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.
Are you special? Do you have intrinsic dignity? Are “human rights” something that you have by virtue of the fact that you’re a human being, or are you no different from any other creature on the planet? These are all vitally important questions, the answers to which will shape the way you view yourself and other people, and deeply impact the sort of society that you attempt to build.
On this edition of Radio Free Acton, Paul Edwards talks with Wesley J. Smith, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism and author of National Review Online’s Human Exceptionalism blog. Smith is a powerful voice in defense of the intrinsic dignity and value of human life in the face of growing threats to those ideas from supporters of assisted suicide and population control, as well as from the environmentalist and animal rights movements, both of which have trended toward more radical anti-human sentiment over the past few decades.
Smith has recently released an e-book and a documentary called “The War on Humans” – both of which are available at waronhumans.com – detailing the very real and very current threats to human dignity that exist in the world today. You can view the documentary after the jump, and we’d encourage you to download and read the e-book as well. The Radio Free Acton podcast is available via the player below.
Review of Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson. Edited by Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers, and Andrew Morriss (Cato, 2012)
During the 50 years following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, much has been written to discredit the science of her landmark book. Little, however, has been written on the environmentalist cult it helped spawn.
Until Silent Spring at 50, that is.
Subtitled “The False Crises of Rachel Carson,” Silent Spring at 50 is a collection of essays specially commissioned by the Cato Institute and edited by Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers and Andrew Morriss. Much like Roger Scruton’s recent How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism, the essays present a unified indictment not necessarily of Carson per se but of the disastrous results wrought by the policies she inspired.
In “The Lady Who Started All This,” environmentalist William Kaufman presents an admiring portrait of Carson as a scientist who unfortunately took a left-turn from her previous works — based on objective, empirical research — when she endeavored to write Silent Spring shortly after her cancer diagnosis. For this ill-conceived approach, Kaufman blames Wallace Shawn, the New Yorker editor who prompted Carson to abandon her “disinterested scientist” voice in favor of a more “adversarial” tone. Since the famous editor signed Carson’s check, the author readily complied. (more…)
Our friends at the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE) in Bozeman, Mont., have put together another strong slate of summer programs for clergy, seminary professors and other religious leaders with the aim of deepening their understanding of environmental policy. In its description of the program, FREE notes that many in faith communities “see an inherent conflict between a market economy and environmental stewardship.”
Major religious groups assert that pollution, deforestation, endangered species, and climate change demonstrate a failure of stewardship that requires reform. And of course they are correct—what, however, are the incentives and information generated by alternative reform policies? Some policies can have profoundly negative impacts on social well-being.
FREE’s goal is to help increase the understanding of religious leaders as they approach environmental policy. These leaders are influential nodes in a network of congregations, providing a conduit to disseminate market-based environmental ideas, potentially to millions of Americans.
FREE will help religious leaders understand the political economy dimensions of environmental policy reform. We will explain how basic economic principles can help achieve green goals with minimum sacrifice to social welfare. Together we will explore how a culture that values America’s founding ideals, secure property rights, and responsible prosperity, can also foster a healthy environment and promote social justice.
I’ve been to a number of these FREE events and have been impressed with the content — and that’s from someone who has grown “seminar averse” over the years. At FREE, faith leaders get the economic insights that are necessary for a deeper understanding of environmental stewardship. On the other side, policy analysts — including some of the FREE lecturers — get the faith insights that they do not ordinarily have access to in their own specialized fields. Yes, it is possible to bring together economic and moral thinking.
The presence of one group at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests might be surprising: the Distributist Review has produced this flyer for distribution at the protests. They don’t seem to have asked themselves whether G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc would have gone down to protest with the unwashed masses (the answer, of course, is never in a million years) but contemporary “neodistributists” are a more inclusive set. They go far beyond the metaphysical and aesthetic principles of Chesterton and Belloc’s economics. Since that flyer’s a little hard to read, we’ve put together a list to help you identify your inner distributist: herewith, Ten Signs You May Be a Distributist:
- You can’t wait for the Revolution: As we’ve explained before, the changes distributists want amount to revolution. That puts them squarely in line with the rest of the OWS camp, whose communications head told NPR, “My political goal is to overthrow the government.” Fortunately, the revolution will be prosecuted in accord with Catholic Social Teaching. (What’s a little property-snatching among friends?) If this idea excites you, you may be a distributist!
