Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Global Climate Change Negotiations

Reposting this really intriguing article by John Baez over at Azimuth.  He writes:

There were many interesting talks at the Interdisciplinary Climate Change Workshop last week—too many for me to describe them all in detail. But I really must describe the talks by Radoslav Dimitrov. They were full of important things I didn’t know. Some are quite promising.

Radoslav S. Dimitrov is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario. What’s interesting is that he’s also been a delegate for the European Union at the UN climate change negotiations since 1990! His work documents the history of climate negotiations from behind closed doors.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wanted: a theology of mining (part 4)

Pope Francecso IIn my last post (#3) on "theology of mining", a while back now, I mentioned the theological and ethical questions that mining raises, and I wrote: "I hope that better qualified people than I am will get into this discussion!"

Well, it seems like someone was listening.  The Vatican news website today reports Pope Francis' message for a  day of reflection on the mining industry, which was celebrated on 7 September and attended by representatives of the world's most important mining companies, including the Anglo American, China Minmetals Corporation, Rio Tinto and Zamin Resources, as well as experts in the sector from within the Catholic Church, Caritas and Oxfam America.

The statement says: "The participants in this meeting are aware that, so as not to repeat grave errors of the past, decisions today cannot be taken solely from geological perspectives or the possible economic benefits for investors and for the states in which the companies are based. A new and more profound decision-making process is indispensable and inescapable, one which takes into consideration the complexity of the problems involved, in a context of solidarity. Such a context requires, first of all, that workers be assured of all their economic and social rights, in full accordance with the norms and recommendations of the International Labor Organisation. Likewise it requires the assurance that extraction activities respect international standards for the protection of the environment. The great challenge of business leaders is to create a harmony of interests, involving investors, managers, workers, their families, the future of their children, the preservation of the environment on both a regional and international scale, and a contribution to world peace."

My earlier posts in this series: part 1, part 2, part 3

(H/T Fletcher Harper for the link to the Vatican statement.)

Image from Flickr user Jeffrey Bruno, licensed under Creative Commons

Thursday, October 24, 2013

More thoughts on math and sustainability

The blog "Getting to Green" is written by a university administrator who "pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium." Today's posting has some extended reflections on the importance of the quantitative aspect of understanding sustainability, which closely mirror my own. You can read it here.

I'm excited to report that my Math for Sustainability course was approved by Penn State's Faculty Senate, and will run for the first time next fall (Fall 2014): later than I had hoped, but the stately pace of university bureaucracy is hard to hurry.  The university put out a nice press release which has already brought me a couple of outside requests for interviews or information.  Here's the hook:

Quick, how many trips to the landfill does Penn State’s recycling program save each year? If I double the thickness of my loft insulation, how much energy will I save? How much might the melting of the polar ice caps amplify the effect of global warming?

After a semester in Professor John Roe’s Mathematics of Sustainability course, his students will know how to figure out the answers to these questions. Roe, and undergraduate research assistant Kaley Weinstein, are preparing a series of sustainability-related problems for a new general education course in mathematics. Their target audience: the student who is not going into science, mathematics or engineering.
You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thoughts on "Faith for Thought"

It's three weeks since the Faith for Thought 2013 conference, Seeds of Hope, and the rush of the day has subsided a little bit.  So I need to set down some thoughts about the event, trying to measure it against what we had hoped for, and to see what went well and what could be improved for any future iteration.

  1. All the response we had was positive, and I think everyone who took part had a wonderful day.  The three main speakers - Lisa Sharon Harper, Richard Alley, and Ben Lowe - brought different insights into the central questions of faith, justice and creation care.  In between, the small-group breakout sessions gave people the opportunity to reflect, process, and engage more deeply.  At least one participant described the experience as "life changing".
  2. I love the overall feel of the day, with its mixture of large and small groups, informal interaction, Byron Borger's wonderful book table, and the  way the whole event is framed by worship.
  3. The number of participants was enough to give the day critical mass - and, in surveys, some said they liked the intimacy of the occasion - but it was many fewer than we had hoped, based on the experience of previous Faith for Thought events.  Related to this (at least in my mind) is the high proportion of survey respondents saying that already existing environmental concerns were among their main reasons for taking part in FFT.  In other words, we were reaching teh committed, but we were not as successful as we'd hoped in sharing the message that creation care belongs on the agenda of every thoughtful Christian believer.
Perhaps it is inevitable that a one-day conference comes across as an event for the already committed, especially in a world where overscheduled students often seem to measure out their available time in microsecond increments.  If so, we might need to think about shorter events which will motivate those who don't think of themselves as "green" to think a bit more deeply about the call to care for God's creation.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book review: Playing God


Andy Crouch's Playing God has received a lot of press recently.  For in-depth, thoughtful and positive reviews from smart people, you could look here, here and here.  I'm sure there will be more.
The thing is, I agree that this is an important book on an important topic, closely related to our recent posts on "chastened activism".  But I also think it is gravely flawed.  I don't usually do negative reviews but I've chewed over this one for a while.  If you want to know more, read on.