“’Sustainability’ has become big business, especially at universities,” says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary. “If there ever was an elitist/populist wedge issue, this is it, with Pope Francis and the Holy See on the wrong side of it.”
So what exactly is meant by “sustainability”? The term originates in 1987 with the World Commission on Environment and Development’s report entitled Our Common Future: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sounds reasonable enough, but the concept is so broad as to be meaningless. The 2002 UN Summit on Sustainable Development, which I attended as a delegate of the Holy See, came ten years after the Rio Earth Summit and sought to balance social, economic and environmental concerns. The concept today seems to be about fighting poverty while tackling climate change (as in a “new climate economy”). Once again, who can be against it? And what are we supposed to do about it?
The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
The fossil-fuel sustainability and divestment movements began with colleges and universities. Over the past two years, the movements have gained momentum from faith-based activists intent on stranding oil, coal and natural gas in the ground. At the same time, they’re pressing their religious communities to endorse impossible fossil fuel reduction goals.
Progressives in the sustainability and divestment movements must assume that if Big Oil is brought to heel, then Big Renewable will immediately fill the void. Never mind that there exists nothing today to replace the growing need for oil, coal and natural gas. Will we one day have an efficient and affordable replacement? Not if we bankrupt advanced, technologically rich economies with sustainability policies.
Additionally, mounting evidence suggests that sustainability efforts in the academic industry, which includes fossil-fuel divestment, have inflicted economic harm on colleges and universities (and taxpayers) without providing a scintilla of benefit for the environment.
Millions of businesses are paying billions of dollars in rent on their garbage. They don’t think of it that way, of course, just as the fees they pay trash haulers to pick up their junk. But a significant portion of that money covers the cost of the landfill space itself. And what is a landfill if not a stinky, seething plot of real estate with garbage as the primary tenant?
What choice do we have? We fill our trash bags, put the bags in the cart and haul it to the curb once a week. Then a garbage truck takes the garbage away and we don’t think about it anymore. But Nate Morris has been thinking about it. A lot. (more…)
A platitude is a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound. Politicians love platitudes, which is why we have laws with names like the Clean Air Act, the Pure Food Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, and the Anti-Puppy Kicking Act (okay, I made up that last one). Since no one is for dirty air, impure food, unfair sentencing, puppy-kicking, who could possibly oppose such legislation?
But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Which is why, as Donald J. Boudreau says, “Platitudes are a poor basis for policy.”
Today is Earth Day, a great opportunity for Christians to confess with the Psalmist, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).
An immediate corollary to this confession that the world belongs to God is that whatever we have is entrusted to us by him. We therefore have a responsibility as stewards over those aspects of creation that we have control over, most notably our bodies, souls, and property.
Over at The Federalist, I take on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s conception of stewardship, particularly as applied in the case of the Keystone pipeline. “Tutu’s depiction aligns with a view of the environment as a pristine wilderness which must be preserved rather than cultivated and developed, and is in this way the antithesis of responsible stewardship,” I argue.
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.
Popular Mexican food chain Chipotle has made waves with its new animated short, in which a modest scarecrow flees the hustle and bustle of an over-industrialized dystopia in search of a slower, greener, earthier existence.
“Dreaming of something better,” Chipotle explains, “a lone scarecrow sets out to provide an alternative to the unsustainable processed food from the factory.”
The whole thing is quite well done, with stunning visuals and effective storyboarding, all propelled by a soundtrack of Fiona Apple, meandering about at her spooky-crooning best. Check, check, check.
Unfortunately, the caricatured villain is most typically a caricature, and just so happens to be feeding hungry mouths across the globe, not to mention employing swaths of scarecrows in the process. One man’s dystopia is another man’s employer, who’s yet another man’s cheap-yet-juicy cheeseburger supplier (that’d be me). (more…)
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.
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.
It has been three years since the nation of Haiti was overwhelmed by earthquake devastation. In those three years, to the naked eye, it often appears as if little has been done. After all, at least 360,000 people still live in tent cities and infrastructure remains dubious.
