Category: Environmental Stewardship

I was thinking this morning about the moral calculus that goes into discussions about climate change policy. It’s the case that for any even or action, there are an infinite number of causes (conditions that are necessary but not sufficient for the event to occur).

But only a finite number of causes, perhaps in most cases a single cause, can have any moral relevance. For a cause to be a moral cause, it has to have be related to a moral agent. So, for instance, if the earth is warming, one of the contributing causes is the energy output of the sun. Since the sun isn’t a moral agent (as far as I know), solar activity isn’t a moral cause of climate change.

But if human activity is changing the makeup of the earth’s atmosphere so that it retains relatively more of the solar output of energy, that’s a cause that has moral relevance. Even though the sun’s activity is a prior cause (both logically and temporally) to any human activity, only human activity has any moral bearing. This might be a major reason why folks in not only policy circles, but also in more popular discourse, tend to focus on what humans are or are not doing that is affecting the climate.

It’s a truism that the perspective of human beings is essentially anthropocentric, but this truism is valid even for those who like to think of themselves as more enlightened. So, environmentalists and other activists instinctively focus on the moral causes of various policy issues. For climate change, that means the focus is almost exclusively on the human contributions to climate change, even if these are objectively a rather small contributing cause compared to other factors.

This holds true in the most recent reaction to the flooding that has hit London. One commentator observes that “The prophets of Biblical times, who warned of the misfortune that would befall those who turned away from God, have been replaced by computer-generated models which apparently conclusively prove that ‘The End is Nigh!’”

Climate change prophets point directly to the “sin” of emitting carbon. There is a real reason to question the validity of this moral reasoning, not least of which because it resembles Pharisaical moral calculation. When a man born blind came to Jesus, the spiritual authorities inquired as to the direct moral cause of the blindness. Had this man sinned or had his parents? Jesus rejects their attempts to find individual or personal moral cause of the blindness.

If the London floods are a case of God’s judgment, it’s likely that the divine reaction isn’t exclusively, or even primarily, to the chosen mode of human transportation. When John Chrysostom preached a sermon following a huge earthquake, it did cause him to reflect on the moral causes of the disaster.

What Chrysostom didn’t do was point to specific human actions that would naturally occasion an earthquake. He wondered instead, “Have you seen the mortality of the human race? When the earthquake came, I reflected with myself and said, where is theft? Where is greed? Where is tyranny? Where is arrogance? Where is domination? Where is oppression? Where is the plundering of the poor? Where is the arrogance of the rich? Where is the domination of the powerful? Where is intimidation? Where is fear?”

Following Chrysostom’s lead, which better follows the biblical precedent than the latest eco-prophets, would lead us to question a far greater range of moral failings than filling up an SUV: “So I was not afraid because of the earthquake, but because of the cause of the earthquake; for the cause of the earthquake was the anger of God, and the cause of His anger was our sins. Never fear punishment, but fear sin, the mother of punishment.”

It’s also important to note that Chrysostom links punishment to love, in the sense that the punishment is intended to bring repentance and reconciliation. Divine wrath is one form of treatment for sin, and in this way can actually be an expression of God’s love. So, God’s love and God’s wrath might not be so easy to juxtapose as some others have done in the wake of the recent flooding.

More reading: “Blaming the Victims: An Ecumenical Disaster”

Over at the Becker-Posner blog, the gentlemen consider the question, “Do National Security and Environmental Energy Policies Conflict?” (a topic also discussed here.)

Becker predicts, “Driven by environmental and security concerns, more extensive government intervention in the supply and demand for energy are to be expected during the next few years in all economically important countries. Policies that meet both these concerns are feasible, and clearly would have greater political support than the many approaches that advance one of these goals at the expense of the other.”

Posner observes the difference between a gasoline and a carbon tax, noting that the former would “have a direct effect in reducing demand for oil, thus reducing, as Becker points out, the oil revenues of oil-producing nations.”

