Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Holy War Over the Environment

“I believe the purpose of life is to glorify God, and we can’t do that if we’re heaping contempt on the creation.” So said Al Gore in his testimony last week before Congress.

On NPR this past Sunday, Richard Cizik, the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, had this to say: “Supposing we allow coal burning utility plants to emit mercury into our air that’s then absorbed by fishes, and taken in by women, pregnant, who then transmit that, let’s call it that toxin, to their unborn babies. Isn’t that a sanctity of human life issue? Absolutely. Evangelicals know this. And thus we have to be speaking out about the impacts of our environmental degradation, as much as we need to be speaking out about the degradation of the taking of human unborn life.”

Is the ‘global warming: yes or no?’ debate, played out for decades in a debate over science, giving way to a holy war over the environment?

For many years, environmental debates in this country have been framed predominantly in scientific terms. Are humans responsible for ozone depletion? How much of a threat does mercury from coal-fired power plants pose? Is global warming happening and are we to blame? That’s not to say that other concerns, such as morality, fairness, and intergenerational equity, have not played a role. But science has dominated the terms of the debate. Now we may be witnessing the beginnings of shift toward values-based debate on these issues at the expense of science-based debate.

To the extent that environmentalists succumb to feelings of rapture over this turn of events — and their new-found evangelical allies in particular — they may be doing so at their peril. A values debate, particularly one focused on religious values, is likely to be much more caustic than a scientific one. So don't be lulled by the nice nice now being made between environmentalists and evangelicals.

Witness the well-reported split over global warming between the National Association of Evangelicals, and conservative evangelicals such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family. On the surface, it has centered on the usual question: ‘global warming: yes or no?’ But it has really been a more fundamental argument over religious values. This argument has in turn brought to the surface ideas that environmentalists — and environmental journalists in their coverage — could find much more difficult to deal with.

For Dobson and his contingent, global warming is just one battle in a larger holy war they are fighting against both the materialist philosophy of science (the idea that everything we observe is the result of material interactions), and New Age environmental spiritualism that worships nature itself. In both cases, they see themselves as waging a battle against the idea that humans are nothing special and responsible for the degradation of creation.

"I am today raising a flag of opposition to this alarmism about global warming and urging all believers to refuse to be duped by these 'earthism' worshippers," Jerry Falwell told his congregants in a sermon on Feb. 25 at his Lynchburg, Va., church.

Environmentalists who claim that humans are responsible for environmental degradation are advancing a “one-sided and unbiblical view of human nature,” states a joint paper of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. “Humans are seen merely as consumers and polluters of the Earth. The Bible describes human
beings as fallen along with the rest of creation, yes; but it still describes us as image-bearers of God, who can exercise dominion, produce wealth, and cultivate creation. The Bible claims that the Earth was shaped by a benevolent Creator to be the habitat that sustains and enriches human life even as humans sustain and enrich the Earth through our creativity and industry.”

The position paper acknowledges that humans cannot be fruitful and multiply forever, because the surface of the Earth is finite. But it says that we’ve not come even close to reaching those limits, and that God, through the bible, commands us to expand our numbers, and in this way improve his creation. This is what stewardship is really about — resisting abortion and expanding our population so as to exert our dominion over the Earth.

In the end, these folks believe that evangelicals like Richard Cizik have thrown in with the enemy. They are unwittingly helping to advance a Godless, materialist philosophy that demotes human beings to a status no greater than bacteria, and as a result sees no problem with killing the unborn in the name of population control. And all this, they believe, to preserve the environmentalists’ Gaian god.

Actually, there is something to the idea that environmentalism often takes on qualities of religion. As much as I hate to admit it, Michael Crichton made a convincing case for this in a speech he gave in 2003. “Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism . . . There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.”

That judgment day has been dramatically articulated by folks like James Howard Kunstler, author of the ”The Long Emergency”. No religionist is he. But in his scathing, puritanical language (see his bloglike diary: ”The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle”) he demonstrates that he is as convinced of the coming Apocalypse as Jerry Falwell.

