Category: Environmental Stewardship

frackingA new report by the Environmental Protection Agency finds that one of our cheapest sources of energy may be cleaner than we had previously thought:

The Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically lowered its estimate of how much of a potent heat-trapping gas leaks during natural gas production, in a shift with major implications for a debate that has divided environmentalists: Does the recent boom in fracking help or hurt the fight against climate change?

Oil and gas drilling companies had pushed for the change, but there have been differing scientific estimates of the amount of methane that leaks from wells, pipelines and other facilities during production and delivery. Methane is the main component of natural gas.

The new EPA data is “kind of an earthquake” in the debate over drilling, said Michael Shellenberger, the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental group based in Oakland, Calif. “This is great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.”

The EPA credits stricter regulations, but as Erika Johnsen points out, we should not “overlook the overarching role of the free market in inspiring increased efficiency, innovation, and improved technology.”
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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Friday, April 5, 2013

Many of us function under the assumption that our role as stewards of God’s creation is to to leave things as we’ve found them. Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. would disagree.

A significant error of environmentalists is the assumption that the purpose of man on this earth is to keep it in the same condition that it was when man first appeared. Behind this theory is a subtle denial of the whole issue of the resurrection of the body. Man’s ultimate end is not this earth but God. The earth and its development by man are themselves the arena in which the drama of each person’s relation to God could be and is worked out. It is also true that this “working out” concerns one’s neighbor and man’s relation to fellow man.

Further, Fr. Schall wants to make it clear that certain types of environmentalism put the environment ahead of people, and that hurts the poor. We find the basis for this in the book of Genesis in

…the admonition that man was to increase, multiply, and subdue the earth. The implication was that precisely by providing for man’s needs and purposes, the earth would be a better place. The purposes of both matter and man were directly connected. It would be a misuse of matter if it no longer could serve man’s ends. The earth was not simply given for it to sit there unused and uncultivated. It was rather to be a garden, the work of human hands. It was intended to support the purpose for which man existed. It was not itself the purpose of creation.

Fr. Schall questions whether some programs designed to help the poor actually put them under “state control”, regulating their lives to the point where they cannot escape poverty.

Read “How Environmentalism Harms the Poor” in Crisis Magazine.

It often comes to light over matters of disagreement that one side attempts to shut down the debate by emulating Ring Lardner’s father in The Young Immigrants: “’Shut up,’ he explained.” Of course, this isn’t at all a real explanation, but it sure does slam the door on any further discussion.

This disingenuous tactic is witnessed again and again in the climate-change debate. Most notably it appears in the tactics of those who believe the science is settled, a scientific consensus exists and global warming indeed poses a serious catastrophic threat to our planet – as evidenced by a March 7, 2013, webinar conducted by As You Sow for proxy shareholder resolutions.

As You Sow – which says 18 percent of its members are faith-based organizations – seeks to prompt corporate boards in which it owns stock to adopt its view of climate change. One method to achieve this goal is shutting down the debate completely. As noted in its 2013 “Proxy Preview,” AYS and a “very broad coalition of investors is continuing a vigorous initiative to make companies be more transparent about how they spend corporate treasury money on political campaigns and lobbying.” (more…)

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Wednesday, February 20, 2013

King Louis XIV censored Moliere’s 1664 play Tartuffe after determining audience members might too easily confuse the titular priest’s hypocritical nature with every priest in real life. According to the king, some priests’ “true devotion leads on the path to heaven,” while others’ “vain ostentation of some good works does not prevent from committing some bad ones.”

The king’s judgment in many ways also describes individuals who pursue their religious vocations while simultaneously championing secular causes such as proxy shareholder resolutions. This leads to more of the same kind of confusion that King Louie was worried about. Coming from the other direction, groups that recruit nuns, priests, and other religious and clergy to promote these resolutions under the pseudo-spiritual guise of “corporate social responsibility” and “social justice” aren’t being clear about intended objectives. The aim of all this is not salvation of the soul, but political organizing.

