Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Evangelicals to push for Environmental Action?

from the New York Times:
Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."
It will be interesting to see whether the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) will endorse legislation in Washington that would put further caps on certain pollutants. It is a situation that is somewhat a sticking point amongst evangelicals at this time.
Some of the nation's most high-profile evangelical leaders, however, have tried to derail such action. Twenty-two of them signed a letter in January declaring, "Global warming is not a consensus issue." Among the signers were Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
It's tough because I see men on both lists who I greatly admire. Personally, though, I have to agree with Ted Haggard, the head of NAE, who says,
In my mind there is no downside to being cautious.

21 comments:

Oneway said...

>>Ted Haggard, the head of NAE, who says, "In my mind there is no downside to being cautious."<<

Protecting the environment is good, and I respect Ted Haggard and the NAE. But this is one of the worst lines of reasoning out there. In his defense, it is also one of the most common.

Of course, there is a downside to being cautious. Every safety measure comes with a cost, whether its the environment or swimming pools. For example, every additional restriction placed on factory emissions will directly result in higher prices for the consumer, lesser entry-level jobs for the worker, and more money, power, and prestige for the EPA.

Global warming is far from being a hard science. Thomas Sowell writes about how in the 70's the chic view was "global cooling". Seriously.

No one can make an informed decision about environmental issues without understanding the ideologies behind the issues, many of which contradict a biblical worldview.

Chairman said...

Counterpoint... sort of... As far as global warming goes, there's mixed evidence, and really, it's hard to do anything other than speculation about global conditions anything more than a couple hundred years ago. But, if you look at this as not necessarily about global warming, but rather the attitude of modern evangelicals toward the environment, there's interesting commentary to be made. Over the last few centuries, progress has been made on the backs of the poor and downtrodden.

Where you see free reign, there is typically a lack of foresight that accompanies it. All sorts of nightmares were seen in living conditions after industrialization was the norm in Great Britian, Eastern Europe, the U.S., and now in China. An interesting example is China, which today is hitting a crossroads. Pollution and aggressive agricultural expansion have resulted in all sorts of conditions that are detrimental to the poorest people in that country. People in villages are suffering from contaminated water supplies due to the combination of factory pollution, agricultural pollution, and acid rain. Entire communities are being decimated because of the lack of drinking water, and are often denied their livelihood (as fishing has become impossible in these waters). There are all sorts of air quality concerns, and the deforestation of parts of China have resulted in the spread of the desert eastward, causing sandstorms and accelerated erosion.

While global warming isn't directly mentioned here, note that many of the same causes of the problems in China are the supposed causes of global warming. Honestly, I hope that the "global warming" term is just a marketing one, and that the intent is to look at how we can manage the causes of it.

I don't believe that you need to fully know all of the facets of an issue before acting on it. In fact, that is impossible. But there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that the environmental movements that have surfaced recently should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, I believe that too often Christians take the Biblical interpretation of Genesis 1:28-30 too far, and suggest that what God gave man was carte blanche power, with no consequences.

Finally, I think that the assumption that greater restrictions lead to increased costs is one that is up for grabs. There is the equally likely assertion that an environmental restriction will force innovation and technological advancement. Think of it this way. People expect to pay a certain amount for certain things. If the environment forces them to pay more, and they're not happy about it, that means that there's a gap that can be exploited by someone else. If you assume that the only result is an increased cost, then you assume that companies are static, dullards that are unable to innovate to take advantage of new situations. On the contrary, the truest form of free-market requires innovation, otherwise you devolve into monopoly/oligopoly. Companies that will simply raise prices to account for costs will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to companies that are able to innovate. Honestly? I don't think that costs will go up.

