Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
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Here’s the best ad hominem (no pun intended) reason to deplore the creation of chimeras: Stalin, the self-proclaimed “Brilliant Genuis of Humanity,” wanted them.

The Scotsman reports that “Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.”

According to the documents, the order came from Stalin’s wish to create a race of super-soldiers: “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 15, 2005
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Dr. Philip Stott at EnviroSpin Watch shares with us an article featuring an interview with Maugrim, head of Queen Jadis’ secret police from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, on the growing threat of global warming to the peaceful nation of Narnia. The so-called “greenhouse gas” in question is Pantheron Dileoxide (PL2), also commonly known as “Lion’s Breath.”

“PL2 is a dangerous, roaring greenhouse gas”, the Chief Wolf, Maugrim, growled. “It melts everything, even frozen fauns and fountains. Climate change is the biggest threat ever to Narnia – we might even have Christmas, and the Queen’s war chariot polar bears will have nowhere to live”, he snarled.

The interview concluded with a demand to return to “zero emissions.”

HT: The Corner

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 1, 2005
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A section compiled by Matt Donnelly at Science & Theology News calls the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance’s recent formation a continuation of “the recent and laudable trend of faith-based organizations making a serious attempt to grapple with the religious basis for environmental stewardship.”

The section also provides links to their coverage of a number of other aspects of “the intersection of religious belief and environmental protection.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, Jay Richards looks at the ingrained tendency of many environmentalists to view man’s place in nature as fundamentally destructive. For people of faith, this is simply bad theology. Jay examines this anthropological error, and highlights the work of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a new coalition that is working to deepen religious reflection on environmental questions.

Environmental policies founded on faulty fundamentals can lead to disastrous consequences, as Jay points out.

Every environmental policy implemented by government authority, for instance, stems from someone’s views about the nature of man and man’s place in nature. If those views are anti-human, the policy probably will be anti-human as well. Consider the ban on DDT in the 1970s. The ban, which in hindsight we know was misguided, has resulted in the deaths of more than a million people a year. The vast majority of these deaths have been among the poor in developing countries.

Read the full text of “God and Man in the Environmental Debate” here.

The ISA has also published a new paper on environmental stewardship that includes the perspectives of science, ethics and theology. This paper should be required reading for people of faith who are concerned about the environment.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
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A long oral and written tradition about the mixing of species has been noted on this blog before, specifically with regard to Josephus. I just ran across this tidbit in Luther that I though I would share, which points to a continuation of a tradition of this sort running down through the Reformation.

Luther is commenting on the Old Testament character of Anah, and debating whether we might consdier Anah to have committed incest. He writes:

We could say that Anah also slept with his mother and that from this incest Oholibamah was born and many similar things. But nothing is to be imagined in Holy Scripture without clear testimonies of the Word. Below (v. 24) we shall hear that Anah was a notorious rascal and the author of an abominable act of copulation, namely, of asses with horses. But if he had no respect for the order and sight of God and nature but dared to mingle animals of a different genus, which is contrary to nature and the ordinance of God in the creation and concerning which Holy Scripture says in Gen. 1:25: “God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind,” it could also come to pass that he slept with his mother.

Here we can see Luther’s logic: if Anah were the type of person to so flagrantly violate the creation order and engage in that “which is contrary to nature” and “an abominable act,” the mixing of animals across genus, he is clearly the type of person who would commit incest iwth his own mother. I would say that’s a rather striking indictment of such primitive genetic engineering.

Luther actually thinks that we should not attribute the crime of incest to Anah, but engages in this thought experiment to show us one way of arguing that Anah could have. The basis for this commentary is a genealogical passage, specifically Genesis 36:18, which could lead one to believe that Anah’s daughter was conceived by his own mother. Luther rejects this interpretation, attributing it to Jewish rabbinical tradition, but interestingly enough at the same time affirms an interpretive tradition regarding Genesis 1:25 and the ordering of the animal species.

Acton Senior Fellow Marvin Olasky in a column today on TownHall.com looks at the “important new coalition” called Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now that is working to bring the banned pesticide DDT back into battle against malaria. The disease, he writes, kills an estimated 1 million people annually — 90 percent of them Africans.

The United States has been contributing about $200 million per year to Africa’s war on malaria. Four months ago, President Bush promised an additional $1.2 billion over five years in U.S. anti-malaria funding. But last week, a coalition of 100 doctors, scientists and activists said that anti-malaria funds up to now have been misspent.

The KMMN coalition — which includes eminent malaria experts and public health specialists, the former U.S. Navy surgeon general, the national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, a co-founder of Greenpeace, the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons — says most of the annual $200 million goes to advising African governments on how to combat malaria, not on actual combat.

