Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
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Today’s NYT editorializes: “a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply while holding only 3 percent of the reserves will never be able to drill its way to lower oil prices, much less oil independence.”

You’ll often hear the complaint that Americans use more than their fair share of the world’s oil. We’re addicted to it, some say. After all, so goes the reasoning, we have less than one-half of one percent of the world’s population, but we “consume one-quarter of the world’s oil supply.” Seems wildly out of proportion, doesn’t it?

That is, until you take into account that the United States economy represents somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of gross world product (depending on how you calculate it). So the US also produces wealth that is wildly out of proportion to our share of the world’s population.

There is a real correspondence between economic power and the use of fossil fuels. That’s part of the reality I was pointing to in this week’s Acton Commentary: “Fossil fuels would thus have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.”

And here’s just one more side note. Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.

Juliet Eilperin, “Bush Pollution Curbs Are Rated Equal to Clinton’s: Science Panel Says Proposed Cap-and-Trade System Will Help Clean Air,” Washington Post, July 24, 2006:

The report from the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, represents the latest effort to assess how best to reduce air pollution estimated to cause as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. The panel concluded that an earlier Bush plan would have allowed pollution to increase over a dozen years, but it found that the administration’s more recent Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) — which targets emissions from power plants in 22 states and the District of Columbia — would help clean the air over the next two decades.

The CAIR approach aims to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2025 at the latest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, through a system that would allow utilities to sell and buy pollution credits as long as industry emissions as a whole stayed below a pre-set cap.

Cap-and-trade schemes may be better than command-and-control techniques, but maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.

Hugh Ross, “The Faint Sun,” Facts for Faith, Reasons to Believe, 2002:

The timing of humanity’s arrival—near the end of life’s long tenure on Earth—may appear tragic at first glance. But a longer look suggests it may be viewed as a gift. Scanning the horizon of civilization—farms, ranches, towns, cities, and all the transportation and communication arteries linking them—one sees a plethora of building materials derived from nearly 4 billion years of life and death: gems, sand, steel, asphalt, concrete, copper, limestone, marble, plastics, etc. Most of the energy that drives civilization comes from biodeposits—oil, coal, wood, kerogen, natural gas, and so forth. Many of the fertilizers that support agricultural production also come from biodeposits—phosphates, nitrates, and such.

Such bountiful provisions powerfully indicate a Provider who carefully planned and prepared the planet through the ages for human life. They speak of a purpose for the human race. The Bible reveals a purpose that involves, yet goes beyond, the current “heavens and Earth.”

More here on the providential purpose for petroleum. (HT: John Linsley of RTB)

Associated Press, “Christian Ministry Wants to Build Turbines to Spread the Gospel,” The Church Report, July 23, 2006:

A Christian ministry group wants to build 36 wind turbines on the roof of a former steel company to generate money to help spread its message….

Energy produced by the turbines will be sold back to Wisconsin Energy Corp. through a buyback program.

More here on these so-called “Cuisinarts of the air.”

In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”

The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”

Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).

Read the entire commentary here.

My piece on the debate over chimera research and the relevance of your worldview to the debate appears today at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Drawing on the work of C.S. Lewis, and among the questions and conclusions included, I write, “Chimera research may indeed have some potential benefits, but we cannot ignore the question of potential costs. What toll does such research take on the dignity of human beings? Must we destroy the human person in order to save it? As a society, we need to question whether our technological reach has exceeded our moral grasp.”

This issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Bush spoke about the creation of human-animal chimeras in his State of the Union address this past January: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

Acton PowerBlog contributor Don Bosch (aka The Evangelical Ecologist) had his post, “Guilt Free Ecology,” picked up and recognized by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in their feature “Best of the Blogs,” on June 18. Good job, Don!

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
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A new review on H-German by John Alexander Williams of Bradley University examines the edited collection of essays, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005).

The volume’s editors contend in part that “the green policies of the Nazis were more than a mere episode or aberration in environmental history at large. They point to larger meanings and demonstrate with brutal clarity that conservationism and environmentalism are not and have never been value-free or inherently benign enterprises.” While Williams argues that this conclusion “rings hollow” in light of the evidence produced in the essays, he does affirm that “the desire to protect nature must be accompanied by an equally strong commitment to social justice and human rights.”

On this point Williams specifically criticizes the final essay in the book, by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, which “focuses on the SS’s wartime planning of the landscape in the occupied territories to the east of Germany.”

As Williams writes, “The Nazi war of imperial conquest, in carving out a new ‘living space’ for German colonists through mass expulsion and extermination, opened ‘new vistas for landscape architects and urban planners’ (p. 244). Hitler appointed Himmler in charge of ‘cleansing’ of occupied landscapes for resettlement by ethnic Germans.” Williams’ concern is that “Wolschke-Bulmahn never clearly explains what was environmentalist about these planners and the blueprints they prepared for Himmler.”

Williams concludes, “The failure of this essay is unfortunate, since Wolschke-Bulmahn and others have written much more effectively elsewhere about the intertwining of pastoral landscape ideals with Nazi imperialism and genocide.”

Read the entire review here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 29, 2006
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“If you look at all the discussions surrounding biotechnology, I feel that we are clearly focusing too much on ethics.”

Toine Manders, Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament, on discussions in the European Parliament about stem cell research. From “Debate on stem cells holds back EU research drive,” Financial Times, June 14, 2006. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

“It is because the moral sciences tend to show us such limits to our conscious control, while the progress of the natural sciences constantly extends the range of conscious control, that the natural scientist finds himself so frequently in revolt against the teaching of the moral sciences.”

F. A. Hayek, “Scientism and the Study of Society: Part III,” Economica 11, no. 41 (February 1944): 37-38.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
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The Supreme Court is in the midst of its busy season. Important decisions recently handed down include the death-penalty case, Kansas v. Marsh, and the campaign finance case, Randall v. Sorrell.

Jonathan Adler offers an interesting analysis of the decision in a pair of cases, Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. United States, which involved the the scope of the federal government’s regulatory jurisdiction over wetlands.

Given the Court’s ambiguous record of protecting private property rights (see Kelo), Adler’s conclusion is noteworthy: the decision itself was the right one, but the split opinions indicate further ambivalence concerning property rights. The issue is significant for both environmental conservation and property rights: Because state and local governments (and private owners) usually are more effective conservationists than are sweeping federal laws, the limitation of federal jurisdiction helps on both fronts.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, June 26, 2006
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EUObserver: “New figures released on Thursday have revealed that the EU is falling far short of reaching its emissions targets under the international climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.”

HT: Townhall C-Log

Blog author: jballor
Monday, June 26, 2006
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A three-day meeting is scheduled to begin tomorrow in Toledo, Ohio, and is set to discuss the possibility of putting wind farms on the Great Lakes. The session is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency among other groups, and will include conversations about “how to protect birds, bats and fish from the windmills.”

According to the AP, wind farms on the Great Lakes would include “rows of windmills” that “would tower as high as 400 feet and float or stand in relatively shallow water.” Some opponents of wind farms point out the danger that the turbines can represent to migratory bird populations. Acton’s Anthony Bradley has noted that the Sierra Club calls wind towers “Cuisinarts of the air” (listen to related interview here).

North Hoyle wind farm in England

The attractiveness of wind farms based on water rather than land has to do with the relatively greater strength of wind which sweeps over bodies of water. Walt Musial, a senior engineer and offshore programs leader for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor, said, “Offshore machines can make about twice as much as onshore.”

Other concerns relate to the high startup and capital costs involved in the construction of these projects, perceptions about the unpredictability and unreliability of wind power, and issues of visual pollution.