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Category: Public Policy

What do you call titans of industry who influence governmental regulation to provide them with tax and subsidy incentives to make a business venture profitable?

They used to be called robber barons…now apparently they’re “eco-millionaires.” The NYT piece gives a brief overview of four such figures:

Bruce Khouri “did not found Solar Integrated until 2001 once tax and subsidy incentives made the market more attractive.”

Pedro Moura Costa says he “saw the carbon market could be big business and the Kyoto Protocol confirmed my views.”

According to David Scaysbrook, “tax breaks, subsidies and emissions caps had prompted even more conservative investors ‘to finally move off their perch.'”

And “Neil Eckert, chief executive of Climate Exchange, which runs the main European exchange for carbon trading, has shares worth about 18 million pounds ($36 million). He is also non-executive chairman of Trading Emissions and Econergy, both involved in emission-cutting projects and generating revenue from carbon credits.”

More here on how not only individual investors but also nations are cashing in on artificially-created carbon schemes.

Readings in Social Ethics: John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” References below are to page numbers.

  • A warning on the dangers of riches: “‘There was a certain rich man.’ And it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression. Therefore, I remind all of you that are of this number, that have the conveniences of life, and something over, that ye walk upon slippery ground. Ye continually tread on snares and deaths. Ye are, every moment, on the verge of hell. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Who was clothed in purple and fine linen.’ And some may have a plea for this: our Lord mentions them that dwell in kings’ houses, as wearing gorgeous, that is splendid apparel, and does not blame them for it. But certainly this is no plea, for any that do not dwell in kings’ houses. Let all of them, therefore, beware how they follow his example, who is lifting up his eyes in hell: let us follow the advice of the Apostle, being ‘adorned with good works, and with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit'” (316).

  • A condemnation of gluttony and indulgence: “‘He fared sumptuously every day.’ Reconcile this with religion who can. I know how plausibly the prophets of smooth things can talk, in favour of hospitality, of making our friends welcome, of keeping an handsome table, to do honour to religion, of promoting trade, and the like. But God is not mocked: He will not be put off with such pretences as these. Whoever thou art that sharest in the sin of this rich man, were it no other than faring sumptuously every day, thou shalt as surely be a sharer in his punishment, except thou repent, as if thou wert already crying for a drop of water to cool thy tongue” (316). Great wealth does not make vice permissible.
  • A sermon illustration intended to motivate us to do good works: “At Epworth in Lincolnshire, the town where I was born, a beggar came to a house in the Marketplace, and begged a morsel of bread, saying, ‘She was very hungry.’ The master bid her be gone, for a lazy jade. She called at a second, and begged a little small beer, saying, ‘She was very thirsty.’ She Lad much the same answer. At a third door she begged a little water, saying, ‘She was very faint.’ But this man also was too conscientious to encourage common beggars. The boys, seeing a ragged creature turned from door to door, began to pelt her with snow-balls. She looked up, lay down, and died! Would you wish to be the man, who refused that poor wretch a morsel of bread, or a cup of water?” (317)

Next week: Abraham Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty.

From today’s NYT: “CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, is walking away from some $45 million a year in federal financing, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but also may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.”

“If someone wants to help you, they shouldn’t do it by destroying the very thing that they’re trying to promote,” said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

International aid needs to get more economically savvy, and in a hurry, lest unintended consequences like the ones moving CARE to wean itself from the government teat continue to undermine well-intentioned efforts across the globe.

Some charities are accused of supporting the government’s practices because it keeps them afloat.

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Mr. Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.” In other words, NGOs have effectively been bought off.

“Sure it’s self-interest if staying in business to help the hungry is self-interested,” said Avram E. Guroff, a senior official at ACDI/VOCA, which ranked sixth in such sales last year. “We’re not lining our pockets.”

But, as Augustine would say, and as CARE seems to be realizing, economic self-sufficiency ought to be the goal, rather than creating cycles of dependence by destroying entrepreneurial viability abroad:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy! (Confessions 3.2.3)

As you may already know, Acton’s Samaritan Award and Samaritan Guide recognize charities who take little or no government funding and are committed to moving those toward independence.

Update: There’s a brief summary of CARE’s decision in this Marketplace piece: “The issue will be part of the congressional Farm Bill debate next month.”

Jeff Jacoby, writing yesterday in the Boston Globe, takes a pleasant stroll down memory lane:

INTRODUCING Newsweek’s Aug. 13 cover story on global warming “denial,” editor Jon Meacham brings up an embarrassing blast from his magazine’s past: an April 1975 story about global cooling, and the coming ice age that scientists then were predicting. Meacham concedes that “those who doubt that greenhouse gases are causing significant climate change have long pointed to the 1975 Newsweek piece as an example of how wrong journalists and researchers can be.” But rather than acknowledge that the skeptics may have a point, Meacham dismisses it.

“On global cooling,” he writes, “there was never anything even remotely approaching the current scientific consensus that the world is growing warmer because of the emission of greenhouse gases.”

