Moral Witness Requires Clear Thinking on Environmental Science

Here’s the central point of my most recent essay for the Acton Institute:

Yes theology and science “have different points of departure and different goals, tasks and methodologies” but they “can come in touch and overlap.” For this convergence to be fruitful we must resist “the temptation to view science as a realm completely independent of moral principles.” Science can, and often does, serve as “a natural instrument for building life on earth” (Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church). However when we limit ourselves merely to the findings of the natural, social and human sciences, we risk confusing expediency with prudence and diluting the Church’s witness.

You can read the whole essay here: Pebble Mine: Moral Witness Requires Clear Thinking on Environmental Science.

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Does Environmentalism Hurt the Poor?


From: Acton PowerBlog.

Many of us function under the assumption that our role as stewards of God’s creation is to to leave things as we’ve found them. Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. would disagree.

A significant error of environmentalists is the assumption that the purpose of man on this earth is to keep it in the same condition that it was when man first appeared. Behind this theory is a subtle denial of the whole issue of the resurrection of the body. Man’s ultimate end is not this earth but God. The earth and its development by man are themselves the arena in which the drama of each person’s relation to God could be and is worked out. It is also true that this “working out” concerns one’s neighbor and man’s relation to fellow man.

Further, Fr. Schall wants to make it clear that certain types of environmentalism put the environment ahead of people, and that hurts the poor. We find the basis for this in the book of Genesis in

…the admonition that man was to increase, multiply, and subdue the earth. The implication was that precisely by providing for man’s needs and purposes, the earth would be a better place. The purposes of both matter and man were directly connected. It would be a misuse of matter if it no longer could serve man’s ends. The earth was not simply given for it to sit there unused and uncultivated. It was rather to be a garden, the work of human hands. It was intended to support the purpose for which man existed. It was not itself the purpose of creation.

Fr. Schall questions whether some programs designed to help the poor actually put them under “state control”, regulating their lives to the point where they cannot escape poverty.

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Creators in the Creator

The recent statement on the environment by His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (here) got me thinking about the theological implications of creation (notice I didn’t say the environment).  Briefly, I would suggest that the creation—the cosmos—is a sacrament of God’s love. This is to say that the creation— both as a whole and in each part—is both a revelation (mysterion) and a pledge (sacramentum) of God’s love. For this reason, in God the creation—again both as a whole and in each part—is a fit object for human love and so our personal and collective creativity.

This last point I think is important for our consideration of what some would call “environmental ethics.” Yes, we should respect the creation and, as the Patriarch has said, we need to repent of materialism and a purely materialistic and mechanical understanding of humanity’s relationship to the larger created order and to ourselves. We need to do this not simply because materialism is harmful to the environment but because materialism is not fitting for human beings created in the image of God and called to live in likeness to the divine life.

At the same time what we can’t do, and the Patriarch’s statement unfortunately if unintentionally lends itself to this, is engage the larger creation in a way that neglects, minimizes or undermines human creativity.  Yes, economic development can and has caused environmental harm even as it has harmed society and the individual. To be human, to be a loving human being, is necessary that we be creative after the example of God. While we can’t create ex nihilo, that is from nothing, we do have the God-given ability to bring a fitting human order to creation and so reveal creation’s internal meaning (logos) in a humanly meaningful fashion. Continue reading

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NYT: ‘Orthodox Leader Deepens Progressive Stance on Environment’


The New York Times published an article on the environmental work of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, entitled, ‘Orthodox Leader Deepens Progressive Stance on Environment,’ written by Marlise Simons.  The article can be read in its entirety below.

Orthodox Leader Deepens Progressive Stance on Environment
by Marlise Simons

At a conference near Istanbul last June, the chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall spoke about the endangered habitat of what she called “our closest relatives.” Underlining the evolutionary link, she described her encounter with a senior male ape who had a “beautiful white beard.”

With a smile, she turned to the 72-year-old man in the front row and added, “Very much like yours.”

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo...

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man with the long white beard was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Fortunately, he is known for his easy, affable manner, and he joined the laughter that followed.

But his commitment to environmental activism is deeply serious, earning him the nickname the Green Patriarch. He has preached that caring for the environment is a religious imperative, and for more than a decade, he has made a point of bringing together theologians and scientists like Dr. Goodall for debates and briefings.

