Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
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I believe the New Zealand community of Bishops has nailed this one (emphasis added):

In response, both individual and collective acts of selflessness are needed — of self-sacrifice for the greater good, of self denial in the midst of convenient choices, of choosing simpler lifestyles in the midst of a consumer society. This does not mean abandoning the scientific and technological advances which have given us such great benefits. It means using them wisely, and in a thoughtful manner which reflects true solidarity with all the people of the earth.

Ultimately, this is a global problem requiring real global solutions. But individual Catholics, parishes, Catholic schools, religious communities and church organizations can play a big part by making different choices, such as using less energy or buying locally made goods which require less transportation. The world needs to reduce its carbon output by 80%, and some New Zealand households could achieve that overnight by simply changing the kind of car they drive. Avoiding water waste and excess packaging are two simple steps which can be acted upon by individuals and households.

Evangelicals Christians should approach ecology the way Jesus approached ministry. Sometimes it was preaching to the masses from the mount or a boat. But more often than not it was one-on-one with Nicodemus or a womenਊt the well.

Ultimately it was sacrificial.

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

From the same issue of Business 2.0 magazine I cited yesterday, check out this article on Adobe Systems, which is touted as having “The greenest office in America.” It just goes to show you that economic efficiency and environmental concerns go hand in hand.

Click on the first link in the piece to get a slideshow of the various improvements which save energy and money at Adobe’s offices. My favorite is the timed outages of garage exhaust fans and outdoor lighting systems (cost: $150, annual savings: $68,000).

As the Cornwall Declaration states, “The tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.” The declaration also notes the aspirations to a world in which “advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

One final note…these moves profiled in the article are economical enough to motivate companies to cut costs on their own. I don’t think Adobe needed “about $350,000 in energy rebates,” presumably from the government.

Christian geneticist and author (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Simon & Schuster Trade Sales) Dr. Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute and head of the Human Genome Project.

Recently he was the keynote speaker at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian geneticists, chemists and other scientists.

Over the past week I transcribed his lecture from the audio and blogged it. The first segment describes his salvation experience, and what led him to conclude as a geneticist that the genetic code substantiates the evolutionary fossil record.

In the second half he lays out his primary argument for the existence of God. Then he moves into a brief summary of other Christian positions on the origin of man (creation, Intelligent Design, and his own position).

What does this have to do with ecology? I believe that who we think we are sets to the tone for how we treat ourselves and the world around us, and that includes how we treat all living things. Collins makes his case that we are who we are by virtue of God-evolved DNA, "the language of God" in polypeptide form.

I think you’ll find it thought provoking. Interested in your thoughts and comments.

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

“A human brain trapped inside a mouse’s body — not a good idea,” says Anjana Ahuja in the UK Times.

Not convinced? Check out this piece of mine over at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, August 28, 2006
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Here’s a supply-side economics lesson that’s going to be learned the hard way by some folks up in Alaska. Away the "Ocean Rangers!”

Alaska voters Aug. 22 were poised to approve an initiative that imposes a series of new taxes and environmental regulations on the cruise ships that bring about 1 million passengers a year to the state. With 87 percent of Alaska precincts reporting, the initiative was passing by a margin of 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent, according to results released by the Alaska Division of Elections Aug. 23.

The citizen initiative, which was placed on the state’s primary election ballot, requires cruise ships to obtain wastewater discharge permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, to abide by state water quality regulations, and to post trained, state-employed “ocean rangers” on ships to observe wastewater practices.

The initiative also raises fines for wastewater violations to a minimum of $5,000 a day from the current minimum of $500 a day. It would require daily recordkeeping for discharges and satellite tracking information giving the ship’s exact location. The initiative also imposes a $50-per-passenger head tax, a corporate income tax, and taxes on ships’ gambling revenues reaped when the vessels are in Alaskan waters.

Revenues raised from the taxes will go to local communities affected by tourism and into public services and facilities used by the cruise ships, said Gershon Cohen, an environmental activist from Haines who was one of the initiative’s sponsors.

