Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 10, 2006

There’s something like a question of theodicy implicitly wrapped up in the debate about global warming among Christians. It goes something like this:

Why did God create oil?

One answer is that the burning of fossil fuels is simply a divine trap for unwitting and greedy human beings, who would stop at nothing to rape the earth. Another answer is that there is some legitimate created purpose for fossil fuels.

I’m inclined to think the latter, for a number of reasons. The first answer strikes me akin to the claim that God created the earth to look old…it just doesn’t seem like something God would do. It would cast doubt on the veracity of God, in whom there is nothing false. After all, I don’t recall the covenant with Adam having anything to do with burning fossil fuels.

One possible argument in favor of the first view is that God has created the world in such a way that wrong actions tend to bear negative consequences. The wisdom literature of the Bible attests to this natural order, in which evil bears its own fruit of destruction. But this would mean that fossil fuels were created only with the fallen state of human beings in view, as a check or consequence on human sinfulness (see the corollary at the end).

It seems much more tenable to me to assert that oil was created by God as a natural resource for human beings to use wisely and to steward well in the culturing of the world. It would be much more difficult to “fill the earth and subdue it” if we didn’t have cars and planes and ships to carry us about.

If this is the case, then oil, natural gas, and other petroleum products exist to be used by human beings, but just like any other thing, are to be used responsibly. For example, we can use or misuse food: we can gorge ourselves on it (gluttony), we can waste it, we can hoard it, or we can eat and grow and share food appropriately. Oil might well be a tool like any other, that can be used for good or ill.

Supposing that one of the inevitable effects of the human consumption of oil (speaking here only about engine combustion and not other uses of fossil fuels, e.g. to make plastics) is carbon dioxide emission which inevitably raises global temperatures and adversely effects global climate, what then is our answer to the question? Is there any legitimate use for oil left if this is true? Is oil the forbidden fruit of the twentieth century?

Or perhaps petroleum products are here as a transitional stage in human development, much like societies based on wood-burning sources of energy progressed into the usage of fossil fuels. In this case, petroleum products would have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy, which would raise the standard of living and economic situation of the societies to the point where technological research would find even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.

I don’t think anyone is claiming that oil is going to be the primary source of fuel forever. It’s just the best we have right now. And most of the world, China, for example, is heading into the stage of development where use of fossil fuels is necessary and are not at the point of progressing beyond it.

A corollary: the issue of the creation of fossil fuels through animal death may or may not have an impact here. It’s an open question to me whether animal death existed before the Fall. Certainly some kind of death (plant) undoubtedly occurred, and some form of animal death (bacteria) probably existed as well. If oil is only the consequence of animal death which is itself the product of the Fall, perhaps the well is tainted, so to speak. You might be able to argue conversely, however, that this is an example of God bringing good from evil, so the origin of fossil fuels from animal fossils doesn’t seem to be definitive.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

On January 21, 2006, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World and a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute, gave this lecture at the Centesimus Annus Conference in Rome. Dr. Morse talks about the failure of the European welfare state to sustain economy and the demographic implications resulting from the “marginalization of the family.” Dr. Morse covers quite a bit of ground in this lecture, beginning with a critique of the evidence of a failing “European Social Model” and following up with the “Catholic alternative.”

A summarized version of the speech is available as an Acton Commentary, while an MP3 version of the speech can be downloaded here, or via or Acton’s podcast.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

The traditional formula for understanding the relationship between the developed and the developing world is the following: Aid = Economic Growth. That is, foreign aid spurs economic development in poorer nations.

A new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research challenges this wisdom, however. “Aid and Growth: What Does the Cross-Country Evidence Really Show?” by Raghuram G. Rajan and Arvind Subramanian shows that “regardless of the situation — for example, in countries that have adopted sound economic policies or improved government institutions — or the type of assistance involved, aid does not appear to stimulate growth over the short or long term.”

Findings like this should cause advocates of aid-oriented programs like the ONE Campaign and the Micah Challenge to reassess their efforts. One way to change things would be to focus on actual outcomes rather than simply looking at the inflow of aid. The ONE Campaign by definition is focused on the front side, the supply of aid, rather than any actual effects of the aid: “We believe that allocating an additional ONE percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water and food, would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation of the poorest countries.”

A summary of the NBER paper states, “Challenging the simplistic but seductive view that increased assistance from rich countries is likely to put many poor countries on the path to prosperity, a new study on the impact of foreign aid finds ‘little evidence’ that it ever has a positive effect on economic growth.” So the real-world formula looks something like this: Aid ≠ Economic Growth.

“Rajan and Subramanian observe that there is a tendency in analyzing the impact of aid for economists to take sides and conclude that it is good or bad for growth. But the authors argue that neither assertion is valid because the data supporting either argument is so ‘fragile’ that with only minor tweaks, it can yield the opposite result. For example, they take an analysis.”

