Posts tagged with: environment

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I have to admit I was skeptical myself of Gregg Easterbrook’s self-proclaimed “long record of opposing alarmism” regarding global warming. To be sure, a bit of my own research showed that Mr. Easterbrook has long opposed alarmism, just not of the global warming variety.

In this June 2003 Wired magazine article, “We’re All Gonna Die!,” Easterbrook debunks a number of apocalyptic myths, including the dangers of germ warfare, runaway nanobots, supervolcanoes, and shifting magnetic poles. He does include “Sudden climate change!” (#9) as a myth, but in this Easterbrook doesn’t disagree with the many scientists supporting the notion of manmade climate change. Such scientists were among the first to decry the alarmism of The Day After Tomorrow and the attribution of increase in strength and quantity of hurricanes to global warming, for example.

To the question, “Could an abrupt climate change really happen?,” the Pew Center on Global Climate Change answers, “Scientists have just begun to study the possibility of an abrupt climate change. But when scientists talk about abrupt climate change, they mean climate change that occurs over decades, rather than centuries. It’s too soon to know for certain whether abrupt climate change could occur, but if it does, it’s not expected to happen within the next several decades.”

In this article Easterbrook is really addressing the idea that a sudden climate flip “could happen as rapidly as over the course of a few years.” He himself acknowledges that “it’s reasonable to expect that global temperatures will get warmer, owing at least in part to artificial greenhouse gases.” That doesn’t sound like a skeptic to me, and that’s from a piece written almost three years ago.

If Easterbrook was a skeptic regarding climate change on a relatively lengthy time scale, then he was a rather private one on this point. The Commons Blog has picked up and expanded on this skepticism regarding Easterbrook’s supposedly “long record.”

In a recent interview with Giant magazine (June/July 2006, “Citizen Gore,” p. 56-57, text available here) about his new movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore answered a few questions. When asked what he would say to President Bush about climate change if he could:

I’d say that this climate crisis is really a planetary emergency, and that he ought to take it out of politics altogether. The civil rights issue really took hold when Dr. King defined it as a moral and spiritual issue, and this crisis must be redefined as a moral and spiritual issue because it involves who we are as human beings. Do we care about our children and grandchildren? Are we content to just look the other way when 100 years of science overwhelmingly points to the destruction our current pattern is causing? Most people, when they finally open their eyes and look at the truth of this, say, “We’ve got to change.” To make it a political issue is wrong and the current White House is doing that.

Of course, Mr. Gore’s campaign to popularize his message about global warming has everything to do with turning this into a political issue. This goes a long way in explaining what Heather Wilhelm calls a “strange bedfellows” phenomenon. When Ms. Wilhelm asks NAE Vice President for Governmental Affairs Richard Cizik about whether “evangelicals concerned that they’re putting too much faith in government,” he responds, “You know, I don’t hear that very often. I don’t think that’s a huge concern among most people. I think they’re enthusiastic about the progress we’re making.” Those evangelicals who have been “converted” to the global warming cause are providing that veneer of moral authority, which helps make this into more than a “political issue.”

When asked why some people still won’t accept the scientific evidence, Gore replies:

A lot of people don’t want to accept the truth so that they won’t have to take on board its moral imperatives. You may already know this, but there is an interesting way that the Chinese write the word crisis. They use two characters side by side, but the first character standing by itself means danger, and the second character by itself means opportunity. When you put them together, they mean crisis. In English, crisis means a sense of alarm or danger, but it doesn’t automatically communicate a sense that in danger there is always a sense of opportunity. I try to make a point when I talk about global warming that there really is a lot of opportunity. There will be new jobs, new technology, new improvements in our lives, and more importantly, there will be an opportunity to have a shared moral purpose. We would be able to speak to our grandchildren and tell them we did something on their behalf that was tough but we found a way to accomplish it.

Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth about the Chinese words for danger, opportunity, and crisis. But that may not be the only fiction that Mr. Gore is peddling in this interview.

Since Mr. Gore is engaging economic concerns to buttress his argument, let’s have a look. His basic economic argument is that political intervention into energy policy, specifically with regard to climate change, will have positive economic benefits, because of the opportunities provided by new research and technology. This is the same basic argument that Andy Crouch makes in a Christianity Today piece. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the major economic arguments against radically preemptive action against climate change is that of opportunity cost. This is a point made by Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics and law at George Mason University. He speaks of a “rule of optimality,” and argues:

If we ignore this rule of optimality and begin abatement now for damages caused by emissions after 100 years, we leave our descendants with fewer resources – 100 years of return on the abatement costs not incurred – to devote to subsequent damage control. The critical oversight here is the failure to respect opportunity cost. Each generation must be responsible for the future effect of that generation’s emission damage. Earlier generations have the responsibility of leaving subsequent generations a capital stock that has not been diminished by incurring premature abatement costs.

