The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Around the web 8/11/2013 — YEC problems with poop, having the flying spaghetti monster for lunch, and more

YEC ARGUMENTS BURIED IN DEEP DOO-DOO — The Natural Historian has written a post I wish I had written: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood. Coprolites are pieces of fossilized excrement (and back when I was in graduate school, also the name of my geology department’s intramural softball team). The fossil record has an abundance of fossil turds: fecal pellets from all those invertebrates, fish poop, bird droppings, and rather large dino patties.

How would these have been deposited and preserved in the global deluge? Wouldn’t the sediment-rich slurry of the flood waters have disintegrated your average turd? How would poop piles end up in the same layers as their respective poopers?  After all, there are no dino turds in the Cambrian, and as far as we can tell, dinosaurs never stepped in dog doo-doo.

PSYCHOLOGICALLY SOUND — It is good to see a fellow Montanan writing a solid defense of Christianity: The Apologetic Professor. The author is a psychology professor at the University of Montana. But he is very wrong about one thing, so I’ll say “Go Cats!”

FEELING A BIT LIKE HEZEKIAH — The big boom in natural gas production in the United States is driven by production from shale, by the new technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has produced a chart showing the past and projected future production of natural gas in the United States:


So, at least we won’t run out of natural gas in our lifetimes. That means we can go on with the status quo: drill baby drill. We can just kick back like good ol’ King Hezekiah:

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” — 2 Kings 20:16-19 (ESV)

HT: Geology News

HAVING THE SPAGHETTI MONSTER FOR LUNCH— Some clever atheists came up with the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Monster a few years ago to try to discredit arguments for the existence of God. For example, if Christians say that a certain piece of evidence points to the existence of God, the pastafarian (a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) would say that the same piece of evidence points to the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. The arguments for the existence of something/someone who is the uncaused cause, the origin of order and design, and the giver of moral laws, are in a completely different category than the arguments for an FSM. Put quite simply, there is no evidence for the existence of an FSM, and there is evidence for the existence of God.

Greg Koukl briefly discusses the FSM on the Stand to Reason blog:

August 11, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Around the Web, Atheism, Energy, Environment, Young-Earth creationism | , | 1 Comment

Less oil and more oil

Two petroleum articles from Yahoo News…

The first article is about declining petroleum outputs from Saudi Arabia: WikiLeaks: Saudis running out of oil

The latest startling revelation to come via documents leaked to Julian Assange’s muckraking website and published by The Guardian should give pause to every suburban SUV-driver: U.S. officials think Saudi Arabia is overpromising on its capacity to supply oil to a fuel-thirsty world. That sets up a scenario, the documents show, whereby the Saudis could dramatically underdeliver on output by as soon as next year, sending fuel prices soaring.

The cables detail a meeting between a U.S. diplomat and Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration for Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, in November 2007. Husseini told the American official that the Saudis are unlikely to keep to their target oil output of  12.5 million barrels per day output in order to keep prices stable. Husseini also indicated that Saudi producers are likely to hit “peak oil” — the point at which global output hit its high mark — as early as 2012. That means, in essence, that it will be all downhill from there for the enormous Saudi oil industry.

The second article is about a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracing” or “fracking”) that is used to enhance production from oil and gas wells: New drilling method opens vast oil fields in US

Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day — more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.

This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.

“That’s a significant contribution to energy security,” says Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Credit Suisse.

The first article is bad news for the world if we just sit back and do nothing. The second article is good news for America’s economic and military security, at least in the short turn. In the long term, of course, we need to find alternatives.

Grace and Peace

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Energy, Geology | 3 Comments

Renewable by 2030?

From National Geographic: Going “All the Way”: With Renewable Energy?

In a world where fossil fuel provides more than 80 percent of energy, what would it take to go completely green? Could the world switch over to power from only the wind, sun, waves, and heat from the Earth in only a few decades?

The article explores what it would take to get 100% of the world’s energy needs by 2030, and looks at a few of the obstacles. The researchers highlighted in the article propose doing all of this without reliance on biofuels or nuclear energy.

