Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

In this week’s Acton Commentary titled “Pascal’s Blunder: Miscalculating the Threat of Global Warming”, Jordan Ballor writes on the growing voice of evangelical Christians speaking out about global warming. Ballor responds to a recent article in Christanity Today by Andy Crouch, who compares the current debate about global warming to Pascal’s wager, stating that we gain nothing if global warming turns out to be completely natural and beyond human control, but that we gain everything if we can control it. Ballor points out the error with this line of thinking:

The problem with this analogy is 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.

Ballor goes on to cite Vernon L. Smith and Thomas C. Schelling, two distinguished professors at George Mason University and the University of Maryland, respectively, who argue that there are much more pressing issues affecting the world to which our attention should be turned toward. The money we spend researching global warming could much more effectively be providing solutions to problems such as AIDS/HIV, malnutrition, and hunger.

Read the full text here.

The Americans brought this on themselves.

That’s one reaction coming from around the world as it surveys the devastation following Hurricane Katrina. In what can only be described as callously political maneuvering, Germany’s environmental minister Jürgen Trittin said today, “The increasing frequency of these natural events can only be explained through global warming which is caused by people.”

Instead of offering condolences, well-wishes, or prayers, minister Tritten delivered the judgment of secular environmentalists. The Americans’ crime? “A U.S. citizen causes about two and a half times as much greenhouse gas as the average European,” said Trittin.

This mirrors the reaction of religious global warming advocates following the Indian Ocean tsunami late last year. The global warming boogeyman, blamed for seemingly everything under the sun, is the knee-jerk explanation for any natural disaster these days.

As one paper puts it, “Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming.”

Why deal in facts when hysteria and rhetorical excess can do the trick instead? “The severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean. The recent onslaught ‘is very much natural,’ said William Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who issues forecasts for the hurricane season.”

Those scientists who do see a link between global warming and increases in the number and intensity of hurricanes are opposed by those who realize “worldwide weather records are far too inadequate for a thorough examination of such trends.”

As for the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina, the prudence of building a huge coastal city under sea level should be questioned long before any issues related to global warming arise.




Global warming serves as a convenient scapegoat in place of the recognition of the God of heaven and earth (see Job 38-41). As God says to Job, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11 NIV). Hurricane Katrina should serve as a reminder to all of us of the fleeting days of life and the priority of the eternal over the temporal, a modern-day object lesson to heed the words of Jesus.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).

Update: More on Trittin’s comments at Davids Medienkritik

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 26, 2005

It’s been determined that the view of the human person at work behind “The Human Zoo” exhibit is best exemplified by Agent Smith’s monologue from the original installment of “The Matrix.”

“Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

While Morpheus is held captive, Agent Smith tells him the following:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.

He continues:

I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.

This comes, of course, from a piece of software representing the machines who view humans as essentially batteries and feed the liquidated dead to the living. It is perhaps not the best anthropological foundation to adopt.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 26, 2005

Just in case you were thinking that the rabid anti-human elements of environmental movements had dissipated, take a look at the newest exhibit at the London Zoo.

Titled “The Human Zoo,” the exhibit features 8 people living in “natural” conditions over the course of three days, and is “intended to show the basic nature of human beings,” that is, our inherent animalism.

The world’s first ever human zoo exhibit is unveiled. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty

In the words of a London Zoo spokesman, “We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man’s place in the planet’s ecosystem.” One commentator notes, “We may be watching evolution in action.”

There are a number of important issues here. The first is the linkage of the view of humans as a “plague species” with the myth of unsustainability of the population explosion. This anti-human perspective is manifested in any number of policies and programs around the world, including PETA and things like the UN’s World Population Day. Now the London Zoo is joining the fray. For a literary movement embodying this position, go here.

Of course, another questions you have to wonder about is why an “ethic” based on a Darwinian philosophy of natural selection should be concerned about a “plague species.” Isn’t it just survival of the fittest?

This soft sentimentality and romanticism of the environmental movement isn’t based on philosophical rationality, of course. If we really are no different than animals, why should our behavior be held to a higher standard? The position is fundamentally self-defeating.

The only perspective that accounts for all of the complex realities of human existence and the rest of creation is one normed by the Bible. The creation accounts, along with the dominion and stewardship mandates, of Genesis 1 and 2 describe both the continuities and discontinuities between humans and the rest of the animal world and our resulting responsibilities.

The fall into sin gives us a basis for understanding how and why humans do negatively impact the world and fracture the created relationships. But the history of redemption gives us hope for a consummated new heaven and new earth…a hope that cannot be approached from a merely naturalistic worldview. It also gives us a reason to be concerned about stewardship of the world (rightly construed).

