In a report commissioned by the UK government, Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, argues that the cost of waiting to take action to curb CO2 emissions will outpace other economic arguments against action on climate change.
The BBC reports (HT: Slashdot) that Stern found “that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%,” but that this opportunity cost for not taking action immediately could be offset by moving now: “Taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.” This is essentially the same economic argument I’ve previously used against action on climate change, but reversed to endorse action.
UK prime minister Tony Blair echoed the report’s conclusions, “For every invested now we can save ਵ, or possibly more, by acting now.”
“We can’t wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto – we simply don’t have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto),” Blair said.
The BBC claims that Stern’s report “is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than a scientist.” This may be true in a sense, but the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 embodies the conclusions of a number of economists, although it does not, in point of fact, examine the issue at a length in excess of 700 pages.
The conclusions of the consensus differ from Stern’s. Robert W. Fogel writes, “The environment is considered to be important, but it is not yet time to do anything massive about climate change. But with continued research and development (R&D) it will be possible to address future catastrophes and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”
Vernon L. Smith concludes, “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favour initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases (ghgs) build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate dangers may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention.”
The group’s consensus is, however, that our knowledge of the problem and potential solutions will increase over time, so that they leave open the possibility of recommending action in the future. Nancy L. Stokey sums it up well: “Future decision makers will be better equipped to decide whether more aggressive action is needed.”
Is two more years long enough? Have we learned enough in the intervening period to give greater weight to Stern’s conclusions?
One other item that Stern notes is that he’s hopeful about the possibility of curbing climate change. “I’m optimistic – having done this review – that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently,” he says.
Stern puts the emphasis on acting internationally. “Unless it’s international, we will not make the reductions on the scale which will be required,” says Stern. Just what international organization is envisioned as the arbiter of global climate change policy? The UN? The WTO? Or some as-yet uncreated entity, a la the Kyoto Protocol?
In the review summary (PDF), Stern writes, “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol and a range of other informal partnerships and dialogues provide a framework that supports co-operation, and a foundation from which to build further collective action.”
Update: Arnold Kling adds some commentary on the report over at EconLog.
Futher Update: Not too surprisingly, an OPEC spokesman contends that the Stern report propounds “scenarios that have no foundations in either science or economics.”
The one-hour documentary goes inside the conversation among evangelical Christians over the environment. The debate is not about whether or not Christians are called to care for creation. There is no disagreement about that. For more on this point, see Rev. Gerald Zandstra’s, “What is Evangelical Environmentalism?”
The debate is rather about how we should best care for the environment. Moyers’ program will feature Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association for Evangelicals and E. Calvin Beisner, an Acton Institute adjunct scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, discussing the evangelical views on the challenge presented by climate change.
In case you are wondering about the level of journalistic insight to expect, you can check out this interview with Bill Moyers conducted by Grist magazine about the show. Moyers provides some insights into his (paranoid?) interpretations of politics, and even contends that the letter sent by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (PDF) to the National Association of Evangelicals last year was one of Karl Rove’s political machinations. Res ipsa loquitur:
When news leaked of the impending statement by 86 evangelical leaders [on global warming], the other side hit back so hard and so fast and with such firepower. That letter from Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Richard Land came so quickly that I knew it had to originate in the White House, inside the political religion. I knew it was an orchestrated response, because Karl Rove was upset at what these evangelical leaders were letting loose.
You can view more PowerBlog coverage of the ISA letter to the NAE concerning the ECI here.
Check your local listings.
Mark Whitehouse reported in the September 25th issue of the Wall Street Journal that the living standards of average Americans will have to be adjusted downward in coming years because a larger share of our national debt is going to debt-service. He writes,
That means Americans will have to work harder to maintain the same living standards—or cut back sharply to pay down the debt.” Catherine Mann, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics notes, “Our net international obligations are coming home to roost. It’s as if on our personal MasterCards we have run up large obligations and never had to make personal payments. You can’t believe that is going to last forever.
I am not a professional economist but such news makes me wonder how we will really handle these things as a nation when the spend-spend-spend spigot is finally turned off. The pay day is coming, maybe sooner than later. Our prosperity is always one really bad cycle from a serious implosion and then the country will either adjust corporately, and grow stronger morally and spiritually, or it will begin to break down in ways that could be alarming over the long term. Let us pray that we learn how to adjust sooner than later. Churches that spend so much on themselves, and their upwardly mobile lifestyles, should take note. The kingdom calls for sacrifice and frugality, not lavish expenditures on empire building.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."
Part II of our week-long series on the ethics of chimeras begins with an examination of the creation account in the book of Genesis.
Creation – Genesis 1:26–30
The creation account in Genesis provides us with essential insights into the nature of the created world, from rocks and trees to birds and bees. It also tells us important things about ourselves and the role of human beings in relationship to the rest of creation.
The distinctions between various parts of the created world—plants, animals, and humans—are critical to discerning the best use and attitudes toward them.
We find in verses 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 God’s creational purpose for plantlife. Plants are originally given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation, especially those creatures with the “breath of life.” In this way, the original purpose for plants was to be food for humans and animals and in this way to sustain life.
So the first distinction among living creatures is that between plants and those with the “breath of life,” animals and humans. The second major distinction is made among those creatures with the “breath of life,” between animals and humans, the latter created in the “image of God.”
