Posts Tagged environmentalism

Instagram, Innovation, and the Almighty Government 8 Ball

Instagram, Government 8 BallThe makers of Instagram, a popular iPhone photo-sharing app, recently sold their company to Facebook for $1 billion. The company was founded a mere 18 months ago by a pair of twentysomethings. It has only 12 employees and brings in no revenue. No big deal.

This week at Values and Capitalism, I look at the story through a broader lens, pondering the implications of such sudden, unexpected technological changes and successes, particularly on those who think prosperity comes from creating five/ten/twenty-year plans to boost Industry/Company/Product X.

Here’s an excerpt:

The problem for the predictors and planners is that despite whatever economic or moral arguments they so cunningly concoct to justify shoving widgets X, Y and Z down our throats, one big, stubborn, complicating reality persists: as innovation continues, needs and desires change.

You can shake the Almighty Government Eight Ball all day long, but even if you get it right and are able to calculate some end-game net profitability for artificially propping up Failing Company X or Greenie Wizard Lab Y, who knows if such a plan will stay workable or cost-effective by tomorrow? Obama can toot the Subsidize Wind Farms horn till the ears of his great grandchildren are bleeding with debt, but what happens when Engineer Suzie wakes up the next morning with an idea for a cheaper, greener, more effective solution? Sorry Suzie, but we’ve already rolled the dice.

Yet this, I argue, is more than just an economic argument:

If you haven’t noticed, this is a clear economic problem (e.g. ethanol), yet coming at it from that angle will be unlikely to influence many progressives, whose positions, whether they admit it or not, rest mostly on rash-and-puffy moral superiority and a quest for control (e.g. “Smart Cars contribute to the common good, not your cute little digital Polaroids”). I’ll save those arguments for another day, because within the economic argument against this contorted game of Pick Your Favorites lies a different moral message about the way we view humans and human potential.

In short: Needs and desires change because people change.

To assume that the government can successfully pick winners and losers economically—whether with products, business or entire industries—is to assume that we humans live, or want to live, in a static world filled with static individuals who conceive of themselves in static terms. We will always buy what we currently buy, know what we currently know and pursue absolutely nothing of real value unless ole Goodie Government tells us otherwise.

But that’s not the way humans are, or, at the very least, that’s not what we were intended to be.

As much as folks might want to wield our semi-free economy toward constructing temples to Gaia and propping up eat-your-veggies initiatives, the market is or should primarily be about facilitating human engagement and human interaction. Such facilitation is integral to empowering human vocation, which should primarily informed by God and any on-the-ground cultural, social and religious institutions. All those select progressive “moral” causes might be fine-and-dandy as individual vocations in individual markets on any individual day of the year, but who is to say they are better or more desirable than innovating a new way to use our smartphones? (Don’t answer that, Joe Biden.)

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Working and Keeping the Garden: The Human Body in Earthly Engagement

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our FaithI have previously examined the ways in which sociability and strong relational bonds can impact societal health and economic prosperity. Likewise, I have persistently emphasized that spiritual transformation through Christ and subsequent obedience to God play crucial roles in strengthening such bonds.

Without recognizing and embracing such an alignment, I have argued, we will be severely impaired in identifying real value as God sees it, and will be ill-equipped to pursue our proper mission.

Yet throughout all such considerations, I have rarely (if ever) contemplated the role of the body in the spiritual and intellectual workings that drive our stewardship. This is strange, to be sure, for despite the great importance of all the other inputs to our actions, it is the body that actually does the doing.

But alas, even this basic realization does not go far enough, says Matthew Anderson, editor of Mere Orthodoxy and author of the new book, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith.

For Anderson, the body is much more than some tool we use to move our spirits from here to there; it is an essential and inextricable part of what it means to be human, a truth affirmed and amplified by the reality that have we been created in the image of God. For Anderson, the connection is crucial, but has been largely ignored by an increasingly dualistic culture. For many of us, the body has become nothing more than a mere means for pleasure or a “prison for the soul.”

Yet for those of us who over-emphasize the spiritual side of man, Anderson argues that any such transformation will never be complete without a full understanding the bodies position therein:

The gift of God in Jesus Christ is a gift for and to human bodies, and as evangelicals, we need to attend carefully to the ways in which the Holy Spirit shapes our flesh. In a world where the body’s status is in question, we have an opportunity to proclaim that the God who saved our souls will also remake our bodies; that the body is nothing less than the place where God dwells on earth.

Anderson proceeds to tackle a number of issues through this approach, from tattoos to homosexuality to death (and beyond), yet throughout each revealing insight, my mind consistently flashed back to his chapter on how our bodies more simply relate to the other (Chapter 4). It’s easy to understand how an appropriate body-faith orientation might improve our marriages or our churches, but what about our larger socio-economic engagement and overarching earthly stewardship?

“We are social even in the womb,” says Anderson, and that sociability “is inextricable from the structure of our bodies.”