The government could create “new” jobs by having people dig holes and fill them in again. The mere creation of jobs is an ambiguous phenomena. We have to ask whether these new jobs contribute something greater to the common good of society.

Mr. Gore and Rev. Cizik emphasize the moral and especially religious aspects of environmental stewardship, and in this they are right. And a basic element of Christian morality is a commitment to the truth. Rev. Cizik contends, “For those of us who oppose the hegemony of the naturalistic worldview, we should strongly consider spending less time debating one another over who is right about climate change and collaborate together to conquer the real enemy.” But who is right about climate change is of the utmost importance!

Gore is right (and Rev. Cizik is wrong) in recognizing that the truth about the reality, cause, and solution regarding global warming has a foundational significance for the shape of the debate. It’s not just about Christians versus naturalists. But Rev. Cizik is right in this sense: the truth about global warming should not obscure our commitment to the One who is Truth.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daniel Son gives a nice summary of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) over at Townhall.com. Check it out.

Christianity Today’s email update from today has a link for this piece, “A Climate of Change,” which reviews the current situation among evangelicals regarding environmental stewardship. And here’s a useful link to the CT Library archive of articles on the environment.

You may have seen an op-ed in the NYT last week by Tom Friedman, who noted that when oil and gas prices go up, bad things happen in oil producing nations abroad. The tendency is for the oppressive regimes in oil producing nations to consolidate their power and be less responsive to the demands of their citizens when they have the added buffer of huge profits from the sale of oil.

And domestically many have made the claim that rising oil and gas prices are a bad thing. Many people’s pocketbooks have been hit hard, when they stop to fill up at the pump and over the course of the long winter. So many people are against high gas prices that politicians at almost every level have felt the need to respond and make some sort of gesture, token or substantive, to address the issue.

There’s no doubt that the poor, as in most cases, are disproportionately affected by high energy prices. People on fixed incomes often have trouble paying their utility bills when prices spike. Others who must commute to their jobs have trouble filling up the gas tank. Attention needs to be fixed on the people in these sorts of situations, and help should be there when they need it. It must be noted, too, that increased taxes have the same drawback as increased prices from market-pressures: they are regressive.

But for the vast majority of Americans, if addressed honestly, the rising cost of oil is more of an inconvenience than anything else. If people can afford to buy expensive new SUVs and large trucks, they can afford the pinch on their disposable income that higher gas prices mean.

Even so, the inconvenience does have the ability to change people’s behavior, and this is why I’m making the argument that high gas prices have the potential to be a good, albeit a costly one (so to speak). People might drive less, carpool more, walk to the corner store instead of driving, and so on.

But an even bigger point is this: as gas prices rise the cost relative to other forms of energy is bound to decrease. This is why so many environmental advocates have long been arguing in favor of some sort of hefty additional petroleum products tax, which would make other sources of energy more competitive.

But what so many fail to see is that the market can accomplish by itself what such artificial and authoritarian measures are intended to do. Clearly the price we pay at the gas pump includes a huge amount by way of taxes to the various levels of government. But when gas prices rise without an increase in the amount of government taxation, the market itself is making other cleaner and renewable sources of energy more competitive.

As the Cornwall Declaration observes, “A clean environment is a costly good.” This has never been more true than in the case of rising gas prices. The wealth created by market economies allows the creation of new, better, and more efficient technologies. And the market itself gives strong economic incentive to the pursuit of such endeavors, especially when oil prices are on the rise.

It’s high time that environmentalists stopped being so wishy-washy about the market. As Paul Jacobs points out, they like the market when the prices are high but hate it when they are low. On this inconsistency, Jacobs is right. But where he’s wrong, I think, is that arguing for the positive effects of the market in this case automatically means that you must otherwise be for increased taxation to accomplish the same goals.

Related Items:

“Bodies for Barrels,” The McLaughlin Group, May 5, 2006 (archived text of issue available here; search for ” Issue Two: Bodies for Barrels.”) Key quote from Tony Blankley: “I’m in favor of free markets. The people will go to smaller cars if they want them. And trying to force people to buy cars they don’t want is foolish. And anybody who wants to protect their family, particularly if you have children, you want them in a lot of steel around them. And that to me is the better call to protect your children – driving around in Suburbans and large vehicles.”

Tom Daschle and Vinod Khosla, “Miles Per Cob,” The New York Times, May 8, 2006. Another installment of the “governments create markets” fallacy.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” Detroit News, April 22, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Cashing in on Carbon Credits,” Acton Commentary, April 19, 2006.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Two quick bits for your Tuesday:

- Federal judges on green junkets at your expense? CRC says so!

- Is "steady state ecological economics" the answer to environmental and economic woes?