Furthermore, I think that there's a case to be made for corporate social responsibility (CSR) being a potential profit center, not simply philanthrophy. Consider Parlahad's "Bottom of the Pyramid." You have billions of people in emerging (i.e. Poor people who may become not-so poor in the near future) markets. Business efforts that try to create relationships and win-win situations with these markets are ridiculously low-risk, high-reward, especially once you consider the importance of customer loyalty, and the importance of customer relationships, especially among end users in poor, low-literate demographics. I see no reason why environmentalism should not be among the CSR causes that corporations should be championing. It's the view that socially conscious corporate behavior is not a cost, but rather an investment, that is an emerging paradigm in business. While most have argued for the benefits of the "feel good halo effect," one of our (me, another student, and our prof. are working on a paper on this, actually) arguments that is different is that you shouldn't separate social benefits and profit into two buckets, and take away profit for the sake of social benefit. We make the case that there are markets to tap so that your efforts to create social benefits will also create profits. We'll see how convincing we are.

-Chairman

Westy said...

Every safety measure comes with a cost.
I don't necessarily agree, especially with some of the ones you've listed there, but say they do. In many to most cases, that cost is worth it due to the lives or quality of life you're saving.

As the Chairman pointed out, costs may not even go up. And if they do, many are content paying it (see hybrid vehicles).

I think that there's a case to be made for corporate social responsibility (CSR) being a potential profit center, not simply philanthrophy.
And this is the bottom line to me. Some of these companies (i.e. the one who just recorded the largest profit ever) ethically have a responsibility to give back. (although, Chairman, elsewhere you've argued that somebody has no particular reason to give back).

When I say I agree with the statement "no downside.." I do not mean there will not be companies that may suffer. But I mean there's no downside to making the Earth cleaner. And if companies who are on top today in a less regulated environment cannot maintain their place in a marketplace that is pollution free (it's coming), they will fall.

Westy said...

An additional article on this topic can be found here.

Oneway said...

Sirs,

I'm all for corporate social responsibility, but this has nothing to do with the NAE's misguided endorsement of federal legislation that seeks to restrict carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to prevent "global warming" (or cooling, depending on the decade). Both of you are glossing over the stark difference between the consumer's choice and a bureaucrat's whim.

Unfortunately, your displayed logic points to the dangers of power misuse and why the Church must wisely guard against imprudence.

>>While global warming isn't directly mentioned here, note that many of the same causes of the problems in China are the supposed causes of global warming. Honestly, I hope that the "global warming" term is just a marketing one, and that the intent is to look at how we can manage the causes of it.<<

There is a moral difference between marketing and deception. The sad truth is that much of the environmental agenda is driven by precisely this same dishonesty: whether it's mercury levels in Starkist, open space in San Fransicko, or CO2 at Exelon, the eco-extremists will spread doomsday lies to usurp control. And well-intentioned but uniformed peeps will trust their ostensibly noble intentions, while being sold more poverty-inducing government meddling.

>>(Regarding) the attitude of modern evangelicals toward the environment, there's interesting commentary to be made. Over the last few centuries, progress has been made on the backs of the poor and downtrodden.<<

It is troubling that this discoloration made into your comments. Do you mean to reveal that within the past 300 years, the overall legacy of evangelicalism is unjust progress due to their exploitation of the poor and the environment? The fact is that many of greatest causes of justice in the past three centuries has been lead by evangelicals. Need I mention William Wilberforce?

Until the new earth and new heaven, there will never be a time when progress isn't made "on the backs of the poor". That's one of the reasons the poor want to stop being poor, so they have more options. Unskilled manual labor will always be mostly undesirable to all others, leaving the poor to gladly do it instead of starving.

>>Where you see free reign, there is typically a lack of foresight that accompanies it.<<

Compared to what? The brilliant prescience of Marxism? The limits of foresight that accompany a free market are the limits of human creativity, wheras in an increasingly bureaucratic marketplace the limits of foresight are the limits of the few officials with rubber stamps.

>>Some of these companies (i.e. the one who just recorded the largest profit ever) ethically have a responsibility to give back.<<

Come on, man. The amount of money the oil companies invest in long-term projects with zero guarantee of a return is huge. When they post a loss, you won't be taking a collection for their stock holders. They have earned their profits.

