Category: Environmental Stewardship

TheUpcycle_featuredimage“Being less bad is not good.” This is a major theme of Cradle to Cradle, written by architect William McDonough and former Greenpeace chemist Dr. Michael Braungart back in 2002.

The book arrived like a tidal wave on the green movement and exposed the categorical deficiencies and uselessness of tags like, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The problem highlighted in the 2002 book is not that we need to simply damage the environment less but, even worse, we lack the entrepreneurial creativity and innovation to design products that actually make the natural world better after their initial use. Eleven years later, McDonough and Braungart move the conversation forward and provide a framework to think differently in their new book, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing For Abundance.

There isn’t space here to review the entire book but the introduction and first chapter alone are enough to challenge the ongoing hegemonic perspective that sees human action as an environmental liability rather than seeing human action, as McDonough and Braungart suggests, as an asset to the flourishing of all life. First, the authors challenge readers to see the world as space teaming with abundance instead of finite resources. Just as plant and animal waste are actually complimentary nutrients in an ecosystem we should begin to think creatively about how the by-products of our manufacturing processes can become “technical nutrients” to other processes. Human action creates opportunities for positive cultivation.

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Farmer Joel Salatin is a rising star in the slow food world for his appearances in the documentaries Food Inc., Fresh, and in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. What gets minimized or overlooked in these treatments are Salatin’s Christian, capitalist and libertarian leanings.

Michael Miller had the chance to explore this under-reported side in an interview with him at his farm in Virginia. Some choice bits from their conversation are at Salatin’s PovertyCure Voices page, and you can see video excerpts from the interview in the PovertyCure DVD Series.

Also, former Acton intern Elise Amyx recently had the chance to interview the self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer.” In the first of a three-part series, she describes Salatin as “a farmer of faith … dedicated to holistic stewardship in order to heal creation for a higher purpose.” In the same piece, Salatin describes his approach this way:

Every day I pray, “Lord, let me operate this farm exactly like you would if you were here in person.” It’s a ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ situation, realizing that the land is holy; indeed, all of creation can be sanctified by our interaction with it.

Our planet contains about forty tons of bugs for every human, says Helena Goodrich, offering and “ongoing ‘all you can eat” insect buffet.” While snacking on cicadas probably won’t catch on in the U.S. anytime soon, could eating more bugs help solve world hunger?

eating-bugsAccording to a recent U.N. report, insects could indeed be part of the solution to some of the world’s food security and health problems. More than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food and insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. So why isn’t entomophagy (consumption of insects as food) more popular among Westerners?

The main reason, of course, is that cows and chickens taste better than crickets and cockroaches. But that shouldn’t stop us from promoting insects as an edible alternative:
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There are currently two sets of laws in America: laws that apply to everyone and laws that apply to everyone except for friends of the Obama administration.

In January I wrote about how the executive branch had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 should be broadly interpreted in order to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death. The administration used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.

american-bald-eagleThe U.S. District Court of North Dakota rejected this sweeping interpretation of the MBTA and dismissed the charges, noting that the words “kill” and “take” in statute should be interpreted narrowly to mean actions taken with the intent to kill or take a bird, not actions that merely happen to kill or take a bird. The ruling seemed fair-minded but the Department of Justice appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While one section of the Obama Administration is arguing that they should be able to prosecute energy companies (oil and gas) for killing birds another section of the Obama Administration is arguing that energy companies (wind) should be exempt from prosecution for killing birds.

According to the Associated Press:
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climate-changeDo you believe that Jesus will return to Earth someday? Then you probably don’t care about environmental devastation and the catastrophic loss of life of future generations.

That’s the absurd conclusion drawn in an academic paper published in the latest issue of Political Research Quarterly. In their article, “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change,” David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado test the following hypothesis:

Citizens who believe in Christian end-times theology are less likely to see global warming as a policy problem that requires immediate government action, compared to citizens who do not hold end-times beliefs.

Initially, I thought by “Christian end-times theology” they might be referring to premillinial dispensationalism, a eschatological view held by many American Evangelicals, that was popularized in the Left Behind series of novels. But the authors make it clear that they are not just referring to dispensationalists but to all Christians who believe in the Second Coming.
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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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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…)

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…)