“This wasn’t an effort to chase the industry away. This is actually, in the long run, going to be good for the industry,” said Cohen, who is part of a group called Responsible Cruising in Alaska. [via BNA]

Raising taxes “good for the industry?” Uh, not historically. And without spending too much time on it, others know that lowering taxes is a better environmental incentive. 

California (of all places!) is going in the opposite direction:

It wasn’t so much the environment that led Tuan Phan to a recent Port of Oakland-sponsored picnic, advertising a new truck replacement program. It was the $1,000 citations from the California Highway Patrol and countless repair jobs that had Phan filling out a novel-sized application for a $31,000 grant to buy a new rig.

But it was the environment that benefited when Phan qualified as the first trucker to get a new rig under the port’s truck replacement program. “My truck was too old, and they wanted to take it away and give me a new one?” Phan said Thursday. “Yes, I would try that.”

If on the other hand the goal of Cohen’s group up there in Alaska is to get rid of all those nasty, polluting cruise ships altogether, this ought’a make everybody pretty happy.

Well, the green folks, anyway.

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

Blog author: jballor
Friday, August 25, 2006
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As I’ve written before, you don’t need to be a climate change convert to believe that nuclear power represents a very attractive alternative to nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In this lengthy piece in Cosmos magazine, Tim Dean examines the possibility of nuclear reactors based on thorium rather than uranium. Regardless of your position on climate change, and Dean certainly makes it a key point in his article, the essential reality is that “fossil fuels won’t last forever. Current predictions are that we may reach the point of peak production for oil and natural gas within the next decade – after which production levels will continually decline worldwide.”

Even if these predictions are much too cynical with respect to the fossil fuels left, the bottom line is that these are finite, nonrenewable resources. Dean talks about the conditions needed for an alternative energy source besides coal, which is the source of vast amounts of the world’s power: “It should offer abundant power. It also needs to be clean, safe and renewable as well as consistent. And ultimately, it needs to be economical.”

Again, as I’ve said before, “If the purpose of petroleum fuels is to pave the way for their own obsolescence, it’s becoming clearer day by day that this means the embrace of nuclear power.” You don’t have to agree with all of Dean’s analysis, I don’t think, to be intrigued by the possibility of thorium reactors.

Among the advantages of thorium as opposed to uranium: “Thorium is not fissile, so no matter how much thorium you pack together, it will not start splitting atoms and blow up. This is because it cannot undergo nuclear fission by itself and it cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction once one starts. It’s a wannabe atom splitter incapable of taking the grand title.”

There are some complications, mostly drawing from the fact that thorium cannot self-sustain. As Dean writes, “The main stumbling block until now has been how to provide thorium fuel with enough neutrons to keep the reaction going, and do so in an efficient and economical way.” Dean goes on to describe two recent innovations that have the potential of addressing this stumbling block.

“Can atomic power be green?” asks Dean. Another way of asking the question is whether folks like Greenpeace will embrace nuclear power if the primary fuel is thorium rather than uranium.

Update: Deroy Murdock passes along wonderment regarding the question “why environmentalists reject alternatives to fossil fuels if they agree with Sir David King, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s science adviser, that global warming is ‘the greatest threat facing mankind’ and is ‘worse than terrorism.'”

How different is this…

In a recent WSJ story, “A Novel Way to Reduce Home Energy Bills,” Sara Schaefer Muñoz writes about the possibility of adding windmills to homes in order to cut down on the cost of utilities.

“While wind energy is commonly associated with massive turbines churning in desolate, windy areas, a new generation of smaller systems made for areas with moderate wind is hitting the market. The latest small turbines, which resemble a ship propeller on a pole, have three blades, are up to 24 feet in diameter and are usually perched on stand-alone towers between 35 and 140 feet high. The systems have the potential to save consumers between 30% and 90% on their electric bills, manufacturers say, and promise to make no more noise than an air conditioner,” says Muñoz. “But tapping so-called small wind using a high-tech windmill can be costly, and homeowners may find themselves battling zoning officials and annoyed neighbors who find the towering devices unsightly.”

