Category: Environmental Stewardship

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.)

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams is asking, “Was the BP pipeline problem preventable?” It seems that BP has allegedly been giving required maintenance to the pipeline short shrift: “Allegations about BP’s maintenance practices have been so persistent that a criminal investigation now is under way into whether BP has for years deliberately shortchanged maintenance and falsified records to cover it up.”

BP shut down the Prudhoe Bay oil field earlier this week, after a “spill” resulting from “unexpected corrosion.” While BP shuts down the field to repair 16 miles of pipeline, there are concerns that about 400,000 barrels per day will be taken out of production, and will deprive West Coast refineries of a quarter of their supply. BP has pledged in Alaska to “make sure North Pole Refinery does not run short of crude oil.”

Since the year 2000, British Petroleum (BP) has attempted to rebrand itself as an innovator in the pursuit of alternative energies, using the tagline, “Beyond Petroleum” (here’s a link to BP’s Alaska Corrosion Response page). I think it’s safe to say that most of us assumed that when BP was going “beyond petroleum,” that didn’t include dereliction of required basic maintenance for the current petroleum infrastructure.

Christopher Westley, writing at Mises.org, says that “BP doesn’t seem like the best run oil company in recent years. This pipeline shutdown is just the latest of several missteps for this firm. It is still recovering from the largest oil spill in history in the North Slope earlier this year, as well as from a devastating refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, last year that killed 15 employees. Many are saying the BP must actually stand for ‘Big Problem.'”

This WaPo article gives a more extended look at BP’s PR nightmare.

Update: An op-ed in the NYT by one of the ad folks behing the “beyond petroleum” tagline notes: “Think of it. Going beyond petroleum. The best and brightest, at a company that can provide practically unlimited resources, trying to find newer, smarter, cleaner ways of powering the world. Only they didn’t go beyond petroleum. They are petroleum.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 14, 2006
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“Scientists have discovered a way to help stop the spread of malaria by genetically altering a bacterium that infects about 80 percent of the world’s insects. Malaria is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites and kills more than a million people every year.”

Source: “Genetically Altered Bacteria Could Block Malaria Transmission,” by Lisa Pickoff-White, The National Academies, Science in the Headlines, August 2, 2006.

HT: Zondervan “To the Point”

For more on the fight against malaria, visit Acton’s Impact campaign page.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 10, 2006
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“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”

He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.

I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”

On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:

There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
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CRC has made two good articles available recently (these are Adobe .pdf linked documents) that dispell the myth that large corporations are conservative monoliths supporting anti-environment causes.

The first is Funding Liberalism with Blue-Chip Profits; Fortune 100 Foundations Back Leftists Causes. The other is called The Price of Doing Business: Environmentalist Groups Toe Funders’ Lines. Both have page after page of data on the amounts that organizations like Earth Justice, Nature Conservancyਊnd Sierra Club are getting from big business and billion dollar charitable trusts.

Does this somehow make them beholden to these financial interests and their agendas in return? I’ll let you read these and judge for yourself.

Also today, Bruce Benson pens this OpinionJournal article: How Earthjustice and other green groups abuse the legal system for their own "non-profit."

Most federal environmental statutes allow citizens to sue individuals or companies for violating the laws. Indeed, from 1993 to 2002, more than 75% of all environmental federal court decisions started as citizen suits, reports James May. Writing the Widener Law Review, he concludes that citizen suits are "the engine that propels the field of environmental law."

But most of these suits are brought by environmental organizations, not individuals, and most of the filings don’t end in a court decision; they end in settlements. From 1995-2002, there were 4,438 notices of intent to sue under four environmental statutes–6.6 times more than actual federal court decisions in citizen suits. Presumably most of the others were settled.

Why the settlements?

My research indicates a clear and compelling reason: settlements bring in money environmental groups can use to pursue other goals.

Read the whole thing.

One thing is certain: Between lawsuits and huge infusions of cash from corporate trusts, "non-profit environmentalism" is certainly big business.

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

Let me lead in here by saying I’m not by nature an overly emotional or "pentecostal" guy (lowercase ‘p’), though I have known personally the transforming movement of God’s Holy Spirit in my life and the lives of others at particular times.