While Tartuffe deceived his hosts’ willfully, those proxy shareholders who belong to religious orders may or may not be unwittingly promoting such secular resolutions as, for example, bans on hydraulic fracturing that have nothing to do with their vows. As for the secular groups who join them, could it be possible they even more resemble Moliere’s priest by seeking grace on the cheap when they deploy religious, nuns and clergy to assist in the promotion of proxy resolutions?

And at what point do these faithful cease advocacy of spiritual matters and become mere secular activists?
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Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the prospects for a renewed embrace of the Christian spiritual and ascetic tradition for ecumenical cooperation and the common good in my article “With Love as Our Byword.” As Roman Catholics anticipate the selection of a new pope, as an Orthodox Christian I hope that the great progress that has been made in ecumenical relations under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will continue with the next Roman Pontiff.

In addition, I note the liturgical season: “The calling of Lent, for Christians of all traditions, reminds us of the ascetic heart of the Gospel way of life.” I continue to say,

Indeed, how many of our social problems today—poverty, violence, abortion, etc.—would benefit from such personal and relational love? We cannot view such problems with regard to statistics and policies alone (though we ought not to ignore them). On a much deeper level, they show us the suffering of persons in crisis who need the love of those who live a life of repentance from past sin and striving toward the likeness of God, the “way toward deification.”

I have commented in the past on the PowerBlog with regards to asceticism and the free society, but here I would like to explore the other side of the coin. We ought to embrace the radical way of love of the Christian tradition when it comes to the social problems of our day, but as I note above, we ought not, therefore, to ignore statistics and policies.

In his 1985 article, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality.” Heeding this warning means uniting good intentions and sound economics.

Failure to do so, despite having the right intentions and even the right morals, can lead to great error and unintended, harmful consequences. It reminds me of two passages from the readings for the past weekend’s Acton/Liberty Fund Liberty and Markets conference that I had the opportunity to attend. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the 1880s America’s most flighty fad was fowl-bedecked fashion.

bird-hat“Trendy bonnets were piled high with feathers, birds, fruit, flowers, furs, even mice and small reptiles,” writes Jennifer Price, “Birds were by far the most popular accessory: Women sported egret plumes, owl heads, sparrow wings, and whole hummingbirds; a single hat could feature all that, plus four or five warblers.” The result was the killing of millions of birds, including many exotic and rare species. Reporting on the winter hat season in 1897, Harper’s Bazaar declared, “That there should be an owl or ostrich left with a single feather apiece hardly seems possible.”

Americans outraged by this senseless destruction of wildlife launched, as Price says, “the first first truly modern conservation campaign” in the 1890s—decades before John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and others made conservation efforts popular. Over the next two decades a flock of legislation began to be passed to protect birds, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA).

Appearing 55 years before the Endangered Species Act, the statute made it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell specific migratory birds, including bald eagles, barn owls, and mourning doves. The federal law became an important conservation tool, a means of preventing the wanton slaughter of wildlife for trivial commercial reasons.

But tools can often be used as weapons, and the Obama administration has used the MBTA as a bludgeon against the oil and gas industry. Last year the executive branch argued that the MBTA should be broadly interpreted to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death, and used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 21, 2013

Earlier this month I attended the First Kuyper Seminar, “Economics, Christianity & The Crisis: Towards a New Architectonic Critique,” in Amsterdam.

One of the papers presented was from Jan Jorrit Hasselaar, who discussed the inclusion of non-human entities into democratic deliberation in his talk, “Sustainable Development as a Social Question.” I got the impression (this is my analogy, not Hasselaar’s) that there was some need for a kind of tribune (for plants instead of plebeians), who would speak up for the interests of those who could not speak for themselves.

The framing of the issue of the dignity of animals, plants, and the natural environment more broadly connected the integration of these interests into our public discourse as analogous to the civil rights revolutions concerning race and sex in the West over the previous century. The following video makes an argument in similar terms:

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promised_land_posterEnvironmental issues have increasingly become polarized. No sooner has a new technology been announced than some outspoken individual climbs athwart it to cry, “Stop!” in the name of Mother Earth.

To some extent, this is desirable – wise stewardship of our shared environment and the resources it provides not only benefits the planet but its inhabitants large and small. When prejudices overwhelm wisdom, however, well-intentioned but wrongheaded projects such as Promised Land result.