When we score a goal, we like to bump chests and give high-fives, the act of which is sometimes followed by hazardous, celebratory dives into a large piles of teammates. When socializing with friends and family, we often prefer to do so over a cup of coffee or a meal, sharing in the most basic bodily necessities as we relate to each other, pour out our hearts, and foster social bonds. These shared bodily pleasures and activities “not only curb our loneliness,” says Anderson, but are “a manifestation of our gratitude for the goodness of the created order that God has placed in us.”

Yet, as is the fundamental premise of the book, Anderson believes the distortion of the body’s place in such interactions has by and large distorted God’s created order in the process. Thanks to the rise of a self-absorbed, short-sighted, and materialistic culture, the social ties necessary for a healthy and flourishing society have largely vanished, and our views of the human body have corresponded accordingly. No longer are our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit, but rather, we have perverted them into serving as temples unto ourselves.

As Anderson explains:

In our late-modern world, the body’s basic dependency upon the world for both its sustenance and its pleasures has been distorted to the extent that what we consume has become central to our identity as persons. What we wear, what we eat (or don’t eat), what we endorse—these become the means by which we construct ourselves…

….In a consumerist society, the world is flattened out as everything becomes an instrument for the individual’s well-being. Things only have value when a consumer desires  them, which means that there is no order of goods to which our desires should confirm.

At the root of this, then, is a sort of “degraded” individualism, as Anderson calls it — the type of misaligned, atomic hedonism that submits to no authority other than its humanistic God of Autonomy. Edmund Burke railed against such an approach back when we Read the rest of this entry »

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No Dominion, No Stewardship: Property Rights and the Environment

This week at Common Sense Concept, I explore the essential primacy of property rights in reaching productive and sustainable environmental solutions. More specifically, I focus on the tragedy of the commons and how God has called us to dominion in order to avoid such manifestations.

As I argue, many Christians prefer a more passive and detached approach to environmental stewardship, opting for advocacy and observation rather than ownership and control. In this view, human engagement with the ecological system is most often an exploitative invasion akin to the Hexxus-possessed tear-down of Fern Gully. Thus, we tend to retreat and assume an attitude that limits productive engagement altogether.

In reality, God has called us to a form of stewardship that is interactive and transformational. Environmental stewardship is not a spectator’s sport.

Here’s an excerpt:

The fact that God calls us to dominion (as displayed “in his image”) indicates that successful stewardship will only come when we exhibit overarching sovereignty and control. God does not tell us to cohabitate with the animals and feed them butter and bread with sugar sprinkled on top. He does not tell us to merely observe his creation and then go about our normal “human” business (though observation is indeed a marvelous thing). We are not to be mere spectators, or even mere protectors. Rather, God calls us to active ownership of creation by which we can take control of it and transform it for the better.

To discuss the natural implications of such a view, I leverage some useful insights from Steven Hayward, author of the new book, Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Owning parts of nature — whether habitat or actual rare species — sounds counterintuitive to the secular mind (though plainly not to the Old Testament Fathers), but Read the rest of this entry »

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Dominion: Transforming God’s Creation

Ancient of Days by William Blake, 1794Christians love to talk about stewardship — about tending to the garden, being resourceful, and managing well. But we tend to shy away from God’s more specific call of dominion. This is understandable, because for many of us dominion implies some sort of aggressive or violent destruction.

Over at The Resurgence, Justin Holcomb provides some great insights on dominion, focusing specifically on how it must mirror the dominion of our Creator.

Holcomb uses Genesis 1:26 as a starting point:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The stereotypical “anti-greenie” view of this verse is framed aptly by Ann Coulter, who once interpreted Genesis 1:26 to mean, “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” The obvious problem with this is that there is nothing productive (or moral) about “rape.” God does not view us as mere resources to exploit, and thus, we should not falter by viewing the rest of creation that way. In this verse, God is making us unique to the rest of creation by forming us in His image. By giving us this power, God is giving us a responsibility to recognize the value in His creation and leverage it appropriately.

As Francis Schaeffer explains (quoted by Holcomb):

Fallen man has dominion over nature, but he uses it wrongly. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.

Holcomb goes on to say that viewing ourselves in God’s image means using Jesus as a primary example for how to dominate creation:

The lordship of Jesus should be our model for understanding how we relate to the natural order. This means that dominion should be expressed as service — sacrificial service of the others with and for whom we are responsible — rather than mastery.

I don’t disagree with this point, but I also don’t think Holcomb Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion

The New Holy Wars by Robert H. NelsonWe have all argued or debated with someone who resists facts and resorts to emotional or idealistic rhetoric. Conversely, we have all found ourselves in positions where we want to ignore the real-world implications of our beliefs for the sake of some perceived justice or goodness.

Whether we’re talking about the foods we eat, the medicines we take, or the public policies we support, we all have a tendency to get religious about the material.

For Robert H. Nelson, author of The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, these examples represent various forms of secular religion. If you look close enough into somebody’s core ideology, Nelson argues, you will surely find parallels to the holy books, priesthoods, and dogmas typically found in “regular” religions.