I believe that we must switch to renewable energy sources, and the sooner the better. Our present over-dependence on fossil fuels is bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and bad for national and world security. The solution isn’t “drill baby drill,” and it isn’t just sitting around and letting the market take care of our problems (the market tends to be rather blind to the future on things like this). We need energy policies that have our great-great-great grandchildren in mind, not just the next election.

Here are a few of my thoughts and questions:

  • Why try to go 100% without biofuels?
  • Why try to go 100% without nuclear? I’m not a huge fan of nuclear energy, but recognize it as a useful transitional energy source.
  • Being that wind/solar/waves/geothermal only account for 3% of our energy now, is it realistic to aim for 100% renewable by 2030?
  • For a more realistic target, could we aim for 50% (or some other number) dependence on renewable energy sources by 2030?
  • Many of these renewable technologies require other resources that are in short supply, such as rare earth elements. What will the negative consequences of a rapid move to 100% renewable be? (And what are the negative consequences of the status quo?)

Grace and Peace

HT: The Green Life

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Technology | , , , | 7 Comments

Operation World — missions and the Earth and environmental sciences

One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.

The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.

The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:

  • “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
  • “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
  • “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
  • “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
  • “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
  • And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).

Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:

Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.


Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.


Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.


Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.

a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.

b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.

c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.

d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:

i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.

ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).

iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).

iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).

v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.

These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration


Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.

a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.

b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.

c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.


Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.

Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?

Operation World can be purchased from and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.

Grace and Peace

January 18, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Future, Geology, Health, Missions | , , , | 3 Comments

Gulf Oil Spill map

ESRI has a nice map showing the current extent of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, along with other themes such as wind and ocean currents.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Situational Awareness Viewer

Grace and Peace

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Maps | Leave a comment

What Obama has done right (or at least better than the Republicans have done)

I go to a Republican church, and I vote almost exclusively Republican. When I lived in St. Louis, I also went to a Republican church, but the church next door was a Democrat church. You could tell by bumper stickers on the cars. This kind of bothers me. Would a Democrat feel comfortable in my church? I would hope so, because one can certainly hold to many principles of the Democratic Party, such as universal health care, gun control, or stronger environmental regulations, and be a Christian. I shouldn’t even have to say that. Many of these Christians would argue that their liberal positions flow from Biblically-based concerns.

I was in a discussion with a group of men from my church last week. We were discussing Philippians 2:14 (“Do everything without complaining or arguing” NIV),. This question was asked: Is it acceptable to complain or argue about President Obama and his policies? I stuck out my neck and stated that there are things that Obama has done in his first 100 days that I actually liked. Most shook their heads in disbelief; some were shocked and almost confrontational: “Name one thing Obama has done right! One thing!”

I didn’t say anything, and was relieved when the topic got back to Philippians 2.

Here are some things that I think Obama has done better than the previous Republican administration:

  • Environmental policy: McCain had the potential to be a good environmental president, but seemed to be caving in to the other side in his campaign. Clean air and clean water are precious. So are unspoiled land and wetlands. Overall, these were threatened by the Bush administration. There is nothing Biblical about endless growth in consumption or poor stewardship. Republicans for Environmental Protection has some excellent positions on environmental policy, but unfortunately these are not held by a majority of Republicans.
  • Energy policy: The Obama energy policy is much more sophisticated than the short-sighted “drill baby drill” mantra of the Republican campaign. It includes a breadth of renewable energy resources that have been on the backburner for way too long.
  • Torture: Yes, Al-Qaeda is bad. Very bad. But reading about the torture policies of the Bush administration makes me think I’m reading The Gulag Archipeligo, and it doesn’t make me happy. We are supposed to be better than our enemies. (John McCain, who knows about torture from personal experience, was opposed to torture as well).

Don’t take me wrong; I have some grave concerns about the Obama agenda. I didn’t vote for him, and I wouldn’t vote for him now. It is foolish to spend a trillion dollars to rescue companies that made horrible business decisions (would McCain have done any differently?), and his radical abortion agenda is offensive to me. But here they are, three things that Obama has done right.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Christian philosopher John Mark Reynolds gives his reasons for opposing torture here. HT: Cruchy Con.

