Welcome to the ultimate compilation of Live Earth links and commentary on the Web!*

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Well, I just got back from the Transformers movie (mini-review: it’s completely ridiculous, but it has Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime and lots of stuff blowing up, so it’s worth at least the matinee price, if you’re into that kind of thing), mowed the lawn (sorry – not carbon-neutral), and now I’ve stumbled upon the broadcast of Live Earth on Bravo. According to Al Gore, the concerts are not about fundraising, but are occurring simply to “raise awareness” of the issue of climate change.

A couple of points here: first, does awareness of climate change really need to be raised? Am I the only one that notices the ridiculous amounts of coverage that this issue gets every time a member of the IPCC so much as clears their throat? Is it possible for any reasonably informed person to be unaware of the issue? I tend to think that if you’re not aware of the issue at this point, no amount of awareness raising is going to do much good.

Second: isn’t it a bit odd that this big spectacle on behalf of the planet is going to end up needlessly causing a whole lot of damage to the planet, at least by the standards of the organizers?

It has been estimated that between the actual concerts, web streaming and television broadcasting, the Live Earth concert series could produce as much as 200,000 metric tons of carbon, after the conversions from electricity have been calculated. In other words, the Gore concerts could produce more carbon dioxide than was produced by all of Afghanistan in 2006.

Or put another way: “The concert will produce more CO2 in one day than the total daily fossil fuel emissions for Austria, Chile, Finland, Greece, Iraq, Kuwait, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Sweden, the Virgin Islands, and a dozen other countries combined“.

If only there was a way to harness the combined power of Optimus Prime and Shakira to defeat the climate change menace and drive up PowerBlog traffic…

As for what I’ve seen so far of the music – John Mayer is Waiting on the World to Change, Melissa Etheridge is making the musical statement that “Truth is of the people, by the people, for the people” and praising Al Gore as a great truth teller, and Shakira reminded us all that Hips Don’t Lie. (I’m sure her performance raised awareness of something, but I’m almost positive it wasn’t the climate. Yusuf Islam – the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens – is performing at the same Hamburg venue; I wonder if he caught that performance?)

Well, perhaps raising awareness isn’t such a bad thing after all, considering that the people that already know about the “climate crisis” think it’s a pile of crap – literally:

The public believes the effects of global warming on the climate are not as bad as politicians and scientists claim, a poll has suggested.
The Ipsos Mori poll of 2,032 adults – interviewed between 14 and 20 June – found 56% believed scientists were still questioning climate change.

There was a feeling the problem was exaggerated to make money, it found…

The survey suggested that terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess were all of more concern than climate change.

Hmmm. I just saw Al Gore introduce the Foo Fighters. I think that might be a sign of the apocolypse. I’m off to take shelter as best I can…

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 6, 2007

From Luther’s exposition of the fourth commandment in his Treatise on Good Works (1520), alluding to King Manasseh’s actions in II Kings 21:

What else is it but to sacrifice one’s own child to an idol and burn it when parents train their children more in the love of the world than in the love of God, and let their children go their own way and get burned up in worldly pleasure, love, enjoyment, lust, goods, and honor, but let God’s love and honor and the love of eternal blessings be extinguished in them? (LW 44:83)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Henry I. Miller, a doctor and fellow at the Hoover Institution, author of The Frankenfood Myth, weighs in on the milks wars over the artificial hormone rBST.

In “Don’t Cry Over rBST Milk,” Miller writes, “Bad-faith efforts by biotechnology opponents to portray rBST as untested or harmful, and to discourage its use, keep society from taking full advantage of a safe and useful product.”

Whether or not scientific studies show that the use of rBST is as safe as not using it, I think it is bad faith to say that milk consumers should not be able to buy rBST-free milk if they so choose.

So, Miller writes, “Some milk suppliers and food stores have increased the price of milk labeled ‘rBST-free,’ even though it is indistinguishable from supplemented milk, and offer only this more expensive option, pre-empting consumers’ ability to choose on the basis of price.” Try reading that paragraph while drinking a glass of cool milk and not do a spit take, or laugh so hard that some of it comes out your nose.

The fact is, consumers can freely choose to patronize any one of the millions of markets that don’t carry rBST-free milk (much less carry it exclusively). If rBST is so safe and so effective, why not let it compete in the marketplace against non-rBST milk? Let milk companies proudly use the label, “A Proud Product of rBST-Supplemented Cows,” and see how they do.

I’m not in favor of banning rBST. But neither am I in favor of banning non-rBST labeling. And it’s the latter impulse that is driving so much of the lobbying in the milk wars.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) has published a paper titled, “Taxing the Poor: A Report on Tobacco, Alcohol, Gambling, and Other Taxes and Fees That Disproportionately Burden Lower-Income Families” (PDF).

The paper highlights state lotteries as particularly regressive taxes: “The dollar amount spent on the lottery by the lowest-income individuals (earning less than $10,000 annually) is twice as much as the highest earners (earning more than $100,000 annually).” I wrote a piece reacting to a poll with a similar finding awhile back.

