Wednesday, December 28, 2005

God and Man in the Environmental Debate

I recently received a letter from a leading botanist at a prominent scientific institution. The letter was mostly agreeable and even complimentary. But near the end, when humanity became the subject, its tone darkened. The scientist said he disagreed with me that human beings were part of the plan, as it were. On the contrary, he complained about "the devastation humans are currently imposing upon our planet":

Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!

Based on his public writings, I would expect this scientist to be personable and humane. Nevertheless, in his private correspondence, he casually wishes for the deaths of many millions of his fellow human beings. If he were merely offering an eccentric, private opinion, I wouldn't be writing about it. Unfortunately, his desire is all too common among some self-described "environmentalists." Our wellbeing, on this view, doesn't really enter into the calculation. We are, at best, an accident of cosmic history, and at worst, despoilers and destroyers. Adding more humans to the planet, then, is as bad as adding more parasites to an already ailing host.

Again, this would be merely academic, except that such ideas have real world consequences. Every environmental policy implemented by government authority, for instance, stems from someone's views about the nature of man and man's place in nature. If those views are anti-human, the policy probably will be anti-human as well. Consider the ban on DDT in the 1970s. The ban, which in hindsight we know was misguided, has resulted in the deaths of more than a million people a year. The vast majority of these deaths have been among the poor in developing countries.

Because environmental policies perpetuate certain notions about the human person, and because these notions have real world consequences, Christians have little choice but to engage the debate over the environment. In particular, we should strongly challenge the misanthropic strain in the modern environmental movement. Human beings aren't an accident. We are an intended part of God's good creation. And while God called everything he created "good," he only called human beings, whom He created in his own image, "very good."

That doesn't mean God has given us a free pass to do whatever we want. On the contrary, the Bible tells us that the Earth is the Lord's, and we are its stewards. We have a delegated responsibility over the Earth, for which we will be held accountable. And Scripture is hardly Pollyannaish about fallen humanity's destructive tendencies. So we should not be surprised to find that we sometimes abuse our stewardship over nature.

These truths provide a solid theological foundation for addressing environmental concerns while avoiding an anti-human bias. Unfortunately, these truths do not figure prominently in the contemporary debate. In fact, it's more fashionable to argue-incorrectly-that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the problem, not the solution. Even some Christians who have entered the fray have not been careful to separate the empirical evidence from the doubtful assumptions.

An organization called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance has been launched to help Jews and Christians develop a positive environmental ethic that avoids such pitfalls. Announced this fall at a press conference at the Ugandan embassy in Washington D.C., the ISA is a coalition of individuals and institutions-including the Acton Institute-who share an interest in environmental stewardship. The ISA will focus on issues such as global warming, population, poverty, food, energy, clean water, endangered species, and habitats.

The ISA draws its inspiration from the Cornwall Declaration, published by the Acton Institute in 2000. As theologian Calvin Beisner explains, the Cornwall Declaration describes human beings not merely as consumers and polluters but also as producers and stewards. It challenges the popular assumption that "nature knows best," or that "the earth, untouched by human hands is the ideal." And it calls for thoughtful people to distinguish environmental concerns that "are well founded and serious," from others that "are without foundation or greatly exaggerated." In other words, it calls for a reasoned, humane environmental ethic. At a time when mistaken policies based on anti-human assumptions can lead to the deaths of millions of people, such an ethic cannot come soon enough.



In 1986, Gale Norton was 32 and working for the secretary of the interior on matters pertaining to the proposal to open a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- area 1002 -- to drilling for oil and natural gas, a proposal that then had already been a bone of contention for several years. Today Norton is the secretary of the interior and is working on opening ANWR. But this interminable argument actually could end soon with Congress authorizing drilling. That would be good for energy policy and excellent for the nation's governance.