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Politics | | 12 Comments

Nuclear challenges

Here are two challenges for using nuclear energy as part of our world’s energy future:

  1. Uranium, like fossil fuels, is a limited, non-renewable resource. It is mined from the Earth, and consumed by nuclear fission. Breeder reactors can make some additional fuel, but that too is of a limited quantity. In Arizona, uranium could be declared to be a renewable resource by legislative action. That is sort of like making a law that says cows can fly or that people can breathe on the moon. A law doesn’t make it so. (Arizona Geology: Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?)
  2. The waste problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Not for a few hundreds of thousands of years anyways. The Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada is over a decade behind schedule, so waste is still mostly being stored at the nuclear power plants where it was used. (Earth Magazine: Wanted: Interim nuclear waste storage site.

I’m not totally opposed to the building of new nuclear power plants (and I find the technology to be fascinating), but it is only a piece of the energy pie. I am in favor of it being a smaller piece rather than larger.

See also Time magazine’s Nuclear’s Comeback: Still No Energy Panacea.

Grace and Peace

February 17, 2009 Posted by | Energy, Geology | | 3 Comments

Climate change survey

From CNN: Surveyed scientists agree global warming is real.

The results of a University of Illinois survey of scientists include the following:

  • 90% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures have risen compared to levels from before 1800.
  • 82% agreed that human activity been a significant factor in this increase of mean global temperatures.
  • 97% of climatologists surveyed agreed with anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
  • At the other end of the spectrum, only 47% of petroleum geologists agreed with this.

The researchers chose scientists listed in the the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments, 2007 edition.

Geologists in general have been more skeptical about AGW than have other scientists, though I’ve noticed a considerable shift on this in publications of the Geological Society of America and the American Geological Institute. Two reasons for this skepticism that have been proposed are:

  1. A deep historical perspective. Geologists know that Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout its history by purely natural means, and that a number of factors have caused this, including changing brightness of the sun, changing oceanic circulation patterns, plate tectonics, and cyclical variations of Earth’s orbit. The Quaternary Period, i.e. the past 1.8 million years, has had an especially variable climate, with long glacial maximum periods, punctuated by interglacial periods, such as the one we live in now.
  2. The close association of geology to the fossil fuel industries. Perhaps there is something psychological here, with a denial that the oil, gas, and coal that we are so closely tied to are the cause of something bad.

I think it is significant that 97% of climatologists surveyed believe global warming is real and that humans have been a significant factor in this. But climatologists will continue to need the input of geologists to gain a fuller understanding of how Earth’s climate works, in both the short term and long term.

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Geology, Meteorology, Why Earth science matters | | Leave a comment

Global warming and solar cycles

If you are a regular reader of The GeoChristian, you know that I lean towards the validity of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), which is the idea that human activities are causing the Earth to become warmer. Much of the debate–on both sides–is driven by ideology more than science, but I have found the scientific arguments on the AGW side to be stronger.

The AGW proponents say that variations in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are the primary drivers of climate change at the present time. They acknowledge that the Earth’s climate naturally varies, and that greenhouse gases are not the only factors in climate change, but warn that the present changes in climate are outside of the natural range.

The Earth is an incredibly complex planet, and it is difficult to integrate all of the factors that go into something as complex as weather and climate. The issues involved include greenhouse gases, variations in the intensity of solar radiation; cosmic rays, ground cover, ocean circulation patterns, orbital variations, and others. Despite decades of intense research, it is still not possible to say with certain how much of the Earth’s natural greenhouse warming comes from the various greenhouse gases present, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. (Don’t forget that the greenhouse effect itself is an extremely good thing; Earth would be about 30°C (50°F) colder without it).

The London Times has an article on the influence of solar activity and cosmic rays on climate: An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change. The article examines recent experimental evidence that indicates that observed fluctuations in climate, both now and in the past, have been the result more of changes in solar output than greenhouse gases.

AGW advocates would say that we cannot wait for a couple more decades of research in order to take action. Overall, I agree, because many of the actions they say we must take are good whether AGW is true or not. Examples include increasing energy efficiency, simplifying our consumptive lifestyles, and developing sustainable, renewable energy alternatives.

Grace and Peace

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Meteorology, Why Earth science matters | , , | 2 Comments

US gasoline prices by county

From USA Gas Temperature Map — Red is high, green is low.


