Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 12, 2005

Roy Spencer at Tech Central Station examines some of the latest climatology research published in the journal Science.

One essential point of the new findings is that the temperature readings based on satellite information may not be as reliable as previously thought. The satellite readings of the atmosphere had been at significant variance from surface temperature readings. As Spencer states of the article by Mears & Wentz, “Their final estimate of the global lower tropospheric trend through 2004 is +0.19 deg. C/decade, very close to the surface thermometer estimate, and this constitutes the primary news value of their report.”

You’re sure to hear about this trio of articles in the media, and Spencer asks, “What will all of this mean for the global warming debate? Probably less than the media spin will make of it.” Here’s a prime example of that prediction from LiveScience. In an article titled, “Key Argument for Global Warming Critics Evaporates,” Ker Than cites Roy Spencer as the head of “the only group to previously analyze satellite data on the troposphere” before the recently published reports.

In part due to the disagreement between the atmospheric and surface readings, Steven Sherwood, a geologists at Yale University and lead author of one of the studies admits that “most people had to conclude, based on the fact that there were both satellite and balloon observations, that it [the Earth] really wasn’t warming up.”

Than writes of the study that corrected an error in Spencer’s calculations: “After correcting for the mistake, the researchers obtained fundamentally different results: whereas Spencer’s analysis showed a cooling of the Earth’s troposphere, the new analysis revealed a warming.”

“When people come up with extraordinary claims — like the troposphere is cooling — then you demand extraordinary proof,” said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist and a lead author of another of the studies. “What’s happening now is that people around the world are subjecting these data sets to the scrutiny they need.”

Spencer himself is a bit more cautious about what the new research means. He concludes,

At a minimum, the new reports show that it is indeed possible to analyze different temperature datasets in such a way that they agree with current global warming theory. Nevertheless, all measurements systems have errors (especially for climate trends), and researchers differ in their views of what kinds of errors exist, and how they should be corrected. As pointed out by Santer et al., it is with great difficulty that our present weather measurement systems (thermometers, weather balloons, and satellites) are forced to measure miniscule climate trends. What isn’t generally recognized is that the satellite-thermometer difference that has sparked debate in recent years has largely originated over the tropical oceans — the trends over northern hemispheric land areas, where most people live, have been almost identical.

On the positive side, at least some portion of the disagreement between satellite and thermometer estimates of global temperature trends has now been removed. This helps to further shift the global warming debate out of the realm of “is warming happening?” to “how much has it warmed, and how much will it warm in the future?”. (Equally valid questions to debate are “how much of the warmth is man-made?”, “is warming necessarily a bad thing?”, and “what can we do about it anyway?”). And this is where the debate should be.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 11, 2005

Greg Gutfield’s rather humorous item at The Huffington Post makes me wonder about this question: What would Jesus fly? (Not to be confused with the common slogan: “Jesus is my copilot.”)

While I’m pretty sure that it would be some sort of cumulus-based transport (read “clouds”; see Acts 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and Revelation 1:7; 14:14-16), we can be certain that it would not be a private jet.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Rev. 1:7 NIV)

This Wired News article looks at the practices of various companies committed to reducing manufacturing and industrial waste. Cutting waste makes good economic and environmental sense.

“Anything that’s waste is an inefficiency in the process, and inefficiency is lost dollars,” says Patricia Calkins, vice president for environment, health and safety at Xerox. A cost that is often overlooked is that associated with waste management. “Skyrocketing landfill costs during the late 1980s and early 1990s” helped push companies toward minimization of waste.

Carpetmaker Collins & Aikman, after initiating a carpet recycling program in its plant, reduced its costs for shipping waste to landfills, which “has saved the company an estimated $1 million. It has saved several million dollars more by reducing the amount of raw materials it buys.”

Of course, reducing inefficiencies at any point in the system reduces waste overall. This reality is behind what Hewlett-Packard’s change in “the design of its plastic molding tools, for example, to eliminate a lot of the plastic material that was used between parts as runners.”

