Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 25, 2006

This week will feature a five part series, with one installment per day, putting forth my presentation of a biblical-theological case against the creation of certain kinds of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Part I follows below.

Advances in the sciences sometimes appear to occur overnight. Such appearances can often be deceiving, however. Rare is the technological or scientific advance that does not follow years upon years of research, trial and error, failure and experimentation.

The latest news coming from the field of biology and genetics hasn’t happened “overnight,” but things are advancing quickly. Some of the more interesting, and indeed troubling, developments have to do with what are known as “chimeras.”

The Chimera, of course, is a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. In the scientific community, however, chimeras are organisms most often created by the intermixing of species.

We are faced now with the possibility of new technological advances giving humans the ability to do radically new things. A scientific pragmatism is at work, which reduces elements of the material world to their practical uses, and ignores the basic structures of creation. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, September 22, 2006

A਋it of green conservative politics for your Friday – You’ll see why in a minute.

First, read this blog post by the Sierra Club on Linc Chafee (Republican, RI), and then this:

Meet Wayne Gilchrest, Republican member of the House of Representatives, First Congressional District of Maryland, former house painter, teacher, Vietnam veteran — and past, present and future canoeist who has yet to find himself up that well-known proverbial creek without a paddle, though he must think at times the current and wind is against his flimsy craft. For years, I’ve wondered what the real Wayne Gilchrest was like, this congressman from the Eastern Shore where the words ecology, environment and conservation aren’t spoken much with positive fervor. From what I’ve read, he’s a maverick Republican, doesn’t hesitate to part from the party line; he paddles his own canoe, and sometimes on a collision course with the thinking of many constituents.

But when we lunched, he was unopposed in the primary.

Over at E/E we’ve been chronicling conservative folks of faith as they begin to find momentum in ecology.ꃯforts to get ecology into the pulpits of San Antonioਊre a good example. Apparently this has been going on in conservative political circles as well. 

I recently came across a group called Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP). Jim DiPeso, REP policy director, has a਋log here. After scouring their website, I initially saw a lot of stuff that quite frankly seemed no different that most progressive political groups: global warming, endangered species activism, etc. I wanted to see if they were interested in folks like me (and perhaps you) who were both conservative and faith-filled in their views on these things.

I emailed REP President Martha Marks with these concerns, and she not only assured me that the “tent was big enough for me,” but gave me some names of folks who shared my ecological and faith values. Based on her response I think they’re worth bookmarking, and may be worth considering your membership, for at least three reasons.

First, I’ve become aware over the past several months of some Christian environmental programs in different areas of the country that will take political influence within the Republican party to move them forward. Specifically, there are Republican political actors in decision-making positions that view these Christian conservatives in ecology as sellouts to the green agenda. In terms of rendering to Caeser and honoring those in government appointed over us, we have an obligation to both pray for and influence our elected leadership in a proper way. What could be more appropriate/Biblical?

Second, Republicans need to regain the moral high ground on conservation nationally. Conservation and conservative share the same root for a reason. It seems like it’s been since T.R. (or since Nixon’s signing of EPA and other legislation) that we’ve had an outdoorsman/conservationist in office. Not talking about touchy-feely hug-the-earth sort of ecology here, but credible, effective stewardship and management of our valuable, God-given resources. And even those areas where the current administration is doing good work (Clear Skies is one that comes to mind) the good stuff is overshadowed by our anti-green reputation.

Third, my experience is the vast majority of conservatives, and Americans in general, view conservation as a good thing. The old saws that ecology must come at a price (jobs, taxes, etc) aren’t overcome by ignoring them, but rather by confronting them with green business models and reasonable legislation that balance environmental, human and economic needs. If the GOP wants to survive in the 21st century, it will have to do what the rest of industry (politics, etc) is already doing and green up.

And hey – If you need yet one more reason, how ’bout doing this because liberals absolutely, positively abhor the idea of being co-opted by Republicans on the environment.

The folks at REP say we need to make the GOP the “Green Old Party” once again. 

I like that a lot. 

Courtesy of today’s Zondervan>To The Point comes this announcement, replete with extensive related links:

The MacLaurin Institute is sponsoring a conference at the University of Minnesota through tomorrow exploring what it means for people to demonstrate a Christian perspective as they live their lives at the interfaces of three “worlds” — natural, engineered, and human. It will also study how Christian virtues ought to influence public and private policies regarding the interaction of these worlds.

