Posts tagged with: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: lglinzak
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It sounds draconian and contrary to the beliefs of many humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations which declared water as a basic human right in 2010. However, if we expect to take the correct steps forward to solve the global water crisis, then water must be treated as a commodity not a basic human right.

In his book, The Mystery of Capital, and also in an essay published in the International Monetary Fund, Hernando de Soto explains why capitalism has failed in many third world and developing countries and continues to succeed in many Western countries.

According to De Soto, by assigning property rights, people are held accountable when any sort of damage of property is committed. Such accountability is accomplished through the legal system:

The integration of all property systems under one formal property law shifted the legitimacy of the rights of owners from the political context of local communities to the impersonal context of law. Releasing owners from restrictive local arrangements and bringing them into a more integrated legal system facilitated their accountability.

By transforming people with real property interests into accountable individuals, formal property created individuals from masses. People no longer needed to rely on neighborhood relationships or make local arrangements to protect their rights to assets. They were thus freed to explore how to generate surplus value from their own assets. But there was a price to pay: once inside a formal property system, owners lost their anonymity while their individual accountability was reinforced. People who do not pay for goods or services they have consumed can be identified, charged interest penalties, fined, and embargoed, and can have their credit ratings downgraded. Authorities are able to learn about legal infractions and dishonored contracts; they can suspend services, place liens against property, and withdraw some or all of the privileges of legal property.

While De Soto’s arguments look at property mostly as land and buildings, his principles can also be applied to water. Treating water as a commodity and granting it property rights will reduce pollution and help create more sanitary sources of water. Once water becomes a commodity, the legal system will have the justification to prosecute any industry or individual that damages the water supply because it will be destruction to property. When water is a human right, and nobody owns the rights to the water, then there is nobody to prosecute because everybody owns the water and can freely do with it as he or she pleases.

Many are familiar with the economics behind the tragedy of the commons. Just as the commons were over-used, water will be depleted if we continue down the path of treating water as a basic human right.

People will over-use water until they are faced with an enormous crisis. The UN’s call for making water a basic human right does not provide any deterrent from over-use, but instead gives people the entitlement to use as much water as they desire. By charging people for the amount of water they use, people will be more conscious of their use of water and take measures to not waste it. There is no incentive to provide free water, and without assigning property rights to it, as De Soto’s argument articulates, there is no way to legally prosecute anyone or any industry that damages or pollutes water.

Samuel Gregg also articulates the problems that come from central planning and communal ownership:

Why then do people tend to favor private over communal ownership? One reason is that they are aware, as Aristotle and Aquinas witnessed long ago, that when things are owned in common, the responsibility and accountability for their use disappears, precisely because few are willing to assume responsibility for things that they do not own. Our everyday experience reminds us of the tragedy of the commons. The early advocates of socialism were well aware of these objections. Their response was to hold that all that was needed was a change of mind and heart on the part of people as well as profound structural change: a change that would not only produce a new system of ownership, but also a “new man” — the socialist man much trumpeted by the former Soviet Union.

Furthermore, in his essay, Our Stewardship Mandate, Rev. Robert Sirico explains how integrating the market supports stewardship:

Long experience has shown that the state is a bad steward. One reason this is so is because of what has been termed the “Tragedy of the Commons.” Simply put, if everyone owns something, no one person has any incentive to protect or take care of it. This has been graphically demonstrated by the appalling reports of environmental disaster in the former communist countries. Furthermore, the state has many incentives to be a poor steward. For example, the federal government owns a great deal of forestland. These forests are supervised by the U.S. Forest service, the mission of which is to cut down trees. Because it is federally funded, the Forest Service has no market incentives to keep its enterprises cost-efficient. As a result, the forest service is logging old-growth forests with a return of pennies on the dollar. Had these forests been supervised by a private company, they would never had been touched.

Likewise, experience has shown that the market is a better steward of the environment than the state. Not only does it allow for private ownership and offer better incentives, but it allows for the expression of minority opinions in regard to land and resource use. Take, for example, the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania. Located along the Appalachian migration route, it provided an ideal location for hunters to shoot thousands of hawks. Conservationist Rosalie Edge decided that those birds ought to be protected, a minority opinion at the time. In 1934 she purchased the property and prevented the hunting of the birds. It is now considered one of the best bird-watching locations in the world. Had Ms. Edge lived in a regime where property was owned by the state, she would have to convince a majority of the lawmakers, bureaucrats, and competing special-interest groups that Hawk Mountain should be a preserve, so daunting a task it is unlikely it would have happened. As it was, she only had to purchase the land.