Really? Newsweek took rather a different line in 1975. Then, the magazine reported that scientists were “almost unanimous” in believing that the looming Big Chill would mean a decline in food production, with some warning that “the resulting famines could be catastrophic.” Moreover, it said, “the evidence in support of these predictions” — everything from shrinking growing seasons to increased North American snow cover — had “begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”

Yet Meacham, quoting none of this, simply brushes aside the 1975 report as “alarmist” and “discredited.” Today, he assures his readers, Newsweek’s climate-change anxieties rest “on the safest of scientific ground.”

This appears to be the first article in a two-part series. Go on and read it in full.

Blog author: blevitske
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
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In connection to Acton’s recent coverage of the New Sanctuary Movement, which shelters illegal immigrants in churches to protect them from deportation, see this fascinating Christianity Today piece that explains the history of the church sanctuary concept.

A few excerpts….

“As a product of a time when justice was rough and crude,” law professor Wayne Logan summarized in a 2003 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review article, “sanctuary served the vital purpose of staving off immediate blood revenge.” If the church could be convinced that the sanctuary seeker’s life was not in danger, it would turn him over. “The church, in short, played a foremost role as intercessor,” Logan writes. Fugitives in medieval English sanctuaries, about 1,000 a year, were able to negotiate financial compensation or a punishment like scourging or exile.

In other words, sanctuary properly understood is not about protest, but about offering refuge and help. Medieval churches providing sanctuary didn’t argue that the broken laws were unjust or that sanctuary seekers were heroes. They just wanted to save lives, show grace, and offer room for repentance. Sanctuary as political protest undermines the moral authority that it invokes, for it is just a form of hospitality to like-minded allies. “If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?” someone once asked. “Do not even pagans do that?”

The following items are the continuation of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation Newsletter, August 15, 2007:

Those first five major developments are themselves worthy of an entire issue of this newsletter, and the last two are significant as well. But here are some additional stories worth noting since our last issue:

1. Natural explanation for all climate variability in last century?
Science Daily, August 1, 2007

[University of Alabama climatologist Roy Spencer informed us of this article, writing, “a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) claims all climate variability in the last century is (gasp) NATURAL! (I wonder if the mainstream media will cover this?)”–ECB]

In the mid-1970s, a climate shift cooled sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean and warmed the coast of western North America, bringing long-range changes to the northern hemisphere.
After this climate shift waned, an era of frequent El Ninos and rising global temperatures began.

Understanding the mechanisms driving such climate variability is difficult because unraveling causal connections that lead to chaotic climate behavior is complicated.

To simplify this, Tsonis et al. investigate the collective behavior of known climate cycles such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, and the North Pacific Oscillation.

By studying the last 100 years of these cycles’ patterns, they find that the systems synchronized several times.

Further, in cases where the synchronous state was followed by an increase in the coupling strength among the cycles, the synchronous state was destroyed. Then. a new climate state emerged, associated with global temperature changes and El Nino/Southern Oscillation variability.

The authors show that this mechanism explains all global temperature tendency changes and El Nino variability in the 20th century.

Title: A new dynamical mechanism for major climate shifts

Authors: Anastasios A. Tsonis, Kyle Swanson, and Sergey Kravtsov: Atmospheric Sciences Group, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) paper 10.1029/2007GL030288, 2007 (more…)

I am not a prophet, not even a futurist. I do study trends, now and then, and I try to pay careful attention to popular culture. One thing I am quite sure about: global warming will be a central issue in public debates and political campaigns for some time to come. It has become the Apocalypse Now issue of our generation. (Overpopulation, the nuclear threat and global cooling did it only a few decades ago.) The simple premise, virtually unchallenged in many places, is that we are all destroying the planet. If we do not stop it now we are doomed to wreak havoc everywhere and kill millions of animals and people. Only calloused, cold-hearted, paleo-cons would be willing to battle such "hard" scientific facts and not support all moral efforts to save the earth.

Just last week Newsweek, generally a fairly moderate news source, had a cover story that provided a first-class object lesson about this debate. The story reduced the battle to one between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" and you can easily guess who is who without even reading the story. With righteous indignation (Is there any other kind in this debate?) Newsweek argued that there is a well-funded, anti-scientific "denial machine" at work in America that is determined to stop all serious attempts to solve this crisis. This machine is driven by money from oil companies and by loony-tunes conservatives who are driven by the almighty dollar.  (Don’t look now but many profit-driven companies are getting on the global warming bandwagon because they read the signs of the times and intend to make a good profit by the scare itself! Check out Archer Daniel Midlands and look at their future plans for development sometime.)

In a great op-ed in this week’s edition of Newsweek (August 22) Robert J. Samuelson noted that "Newsweek‘s cover story on global warming was a wonderful read, but misrepresented a very complicated and intractable problem." Well, hooray for Newsweek for including this excellent rebuttal piece. That is more than I can say for many publications on the left or the right. Makes me want to keep getting the magazine really.

Samuelson demonstrates the complications in this debate by showing that there really is no cabal driving this issue at all. Newsweek, he shows plainly, has treated this story very sympathetically since way back in 1988, with numerous cover stories over the years speaking about "the dangers" and why we all should be "worried" about the planet. In 1989 a Gallup Poll found that 63% of Americans worried "a great deal or a fair amount" about global warming while in 2007 the number rose to 65%. (I am surprised it is not a lot higher actually.) (more…)