Category: Environmental Stewardship

In a recent interview with Giant magazine (June/July 2006, “Citizen Gore,” p. 56-57, text available here) about his new movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore answered a few questions. When asked what he would say to President Bush about climate change if he could:

I’d say that this climate crisis is really a planetary emergency, and that he ought to take it out of politics altogether. The civil rights issue really took hold when Dr. King defined it as a moral and spiritual issue, and this crisis must be redefined as a moral and spiritual issue because it involves who we are as human beings. Do we care about our children and grandchildren? Are we content to just look the other way when 100 years of science overwhelmingly points to the destruction our current pattern is causing? Most people, when they finally open their eyes and look at the truth of this, say, “We’ve got to change.” To make it a political issue is wrong and the current White House is doing that.

Of course, Mr. Gore’s campaign to popularize his message about global warming has everything to do with turning this into a political issue. This goes a long way in explaining what Heather Wilhelm calls a “strange bedfellows” phenomenon. When Ms. Wilhelm asks NAE Vice President for Governmental Affairs Richard Cizik about whether “evangelicals concerned that they’re putting too much faith in government,” he responds, “You know, I don’t hear that very often. I don’t think that’s a huge concern among most people. I think they’re enthusiastic about the progress we’re making.” Those evangelicals who have been “converted” to the global warming cause are providing that veneer of moral authority, which helps make this into more than a “political issue.”

When asked why some people still won’t accept the scientific evidence, Gore replies:

A lot of people don’t want to accept the truth so that they won’t have to take on board its moral imperatives. You may already know this, but there is an interesting way that the Chinese write the word crisis. They use two characters side by side, but the first character standing by itself means danger, and the second character by itself means opportunity. When you put them together, they mean crisis. In English, crisis means a sense of alarm or danger, but it doesn’t automatically communicate a sense that in danger there is always a sense of opportunity. I try to make a point when I talk about global warming that there really is a lot of opportunity. There will be new jobs, new technology, new improvements in our lives, and more importantly, there will be an opportunity to have a shared moral purpose. We would be able to speak to our grandchildren and tell them we did something on their behalf that was tough but we found a way to accomplish it.

Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth about the Chinese words for danger, opportunity, and crisis. But that may not be the only fiction that Mr. Gore is peddling in this interview.

Since Mr. Gore is engaging economic concerns to buttress his argument, let’s have a look. His basic economic argument is that political intervention into energy policy, specifically with regard to climate change, will have positive economic benefits, because of the opportunities provided by new research and technology. This is the same basic argument that Andy Crouch makes in a Christianity Today piece. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the major economic arguments against radically preemptive action against climate change is that of opportunity cost. This is a point made by Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics and law at George Mason University. He speaks of a “rule of optimality,” and argues:

If we ignore this rule of optimality and begin abatement now for damages caused by emissions after 100 years, we leave our descendants with fewer resources – 100 years of return on the abatement costs not incurred – to devote to subsequent damage control. The critical oversight here is the failure to respect opportunity cost. Each generation must be responsible for the future effect of that generation’s emission damage. Earlier generations have the responsibility of leaving subsequent generations a capital stock that has not been diminished by incurring premature abatement costs.

The government could create “new” jobs by having people dig holes and fill them in again. The mere creation of jobs is an ambiguous phenomena. We have to ask whether these new jobs contribute something greater to the common good of society.

Mr. Gore and Rev. Cizik emphasize the moral and especially religious aspects of environmental stewardship, and in this they are right. And a basic element of Christian morality is a commitment to the truth. Rev. Cizik contends, “For those of us who oppose the hegemony of the naturalistic worldview, we should strongly consider spending less time debating one another over who is right about climate change and collaborate together to conquer the real enemy.” But who is right about climate change is of the utmost importance!

Gore is right (and Rev. Cizik is wrong) in recognizing that the truth about the reality, cause, and solution regarding global warming has a foundational significance for the shape of the debate. It’s not just about Christians versus naturalists. But Rev. Cizik is right in this sense: the truth about global warming should not obscure our commitment to the One who is Truth.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The researchers report that "latent heat loss from the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean was less in late spring and early summer 2005 than preceding years due to anomalously weak trade winds associated with weaker sea level pressure," which "resulted in anomalously high sea surface temperatures" that "contributed to earlier and more intense hurricanes in 2005." However, they go on to note that "these conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean during 2004 and 2005 were not unprecedented and were equally favorable during the active hurricane seasons of 1958, 1969, 1980, 1995 and 1998." In addition, they say "there is not a clear link between the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation [of temperature] or the long term trend [of temperature] and individual active hurricane years, confirming the importance of other factors in hurricane formation."

CO2 Science concludes "the 2005 hurricane season was not as unique as many people have made it out to be, and that there is no compelling reason to ascribe whatever degree of uniqueness it may have possessed to recent global warming."