“That was all scrap that just went to the floor,” says David Lear, HP’s vice president of corporate, social and environmental responsibility. “The biggest win is not recycling, but engineering the material out of your system so you don’t need to worry about landfilling it.”

The whole phenomena of waste reduction points to the dynamic compatibility of economic and environmental concerns and runs counter to conventional wisdom. Good stewardship of the environment need not be at odds with good economic stewardship.

If you’re inclined to praise GE for its “green” makeover, featuring cutesy ads like the one in which the baby elephant dances playfully in the rainforest, William Baldwin has some practical suggestions in a piece in this week’s issue of Forbes.

“Should you show your support by buying a few shares of this ecologically hip company? There are better ways to help the environment,” he contends. These include: opposing windmill subsidies, buying hormonal milk, and not recycling newspapers.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 8, 2005

This review in the latest issue of Books & Culture by John Copeland Nagle, associate dean for Faculty Research and professor at the Notre Dame Law School, reflects on a book on the environmental history of China, by Mark Elvin.

Nagle begins the piece with a brief personal anecdote of his experience with environmental problems in China:

On the morning of March 20, 2002, I left my windowless office in the Tsinghua University Law School for a short break. Then I saw it: a bright orange sky, which soon turned brown and finally a dusky gray before eleven o’clock in the morning. What I was seeing was dust. Lots and lots of dust. So much dust, in fact, that two days later the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that the particulate levels established by the Clean Air Act had been exceeded in Aspen, Colorado, because of the millions of dust particles that had been blown all the way from China. I soon learned that it was Mao’s fault…The orange sky that I saw in Beijing that morning was the predictable result of overgrazing and its resulting desertification.

The review is well worth reading. Nagle writes that Elvin’s book

recounts how generations of Chinese have labored to modify the natural environment to better achieve their own ends. Three thousand years ago, China was a land where forests filled much of the landscape, elephants and other wild animals roamed, and rivers and lakes provided abundant freshwater. Today most of the forests and wild animals have long since disappeared, China suffers from some of the worst air and water pollution in the world, and the government is struggling to create the legal and social mechanisms necessary to halt and reverse its deteriorating environmental conditions.

The laundry list of environmental mistakes over the millennia in China, along with China’s classification as a “developing nation,” makes it nearly inexplicable how China is exempt from greenhouse gas emission standards under the terms of the Kyoto protocol.

Nagle ends his review with a somewhat hopeful conclusion that one of the positive consequences of the great numbers of Christian converts in China is that they might help address China’s environmental dilemma. He writes, “The last several decades have produced an extensive literature that explores the extensive biblical teaching concerning creation, stewardship, and our duty to care for the natural world in which we live.”

But this speaks to the need for freedom of speech and the practice of religion. In distinction from a place like the United States, where religious leaders are free to engage in debate over environmental policy, “the challenge is far greater in a country where the practice of religion is strictly regulated, and where the first hints of political activity inspired by religious beliefs are just emerging.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Foreign Policy hosts this exchange on environmental issues and economics. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, gets the first word and Bjørn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, gets the last word.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I’m not quite sure what to make of this local story: “Four people are charged for their alleged involvement in killing two bald eagles.”

The details of the alleged crimes are as follows: “Prosecutors say two teenagers shot the eagles in the Muskegon State Game Area with a .22 caliber rifle in April 2004 and then chopped them up with a hatchet.” Since the bald eagle, one of the nation’s revered symbols, is an endangered animal, it is protected by both state and federal laws.

Given the law of the land (the Endangered Species Act), it makes some sense that those involved would be prosecuted for illegal killings of protected animals. But here’s the strange thing: two of the alleged participants are “charged with one count of animal cruelty, which is a four-year felony.” Unless I’m misunderstanding something, the eagles were “chopped…up with a hatchet” after they were killed. How can you be cruel to something after it’s already dead?

And just in case you were wondering which is considered more severe, the two men “are also facing one count each of killing a bald eagle, which is a 90-day misdemeanor.”

