the populace,” a claim which, while perhaps true, seems to advocate legislation from the bench.

Despite such rhetoric, the case has two major components, focusing not only on the science of climate change but on the question of the appropriate governmental authority to make policy decisions. Denniston summarizes it this way:

The controversy pursued in the briefs thus focuses heavily on the harms believed to arise from global warming, countered by the claims that the science on climate change is still evolving and uncertain. But equal controversy has arisen over what might be called the separation-of-powers issue: who decides how to attack the perceived problem of climate change?

Because of the multi-faceted nature of the case’s arguments, Denniston writes that this decision could end up not setting a major precedent on the politics of climate change: “Before the Court ever reached the ‘global warming’ problem, it could be stopped by a maze of procedural issues, as well as by a bold challenge to the judiciary’s power to take on the problem.”

Update: Autopia’s John Gartner now says that the court’s greenhouse ruling “won’t matter,” at least in the short-term.

Blog author: dwbosch
Thursday, November 16, 2006

[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

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

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.


Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

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.