For those among us who do not follow the particularities of United Nations programs and declarations, apart from birthdays and anniversaries June 5 might pass every year without much special notice. But every year since 1972, the United Nations Environment Programme has set aside June 5 to observe World Environment Day (WED), designed to be “one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.”
On this WED, we pause to look at another vehicle for promotion of the environmental worldview, the recent remake of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). In last year’s iteration of the 1951 sci-fi classic, Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, an alien visitor who takes on the body of a human being in order to determine the best way to engage the situation on planet Earth. [Spoilers after the jump...]
In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the differing mainstream cultural views of gun rights and abortion in the United States and Europe. The point of departure is last month’s Supreme Court decision in DC v. Heller (07-290) striking down the District’s handgun ban (SCOTUSblog round-up on the decision here).
As Paul J. Cella commented on a number of related stories at home and abroad, “We are only a tendentious opinion from one of the Liberal Usurpers on the Court, or their creature Kennedy, under the spell of the New York-DC elite adulation — one tendentious opinion citing foreign law, or sweet mystery of life, or mystical evolving standards, away from the same tyranny that would send the homeowner who defends his wife against thugs to jail, while showering the thugs with sympathy.”
At the same time the Court was deciding Heller, it ruled “that imposing the death penalty for child rape violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” La Shawn Barber has details on the difficulties surrounding that decision, but in relation to the topic of my commentary I want to point out that the EU Constitution in its original form as circulated for ratification in 2004, under Article II-62, titled “Right to life,” held in part, “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.” At the same time this article made no explicit or special mention of abortion.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosted 183 governments at a three day summit in Rome, from June 3-5. World leaders tried to find possible solutions in order to tackle the recent food crisis which has already caused hunger and civil unrest in several developing countries. Jacques Diouf Director General of FAO asked for $30 billion a year in extra financing to the United Nations needed to address world hunger threatening 862 million people.
Despite international efforts and estimates, the situation appears to be far more complex and certainly requires more than just a call for greater funding and a return to discredited subsistence economies. There is an alarming “silence” on what has contributed to this crisis and on what possible solutions already exist and can be found in Catholic social teaching.
The market economy, for instance, should not be looked upon with suspicion of greed and pure self-interest. Instead, the market economy has defeated poverty and paved the way for democracy, the promotion of human dignity, all important values of Christian social thought. It should, therefore, be considered as a resource used to fight corruption and misgovernment part of many developing countries affected by this crisis.
New solutions are, likewise, urgently required. Archbishop Silvano Tommasi, head of the Holy See’s office to the U.N. in Geneva, clearly pointed this out in an interview with the Vatican Radio. He also stressed the need to support local entrepreneurs and small farmers, encouraging them not to abandon the agricultural market.
Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the FAO summit also called for new solutions, defining this crisis as “unacceptable.” Highlighted by Zenit, the Pope underlined the need for “political action which, inspired by those principles of natural law written in man’s heart, protects the dignity of the individual.” He also underlined the need to “increase the availability of food by rewarding small farmers’ hard work and guarantee them market access; too often in fact, small farmers are penalized domestically by industrial farming and internationally by protectionist policies and practices,” as recalled by Asia News.
Diverse solutions have also been proposed by humanitarian NGOs who are following the FAO Summit, such as Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and Care, who are condemning traditional financial aid, specifying the need to, once again, eliminate bio-fuels, protectionists regimes, VAT on food and the need to cultivate nutrient-rich food.
Unfortunately, Catholic NGOs such as Caritas Europa, FOCSIV, and Sant’egidio still do not seem to have an opinion on the matter. It is a great loss to the creativity needed for solving this crisis. These Catholic NGOs have field projects in several developing countries and surely with their longstanding experience could develop new perspectives to this situation in the light of Catholic social teaching.
Dozens of churches, monasteries and shrines have been destroyed or damaged since 1999 in Kosovo, the cradle of Orthodox Christianity in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church lists nearly 150 attacks on holy places, which often involve desecration of altars, vandalism of icons and the ripping of crosses from Church rooftops. A March 2004 rampage by Albanian mobs targeted Serbs and 19 people, including eight Kosovo Serbs, were killed and more than 900 injured, according Agence France Press. The UN mission in Kosovo, AFP said, reported that 800 houses and 29 Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries – some of them dating to the 14th century — were torched during the fighting. NATO had to rush 2,000 extra troops to the province to stop the destruction.