The same principles Rev. Sirico articulates in his essay can also be applied to support stewardship in the global water crisis.


Last week President Obama gave an address outlining his new energy policy. In light of the tragic events in Japan, the speech was much anticipated especially considering the president’s prior commitment to nuclear energy.

As expected President Obama continued advocating for a greener energy policy while continuing to push for the country’s independence from oil. However, the President’s speech, an article by Reuters points out, was “short on details on how to curb U.S. energy demand.”

Furthermore, the President’s call for a path towards greener energy and energy independence will not be easy. The New York Times appropriately states, “The path to that independence — or at least an end to dependence on the Mideast — could well be dirty, expensive and politically explosive.”

President Obama continues to voice his support for alternative fuels and green energy. He argued for energy from wind, solar, natural gas, biofuels, natural gas, and nuclear. However, as I have argued in the past, these alternative fuels have costly subsidies, unintended consequences, are not cost effective, and have proven to be largely inefficient (I address the unintended consequences of ethanol here, here, and here and the unintended consequences with wind turbines here).

The president is calling for more government regulation. He gave a glimpse of a new energy standard he is going to pursue this summer, “This summer, we’re going to propose the first-ever fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks. And this fall, we’ll announce the next round of fuel standards for cars that build on what we’ve already done” he said. In an economy that is looking to rebound from a recession, businesses do not need another costly government mandate forcing them to change their transportation fleet. Instead, the President should rely on the market. Businesses will upgrade their transportation fleet naturally through the market when it is efficient and more cost effective for them to utilize heavy-duty trucks that are more fuel efficient.

The president also stated that we need to look to other countries, such as Brazil, for oil. However, an article published by Real Clear Markets is very critical of the President’s pursuit of Brazilian oil:

Now, with a seven-year offshore drilling ban in effect off of both coasts, on Alaska’s continental shelf and in much of the Gulf of Mexico – and a de facto moratorium covering the rest – Obama tells the Brazilians:

“We want to help you with the technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely. And when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers.”

Obama wants to develop Brazilian offshore oil to help the Brazilian economy create jobs for Brazilian workers while Americans are left unemployed in the face of skyrocketing energy prices by an administration that despises fossil fuels as a threat to the environment and wants to increase our dependency on foreign oil.

Furthermore President Obama’s talk of expediting drilling permits is not wholly accurate. The Obama Administration has not been friendly to offshore domestic drilling since the BP disaster last year. As the above quoted article from Real Clear Markets explains, there has been a seven-year offshore drilling ban on Alaska’s continental shelf and in much of the Gulf of Mexico. That has not changed under the Obama Administration. The Heritage Foundation pointed out in February:

Putting aside calls from some who want to increase domestic exploration to areas in Alaska and elsewhere, President Obama has completely shut down the existing oil drilling infrastructure in the U.S. At least 103 permits are awaiting review by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The federal government has not approved a single new exploratory drilling plan in the Gulf of Mexico since Obama “lifted” his deepwater drilling moratorium in October 2010. Obama also reversed an earlier decision by his administration to open access to coastal waters for exploration, instead placing a seven-year ban on drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and Eastern Gulf of Mexico as part of the government’s 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf Program.

As expected the president’s energy speech is not receiving much praise from the oil industry. Obama claimed that the oil industry is sitting on leases instead of using these for oil production. Ken Cohen, Exxon Mobile Corp.’s vice president of public and government affairs addressed the President’s claims and reflected on his speech in a Wall Street Journal article:

Said Mr. Cohen: “90% of the words sound relatively right in line with what you’d hear us say,” in terms of enhanced use of natural gas, increasing energy efficiency, more research and development and more domestic production. But the speech didn’t address policies that Mr. Cohen said are hampering oil development, such as opening areas that are off limits to the industry, and insisted on uneconomic mandates for renewable fuel. Moreover, the mention that oil companies are hoarding unexploited leases is off the mark, he said.