This isn’t news. USA Today, quoted at the US Senate’s Environment and Public Works page:

USA Today reviewed what several scientists and economists have said recently about hurricanes and hurricane intensity, and the overwhelming majority believe there is no link. In fact, the only opinion in its story favoring a link between global warming and hurricane intensity was that of a Wesleyan economics professor, Gary Yohe – not a climate scientist. Every scientist quoted disregarded any link.

Scientists like William Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, Robert Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami from 1987 to 1995, and Christopher Landsea, a researcher meteorologist in the hurricane research division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

MP Scott Brison is being tagged in the Edmonton Sun as two-faced over Kyoto in his attacks on Canada’s new environment minister. And so it goes.

There are reasonable concerns over CO2 pollution, and there should be interest in responding to climate changes as they occur, naturally or otherwise. But wielding Katrina and global warming as a political tool will eventually backfire on climate change advocates, and is likely to be counterproductive to getting man-made CO2 emissions rolled back.

[Originally posted at The Evangelical Ecologist on 5/24/2006.]

In the in-box, this interesting survey from Nate at Field & Stream:

A new survey conducted by the National Wildlife Federation (the results of which are being hosted exclusively on fieldandstream.com) shows that:

  • 76 percent of sportsmen believe global warming is occurring
  • 71 percent believe it’s a serious threat to fish and wildlife
  • 78 percent believe the U.S. should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2

even though:

  • 73 percent consider themselves conservative to moderate on political issues
  • 50 percent consider themselves evangelical Christians

and

  • 53 percent voted for Bush (compared to 29 percent for John Kerry)

Here’s the link to the full survey. I have lots of brothers in Christ who are outdoorsman and know they have been conservation conscious for generations. But I’m surprised the numbers are that high. I’ve emailed Nate back to see if we can get more details on this; worth expanding on.

[Originally posted at The Evangelical Ecologist]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daniel Son gives a nice summary of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) over at Townhall.com. Check it out.

Christianity Today’s email update from today has a link for this piece, “A Climate of Change,” which reviews the current situation among evangelicals regarding environmental stewardship. And here’s a useful link to the CT Library archive of articles on the environment.

You may have seen an op-ed in the NYT last week by Tom Friedman, who noted that when oil and gas prices go up, bad things happen in oil producing nations abroad. The tendency is for the oppressive regimes in oil producing nations to consolidate their power and be less responsive to the demands of their citizens when they have the added buffer of huge profits from the sale of oil.

And domestically many have made the claim that rising oil and gas prices are a bad thing. Many people’s pocketbooks have been hit hard, when they stop to fill up at the pump and over the course of the long winter. So many people are against high gas prices that politicians at almost every level have felt the need to respond and make some sort of gesture, token or substantive, to address the issue.

There’s no doubt that the poor, as in most cases, are disproportionately affected by high energy prices. People on fixed incomes often have trouble paying their utility bills when prices spike. Others who must commute to their jobs have trouble filling up the gas tank. Attention needs to be fixed on the people in these sorts of situations, and help should be there when they need it. It must be noted, too, that increased taxes have the same drawback as increased prices from market-pressures: they are regressive.

But for the vast majority of Americans, if addressed honestly, the rising cost of oil is more of an inconvenience than anything else. If people can afford to buy expensive new SUVs and large trucks, they can afford the pinch on their disposable income that higher gas prices mean.

Even so, the inconvenience does have the ability to change people’s behavior, and this is why I’m making the argument that high gas prices have the potential to be a good, albeit a costly one (so to speak). People might drive less, carpool more, walk to the corner store instead of driving, and so on.

But an even bigger point is this: as gas prices rise the cost relative to other forms of energy is bound to decrease. This is why so many environmental advocates have long been arguing in favor of some sort of hefty additional petroleum products tax, which would make other sources of energy more competitive.

But what so many fail to see is that the market can accomplish by itself what such artificial and authoritarian measures are intended to do. Clearly the price we pay at the gas pump includes a huge amount by way of taxes to the various levels of government. But when gas prices rise without an increase in the amount of government taxation, the market itself is making other cleaner and renewable sources of energy more competitive.

As the Cornwall Declaration observes, “A clean environment is a costly good.” This has never been more true than in the case of rising gas prices. The wealth created by market economies allows the creation of new, better, and more efficient technologies. And the market itself gives strong economic incentive to the pursuit of such endeavors, especially when oil prices are on the rise.

It’s high time that environmentalists stopped being so wishy-washy about the market. As Paul Jacobs points out, they like the market when the prices are high but hate it when they are low. On this inconsistency, Jacobs is right. But where he’s wrong, I think, is that arguing for the positive effects of the market in this case automatically means that you must otherwise be for increased taxation to accomplish the same goals.

Related Items:

“Bodies for Barrels,” The McLaughlin Group, May 5, 2006 (archived text of issue available here; search for ” Issue Two: Bodies for Barrels.”) Key quote from Tony Blankley: “I’m in favor of free markets. The people will go to smaller cars if they want them. And trying to force people to buy cars they don’t want is foolish. And anybody who wants to protect their family, particularly if you have children, you want them in a lot of steel around them. And that to me is the better call to protect your children – driving around in Suburbans and large vehicles.”