- You just want to grow heirloom tomatoes in a co-op: Or maybe your grandfather’s strain of prized carrot. Either way, if think the Catholic Social Teaching mandates this kind of lifestyle, you may be a distributist!
- You abominate the seedless watermelon: The seedless watermelon is an unnatural monstrosity, you say? If you oppose genetic engineering on principle and begrudge the one billion lives saved by the Green Revolution, you may be a distributist!
- You find yourself supporting environmentalist policies, but for different reasons: If you find yourself always on the side of radical environmentalists, but as with the seedless watermelon, different principles lead you to their extreme positions — well, puzzle no longer. You may be a distributist!
- You think you live in a polis: If you’d like to impose virtue on 307 million people the same way you would on 75,000; if you think that what worked on a co-op level in Spain can be scaled up 60,000 percent without distortion; and if you insist on economic self-sufficiency — in short, if you’re more attached to the form of the polis than Aristotle himself was, then you may be a distributist!
- You find yourself asking “What would Frodo do?”: Distributists often take The Shire of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings as a model society (mostly those who consider a return to the polis too fantastical). If you’re convicted that eating two breakfasts a day is more in line with Catholic Social Teaching, you may be a distributist!
- You really miss guilds: If you’ve mythologized the quaint, confraternal aspects of medieval guilds, and don’t mind overlooking how controlling they were; if you love the idea of long apprenticeships and don’t mind sweeping grants of patent and absolute trade secrecy, you may be a distributist!
- You dislike intellectual property: If you view Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as a tool for enriching the plutocracy (except of course when monopolies are given to guilds) and identify more with the Swedish-internet-pirate school of thought, you may be a distributist!
- You bleed your patients with leeches: If you long for the simpler, more local health care system of the Middle Ages, when your barber performed appendectomies and your doctor’s first instinct in case of illness was to send for leeches, then you may just be a distributist!
- You brew your own beer: Coors is the beer of Republicans, O’Doul’s is probably the beer of the Tea Party, and the unwashed hipsters at OWS all drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, but if you brew your own beer, you may be a distributist! (No word on what Chesterton thought of bathtub gin.)
The Manhattan Institute’s Proxy Monitor project is aimed at “shedding light on the influence of shareholder proposals on corporations.” It provides a thorough analysis of proposals made from 2008 – 2011 by activist investors — and believe it or not, only 35 percent of those proposals were related to corporate governance. Most of the shareholder proposals that these companies deal with are attempts to direct the company in a more green or pacific or fair direction, and they come from small shareholders who do this to dozens of companies.
A new report from Manhattan summarizes the trends — the growing social proposals, and how Dodd-Frank has playing into activists’ activities — and the proxy monitor website allows you to look at any shareholder proposal from the last few years. The proposals are enlightening. The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas have submitted proposals to the stockholders of Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics stating,
WHEREAS: Space has served as a sanctuary where, over the years, nations cooperate rather than confront one another. Satellites save lives…
RESOLVED: Shareholders request that, within six months of the annual meeting, the Board of Directors provide a comprehensive report on Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the space-based weapons program, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary and classified information.
The well-meaning Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, in a proposal to McDonald’s shareholders that made the news earlier this year, requested that,
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, included federal menu-labeling legislation requiring the posting of calories on fast food menu boards….
RESOLVED: Shareholders ask the Board of Directors to issue a report, at reasonable expense and excluding proprietary information, within six months of the 2011 annual meeting, assessing the company’s policy responses to public concerns regarding linkages of fast food to childhood obesity, diet-related diseases and other impacts on children’s health.
Many other equally well-intentioned proposals have been filed, including repeated requests by the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth that various pharmaceutical companies restrain their prices to “reasonable levels.” The Unitarian Universalists have requested that Pepsi Co. “create a comprehensive policy articulating our company’s respect for and commitment to the Human Right to Water.”
This is not to mention the numerous environmental proposals made by religious groups, requesting that the Rights of Humanity and of Mother Earth not be violated by carbon emissions and by the use of genetically engineered plants. Take, for instance, this statement from a proposal to Du Pont’s shareholders, concerning genetically engineered crops:
The right to food requires that we place the needs of the most marginalized groups, including in particular smallholders in developing countries, at the centre of our efforts
One might think the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth were unaware that it has been the genetic improvement of crops that has saved millions of the world’s poor from starvation.
