Given our tendency to veer too far in either direction (stewardship or economics), and to confine our Christian duties to this or that sphere of life, the diagram is particularly helpful in demonstrating the overall interconnectedness of things.
Instead, you’ve likely heard about another U.N. report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report claims that global warming could have a “widespread impact” by the year 2100. Yet in 2012 millions of people died — one in eight of total global deaths — as a result of environmental problem occurring today: indoor air pollution.
It’s been a long, cold winter. Not to mention expensive due to heating bills depleting bank balances for those fortunately possessing enough scratch to pay their utilities. For others forced to wear sweaters around the clock and sleep with three dogs to stay warm while keeping the thermostat tuned just above freezing to save money, it may take months before reaching a zero balance on the monthly propane/gas/natural gas/electricity statement.
Imagine how prohibitive those bills would be if we relied on the so-called renewable energy schemes rather than relatively cheap and plentiful fossil fuel sources to warm our igloos and power our personal vehicles and those oh-so-necessary snowplows. In a word borrowed from Thomas Hobbes, it’d be brutish.
Love it, hate it, or just plain indifferent, U.S. dependence on fossil fuel energy will remain relatively unchanged for the foreseeable future. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates our appetite for carbon-based power will hold steady more or less until 2040: “The fossil fuel share of energy consumption falls from 82% in 2012 to 80% in 2040, as consumption of petroleum-based liquid fuels declines, largely as a result of slower growth in VMT [vehicle miles traveled] and increased vehicle efficiency.” (more…)
On Monday, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held an all-night, 14-hour pajama party in Washington. In between the truth-and-dare games, hair braiding, karaoke and candy and soda binging, Sen. Reid dropped this bombshell: He’s not a fan of the brothers Koch, billionaires Charles and David. Nor does he think much of anyone who disagrees with him on the issue of climate change. In fact, Reid refers to anyone who doesn’t buy into the whole human-caused global warming shebang as … ahem, and my apologies in advance to all those who survived or know a survivor of the Holocaust … a denier:
‘It’s time to stop acting like those who ignore this crisis — the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress — have a valid point of view,’ he said. ‘But despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist. They exist in this country and in this Congress.’
‘Climate change is real,’ he said, stabbing the air for emphasis. ‘It’s here.’
In this, Sen. Reid joins the wide network of religious shareholder activists who cavil endlessly about the liberal bête noire trifecta: Kochs, Citizens United and climate change. A quick scan of the As You Sow and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility websites reveals numerous resolutions related to all three topics. One wonders if you’ll hear a peep from them regarding Tom Steyer’s announcement that he would match up to $50 million in donations to his NextGen Climate Political Action Committee. (more…)
Fear of the unknown hazards of technology has been the inspiration for science fiction cautionary tales from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Japanese superstar Godzilla. Sadly, this fear extends to the harmless – and indeed extremely positive – applications of science in contemporary agriculture, especially when it comes to producing cheap, plentiful food for people on every rung of the economic ladder.
Modern agriculture’s ability to feed the Earth’s population is nothing short of miraculous. Modern science and practices have enabled the farming sector to raise livestock and grow crops capable of offering inexpensive nutrition to the majority of the world’s billions. One group whom one would think ecstatic at such developments would be the religious shareholder investors at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. The ICCR folk, however, turn up their noses at genetically modified organisms that have revolutionized agriculture over the past 20 years, making it possible to grow drought-resilient and pest-resistant crops. (more…)
Harvard students a century or so ago joked that Professor Irving Babbitt’s distaste for Jean-Jacques Rousseau was so fervent that he checked under his bed each evening to make sure the 18th century French philosopher wasn’t hiding there. In this humorous vein, one could apply the same fear held by progressive activists for the dreaded brothers Koch – Charles and David. Not only do activists check under their respective beds, but as well their closets, attics, basements, cookie jars and cupboards for signs the billionaire libertarians are funding candidates and causes with which liberals disagree.
The Koch brothers have endured their fair share of progressive brickbats, including from such religious shareholder groups as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment. However, the facts run counter to ICCR and TSCRI handwringing, according to OpenSecrets.org as reported by Mark Tapscott in The Washington Examiner:
OpenSecrets.org tallied the top donors in federal elections between 1989 and 2014. Koch Industries — privately owned by the Evil Koch Bros — is on the list, to be sure, but doesn’t appear until the 59th slot, with $18 million in donations, 90 percent of which went to Republicans….
So who occupies the 58 spots ahead of the Evil Koch Bros? Six of the top 10 are … wait for it … unions. They gave more than $278 million, with most of it going to Democrats. (more…)
Acton’s newest monograph, Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection, is now available as a free ebook download until Monday, February 17. The book, with a foreword from Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, is authored by Bishop Dominique Rey. Bishop Rey graduated with a degree in economics at Lyon and obtained a PhD in fiscal policy at Clermont–Ferrand. He served France as a financial inspector in the Ministry of Finance between 1976 and 1979. Bishop Rey earned a degree in theology and a degree in canon law at the Institute Catholique de Paris while studying for the priesthood.
The monograph critically examines the question: Is modern environmentalism compatible with Christianity? Bishop Rey provides answers to this question in this theological reflection on the relationships among God, man, and nature. The ebook can be downloaded here.
Today at First Things’ On the Square feature, I question the tone and timing of Patriarch Batholomew’s recent message on climate change. While I do not object to him making a statement about the subject in conjunction with the opening of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, his initial reference, then silence, with regards to Typhoon Haiyan while other religious leaders offered their prayer, sympathy, and support to those affected, is disappointing. I write,
While other religious leaders offered prayer and tangible support, all that has come from the Phanar is an environmental statement. Hurting people need practical and pastoral help, not politics.
An additionally troubling aspect of the problem comes from his clear implication that the typhoon was caused, or at least intensified, by anthropogenic climate change, using this tragedy to advocate for a political cause through a disposition of fear: (more…)
Today at Ethika Politika, Alfred Kentigern Siewers reviews Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism, Acton’s recent Orthodox Christian social thought monograph by Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morriss. Siewers offers a nuanced and critical review, being well-read in the literature himself, and ultimately welcomes the monograph as a missing voice in the broader conversation of Orthodox Christianity and creation care.
[I]n its introductory opening chapter, the authors clearly set forth their objection to what they see as a “deep left bias” in the increasingly growing library of literature on Orthodox Christian approaches to nature. Specifically, they bemoan the following: what they see as a lack of policy prescriptions drawn directly from Orthodox tradition; “the subordination of the Tradition to preexisting political or environmental agenda”; a tendency of such writings to be overly critical of Western society; and impractical policy recommendations. In this it criticizes some of the environmental statements of Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as of the post-communist Russian Orthodox Synod, but runs the risk of falling into its own critique.
Its emphases and discussion tend toward a particular kind of American conservative perspective, with an emphasis on free markets, rather than a more paleo-conservative concern about modernity along neo-agrarian lines, or the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy with its “Red Tory” approach. More esoteric but creative approaches—such as geo-libertarianism and anarcho-monarchism—also aren’t considered, although the monograph does in a needed way open discussion further on alternatives to statist approaches and details how the latter work against the kind of spiritual transfiguration required in Orthodox cosmic theology.
Indeed, in the end the work is Orthodox and not libertarian, excellent in its rich outline of both patristic writings and a variety of contemporary scholars as well as the writings and lives of holy saints and elders (across a spectrum of approaches and views). For example, the authors do also positively address ideas of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Russian Synod, in a tradition that relies not on papal leadership but on conciliarity.
A piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).
Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:
Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.
Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”
As I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”
A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”
So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”