Posts tagged with: environment

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Or so reports Catholic News Service today.

In and of itself, the item is not that big a deal: The Vatican will be installing solar panels atop the Pius VI Hall, where the pope holds his general audiences. It does seem, however, to be indicative of greater emphasis being placed on environmental stewardship by the leadership of the Catholic Church (among other eccesial bodies, as has been much remarked on this blog). There was no official comment from the Vatican, but the news writer linked the story to the wider context:

Even though Vatican City State is not a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, a binding international environmental pact to cut greenhouse gases, its inaugural solar project marks a major move in trying to reduce its own so-called carbon footprint, that is, the amount of carbon dioxide released through burning fossil fuels.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Over the last week I’ve done a couple radio interviews related to my op-ed in the Detroit News, “U.S. must move beyond Earth Day slogans.”

Thanks to The Bill Meyer Show out of Medford, Oregon, who had me on in the morning last Thursday.

And thanks also to The Paul Edwards Program for having me on yesterday. I spoke with Paul at some length about the complications of owning Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs). In the course of the interview (which you can listen to here), I referenced a couple webpages that I’ll pass along.

The first is 18Seconds.org, hosted by Yahoo!, at which you can track the sales of CFLs in your state or locality. Michigan has bought over 1.2 million CFLs since the beginning of 2007.

There is some information on the mercury in CFLs fairly deep into the “Why Switch?” section. Here’s a taste of the copy: “All fluorescent lights contain trace amounts of mercury. But don’t worry — there is far less mercury in CFLs than in thermometers or old thermostats. Plus, using these bulbs helps
prevent mercury from being released into the air from coal-powered power plants. When they burn out years down the road, recycle them.”

But here’s a second piece I talked about that might take issue with those claims: “The CFL mercury nightmare,” by Steven Milloy of JunkScience.com. Milloy describes the experience of Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, who faced a $2,000 clean-up bill when she accidentally broke a CFL, exposing mercury in her daughter’s bedroom.

Governments and corporations are engaging in huge campaigns to push the use of CFLs. The Home Depot gave away 1 million CFLs in an Earth Day promotion, and Wal-Mart is advocating them heavily. Check out this promotional video, “Energy Makeover,” from In Front with Wal-Mart, the company’s newest webcast program.

If the mercury in these CFLs, almost universally acknowledged to be a harmful environmental hazard, turns out to have serious health consequences, companies like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot could be opening themselves up to litigation. They may need to attach some sort of warning label (hopefully not a useless one that would win this contest).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In an Earth Day column last week that was skeptical about the gospel of global warming consensus, Glenn Shaw, a professor of physics at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, expressed hoped that the climate change debate might spark a more comprehensive conversation about humankind’s complex environmental responsibilities.

In fact the opposite seems to be happening: the activist buzz over global warming is reducing the broader concept of environmental stewardship to a litmus-test on climate change. That’s why I wrote a piece that appeared in today’s Detroit News, “U.S. must move beyond Earth Day slogans.”

In this op-ed I examine three aspects of environmental care that show the comprehensive nature of stewardship, complex realities that belie the free and easy slogans of bumper sticker environmentalism: planting trees, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), and plug-in cars.

For more information about the sources used in this story, see these related items:

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, April 23, 2007

John Stossel must have been on vacation last week.

I caught part of the 20/20 special offering for Earth Day on Friday night. Among the reports was one by Jay Schadler focusing on solar power as an alternative source of energy.

Schadler pointed out that even though the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s energy. It’s a typical canard trotted out by those who want to depict us ugly Americans as “energy hogs.”

But instead of taking a deeper look at these kinds of statistics, the stats usually appear at the intro of a news piece as a hook leading into some other point about alternative energy.

But let’s take a brief look at the implications of such statistics. Let’s even accept them at face value. What such conclusions about the wastefulness per capita of American energy consumption overlook is the inherent connection between economic productivity and energy usage.

Yes, let’s say America’s share of worldwide energy usage is 25%.

But what is America’s share of the global economy? Somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of gross world product. So just maybe there is in fact a link between economic output and energy consumption.

Another aspect of this relationship appears when you run a historical series comparing per capita CO2 emissions and income growth on Google’s Gapminder software.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, April 16, 2007

As I alluded in a post last week, a number of EU governments are intent on making a switch from Windows to Linux operating systems. Part of the reason for this is the ostensibly cheaper cost of using open source software as opposed to proprietary systems.

According to reports out of the UK, “Shadow chancellor George Osbourne has estimated that the UK government could save in excess of ꍠ0 million a year if more open source software was deployed across various departments.” And of course costs are likely to be lower when regulators take an active hand in lowering the ongoing fees associated with open source compatibility. Such actions hide the true costs of open source operating systems, giving them an artificial cushion.

