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.
Phillip Long is a professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and blogs over at Reading Acts. Phil does not normally review this kind of book, but was drawn to it due to Abraham Kuyper’s popularity and his contribution to worldview issues today.
Long shares some good observations and this book and its relevance for Christianity today, particularly those with an aversion to the study of science and the pursuit of a career in art.
God and Money passes along a news story about a church in Nebraska raising money “to buy motorcycles (probably not Harleys) for pastors in the African country of Tanzania. Pastors there serving multiple congregations cannot simulcast their sermons–they have to walk upwards of 60 miles to be with their flock.”
It brings to mind the early American Methodist practice of sending out circuit riders. But it also illustrates the kinds of needs that can be met in unconventional ways. This is the key insight that allows a venture like World Bicycle Relief to be effective.
We often bring our own preconceptions about what life should be like when we encounter and engage those in other parts of the world. That’s how we come up with the idea that what the poor in Africa need are laptops and access to the Internet. No. What is really needed now is much more basic, things like bicycles and motorcycles.
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.