We’ll keep you posted on further developments, and the effects these proposals may have on companies’ performance.
As citizens await state decisions on new state EPA “fracking” regulations, many are worried radical environmentalist may compromise a promising opportunity in the development of gas reserves.
Natural gas advocates say radical environmentalists have long demonized the oil industry in their fight against free enterprise. Environmental groups claim fracking techniques to extract natural gas threatens the cleanliness of ground water, but their attacks contradict EPA studies that report there are no proven cases where fracking has contaminated water.
Extreme environmental groups have teamed up with some in the media to push their anti-growth agenda. A Heritage Foundation blog reports,
Environmentalists [...] have hijacked media outlets like The New York Times to run biased reports against fracking’s key contributions to America’s current and future energy supplies that would be a tremendous catalyst for the country’s economic recovery.
Though more EPA fracking studies are currently underway, environmentalist accusations contradict solid facts and studies. With almost any human activity, there will be some sort of environmental effect, but the benefits of shale drilling blows the costs out of the water. According to experts, a typical Marcellus Shale well can generate up to $4 million in economic benefits while only creating $14,000 in environmental damage.
If given the chance, the Independent Petroleum Association of America suggests the oil industry has the potential to lift our economy back on its feet again:
Petroleum powers the economy of this nation overall, evidenced by [a] strong correlation between states that have high petroleum use and high output. Petroleum is integral in our daily lives, not just as a fuel, but because it is present in common objects that are crucial to living a high-quality life.
But radical environmental groups often stand in the way. Some of these groups insist on “biological egalitarianism” in which all life forms are considered equal. An Acton publication titled A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship explains the dangerous connotation of this faulty environmental philosophy:
Instead, this philosophy negates the biblical affirmation of the human person’s unique role as steward and eliminates the very rationale for human care for creation. The quest for the humane treatment of beasts by lowering people to the level of animals leads only to the beastly treatment of humans.
Extreme environmental groups should remember the oil industry is not evil. They fail to see that their radical ideology is hurting the nation’s poor. Increasing oil production can fuel economic growth and provide jobs for the unemployed. To attack the oil industry in such a way is indirectly attacking human development. Cited in Ray Nothstine’s commentary on high gas prices and its impact on the poor are these words from John Paul II,
Besides the earth, man’s principle resource is man himself. His intelligence enables him to discover the earth’s productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied.
Of course, any human action has some effect on the environment; and so we have the responsibility to exercise environmental stewardship rather than prioritizing the fish in the Chesapeake Bay over the welfare of the human person.
In the current issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (14.1), Brian K. Strow and Claudia W. Strow challenge the economic impact of our definition of society in their article, “Social Choice: The Neighborhood Effect.” It occurred to me that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew implicitly challenges our definition of society on a different, though similar, level than Strow and Strow. Strow and Strow analyze the changing results of economic utility functions based upon one’s definition of human society. In his book Encountering the Mystery (2008), His All-Holiness, however, broadens our definition of society not merely on the basis of relationship, geography, or voluntary associations, but on the basis of ontological groupings. This is not to say that he would equate a human child and a dog (or a dog and a flower, for that matter), but that, for the Patriarch, society includes the entire ontological hierarchy of all creation.
This perspective produces interesting results. For example, one may examine the case in recent years when Canada was still paying the state of Michigan to put Canadian trash in its landfills. Financially, Michigan was benefiting from the deal, but environmentally Canada succeeded in minimizing its trash and retaining unused landfill capacity. Economically, both can be considered capital, but they improve the respective societies in differing ways. The financial benefit of Michigan was purely a human benefit, whereas the environmental benefit of Canada benefited humans, animals, plants, air, and soil alike, even if only on a marginal level. As a country, rather than a state, Canada’s definition of society was not only broader in terms of humanity (whether relationally, geographically, or associatively), but also in terms of all creation.
However, as Strow and Strow’s analysis shows, if one were to expand the definition of society to the whole world, Canada did not succeed in producing any environmental benefit (the quantity of total world trash was not diminished at all, only geographically relocated). However, Michigan’s financial gain may have redistributed wealth in a way that still (again marginally) improved the world as a whole (raising per capita income, perhaps), while globally having an indifferent effect upon the environment.
