Category: Environmental Stewardship

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
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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
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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
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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.”