Posts tagged with: stewardship

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
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“The environment is begging for the Wal-Mart business model,” says H. Lee Scott Jr., CEO of Wal-Mart Stores in a NYT article, “Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart.”

The piece discusses Wal-Mart’s campaign to increase the sales of compact fluorescent bulbs, as compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. As Michael Barbaro writes, “A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.”

I’ve converted probably half of the bulbs in my home to CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), but have run into problems when trying to use them in some places. Lights that use dimmer switches, for instance, don’t work well with CFLs. And some CFLs won’t fit into light fixtures designed to accommodate incandescent bulbs.

Wal-Mart’s clout has begun to affect the light bulb manufacturing business, as producers like GE struggle to change their emphasis from production of incandescents to CFLs.

And on the demand side, what’s called for in convincing consumers to go with the CFLs is a basic economic lesson: you are sometimes better off spending more in the short-term for long-term gain: “Wal-Mart will have to persuade its traditional consumers that it is worth paying a bit more at the checkout counter to save a significant amount money down the line, a seemingly simple task that few companies ever accomplish. It is particularly difficult at a retailer that has long emphasized ‘always low prices.'”

As is so often the case, the best economic decision is the one that makes best use of both financial and environmental resources.

Update: This story is getting major attention across the blogosphere and MSM, including a NYT editorial here, and posts here and here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
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Our series on the year in review continues with the second quarter:

April

“Surprise! Evangelical Politics Isn’t Univocal,” Jordan J. Ballor

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues….

May

“How Do You Spell Relief?” Jordan J. Ballor

If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely?…

June

“There are more environmentalist misanthropes than you think,” Jay Richards

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions….

“Christian consumption has gone far beyond the book as millions use their buying power to reinforce their faith and show commitment to the Christian community,” reads an article in the current edition of USAToday (HT: Zondervan>To the Point)

According to the piece, “Nearly 12% of Americans spend more than $50 a month on religious products, and another 11% spend $25 to $29, according to a national survey of 1,721 adults by Baylor University, out in September.”

There has been a great deal of media attention paid to the Bible market in particular in the past few weeks. Here are some examples from Publisher’s Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker (HT: Reformation21).

Much of this phenomena flows from the affluence of the North American church, which itself entails a responsibility to be good stewards of those resources. As Ron Sider has poignantly reminded us, the way the church approaches the responsibilities and opportunities of wealth and affluence shouldn’t mirror the broader culture’s.

Reading through the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 the other day, I was struck by the danger of the third type of seed, that which “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” In Jesus’ explanation, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Let us pray that the church in North America doesn’t fall prey to the temptations of the penultimate, but rather produces an abundant harvest for God.

If you’ve read any of David F. Wells’ books on this subject, such as God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, you know that he shares these concerns.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
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A debate about the future of energy policy is being held over at sp!ked, sponsored by Research Councils UK. From their notice:

THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
Expanding supply or managing demand?

In the opening articles, five commentators address the question from different viewpoints.

ADAM VAUGHAN, online editor, New Consumer magazine argues that saving energy is the way forward: ‘By taking a number of simple steps, consumers can save energy and money – and help save the planet.’

JOE KAPLINSKY, science writer, spiked, believes that we need to greatly expand energy supply: ‘The best thing that we could do for future generations is to build a new energy infrastructure, bigger and better than the old one.’

MALCOLM GRIMSTON, associate fellow at Chatham House, argues that we need to embrace nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy remains the only proven large-scale option that can deliver major saving in greenhouse gas emissions.’

MARK JACCARD, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver believes that fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain central to energy supply: ‘Zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least a century.’

JIM SKEA, research director, UK Energy Research Centre argues that renewables are not a panacea to all our energy problems, but ‘A variety of renewable technologies may play an important part in energy generation in the future.’

spiked is keen to find out what readers think, and you can respond to the debate here.

I would also briefly mention that you can read a related article by me here, and that in general I think the options posed in the debates subtitle (reduction of use or expansion of supply) is similar to the options posed by the problem greenhouse gas emissions (reduction of emissions or increase of sequestration).

Most of the policy recommendations I’ve seen regarding CO2 emissions have focused on reduction of emissions rather than an increases in the rate and amount of carbon sequestration (in forests and so on). There’s a lot of work to be done on that latter point, especially if largescale reduction of emissions is untenable both politically and economically for the foreseeable future.

I have read through the opening arguments (PDF) in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120) conducted yesterday morning before the Supreme Court. From a layperson’s perspective I would have to say that Jonathan Adler’s characterization of the nature of the proceedings in not quite correct.