I saw gasoline here in Denver for $1.299 last week, though it has gone up a bit since then.

Grace and Peace

January 12, 2009 Posted by | Energy, Maps | | 1 Comment

Catastrophic space storms Perfect Space Storm Could be Catastrophic on Earth, Study Concludes

Solar activity has just passed the low point in its 11-year  cycle, and is expected to peak again around 2012. It is believed that about every 100 years or so, there is a particularly intense solar storm, which could disrupt power supplies on Earth on a catastrophic scale, as well as damage satellites.

A new study from the National Academy of Sciences outlines grim possibilities on Earth for a worst-case scenario solar storm.

Damage to power grids and other communications systems could be catastrophic, the scientists conclude, with effects leading to a potential loss of governmental control of the situation.

The prediction is based in part on major solar storm in 1859 caused telegraph wires to short out in the United States and Europe, igniting widespread fires. It was perhaps the worst in the past 200 years, according to the new study, and with the advent of modern power grids and satellites, much more is at risk.

“A contemporary repetition of the [1859] event would cause significantly more extensive (and possibly catastrophic) social and economic disruptions,” the researchers conclude.

Grace and Peace

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Astronomy, Energy, Why Earth science matters | , | 3 Comments

The Environmental Case for John McCain

The attacks against John McCain by some environmental groups (such as the Sierra Club) are unfair. McCain has a well-integrated energy and environmental policy, that reflects his years of environmental leadership, not only in the Republican Party, but in the senate as a whole.

From Republicans for Environmental Protection:

The Environmental Case for John McCain

by REP Government Affairs Director David Jenkins

Speech to Society of Environmental Journalists conference, Roanoke, Virginia; October 18, 2008

Thank you, it is a pleasure to be here.

For those of you who don’t know, Republicans for Environmental Protection, or REP for short, is an organization dedicated to improving the Republican Party’s stance on environmental issues, helping elect truly green Republicans, and advancing our belief that real conservatism requires a strong stewardship ethic.

REP first endorsed Senator McCain in his 2000 primary race against George Bush—and in case anyone is wondering— no, we have never endorsed President Bush.

In fact, it was during that 2000 race that Senator McCain first met with REP and raised the issue of climate change.

And since climate change is currently the biggest and most pressing environmental challenge we face, it is a good place to start when talking about Senator McCain and the environment.

His record of leadership on climate change is unequaled. No member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, has done more to move our nation forward towards an effective response to climate change than John McCain.

Senator McCain has done more than talk about climate change, or roll out an election season plan. He was the first senator to introduce comprehensive climate legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

He has been introducing his climate bill since 2003, he held numerous hearings on the legislation, and in the face of opposition by his own party leaders, used political capital to secure floor votes on the bill.

His leadership didn’t stop there. To build support for climate legislation, Senator McCain undertook an intensive effort to educate his colleagues in Congress about climate change and the need to address it.

He took skeptical senators and representatives to the ends of the earth, including Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland, and New Zealand, to show them, firsthand, the impacts of climate change, expose them to climate research, and convince them that it is time to act.

By contrast, Senator Obama’s record on climate change is pretty thin. We really do not know how much political capital he is willing to spend on the issue—or how this issue stacks up related to his other priorities. He has a plan, but that only matters if it is something that can realistically become law.

I firmly believe that a McCain presidency, because of his proven commitment to this issue, his record of bipartisanship, and the fact that he can secure Republican votes, offers the best opportunity to see meaningful climate legislation become law.

During the primary season, a top priority of the environmental community was for candidates to raise the climate issue on the campaign trail. Senator McCain did just that. He was constantly raising the issue in the Republican debates—even when the question was about energy or the economy, he addressed the issue in speeches, he sent out flyers exclusively about climate change, and he made this issue a key part of his campaign.

As you might imagine, this was a first for a GOP presidential primary—and on top of that, he actually won.

Because of Senator McCain’s record of climate leadership, the fact that he elevated the issue in the primaries, and because he was clearly the greenest candidate in the GOP field, I had hoped that the environmental community would have celebrated, at least briefly, his winning the nomination.

Well, that didn’t happen. Instead our friends over at Sierra Club begin launching harsh attacks on Senator McCain as soon as it seemed likely that he would be the GOP nominee.