The important thing to realize is that past aid programs have had no provable positive effect. The conclusion is not that aid has no part to play in future development, but simply that it cannot be the only answer, and as part of the solution, “the aid apparatus (in terms of how aid should be delivered, to whom, in what form, and under what conditions) will have to be rethought.”

A few others have addressed this issue in previous posts, but I wanted to jump in with my two cents.

Yesterday’s New York Times notes that a group of evangelical leaders have entered the debate over climate change:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough.”

Later in the article, Rev. Ted Haggard – speaking for himself and not in his capacity as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which is not participating in this effort – states that “there is no doubt about it in my mind that climate change is happening, and there is no doubt about it that it would be wise for us to stop doing the foolish things we’re doing that could potentially be causing this. In my mind there is no downside to being cautious.” Well, no downside except nearly destroying the global economy in an effort to reverse a process that may or may not be caused by man in the first place. (Jay Richards sums up the downside nicely in this post.)

One wonders whether Rev. Haggard and the others behind this declaration have been informed of the recent discovery that plants release vast amounts of greenhouse gasses. Or that one of the most famous pieces of supporting evidence for the global warming hypothesis – the “hockey stick” graph that purports to show a sudden rise in global temperatures at the beginning of the 20th century after centuries of relative stability – has been found to be riddled with serious errors. Or that global warming is not just restricted to Earth, but also seems to be occurring on other planets in the Solar System, which may cause one to think that global warming on Earth might just have something to do with… the Sun.

Since the dawn of time, man has longed to destroy the sun…

The group will be taking their message into the media via a television campaign:

The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: “As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God’s creation. The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord.”

That would all be well and good if we knew for sure that humans were the cause of global warming. But it’s clear that we don’t know that for sure. (And if warming is indeed caused by the Sun, we’re completely dependent on God for a solution unless we embark on a Monty Burns style quest to block the Sun’s energy from reaching Earth.) In their editorial on the “hockey stick,” the Wall Street Journal sounded a note of caution that we would all do well to heed:

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet–as much as $150 billion a year–on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn’t everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?

The Chicago Tribune has a story about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) launched February 8th. (See my initial response here.) Most reports of this story have been somewhat fair. But the Chicago Tribune story takes an unjustified swipe at evangelicals who disagree with the ECI statement. The reporter, Frank James, describes the disagreement among evangelical Christians this way:

But environmental issues have proved divisive within the body of believers who identify themselves as evangelicals. Some who believe the world is in the “end times,” with a return of Jesus imminent, have not seen the necessity of protecting the environment for the long term. Others, meanwhile, have taken the view espoused by the evangelicals who unveiled their campaign Wednesday, that humans were given dominion over the Earth with the responsibility to protect it.

This should be printed in journalism textbooks as an obvious case of media bias. Notice the false dilemma: If you’re an evangelical, you either you agree with the ECI or you don’t care about the environment because you’re expecting the Lord’s return any day now. I read several evangelical responses to the ECI yesterday, and this is one argument that I didn’t see. I note that James doesn’t offer any quotes from representative evangelical leaders who make this argument. Hmm. I wonder why?

If I had to guess, I would say that Frank James has the “James Watt Myth” planted in his memory. James Watt was Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan. It was reported that he once said in congressional testimony: “after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” This calumny has been repeated countless times by figures such as Bill Moyers. There’s only one problem. The story is false. The Chicago Tribune has now made the false story a generic argument of “some evangelicals.” If Frank James can provide some current, direct quotes by representative evangelical leaders (not random loose cannons) who argue that the environment is unimportant because Jesus is about to return, I’ll be the first on record denouncing the argument. If he can’t produce such quotes, then he should retract this statement.

Following the recent discovery of new species and a reports of a “lost world,” a primitive pristine paradise on the Indonesian island of Papua, I thought I’d pass along some thoughts of F. W. J. Schelling, the 19th century philosopher and contemporary of G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was one of the last great German idealists.

German idealism in general, and Schelling’s philosophy in particular, have exercised great influence down into contemporary theology, having effected, among others, Paul Tillich, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Early in his career, Schelling delivered a series of lectures, including a lecture “Of Human Freedom” in 1809. This lecture focused largely on the problem of evil and theodicy. World history is for Schelling, the divine self-revelation, in which the polar opposites of good and evil are finally reconciled. He writes of the primal state of the world, having a view of the Fall into sin as necessarily linked with creation:

But just as the undivided power of the primal basis is only recognized in man as the inner basis or center of an individual, so, too, in history, evil at first remains concealed int eh depths, and the age of guilt or sin is preceded by an age of innocence or unconsciousness of sin. The primal basis of nature may have operated alone long before, and, through the divien forces contained within it, it may itself have attempted a creation which, however, since the bond of love was lacking, always relapsed in the end back into chaos (as is perhaps indicated by the series of species which were destroyed before the present creation and did not return) until the word of lvoe went forth and with it enduring creation took its start.

Schelling does not have separate doctrines of creation apart from sin, or a fall from a real primal state of innocence into a state of sin. The innocence merely consists in the “unconsciousness of sin.” And so too, things like the fossil record of extinct species are seen as abortive attempts of the material world to bring forth “enduring life,” which can only truly be accomplished when the spirit of love infuses itself into the world.

