Posts tagged with: environment

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…)

catholic-environment-coverActon’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…)

Creation Heart ManToday 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.

Siewers writes,

[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.

Read more . . .

Golden RiceA 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.”

Get_Your_Hands_DirtyAs 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.”

La nouvelle JérusalemDarryl Hart has a bit of a go at “the hyperventilation that goes on in some neo-Calvinist circles when folks talk about the power of the gospel to redeem all of life,” using the woes of the city of Detroit as a trump card.

Hart wonders why he hasn’t “seen too many posts from the transformers about Detroit’s decline and bankruptcy.” I don’t know if The Gospel Coalition is going to have anything say about Detroit’s bankruptcy, but Tim Keller does reflect more generally on the future of cities in America:

Some of the most troubled, such as Detroit, are going to have to make drastic changes, essentially shrinking their urban footprint deliberately and redesigning themselves as a smaller municipality. But that will not be the norm in the U.S. I believe that immigration and broader cultural factors still make cities highly desirable destinations for the most ambitious and innovative people, and that will be crucial in continuing the rise of cities.

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Monsanto PlantWriting over at the Live58 blog, Catherine Sinclair describes her transition from uncertainty regarding GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) to outright opposition: “After doing some more research, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should avoid GMO as much as possible.” This a conclusion that we might think is counter-intuitive, to say the least, for an organization committed to ending the scourge of global hunger and poverty.

Sinclair’s main indictment of GMOs comes down to the agribusiness giant Monsanto: “Because they are companies seeking profit, seed developers like Monsanto do whatever they can to control the agricultural industry.”

It’s important to distinguish the theoretical and ethical basis for genetic modification from the actual behavior and practice of corporations like Monsanto. Too often the two are conflated. In my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, I have an updated discussion of a theological framework for evaluating GM foods. As I caution at the conclusion of my examination of GM foods, “nothing in this framework presumes any particular policy outcome in the realm of law, and so, for instance, concerns about the use of property rights as a means to tyrannize or monopolize particular industries ought to be considered.”

Making such a distinction allows an approach that is more nuanced and responsible than simply identifying Monsanto with GMOs in general. So, for instance, a self-identified “hippie” writes in Slate:

I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.

But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research. (emphasis added)

Genetic modification and the cronyism that is so endemic to big agribusiness simply aren’t identical. That distinction strikes me as a helpful starting point for responsible discussion of GMOs.

For a critical but balanced examination of GMOs in theological context, check out Brad Littlejohn’s treatment of his “inner Luddite” at Mere Orthodoxy.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, August 1, 2013
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nature_1The central thesis of philosopher Roger Scruton case for an environmental conservatism, says Leah Kostamo, is that the primary motivation for care for the earth is oikophilia—a love of home.

Oikophilia, Scruton argues, is what emboldens people to make sacrifices for their surrounding environment and neighbour. Scruton spends many pages tracing the history of oikophilia, particularly in his native Britain, and howoikophilia has been destroyed by internationalism and big-government subsidies and regulations.

[. . .]

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At Acton University last week, Anthony Bradley gave a lecture titled, “Beyond the Sustainability Complex.” In his lecture, he explored Christian stewardship and addressed some very common fallacies about sustainability.

Bradley began with this statement: “Being less bad is not good stewardship.” As Christians, we are not called to damage the environment less than our neighbor, but we are called to do good. The main way that we attempt to be “less bad” is through recycling. Bradley spoke at length about the misconceptions surrounding recycling.  It is “downcycling.”  Over time, this process reduces the quality of the reused material and the end product. Bradley gave the example of aluminum cans: a brand new can has a certain ratio of aluminum to other metals and chemicals, but after the can is recycled the ratios change and the new can is of a much lower quality than the first. Eventually the metals can no longer be reused and they are thrown away. Although the material’s life-cycle is lengthened, recyclable products eventually find their way to a landfill. Another issue with recycling is the waste that, ironically, the procedure of recycling produces. According to Bradley, “the process of recycling damages the environment.” Whether cardboard or metal, this course of action creates much new waste. Bradley suggested that it might be better for the environment to throw recyclable products in the landfill.

Recycle Reduce Reuse Bradley explained that “sustainability” is the intersection of ethics, economics, and ecology and went on to say that much of the discussion on “sustainability” focuses on waste; the focus should be on design. Bradley cited a book, Cradle to Cradle, and explained that we should create products that are modeled after nature as there is no waste in nature. There is a movement to create products that mimic nature, called “biomimcry.” Bradley gave the example of creating ceramic dishware whose biological and chemical composition is similar to that of shells; once a plate or a tea cup has served its purposes it can be thrown in the sea in a cradle to cradle cycle.

What does Bradley suggest we do about the problem of waste and sustainability? Innovate! Whenever there is a problem, there is an innovator who finds a solution. Bradley encourages anyone worried about sustainability to discuss and research this idea of cradle to cradle products.

If you’re interested in hearing Bradley’s lecture, you can purchase “Beyond the Sustainability Complex” here.

An apocryphal quote often (incorrectly it seems) attributed to John Maynard Keynes goes something like, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Eliot Ness, as portrayed by Kevin Costner in The Untouchables, answers a reporter’s question about the lawman’s plans once Prohibition is repealed: “I think I’ll have a drink.”

The point of these quotations, though fictional, is to draw attention to the virtue of intellectual honesty.  For real-world, verifiable intellectual honesty one can turn to a June 13, FrontPage essay by Arnold Ahlert. In it, Ahlert names leftist environmental activists who actually did change their minds in accordance with a deeper understanding of facts.

Unfortunately missing from Ahlert’s roll call are those religious and clergy affiliated with the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility and other organizations that submit proxy shareholder resolutions for a variety of leftist environmental causes having nothing to do with verifiable science and everything to do with a radical, misinformed and secular view that has more to do with worshiping Mother Earth rather than God. (more…)