All this happened despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces. According to news reports posted by the American Council for Kosovo, Albanian separatists are opposing the expansion of military protection of Christian holy sites by UN forces. A main concern of Christians is the fate of the Visoki Decani Monastery – Kosovo’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For a good balanced look ahead for Kosovo, see “After Kosovo’s Secession,” by Lee Hudson Teslik on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site, and the online debate between Marshall F. Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, Alston + Bird, and Alan J. Kuperman, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs.
But I am a skeptic, in case you were wondering. (more…)
“The challenge of climate change is at once individual, local, national and global. Accordingly, it urges a multilevel coordinated response, with mitigation and adaptation programs simultaneously individual, local, national and global in their vision and scope”, stated Archbishop Celestino Migliore, representative of the Holy See, at the 62nd session of the U.N. General Assembly, which took place earlier this month. The theme of the session was “Addressing Climate Change: The United Nations and the World at Work.”
Much attention is being given to climate change in the wake of EU President Jose Manuel Barroso’s new climate control plan. President Barroso’s proposal, released in January, intends to control greenhouse gas emissions through heavy legislation. The “20/20/20 by 2020” goals are ambitious; cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources, and increase energy efficiency by 20% no later than the year 2020. The EU intends to lead the way in implementing greener energy systems, despite the heavy criticism it has drawn from some of its chief member states, namely France and Germany.
Big business is getting in on the renewable energy bandwagon. General Motors, for example, has announced plans to design at least half their vehicles to run on ethanol.
Meanwhile, in the media reports keep coming concerning the uncertainty that biofuel hype is going to have the desired long-term effect for global warming. Experts argue that the production of biofuels may give off cleaner emissions, but will require more energy to manufacture. Economists are eyeing rising food prices -especially corn- with worry. Demonstrations over the price of staple foods in Mexico and Indonesia last summer were attributed to the U.S. trial in promoting ethanol at the gas pump.
The Vatican repeatedly affirms that man is responsible for the environment. “Consumers must be aware that their consumption patterns have direct impact on the health of the environment,” Archbishop Migliore said at the U.N. “Thus through interdependence, solidarity and accountability, individuals and nations together will be more able to balance the needs of sustainable development with those of good stewardship at every level.”
Nevertheless, responsibility towards the environment does not usurp responsibility towards one’s fellow man, and this is implicit in Archbishop Migliore’s address. While President Barroso and the EU, worry themselves about what to do with climate change, poor countries may be watching their daily bread disappear into gas tanks and industrial energy due to ill-advised legislation and propaganda. Lack of regard for scientific input and global economic effects is contemptible, no matter how officials may applaud their green conscience.
It’s not uncommon for those of us who find ourselves on the skeptical side of the great climate change debate to be accused of deliberately shading or outright misrepresenting scientific research in order to obscure the dire nature of the crisis at hand. We do this, our accusers claim, out of pure greed – either we are bought off by corporations who stand to become much less profitable should strong action be taken on this issue, we personally stand to lose money because of our investments in said corporations, or something else along those lines.
The reality of the situation is almost 180° opposite. For example, let’s take the world’s most popular climate alarmist, Al Gore. The standard story on Gore is that he functions as a modern prophet, bravely speaking scientific truth to the masses out of nothing but genuine concern for our dear planet which faces an unprecedented crisis; his science is unimpeachable, and therefore it would be beneath him to engage his critics, who will one day be revealed as the idiots that they truly are, and are thus to be pitied rather than feared.
And what of that crisis that Gore warns us about? Is it really a crisis? Does Al Gore even believe it’s a crisis? Based on his own words, I’m not so sure. Check out this little gem of a quote, from an interview with Gore published in May of 2006 in Grist Magazine:
Q: There’s a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope? What’s the right mix?
A: I think the answer to that depends on where your audience’s head is. In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.
Over time that mix will change. As the country comes to more accept the reality of the crisis, there’s going to be much more receptivity to a full-blown discussion of the solutions.
Here’s the honest translation of that statement:
In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality: I have been unable to convince my fellow citizens and their elected representatives of the rightness of my position because they are either thick headed or beholden to corporate interests, not because they don’t believe my science adds up.
And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions: There can be no legitimate opposition to my position on the climate change issue. Critics of my position are either ignorant and bamboozled by corporate spin or perfidious and a party to crimes against the environment.
Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem.: At this point, the only way to get my way is to cause a panic.
Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are: It is totally appropriate for me to lie in order to force my agenda forward.
Did you catch that? Gore is claiming for himself the right to lie – to “over-represent” the facts – in order to move public opinion toward his radical vision of the environmental future. Now, if I were a cynical person, I’d look at that statement and think that perhaps Al Gore might not be living up to his spin. I’d look at his financial stake in the carbon trading business that could make him a very wealthy man if governments adopt his policy proposals and I might start to question whether his motives are entirely pure. I’d look at his steadfast refusal to meaningfully engage his critics and wonder if his stance is truly based on confidence in science or if it’s instead part of a carefully crafted public relations campaign, designed to underline his contention that we truly face a “crisis.” And I’d even start to wonder if he really believes that we face a crisis at all.
Add another crisis to the list of problems caused by climate change – a lack of jet parking at small international airports. To be fair, this isn’t a direct consequence of climate change, but it wouldn’t be a problem in Bali, Indonesia right now if not for the big UN climate change shindig that’s going on. Via Newsbusters, a report on the urgent situation:
Tempo Interaktif reports that Angkasa Pura – the management of Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport are concerned that the large number of additional private charter flights expected in Bali during the UN Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) December 3-15, 2007, will exceed the carrying capacity of apron areas. To meet the added demand for aircraft storage officials are allocating “parking space” at other airports in Indonesia.
The operational manager for Bali’s Airport, Azjar Effendi, says his 3 parking areas can only accommodate 15 planes, which means that some of the jets used by VIP delegations will only be allowed to disembark and embark their planes in Bali with parking provided at airports in Surabaya, Lombok, Jakarta and Makassar.
It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad.
Artist’s conception of the current state of Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport – Click for full size
Never before have so many people converged to try to save the planet from global warming, with more than 10,000 jetting into this Indonesian resort island, from government ministers to Nobel laureates to drought-stricken farmers.
But critics say they are contributing to the very problem they aim to solve.
“Nobody denies this is an important event, but huge numbers of people are going, and their emissions are probably going to be greater than a small African country,” said Chris Goodall, author of the book “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.”…
…The U.N. estimates 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants will be pumped into the atmosphere during the 12-day conference in Bali, mostly from plane flights but also from waste and electricity used by hotel air conditioners.
If correct, Goodall said, that is equivalent to what a Western city of 1.5 million people, such as Marseilles, France, would emit in a day.
But he believes the real figure will be twice that, more like 100,000 tons, close to what the African country of Chad churns out in a year.
A couple of questions spring to mind:
have these folks ever heard of videoconferencing?
If that isn’t possible, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the conference in a place served by many airlines that already fly regularly scheduled routes rather than a place that requires so many chartered flights? Say, someplace exotic like, oh, I don’t know – how about… New York?
A hat tip on the carbon footprint link goes to Texas Rainmaker, who closes this update with a friendly reminder:
The conference is aimed at developing a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty whose members actually increased greenhouse emissions after ratifying it.
Nicoll writes that while of course it is good news that fewer people are infected than were previously thought, “The bad news is that previous estimates were inflated because of politics, bad science, or both.”
Nicoll continues, “While reading the announcement, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with certain climate change proponents and Intelligent Design critics whose tactics involve alarmism, exaggerated estimates and the politicization of science to protect their study grants and mandarin status.”
The financial incentive for governments, the UN, and NGOs to play up potential cash cows for their pet social and scientific agendas is one that cannot be overlooked. And it’s the sort of corruption that those who really want to tackle corruption should take a hard look at.
When you think about it, NBC’s little promotional stunt on Sunday Night Football for their “Green is Universal” week is a lot like a mini-Kyoto treaty: it was an empty gesture that had no long-term impact on the problem it was trying to address, while immediately making things worse on their broadcast, and in the end the only thing it accomplished was to make the participants feel a bit better about themselves. They probably shouldn’t though, considering that in order to send Matt Lauer to Illulissat, Greenland (4,200 miles roundtrip from 30 Rock), Al Roker to the Galapagos Islands (6,100 miles roundtrip), and Ann Curry to the South Pole (18,000 miles roundtrip) probably created many times the carbon emissions that were “offset” by Bob Costas’ romantic candlelight rendezvous with the American football-viewing public.