In February, when the League of Conservation Voters released its 2007 scorecard, Senator McCain was given a zero rating because he missed all of the scored votes. Sierra Club President Carl Pope issued a statement at the time saying that McCain’s zero rating “exposed a lifetime pattern of voting with polluters and special interests.”

Call me crazy, but I thought it just exposed the fact that he was busy campaigning for president and missed the votes.

Now, interestingly enough, just yesterday, LCV issued its 2008 scorecard. Senator Obama received a score of 18 because he missed 9 of the 11 scored votes while he was out campaigning.

I look forward to seeing Mr. Pope’s characterization of that score.

I mention this because I think such harsh partisanship from the environmental community serves to further polarize environmental issues along political lines at a time when bipartisan support is needed, just as it was when we passed the landmark environmental laws of the 1970s, if we are to enact climate legislation that can be sustained long-term, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

Senator McCain also has a long record of leadership on public lands issues.

Most of you probably know that Senator McCain’s hero and role model is Theodore Roosevelt. This is especially true when it comes to environmental stewardship. His close friend, the late Congressman Mo Udall, also shaped Senator McCain’s stewardship ethic.

Senator McCain and Congressman Udall worked together to protect 3.4 million acres of Arizona wilderness. Senator McCain has been a champion of the Grand Canyon, fighting successfully for legislation to protect the canyon from noisy aircraft overflights. He currently has the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River bill in an omnibus public lands package that the Senate plans to vote on in November.

Thus far, Senator Obama has not taken an active leadership role in wilderness, parks, or other public lands issues.

Climate change and public lands issues are areas where there is a clear difference between the candidates in experience, focus, and leadership, but there are also some real differences in policy direction that have gotten very little play in the media.

One of these has to do with the candidates’ approach to water projects.

In 2006 and 2007, Senator McCain, along with Russ Feingold, sponsored a bill and two legislative amendments to require independent prioritization and review of Army Corps of Engineers water projects. Lacking such prioritization and oversight, Corps projects are often wasteful, pork barrel boondoggles that destroy rivers and wetlands and siphon valuable dollars away from more worthy projects.

Senator Obama opposed the McCain–Feingold Corps reform amendments.

Senator McCain supports farm policy reform to address costly, outdated, and environmentally harmful subsidy programs. Senator Obama has supported the status quo.

Senator McCain opposes an effort to add wind damage coverage to the already financially troubled National Flood Insurance Program. Adding wind coverage to NFIP would put the program deeper in the red and encourage development in ecologically fragile, hurricane-prone coastal areas by having taxpayers across the country underwrite the risk of such development.

Senator Obama favors adding wind damage coverage to NFIP.

Senator McCain has promised to end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, which—as has been highlighted at this conference—is destroying the Appalachian landscape and has resulted in thousands of miles of streams being buried by the overburden.

Senator Obama has been considerably less committal about this issue.

Since energy has been such a high profile focus of the campaigns, I’m sure most of you are aware of the major distinctions between the two candidates’ energy policies. So, in the interest of time I’m just going to make a few points.

While much of the talk has centered around offshore drilling and nuclear energy, it is important to point out that Senator McCain has a very balanced energy plan that is fully integrated with his climate change policy.

He is committed to quickly shifting our transportation sector away from oil by dramatically improving fuel efficiency and relying more on alternative fuels. He believes that electric hybrids and flex-fuel capability are keys to this. He supports accelerating the development and use of cellulosic ethanol.

His support for nuclear energy is rooted is his commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He is not convinced that we can meet our energy needs in a climate-friendly way unless we expand our use of nuclear energy.

Senator McCain opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as does Senator Obama.

The Obama campaign continually attacks Senator McCain by claiming he opposes tax credits for wind and solar. While he has voted against specific bills for various reasons, he wants to rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits and provide an even-handed system of credits that will remain in place until a cap on carbon emissions can transform the market.

Anyone who tries to compare Senator McCain’s stewardship ethic and his energy and environmental policies to President Bush is simply not being honest. The differences are dramatic, whether the issue is climate change, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, CAFE standards, Tongass logging subsidies, heck, even the role of science in informing public policy—and those differences have positively impacted the tone and substance of the GOP platform.