Adler writes, “It is also important to underscore that this case is not about the science of climate change. There is no dispute that human emissions of greenhouse gases affect the global climate. Rather, the fundamental issues are whether the Clean Air Act mandates the sort of regulatory action the petitioners seek, and whether these (or any) petitioners are entitled to bring these claims in court.” It seems to me, however, that as much of the discussion focused on the issue of the petitioners’ standing, it necessarily included and touched on their ability to prove imminent threat of loss due to climate change.

As Lyle Denniston writes in summary of yesterday’s action, “The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the “standing” issue). And, it seemed clear that the deciding vote on that question probably lies with the Court’s key centrist Justice, Anthony M. Kennedy.”

With regard to Kennedy’s questioning, Denniston states, “Kennedy suggested that the Court could not bypass the larger question of whether global warming is a problem, in order to assess who might be harmed by it, ‘because there’s no injury if there’s not global warming.'”

Thus, the “science of climate change” is an issue…and a large one at that.

Right about now, the Supreme Court of the United States should be hearing the beginning arguments in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120). Not much attention has been paid to this case over the last few months, but recently a spate of media attention has arisen, citing this case as perhaps “the most important environmental case in many years,” as well as “one of the biggest environmental cases in years.” (Jonathan Adler responds to the NYT editorial at The Volokh Conspiracy.)

There are reasons to doubt the hype surrounding this case, however, and not just because of the dubiousness of the scientific “consensus” on climate change.

A spate of amici briefs Atlantic Legal Foundation and the National Council of Churches (PDF), the latter of which argues in part that scientific “uncertainty alone cannot justify inaction. To decide rationally whether climate change may ‘endanger public health or welfare,’ EPA must consider the harm that would result if the risk of climate change, however uncertain, is realized.” As I have argued against similar views elsewhere, such claims bring economic considerations, especially cost/benefit analysis of action vs. inaction, to the fore, which do not necessarily bear out the conclusion that the potential harm necessitates political action.

In fact, the EPA is not citing scientific uncertainty as its sole justification for refraining from regulatory action. One of its main claims is that it lacks the statutory authority to regulate CO2 emissions, and thus a large part of the case hinges on interpretation of certain provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Regarding the complexity of the case, Hugh Hewitt writes that “in one case do we get important issues of standing, legislative intent, deference to administrative agencies and, of course, the debate over global warming.”

He concludes, “The argument will be one worth listening to very closely, and the decision when it arrives in the spring will be, I predict, a duel between the justices who take seriously the idea of a Court of limited jurisdiction versus those justices eager for the EPA to get on with the urgent business of grappling with climate change.”

In a helpful overview of the case, Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes a similar concerns of a group of conservative law professors, including Robert H. Bork, that the petitioners’ claim is

part of a multi-faceted effort to draw the federal courts into one of the most important and controversial foreign policy and political battles of our time….Petitioners seek to remake U.S. climate change policy through litigation in the federal courts.

Likewise Rivkin and Casey in today’s WSJ, who filed an amicus brief in the case, conclude that “if economic growth is to be sacrificed because of global warming fears, the decision should be taken by Congress and the president, the people’s elected representatives, and not by the courts.”

At its current state, the petitioners’ claims were denied in a 2-1 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court, after which the appeal by the petitioners came to the Supreme Court. John Gartner of Wired’s Autopia warns, “If the Court sides with the EPA, it will be further proof that the judicial branch of government is out of step with the populace,” a claim which, while perhaps true, seems to advocate legislation from the bench.

Despite such rhetoric, the case has two major components, focusing not only on the science of climate change but on the question of the appropriate governmental authority to make policy decisions. Denniston summarizes it this way:

The controversy pursued in the briefs thus focuses heavily on the harms believed to arise from global warming, countered by the claims that the science on climate change is still evolving and uncertain. But equal controversy has arisen over what might be called the separation-of-powers issue: who decides how to attack the perceived problem of climate change?

Because of the multi-faceted nature of the case’s arguments, Denniston writes that this decision could end up not setting a major precedent on the politics of climate change: “Before the Court ever reached the ‘global warming’ problem, it could be stopped by a maze of procedural issues, as well as by a bold challenge to the judiciary’s power to take on the problem.”

Update: Autopia’s John Gartner now says that the court’s greenhouse ruling “won’t matter,” at least in the short-term.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 2, 2006
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Bjørn Lomborg responds to the Stern Report (discussed here) in today’s WSJ, “Stern Review.”

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.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
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Tonight at 9 PM on PBS stations across the country, Bill Moyers’ program, Moyers on America, will take up the question, “Is God Green?”

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."