Where’s the Rejoicing?

A few months ago Rich Blinne posted on the Voices blog a discussion of the BP Gulf oil spill entitled “Where’s the outrage?”–no doubt a warranted critique of evangelical Christians’ response to the human caused disaster. But now that the leak has been stopped–also due to human effort–I have wondered “Where’s the rejoicing?” Indeed, we had prayers in our church about the disaster–prayers of confession and supplications that God would help us put a stop to the spewing of oil into the gulf and that he would assist us in recovering from all the environmental damage. I continue to hear from Christian environmentalist groups that the Gulf spill is an example of human exploitation of the environment and a sin against God and his good creation.

But where is the acknowledgment of the “end” of the disaster? Where is the thanks to God that the well has been capped? Where is the recognition that accomplishing this was due to human technological innovation? Where is the admission that the stopping of the leak was an act of dominion, stewardship, preservation, and even earthkeeping? And while I do hear some reports about the environmental recovery effort (both human and “natural”), I’m not hearing a lot. It leads me to think that things are not as bad as some thought they would be or as bad as they could have been. And what of the good that might come out of this? Safety features for future drilling operations. More consistent enforcement of regulations.

I wonder if this is not the ordinary process of technological innovation in a fallen world. We use the gifts and resources that God has given us. Most of us in the green camp who are Christians would admit that use of these resources is part of our earthkeeping task. We must be responsible with the risks but we must admit that hardly any technology is zero-risk. Sometimes we don’t even know the risks (or at least their magnitude) until disaster strikes. Then we use our God-given abilities, resources and mandates to figure out how to fix what we broke and move on to a better future stewardship.

15 comments to Where’s the Rejoicing?

  • Richard Blinne

    This morning a case for true rejoicing where technology uncoupled from corporate greed really helps people, this time in Haiti. Technology is neither demon nor savior but is dependent on how it’s used.


    “Mercy Corps, through a United States government-financed program, is providing food for people here in St.-Marc who have taken in earthquake survivors. The standard method would be to hand out bags of rice, or vouchers. Instead, Mercy Corps will be pushing a button once a month, and $40 will automatically go into each person’s cellphone savings account — redeemable at local merchants for rice, corn flour, beans or cooking oil.

    I took one of these phones and walked into a humble little grocery shop with no electricity — “Rosie Boutique,” named for the owner’s little daughter — and became the first person to make a cellphone purchase there. I typed the codes into my phone, and then both my phone and the store’s phone received instantaneous text messages saying that the transfer was complete. The food was now mine.
    “It doesn’t get any cooler than this,” said Kokoévi Sossouvi, the Mercy Corps program manager. She’s right — and the technology isn’t just cool, but could be a breakthrough in chipping away at global poverty.”

  • Richard Blinne

    Some more cause for rejoicing. There’s some signs that some people are beginning to get it but they are at the grass roots rather than leadership levels. First the bad news.
    The Cornwall Alliance is warning against the “green dragon” and making outrageous statements like the NY Times noted:
    “Mr. Beisner wrote that he had so far not met a single evangelical “who has been able to rehearse the most basic arguments pro and con regarding the most important physical issue” in the global warming debate, “which is climate sensitivity.””
    Despite this, there is still reasons for hope. The Washington Post just did an interesting piece on a conservative activist that saw the astroturf Americans for Prosperity for what they were. Evangelical leadership may be clueless but the people on the ground are beginning to get it and that is a reason for rejoicing.

    “Two years ago, Bell was a floral arranger in Cincinnati with plenty of time on her hands (she used to trim five Christmas trees in her suburban house) and strong opinions about the direction in which the United States was going (down).

    Now, she was a full-time political activist, the head of a fast-growing Ohio tea party group and an influential voice in the movement. Influential enough that Americans for Prosperity, one of the most well-heeled tea party backers in the country, had invited her to help protest a U.N. climate change conference in Cancun.
    It bothered her that no one had told her why she had been invited, or just what she would be doing. But she hadn’t pushed too hard to find out before saying yes. It was tough to turn down a trip to Mexico in December.

    Bell had been delighted when Americans for Prosperity invited her to Mexico. A free-market advocacy group founded by oil billionaire David Koch, AFP was one of the nation’s largest donors to GOP causes and candidates.

    But how was any of that relevant to a global-warming summit?
    “I’m not sure what we’re really going to be experiencing,” Bell had said on the flight down.
    She was hoping the summit would present a chance to immerse herself in the climate change debate. Her hosts, however, had other plans for her that involved standing where she was told and smiling for the cameras. Her presence lent Americans for Prosperity grass-roots credibility. For Bell, the experience was aggravating. It fed her doubts about where the movement would take her next. It made her wonder if she would want to go.