This feature from yesterday’s Marketplace looks at the “endless variations of designer hybrid dogs.” These new breeds crossing more traditional lines of dogs can command a large pricetag.

The “cute name” attraction, the possibilities of allergen free dogs, and the idea of getting the best of both breeds have put these designer dogs in high demand. My wife and I are currently considering getting a Cockapoo, a Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix.

A labradoodle.

I’m bringing up these new breeds, though, as an illustration of what morally permissible creation of “genetic” chimeras might look like. I’ve blogged about chimeras on the PowerBlog previously, but very often there is great difficulty in determining what is legitimate and what is not.

I’m proposing that chimeras that can be created without direct genetic manipulation should generally be considered acceptable. So the case of mixed dog breeds that can mate and procreate naturally meets and exemplifies this criteria.

Update: We’ve decided to get the dog.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

“Zero-energy homes” are a new trend in what might be called environmental charity, giving energy back to the grid, at retail prices. Details here in this Marketplace report.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

A piece in the American Prospect Online by Chris Mooney examines the recurring “Frankenstein myth,” and its relation to contemporary Hollywood projects and the state of modern science. In “The Monster That Wouldn’t Die,” Mooney decries the endless

preachy retreads of the Frankenstein myth, first laid out in Mary Shelley’s 19th-century classic and recycled by Hollywood constantly in films from Godsend to Jurassic Park. I’m sick of gross caricatures of mad-scientist megalomaniacs out to accrue for themselves powers reserved only for God. I’m fed up with the insinuation (for it’s never an argument, always an insinuation) that there’s a taboo against the pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge and that certain technological achievements — especially those with the potential to affect life itself — are inherently “unnatural.”

Mooney does think that there are some things that shouldn’t be done. But “preaching” isn’t the way to define them. “I agree that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed. We shouldn’t, for instance, clone fully grown human beings. But not because it’s taboo; because it’s unethical. The point is, we need to use philosophical arguments, not preaching, to determine where the lines ought to be drawn,” he writes.

A greater concern lies in his discomfort “with the way in which the weapon of the Frankenstein myth is repeatedly used as a club against modern-day medical researchers, who are seeking to cure people, not to become God. The ‘forbidden knowledge’ aspect of the myth is also troubling. Last I checked, knowledge is a good thing, even if many kinds of knowledge can also be abused.”

Well, the last I checked, Adam and Eve had some trouble with “forbidden knowledge,” too. Mooney articulates an extremely naive view of knowledge and technology, with no account for the reality of human sinfulness and corruption. Moreover, his view that art should explicitly manifest philosophical arguments as opposed to “preachy” myth is quite unfounded, and alien to the artistic impulse.

This piece exposes Mooney’s ignorance of the source of human sin and evil. When he writes of the recent movie The Island, what he calls “yet another in a long sequence of anti-cloning, anti-science diatribes,” Mooney observes, “Presiding over this nightmare scenario is, sure enough, a mad-scientist character who is described as having a ‘God complex.’ There are about a million flagrant ethical violations embedded in the world of The Island, but as far as I’m concerned, ‘playing God’ is rather low on the list.”

Conversely, the biblical Genesis story relates just how the desire to “play God” lies at the center of the human fall into sin.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:4-6 NIV)

What Mooney really wants is a morality divorced from any theological or religious concerns. Providentially, the arts do not seem to have abandoned these in the way that modern science seems bent upon. But for this reason, they will continue to be the object of attack.

Can I keep him, Mom? Please? I’ll feed him and love him and call him my own.

Oh, your lion eyes…Check out the two articles from this week’s journal Nature as reported on Newsday.com. (There must be an editor at work here with a sarcastic sense of humor.)

In the first article, a commentary by Josh Donlan, a plan is proposed for fighting the loss of endagered species: repopulate the American Plains with (among other things) elephants, wild horses, cheetahs, and yes, lions.

The “rewilding” of parts of North America’s heartland could restore some balance to an ecosystem that lost a slew of similar species around 13,000 years ago, according to a commentary in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. Although conceding that “huge cultural obstacles” would have to be surmounted, lead author and Cornell University ecologist Josh Donlan argues that the long-range plan also might help preserve animals in danger of extinction elsewhere.

One must wonder if in the minds of these retro-evolutionists, the phrase “huge cultural obstacles” actually means “people”?

One must admire the work of those who seek to preserve endangered species. That being said, the problem here is the same problem with many environmentalists: a mindset that a world without the infection of humanity is somehow a better world. The idea is that the pre-historic world, or a world without the corruption of modern man, is paradise.