But one other interesting factor in the claim that Linux is cheaper to run than Windows comes from the environmental considerations involved. This article (HT: Slashdot) makes the case that Linux rigs are “greener than those running Windows” because “open source software has lower hardware requirements and needs less frequent hardware refreshes.”

Interestingly enough, that’s the same claim made by Apple in a recent Mac v. PC ad:


But then again, the costs associated with hardware upgrades aren’t the only relevant environmental factors to consider. Think about the ways in which companies have or have not worked to create responsible disposal methods for outdated or obsolete equipment. This latter consideration, in fact, is one of the reasons why Greenpeace has said that Apple “has the worst environmental policies among major electronics companies.”

PC manufacturers like Dell, on the other hand, have been praised for having “one of the best recycling programs in the industry.”

Judgments about the cost-effectiveness and environmental costs associated with the latest generation of computer hardware and software need to go beyond short-term examinations of the one-time costs of upgrades, or even the long-term hardware needs. The ‘greenness’ of computing can’t be measured by just one standard.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Friday, March 23, 2007

I have tried to read everything that I can find the time to digest on the subject of global warming. I saw Al Gore’s award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and even had some nice things to say about it. I have always been put off by the use of terms like "environmental whackos" and "earthist nut balls" from the political right. There is, in my humble opinion, little doubt that the earth is getting warmer. What is in great doubt is almost everything else. How warm will the earth become and how soon? Why is it really warming? What can we do about this problem now? How fast should we respond? And will radical responses, the kind that Al Gore argued for this week in the House hearing room on Capitol Hill, make a real difference? Bottom line: Will these alarmist responses help or harm the overall state of things on the earth? I am presently a skeptic when it comes to proving most of the claims being made by the alarmists. Something inside of me wants to agree with the climatologists who have deep concerns, if for no other reason than to avoid association with the right wing craziness and the radical left.

But make no mistake about it, this issue is politicized in every possible way. Anyone who argues otherwise is asleep. Both sides have a horse in this race. And alarmism does sell right now. Just think about the conspiracy theories that run rampant throughout modern life. Al Gore spoke of the planet "having a fever and if your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science-fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the blanket is flame retardant, you take action." That is about as alarmist as you can get it, so it seems to me. I am not sure if Gore is referring to Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, when he refers to a science-fiction novel, but it is a best-seller that has had immense impact on many, including me. Before you blow it off please read it. Be sure to read the forty-plus pages of annotated notes and bibliography of books that Crichton read in order to write this book. It is a fun book, but it makes a serious point that I think Gore and his friends miss. (I actually wonder if the book makes them angry because it is so good.)

The press reports say that Al Gore was at his "most passionate" when describing global warming as a "moral imperative." Dennis Hastert (R.IL) offered agreement with Gore saying that human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature, as did some other Republicans. This crusade has taken on the tones of a moral crusade with many people becoming more and more alarmed. This includes a number of evangelicals who have signed unwise and misleading statements on the climate. I, for one, take the words "moral imperative"  very seriously. I think these words are being pressed into service in troubling ways that border on becoming vacuous if we are not truly careful.

In a column published yesterday by Hoover Institute scholar Thomas Sowell he says that we should not expect a lot of fair and open debate about climate change in the near future. Why? National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a debate in which people were polled before and after the debate. After hearing the debate a good number of people who previously believed global warming was primarily caused by human carbon emissions changed their minds. Sowell suggests that this spells the end of such open debate in the near future. That would be a real shame. If this is really a "moral imperative" then those who are convinced that it is should not fear the debate but rather enter it and show people like me why they are right. I am open to facts and would change my mind if I saw the right reasons to do so. Attacking the motives of the non-alarmists is not convincing at all. In fact, it makes me loathe to accept the Gore thesis more than ever. After all, isn’t this the same politician who invented the Internet?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 22, 2007

Non-evangelicals and progressive Christians continue to throw their support Rev. Richard Cizik’s way. Now the Institute for Progressive Christianity has released a statement commending “the courage and Christian concern displayed by Rev. Rick Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for recommending preventive action on the issue of global warming.”

Given the care that Cizik has ostensibly taken to distance himself from radical environmentalists, both of the secular and religious variety, and the care with which he has attempted to connect creation care with other evangelical political issues like abortion, I wonder just how welcome these expressions of solidarity really are.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine recent events surrounding the conflict amongst evangelicals over global warming political activism. In “Evangelical Environmentalism’s Moral Imperative,” I compare the shape of the argument to the debate over the last decade on the topic of poverty.