In 1908, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was busy implementing his great conservation vision for America—and protecting our nation’s natural heritage more than any other president before or since.

Now, exactly 100 years later, we have an opportunity to elect another Republican, cut from a similar mold, who believes that conservation is conservative, who cherishes our public lands, and who is passionate about the stewardship obligation we owe future generations.

Thank you.

October 26, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Politics | 4 Comments

Clean coal

The phrase “clean coal” came up in all three presidential debates. So what is clean coal? The Christian Science Monitor has a brief article describing the concept. The concern now, of course, isn’t just that burning coal releases acid-rain causing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, or that burning coal is a major source of mercury contamination, or that surface mining of coal is rather hard on landscapes and water. The concern is that burning coal releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The idea behind “clean coal” is to take the CO2 produced by combustion of coal, and to inject it underground for long-term storage. This has been tested on a small scale, but never been tested on a large scale.

Coal, being particularly abundant in the United States, is likely to be a key part of our energy future for quite some time.

Read more about it at What is ‘clean coal’ anyway?

Both McCain and Obama support the development of clean coal technology.

Grace and Peace

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Environment | 2 Comments

More Pickens

Pickens plan video — a plan to use natural gas for transportation, wind power for electricity generation, and to reduce the U.S. expenditures for imported petroleum by hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

HT: Geology News

Grace and Peace

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Environment | Leave a comment

Green elephants

In my previous post, I explained that I was born a Republican. If you know me at all, you know that I am also a strong advocate for the environment. I like clean air, clean water, biodiversity, sustainability, alternative energy sources, simple life styles, and wild places. Is “environmentalist Republican” an oxymoron? By no means! Sustainability, economic or environmental, should be considered a conservative value. Greed and consumption are not inherent to—nor limited to—conservatism.

The group Republicans for Environmental Protection is a minority group within the Republican Party. To some, it is part of the “moderate wing” of the Republican party, but I think the views expressed by REP are squarely in line with conservative philosophies.

Let’s take this for a starting point: George W. Bush’s environmental policies have been, for the most part, a disaster (see Bush’s sorry environmental record on the REP site). Air and water quality in this nation are much better than they were in 1970, when the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. They are better not just because we are wealthy and can afford the “luxury” of clean air and water, but primarily because of legislation, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The Bush administration has worked hard, however, to roll back the clock on these important pieces of legislation. Having lived for most of the past six years in Eastern Europe, where the communists had no regard for the environment, has strengthened my conviction that clean air and water are worth protecting. I am convinced that President Bush, and Vice President Cheney, don’t share this conviction. The same could be said for the protection of wild lands and wildlife.

This is out of line with conservative principles. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, was one of the great champions of setting aside land for preservation. Here are some quotes from some great conservatives on the environment:

“While I am a great believer in the free enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean, pollution-free environment.” — Barry Goldwater

“Nothing is more conservative than conservation.” — Russell Kirk

“Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution” — Ronald Reagan

“Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Some might object that Ronald Reagan is not normally thought of as an environmentalist, and in some ways I can’t argue. But the principles expressed in these quotes, such as viewing pollution as a trespass on other’s property rights, are clearly both conservative and environmentalist.

Before I get too far, I need to mention that John McCain is on the honorary board of Republicans for Environmental Protection, as was his fellow Arizonan Barry Goldwater. John McCain would be the greenest Republican president in a long time.

Here are samples of statements and policies promoted by Republicans for Environmental Protection:

National Forests:

  • America’s system of national forests, founded and expanded by Republican presidents, is a priceless heritage that must be conserved for the benefit of today’s Americans and future generations.
  • Maintain forests in healthy condition in perpetuity.
  • End large-scale commercial commodity timber sales and all harvest quotas.
  • Designate protected reserves, including all roadless areas 1,000 acres in size or larger, all old-growth stands, essential habitat corridors, Eastern forests recovering old-growth characteristics, and areas that provide outstanding recreation opportunities.
  • Designate as wilderness all protected reserves meeting National Wilderness Preservation System standards.
  • Establish policies giving rural, small-scale, independently-owned, community-oriented wood products enterprises preference for forest restoration project contracts.