“The notion that there’s some economic incentive to sit on a lease is wrong,” Mr. Cohen said, particularly when oil prices are above $100 a barrel.

Despite the recent tragic events of Japan’s nuclear power disaster, it was relieving to see the president not call a halt to nuclear energy. While it will most likely take time for nuclear energy to rebound from the catastrophic events, the president looked at the situation pragmatically by continuing to voice support for nuclear energy while requesting a Nuclear Regulator Commission safety review to make sure all existing nuclear energy facilities are safe.

Despite the criticism, it is still important to keep in mind that we are all stewards of the Earth and need to take care of the planet God has given us. We do not get a replacement and we must see that future generations have a planet they can live in without problems created by our generation. The President’s call to not waste energy should be applauded, and advice we should all heed. However, as the United States continues to define its energy policy it is also equally important to keep in mind we are called to not just be environmental stewards, but also financial stewards. Our energy policy should be for the well-being of the planet but also economically feasible without being burdened with costly subsidies and unintended consequence.

Full text from President Obama’s speech can be found here.

The American Enterprise Institute also provides and insightful critique on the President’s speech which can be found here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, March 14, 2011

With the terrible human toll from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami catastrophe only now being comprehended, and the grave follow on crisis at the country’s nuclear power plants unfolding by the hour, the anti-nuclear power crowd has already begun issuing statements such as the one Greenpeace put out saying that “nuclear power cannot ever be safe.”

Predictably, reports Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph, “battle lines” are being drawn:

On Saturday, some 50,000 anti-nuclear protesters formed a 27-mile human chain from Germany’s Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant to the city of Stuttgart to protest against its government’s plans to extend the life of the country’s reactors. Green politicians in pro-nuclear France urged an end to its dependence on the atom, and Ed Markey, a leading Democratic US Congressman, called for a moratorium on building new reactors in seismically active areas.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, after holding a meeting of the German cabinet on the issue, reaffirmed her confidence in the safety of nuclear power. The leader of Silvio Berlusconi’s party said that Italy would stick with plans to build new reactors. And a spokesman for US Senator Lisa Murkowski said it would be “poor form for anyone to criticise the nuclear industry, or pronounce the end of nuclear power, because of a natural disaster that has been a national tragedy for the Japanese people”.

Poor form, indeed. Now we have an example of an unseemly statement on nuclear power at the worst possible time from a religious leader.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Orthodox hierarch based in Istanbul, Turkey, today called for nations to stop using nuclear power and to adopt “green” energy technologies:

… with regard to the explosion of the nuclear reactor and the aftermath of a nuclear adversity, there is indeed a response that we are called to make. With all due respect to the science and technology of nuclear energy and for the sake of the survival of the human race, we counter-propose the safer green forms of energy, which both moderately preserve our natural resources and mindfully serve our human needs.

Our Creator granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy? Are we so arrogant as to compete with and exploit nature? Yet, we know that nature invariably seeks revenge.

This is magical thinking about very practical policy questions and complex technology overlaid with a spiritual gloss. (more…)

After taking a look yesterday at economic consequences of rising food prices along with the affects ethanol may have on the rising food prices, a moral perspective must also be taken into account.

As I stated in my previous blog post, the World Bank says rising food prices have pushed 44 million more people into extreme poverty in developing countries since June of 2010, and are having an adverse effect on people around the globe.  The increase in demand and expanded use of crops have caused global stockpiles to erode.  Stockpiles are important to help ensure a steady flow of food, especially during traumatic times such as large food shortages.  Even the corn stocks of United States, the world’s largest corn producer, amount to 5 percent of annual use which is far below the 13.6 percent average that they have been kept at over the last 15 years.

We are also called to be stewards of the Earth and this not only means not abusing the one planet we are given, but also ensuring that we leave a planet in good condition for future generations.  However, recent studies have called into question whether ethanol is actually better for the environment.  A study conducted by the University of Minnesota demonstrates that corn ethanol is actually more harmful than gasoline to the environment.  Furthermore, a recent article from Forbes also articulates that ethanol gasoline lets out more harmful toxins than regular gasoline.  There are even suggestions that ethanol uses more energy per gallon to produce it than the energy contained the actual gallon of ethanol.