Area 1002 is 1.5 million of ANWR's 19 million acres. In 1980, a Democratic-controlled Congress at the behest of President Carter set area 1002 aside for possible energy exploration. Since then, although there are active oil and gas wells in at least 36 U.S. wildlife refuges, stopping drilling in ANWR has become sacramental for environmentalists who speak about it the way Wordsworth wrote about the Lake Country.

Few opponents of energy development in what they call ``pristine'' ANWR have visited it. Those who have and think it is ``pristine'' must have visited during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There are no trees.

Opponents worry that the caribou will be disconsolate about, and their reproduction disrupted by, this intrusion by man. The same was said 30 years ago by opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that brings heated oil south from Prudhoe Bay. Since the oil began flowing, the caribou have increased from 5,000 to 31,000. Perhaps the pipeline's heat makes them amorous.

Ice roads and helicopter pads, which will melt each spring, will minimize man's footprint, which will be on a 2,000-acre plot about one-fifth the size of Washington's Dulles Airport. Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls ``a few drops of oil.'' Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields -- could supply all the oil needs of Kerry's Massachusetts for 75 years.

Flowing at 1 million barrels a day -- equal to 20 percent of today's domestic oil production -- ANWR oil would almost equal America's daily imports from Saudi Arabia. And it would equal the supply loss that Katrina temporarily caused, and that caused so much histrionic distress among consumers. Lee Raymond, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, says that if the major oil companies decided that 10 billion barrels were an amount too small to justify exploration and development projects, many current and future projects around the world would be abandoned.

But for many opponents of drilling in ANWR, the debate is only secondarily about energy and the environment. Rather, it is a disguised debate about elemental political matters. For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing the society's politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.

The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society's balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism -- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives. This is done in the name of equality. People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.

Therefore, one of the collectivists' tactics is to produce scarcities, particularly of what makes modern society modern -- the energy requisite for social dynamism and individual autonomy. Hence collectivists use environmentalism to advance a collectivizing energy policy. Focusing on one energy source at a time, they stress the environmental hazards of finding, developing, transporting, manufacturing or using oil, natural gas, coal or nuclear power.

A quarter of a century of this tactic applied to ANWR is about 24 years too many. If geologists were to decide that there were only three thimbles of oil beneath area 1002, there would still be something to be said for going down to get them, just to prove that this nation cannot be forever paralyzed by people wielding environmentalism as a cover for collectivism.


Global Warming Lies

Another demonstration that "Nature" has become a propaganda rag

The best way to garner headlines in the global warming game is to generate scary scenarios. While many people view climate change as some esoteric concern of environmentalists, they still raise their eyebrows when they hear a phrase like "global warming deaths." It's little surprise then that a recent article in Nature magazine has caught so much attention. Written by Jonathan Patz, an associate professor of environmental studies and population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin, and three of his colleagues, it is a selective culling of the scientific literature -- some recent, some not -- on climate change and possible health impacts across the planet. The article's claim: global warming kills 150,000 people each year.

Patz begins with the 2003 heat wave in Europe. First, it is not possible that any heat wave was caused by global warming, despite some climate modeling efforts that, according to Patz, demonstrates "a causal link." It is impossible, and in fact is irresponsible, for any climatologist to claim that any given weather event could not have happened if not for increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases. Yes, 2003 was a very warm summer in Europe, but the fact that similar conditions occurred there in the very distant past pretty much debunks the "global warming" hypothesis.

The more relevant question is why so many Europeans died in August 2003. Here culture conspires with climate. The month-long August vacation is a cherished European tradition. It's not unusual then for many countries to effectively shut down while the epicenter of the population shifts southward to Mediterranean beaches. This includes a reduction in medical staffing, less oversight of one's elderly parents, etc. The French government caught flak for the high death toll, and rightly so. Undoubtedly the same weather conditions in July would have produced substantially fewer deaths. But the cultural factor is never mentioned in Patz's global warming hook.