Here are a couple of the talks that look interesting:

  • “Genetic technologies promise us greater control over creation and its creatures than at any time previously. From a Christian perspective, how do we seek good and avoid harm as we pursue shalom for God’s creation?” From Rev. Dr. Rolf Bouma, “Rules for Intelligent Tinkering: Should Nature Be Engineered?” There will be more on this topic here at the Acton PowerBlog next week, as a I launch a five-part series providing a biblical/theological examination of the creation of human/animal hybrids, or chimeras.

  • John Nagle of the University of Notre Dame Law School will be giving a talk, “The Evangelical Debate over Global Warming” (PDF abstract here). You can still expect a response from me to Andy Crouch on this topic early next week.
Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Africans are hailing a major shift in policy at the World Health Organization: A recommendation for the limited, indoor use of DDT to control malaria.

The fight against the disease, which is a leading cause of death in the developing world, has been hobbled by a long running campaign by environmentalists to ban the insecticide, a campaign that resulted in millions of needless deaths.

The South African health ministry welcomed the policy shift, noting that its return to the use of DDT had reduced malaria deaths from 64,868 in 2000 to 7,754 in 2005.

Health ministry spokesman Sibani Mngadi said that the “incidence of malaria had decreased from 15 per 10,000 people in 2000 to two per 10,000 in 2005 in malaria-affected areas.”

On Friday, the WHO released a statement that, nearly 30 years after phasing out the indoor spraying of DDT, gave a “clean bill of health” to the use of DDT. The organization is “now recommending the use of indoor residual spraying (IRS) not only in epidemic areas but also in areas with constant and high malaria transmission, including throughout Africa.”

“The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. “Indoor residual spraying is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. IRS has proven to be just as cost effective as other malaria prevention measures, and DDT presents no health risk when used properly.”

Read Paul Driessen’s commentary on the Africa Fighting Malaria site on the WHO announcement:

In Kenya alone, 34,000 young children a year perish from malaria, says Health Minister Charity Ngilu. Uganda suffers 100,000 deaths annually, notes Minister of Health Dr. Stephen Malinga — the equivalent of a jetliner with 275 people slamming into its Rwenzori Mountains every day.

Africa has 400 million cases of acute malaria per year; up to 2 million die. Countless millions are too sick to work or go to school, countless millions more must stay home to care for them, and meager family savings are exhausted on anti-malaria drugs.

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) neatly summed up the issue yesterday:

Malaria is the number one killer of pregnant women and children in Africa and among the top killers in Asia and South America. It’s long been known that DDT is the cheapest and most effective way to contain the disease, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. But United Nations health agencies and others have for decades resisted employing DDT under pressure from anti-pesticide environmentalists. After tens of millions of preventable malarial deaths in these poor countries, it’s nice to see WHO finally come to its senses.

Click on the image above to vist Acton’s special Impact Malaria! Web page and to download the institute’s “Let Us Spray” print ad. The ad, which has run in Christianity Today and WORLD Magazine, is available for use in church bulletins, student newspapers and other publications — free of charge.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 15, 2006

In today’s Times of London, taking a cue from Blaise Pascal (at least he thinks), Gerard Baker argues, “Unless the sceptics are really, really certain that we’re all going to be OK, we must act now.”

He sums it up this way: “If we believe in global warming and do something about it and it turns out we’re right, then we’re, climatologically speaking, redeemed — if not for ever, at least until some other threat to our existence comes along. If we’re wrong about it, what is the ultimate cost? A world with improved energy efficiency and quite a lot of ugly windmills.”

This is essentially the same argument that Andy Crouch made in an article in Christianity Today in August, 2005, replete with reference to Pascal’s wager.

I responded to Crouch then that “Pascal’s wager is only valid when placed within the context of the eternal and the ultimate. When it is applied to everyday issues, it quickly loses its persuasive power. Crouch’s contention that ‘we have little to lose’ if we exaggerate the threat of global warming displays no recognition of the reality of the future impact of unduly restrictive political policies and environmental regulations.”

You can add Gerard Baker’s contention to Crouch’s, although Baker does note, in agreement with me, I think, that “there is one significant risk that makes this equation slightly different from Pascal’s. There could be high costs of believing in the human role in global warming and being wrong about it. We may have to trade off a lot of economic activity in the next 50 years to lower our carbon emissions.”

Andy and I had more of a back and forth at the time, which are all linked in at this summary piece here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

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

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]