Schelling also deals at the length with the implications of such a doctrine of sin for our conception of God. Biblical Christian theologians can acknowledge the reality of animal and plant death before the Fall because human sin was not the first instance of creaturely rebellion. Indeed, Satan, a “murderer from the beginning” and ” the father of lies” (John 8:44), bears that distinction.

Time and again, however, Schelling refuses to acknowledge or find relevancy in this reality. He writes, for example, “The first cause of all can never be evil in itself, as there is no duality of hte principles in it. But neither can we presuppose a created spirit, itself fallen, which solicited man to fall: for the very question, at this point, is how evil arose in a created being.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

In this season of taxation, it is refreshing to consider strategies for lowering taxes and making governments more efficient. London’s Institute of Economic Affairs recently published a fascinating monograph by Richard Teather, The Benefits of Tax Competition. It’s available for download here.

Teather examines from various angles the issue of tax competition among nations—that is, the practice of national governments’ lowering taxes for the purpose of attracting foreign companies and fostering and retaining domestic ones. He reviews the relevant existing research, analyzes the evidence, and concludes that the objections don’t hold water and that tax competition is, all in all, a good thing.

It is worth noting that the same principle applies intranationally. I recently heard a speech by a candidate for governor of Ohio who has made the state’s oppressive tax structure the centerpiece of his campaign. He tells of a humorous conversation with an Indiana state official who posits as the main cause of that state’s economic vibrancy, “Ohio’s dumb policies.” In other words, talented young people, entrepreneurs, and existing businesses are all fleeing Ohio for environments more conducive to prosperity–like Indiana.

If you’d like to see how your state’s taxes compare with others around the country, check out this informative map provided by the Tax Foundation.

One aspect of the evangelical involvement in debates over global warming and climate change that has intriqued me has been what I deem to be a rather large blind spot about the relation of religious conservatives to science.

By this I mean that if there is any group of people who ought to understand the rigidity of scientific dogma, it should be evangelical Christians. Given the treatment of their views in debates about evolution and more recently “intelligent design,” it shoud be clear just how biased and close-minded scientific orthodoxy can be. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get anything published in scientific journals that takes ID seriously.

There’s a similar dynamic at work in the debate about global warming. Sure, most prominent scientists that you hear about in the news believe that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and something like the Kyoto protocol is the answer. But why can’t evangelicals see that the minority opinion among scientists in the global warming debates is receiving similar treatment to that which IDers receive?

For more background to the evangelical approach to global warming, and today’s announcement of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, you can see my dialogue with CT’s Andy Crouch. Interestingly enough, he argues that part of the fallout from the evolution controversy was that evangelicals distrust science, but that this distrust is misplaced when it comes to global warming.

See Crouch’s original piece, “Environmental Wager,” my response, “Pascal’s Blunder,” Crouch’s rejoinder to my response, my further reply, “Comet-Busting Lasers,” with Andy getting the last word here.

Following Michael Miller’s recent Acton Commentary, “Why Johnny Can’t Compete with Sanjay”, and the resulting comments, two of America’s best political commentators have also weighed in on the subject.

First there’s Charles Krauthammer’s Time article, arguing that America is doing fine, partly as a result of less dependence on government-funded research.

Then Michael Barone comments on Krauthammer’s argument, along with a request for more information on the role of the private sector in research.

Any takers?

Blog author: jrichards
posted by on Wednesday, February 8, 2006

After much whispering and pre-publicity, a group of 86 evangelical leaders has announced their support for what The New York Times calls “a major initiative to fight global warming.” As part of the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” they are calling for “federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through ‘cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.’” (For a response from another group of evangelical leaders, go to the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.)

I have great respect for the supporters of this initiative, and I don’t doubt their sincerity. And I’m glad to see a call for “market-based” solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, this looks to me like another example (alongside the fuzzy advocacy of the ONE Campaign) of Christians, evangelicals in this case, endorsing a hip cause without thinking through its economic logic.

I doubt any of these evangelical leaders has relevant expertise when it comes to global warming, especially since the scientific issues involved are exquisitely complex and change from day to day. So presumably they are simply trusting the advertised “scientific consensus” on this issue and using that perceived consensus as a filter for interpreting mundane events, like ice melting in Antarctica. That’s a problem, not only because the consensus is more manufactured than real (that is, objectively decided), but also because a scientific consensus that the planet is warming still wouldn’t tell us what to do about it. That’s a prudential question that can only be answered by taking account not only of the intended consequences of a policy, but also its unintended consequences.

The issue is not whether we should see ourselves as stewards over creation. That’s a non-negotiable Christian principle. The issue is whether these evangelicals have done the obligatory serious thinking before advocating a specific public policy.

When it comes to global warming, there are at least four separate issues to keep in mind. You don’t need to be a climate expert to do this.

(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, and we’re causing it, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference? (more…)