Yes, this could be you…

Being someone who considers himself mildly ‘outdoorsy’ and culturally ‘rural’, I understand this eco-nostalgia. Creation is beautiful and ought to be enjoyed. I would love to romp through undefiled, silvan wonderlands just as much as the next Nalgene-toting, Birk-calced, Steve Irwin wannabe. (The opening sequence of Last of the Mohicans seems to the ideal for many enviros…that is, until Daniel Day-Lewis fires a lead ball through the neck of an elk…)

There goes the neighborhood…

But come on. To ‘rewild’ North American plains? The unstated premise is that what is ‘tamed’ is wrong. This ideology denies the human person’s role in developing the world and its resources. It denies that environmental stewardship means to cultivate the world, not simply to retrofit it to our romantically fuzzy notions of a Majestic Past. But many environmentalists think that left to itself, wild nature is somehow more just, more ideal, more…ahem…humane. I think Mr. Donlan has seen The Lion King a few too many times.

And, oh yeah: the other article about lions? Lion attacks on humans are on the rise in Tanzania.

An article from Nature examines how even human activity as inherently destructive as military exercises can actually boost biodiversity. In “Military exercises ‘good for endangered species,’” Michael Hopkin writes of the results of a study conducted following US military exercises in Germany.

Ecologist Steven Warren of Colorado State University says that “military land can host more species than agricultural land.” And “What’s more, its biodiversity can also exceed that of natural parks, where species that need disturbance cannot get a foothold” (emphasis added).

Hopkin further reports, “The tendency when setting aside a nature reserve is to prevent disturbances such as periodic flooding, says Warren. But this can inadvertently remove some habitats.”

“[Tanks] replace to some degree the processes that have been stopped,” Warren says. The same goes for fires caused by bombing. “We’ve trained generations of people that fire is bad,” he says, “but in fact it’s crucial for ecosystems.”

This flies in the face of conventional eco-wisdom, which holds up undisturbed and pristine wilderness, untouched by human hands, as the environmental ideal. For more comparison of the productive vs. the preservationist view of stewardship, see this commentary.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 12, 2005

Roy Spencer at Tech Central Station examines some of the latest climatology research published in the journal Science.

One essential point of the new findings is that the temperature readings based on satellite information may not be as reliable as previously thought. The satellite readings of the atmosphere had been at significant variance from surface temperature readings. As Spencer states of the article by Mears & Wentz, “Their final estimate of the global lower tropospheric trend through 2004 is +0.19 deg. C/decade, very close to the surface thermometer estimate, and this constitutes the primary news value of their report.”

You’re sure to hear about this trio of articles in the media, and Spencer asks, “What will all of this mean for the global warming debate? Probably less than the media spin will make of it.” Here’s a prime example of that prediction from LiveScience. In an article titled, “Key Argument for Global Warming Critics Evaporates,” Ker Than cites Roy Spencer as the head of “the only group to previously analyze satellite data on the troposphere” before the recently published reports.

In part due to the disagreement between the atmospheric and surface readings, Steven Sherwood, a geologists at Yale University and lead author of one of the studies admits that “most people had to conclude, based on the fact that there were both satellite and balloon observations, that it [the Earth] really wasn’t warming up.”

Than writes of the study that corrected an error in Spencer’s calculations: “After correcting for the mistake, the researchers obtained fundamentally different results: whereas Spencer’s analysis showed a cooling of the Earth’s troposphere, the new analysis revealed a warming.”

“When people come up with extraordinary claims — like the troposphere is cooling — then you demand extraordinary proof,” said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist and a lead author of another of the studies. “What’s happening now is that people around the world are subjecting these data sets to the scrutiny they need.”

Spencer himself is a bit more cautious about what the new research means. He concludes,

At a minimum, the new reports show that it is indeed possible to analyze different temperature datasets in such a way that they agree with current global warming theory. Nevertheless, all measurements systems have errors (especially for climate trends), and researchers differ in their views of what kinds of errors exist, and how they should be corrected. As pointed out by Santer et al., it is with great difficulty that our present weather measurement systems (thermometers, weather balloons, and satellites) are forced to measure miniscule climate trends. What isn’t generally recognized is that the satellite-thermometer difference that has sparked debate in recent years has largely originated over the tropical oceans — the trends over northern hemispheric land areas, where most people live, have been almost identical.

On the positive side, at least some portion of the disagreement between satellite and thermometer estimates of global temperature trends has now been removed. This helps to further shift the global warming debate out of the realm of “is warming happening?” to “how much has it warmed, and how much will it warm in the future?”. (Equally valid questions to debate are “how much of the warmth is man-made?”, “is warming necessarily a bad thing?”, and “what can we do about it anyway?”). And this is where the debate should be.