[also, a quick thanks to Jordan for inviting me to join the PowerBlog team.]

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Remember when I said that I thought there is a dangerous incentive in climate change research to make things seem worse than they are? (If not, that’s OK. I actually called it an “analogous phenomenon” to the possibility that AIDS statistics are exaggerated.)

Well, TCS Daily reports that a letter to Canadian PM Stephen Harper signed by over 60 scientists asks a similar question. Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wonders, “How can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into claims about future catastrophes? The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.”

Peter C. Glover, author of the article, “Climate Change’s Gravy Train,” continues, noting that “Lindzen goes on to identify how the doom-mongers in both the science research community and media have a ‘vested interest’ in ‘hyping’ the political stakes for policymakers who provide more funds for more science research to feed more alarm. ‘After all’, Lindzen wonders, ‘who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming’?”

Read the whole thing. Lindzen raises a number of good points, including the discrimination faced by scientists who haven’t drunk from the GW Kool-Aid. As he says, “Scientists who dissent from alarmism have seen their funds disappear, their work derided, and libelled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse.”

Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today, who wrote in support of policy action on global warming, would do well to listen. As I said in response to his column, “It’s ironic that Crouch finds the source of evangelical distrust of scientific global warming dogma in the contemporary creation/evolution debates. If there’s any group that should know about the difficulty of breaking through the groupthink of mainstream science, it ought to be the proponents of Intelligent Design.” IDers really ought to be able to identify with the plight of scientists who question the predictions of the global warming alarmists.

And not only does the alarmism assure that there money for climate research funding, it means there’s commercial money available too. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) grossed $186,740,799 domestically (as might be expected, it was a bit more popular abroad, grossing $542,771,772 worldwide).

Related items:

Jordan Ballor, “A Love/Hate Relationship with Science,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (February 8, 2006).

Andy Crouch, Response #1 (September 10, 2005).

Jordan Ballor, “Comet-Busting Lasers: A Response to Andy Crouch,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (September 12, 2005).

Andy Crouch, Response #2 (September 12, 2005).

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “What Stewardship Means,” BreakPoint WorldView (September 2004).

Roy Spencer, “Global Warming Hysteria Has Arrived,” TCS Daily (April 4, 2006).

Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr, “A Climate of Staged Angst,” Der Spiegel (January 4, 2005).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Saturday, April 22, 2006

Check out my Detroit News column today, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” in which I give a brief overview of the conflicting evangelical views of environmental stewardship.

Conserve water by FLUSHING AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE

A report from the road: I’m in Colorado Springs this week, and I noticed this note taped to the wall of the bathroom in my spartan lodgings at the local Ramada Inn:

Due to restrictions made by the City of Colorado Springs, the toilets have reduced water pressure and may not flush as well as you are accustomed to. In order to prevent the toilet from stopping up, please flush the toilet as frequently as possible while using it. Thank you!

Now I may be wrong here, but I think it’s safe to assume that the City of Colorado Springs was attempting to conserve water resources by putting these restrictions in place. The practical result of their action seems to have been to cause a local hotel to actively encourage greater water use.

Aaah, the irony.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 20, 2006

Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy passes along a report from Peyton Knight about a briefing in Washington sponsored by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the Acton Institute, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

According to Knight, at the luncheon “top theologians and policy experts articulated a vision of Biblical stewardship based upon the Cornwall Declaration.” You can read the text of the Cornwall Declaration here.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, an Acton adjunct scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, said, “While we recognize that some environmental problems are well-founded and serious, we are concerned that some are ill founded or greatly exaggerated. We are interested in priorities placed on well-founded concerns, especially those that put large numbers of people, usually the poor, at risk.”

On a related note, for an overview of the vision of stewardship as articulated in two different documents, check out this commentary in which I compare the Cornwall Declaration to the Evangelical Environmental Network’s “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation.”

Update: More from CNSNews here. HT: Stones Cry Out

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, April 19, 2006

As Earth Day approaches (April 22), Jordan Ballor reflects on the Kyoto Protocol and some of the results of the “market-based” incentives promised to those who signed on. The Kyoto Protocol created a carbon trading system, a “cap and trade” mechanism where a set number of carbon credits were established based upon the 1990 levels of emissions from the involved countries. These credits could then be sold or bought from other countries.

So what is the problem? As Ballor explains, Kyoto is having “some unintended consequences.” “Russia,” writes Ballor, “currently one of the world’s worst pollutors and emitters of greenhouse gasses, is being rewarded by the carbon credit scheme.” Russia is able to maintain current “efficiency” levels, not curbing their pollution or emissions at all, and still has carbon credits worth some $1 billiion. The so-called market incentives are completely ineffective.

Read the rest of “Cashing in on Carbon Credits” for Ballor’s full critique of the cap and trade scheme that Kyoto has initiated.