It’s hard for me to fathom why anyone would shoot and slaughter bald eagles, but that perversity is almost matched by the irrationality of the possible sentences.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 22, 2005

Gregor Mendel, a monk and Abbot of Brünn, was born on this date in 1822. Mendel’s work opened up the promising and troubling field of genetics. He is often called “the father of genetics” for his study of the inheritance of traits in pea plants.

For information about what might be identified as the contemporary offspring of Mendel’s work, see the Acton Environmental Newsletter on Genetically Modified Foods, including Rev. Michael Oluwatuyi’s “How Will We Feed Africa?” and my article, “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.”

Image taken from Genoma del genere Gallus.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 18, 2005

Who needs sustainable cities? It appears that China does. Slashdot reports that a leading architect of the sustainable city movement, William McDonough, has been commissioned by the Chinese government to create “a national prototype for the design of a sustainable village, an effort focused on creating a template for improving the quality of life for 800 million rural Chinese.” A quick survey of McDonough’s clients includes Ford Motor Company, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and IBM Corporation.

In an interview on sustainability, McDonough cites environmental concerns as key. “The goal is a safe, healthy, just world, clean air, soil and power, that is elegantly enjoyed,” he says. “In the 70s we saw the hegemony of fossil fuels. So what would be the next design philosophy we would want to work with?”

McDonough repeats the popular axiom that the Stone Age did not end because humans ran out of stones. Indeed, that something must change in China is increasingly less debatable. A report by the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy identifies China’s horrible pollution situation:

“A report released in 1998 by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that of the ten most polluted cities in the world, seven can be found in China. Sulfur dioxide and soot caused by coal combustion are two major air pollutants, resulting in the formation of acid rain, which now falls on about 30% of China’s total land area. Industrial boilers and furnaces consume almost half of China’s coal and are the largest single point sources of urban air pollution.”

News media are beginning to recognize the significance of China’s dilemma, since “China accounts for about 12 percent of the world’s energy demand, but its consumption is growing at more than four times the global rate…. The country’s top environmental officials have warned of ecological and economic doom if China continues to follow this pattern.”

A recent USA TODAY story relates the economic impact of China’s worsening environmental situation. Citing Pan Yue, deputy director of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, the report finds “Environmental injury costs China 8% to 15% of its annual gross domestic product.” It continues, “In the north, encroaching deserts are prompting human migrations that swell overburdened cities. In the south, factories have closed periodically for lack of water…. The World Bank estimates such shutdowns cost $14 billion annually in lost output.”

China’s pollution illustrates as well the fundamental flaws in the Kyoto Protocol. As a developing nation, China is exempt from the constraints of the agreement, despite it’s enormous and growing population, and it’s huge share of global pollution. Robert Mendelsohn, professor in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, wrote that “Kyoto is consequently a complex country-by-country agreement that includes everything from nothing to extreme measures. It is no surprise that the USA did not finally agree to Kyoto as it was negotiated.”

For more reading about the legitimacy of governmental roles in promoting sustainability, see the Controversy between Charles C. Bohl, Director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and Mark Pennington, Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London, in the Journal of Markets & Morality issue on the New Urbanism, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 24, 2005

Rev. Richard Cizik of Viriginia is being hailed as “in the vanguard of a striking new movement: evangelicals prodding President George W Bush to take action on global warming. And his stance cannot easily be dismissed as radical nonsense, as the Green cause is traditionally mocked by the Right.

He is the Washington representative for the National Association of Evangelicals, America’s largest evangelical group. With 30 million members, the NAE is possibly the most powerful voting bloc in the country.”

Rev. Gerald Zandstra

On the heels of a National Association of Evangelicals call for heavier involvement in politics, the Acton Institute reflected on the role of Christians in politics, and urged caution lest the moral authority of clergy be exploited.

Earlier this year (March 18), Rev. Gerald Zandstra (then director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Stewardship, currently on leave from Acton) was interviewed for a BBC News program about the role of evangelicals in the formation of American public policy. Click here to view video (wmv) of the story, and here to hear the audio (mp3).