Nelson acknowledges that there are plenty of competing secular religions in the public sphere; however, he believes that two religions in particular have engaged in what is now the most prominent conflict in American society — namely, economic religion and environmental religion.

But why these religions, and why now?

Nelson argues that both religions emerged during the nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, technological innovation boomed, living standards soared, and access to education expanded.

As Nelson explains:

For the first time ever, one of earth’s creatures — human beings — had literally acquired the capacity to remake ‘the creation’…Astonishingly enough, human beings had now acquired knowledge and powers previously reserved for God.

In other words, the dream of creating heaven on earth was suddenly realistic for those who thought such a feat was actually attainable or desirable. Over time, Nelson argues, the successes of the Industrial Revolution resulted in the emergence of two factions — one that “exalted human control over Read the rest of this entry »

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Eco-Consumerism and Moral Licensing: How to Hide Your Right Hand

Green Bags

A little subtlety would be nice.

A few months ago I wrote a post dealing with green consumerism and its side effects when it comes to priming and licensing.

In the post, I referenced a psychology study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, which concluded that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in the opposite.

Michael Rosenwald recently wrote an article for The Washington Post that points to very similar conclusions (“Why going green won’t make you better or save you money”). The article mentions the same Mazar/Zhong study that I cited in my previous post.

Rosenwald introduces the topic nicely:

We drink Diet Coke — with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald’s. We go to the gym — and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters — then take longer showers. We drive SUVs to see Al Gore’s speeches on global warming.

But why do we continue to make consumer decisions that conflict with the morality/practicality of others?

As Rosenwald explains:

These behavioral riddles beg explanation, and social psychologists are offering one in new studies. The academic name for such quizzical behavior is moral licensing. It seems that we have a good/bad balance sheet in our heads that we’re probably not even aware of. For many people, doing good makes it easier — and often more likely — to do bad. It works in reverse, too: Do bad, then do good.

When I read about these effects, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ warning about giving to the needy:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward Read the rest of this entry »

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Environmental Entrepreneurship: Plastic Bags in Nairobi

When the environment gets neglected, we hear that government needs to take action. When the economy goes down the tubes, we are told that bureaucrats must come to our rescue.

But for Evans Githinji, a 32-year-old entrepreneur in Kenya, achieving prosperity and exhibiting proper stewardship is simply a matter of imagination and initiative. Kenya’s economy is far from thriving, yet Githinji has found a way to both curb environmental harm and bring value to his economy despite his disadvantages.

Hear his story here:

As the video tells us, Githinji’s efforts have led to the opening of 23 collection yards, each of which employs 100 youths in collecting plastic bags.

“I feel great,” says Githinji. “And I feel I’m doing something good for this nation.”

But would it have been better if the Kenyan government had stepped in long ago? Would it have been more efficient if taxpayer money had been poured into dumptrucks and garbage collectors? Would the government have a better grasp on wage rates than Githinji does? Would it be better for Kenyans if the government banned Read the rest of this entry »

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Organic, Local, and Slow: the Pampered vs. the Starving

Pesticide to be sprayed on food crops.

You can thank "poison" like this for helping us feed the world's billions.

Robert Paarlberg has a fantastic piece over at Foreign Policy on the negative organic food is having on the world.

“What’s that?” you say. “You mean I can’t improve my body, heal Mother Earth, and fix poverty in Africa all with one chomp of my socially-conscious organic apple? But I paid an extra dollar!”

People “go organic” for plenty of reasons, but whether it’s for health, the environment, or charity, Paarlberg argues that your efforts are ill-conceived and counterproductive.

But what’s his primary problem with the organic movement?

Helping the world’s poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today’s cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food “sustainable” — in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most.

Indeed, the way people obsess over the food they eat has always struck me as downright bizarre. I understand that we should eat healthy and take care of our bodies, but this global effort to organicize the planet has always seemed a bit overhyped and preachy to me — particularly because the evidence for the argument never seems to match the impetus for its execution.

The more I watch the organic movement’s momentum increase, the more I realize that its implications are much grimmer than I originally suspected. This isn’t so much on the health side of things — in fact, I don’t think there is really any difference on that front — but the push for organic food is doing great harm to the environment, as well as our efforts to decrease global poverty.

In case you didn’t know, many moons ago all farming was “organic,” and people were starving to death.  Some things never change, for you’ll notice that in most Read the rest of this entry »

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Does “Going Green” Lead to Unethical Behavior?

Would driving this ugly thing make you a better person?

Have you ever felt like someone else is better than you because they grocery shop with reusable bags and you’re still snatching 10 to 20 plastic ones?

A new study says that (1) you are most likely being positively impacted by the cloth bag lady, but (2) she is most likely a selfish jerk.

Ok, maybe not quite.

The study actually found that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in quite the opposite.

Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, the study’s authors, sum it up as follows:

Although mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing prosocial and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.

But why would that be Read the rest of this entry »

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