  • The world’s oceans, and the resources they contain, have been called the last frontier on earth. Indeed, the surface of Mars is probably better understood today than are ocean depths only a few miles away. Yet the biological riches of the oceans are currently being exploited at a rate that has already depleted them of many fish stocks, with many other marine organisms in imminent danger of exhaustion. Emphasis must also be given to the critical role the oceans play in regulating global climate, oxygen supplies, and temperatures. The oceans may be the world’s single most vital natural resource complex.
  • Establish a moratorium on all depleted marine species (or regions of extraction), to the extent consistant with legal and treaty obligations, until such time as stocks are sufficiently re-established.
  • Institute a worldwide ban on dynamite, cyanide, long-line, and other destructive methods of fishing.
  • Bring nutrient discharges under the regulatory provisions of the Clean Water Act, to help control coastal algal blooms.


  • Wetlands are one of America’s most valuable assets. They are among our most productive and economically important ecosystems, yet we have been converting them to other uses at an alarming rate. Numerous scientific bodies have recommended that protecting those that remain should be a high national priority.
  • Wetland protection and rehabilitation should be accorded a high priority in all federal, state, and local planning documents and policy statements. The loss of wetlands to agriculture and urban sprawl should stop.
  • Floodplains should be left undeveloped wherever possible. Any type of “flood-control” project that protects less than the full natural floodplain leaves adjacent areas vulnerable to significant future flood damages. Local jurisdictions should utilize tools such as zoning to prevent encroachment into floodplains.
  • If loss of wetlands is unavoidable and mitigation is the only recourse, mitigation should always occur at greater than a one-to-one ratio. (The exact ratio should depend on the type of wetland and specific on-site factors.) This is because experience has shown that not all wetlands restoration projects will be fully successful.

Water Quality:

  • There have been significant improvements in our nation’s waters since passage of the Federal Clean Water Act in 1972. In general, industrial and municipal wastewater dischargers are no longer the major polluters they once were. The Federal Clean Water Act, EPA regulations, and state laws and regulations have contributed greatly to improvements in water quality. However, individual facilities may still be causing violations of water quality standards and strong actions must be taken by EPA and state water quality regulatory agencies to enforce compliance. To do otherwise would represent a step backward in time and jeopardize gains made over the last 30 years. Additional regulatory activities also need to focus on stormwater and nonpoint source runoff issues, which now account for about 80 percent of the nation’s impaired lakes and streams.
  • Republicans stand for limited government, value personal freedom when accompanied by self-discipline, and support imposition of government regulation only where demonstrated needs exist. The reason our country has needed environmental regulations is that some sectors of our society and some individuals have failed to maintain self-discipline. Instead, they felt they had inherent rights to use public resources for their own benefit, but assumed no responsibility to ensure such use did not adversely impact either other industries or the health and welfare of the general public. This attitude placed short-term profits ahead of civic and personal responsibility, and led to substantial water pollution problems across the nation.

Energy and Climate Change:

  • Energy is the pre-eminent strategic issue facing America today. The choices that our nation makes in the production and use of energy create deep and lasting influences on our economy, our position in the world, and on the natural capital that underpins modern civilization. Making the right energy choices has become crucial. As a result of a convergence of extraordinary geopolitical and environmental circumstances, we are at a moment of both great danger and great opportunity. The conservative ethic of prudence requires us to acknowledge the challenge, and our obligation to be good stewards must impel us to act.
  • Oil is embedded in modern human society. Oil has a dark side, however. The U.S. sits atop only 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. Yet we consume 25 percent of current global production, about 21 million barrels daily. Much of the world’s production, along with the largest remaining conventional oil reserves, is located in world regions racked by poor governance, chronic instability, and violence.
  • The most important step that Congress and the administration must take to reduce oil dependence and lower greenhouse gas emissions is to put a price on those emissions, by establishing a market-friendly “cap-and-trade” system. A carbon tax, the leading alternative to cap-and-trade, would not be as effective in sending a market price signal, and therefore, should not be adopted.
  • Reducing oil dependence and stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations will require scaling up numerous advanced energy technologies. A strong research and development program is necessary for moving promising technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace.
  • Energy efficiency is consistent with conservative values of frugality and stewardship. As the cheapest, cleanest, and most secure energy resource available, efficiency has a strong track record. It’s time to build on that record of success, through measures to increase efficiency in buildings, industry, and transportation.
  • Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel for power generation and transportation. Gas can serve as a bridge to a cleaner, more diverse, less carbon-intensive energy economy. Steps should be taken to ensure the most efficient use of this fuel and minimize the impacts of gas production in the Intermountain West.