>>Finally, I think that the assumption that greater restrictions lead to increased costs is one that is up for grabs.<<
>>I don't necessarily agree...but say they do.<<

This is really not debatable. Economically speaking, cost is the value something has in alternative uses, when looking at society as a whole. The scarcity of resources on post-Eden Earth imposes enough limitations on the economy. Now, some additional limitations are wise, such as child-labor laws. But each additional restriction creates increased costs by commanding labor, time, money, etc. which could have been used pursuing other goals, innovations that overcome real obstacles instead of man-made ones. If you have foolish restrictions in place, you are contributing to wasteful use of resources, the very opposite of stewardship. Guess which segment of the population will feel the pain the most.

>>that cost is worth it due to the lives or quality of life you're saving.<<

Evangelicals should leave it up to the consumers to decide, then engage the culture by leading people to make wise decisions. The Church would shine.

Westy said...

Now, some additional limitations are wise, such as child-labor laws.
Exactly my point. Say a law that does cost a company money saves lives. How many saved lives would be worth that cost?
How much is a life worth? That is the question. You yourself have argued for the use of DDT to save lives in Africa. I agree that is the greater good. But in this case, is the greater good increased asthma and mental incapacitation in cities over a reduction in pure profit for a polluting company?

If you have foolish restrictions in place, you are contributing to wasteful use of resources, the very opposite of stewardship.
And I would not be for foolish restrictions, but there are reasonable ones that could be made. Would legislating an increase in vehicular average mileage even hurt a company? No, because all would be on an equal playing field.

leave it up to the consumers to decide
Sadly consumers do not always choose wisely. This is why tobacco companies are liable for producing a harmful product without acknowledging it. Consumers chose to smoke. Consumers will often choose things that are not wise. And what of those for whom it's not a choice. Somebody has to live downwind of Illinois' worst polluters.

oil companies...They have earned their profits.
And also ridiculous tax rebates.

mercury levels in Starkist
So you'd be okay with your pregnant wife eating lots of yellowfin tuna?

pepperdeaf said...

>>your pregnant wife eating lots of yellowfin tuna<<

my pregnant wife is eating no fish. she works in a school full of children with special needs and has read far too many articles about mercury, pesticides, plastic, microwaves. . .you know all that stuff that makes our lives easier.

i think westy and the general have covered everything very well, and i agree with them. (not to presume they will agree with me)

i find it ironic that conservatives accuse liberals of scare tactics with regard to the environment and liberals accuse conservatives of scare tactics with regard to bombing folks.

i am pretty serious about these issues theologically. albert schweitzer said, for the person who loves and shows concern for all creatures, life will "become harder. . . in every respect than it would be if [one] lived for [oneself], but at the same time it will be richer, more beautiful and happier. It will become, instead of mere living, a real experience of life." i think he is right. our technology and values have in many ways separated us from where we are closest to God, immersed and participating in his created world.

as a christian i believe i am called to be a steward of God's creation. i also am called to understand that i am a part of that creation. i am a creature, created by God. while i was created in God's image, i am more like other creation than i am like God. we are an important cog in the wheel of the created order (we are participants in it unlike cars for instance) and will be held responsible for screwing up the system because of our love for the things we create as opposed to the things God has already created.

we are called to use our natural resources to produce. that is clear. but we are not called to exploit. the object is not to see how much we can produce from what we have, but to sustain production. more is not better. we must use our resources without destroying them. while we have already screwed much of this up, as christians i believe we are continually called to fight for sustainability.

the problem is that global competition (as opposed to community) has sped our world up to such an extent that we are racing to produce the most, not the longest.

in conclusion. we called not to kill more than can be regenerated naturally. stewardship is proper management of what we have been given.

let me just say i am still a farm boy at heart and it saddens me to see natural farm land bought up by suburban folk who think their old house is not big enough. that is a stewardship issue.

Chairman said...