But for a policy that addresses both national security and environmental concerns, “a gasoline tax would be inferior to a carbon tax from the standpoint of limiting global warming, because producers of oil, refiners of gasoline, and producers of cars and other products that burn fossil fuels would have no incentive to adopt processes that would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per barrel of oil, gallon of gasoline, etc. A carbon tax would create such an incentive and would also have a strong indirect negative effect on the demand for fossil fuels.”

There’s a lot more to these posts worth mulling over.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, July 19, 2007
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Here’s an interesting report from the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute on the cyclical nature of media coverage on the issue of climate change. We all know about the global cooling craze of the 1970’s, but who knew that the issue goes back more than a century?

It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.

The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”

Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.

It appears that we’re reaching the “outright hysteria” part of the current coverage cycle, considering that Al Gore can get completely credulous coverage for statements like this:

“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go quick, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We have to go far quickly,” former Vice President Al Gore told a packed, rapt house at the Benedict Music Tent Wednesday. With many scientists pointing to a window of less than 10 years to moderate the effects of global warming, he said, meaningful change is still possible, but “It is a race.”

…”What we’re facing worldwide really is a planetary emergency,” Gore said. “I’m optimistic, but we’re losing this battle badly.”

…”The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk,” he said.

I don’t know about you, but my BS detector is going crazy at the moment. I’d say that we’re about as likely to be in a 10 year race for survival today as we were to be in a 10 year race to save the oceans back in 1988 (according to the then-popular TV star Ted Danson). Apparently Cristopher Hitchens isn’t the only one prone to wild overstatement these days. And while we’re on the topic of overstatement

In a recent CT column, David P. Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, writes, “I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call “stewardship” are basically the same thing.” That’s precisely why Acton prefers the term “environmental stewardship” to “creation care.”

But this connection between stewardship and care for the environment means something else too. Gushee concludes that “economic and environmental stewardship go together, hand in glove. Perhaps this rediscovery will motivate us to preserve the health of our planet.”

I’ve made that argument here, “Stewardship and Economics: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” where I contend, “If we hold a biblical view of economics and stewardship, we will not be tempted to divorce the two concepts but instead will see them as united.”

Gushee may find, however, that as his realization of the connection between responsible stewardship and sound economics really sinks in, the positions of the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the Evangelical Environmental Network are in need of some modifications…such that “when economics tells us that there are much more imminent threats and opportunities than global warming, the proper approach to Christian stewardship is to heed these priorities and work to effect changes in the most pressing areas.”

Related: “Study: Organic Farming More Efficient”

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It happened last week. In response to Rep. John Dingell’s decision to hold of off consideration of an energy bill that would include new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, instead favoring directly targeting greenhouse gas emissions: “That brought a warm response from MoveOn.org, the liberal group that picketed Dingell’s office Wednesday over his stance on global warming and fuel economy standards. At Dingell’s Ypsilanti office, about half a dozen MoveOn supporters received an unexpected welcome from roughly 60 UAW members, including President Ron Gettelfinger, who rallied to support Dingell.”

That’s how the Free Press article concludes, but today’s Ann Arbor News has a longer piece devoted to the dynamics of the dispute between MoveOn.org and the UAW, “MoveOn, UAW face off on CAFE.” MoveOn.org protesters were picketing Dingell’s office, but then were swamped by many more UAW supporters of Dingell.

There’s some commentary over at Planet Gore about the targeting of Dingell by MoveOn, but it doesn’t pick up on the UAW presence.

David Roberts over at Grist thinks the MoveOn.org attack on Dingell is premature: “I don’t think people quite appreciate what Dingell’s done here. He’s the first member of Congress with any power or seniority to even mention a carbon tax, much less endorse it.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative has called for the federal government “to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.”

I question the prudence of making such specific policy recommendations a matter of a lobbying platform, especially when speaking for the church. What if it turns out that cap-and-trade measures aren’t all that effective? Do you need then to revise your “call to action”?

Update: The WSJ editorializes on this topic today.

Blog author: dwbosch
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
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If denominations want to demonstrate leadership over social issues like the environment they must have a good track record leading folks in spiritual matters within their own congregations.

After all, if they can’t handle the Great Commission, how effective can their first commission work possibly be? (more…)