The "theory" that leads to such sloppy thinking about heat waves is that climate will be more variable with global warming. While the jury is still out on this, there is plenty of evidence in the United States that the opposite is true. In an extensive series of studies by Indiana University's Scott Robeson, he found that in U.S. cities where warming had taken place, most of the cities exhibited less temperature variability, not more. Regrettably, these and other key papers were not part of Patz' review.

Patz continues by talking about impacts that urban "heat islands" -- the heat trapping effects of buildings and paved surfaces combined with less vegetation -- result in most large cities being significantly warmer than the surrounding countryside. He is correct. In fact, the urbanization effect exceeds the background rate of global warming significantly, in some cases by an order of magnitude or more. If this is a problem, however, we should expect people living in cities to be dying in droves from heat exposure.

The graph below shows the aggregate heat-related death rate toll for 28 of the largest U.S. cities from 1964-1998. There is a statistically significant decline in heat-related mortality over the period. During the same time, temperature increased by an average of almost 1øC, partly and probably mostly, due to heat island effects. So why aren't more people, instead of less people, dying from heat exposure, as postulated by Patz?

It's simple. People, by and large, are not stupid. If it's too hot, they go into air conditioning. If it's too cold, they turn up the heat, go into the sun, put on a jacket, etc. The fact that Phoenix has a thriving population in a valley that is essentially inhospitable to human life speaks volumes for the adaptability of humans to overcome the limitation imposed by nature. In fact, most elderly people move to Phoenix or Miami thinking they might prolong their lives by living away from harsh winter weather -- not so they could die sooner. But global warming scaremongers depend upon the "stupid people" hypothesis to generate high mortality figures.

Later in the review, the authors discuss the potential health impacts of El Nino across the globe: epidemics of malaria and Rift Valley fever, Dengue hemorrhagic fever in Thailand, Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the Desert Southwest, waterborne diseases in Peru, cholera in Bangladesh, etc. One teensy problem: El Nino is not related to global warming. The author admits this (sort of). He writes, "Although it is not clear whether and how [El Ni¤o] dynamics will change in a warmer world, regions that are currently strongly affected by ENSO [another name for El Nino].could experience heightened risks if ENSO variability, or the strength of events intensifies." Sure. An equally likely scenario is that the impact of all of these diseases will be reduced if global warming generates fewer and weaker El Ninos. But this was not discussed. It is not scientifically rigorous to write a paper about global warming impacts and to spend pages talking about impacts from something that is unrelated to global warming.

Finally, Patz refers to a three-year old World Health Organization study, suggesting that climate changes that have occurred in the last 30 years could have caused 150,000 deaths per year worldwide. However, rough calculations using current global population and mortality rate estimates show that "global warming" is responsible for 0.2 percent of all deaths. This is a remarkably small number based upon WHO estimates that are undoubtedly an exaggeration in the first place. Another way to look at this is that during the last century, primarily as a result of technologies developed in a world powered by fossil fuels (the emissions from burning them are the presumed culprit behind the 150,000 annual deaths), average human expectancy in the developed democracies roughly doubled. Posit that two billion people lived in these areas in the 20th century, doubling their life expectancy is the equivalent of saving a billion lives. While one could quibble about the specifics, it is clear that fossil fuels have been responsible for longer lives, not shorter ones.

The most interesting aspect of the Nature article is that Patz, whose primary expertise is in vector-borne diseases like malaria, has the least confidence about the global warming-malaria link. His discussions and review of the vector-borne disease literature is fairly balanced and contains many of the key caveats. Unfortunately, this balanced tone does not permeate most of the report.

There is no doubt that climate change will have some impacts, both positive and negative, on global health. One could just as easily write a review about how a warming planet is producing myriad health benefits. It would not be published in Nature magazine, however, and rightly so, because it would not represent a fair, accurate, and thorough overview of the scientific literature. But, after reading the Patz review, it's clear that this standard of objectivity is selectively applied.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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