First, I didn't mean to imply that evangelicals were the cause of progress being made on the backs of the downtrodden. That was meant to be a transition into what I was commenting on regarding the views that evangelicals have towards businesses and the views that businesses have towards the relationship between profits and social responsibility. I agree that evangelicals have been at the forefront of social justice. I also think that many evangelicals are missing the boat when it comes to the interaction of the environment and business and social justice.

Overall, my point is that just as individuals will often compartmentalize the aspects of their lives, corporations also compartmentalize their behaviors. I am suggesting that by taking a more holistic view of the world, you end up with a different view of how costs work. If you only consider that responsibility comes at the expense of profits due to increased costs, then may miss out on any synergy that may come from things that are either underrepresented in research/practice or are a function of a given environment, should the environment change significantly.

Corporations have long held the view that they "should" think and plan long term. But they have this competing goal of making their numbers every quarter. It's hard to do both. My suggestion is that it is very possible that for certain situations (generally speaking, for situations where there is for large long-term upside and where being one of the initial players has value) that a holistic, long-term view will be better than the compartmentalized, short-term view.

Now the problem lies with the specific cause and whether the cause is just. I don't disagree with the need avoid the devil that you don't know. As to who are the angels and who are the devils, I leave information gathering to scientists who are more qualified than I am, and make my best guess afterwards.

Where I think that there is a difference from the norm that can be useful is if we take a different view of things to see how they may work better. Going back to the question of increased costs from regulation, the view that a cost is anything that increases the cost of a transaction limits the discussion. There's also a subtle, implied future cost that should be incorporated for a more accurate description of the decision landscape. The assumption of any development is restricted to the domain in which the deveopment was made seems to be tenuous. Why is there a need to separate "man-made" from "real" obstacles? Do we know which are which? And why couldn't solutions for one be transferrable to the other?

One very practical view of how soultions in one domain become transferrable would be the examination of computing. Take a peek at how the last few years have fit into Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, and extend it to consider the trailing edge of technology. As the cutting edge of technology pushes us so far past what the everyday user needs (most of us don't need the power that comes with a $2500 laptop), the trailing edge opens up opportunities. Price points for more than adequate products falls ($750 for a good, new Dell laptop, for example). Products eventually become availble for low income areas (Google "$100 laptop" and go to laptop.media.mit.edu). These new products have the potential to revolutionize education in low-income areas. Was this the intent of those who blazed the trail for computing technology? Certainly not. They were focused on a very technical problem. But their initial genius paved the way for the eventual motivation (and realization) that this can be used for a very different goal.

Of course, that is not to say that I am not laissez-faire. I don't believe in intrusion for the sake of limiting profits. That's sort of petty. The oil companies have hit the perfect storm and their stockholders should be rewarded for taking on that risk. But I do believe that the government helps its people when it creates environments in which true innovation and genius is best rewarded while complacency is punished. I think that the case of environmental laws will likely cause the prior, assuming that the roots of the environmental questions are reasonable.

-Chairman

Oneway said...

Wow, this has become a great discussion. Everyone came on point, but I'll stick to global warming/cooling.

>>Say a law that does cost a company money saves lives.<<

Such as shutting down all coal-fired power plants? That will save lives, according to the Earth Liberation Front. Oh, but wait, it will also cost lives, as in power plant workers unable to find jobs and people not getting electricity. Who will be able to afford the new price of power inflated by regulation? Not the poor, they get screwed.

>>How many saved lives would be worth that cost? How much is a life worth? That is the question.<<

That is the question, but you are asking the wrong people. It's not up to me or you. It's up to society as a whole to decide. That is the essence of capitalism. It is a democracy, with each dollar being a vote.

Some may buy into the global warming chicanery. They can vote by buying hybrids. Others may decide their more pressing concern is sending their kids to private schools. They will vote for the cheapest car available, the used Buick. The car lots must decide which to make available by counting up the votes.

How do you get more votes? Until the Democrats get their way, felons can't vote politically. But the market doesn't discriminate based on your past, your looks, your ideology, or your taste. Just money. You get money by doing something with your time and energy that OTHER people value. They vote on your service with their dollars.

