Monday, August 29, 2011

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light Annual Meeting

PA-IPL has its second annual meeting next month.  The program web page is here. There's a reception on Saturday September 17th and then some great-looking events on Sunday September 18th including an interfaith celebration; high-profile talks; a "green fair"; and workshops about practical actions at the levels of family, congregation, and community.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

GreenFaith press release

Here's a more or less final version of the press release about my GreenFaith fellowship that I blogged about last weekend.

John Roe Joins GreenFaith’s National Fellowship Program
National Initiative Trains Religious Leaders for Environmental Leadership

GreenFaith announced today that John Roe, a professor of mathematics at Penn State and a charter member of the Calvary-Gray’s Woods congregation in State College, PA, has been named a GreenFaith Fellow and will join the 2012 Class of the GreenFaith Fellowship Program.  The Fellowship Program is the only US comprehensive education and training program to prepare lay and ordained leaders from diverse religious traditions for environmental leadership.  “We’re thrilled to welcome John to the Program,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith’s Executive Director.  “We look forward to working with him to support his growth as a religious-environmental leader.”

Through three residential retreats, monthly webinars, and extensive reading,  John will receive education and training in eco-theology, “greening” the operation of institutions, environmental advocacy, and environmental justice. Each Fellow writes their own eco-theological statement and carries out a leadership project in their community, mobilizing religious leaders in relation to an environmental issue.  Upon graduating, they will join the Fellowship’s alumni/ae network and mentor other emerging leaders in this field.

John has made his home in State College since 1998 when he and his family moved here from England. Outside mathematics he lists his interests as rock-climbing, cooking, and playing the guitar.  “As soon as I heard about the GreenFaith fellowship program I knew I wanted to be part of it”, says John. “Jesus said that your life is more than the stuff you have. I want to explore how faith communities can hear that challenge and live it out – before our stuff ends up choking us.”

“I am grateful that John is diving into this” added Vic King, pastor at Calvary-Gray’s Woods.  “At Calvary we are growing in our awareness of the needs and opportunities to take better care of God’s earth.  We look forward to the information and influence John will bring to us.”

John will join a class of 25 Fellows from diverse religious backgrounds.  The Fellows represent over ten religious denominations, including Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Unitarian Universalist.  Fellows work in a wide variety of settings, including congregations, universities, campus ministries, NGO’s, and denominational organizations.

GreenFaith’s Executive Director, Rev. Fletcher Harper, directs the Program, with support from a multi-faith and multi-disciplinary faculty.  “This program will offer these leaders the opportunity to become well-trained leaders in religious environmentalism,” said Harper.  “They will help create an environmentally just and sustainable world.”

GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental coalition whose mission is to educate and mobilize diverse religious communities for environmental leadership.  Founded in 1992, GreenFaith is a leader in the fast-growing religious-environmental movement and has won national and international recognition for its work.  For more information, see

GreenFaith is grateful to the Kendeda Sustainability Fund for support for the Fellowship Program.  For more information, visit

The expressed opinions, informational content and links displayed above do not necessarily reflect a position or policy of The Pennsylvania State University or its affiliates. No official endorsement by The Pennsylvania State University of the viewpoints expressed therein should be inferred.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Press Release

I got my first homework assignment from GreenFaith today. I have to compose a press release about the program and my participation in it.

This is definitely a bit outside my comfort zone. I am better at reading and thinking than I am at acting and "going public". I'm glad now I started to blog about my experience... that's a step in the same direction. The world surely needs thinkers - but it needs activists too.

Anyhow, I'll post the press release when its done.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Discounting the Future

How much is the future worth relative to the present?

At the bottom of many environmental issues is the question of intergenerational justice. Are we passing on the planet to our descendants in as good a state as we inherited it from our ancestors (sustainability)? Or is my generation impoverishing the future? To try to answer this question one needs a way of comparing goods or harms occurring at different times.

The standard economic answer is given by the discount rate or time value of money. A discount rate of 10% means that a hundred dollars in my pocket now is just as valuable as a guaranteed payment of 110 dollars in a years time. Once the discount rate is set, once can compare economic impacts at different times. A high discount rate suggests that future events should have low influence on our present choices. The Stern Review of climate change, commissioned by the British government, recommended radical steps primarily because of its assumption of a much lower discount rate (I think 1.4%), which gave greater value to the impacts of climate change on long timescales. Critics of the review argued, among other things, that this discount rate was unrealistically low in the light of historical data.