However, three years is a short time in a nation’s history, especially a nation like Haiti, with its background of political turmoil, slavery and natural disaster. According to Catholic New Service, progress – slow but steady – is being made. Not only that, the progress is being made by the Haitian people themselves, in partnership with others, rather than through a steady-stream of NGOs and stop-gap mission programs. Catholic Relief Services is one of those partners.
“We want to build things with Haitians for Haitians, and it takes a little longer,” Darren Hercyk, country representative in Haiti for CRS, explained in an interview from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. “In the end I have not found a problem where all parties have not bought into it.”
Hercyk said the earthquake changed the way CRS approaches its work from being primarily in rural areas to one with a major presence in urban programming. For example, CRS is tackling the rebuilding of St. Francis de Sales Hospital, which was destroyed in the earthquake, into a 200-bed state-of-the-art teaching facility. The U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency has partnered with the Haitian Ministry of Health and the Catholic Health Association to carry out the project. (more…)
For PowerBlog readers, we’re posting the video from Andrew Morriss’ April 26 Acton Lecture Series talk in Grand Rapids, Mich., on “The False Promise of Green Energy.” Here’s the lecture description: “Green energy advocates claim that transforming America to an economy based on wind, solar, and biofuels will produce jobs for Americans, benefits for the environment, and restore American industry. Prof. Andrew Morriss, co-author of The False Promise of Green Energy (Cato, 2011), shows that these claims are based on unrealistic assumptions, poorly thought out models, and bad data. Rather than leading us to an eco-utopia, he argues that current green energy programs are crony capitalism that impoverishes American consumers and destroys American jobs.”
Morriss, an Orthodox Christian, begins with a quote from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Istanbul, Turkey-based hierarch. Bartholomew said this in response to the March 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed:
Our Creators 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?
“The Ecumenical Patriarch and I don’t see eye to eye on this,” Morriss said. “I think he’s asking the wrong questions.”
In his book, Morriss and his co-authors warn that “the concrete results of following [green energy] policies will be a decline in living standards around the globe, including for the world’s poorest; changes in lifestyle that Americans do not want; and a weakening of the technological progress that market forces have delivered, preventing us from finding real solutions to the real problems we face.” Many of those lifestyle changes will come from suddenly spending far more on energy than we’d like. Green technologies mean diverting production from cheap sources, such as coal and oil, to more expensive, highly subsidized ones, like wind and solar. These price spikes won’t be limited to our electricity bills either, the authors argue. “Anything that increases the price of energy will also increase the price of goods that use energy indirectly.”
The better solution to improving America’s energy economy, the book shows, is to let the market work by putting power in the hands of consumers. But “many environmental pressure groups don’t want to leave conservation to individuals, preferring government mandates to change energy use.” In other words, green-job proponents know they’re pushing a bad product. Rather than allow the market to expose the bad economics of green energy, they’d use the power of government to force expensive and unnecessary transformation.
Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had a profound impact on our society. As an iconic work, the book has often been shielded from critical inquiry, but this landmark anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to reassess its legacy and influence. In Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson a team of national experts explores the book’s historical context, the science it was built on, and the policy consequences of its core ideas. The conclusion makes it abundantly clear that the legacy of Silent Spring is highly problematic. While the book provided some clear benefits, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance. Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s best-seller contained significant errors and sins of omission. Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong.
Morriss is the D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Angelich Jones Chairholder of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is the author or coauthor of more than 60 book chapters, scholarly articles, and books. He is affiliated with a number of think tanks doing public policy work, including the Property & Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, the Institute for Energy Research, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In addition, he is a Research Fellow at the New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law. He is chair of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. His scholarship focuses on regulatory issues involving environmental, energy, and offshore financial centers. Over the past ten years he has regularly taught and lectured in China, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Nepal.
Morriss earned an A.B. from Princeton University and a J.D., as well as an M.A. in Public Affairs, from the University of Texas at Austin. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After law school, Morriss clerked for U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders in the Northern District of Texas and worked for two years at Texas Rural Legal Aid in Hereford and Plainview, Texas.
He was formerly the H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law & Professor of Business at the University of Illinois College of Law and the Galen J. Roush Profesor of Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.