It's beautiful system in which people are encouraged to create new services, work diligently, vote for what they feel is important and be responsible for their choices. This is the best way for each person to apprehend God.

Child-labor laws and abortion limits are functions of the government, because these laws safeguard the choices of those not yet able to choose for themselves. The government must also punish murder and robbery for the system to work.

>>Would legislating an increase in vehicular average mileage even hurt a company? No, because all would be on an equal playing field.<<

It's not about hurting a company, or hurting some companies. It's about wasting resources. You limit the type of car that can be built and someone has to absorb the additional resources that must be used. That is the buyer. Who can least afford it? Struggling families.

Just take a look at where each dollar the pump goes. Despite the tax rebates, our government still takes more than they give.

>>So you'd be okay with your pregnant wife eating lots of yellowfin tuna?<<

Absolutely.

>>more is not better.<<

Starving people beg to differ.

>>it saddens me to see natural farm land bought up by suburban folk who think their old house is not big enough.<<

My wife's family sold their farm a couple years ago. They were heart-broken. But thankfully you or I cannot put arbitrary prices on feelings. Corporate farms are much better at making food than family farms are. Not enough people care about nostalgia as opposed to eating well. If they did, we could all freeze time.

>>Why is there a need to separate "man-made" from "real" obstacles?<<

Chairman, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you should go get a phd with your ability to produce sheer word volume that is topical as well. I agree with most of your perspective. I believe that the industry will adapt to any obstacles. But that doesn't mean it is wise to make them jump through hoops.

>>But I do believe that the government helps its people when it creates environments in which true innovation and genius is best rewarded while complacency is punished.<<

Complacency is already punished quite effectively in the market, while innovation is rewarded. Do you trust the consumer to tell the difference better than bureucracy?

Oneway said...

bureaucracy, that is.

pepperdeaf said...

>>Corporate farms are much better at making food than family farms are.<<

your understanding of better is very different from mine.

as i said earlier, the amount of product is not always the best thing. corporate farms are great at producing mass amounts of product but not better quality products.

what is happening is that less land is being used to produce more food. there is less farmland now so corporate farms are using what land they do have to produce more food. where ten farmers used to produce food on 10,000 acres, one corporation is producing food on 1,000 acres. captitalism says great use of resouces. way to go. you are producing lots with less. yeah.

environmentalists rightly say. ummmm, you are destroying the resource God has given us by sqeezing it to death trying to produce more than it was intended to produce. not so good. please take that giant house off of the land and plant some fruit.

Westy said...

...these laws safeguard the choices of those not yet able to choose for themselves.
Exactly what I think certain environmental laws could be set up to do. Of course don't close all coal power plants, but add scrubbing filters so the smog-type and mercury emissions are lowered.
Andy Crouch had an interesting take (and basically exactly what my perspective is):
...the debate over climate change is very much like Pascal's wager, that famous argument for belief in God.

Believe in God though he does not exist, Pascal argued, and you lose nothing in the end. Fail to believe when he does in fact exist, and you lose everything. Likewise, we have little to lose, and much technological progress, energy security, and economic efficiency to gain, if we act on climate change now—even if the worst predictions fail to come to pass. But if we choose inaction and are mistaken, we will leave our descendants a blighted world. As Pascal said, "You must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see."

Same thing goes for mercury in my mind. I have no idea what amount of mercury will damage a fetus, but I am certainly going to err on the side of caution, the same way I wear a seatbelt.

Corporate farms are much better at making food than family farms are. and what is happening is that less land is being used to produce more food. there is less farmland now so corporate farms are using what land they do have to produce more food. where ten farmers used to produce food on 10,000 acres, one corporation is producing food on 1,000 acres
Now we're getting into something I definitely know something about, though. (thanks to my dad, the professor of ag. ed. who made sure us kids were also knowledgable even if we were going to end up as engineers). Corporate farms are not necessarily more efficient in yield/acre. They are more efficient due to the economy of scale inherent in a larger farm. The reason that is so true is one main thing: subsidies. There is one very quick and easy solution to the corporate farming trend that has been emerging. Eliminating or at the very least putting a cap on subsidies. Many corporate farms are making millions in subsidies alone, thus enabling them to finance their entire operation. Subsidies were meant to help the struggling farmer, and thus now are just a device to put a damper on the free market. Now certainly, there is going to be some economy of scale in any industry and there is in farming as technology improves. However, due to the growth of organics and the desire for products at farm markets, smaller farms can compete, especially if subsidies are capped. And also to clarify, Pepperdeaf, despite personally being anti-sprawl, we're in no danger of running out of land. There are millions of acres available that are not being farmed to their capacity.