The NCPA study also points out that “lotteries have worse odds than other forms of gambling; in fact, states retain some 33 cents of each dollar of lottery revenue — whereas privately owned casinos keep just 4.4 percent of the take.” And of course that casino take depends on the type of game played. Keno has the worst odds, with roughly 1/4 of the take going to the house, while games like roulette, slots, or blackjack have less than 5% house takes.

The paper also studies other popular sin taxes, like tobacco and alcohol, and one of the newest potential additions to the sin tax category: gasoline.

It happened last week. In response to Rep. John Dingell’s decision to hold of off consideration of an energy bill that would include new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, instead favoring directly targeting greenhouse gas emissions: “That brought a warm response from MoveOn.org, the liberal group that picketed Dingell’s office Wednesday over his stance on global warming and fuel economy standards. At Dingell’s Ypsilanti office, about half a dozen MoveOn supporters received an unexpected welcome from roughly 60 UAW members, including President Ron Gettelfinger, who rallied to support Dingell.”

That’s how the Free Press article concludes, but today’s Ann Arbor News has a longer piece devoted to the dynamics of the dispute between MoveOn.org and the UAW, “MoveOn, UAW face off on CAFE.” MoveOn.org protesters were picketing Dingell’s office, but then were swamped by many more UAW supporters of Dingell.

There’s some commentary over at Planet Gore about the targeting of Dingell by MoveOn, but it doesn’t pick up on the UAW presence.

David Roberts over at Grist thinks the MoveOn.org attack on Dingell is premature: “I don’t think people quite appreciate what Dingell’s done here. He’s the first member of Congress with any power or seniority to even mention a carbon tax, much less endorse it.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative has called for the federal government “to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.”

I question the prudence of making such specific policy recommendations a matter of a lobbying platform, especially when speaking for the church. What if it turns out that cap-and-trade measures aren’t all that effective? Do you need then to revise your “call to action”?

Update: The WSJ editorializes on this topic today.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2007

“You are obliged to love your neighbor as yourself, and loving him, you ought to help him spiritually, with prayer, counseling him with words, and assisting him both spiritually and temporally, according to the need in which he may be, at least with your goodwill if you have nothing else.”

—Catharine of Siena (1347–1380), from The Dialogue

HT: Christian History & Biography

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2007

Well, not exactly. Althought Archbishop John Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications—and a “self-proclaimed ‘chocoholic’”—did address a gathering of Nestle executives on the subject of the morality of advertising. Given that a conscientious parent can hardly watch even a daytime sporting event on TV with his children in light of the low moral quality of advertising, I’d say it’s a subject worthy of attention.

A couple of Foley’s statements:

It frankly surprises me that as women rightly fight for equality of treatment in politics and in business, they are still so often exploited in the media in general and in advertising in particular as objects, as sex symbols. Such exploitation has now apparently been extended to men as well.

But whatever product or service you advertise and no matter how you do it, I would hope you would keep in mind our ultimate purpose in life and make of all of your advertising, messages that are true, worthy of the dignity of the human person and helpful to the common good.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2007

In today’s WaPo, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson opines on Senator Barack Obama’s recent address to a gathering of UCC faithful (HT).

In “The Gospel Of Obama,” Gerson writes, “By speaking at a gathering of the United Church of Christ — among the most excruciatingly progressive of Protestant denominations — he was preaching to the liberal choir. And he did not effectively reach out to an evangelical movement in transition.”

Gerson bases this judgment on the contention, citing a Pew Forum researcher, that the younger generations of evangelicals “tend to be more concerned about the environment than are their elders, more engaged in international issues such as HIV-AIDS, a little more open on homosexual rights and less attached to the religious right. This should provide an opening for Democrats. But there is evidence, according to Green, that young evangelicals are as conservative on abortion as their parents and grandparents, if not more so.” The apparent “liberalizing” of young evangelical interests is no doubt an expression of a broader cultural phenomenon.

In addressing the UCC gathering, it would seem that Senator Obama was simply taking a page out of Rev. Jim Wallis’ playbook. For Wallis, Democrats need to get comfortable talking about matters of faith. I’ll admit that I found this passage rather curious:

Yet what we also understand is that our values should express themselves not just through our churches or synagogues, temples or mosques; they should express themselves through our government. Because whether it’s poverty or racism, the uninsured or the unemployed, war or peace, the challenges we face today are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are moral problems, rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness – in the imperfections of man.

I guess I would see the “perfect ten-point plan” more the realm of government, and the “moral problems” as the realm of the church, synagogue, temple, or mosque rather than the other way around. It seems that from framing something as a “moral” issue it immediately follows that it is a political issue.

Gerson calls Obama’s speech, “a class in remedial religion,” and perhaps that’s all the Democratic party is ready for. But Gerson realizes that this “remedial religion” wasn’t presented to the Democratic faithful, but to a much more narrow slice of the liberal movement: religious progressives.