The KMMN coalition says that none of that money goes for the most effective weapon: the insecticide DDT, which eradicated malaria in Europe and the United States more than half a century ago, but was banned in the United States in 1972 because of its supposed environmental effects. Soon, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development cut out DDT from its programs.

Read the “Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now!” declaration and add your name to the growing list of endorsers by emailing “info [at] acton [dot] org” with your name, degrees, and organizational affiliation. Acton will forward your name to the Africa Fighting Malaria advocacy group.

Steven Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, argues that “there is no economical substitute for DDT when it comes to malaria in poorer regions of the world.”

When DDT is available, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Indoor spraying with DDT, for example, reduced malaria cases and deaths by nearly 75 percent in Zambia over a two-year period and by 80 percent in South Africa in just one year. DDT works like nothing else – there’s simply no doubt about it.

For these reasons, we ought to support a bill in Congress (currently it’s known as the Senate version of H.R. 3057) that would reform the U.S. Agency for International Development so that insecticides like DDT could be added to the arsenal for fighting malaria. President Bush announced in July that U.S. taxpayers would spend $1.2 billion for world malaria control over the next five years.

Rather than wasting that money on ineffective bed nets and anti-malaria drugs – and then repeating such futility in another five years – let’s spend it on DDT and get the job done now.

Spurred on by the specter of miraculous cures to horrible diseases, Irving Weissman, director of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, is working on experiments combining human brains and mice. The Stanford Daily reports that Dr. Weissman “has worked with the transfer of human neurons to the brains of mice for several years now. He has already bred mice whose brains are composed of 1 percent human neurons, finding that transplanted human brain cells could successfully connect to a mouse brain.” Such experiements yield what are known as “chimeras,” the creation of organisms composed of material from multiple species.

But what a mere 1% can’t tell you, Dr. Weissman bets the other 99% will. Dr. Weissman “wants to initiate a new experiment by transplanting human brain-stem cells to an inbred strain of mice whose natural brain cells die before the mice’s birth. Human brain cells would then replace the mice’s own, creating a breed of mice whose brains are composed entirely of human neurons.”

This kind of transplantation seems to be a rather different from other kinds of brain transplantation that has been discussed before, since the brain-stem cells would develop once they had been implanted in the mice. With respect to the possibility of the transplant of a completely developed brain, Dr. Ben Carson, who has been director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions for over 20 years and is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says, “As a brain surgeon, let me say we don’t have to worry about transplanting human brains into other animals because we’re already dealing with billions and billions of neurons and hundreds of billions of interconnections, and it’s not going to happen.”

But even this supposedly less complex kind of transplant proposed by Dr. Weissman has been acknowledged by him that it “may not even work at all.” For the time being, Dr. Weissman’s proposals are on hold until a clear scientific consensus is reached on the ethical dimensions of the research.

Recent testimony given by members of the President’s Council on Bioethics attests to the diversity of opinion on these issues. Dr. William Hurlbut, himself a consulting professor in human biology at Stanford University and who was not quoted in the Stanford Daily article, says:

It is possible using certain technologies to transplant whole modules of developing portions of the embryo from one species to another. This has been done by Le Dourian and Balabon, where they actually transplanted a portion of the developing brain, early neurologic system at that stage, and got the crowing capacities of a quail put into a chick.

And so he actually transplanted a unit of behavior. Just to draw that a little farther, I think we should also be careful to not do that with elements of human form. In other words, it isn’t just a matter of cognition that we’re concerned about. The categories of our world, the conceptual categories that organize our world provide an intelligible world to us. These are not to be taken lightly.

The way we understand our world is by the separations within the world. For very serious purposes we might mix those, but I think we should be careful not just to see that as a matter of inner psychological or cognitive functions, but we need to preserve the human form, the dignity of the human form.

Diana J. Schaub, a professor of political science at Loyola College in Maryland, discusses a study on the subject and argues that “transplanting human neural stem cells into a mouse no more transforms the mouse than transplanting a pig heart valve into a person transforms the person. All of the rules that the authors recommend seems to me sensible, and although they don’t acknowledge it, those rules are based on preserving species integrity. Transfer the smallest number of cells necessary; use dissociated human stem cells rather than larger tissue transplants; and select host animals carefully, preferring distant relations over our nearer primate cousins.”

When Dr. Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy at Georgetown University, discusses the possibility, he says:

Let me start with the most extreme and highly unlikely case. Suppose human neurological stem cells are transplanted into a primate so that the animal acquired some key human features. It seems to me that this would be morally troublesome in spite of the often heard argument that there’s nothing wrong with enhancing the capabilities of an animal.

In my opinion, this procedure should be viewed the other way around. It is not that an animal is thereby enhanced, but rather that what is essentially human is really debased. It is closer to the production of a human being in the wrong body.