Genesis 1:26–28 forms a complex and interrelated picture of the original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings are placed in dominion over “all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Thus, verse 26 speaks to the placement of human beings as God’s earthly representatives.
Within the original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the language of “image-bearing” would have been immediately understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or acted with royal authority, he was said to “bear the image” of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority. Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the previous verse, and the placement as God’s image-bearers, representatives of the divine King.
There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility, so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings laid out in the following verse. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of “stewardship,” and here again we run up against the political and social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a household or kingdom during the ruler’s absence. Humans, in exercising their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the standard to which we are called.
An early exercise of this stewardly dominion over the animal world can be found in Genesis 2:19–20, in which the animals are brought to Adam to be named, “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
And so we have a tripartite division between plants, animals, and humans displayed in these verses. Plants form the base of the picture, created to give life to those creatures with the “breath of life.” Animals, as possessors of this “breath of life,” live off the plants, but remain distinct from human beings, who alone are created in the “image of God.”
The MacLaurin Institute is sponsoring a conference at the University of Minnesota through tomorrow exploring what it means for people to demonstrate a Christian perspective as they live their lives at the interfaces of three “worlds” — natural, engineered, and human. It will also study how Christian virtues ought to influence public and private policies regarding the interaction of these worlds.
Here are a couple of the talks that look interesting:
- “Genetic technologies promise us greater control over creation and its creatures than at any time previously. From a Christian perspective, how do we seek good and avoid harm as we pursue shalom for God’s creation?” From Rev. Dr. Rolf Bouma, “Rules for Intelligent Tinkering: Should Nature Be Engineered?” There will be more on this topic here at the Acton PowerBlog next week, as a I launch a five-part series providing a biblical/theological examination of the creation of human/animal hybrids, or chimeras.
- John Nagle of the University of Notre Dame Law School will be giving a talk, “The Evangelical Debate over Global Warming” (PDF abstract here). You can still expect a response from me to Andy Crouch on this topic early next week.
From the same issue of Business 2.0 magazine I cited yesterday, check out this article on Adobe Systems, which is touted as having “The greenest office in America.” It just goes to show you that economic efficiency and environmental concerns go hand in hand.
Click on the first link in the piece to get a slideshow of the various improvements which save energy and money at Adobe’s offices. My favorite is the timed outages of garage exhaust fans and outdoor lighting systems (cost: $150, annual savings: $68,000).
As the Cornwall Declaration states, “The tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.” The declaration also notes the aspirations to a world in which “advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”
One final note…these moves profiled in the article are economical enough to motivate companies to cut costs on their own. I don’t think Adobe needed “about $350,000 in energy rebates,” presumably from the government.
“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”
He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.
I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”
On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:
There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.
But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”
Today’s NYT editorializes: “a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply while holding only 3 percent of the reserves will never be able to drill its way to lower oil prices, much less oil independence.”
You’ll often hear the complaint that Americans use more than their fair share of the world’s oil. We’re addicted to it, some say. After all, so goes the reasoning, we have less than one-half of one percent of the world’s population, but we “consume one-quarter of the world’s oil supply.” Seems wildly out of proportion, doesn’t it?
That is, until you take into account that the United States economy represents somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of gross world product (depending on how you calculate it). So the US also produces wealth that is wildly out of proportion to our share of the world’s population.
There is a real correspondence between economic power and the use of fossil fuels. That’s part of the reality I was pointing to in this week’s Acton Commentary: “Fossil fuels would thus have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.”
And here’s just one more side note. Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.
Juliet Eilperin, “Bush Pollution Curbs Are Rated Equal to Clinton’s: Science Panel Says Proposed Cap-and-Trade System Will Help Clean Air,” Washington Post, July 24, 2006:
The report from the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, represents the latest effort to assess how best to reduce air pollution estimated to cause as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. The panel concluded that an earlier Bush plan would have allowed pollution to increase over a dozen years, but it found that the administration’s more recent Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) — which targets emissions from power plants in 22 states and the District of Columbia — would help clean the air over the next two decades.
The CAIR approach aims to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2025 at the latest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, through a system that would allow utilities to sell and buy pollution credits as long as industry emissions as a whole stayed below a pre-set cap.
Cap-and-trade schemes may be better than command-and-control techniques, but maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.
Hugh Ross, “The Faint Sun,” Facts for Faith, Reasons to Believe, 2002:
The timing of humanity’s arrival—near the end of life’s long tenure on Earth—may appear tragic at first glance. But a longer look suggests it may be viewed as a gift. Scanning the horizon of civilization—farms, ranches, towns, cities, and all the transportation and communication arteries linking them—one sees a plethora of building materials derived from nearly 4 billion years of life and death: gems, sand, steel, asphalt, concrete, copper, limestone, marble, plastics, etc. Most of the energy that drives civilization comes from biodeposits—oil, coal, wood, kerogen, natural gas, and so forth. Many of the fertilizers that support agricultural production also come from biodeposits—phosphates, nitrates, and such.
Such bountiful provisions powerfully indicate a Provider who carefully planned and prepared the planet through the ages for human life. They speak of a purpose for the human race. The Bible reveals a purpose that involves, yet goes beyond, the current “heavens and Earth.”
A Christian ministry group wants to build 36 wind turbines on the roof of a former steel company to generate money to help spread its message….
Energy produced by the turbines will be sold back to Wisconsin Energy Corp. through a buyback program.
More here on these so-called “Cuisinarts of the air.”