In 2007, Ray Nothstine’s commentary Big Corn’ and Unitended Consequences pointed out some of the effects of rising food prices and the environmental implications of ethanol production.

Ethanol is expensive to produce, has contributed to a rise in gasoline prices, and has its own pollution problems. It requires a lot of fertilizer, fresh water, and productive farm land. And, because of corrosive properties that make pipeline transportation problematic, it takes a lot of trucks to haul it.

While the policies behind increased ethanol production may have been intended to promote good environmental stewardship, the actual results may show a higher negative environmental impact than other fuel sources.

If ethanol is causing the problems recent studies have indicated, then is the ethanol subsidy and the government mandate to continue the increase use of ethanol sound policy?  Continued funding for the ethanol subsidy and a mandate to increase the use of ethanol, when it may not be accomplishing its originally intended goals, might be cause to reevaluate ethanol’s future.  With food prices on the rise, and the demand for wider uses for crops across the globe also rising, the United States continues to fund the current ethanol policy, which may become counter intuitive to its original goals. The United States currently dedicates 40 percent of the amount of corn it produces each year to ethanol, and so you wonder if we are actually working at cross purposes to sound stewardship, and if so, it may be time to look towards a more morally sound solution.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, August 27, 2010


Can you explain why you are not recycling, tovarich?

In “Recycling Bins Go Big Brother on Cleveland Residents,” writer Ariel Schwartz reported that the city is introducing a $2.5 million “Big Brother-like system next year to make sure residents are recycling.”

Chips embedded in recycling carts will keep track of how often residents take the carts to the curb for recycling. If a bin hasn’t been taken to the curb in a long time, city workers will go rummaging through the trash to find recyclables. And if workers find that over 10% of the trash is made up of recyclable materials, residents could face a $100 fine.

The system isn’t entirely new. Cleveland began a pilot program with the carts in 2007, according to … Alexandria, Virginia has a similar system, and cities in England have been using high-tech trash systems for years. But if the chip system works in a city as big as Cleveland, other small to medium sized cities will probably take note.

The program makes sense as long as cities don’t go too far. San Francisco, for example, has threatened to fine residents who don’t compost their waste. A chip system installed in San Francisco compost bins could probably make the city a lot of cash–and cost residents dearly.

Well, yes, there is a certain bureaucratic logic to it. It’s just the off-hand concern about going “too far” that leaves me a little uneasy.

Mark Steyn took it to the next logical step. He’s skeptical, as you can discern from the title of his blog post, “Gullible eager-beaver planet savers”:

In 2006, to comply with the “European Landfill Directive,” various municipal councils in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland introduced “smart” trash cans—“wheelie bins” with a penny-sized electronic chip embedded within that helpfully monitors and records your garbage as it’s tossed into the truck. Once upon a time, you had to be a double-0 agent with Her Majesty’s Secret Service to be able to install that level of high-tech spy gadgetry. But now any old low-level apparatchik from the municipal council can do it, all in the cause of a sustainable planet. So where’s the harm?

And once Big Brother’s in your trash can, why stop there? Our wheelie-bin sensors are detecting an awful lot of junk-food packaging in your garbage. Maybe you should be eating healthier. In Tokyo, Matsushita engineers have created a “smart toilet”: you sit down, and the seat sends a mild electric charge through your bottom that calculates your body/fat ratio, and then transmits the information to your doctors. Japan has a fast-aging population imposing unsustainable costs on its health system, so the state has an interest in tracking your looming health problems, and nipping them in the butt. In England, meanwhile, Twyford’s, whose founder invented the modern ceramic toilet in the 19th century, has developed an advanced model—the VIP (Versatile Interactive Pan)—that examines your urine and stools for medical problems and dietary content: if you’re not getting enough roughage, it automatically sends a signal to the nearest supermarket requesting a delivery of beans. All you have to do is sit there as your VIP toilet orders à la carte and prescribes your medication.

