Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
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What’s behind the stunning defeat of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in a popular referendum this week? Undoubtedly, he overestimated the appeal of his “21st century socialism” among Latin Americans. A new poll also shows that the most trusted institution in Latin America is not the government — but the Catholic Church.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
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Not to belabor the topic of divorce (following Don Bosch’s interesting post from yesterday), but Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse has a thought-provoking piece on NCRegister.com on the perverse incentives of marriage law. She makes several important points, but I am most intrigued by her suggestion that the frequency of divorce, combined with the peculiarities of the legal system designed to handle it, has created one of the most invasive areas of American law.

The discussion recalls Dr. Morse’s earlier book (Love and Economics), which argued persuasively that a free society requires virtuous families, for within them are molded citizens capable of handling freedom responsibly. (“Liberty is government of Conscience,” said Lord Acton.) More directly, when families fail to fulfill their role, demand is created for government action. Divorce is but one more example.

None of this should be construed as beating up on those who have suffered broken marriages. It is, instead, a recognition of the far-reaching impact of family life and a reminder to do all we can—individually and as a society (e.g., in law)—to encourage rather than discourage the lasting bond that is the core of the family, “the first school of the social virtues” (Vatican II, Declaration on Christian Education, inter alia).

Blog author: dwbosch
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
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Via ABC News:

In the United States, they found that divorced households spent 46 percent more per capita on electricity and 56 percent more on water than married households did. According to the study, if divorced households could have the same resource efficiency as their married counterparts, they would need 38 million fewer rooms, use 73 billion fewer kilowatt hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water in 2005 alone.

More:

But Raoul Felder, a prominent New York divorce attorney, is skeptical.

"I think people who want a divorce are so driven to improve their quality of life environmental factors are the least of what they’re thinking about," he said. "If they’re not thinking about the effect of divorce on children, they’re not going to be thinking what their environmental footprint is going to be or how many kilowatts they’re using."

Well, yeh.

The article doesn’t even mention the pollutants pumped into the air by ex-spouses driving (and flying) their kids back and forth between two households. I doubt that’s insignificant.

As if conservatives needed another reason to support the family…

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
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Many of us have yet to finalize plans for our Christmas decorating this year. If you haven’t yet decided what kind of tree to put up, consider the truly environmentally-friendly choice: cutting down a live tree.

While that might sound counter-intuitive at first blush, the fact is that the alignment of consumer demand for live trees combines with the environmental interest in growing them to create a powerful alliance.

“Buying a real Christmas tree is the next ‘green decision’ the public can make,” said Mike Bondi, University of Oregon Environmental Science professor. “In fact, a real tree is the safest choice since the tree is helpful to the environment from the time it is planted right up to the recycling process.”

This isn’t your only ‘green’ option this year.

Industry trade groups are also touting live trees as the next “green” thing, including special labeling for trees grown in a particular way. Gayla Hansen, Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association president, says that when you buy a live tree, typically “you’re helping independently owned, family farms.” One way to ensure that there will be lots of evergreen trees grown around this country for years to come is to have a booming and consistent consumer demand for such trees.

This is a clear case of fiscal incentive combining with an environmental interest to create a synergy of economic and ecologic good. We have good reason to think, therefore, that economic and environmental concerns shouldn’t be viewed as polar opposites, but rather complementary aspects of the same basic issue.

A Norfolk Island Pine.

While a live tree is maturing, it takes in CO2 and produces oxygen, in addition to providing natural wildlife habitat. And when the Christmas season ends, trees can be easily mulched or composted (HT: The Evangelical Ecologist).

You might even choose to buy a tree that you can re-plant after its indoor use is finished. When I lived in Virginia where the climate was more temperate than here in Michigan, my mother and I often would reuse a Norfolk Island Pine (which admittedly sometimes looked like a Charlie Brown tree).

When there is reliable consumer demand for a product, there is additional incentive to motivate producers to have a sustainable source to meet that demand. That’s as true for Christmas trees as it is for African Blackwood (a preferred source for many woodwind instruments, including the bagpipe).

In stating his opposition to a proposed ban on the creation of human-animal hybrids, or chimeras (the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2007), Wired blogger Brandon Keim writes, “People — and, for that matter, animals — can’t be reduced to a few discrete biological parts. An embryo is not a person. Strands of DNA do not contain our souls.”

I’m not sure that human eggs and sperm aren’t comprised of souls in some sense, or at least aren’t made up of soulish bits (I tend to lean toward viewing a traducian account of the origin of the human soul as plausible. A traducian view may also explain more than a purely materialist account with regard to the transmission of non-material realities, such as culture).