On the other side of the holy war, those who see the quasi-religion of environmentalism as a direct threat to their own spiritual beliefs are girded for battle. Go to Environmentalism.com and you will find this: “Environmentalism is not about a desire to have cleaner water and air. It is now a full-fledged religion, and its main tenet is ‘raw nature’ as god-like, and Mankind as a plague infecting it. If you support environmentalism, the fact is that you're supporting an idealogy [sic] that promotes the destruction of Mankind - and concretely, that includes yourself and everyone you care about.”

Sometimes, the rage positively boils over. Last year, University of Texas ecologist Eric Pianka received death threats after he delivered a speech to the Texas Academy of Sciences, where he received the TAS 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award. In his speech, Pianka made his long-standing case that humans have overpopulated the earth, and that sooner or later our population is going to crash, reducing our numbers by 90 percent, possibly because of a virulent contagion such as airborne Ebola. Forrest M. Mims III, a well-known anti-evolutionist, wrote an account of the speech in which he said that Pianka had actually issued a “call for mass death” — that, in fact, the ecologist actually advocates deliberate genocide through biological warfare.

Pianka says he did no such thing — that he simply was describing what he believes will happen if we do not control our population.

I would like to hope that thoughtful secularists and creation-care evangelicals will continue to find common cause and prevent extremists from recasting the issue as a holy war over the environment. But I don’t have my hopes up. And if you have enjoyed the debate over evolution versus creationism and intelligent design, you’re going to love this new holy war over the environment.


Kit Stolz said...

Here's the central question, I think: Do environmentalists and evolutionists provoke the rage of fundamentalists and creationists? Or are these believers angry because science is challenging their deeply-held views?

If it's the latter, than the over-the-top rage of the right will become self-defeating. I think we're already seeing this at times, as in the criticism from both left and right directed towards James Inhofe, who was high-handed and rude towards Al Gore when he appeared to testify in the Senate. You don't need a degree in climatology to detect a sneer.

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nicole said...

Here is a post I just sent to the principles of the NAE, I thought this technology would also be of interest to you. ( I really don't believe what I said about Democratic environmentalism, just trying to speak their language :) )

Dear Sirs,

After reading of your efforts in today's Washington Post ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/11/AR2007101102537.html ),

I hope to convince you to support the only truly conservative policy to confront the irresponsible environmentalism being pushed on us by the democrats.

This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and the truest form of creation care.

Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too!

I thought the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP)soils and closed-loop pyrolysis would interest you.
SCIAM Article May 15 07;


After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

for the 2007 Farm Bill


Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
National Renewable Energy Laboratory


The organization 25x25 (see 25x'25 - Home) released it's (first-ever, 55-page )"Action Plan" ; see; http://www.25x25.org/storage/25x25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf
On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: "The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration."
and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: "Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems."

I feel 25x25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as the Democrats/Enviromentalist try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I've been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who's back round I don't know have joined.

Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

The Honolulu Advertiser: “The nation's leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai'i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.”

About a year ago I got Clorox interested in TP soils and Dr. Antal's Plasma Carbonazation process.

See: http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007707280348

ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,............ and that now......... we are over doing it.

The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world's forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

The best estimates I've found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
the other 2/3.

Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, "Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day's are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative". and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I'm sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it's implementation.

The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

.Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

Here's the Cornell page for an over view:

University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=taxonomy/term/118

This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

Glomalin, the recently discovered soil protien, may be the secret to to TP soils productivity http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2003/030205.htm

The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it's benefits is this one static:

One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994). http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/carbon1.html

All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I've found:

Carbon Diversion

Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns

BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis - Biomass - Clean Energy - Renewable Ene

Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy

Ensyn - Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals

Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste

Advanced BioRefinery Inc.

Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( http://iaiconference.org/home.html ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)

If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using "Slash & CHAR" verses "Slash & Burn", it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
1047 Dave Berry Rd.
McGaheysville, VA. 22840
(540) 289-9750

SKYWAY said...

Humans are causing the warming. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased over the last century or so. But water vapor still provides over 95 percent of greenhouse gas influences. So, how likely is it that the very small percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans is causing WARNING?