Oneway said...

Did I detect some sarcasm. Yes, please.

>>environmentalists rightly say...<<

It's more like "You are raping Gaia, Our Mother Earth. We must be allowed to worship rocks in private, but we are a crazy minority that cannot convince enough people to join our religion. So we will scare them into passing our laws."

The truth is that there is a limited amount of land available. If there is a greater demand for homes than farm land, suburbia will expand. Basic economics.

But I really wish the ELF was in charge to deny these evil families of homes. I wish the family that lived in our first house would have stayed right there, so my family could have continued to sleep with roaches in Chicago. Those evil developers! Black house ownership is at an all-time high, this trend must be stopped!

I wish family farms still were protected by laws, so less food was produced but I could still feel great about a drive in the country twice a year. We need less food!

>>your understanding of better is very different from mine.<<

This will always be the case. That's why we all vote with our dollars.

pepperdeaf said...

>>putting a cap on subsidies<<

sounds good to me.

Oneway said...

>>Believe in God though he does not exist, Pascal argued, and you lose nothing in the end.<<

I never understood Pascal's wager. I'd rather side with Paul:

"And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable."

(1 Corinthians 15:17-19, NKJV)

It is false to proceed as if choosing the cross and increasing governmental regulation have no cost. Andy Crouch's statement is symptomatic of a Church with no economic wisdom.

>>I am certainly going to err on the side of caution,<<

Bravo, Westy. Now shouldn't the Church uphold that freedom for everyone, to choose when and how to be cautious?

Greg said...

Westy, if you ever want to get a bunch of comments on your blog, just post about the environment. Never fails. =)

Westy said...

To expand on this issue, here's a link to Chuck Colson's response to the NYT article. It seems I find myself right in the middle on this issue, as I agree with much of what he says as well. Particularly, this:
Let me be clear: Some of the ECI recommendations—like driving fuel-efficient cars—are sensible. And there is no disagreement about our goals: Everybody is for stopping global warming.
The question becomes what things can we do that are a reasonable cost.
However, I sincerely believe that we should act in our decision-making, especially on cost-neutral choices, as if global warming is upon us, as that is the route of highest possible return.
Colson also points out that the NYT tried to portray the Christian community as split when that really isn't the case. I thought that was a good point. Everyone's still on the same team.

Now shouldn't the Church uphold that freedom for everyone, to choose when and how to be cautious?
I'm not 100% sure what you're getting at with this question. Could you expound?

Oneway said...

>>Could you expound?<<

The Church should protect freedoms as much as possible, generally speaking. With an issue as contentious as global warming/cooling, using legislation is foolish. Instead, the Church should convince the people to make wise decisions.

Westy said...

The Church should protect freedoms as much as possible, generally speaking. With an issue as contentious as global warming/cooling, using legislation is foolish. Instead, the Church should convince the people to make wise decisions.
I agree that the Church should convince people to make wise decisions. However, I do believe there is a time and place for legislative oversight (i.e. abortion is a clearcut example).

Oneway said...

Come on, now, you know I agree with you on abortion. Don't tell me you are equating abortion with global warming/cooling?

The more you advocate giving the government more authority, the less the Church has opportunity to be a social force.

Westy said...

My point was simply that there is a time and place for governmental intervention.
This is not to negate the role the church can and should play.
Whether this issue is one that requires governmental impetus is the issue, and since it's not settled, obviously fun to discuss.