In “The New Despotism of Bureaucracy” on NRO, the Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding wrote:

The United States has been moving down this path in fits and starts for some time, from the Progressive Era reforms through the New Deal’s interventions in the economy. But the real shift and expansion occurred more recently, under the Great Society and its progeny. The expansion of regulatory activities on a society-wide scale in the 1960s and 1970s led to vast new centralizing authority in the federal government, such that today the primary function of government is to regulate. The modern Congress is a supervisory body exercising oversight of the true lawmakers — administrative policymakers.

And not just just at the federal level, of course. Now, the distant disembodied “administrative state” may be more and more personified in your neighbor in town and township. And when he strolls up your driveway to talk to you, it won’t be about your interest in coaching Little League or to borrow a weed whacker but to ask: Why did you put those old newspapers in the trash?

On his recently launched Ambiguorum Blogis site, Fr. Michael Butler is reviewing Elizabeth Theokritoff’s Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009). Fr. Michael, who joined us for Acton University 2010, examines the author’s exhausted earth meme, beginning with this quote from the book:

It is hard to escape the conclusion that with an ever-growing human population, it is not enough for humanity as a whole to do more with less; individually, we must also learn to do less with less (Theokritoff, p. 21).

Fr. Michael comments:

This statement is astonishing. It is a call to reduce our quality of life, and I find it hard to square with her concern for the poor and the weak, for whom learning “to do less with less” is a recipe for catastrophe. She says, on p. 19, “most environmental problems take their toll on the poor and weak long before they affect those who can afford to live far from the landfills, upwind of the factories or power plants, and well above sea level”. If the poor and the weak suffer in our current economy, their suffering in a reduced economy will be unspeakable. A vibrant economy helps everyone; poverty in the United States, for example, is incomparable with poverty found elsewhere in the world. The poor and weak will not be helped by making everyone else poorer and weaker.

The author spends some time describing a “culture of control,” which is “a way for us to arrange the world for our own convenience, with no reference to some higher will for the world or for us” (p. 22). She goes on,

Many people regarded it as quite normal, for instance, to have strawberries to eat in mid-winter, relax and a cool house in mid-summer in a subtropical climate, or sit on a well-watered lawn beside the swimming pool in a semi-desert. (Theokritoff, p. 23)

I freely disclose that I eat strawberries in midwinter. My winter strawberries come from Mexico and Chile. What is for me an “indulgence” (Theokritoff’s term) is probably not an indulgence for the Latin American farmers who grow the strawberries and depend upon their sale for their livelihood. Taking to task people who live in the South for air-conditioning their homes strikes me simply as mean-spirited. She might as well take northerners to task for presuming to heat their homes in the winter. I don’t have a swimming pool, so I won’t comment on that part.

Fr. Michael has been a priest in the Orthodox Church in America for more than 15 years in Michigan and Ohio. See his bio and scholarly interests here. And put him on your blog roll and newsreader today.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This week’s Acton Commentary. Benjamin B. Phillips is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Houston Campus. This commentary was based on an article in the Journal of Markets & Morality (Vol. 12, No. 2).


Evangelicals and Global Warming

By Benjamin Phillips

Since 2005, evangelicals have divided into two roughly opposing camps over the question of anthropogenic global warming. Official statements of the Southern Baptist Convention through its resolution process, its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Cornwall Alliance have typically rejected the theory of anthropogenic global warming and catastrophic climate change predictions. They assert that it is more likely that global warming will be moderate and have moderate or even helpful effects on the environment over all. They also argue that the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is unlikely to have significant impact on global warming. These groups have focused primarily on the impact of climate-change policy on developing economies and the poor. On the other side, the Evangelical Environmental Network, through its Evangelical Climate Initiative and (as it seems) the SBECI have affirmed the existence and danger of anthropogenic global warming and have called for action to prevent it.

Despite conflict among evangelicals over the existence of anthropogenic global warming, there has been a great deal of consensus on the theological basis for addressing environmental degradation. Most evangelical statements appeal to the fact that God is the creator of the world as a basis for understanding the value of nonhuman creation, and many note that God is its owner. Virtually every evangelical statement on the environment and climate change acknowledges that God has commissioned humanity with the responsibility of stewardship/dominion over the earth and that the execution of this responsibility has been perverted by sin, with negative impact on the environment. Evangelicals have also, almost without exception, affirmed the responsibility of Christians to care for the poor as an important factor in considering environmental policy.