Category: Environmental Stewardship

A contentious energy bill passed by the House is scheduled to be taken up by the Senate today. House Republicans are calling for swift passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but some Senators are threatening to put off a vote until their concerns about offshore oil drilling are met.

Energy policy has become a high-profile topic in recent days, due to skyrocketing gasoline prices, as well as the impending summer strain on electricity. The bill would deal in part with the nation’s electricity grid, nearly two years after a massive blackout hit the eastern U.S.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 13, 2005

“Wind Farms Costly for Kansans, New Study Finds: Consumers would pay higher bills, reap few green benefits,” by James M. Taylor, Environment News, May 1, 2005, The Heartland Institute.

Via the highly recommended Evangelical Ecologist.

See also Acton’s Anthony Bradley on wind power, in a commentary here and a radio interview here (mp3).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, May 27, 2005
Cuke Skywalker vs. Darth Tater

The popularity of the Star Wars franchise (and Episode III Revenge of the Sith) has been fertile ground (pun intended) for various political satire and commentary. For a mildly entertaining take on Star Wars from the Organic Trade Association, attacking "the dark side of the farm…more chemical than vegetable, twisted and evil," visit "Grocery Store Wars."

Check out the Acton Institute’s Environmental Newsletter on Genetically Modified Foods.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 26, 2005

Here’s a different, deeply flawed, and downright chilling take on the creation of genetic chimeras: David P. Barash, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, welcomes them as a sign of the "continuity" between humans and other creatures. Barash attacks "religious fundamentalists" who draw "the line at the emergence of human beings from other ‘lower’ life forms. It is a line that exists only in the minds of those who proclaim that the human species, unlike all others, possesses a spark of the divine and must have been specially created by god. It is a thin and, indeed, indefensible line, but one that generates a consequential conclusion: that we stand outside nature."

Let’s ignore for the sake of brevity Barash’s caricatures and misunderstanding of the historic Judeo-Christian tradition. Barash’s own views about the soul and immaterial things like the mind remain free from examination in this piece, insulated from their incoherence (see Alvin Plantinga on the fundamental contradiction between naturalism and science). Even worse, I suppose, that such nonsense is coming from a psychologist, who it seems ought to know better, given that his profession is at least nominally concerned with mind and thought. In any case, Barash’s piece is a stark reminder of what kinds of support the creation of genetic chimeras will continue to receive among our "scholarly" class.

Jordan Ballor writes about the ethical and moral implications of creating genetic chimeras. Ballor comments on a recent New York Times editorial promoting chimera research, calling their thinking "scientific pragmatism" and criticizing the general lack of understanding of both human nature and athropology. "The creation of new kinds of chimeras, using manipulation at the cellular and sub-cellular level, raises the stakes considerably," writes Ballor about the level of public controversy involved with chimera research thus far. Pursuing further research without adhering to an objective set of moral and ethical guidelines could have a devastating effect on our humanity.

Ballor has written about chimeras on this blog before.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Antimatter warp drives: “A long way off.”

LiveScience brings us their top 10 “ways to run the 21st century,” a review of possibilities for energy sources in the new millennium. Of the top 3, only nuclear power is currently feasible as a large-scale source of energy. Fuel cells are of huge interest right now, of course. But LiveScience’s love for sci-fi is evident in their #1 choice: antimatter.

“The problem with antimatter is that there is very little of it in the universe.”
Well, that’s one problem, for sure. But can we fix that?

“It can be produced in laboratories, but currently only in very tiny amounts, and at prohibitively high costs.”
Doesn’t sound promising.

“And even if the problem of production could be solved, there is still the knotty question of how to store something that has a tendency to annihilate itself on contact with ordinary matter, and also how to harness that energy once created.”
I can see how that would be problematic.

“NASA funds research into creating antimatter drives that could one day take humanity to the stars, but dreams of antimatter-powered starships as seen on Star Trek are still a long way off, all experts agree.”
So why again is this the #1 choice for your top 10 list?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 17, 2005

My more detailed response to last week’s NYT editorial defending chimera research is posted over at WorldMagBlog.

The Telegraph reports that there is growing dissent among the ranks of some scientists, whose dissenting viewpoint is unable to find a place in many major academic journals. According to the story,

Two of the world’s leading scientific journals have come under fire from researchers for refusing to publish papers which challenge fashionable wisdom over global warming.

The controversy follows the publication by Science in December of a paper which claimed to have demonstrated complete agreement among climate experts, not only that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, but also that mankind is to blame.

Dr Peiser said the stifling of dissent and preoccupation with doomsday scenarios is bringing climate research into disrepute. “There is a fear that any doubt will be used by politicians to avoid action,” he said. “But if political considerations dictate what gets published, it’s all over for science.”

HT: Arts & Letters Daily

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A New York Times editorial today argues that spreading concerns about the ethical validity of chimeras (human-animal hybrids) are unfounded. Here is a summary of the argument:

1) Strange and disturbing possibilities are more like science-fiction than real science. These “should not distract us from welcoming more mundane experiments with chimeras that will be needed to advance science.”
2) This is just the next logical progression. There’s no real substantive difference between transplanting organs or tissues and splicing genes.
3) A probable reason why many people worry about chimeras is because of the possibility that such actions might “visibly change the fundamental nature of either the human or the animal.”
4) We can trust scientists, who don’t want to make science-fiction, but rather do real scientific work. The scientific community is already implementing valuable and important ethical safeguards.

There isn’t a single one of these four points that rings true. Let me respond briefly point-by-point.

1) Clearly there is a pragmatism at work here. Almost anything is permissible in order to “advance science,” and anyone who says otherwise are either worry-worts or lunatics. And I’m not sure that any kind of genetic manipulation could ever be consdired “mundane.”
2) There is a real difference between organ transplantation, which may not in all cases be objectionable, and genetic manipulation. Genes are the building blocks of life and fundamentally affect the identity and function of physical bodies. The editorial also assumes that all previous chimeras are noncontroversial, e.g. the transplantation of “human fetal tissue into mice.”
3) People are certainly concerned about obvious changes to humans (i.e. visible), but this is only reflective of the deeper recognition that genetic manipulation fundamentally affects the subjects, whether or not the change is visible. The human person consists of much more than just a physical body or what is visible.
4) A brief look at the NAS guidelines for embryonic stem cell research shows that what is operative here again is a scientific pragmatism. Proposed experiments creating genetic chimeras have already been approved by university ethics boards, using the only ethical framework they know. This framework, however, is inadequate.

All of these problems seem to stem from a basic misunderstanding of the human person. A naturalistic/materialistic anthropology will eventually lead to such conclusions, because the picture of the human person is severely truncated. Instead of reflecting a true and biblical conception of the human person, body and soul, humans are reduced merely to physically evolved bodies. I might write up a more detailed response later, but you get the idea of what the problems are with such rationales.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Iain Murray at Tech Central Station writes that the EU is going to have a lot of trouble meeting its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, and this could have disastrous economic effects. He writes of recent statements from Spanish officials:

This is a clear indication that at least one government has realized that Kyoto brings a severe economic cost with it, contrary to the protestations of the European Commission and Kyoto boosters around the world.

Murray concludes, “The reality, then, is that Kyoto is doomed and it is its greatest champion, the European Union, which is destined to reveal this to the world.”