The challenge of His All-Holiness Bartholomew, I believe, is to define society as broadly as possible, not only in terms of relationship, geography, or association, moving from individual to family to state to country to the world, but also moving from particular (one human) to group (family, state, or country) to species (all humanity) to genus (all animals or even all living things) to most general genus (all creation), to use classical categories. If one seeks to find a final say in the Patriarch’s work with regards to the relationship between economics and ecology, one may have many criticisms. However, if one takes his work as a starting point of discussion toward a Christian synthesis between these two disciplines, I believe one finds fertile ground for cultivating a productive engagement of economics and ecology on a global basis with such a cosmic view of society.
The Patriarch’s book Encountering the Mystery is published by Doubleday Religion and can be purchased at Amazon. The scope of the book is far broader than the subject at hand, but chapter VI, “The Wonder of Creation,” addresses his view of the relationship between economics and ecology from an Orthodox Christian perspective in detail. Additionally, his many talks, letters, and encyclicals related to environmentalism can be found here.
For more on the ecological relationship of humanity to creation as a whole from a Christian perspective, see also Benjamin B. Philips, “A Creature among Creatures or Lord of Creation?” in the Symposium section of the current issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.
You can subscribe to the Journal of Markets & Morality here.
Today in Acton News & Commentary we brought you guest columnist Steven F. Hayward’s “Economists in the Wild,” based on his new American Enterprise Institute monograph, Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World. Hayward, the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI, looks at how the “connection between rising material standards and environmental improvement seems a paradox, because for a long time many considered material prosperity and population growth the irreversible engines of environmental destruction.” Not so. Hayward:
The central insight of environmentalism is that humanity’s great leap in material progress has come at a high cost to nature: we tear down entire mountains for their minerals; divert rivers and streams and drain swamps to provide water for modern agriculture and urban use; clear large amounts of forests for other uses, often disrupting crucial habitat for rare animal species; and too often dump our waste byproducts thoughtlessly into the air, water, and land.
But this insight contains a paradox. Environmentalism arose precisely because we have mitigated the material harshness of human life through the Industrial Revolution; as Aldo Leopold, author of the classic environmental book A Sand County Almanac, put it: “These wild things had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast.”
I want to thank John Baden of the the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment in Bozeman, Mont., for bringing this to our attention. Baden’s introduction to Hayward’s commentary is worth reprinting here in full; it’s an excellent thumbnail summary of environmental economics.
Steve Hayward’s column … makes one wonder how noted environmental professionals, and even scientists, can be so, how can I say it gently, remarkably ignorant and intellectually arrogant as this: “Economics is a form of brain damage.” Economics isn’t an ideology or a mental affliction. Rather, it’s the systematic study of allocating scarce resources among contending ends.
When applied to environmental and natural resource problems, its practitioners make a few nearly universally valid assumptions. Here are a few.
When things are free, they are counted as such and hence often over used. Common pools of fish exemplify this.
As scarcity increases, people conserve and innovate. Consider barbed wires introduction to open range, the development of particleboard, laminated beams, and plywood. Entrepreneurs developed these solutions to the increased scarcity of grass and old growth timber.
Property rights and markets peacefully coordinate development and use among people who don’t know one another and generate incentives to act as though they care about unknown others. That’s one under-appreciated function of markets.
Bureaucratic-political management replaces market prices with political favor seeking. Corn ethanol is a classic example that causes untold human misery and great environmental damage.
Wealthier is greener; poverty is the worst polluter.
And this; things that are best and most easily measured are not those that matter most.
Economics isn’t about money, it’s about confronting and helping to resolve the many problems of scarcity in a clear and logical manner. Soft hearts need not imply a mushy brain.
“Environmentalism, Marxism, Utopianism,” Part 2 of a recent Acton roundtable discussion, is now available. Michael Miller leads a discussion with Samuel Gregg, Jordan Ballor and Anielka Munkel about environmentalism, Marxism, liberation, theology, Christian syncretism, Utopianism and one of Michael’s favorite topics, Alexis de Tocqueville. Check out Acton’s YouTube page here.