Let me also say that I’ve been to dozens of environmental conferences over the past 15 years or so, and while I have usually learned a lot and developed some great relationships with others in this business, I almost always leave with not much more than a couple of logo’d pencils, a pocket full of business cards from people I don’t know, some hazmat tracking software demos on CD-ROM, and if I’m lucky, a shiny golf ball or yo-yo or something entertaining.

I flew out for two days (1-2 August) to take part in Let’s Tend the Garden, an environmental conference hosted by Vineyard Church in Boise, not knowing what to expect; l left there 12 hours ago with a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit, and a realization that God’s doing something very big here.

Very. Big.

I know you all hail from many different denominations and various places in your faith and perspectives on ecology. But please take about 10 minutes to scan through my blog post of the conference. You may get a sense why it is clear that God is calling Christians to restore the ethic of environmental stewardship within the local church, something many have longed for in our generation, but have never really seen.

This is not a new thing – clearly there is scripture from the beginning of time that demonstrates God’s interest in our stewardship of Creation. Perhaps this is something like the way Dobson and Swindoll and Smalley brough the ethic of family values back to the Church over the past decade or so. Each generation needs to be revitalized in particular areas.

Take it from Tri Robinson, the senior pastor at Vineyard Boise:

All great movements of God begin with brokeness and conviction over the failure to follow Christ. We are in a repentance process still, that we’ve bought into politics and fear and set aside something that we have passion about. The significant thing about Boise is that we did it and survived it. The evangelical church wants to see authentic discipleship, biblical teaching, and yet want to watch environmental ministry thriving in action first.

When’s the last time you heard talk of discipleship, missions, repentence and biblical teaching in the context of ecology?

And this, in a response he had to a lambasting he was getting in an interview by a conservative radio talk show host:

I know what you’re saying, but I also know that guys like you and conservatives like you are the very reason that bible-believing pastors are afraid to do what is biblical and right. You’re making us afraid to do the right thing, and so we have given the liberals the program to do, and they have blown it. So if you like that, and you think that’s ok, then keep it up.

The Godless, liberal environmental agenda has given the world nothing but angst and anger and hopelessness and fear and false worship and man-centeredness (or misanthropy). The instrument Christ uses to effect change in the world is through the Church, the Body of Christ, in a spirit of love, joy, peace, compassion, and action. Not just caring, but thoughtful and wise doing. God is clearly now linking the efforts of Christian ecology organizations with pastors and lay ministry to give the Church back her permission to love all that God loves, people and all that He has made and called very good.

We need larger hands, and smaller feet.

Please, go read the post. Send it to your friends. When I get the audio links up, listen to the lectures. Dig out your Bibles and look up the scriptures and see for yourself. Drop me a line or a comment on this post if you want to engage on a particular aspect of this. Buy a copy of Saving God’s Green Earth.

All I can say is that from God’s perspective on creation care, it was very apparent this week that that ship has left the pier. Like Noah, we all had best be on it.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 3, 2006
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Might these be the new “Cuisinarts of the sea”? This story, “Energy from the Restless Sea,” in today’s NYT examines the efforts of experimental inventors to find machines that excel in “harnessing the perpetual motion of the ocean and turning it into a commodity in high demand: energy.” There are a variety of designs and types of machines, so of course not all of them are a danger to chop up hapless fish.

Watermill of Braine-le-Château, Belgium (12th century). Photograph taken by Pierre 79.

These innovators are facing huge bureaucratic and regulatory burdens. Verdant Power, for example, “embarked on a new East River turbine project in 2003, but it has taken two and a half years to get regulatory approval for the project from environmental agencies and the United States Army Corp of Engineers.”

To comply with the concerns of regulators and environmental groups, Verdant “is installing $1.5 million in underwater sonar to watch for fish around the turbines ’24 hours a day, 7 days a week,’ and the data will be shown online.”

In some sense, these are just twenty-first century versions of innovations that are, shall we say, somewhat older. Watermills have been found at Cistercian abbeys dating from the twelfth century. See, for example, the Fountains Abbey Mill, opened in June 2001 at the Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.