But the crux of Keim’s argument is that because embryos aren’t “persons,” they can be treated in a instrumentalist/utilitarian fashion. This is one of the reasons that debates about embryonic stem cells, chimeras, and other bioethical matters so often break down into the traditional pro-life/pro-choice lines concerning abortion. There is a disagreement over the first principle of when life begins, when personhood begins, and so on.

Jacques Ellul identified what he called the plague of a technocratic society—doing something because it can be done, not because it should be done (HT).

In a series attempting to explicate a biblical-theological approach to chimeras, I argue that because animals do not have a purely instrumental value, we cannot simply make utilitarian judgments about how and when to use them for experimentation. And this is to say nothing of the objectively higher value that is placed on human life in the biblical account.

I’m increasingly sure that the answer to “what it means to be human” needs to be put in such a way as to emphasize ultimate capacities “for thought, feeling, consciousness and active volitional power,” and therefore to positively value the teleology of a thing, not simply the current form of its development or existence. See for example, Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics, p. 25 et passim. Embryos are persons if you define personhood in terms of ultimate capacities.

See also: “Hybrid Test Drive,” on the rather more advanced situation in the UK.

It has been noted in the past, both in previous PowerBlog posts and elsewhere in the blogosphere, that climate change alarmists are wont to attribute virtually any anomaly in the weather (or, frankly, in any other area of human existence) to global warming. It’s not hard to find examples of this phenomenon, but it is quite impressive to find an individual who has made an effort to catalog all of the examples on a single web page in one giant list.

In Great Britian, Professor John Brignell is attempting to do just that. I’ve excerpted a portion of his “warmlist” below, highlighting the E through L catastrophes that will soon overtake us due to global warming. On the actual list, each entry is hyperlinked to the article that makes the claim:

…extinctions (human, civilisation, logic, Inuit, smallest butterfly, cod, ladybirds, bats, pandas, pikas, polar bears, pigmy possums, gorillas, koalas, walrus, whales, frogs, toads, turtles, orang-utan, elephants, tigers, plants, salmon, trout, wild flowers, woodlice, penguins, a million species, half of all animal and plant species, not polar bears, barrier reef, leaches), experts muzzled, extreme changes to California, fading fall foliage, famine, farmers go under, fashion disaster, fever,figurehead sacked, fir cone bonanza, fish catches drop, fish catches rise, fish stocks at risk, fish stocks decline, five million illnesses, flesh eating disease, flood patterns change, floods, floods of beaches and cities, Florida economic decline, food poisoning, food prices rise, food security threat (SA), footpath erosion, forest decline, forest expansion, frostbite, frosts, fungi fruitful, fungi invasion, games change, Garden of Eden wilts, genetic diversity decline, gene pools slashed, gingerbread houses collapse, glacial earthquakes, glacial retreat, glacial growth, glacier wrapped, global cooling, global dimming, glowing clouds, god melts, golf Masters wrecked, Gore omnipresence, grandstanding, grasslands wetter, Great Barrier Reef 95% dead, Great Lakes drop, greening of the North, Grey whales lose weight, Gulf Stream failure, habitat loss, Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, harvest increase, harvest shrinkage, hay fever epidemic, hazardous waste sites breached, health of children harmed, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes (Australia), heat waves, hibernation ends too soon, hibernation ends too late, homeless 50 million, hornets, high court debates, human development faces unprecedented reversal, human fertility reduced, human health improvement, human health risk, hurricanes, hurricane reduction, hydropower problems, hyperthermia deaths, ice sheet growth, ice sheet shrinkage, illness and death, inclement weather, infrastructure failure (Canada), Inuit displacement, Inuit poisoned, Inuit suing, industry threatened, infectious diseases, inflation in China, insurance premium rises, invasion of cats, invasion of herons, invasion of midges, island disappears, islands sinking, itchier poison ivy, jellyfish explosion, Kew Gardens taxed, kitten boom, krill decline, lake and stream productivity decline, lake shrinking and growing, landslides, landslides of ice at 140 mph…

The whole list contains over 600 links, and keeps on growing as new imminent catastrophes are announced. Look ye upon it and despair.

HT: The American Thinker

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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In my Acton Commentary this week, I argued against government funding for stem cell research.

The developments that served as my springboard have unsurprisingly prompted a lot of other reflections from various quarters as well. A sampling:

Joseph Bottum on politics, religion, and stem cells.

Fr. Thomas Berg on the reaction of the scientific community.

Malcolm Ritter on obstacles remaining in the path toward medically useful applications.