Europe’s Climate Change Backtrack

Today Roger Pielke Jr. published has another interesting post on climate change policy, this time on the European Parliaments  recent decision to backtrack on supporting its emissions trading market. The Financial Times has a good appraisal of the situation here . In short, the article describes how the current economic situation of Europe has pushed climate change action, which was one of Europe’s iconic symbols, into the back burner.

The FT graph shows the fall of the emissions trading market. What we see happening is an example of what Roger Pielke  Jr. has been saying for a long time about the Iron Law of Climate Policy: ” The “iron law” simply states that while people are often willing to pay some price for achieving environmental objectives, that willingness has its limits.  Such limits may fall at different thresholds for different places at different times.  The iron law seems so common sense that I am always surprised when I hear objections to it.” Given the energy needs of the world, climate change policy as advocated through policies such as emission trading, carbon taxes etc. (most mitigation strategies) simply won’t work. In this post Roger does some of the math: the targets proposed by the EU and most nations are simply not going to be reached, I did this exercise in Roger’s class myself as a graduate student.

In his latest article Pielke Jr., has the following to say:

The reality of emissions reductions is that the decarbonisation of the global economy will occur when less carbon-intensive energy alternatives displace dirtier sources. In the US, a revolution in technologies for natural gas extraction has led to an unexpected increase in rates of decarbonisation and significant reductions in emissions, while underpinning economic growth and cheaper energy costs. However, broader expansion of gas technologies faces opposition, as does nuclear power which holds even greater promise for large quantities of carbon free energy, often from those same lobbies pressing for action on climate change.

Decisions about energy technologies matter a great deal: the IEA observed in a report released last week that the carbon intensity of global energy generation has not changed in 20 years, despite the rapid increase in solar and wind technologies.  The lesson here is that markets don’t change carbon intensities, technology does. So long as debates over climate policies focus on trying to reify esoteric carbon markets and their associated politics, it is highly unlikely that the future will see policy outcomes any different than those observed to date.

Europe’s latest setback should nevertheless remind us that people remain generally willing to pay some price for attaining climate policy goals via a price on carbon, a lesson reinforced in Australia, New Zealand, California, my home town of Boulder and perhaps soon in China. We also know that accelerating decarbonisation of the economy requires a substantial commitment to energy innovation. Perhaps we are getting closer to the moment when advocates for action on climate put these points together in the form of a sustainable approach to climate policy.

Fr. Schall on Environmentalism and Poverty

The Amalfi Coast described by Fr. Schall

Fr. Schall is a somewhat legendary scholar within US academia, a priest who has defended the faith from within Georgetown University. He has commented on some environmental themes before and was mentioned in a post here, where Chris Shannon critiques his position. After Pope Francis, he stands out as a prominent Jesuit speaking on the issue. In his latest article in Crisis Fr. Schall mentions the environment specifically in an article called “How Environmentalism harms the Poor”.

The truth is that the article is not very well written but contains some interesting ideas. I almost would like to ask Fr. Schall to re-write it so we could appreciate his ideas more clearly. Fundamentally, he argues that environmentalists advocate for ‘leaving nature alone’ and conceive of human impact on creation as negative. This passivity in turn leads to poverty, since it is work, effort and labor that raises people out of poverty. Fr. Schall proposes that we must work hard to raise the poor out of poverty, while recognizing that this may perhaps never be accomplished. More importantly however, is the effort to reach our transcendent goal, God, which all can achieve, rich or poor.

I think Fr. Schall’s point is well taken, especially his explanation of the Christian vision of matter and creation as fundamentally good. I have talked about this here and here. Misunderstanding this point on the synthesis between matter and spirit leads to several problems, such as Manicheanism. A negative anthropology which informs many environmentalists also causes several philosophical problems, such as a passive restorative view of ‘letting nature be’. It is a vision of dominion well understood that paves the way for a truly Christian environmentalism. This dominion, which has a marked Christocentric form, is the only aspect I would add to qualify Fr. Schall’s avocation of human endeavor and use of creation. Otherwise, we could fall into activism rather than passivity, which would lead to human despotism – a position also condemned by the magisterium.  

Fr. Schall


Pope Francis on stewardship and World Youth Day

Once again Pope Francis has spoken out on Creation, in his important post Easter Urbi et orbi message to the world. I have recounted his environmental messages in detail here and here. For the Urbi et orbi message he repeated the importance of the environment 3 times. Below some of the key passages:

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of the Resurrection, this passover from slavery to evil to the freedom of goodness, must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives. How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross!  Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us.  God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14).

So this is the invitation which I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection!  Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century; human trafficking is the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century! Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth!  Made the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.

And it seems that others are catching on. You can check out the article on CNS or the video below of how people are responding to the Pope’s clear message on the environment and putting it into practice for World Youth Day.

Jungle Violence

Recently my friend Jose Miguel Yturralde sent me an Easter note from the Ecuadorian jungle where he works for an oil company. Jose Miguel has written for this blog before here and here. As a Catholic and environmentalist, he is in a tough position. Now it is the ‘human ecology’ that is being disturbed, with rival tribes killing each other.

To this day there are tribes that have chosen to refuse contact with civilization as explained in this article, that have killed Waorani indians. Below is a picture of Ompore Omeway, the only man in Ecuador who had contact with these tribes and chose to live in solitude in the jungle. He was killed on march 5th and found with 15 arrows in his body. The attacks have increased and now the Waoranis have sought their revenge. The above map shows the attacks and violence. So much for the romantic vision of the ‘noble savage’ and uncontaminated indian. Human nature, is human nature.

The 4th Rupture: A Path to Reconciliation – Creatio on EWTN

Documentary pic

Last week the EWTN documentary “The 4th Rupture” on the environment, hosted by Ricardo Simmonds was uploaded to the Creatio website. Please check it out here. My favorite episode is the last one, where we interview college students on missions, below.

This 13 episode documentary, in Spanish and English, proposes a Catholic vision on the environment based on reconciliation theology. Ricardo presents the theme of each episode and then interviews different experts on specific issues. Topics range from environmental ethics, science, climate change, theology, water, philosophy, animal rights, population, biodiversity, holiness and many more. AMong the interviewed experts are Fr. Robert Spitzer, Roger Pielke Jr., Bernard Amadei and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

The response has been great. In response for this video below, on human ecology, Maria Isabel from Ecuador comments of how Masters students are using the video to learn about sustainability. Great stuff!

María Isabel Cartagena Faytong

María Isabel Cartagena Faytong 1 week ago

Me encantaron las palabras del doctor Conen: la familia es la base de todo y se deben crear políticas de estado para fortalecerla. Espero poder dedicarme a mi hijo tanto como lo hicieron -y lo hacen- mis padres conmigo y mi hermana. 
Vimos hoy este video en nuestra clase de maestría, en el módulo de Desarrollo sustentable. Saludos desde Ecuador.