Tom Daschle and Vinod Khosla, “Miles Per Cob,” The New York Times, May 8, 2006. Another installment of the “governments create markets” fallacy.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” Detroit News, April 22, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Cashing in on Carbon Credits,” Acton Commentary, April 19, 2006.

Is it getting hotter in here? Why yes, yes it is:

It appears so:

Close inspections of Red Spot Jr., in Hubble images released today, reveal that similar to the Great Red Spot, the more recently developed storm rises above the top of the main cloud deck on Jupiter.

Little is known about how storms form on the giant planet. They are often described as behaving similar to hurricanes on Earth. Some astronomers believe that the spots dredge up material deep below Jupiter’s clouds and lift it to where the Sun’s ultraviolet light chemically alters it to give it a red hue.

The latest images could provide evidence that Jupiter is in the midst of a global change that can modify temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on different parts of the globe.

The fact that “global warming” appears to be occuring on a number of planets in our solar system should probably give pause to those who have wedded themselves to the idea that such warming on Earth is entirely a product of human activity. Or perhaps the residents of Jupiter just need to cut their dependence on fossil fuels and stop driving those SUVs…

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, May 5, 2006
Mark Tooley in the Weekly Standard – "The Religious Left thinks that global warming is about to break-up the Religious Right."
According to Wallis, "biblically-faithful Christians" are soon going to turn against the Religious Right and instead follow his Religious Left. Instead, it seems more likely that an easy acceptance of apocalyptic warnings about a burning planet will ultimately confirm, not overturn, the political leanings of conservative evangelicals.

It troubles me that Wallis seems to hope it does; confirms the fear of many that ecology is too devisive for the Church. But I don’t see average Christians looking at GW apocalyptically either. If there’s a CO2 problem, people will respond to it appropriately and expect things to get better when they do.

Christian folk fall into the same camps secular greens do, with progressives (main-line liberal denominations like the PCUSA, etc) taking a more activist line and conservatives (generally evangelicals) doing church-level stewardship like recycling cans.

I agree with Dobson and Colson:

"We are evangelicals and we care about God’s creation," read the Dobson-Colson-Land letter. "However, we believe there should be room for Bible-believing evangelicals to disagree about the cause, severity, and solutions to the global warming issue." The letter urged NAE to foster "unity" in the Christian community.

GW is a devisive issue from a completely human standpoint. But if the Church Universal depends on a God who made the world and who has not abandoned it, maybe we can agree to disagree and still keep fellowship with each other.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Two quick bits for your Tuesday:

- Federal judges on green junkets at your expense? CRC says so!

- Is "steady state ecological economics" the answer to environmental and economic woes?

[also, a quick thanks to Jordan for inviting me to join the PowerBlog team.]

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Remember when I said that I thought there is a dangerous incentive in climate change research to make things seem worse than they are? (If not, that’s OK. I actually called it an “analogous phenomenon” to the possibility that AIDS statistics are exaggerated.)

Well, TCS Daily reports that a letter to Canadian PM Stephen Harper signed by over 60 scientists asks a similar question. Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wonders, “How can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into claims about future catastrophes? The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.”

Peter C. Glover, author of the article, “Climate Change’s Gravy Train,” continues, noting that “Lindzen goes on to identify how the doom-mongers in both the science research community and media have a ‘vested interest’ in ‘hyping’ the political stakes for policymakers who provide more funds for more science research to feed more alarm. ‘After all’, Lindzen wonders, ‘who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming’?”

Read the whole thing. Lindzen raises a number of good points, including the discrimination faced by scientists who haven’t drunk from the GW Kool-Aid. As he says, “Scientists who dissent from alarmism have seen their funds disappear, their work derided, and libelled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse.”

Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today, who wrote in support of policy action on global warming, would do well to listen. As I said in response to his column, “It’s ironic that Crouch finds the source of evangelical distrust of scientific global warming dogma in the contemporary creation/evolution debates. If there’s any group that should know about the difficulty of breaking through the groupthink of mainstream science, it ought to be the proponents of Intelligent Design.” IDers really ought to be able to identify with the plight of scientists who question the predictions of the global warming alarmists.

And not only does the alarmism assure that there money for climate research funding, it means there’s commercial money available too. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) grossed $186,740,799 domestically (as might be expected, it was a bit more popular abroad, grossing $542,771,772 worldwide).

Related items:

Jordan Ballor, “A Love/Hate Relationship with Science,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (February 8, 2006).

Andy Crouch, Response #1 (September 10, 2005).

Jordan Ballor, “Comet-Busting Lasers: A Response to Andy Crouch,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (September 12, 2005).

Andy Crouch, Response #2 (September 12, 2005).

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “What Stewardship Means,” BreakPoint WorldView (September 2004).

Roy Spencer, “Global Warming Hysteria Has Arrived,” TCS Daily (April 4, 2006).

Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr, “A Climate of Staged Angst,” Der Spiegel (January 4, 2005).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Saturday, April 22, 2006

Check out my Detroit News column today, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” in which I give a brief overview of the conflicting evangelical views of environmental stewardship.