Is this just a case of NIMBY? After all, we’re not likely to see these things in urban areas: “The systems aren’t for city dwellers or residents of tightly packed suburbs. Those interested in small systems should have at least a half-acre of property, wind speeds of at least 10 mph and electric bills of $60 a month or more to make installing the system worthwhile, manufacturers say.” One of the companies profiled is the Bergey Windpower Company, who makes the BWC Excel, “America’s most popular residential & small business wind turbine.”

…from this?

Zoning officials will no doubt use the “novelty” of the idea as a way to impede the use of these windmills, but in a real way there’s not much that’s novel about these systems at all. Sure, they convert wind power into electrical power instead of kinetic energy, but other than that, they function a lot like windmills have for hundreds of years.

As Rodney Stark writes in his book, The Victory of Reason (for which I’m in the process of writing an overdue review right now), in the Middle Ages, “Windmills proliferated even more rapidly than waterwheels because there was wind everywhere. In order to take full advantage of the wind even when it shifted direction, medieval engineers invented the post mill, which mounted the sails on a massive post, leaving them free to turn with the wind. By late in the twelfth century, Europe was becoming so crowded with windmills that owners began to file lawsuits against one another for blocking their wind.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 17, 2006
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“Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear / And it shows them pearly white…
Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe / Scarlet billows start to spread…”

–Bobby Darin, “Mack the Knife,” 1959

He asked for it.

You may be familiar with the games for social change movement, which attempts to bring the power of video games to bear on social problems, such as hunger and war (for more, see a previous post here). Well, the latest commercial game from Majesco Entertainment, Jaws Unleashed, takes the stakes to a whole new level.

The plot is a familar cliche: big bad corporations are doing evil, and therefore must be punished. In this case, Environplus has come to Amity Island and is wreaking environmental havoc. This spurs Mother Earth into a fit of rage, and she releases her vengeance upon mankind in the form of Jaws.

As the game maker puts it, “the increased population around the Island and recent industrial activity has also attracted YOU–one of Earth’s most fearsome creatures–a Great White Shark.” Your task, in fitting misanthropic fashion, is to cleanse the island of the human interlopers, once and for all.

The review of the game on G4TV’s XPlay says that “when an evil corporation strolls into town and starts dumping chemicals into the sea, Jaws is unable to contain the raging Ralph Nader inside him.” You can see the rather disturbing video from the game in a review here.

It looks like Jaws is a really just an environmentalist wrapped in rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. Who knew?!

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
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Another round of stories are out about the possibility of creating a modern-day wooly mammoth, Jurassic Park-style.

The process would include injecting frozen wooly mammoth sperm into an egg of a closely related species. In this case, an elephant would be the logical choice.

And in case you were wondering what you would call such a thing, I’ve already explored the possibilities in a previous post on chimera nomenclature: it would be called a “mammophant,” with the full taxonomy being mammophantus snuffleupagus.

Seth Godin, a marketing guru, passes along this nugget:

One mistake marketers make is a little like the goldfish that never notices the water in his tank. Our environment is changing. Always. Incrementally. Too slowly to notice, sometimes. But it changes. What we care about and talk about and react to changes every day. Starbucks couldn’t have launched in 1970. We weren’t ready.

Of course, sometimes the reason that our perspective on an issue changes is because the thing itself has changed, perhaps imperceptibly. In other cases, it’s because our perceptive apparatus has been modified in some way.

It is a case of the latter, an improvement in scientific precision, which now seemingly shows that diesel-powered locomotives aren’t as clean as we thought they were. In a piece in today’s WaPo, Juliet Eilperin writes, “For years, government scientists who measure air pollution assumed that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than diesel trucks or other vehicles.”

She continues, “But not long ago, those scientists made a startling discovery: Because they had used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel trains, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually. After revising their calculations, they concluded that the annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog, and fine particulate matter, or soot, would be by 2030 nearly twice what they originally assumed.”

(Note: Washington Post environment writer Juliet Eilperin will host an online discussion today at 11 a.m. ET about the environmental effects of smog and air pollution here. You can submit a question or comment ahead of time here.)