Or perhaps they shouldn’t feel so bad, considering that we’re just now learning that the southeastern United States is suffering through a dreadful drought (caused, of course, by Global Warmingtm) partly because of a lack of hurricaines (also brought to you by Global Warmingtm) over the last few years:
…journalists from The New York Times to the Augusta Chronicle have blamed the Southeast’s woes on man-made carbon dioxide.
Wrote the Chronicle: “Indeed, the drastic effects of global climate change intrude everywhere on our daily consciousness – from the serious drought that now threatens cities in the Southeast to. . . Category 5 hurricanes regularly battering coastlines.”
But, according to the AP stories that ran across the nation, the drought conditions are a result of “stifling summer heat and a drier-than-normal hurricane season.”
Complained a USA Today story: “With hurricane season nearing an end, no one expects relief before winter.”
Yes, both the presence and absence of hurricanes are simultaneously the fault of – you guessed it – climate change! If only we could figure out some way to distinguish between those carbon emissions that cause lingering drought and those that cause increased hurricanes and balance them somehow.
Perhaps the UN could add that to the agenda of their upcoming UN Climate Change Conference 2007 in fabulous, sunny Bali, Indonesia! Via The New Editor, Claudia Rosett gives insight into the sacrifice that our beloved international diplomats will be making to save us from ourselves:
UN policy allows even the lowlier UN staffers to travel business class on long-haul flights (your tax dollars at work), the better to arrive wined, dined and ready to hit the ground …and the beaches … and the golf courses … and the tennis courts — running. Apparently there is so much to discuss that the conference will run for a full fortnight, from Dec. 3-14, at Bali’s seaside luxury resort of Nusa Dua.
For all those taxpayer mugs out there who have not had the experience of flying business class to spend a fortnight at Nusa Dua, check out the spectacular seaside photos of the Bali International Convention Center, with its slogan: “The Place…Where Business is a Pleasure.” For more information, page through the Bali conference outline on the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, or UNFCC, web site. This includes a handy list of pre/post conference tours, and a list of hotels (Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa, and Melia Bali Villas and Spa Resort, already sold out) plus recreational facilities: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, ocean kayaking, and, of course, the shopping gallery.
I don’t know about you, but I shudder at the thought of a world so ravaged by the horrors of climate change that UN staffers would be forced to fly coach to a two week long conference at a fabulous seaside resort.
In the meantime, though, let’s just be thankful that the UN and NBC are willing to kick out so much carbon in order to help in creating the global warming-caused hurricanes that will offset the global warming-caused drought that afflicts the global warming-ravaged Southeast US. And let’s tip our cap to Glenn Beck, who is using his perch on CNN to help out as well:
The idealism and the goals of the United Nations are laudable. The results, at least in recent years, have often been nothing short of a disaster. One example will suffice—the recently created U.N.’s Human Rights Council, begun a year ago this past week. This council is sadly typical of the modern collapse of the U.N. The Human Rights Council consists of 47 members, almost half of which are "unfree" or "partly free" nations, at least as ranked by Freedom House. Trying to get China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement on violations of freedom in various countries is like trying to get the mafia to give up crime.
Presently there are only nine countries on the human rights "watch list." These are Burundi, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Cambodia, Burma, Somalia and Sudan. But if Cuba is watching "the watched" then that is somewhat like the the fox watching the hen house. And at China’s request the council now insists on the "broadest possible support" of at least fifteen nations on the council to act. This means, in effect, that probes on freedom of speech and political rights are likely to amount to nothing. There has been a deafening silence from the other 190 U.N. members about these developments along with strong hints that most investigations of violators will soon end.
The council recently adopted a resolution entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions." This sounded promising. The document says that speech must "be exercised with responsibility" and limited to protect "public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs." Well and good. But there is a small problem. The only religion mentioned is Islam.
Critics of the U.S. tell us quite routinely that we who are not huge fans of the U.N. don’t really care what goes on in the world yet the U.S. is quite often one of the few nations that will actually intervene to protect human rights, though all too slowly many times. The European Union will not protect human rights so long as it has to defend Israel thus the real enemies of human rights have no real opposition politically in most of Europe. The U.S. taxpayers cover 22% of the bill for all this mess. This is why The Wall Street Journal piece was correct last week when it suggested we have only one real option: Stop funding the U.N. Human Rights Council. I have believed in the U.N., at least in theory, for a lifetime but the reality of the real world situation is fast making me doubt its real value for the future.