    The morning after they arrived in Mexico, Bell and about 60 other activists boarded white vans to make the 30-minute drive toward the U.N. delegates’ meeting.
    The caravan stopped along a dusty shoulder, opposite a large convention center housing exhibits related to the conference. Bell and her fellow activists got out, stood along the side of the road and posed for pictures. They had all been given Americans for Prosperity T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Bureaucrats Gone Wild.” They held a giant novelty check made out for $100 billion, mocking a proposal to give that much money to developing nations to combat climate change.
    In front of them stood Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, waiting for his cue to begin speaking into a video camera. [Note: Tim Phillips just co-wrote an WSJ op-ed concerning the EPA “power grab” with the chairman-designate of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton.]
    “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to give $100 billion of American taxpayer money to developing nations through the United Nations,” he began. “We think that with a $1.3 trillion deficit, we don’t need to be doing something like that, especially for a bogus ideology that Al Gore is pushing.”
    And cut. Everyone back into the vans.
    Next was a stop at the conference’s Climate Change Village, which looked like a large fairground of exhibits, tents and buildings. Here, Phillips shot another video mocking a “relaxation room” that had a floor made of palm fronds.
    It started to dawn on Bell that her high hopes of informing herself about the complexities of the global-warming debate would not be realized on this trip. She was also put off by Phillips’s sarcastic tone.

    Bell’s pique grew when Phillips shot another video belittling an exhibit that showed what an energy-efficient home might look like in the future: a small refrigerator, a low-flow shower heads and a clothes-washing basin that directed used water into a garden.
    Phillips made fun of the model home’s five-gallon water heater. “Good luck with that – I’ve got three teenagers!” he said to the camera.
    “I’m not on board with this,” Bell told Thomas. “Ed and I looked into that when we were looking at moving to Colorado.”
    By lunchtime, the activists were on their way back to the CasaMagna resort. Their work for the day was done. Bell wouldn’t have a chance to talk to any U.N. delegates, listen to any proceedings or even get within shouting distance of the conference. She felt like a prop for Americans for Prosperity.”

  • Richard Blinne

    Here’s some good news from the latest edition of Science:
    Methane was the most abundant hydrocarbon released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond relevancy to this anthropogenic event, this methane release simulates a rapid and relatively short-term natural release from hydrates into deep water. Based on methane and oxygen distributions measured at 207 stations throughout the affected region, we find that within ~120 days from the onset of release ~3.0 × 1010 to 3.9 × 1010 moles of oxygen were respired, primarily by methanotrophs, and left behind a residual microbial community containing methanotrophic bacteria. We suggest that a vigorous deepwater bacterial bloom respired nearly all the released methane within this time, and that by analogy, large-scale releases of methane from hydrate in the deep ocean are likely to be met by a similarly rapid methanotrophic response. [emphasis mine]

  • Scot Sutherland

    A couple of naive questions:  It appears to me that the gloom and doom of spoiled beaches and ruined economies have not come to pass.  As a lay observer of this field I find myself lacking trust in those that reported an assessment of the situation.  The few engineers in the field that I do know didn’t seem at all panicky about the situation and predicted that we’d be talking about something else in a few months.  They did warn that there may be more long term consequences that nobody will talk about.  Do lay people get a fair and balanced picture of these kinds of events?  Why do I feel as if my emotions and beliefs have been abused by overblown prophesies of gloom and doom?  How do we as believers navigate through the spin to find the reality?  Is there a need for more humility on the part of prognosticators and experts, maybe a greater focus on asking the difficult questions and less posturing about particular predictions?

  • Richard Blinne

    Scot, here’s a good description of how the assessment of the damage of the spill is currently being done. Much of the science is still in the field so any conclusions should be treated as preliminary. One of the key problems as shown in this video is much of the science is still under embargo both for scientific and legal reasons. Still, enough of the research is now in the public domain to get a rough sense of what the short and long term effects of the spill are going to be. As to be expected, the results are between the end of the world as we know it and no big deal.
    “Do lay people get a fair and balanced picture of these kinds of events?”
    They do if they don’t get their information from the “think tanks” and the media outlets that promotes them. Starting in the 70s with the tobacco companies trying to protect themselves against lawsuits, alternatives to the standard scientific process were created, e.g the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute (founded by the Koch brothers), the Heartland Institute, etc. You can see this now with the recent “hearings” in Congress concerning global warming where non-scientists are promoted as true scientific experts. For example, a marketing professor from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business whose “research” was funded by the Heartland Institute was now an expert on global warming. He wrote the following letter to the New York Times yesterday after op-ed writer and Nobel-prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, noted the lack of true scientific expertise at the hearings.