And I often imagine what it would be like to wake up one day only to realize that I have the body of a chimpanzee. Luckily, we’re told that this is virtually impossible because the human body as we know it seems to be absolutely necessary for the development of the human mind, and I’m thinking about size of the brain, the cranial space, et cetera.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, October 14, 2005
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I can’t vouch for the validity of any of the claims made in this new book from Laissez-faire Books, but I confess its publicity material piqued my interest. It argues that inordinate fear of radiation leads to unnecessary and even counterproductive energy policy. As one none-too-keen on radiation in general (stand away from that microwave!), I’m nontheless intrigued by this book’s argument.

Blog author: jspalink
Friday, October 14, 2005
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An article appeared in Wired News today on the unintended consequences of wind farms. One of these consequences — among many others, I’m sure — is “an astronomical level of bird kills.”

Thousands of aging turbines stud the brown rolling hills of the Altamont Pass on I-580 east of San Francisco Bay, a testament to one of the nation’s oldest and best-known experiments in green energy.

Next month, hundreds of those blades will spin to a stop, in what appears to be a wind-energy first: Facing legal threats from environmentalists, the operators of the Altamont wind farm have agreed to shut down half of their windmills for two months starting Nov. 1; in January, they will be restarted and the other half will be shut down for two months.

Though the Altamont Pass is known for its strong winds, it also lies on an important bird-migration route, and its grass-covered hills provide food for several types of raptors. “It’s the worst possible place to put a wind farm,” said Jeff Miller, a wildlife advocate at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s responsible for an astronomical level of bird kills.”

In July, Anthony Bradley wrote a piece for Acton News and Commentary titled “The Answer is (not) Blowing in the Wind,” which touched on this point. While wind farms can provide a somewhat less polluting energy source, environmentalists now desire that they be placed in areas with the least biological and ecological impact. Good luck. Nature is all around us and it will never be possible to generate energy without impacting the environment. This has been true since cavemen discovered fire. And while the levels of impact vary (I think we can all agree that destroying the ecosystem of a river by dumping heated water from a powerplant is worse than some dead birds), there will always be an impact.

All of this (various examples from the Wired article included environmental impacts on sheep, bats, birds, marine animals, …) begs the question: If we’re going to have to shut down wind farms every other month to protect the environment, is it wasteful stewardship? While wind power may provide some (and by some, I mean very little) alternative energy, if it’s not a consistent source, shouldn’t we be investing in more efficient means of energy production rather than wasting time and space on wind power?

As a side note – another article in Wired suggests that nuclear power (cleaner and more cost effective than coal) can pave the way to efficient and economically driven power generation for the United States.

The current situation in New Orleans can be seen in part as a result of the circumstances and context of the city’s founding in 1718. According to one report, the French settled on the site for New Orleans in response to “the need to control the Mississippi River and its tributaries.” But in order for this to happen, the French “would need to control the mouth of the river in the delta at the Gulf of Mexico. The problem with this site was the lack of high ground. The area of the delta was, and is, primarily swamps, marshes, and water. The site chosen for the city of New Orleans was far from ideal but was strategically necessary.”

The problem wasn’t so much with the city as it was originally settled, but rather with the expansion to its modern-day size: “New Orleans is situated on the northern bank of a great curve in the Mississippi River, with natural levees averaging ten to fifteen feet above sea level and only one to two miles in depth. The levees gradually drop off into the swamplands behind. While the oldest parts of the city rest on these levees, the greater part of the modern city rests at or below sea level and is subject to flooding. At this time, the city was the size of what is now known as the Vieux Carré, or French Quarter.”

So after the French colonization of New Orleans, the city grew and populated areas increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Today the Dutch, a former colonial power in their own right, have some ideas about amphibious houses that might serve those who resettle in New Orleans well. These amphibious houses have a “hollow foundation” that “works in the same way as the hull of a ship, buoying the structure up above water. To prevent the swimming houses from floating away, they slide up two broad steel posts – and as the water level sinks, so they sink back down again.”

The Dutch have primarily built these houses in response to fears about rising water levels due to global warming. Dick van Gooswilligen from the Dura Vermeer construction company said during a journalistic tour of the homes: “As global warming causes the sea level to rise, this is the solution. Housing of this type is the future for the delta regions of the world, the ones which face the greatest danger.”

Of course a city under sea level doesn’t need increased water levels to face great danger. That’s why “hordes of hydraulic engineers from Louisiana or Texas are making the pilgrimage to the North Sea coastline to look at the fortifications. The inland river dykes are also considered exemplary models.”

It seems to me that the founding of New Orleans and the contemporary effects of building on a site that is “far from ideal” would be an interesting topic for a paper at the “Colonialism, Postcolonialism, and the Environment” conference scheduled for next year at at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. After all, “Today, no-one would dispute that colonialism has made a profound impact on the environment in former colonial areas, an impact which lives on in the post-colonial era, and affects the lives of millions of people.”