What really needs to be done, says Gerson, is a three-step process of recovering religious rhetoric effectively. “First,” says Gerson, “candidates should talk about their own faith and the importance of religion in public life, both of which Obama did well.” That’s in part what Wallis’ CNN forum on faith was intended to do…to give Democratic candidates a primer on speaking about religion in public.

But on two other fronts, Gerson finds Obama’s speech lacking: “Second, Democrats should emphasize common-ground issues that credit the moral concerns of religious conservatives while calming the waves of the culture wars — such as confronting the toxic excesses of popular culture, encouraging character and discipline in public schools, and promoting religious liberty abroad,” and “Third, leading Democrats could make real policy changes on abortion, by adopting a more moderate position than abortion on demand.” This last point is one that has been echoed by a number of others (although it’s not a prominent plank in Wallis’ platform for faithful Democrats).

I do wonder, however, how this third element would go over among the UCC mainstream, who themselves are not representative of this younger evangelical mindset. The UCC is a supporting member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and according to one source, the UCC “has strongly supported the legalization of abortion since 1971. The UCC supported FOCA and strongly opposed the PBA ban to the point of joining the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARRAL) in a statement affirming President Clinton’s veto of the PBA Ban Act in 1996. The UCC has also called for the church to support abortion in any national health care bill.” There’s a real disconnect at this point in Gerson’s piece, in that he seems to confuse the progressively mainline UCC with “young evangelicals.”

In the end, Gerson’s analysis seems to line up with what Tony Campolo wrote recently, “It is time for us to name the hypocrisy of the Left in complaining about how the Religious Right is violating the first amendment while turning a blind eye to their own candidates’ use of churches as places to campaign.”

Gerson observes in the same vein,

Obama’s criticism of the religious right for baptizing the agenda of economic conservatism — making tax cuts their highest legislative priority — had some justified sting. But then he proceeded, in the typical manner of the religious left, to give a variety of more liberal causes a similar kind of full-immersion baptism: passing a “universal health care bill,” withdrawing quickly from Iraq, approving comprehensive immigration reform. Agree with these proposals or not, none is a test of true religion.

And this points to the flaw, I think, in Wallis’ program for making the Democratic party religion-friendly: “Obama is clearly more fluent on religious issues than most in his party. But to appeal broadly to religious voters, he will need to be more than the candidate of the religious left.” Connecting the mainline churches to the Democratic party will not do much to attract young evangelicals, no matter how diverse their policy interests.

Joe Knippenberg criticizes Gerson for using “rights” language in describing the status of the poor and oppressed. Here’s the offending passage from Gerson:

The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim “Thus sayeth the Lord,” spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.

It seems correct that we should judge policy not only by motive but also by outcome. That’s an important point, one that folks like Jim Wallis should consider more often.

Knippenberg writes that such an invocation of rights “tends to short-circuit prudence and the kind of balancing political judgment always requires. I can have a duty toward someone and he or she can have a claim on my attention and compassion without requiring me to take political action on his or her behalf. Stated another way, by emphasizing the political as opposed to the charitable element of the concern with widows and orphans, Gerson already begins to distort the debate.”

I think Knippenberg’s instinct is right to try to protect the realm of moral duty and obligation apart from political action itself. But in allowing “rights” to become a strictly political term, I think we’d be making the same mistake that some libertarians make with regard to conflating moral duty and political rights. That is, political rights should be understood as a sub-group or species of the broader category of human rights.

Gerson doesn’t make this distinction, but it’s not clear that he means to conflate political rights with all kinds of human rights either. Defining the necessary faith as both “active” and “political” makes that a valid conclusion. But it seems to me that “the means to achieve those ideals” may not be political at all, and that’s a big part of where the prudential argument should be at. The political element may enter in only by defending and upholding the liberty necessary for elements of civil society or individual action to respect those rights and fulfill those duties.

Update: Terry Mattingly at GetReligion weighs in on the Gerson piece. He writes of abortion, “There is room for political compromise here, but I have met very few young Christians who actually disagree with traditional Christian doctrines on sexuality and marriage. Would Democrats be willing to compromise and meet people in Middle-American pews in, well, the middle on this hot-button issue? Would the party’s leadership be able to convince its secular/religious liberal alliance to compromise?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2007

Why do we work? When labor and toil is so often unfulfilling and troublesome, why keep on?

For pagans, no doubt the answer is given in the book of Matthew: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” A non-Christian view of work is one oriented toward survival. And that’s why a non-Christian view of retirement so often involves leaving the field of work and service, concentrating instead on fulfilling the adage: “Eat, drink, and be merry.”

While we can appreciate how the order of material blessing provided through the pagan view of work is a form of grace, we must also wonder how the Christian view differs. The purpose, or end, of work for the Christian is not aimed at mere survival or material enjoyment, but rather toward charity. Paul writes in Ephesians, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Picking up this theme, the Westminster Confession of Faith provides a powerful witness to the responsibility for Christians to be generous with each other. As part of the recognition of the communion of saints, Christians are bound to relieve “each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus” (WCF 26.2).

But this outward relief is only possible within the context of productive work.