Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 2, 2006

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

The 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.

Blog author: dwbosch
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

[Got a request to cross-post this from my other habitat.]

In the in-box from an "evangelical enviromentalist who prefers to remain anonymous," responding to the Moyers/Beisner fallout:

IF Moyers said what Cal claims, and tape recorders were running, where is the tape? IF no tape, presumably no statement, and Cal is, um, lying. Is this how a Christian defends his presumably biblical position to a sceptical journalist?

Looking at other transcripts on the same subject (linked here), Moyers certainly gives the impression that he sees ecology as devisive to evangelicals. But it’s also possible [Cal] Beisner could have jumped to conclusions on Moyers motives (vis a vis deliberately using ecology to divide evangelicals politically) and either interpreted what Moyers actually said in light of this, or deliberately put words in his mouth; the latter Cal clearly denies, by the way.

Don’t know though; wasn’t there, and yep – no tape.

The whole Moyers/Beisner kerfuffle was unfortunate because (a) litigation ain’t a great way for two Christians to resolve issues, and (b) it detracted from the discussion over God being green, which frankly benefits neither Beisner nor Moyers, regardless of political leanings.

The only redeeming thing may be if the noise will draw people to read the other Grist interviews. Thought the one with Cal DeWitt, for example, was fantastic.

Thoughts from the group?

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 20, 2006

As noted here, last week PBS ran a special by Bill Moyers’, “Is God Green?” examining the “new” trend among evangelicals toward stewardship of the environment.

Arguably what is “new” about this move is its coherence with liberal/leftist environmentalism. As also noted previously, “The Judeo-Christian community for 5,000 years or more has taken its responsibility for the environment seriously. The whole concept of ‘stewardship’ is one that comes directly from sacred texts.” Stewardship isn’t new. Perhaps the method for stewardship proposed is.

In any case, Acton adjunct scholar and spokesman for the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance E. Calvin Beisner appeared on Moyers’ program, as a counter-point to the majority of evangelical voices heard on the show. Blogger Jimmy Akin, a self-professed “old friend” of Dr. Beisner, posted a response by Beisner to his portrayal on the Moyers program, which included allusions that Moyers had confessed some overt political agenda by the timing and content of the program.

When Moyers became aware of the assertions, this apparently did not please him. His lawyers sent letters to Akin, claiming that “Dr. Beisner’s accusation is false and defamatory as it goes to the heart of Mr. Moyers’s integrity as a journalist,” and demanding “on behalf of Mr. Moyers a retraction from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance stating clearly and without qualification that Dr. Beisner’s statement was erroneous, that Mr. Moyers never made any such statement to Dr. Beisner or anything colorably close to it, and apologizing to Mr. Moyers for the error.”

The lawyers representing Moyers in turn accuse Akin: “You have also defamed Mr. Moyers. On behalf of Mr. Moyers, we demand that you immediately publish in full Mr. Moyers’s response to Dr. Beisner, as well as the retraction and apology of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, if any, all with at least equal prominence to that given the false statement of Dr. Beisner.”

Also linked at the above is the response from Akin’s lawyers. This story has been picked up by numerous bloggers, some of which are run down on this post at The Evangelical Ecologist.

We’ll keep you posted on any further developments.

Update: Dr. Beisner’s response through counsel has been posted here.

Blog author: dwbosch
Monday, October 16, 2006

Dr. Joel Hunter, President of the Christian Coalition and Pastor of the 12,000-member Northland Church in Longwood, FL, Dr. Paul De Vries, National Association of Evangelicals board member and President of New York Theological Seminary, and Rev. Gerald Durley, Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta and civil rights leader held a teleconference last Thursday to "address the importance of this issue to their communities and will take questions from reporters about the Statement, the Call to Action, and the potential implications of both on the American religious and political landscape."


Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 13, 2006

David Roberts of Grist magazine, responding to his recent read of George Monbiot’s new book Heat, wrote about skeptics of climate change:

When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.

Following this, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works issued a statement calling Roberts to task and deemed his comments to be part of a broader movement, noting a “new found penchant by environmentalists and some media members to charge skeptics of human caused catastrophic global warming with ‘crimes against humanity’ and urge Nuremberg-style prosecution of them.”

Roberts later responds by saying that he “was, as might be obvious, rather angry,” and that “Too often, this kind of thing is treated like a partisan political squabble, a game of rhetorical sparring between the ‘sides’ of a debate.” Not much rhetorical about calling for Nuremburg-style criminal tribunals, though, eh?

Yesterday the New York Times editorialized and took Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, to task, “He accuses scientists and the media of hysteria. But if there is such a thing as a hysteria of doubt, then Mr. Inhofe is its master.” Might the Times editorial staff be amenable to the sorts of trials Roberts called for?

If the scientific case is so rock solid and the consensus is so sure, why are climate change believers so worried about criticism? Are they truly that thin-skinned? Or is the evidence perhaps not as airtight as they would have us believe?

Talk about an affront to a free and open public debate.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tonight at 9 PM on PBS stations across the country, Bill Moyers’ program, Moyers on America, will take up the question, “Is God Green?”

The one-hour documentary goes inside the conversation among evangelical Christians over the environment. The debate is not about whether or not Christians are called to care for creation. There is no disagreement about that. For more on this point, see Rev. Gerald Zandstra’s, “What is Evangelical Environmentalism?”

The debate is rather about how we should best care for the environment. Moyers’ program will feature Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association for Evangelicals and E. Calvin Beisner, an Acton Institute adjunct scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, discussing the evangelical views on the challenge presented by climate change.

In case you are wondering about the level of journalistic insight to expect, you can check out this interview with Bill Moyers conducted by Grist magazine about the show. Moyers provides some insights into his (paranoid?) interpretations of politics, and even contends that the letter sent by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (PDF) to the National Association of Evangelicals last year was one of Karl Rove’s political machinations. Res ipsa loquitur:

When news leaked of the impending statement by 86 evangelical leaders [on global warming], the other side hit back so hard and so fast and with such firepower. That letter from Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Richard Land came so quickly that I knew it had to originate in the White House, inside the political religion. I knew it was an orchestrated response, because Karl Rove was upset at what these evangelical leaders were letting loose.

You can view more PowerBlog coverage of the ISA letter to the NAE concerning the ECI here.

Check your local listings.