In the same way that conservatives were accused of not caring for the poor because they opposed an expansive welfare state, critics of climate change politics are being portrayed as not caring for the environment. To the extent that conservative critiques have not made it a point to sharply distinguish between global warming and the broader moral mandate to steward the earth, they deserve blame for this state of affairs.

This fault is exemplified well in the recent letter from James Dobson and others to the National Association of Evangelicals questioning the activities of Rev. Richard Cizik, who is actively promoting federal policy on climate change. The Dobson letter (PDF) challenges global warming but only notes pro-life issues, marriage, and sexuality as “the great moral issues of our time.” While the letter doesn’t explicitly exclude stewardship of the environment as a “great moral issue,” its omission from this list can easily give the impression that the letter’s signatories don’t find environmental stewardship to be a compelling moral imperative.

But it also falls to the responsibility of evangelicals who favor government action to combat climate change to acknowledge “the commitment of their opponents to ‘care’ of the creation, even amidst the sometimes pointed disagreements over the means and institutions responsible for that care.”

Read the entire commentary here.

I also recommend Andy Crouch’s recent review in Books & Culture of Roger Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, in which Crouch writes that Gottlieb’s book “could not be more calculated to inflame the suspicions of the politically and theologically conservative.” Crouch also outlines some of the recent activities and perspectives of groups like the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Update: Bob Francis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, reacting to reader comments, acknowledges that “whether the issue is poverty or the environment, well-meaning Christians differ on solutions.”

Kathryn Joyce at The Revealer writes about “the real point of contention between Dobson, Bauer and Perkins on the one hand, and Cizik, on the other. Not so much that Cizik is drawing energy and outrage to global warming and away from gay marriage and abortion, but that, in the mind of many conservative Christians, choosing between pro-life or environmental activism must be a zero-sum game.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 23, 2007

You may have seen this story a few weeks back toward the end of last year: “Some faith groups say bottled water immoral,” by Rebecca U. Cho of the Religion News Service.

The core of the story revolves around this assertion made by the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program and a number of other mainline projects: Drinking bottled water is a sin.

Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs for the National Council of Churches, bases this claim on the assumption that bottling water by definition deprives access to a natural resource basic to human existence.

“The moral call for us is not to privatize water,” Carmichael said. “Water should be free for all.”

According to the RNS piece, “Rebecca Barnes-Davies, coordinator of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, said bottled water companies encourage a culture in the U.S. that is comfortable with privatizing a basic human right.”

“As people of faith, we don’t and shouldn’t pretend to have ownership of any resource — it’s God’s,” she said. “We have to be the best steward we can be of all those resources.”

The foundational document for the NCC’s campaign is “WATER: THE KEY TO SUSTAINING LIFE: AN OPEN STATEMENT TO GOVERNING BODIES AND CONCERNED CITIZENS,” which presents the following false dilemma, “Water should be viewed as a gift from God for all people, not a commodity that can be traded for profit.”

The problem is that “Access to fresh water supplies is becoming an urgent matter of life and death across the planet and especially for the 1.2 billion people who are currently suffering from a lack of adequate water and sanitation.”

The lack of access to water in many developing nations is a real and serious problem (more on that here). The exploitation of this real problem by the NCC, however, is indefensible. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

“The environment is begging for the Wal-Mart business model,” says H. Lee Scott Jr., CEO of Wal-Mart Stores in a NYT article, “Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart.”

The piece discusses Wal-Mart’s campaign to increase the sales of compact fluorescent bulbs, as compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. As Michael Barbaro writes, “A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.”

I’ve converted probably half of the bulbs in my home to CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), but have run into problems when trying to use them in some places. Lights that use dimmer switches, for instance, don’t work well with CFLs. And some CFLs won’t fit into light fixtures designed to accommodate incandescent bulbs.

Wal-Mart’s clout has begun to affect the light bulb manufacturing business, as producers like GE struggle to change their emphasis from production of incandescents to CFLs.

And on the demand side, what’s called for in convincing consumers to go with the CFLs is a basic economic lesson: you are sometimes better off spending more in the short-term for long-term gain: “Wal-Mart will have to persuade its traditional consumers that it is worth paying a bit more at the checkout counter to save a significant amount money down the line, a seemingly simple task that few companies ever accomplish. It is particularly difficult at a retailer that has long emphasized ‘always low prices.’”

As is so often the case, the best economic decision is the one that makes best use of both financial and environmental resources.

Update: This story is getting major attention across the blogosphere and MSM, including a NYT editorial here, and posts here and here.