    “To the Editor:
    In “The Truth, Still Inconvenient” (column, April 4), Paul Krugman begins with a “joke” about “an economist, a lawyer and a professor of marketing” walking into a room, in this case to testify at a Congressional hearing on climate science.
    I am the marketing professor, and I was invited to testify because I am a forecasting expert.
    With Dr. Kesten C. Green and Dr. Willie Soon, I found that the global warming alarm is based on improper forecasting procedures. We developed a simple model that provides forecasts that are 12 times more accurate than warming-alarm forecasts for 90 to 100 years ahead.
    We identified 26 analogous situations, such as the alarm over mercury in fish. Government actions were demanded in 25 situations and carried out in 23. None of the alarming forecasts were correct, none of the interventions were useful, and harm was caused in 20.
    Mr. Krugman challenged 2 of the 26 analogies, “acid rain and the ozone hole,” which he said “have been contained precisely thanks to environmental regulation.” We are waiting for his evidence.
    “What’s the punch line?” he asked. I recommended an end to government financing for climate change research and to associated programs and regulations. And that’s no joke.
    Philadelphia, April 6, 2011
    The writer is a professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.”

    That one of the colleagues cited was Willie Soon should be a warning bell that something is fishy. Armstrong’s so-called simple model is really an embarrassment to anyone who has done a scientific or engineering model. It’s not a numerical model built on physics but rather based on “analogies”. No wonder the financial world didn’t see the Great Recession coming if this is what is being taught at our premier business schools as forecasting. Note also this:
    ” We seek peer review, especially with evidence that would challenge our findings or conclusions.”
    But this is one of the five experts noted by Paul Krugman as follows:
    “So the joke begins like this: An economist, a lawyer and a professor of marketing walk into a room. What’s the punch line? They were three of the five “expert witnesses” Republicans called for last week’s Congressional hearing on climate science.”
    Krugman is also an economist so his critique of Armstrong could be applied to him personally. So, what do real climate scientists think? Note the principles cited by the Real Climate blog are good ones to follow to answer Scot’s other good question: “How do we as [lay] believers navigate through the spin to find the reality?”

    “G+A’s recent foray into climate science might therefore be a good case study for why their principles have not won wide acceptance. In the spirit of their technique, we’ll use a scientific methodology – let’s call it ‘the principles of cross-disciplinary acceptance’ (TM pending). For each principle, we assign a numerical score between -2 and 2, and the average will be our ‘scientific’ conclusion…
    Principle 1: When moving into a new field, don’t assume you know everything about it because you read a review and none of the primary literature.
    Score: -2
    G+A appear to have only read one chapter of the IPCC report (Chap 8), and an un-peer reviewedhatchet job on the Stern report. Not a very good start…
    Principle 2: Talk to people who are doing what you are concerned about.
    Score: -2
    Of the roughly 20 climate modelling groups in the world, and hundreds of associated researchers, G+A appear to have talked to none of them. Strike 2.
    Principle 3: Be humble. If something initially doesn’t make sense, it is more likely that you’ve mis-understood than the entire field is wrong.
    Score: -2
    For instance, G+A appear to think that climate models are not tested on ‘out of sample’ data (they gave that a ‘-2′). On the contrary, the models are used for many situations that they were not tuned for, paleo-climate changes (mid Holocene, last glacial maximum, 8.2 kyr event) being a good example. Similarly, model projections for the future have been matched with actual data – for instance, forecasting the effects of Pinatubo ahead of time, or Hansen’s early projections. The amount of ‘out of sample’ testing is actually huge, but the confusion stems from G+A not being aware of what the ‘sample’ data actually consists of (mainly present day climatology). Another example is that G+A appear to think that GCMs use the history of temperature changes to make their projections since they suggest leaving some of it out as a validation. But this is just not so, as we discussed more thoroughly in a recent thread.
    Principle 4: Do not ally yourself with rejectionist rumps with clear political agendas if you want to be taken seriously by the rest of the field.
    Score: -2
    The principle climatologist that G+A appear to have talked to is Bob ‘global warming stopped in 1998′ Carter, who doesn’t appear to think that the current CO2 rise is even anthropogenic. Not terribly representative…
    Principle 5: Submit your paper to a reputable journal whose editors and peer reviewers will help improve your text and point out some of these subtle misconceptions.
    Score: -2
    Energy and Environment. Need we say more?
    Principle 6: You can ignore all the above principles if you are only interested in gaining publicity for a book.
    Score: +2

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