The latest cinematic effort by screenwriters-actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski (from a story by David Eggers) and director Gus Van Sant, Promised Land earnestly attempts to pull back the veil of corporate duplicity to expose the evil underbelly of hydraulic fracturing, which is more commonly known as “fracking.”

The fracking technique has been employed successfully by oil and natural gas industries since the late 1940s. Briefly, fracking involves high-pressure injection of chemically lubricated water to break up rock formations in order to drive trapped fossil fuel deposits toward wellbores.

Combined with horizontal drilling and new advances in information technology, the fracking process has reinvigorated our nation’s natural gas industry and opened up new energy resources previously considered out of reach or economically unfeasible. It has also reinvigorated debate over whether the practice is environmentally sound.

Of primary concern to opponents is its impact on groundwater, an issue Promised Land does nothing to dispel despite fracking’s impressive track record over the past 60 years and numerous government reports confirming its overall benign environmental impacts. (more…)

Conservation Trust THConnellI found this profile of Mark Tercek, the former Goldman Sachs managing director who was tapped to head the Nature Conservancy, raises some profound issues concerning the relationship between economics and the environment:

Tercek, 55, didn’t come to the Conservancy to fight financial brush fires. With the help of his board and the input of the Conservancy’s 600 scientists, he wants to remake the face of the American and global environmental movements. He has no quarrel with the current model—largely built on the strategies of confront, litigate, regulate. But by itself, that approach has proven inadequate. “All the things we care about—forests, coral reefs, fish stocks, biodiversity—we have less of instead of more of, despite everyone’s best efforts,” Tercek says.

Environmentalism, he fears, has become too elitist, too white, too partisan, too full of doomsayers, too concerned with saving nature from people instead of for them. He’d like to expand environmentalism to include the world’s largest polluters so that ecologists and corporations can work jointly to preserve nature because it’s the smart economic choice.

That last point is critical. Sustainable and responsible economic growth is based on properly valuing the natural environment. All too often environmental damage and degradation is due to improperly valuing and inadequately appreciating natural resources. In many cases it is because of a lack of well-defined property rights and responsibilities.

To use the language of Acemoglu and Robinson, unsustainable economic activity is extractive rather than inclusive. Consider how Tercek is actively and positively engaging Dow Chemical for an inclusive approach:

Tercek’s biggest bet yet is the Conservancy’s five-year partnership with Dow Chemical (DOW), announced a little more than a year ago. During the project, 20 Conservancy scientists are getting unprecedented access to Dow’s facilities, starting at Dow’s sprawling Freeport (Tex.) plant. The idea is to help the chemical giant do an inventory of its global land and water assets as a way of allowing Dow to put a value on its “natural capital” and to determine how to best protect and enhance it.

“I know there’s a lot of skepticism about these corporate initiatives, but for Dow to agree with us philosophically that it relies on nature for business reasons and to begin to put a business value on its natural assets, that’s huge,” says Tercek.

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson. Edited by Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers, and Andrew Morriss (Cato, 2012)

During the 50 years following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, much has been written to discredit the science of her landmark book. Little, however, has been written on the environmentalist cult it helped spawn.

Until Silent Spring at 50, that is.

Subtitled “The False Crises of Rachel Carson,” Silent Spring at 50 is a collection of essays specially commissioned by the Cato Institute and edited by Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers and Andrew Morriss. Much like Roger Scruton’s recent How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism, the essays present a unified indictment not necessarily of Carson per se but of the disastrous results wrought by the policies she inspired.

In “The Lady Who Started All This,” environmentalist William Kaufman presents an admiring portrait of Carson as a scientist who unfortunately took a left-turn from her previous works — based on objective, empirical research — when she endeavored to write Silent Spring shortly after her cancer diagnosis. For this ill-conceived approach, Kaufman blames Wallace Shawn, the New Yorker editor who prompted Carson to abandon her “disinterested scientist” voice in favor of a more “adversarial” tone. Since the famous editor signed Carson’s check, the author readily complied. (more…)