This year’s reports of record melting of the earth’s ice sheets and extreme droughts have given a new urgency to Bartholomew’s messages about the degrading natural world. While economists and politicians prescribe more growth and consumption to overcome economic crises, the patriarch insists that the real crisis is cultural and spiritual, and can be overcome only by moving away from rampant materialism.

All human beings, he has said, should draw a distinction “between what we want and what we need.”

In September, he published a strongly worded encyclical calling on all Orthodox Christians to repent “for our sinfulness” in not doing enough to protect the planet. Biodiversity, “the work of divine wisdom,” was not granted to humanity to abuse it, he wrote; human dominion over the earth does not mean the right to greedily acquire and destroy its resources. He singled out “the powerful of this world,” saying they need a new mind-set to stop destroying the planet for profit or short-term interest.

Other religious leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama and the archbishop of Canterbury, have also called for responsible stewardship of the environment. But Bartholomew has gone further than most; some theologians call his stance revolutionary.

“Traditionally in Christianity, sin was what you did to other humans,” said Kallistos Ware, a prominent Orthodox theologian based in Britain, “but Bartholomew insisted that what you do to the animals, the air, the water, the land can be sinful, not just folly, and that was quite a change.”

Aides say that Bartholomew’s embrace of environmental issues is part of his agenda to modernize a deeply conservative church that can seem distant and insular, with its focus on long Byzantine rituals and mysticism. Speaking in defense of nature as a creation of God fits church teachings, and perhaps just as crucial, his aides say, it can also transcend the rivalries and nationalist rifts of the Eastern Orthodox Church. As a federation of 15 independent national churches, it lacks the central authority of, say, the Vatican.

Still, Bartholomew’s seat, established 1,700 years ago, holds primacy among the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. As “first among equals” in the church, he acts as convener and can set the agenda for discussion.

Not all church prelates are inspired by his efforts to enlighten the faithful on the environment. “The patriarch is going against the current in much of Orthodoxy,” said the Rev. John Chryssavgis, an archdeacon of the church and adviser on environmental issues. “He has to preach and promote this constantly.”

Aboard a ferry steaming toward Istanbul, Father Chryssavgis pointed out a sprawling church-owned building perched atop of the island of Buyukada. A former orphanage, it was seized by the Turkish government but returned to the church recently. Now empty and in disrepair, it will become an interfaith study center for the environment if Bartholomew has his way.

“He wants a permanent institution,” Father Chryssavgis said. “When he passes on, there may not be the same concern for the environment.”

The impact of the patriarch’s many sermons and conferences is difficult to gauge. There has been wide interest in a new book, “Greening the Orthodox Parish,” said Frederick Krueger, its American editor. Subtitled “A Handbook for Christian Ecological Practice” and with a preface by Bartholomew, it covers theology, special liturgies and prayers as well as science papers and practical advice.

Numerous Orthodox monasteries and churches in Eastern Europe and the United States have switched to solar energy in recent years.

Among them is the Chrysopegi monastery on the Greek island of Crete, where the nuns use the environmental texts of the patriarch and other theologians in their teachings.

“More and more young people are coming to our courses,” Mother Theocheni, the abbess of the monastery, said at the conference at Halki, near Istanbul. “They come to find meaning. Many seem to find inspiration in ecology. It’s been growing fast for the last 10 years.”

The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle is comprised of Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who have been honored for their outstanding service to The Orthodox Church by having a Patriarchal title, or “offikion,” bestowed upon them by His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Those upon whom this title of the Mother Church has been conferred are known as “Archons of the Great Church of Christ,” and the titles are personally conferred by the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios.

The Order of St. Andrew’s fundamental goal and mission is to promote the religious freedom, wellbeing and advancement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey.

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Church Spokesman Likens Environmentalists to Pagans

(Source:  RIA Novosti).  Radical environmentalists who value humans less than other species are channeling pagan and occult ideas, a Russian Orthodox Christian Church official said on Tuesday.

“There’s an ongoing attempt to tell people that they are harmful by default for all living creatures and for the ecological balance in the world,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said in Moscow.

“The idea stems from idolization of nature, an attempt to introduce pagan and occult elements into environmentalism,” Chaplin said, speaking at a roundtable on church’s ecological policy.

Quasi-pagan ideas are shared by certain radical environmentalist groups in Russia and abroad, he said, without naming any names.