But where does the discount rate come from? It reflects our belief that "resources today can be transformed into more resources later" - in other words, that we will keep growing. A high discount rate, which might tell us not to fret so much about climate change, means that we are committing to a high growth rate out into the future; and, things being as they are, that means more energy use, more fuel consumption, more carbon dioxide... and more climate change.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: David Ehrenfeld, The Arrogance of Humanism, Oxford University Press, 1981

The Arrogance of Humanism (Galaxy Books)The Arrogance of Humanism by David W. Ehrenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book when I was a graduate student in Oxford.  That must have been rather soon after it was published, though my memory is that the copy I still own was bought second-hand or remaindered. Perhaps this book’s uncompromising message meant that it was far from popular.   

One possible confusion should be cleared up at the start.  At that time, many books and articles could be found which aimed to mobilize evangelical Christians against what was often described as “secular humanism”, thought of as a kind of established irreligion.  Ehrenfeld’s title might make you think this is one of those books.  It isn’t.  In fact, many Christians (and other religious believers) might be surprised to find themselves among the “humanists” of the book’s title.

So what is the “humanism” that Ehrenfeld identifies? It is “our irrational faith in the limitless power of human reason – its ability to confront and solve the many problems that humans face, its ability to rearrange both the world of Nature and the affairs of men and women so that human life will prosper.” Ehrenfeld perceives this faith as a secularized version of the Greek and medieval doctrine of final causes – the idea that everything exists for some discernible end or purpose, primarily for the benefit of humanity. “Thus the idea of using a Nature created for us, the idea of control, and the idea of human superiority became associated early in our history… It only remained to diminish the idea of God, and we arrived at full-fledged humanism.” And later, “Humanism is at the heart of our present world culture; we share its unseen assumptions of control, and this bond makes mockery of more superficial differences (among us).”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Will "Growing Faster" Fix the Economy?

Here is President Obama's address for this week. Two or three times, he tells us that his priority is to "get this economy growing faster".

Republicans and Democrats disagree over how to achieve this objective.  Is "stimulus" money wasted, or can it prime the pump for growth?  Do tax cuts encourage businesses to hire, so expanding the economy, or do they merely line the pockets of the already well-off?  But virtually no-one questions the idea that "growing faster" should be our goal - not growth towards some vision of maturity, but "growing faster", growth for its own sake, for ever.

But nothing can grow for ever.

One of the few people who have been thinking carefully - from the perspective of technical economics - about what a no-growth or steady state economy might look like is Herman Daly, a former World Bank economist who is now a professor at Maryland.  Daly is one of the founders of the new discipline of ecological economics, which aims to understand the human economy as one component of the ecology of the planet that we share. In this recent interview, he explains more about this.  Here's the conclusion of the interview:

Interviewer: Do you think that in the future all economics will necessarily be ecological economics?
Daly: That’s what I expect. I mean, we’re faced with two impossibilities. On the one hand, it’s politically impossible to stop growth. On the other hand, it’s biophysically impossible to continue it ad infinitum. So, which impossibility is fundamentally impossible? Well, you know, I’ll take my chances with trying to change the politically impossible, because I don’t think I can change the biophysically impossible.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Material World

George Carlin hits the mark.  American households are drowning in "stuff".  But why?

There's a ready answer that many preachers and people of faith would give.  Materialism! Too much attention, too much attachment to physical objects; not enough to the realm of the spirit. Surely this is the ground for a culture of endless accumulation.

I don't think this is right; or, a least, I don't think it cuts deep enough. When you think of a greedy materialist, you might think of a miser returning every evening to gloat over the beautiful objects he has hoarded.  But that kind of greed is not really characteristic of consumer society.  When I've acquired the IPhone 4, I may gloat for a while; but only until my neighbor gets an IPhone 5. Perpetual dissatisfaction, rather than gloating satisfaction, is what I feel about my stuff.

William Cavanaugh writes, "What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment.  People do not hoard money; they spend it.  People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things...Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else; that's why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism."

What if our unsatisfying overconsumption is a symptom, not of materialism, but of a restless and misguided spiritual quest?  What if we're not materialistic enough?