Category: Environmental Stewardship

In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”

The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”

Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).

Read the entire commentary here.

My piece on the debate over chimera research and the relevance of your worldview to the debate appears today at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Drawing on the work of C.S. Lewis, and among the questions and conclusions included, I write, “Chimera research may indeed have some potential benefits, but we cannot ignore the question of potential costs. What toll does such research take on the dignity of human beings? Must we destroy the human person in order to save it? As a society, we need to question whether our technological reach has exceeded our moral grasp.”

This issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Bush spoke about the creation of human-animal chimeras in his State of the Union address this past January: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

Acton PowerBlog contributor Don Bosch (aka The Evangelical Ecologist) had his post, “Guilt Free Ecology,” picked up and recognized by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in their feature “Best of the Blogs,” on June 18. Good job, Don!

A new review on H-German by John Alexander Williams of Bradley University examines the edited collection of essays, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005).

The volume’s editors contend in part that “the green policies of the Nazis were more than a mere episode or aberration in environmental history at large. They point to larger meanings and demonstrate with brutal clarity that conservationism and environmentalism are not and have never been value-free or inherently benign enterprises.” While Williams argues that this conclusion “rings hollow” in light of the evidence produced in the essays, he does affirm that “the desire to protect nature must be accompanied by an equally strong commitment to social justice and human rights.”

On this point Williams specifically criticizes the final essay in the book, by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, which “focuses on the SS’s wartime planning of the landscape in the occupied territories to the east of Germany.”

As Williams writes, “The Nazi war of imperial conquest, in carving out a new ‘living space’ for German colonists through mass expulsion and extermination, opened ‘new vistas for landscape architects and urban planners’ (p. 244). Hitler appointed Himmler in charge of ‘cleansing’ of occupied landscapes for resettlement by ethnic Germans.” Williams’ concern is that “Wolschke-Bulmahn never clearly explains what was environmentalist about these planners and the blueprints they prepared for Himmler.”

Williams concludes, “The failure of this essay is unfortunate, since Wolschke-Bulmahn and others have written much more effectively elsewhere about the intertwining of pastoral landscape ideals with Nazi imperialism and genocide.”

Read the entire review here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 29, 2006
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“If you look at all the discussions surrounding biotechnology, I feel that we are clearly focusing too much on ethics.”

Toine Manders, Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament, on discussions in the European Parliament about stem cell research. From “Debate on stem cells holds back EU research drive,” Financial Times, June 14, 2006. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

“It is because the moral sciences tend to show us such limits to our conscious control, while the progress of the natural sciences constantly extends the range of conscious control, that the natural scientist finds himself so frequently in revolt against the teaching of the moral sciences.”

F. A. Hayek, “Scientism and the Study of Society: Part III,” Economica 11, no. 41 (February 1944): 37-38.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
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The Supreme Court is in the midst of its busy season. Important decisions recently handed down include the death-penalty case, Kansas v. Marsh, and the campaign finance case, Randall v. Sorrell.

Jonathan Adler offers an interesting analysis of the decision in a pair of cases, Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. United States, which involved the the scope of the federal government’s regulatory jurisdiction over wetlands.

Given the Court’s ambiguous record of protecting private property rights (see Kelo), Adler’s conclusion is noteworthy: the decision itself was the right one, but the split opinions indicate further ambivalence concerning property rights. The issue is significant for both environmental conservation and property rights: Because state and local governments (and private owners) usually are more effective conservationists than are sweeping federal laws, the limitation of federal jurisdiction helps on both fronts.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, June 26, 2006
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EUObserver: “New figures released on Thursday have revealed that the EU is falling far short of reaching its emissions targets under the international climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.”

HT: Townhall C-Log

A three-day meeting is scheduled to begin tomorrow in Toledo, Ohio, and is set to discuss the possibility of putting wind farms on the Great Lakes. The session is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency among other groups, and will include conversations about “how to protect birds, bats and fish from the windmills.”

According to the AP, wind farms on the Great Lakes would include “rows of windmills” that “would tower as high as 400 feet and float or stand in relatively shallow water.” Some opponents of wind farms point out the danger that the turbines can represent to migratory bird populations. Acton’s Anthony Bradley has noted that the Sierra Club calls wind towers “Cuisinarts of the air” (listen to related interview here).

North Hoyle wind farm in England

The attractiveness of wind farms based on water rather than land has to do with the relatively greater strength of wind which sweeps over bodies of water. Walt Musial, a senior engineer and offshore programs leader for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor, said, “Offshore machines can make about twice as much as onshore.”

Other concerns relate to the high startup and capital costs involved in the construction of these projects, perceptions about the unpredictability and unreliability of wind power, and issues of visual pollution.

Before reading the rest of this post, let’s try a little experiment. Here are a set of quotations…your job is to decide who said it, a real-life scientist or Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy (see answer key below the jump):

“Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

1. Humans are “no better than bacteria!”

2. “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

3. “There is no denying the natural world would be a better place without people. ALL people!”

4. “Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!”

5. “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but humans do not. Humans move to an area, and multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed.”

PowerBlog contributor Don Bosch has a great post over at his home blog, the Evangelical Ecologist, reacting to today’s piece from Deroy Murdock, “For them, people are just in the way.”

Murdock cites William Burger’s letter to Acton’s Jay Richards, in which Burger says, among other things, “From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!” Check out the full text of Burger’s letter in PDF form here. (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, June 15, 2006
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During this year’s hurricane season, global warming will likely become a topic of discussion at dinner tables across the United States (and likely in other countries as well).

Al Gore recently released his documentary on climate change. “An Incovenient Truth” asserts that global warming is indeed a real occurance, and that it is being caused by CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere by factories, vehicles, etc. Gore also asserts that the majority of the “scientific community” agree that global warming is a human caused phenomenon. Tom Harris, writing for the Canada Free Press says that climatologists are beginning to get fed up with these assertions.

Harris argues that the so-called “majority” of scientists who are cited in reports like those in Gore’s film are not climatologists. They are very qualified in reporting the effects of climate change, but are not qualified to report on the causes of climate change. Reports that computer simulations predict massive climage change are also misleading. These simulations are not really predictions, they are scenarios. According to Dr. Tim Ball, climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg, not only are these models only scenarios but “these models have been consistently wrong in all their scenarios.” Ball claims that it is irresponsible that the researchers behind these simulations have allowed the public to think that their scenarios are predictions.

Graph of solar activity versus climate

Before I point you to the rest of the article, there’s a quote from a professor of climatology that I loved: “Gore’s circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.” That comes from Prof. Bob Carter.

Now, while I don’t endorse massive pollution of the environment on principle, I also don’t condone finger pointing at empty space (there is a big star that tends to have quite an impact…some people call it the Sun). That said, this is a great review and commentary on global warming that also cites several experts on climate change.

If you’re interested in reading more about climate issues, check out our entries tagged with “global warming” and “climate change.”

Hat tip, Slashdot.