“We believe that nature was created for man, that man should be its assiduous master, but not worship nature,” Chaplin said.

But depredation of natural resources is also despicable and should be avoided, Chaplin added.

In May, the Orthodox Christian Church drafted an environmental policy statement, the first in its thousand-year-long history. The church paid increasing attention to environmental concerns in recent decades, but no formal policy initiatives were passed before.

The document was discussed on Tuesday in the Public Chamber, a state-run advisory body, ahead of its review by church leadership, a complex process which could begin in November, according to Chaplin.

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Who Said It?

Guess who said the following:

It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion. I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use … The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air.

Answer here. (HT Cafe Hayek) (Among those people who have noticed the religiosity of many environmentalists is Bob Nelson.)

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Video: The False Promise of Green Energy

For PowerBlog readers, we’re posting the video from Andrew Morriss’ April 26 Acton Lecture Series talk in Grand Rapids, Mich., on “The False Promise of Green Energy.” Here’s the lecture description: “Green energy advocates claim that transforming America to an economy based on wind, solar, and biofuels will produce jobs for Americans, benefits for the environment, and restore American industry. Prof. Andrew Morriss, co-author of The False Promise of Green Energy (Cato, 2011), shows that these claims are based on unrealistic assumptions, poorly thought out models, and bad data. Rather than leading us to an eco-utopia, he argues that current green energy programs are crony capitalism that impoverishes American consumers and destroys American jobs.”

Morriss, an Orthodox Christian, begins with a quote from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Istanbul, Turkey-based hierarch. Bartholomew said this in response to the March 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed:

Our Creators granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy?

“The Ecumenical Patriarch and I don’t see eye to eye on this,” Morriss said. “I think he’s asking the wrong questions.”

Also see the PowerBlog post “Green Patriarch: No Nukes.”

In his book, Morriss and his co-authors warn that “the concrete results of following [green energy] policies will be a decline in living standards around the globe, including for the world’s poorest; changes in lifestyle that Americans do not want; and a weakening of the technological progress that market forces have delivered, preventing us from finding real solutions to the real problems we face.” Many of those lifestyle changes will come from suddenly spending far more on energy than we’d like. Green technologies mean diverting production from cheap sources, such as coal and oil, to more expensive, highly subsidized ones, like wind and solar. These price spikes won’t be limited to our electricity bills either, the authors argue. “Anything that increases the price of energy will also increase the price of goods that use energy indirectly.”

The better solution to improving America’s energy economy, the book shows, is to let the market work by putting power in the hands of consumers. But “many environmental pressure groups don’t want to leave conservation to individuals, preferring government mandates to change energy use.” In other words, green-job proponents know they’re pushing a bad product. Rather than allow the market to expose the bad economics of green energy, they’d use the power of government to force expensive and unnecessary transformation.

Morriss is also an editor of the forthcoming Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson (Cato, September 2012) with Roger Meiners and Pierre Desroches. The blurb for the Carson book notes that she got a lot wrong:

Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had a profound impact on our society. As an iconic work, the book has often been shielded from critical inquiry, but this landmark anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to reassess its legacy and influence. In Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson a team of national experts explores the book’s historical context, the science it was built on, and the policy consequences of its core ideas. The conclusion makes it abundantly clear that the legacy of Silent Spring is highly problematic. While the book provided some clear benefits, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance. Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s best-seller contained significant errors and sins of omission. Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong.

Morriss is the D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Angelich Jones Chairholder of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is the author or coauthor of more than 60 book chapters, scholarly articles, and books. He is affiliated with a number of think tanks doing public policy work, including the Property & Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, the Institute for Energy Research, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In addition, he is a Research Fellow at the New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law. He is chair of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. His scholarship focuses on regulatory issues involving environmental, energy, and offshore financial centers. Over the past ten years he has regularly taught and lectured in China, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Nepal.

Morriss earned an A.B. from Princeton University and a J.D., as well as an M.A. in Public Affairs, from the University of Texas at Austin. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After law school, Morriss clerked for U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders in the Northern District of Texas and worked for two years at Texas Rural Legal Aid in Hereford and Plainview, Texas.

He was formerly the H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law & Professor of Business at the University of Illinois College of Law and the Galen J. Roush Profesor of Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Source; Acton Institute PowerBlog

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