[I’m open to alternatives to the cap-and-trade proposal; it seems like a bureaucratic nightmare. REP also supports building additional nuclear power plants, as does John McCain. I’d rather find other alternatives. Nuclear fission can be safe, but it also has serious risks. Uranium is a non-renewable, limited natural resource.]

REP has policy papers on other topics as well: takings (i.e. compensation for landowners when regulations affect them), federal public lands, National Wildlife Refuges, Market-based environmental policies, and mercury.

This is already a long post; I could say much more. Take a look at the Republicans for Environmental Protection web site.

Grace and Peace

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Politics | 2 Comments

Natural gas-powered cars

Geology News recently pointed to two articles about using natural gas (CNG — compressed natural gas) to power cars:

Toyota Looks to Embrace Natural-Gas Hybrid Cars

Chesapeake Energy Corporation Unveils National Campaign to Encourage Switch From Foreign Oil to American Natural Gas in U.S. Transportation Sector — From Chesapeake Energy, includes a video

Some advantages of using CNG to power cars:

  • The United States has large reserves of natural gas. We can greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil by using CNG to fuel our cars.
  • Natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline
  • Gasoline engines can be converted to run on CNG. This is common in Europe; our old van in Romania (the Party Van, as it was affectionately known) was converted to CNG by the man who bought it from us.
  • The technology is proven and conversion could be rapid.

The big disadvantage right now:

  • There are few gas stations that offer CNG, so it is difficult to find places to refuel. 

You can have a refueling station installed in your home, using your natural gas line, which would be adequate if you use the car for local trips only.

A few additional thoughts:

  • The long-term energy supply for transportation needs to be clean and sustainable.
  • Natural gas is a limited natural resource, so CNG would, at best, be only a short-term solution (on the order of decades?) to our transportation energy problems.
  • Additionally, increased drilling of natural gas has environmental implications that need to be considered.

Grace and Peace

September 27, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Environment | Leave a comment

Out with mpg?

In Europe, gas mileage is expressed in liters per 100 km. Growing up with miles per gallon (mpg), this was a double assault on my abilities to convert units, and it never made sense to me.

RealClimate has a post on the case for going to the same concept in the United States: The mpg confusion. Using gallons per 100 miles, rather than miles per gallon, actually allows for more meaningful and intuitive comparisons between cars. The current mpg system isn’t a linear relationship, which means that a small improvement at the bottom end (SUVs) actually makes a greater difference than a big improvement at the high-efficiency end (compacts).

Some advocate using gallons per 10,000 miles instead, as this gives the buyer an idea of how much gasoline will be used in a year.

This data table puts it all together, with a column added for gasoline cost per 10,000 miles (at $3.50 per gallon):

Car mpg gal/100 mi gal/10,000 mi cost per 10,000 mi
typical SUV 12 8.3 830 $2905
hybrid SUV 18 5.6 560 $1960
typical compact 25 4.0 400 $1400
hybrid compact (Prius) 46 2.2 220 $  770

If one were to replace their typical SUV with a hybrid SUV, the gas mileage increases from 12 mpg to 18 mpg. This six mpg improvement is actually more significant than the 21 mpg improvement one gets from replacing the typical compact with a Prius! This is especially evident in the last three columns of the table. The SUV buyer saves 270 gallons (or $945) every 10,000 miles by purchasing a hybrid. The compact car buyer saves 180 gallons (or $630) every 10,000 miles by purchasing a hybrid.

This is easier to see with gal/100 mi (or gal per 10,000 mi, or cost per 10,000 mi) than it is with mpg.

This also shows the importance of weaning our society off of non-hybrid SUVs.

Of course, the SUV driver would do even better to replace their car with something smaller. By replacing their SUV with a hybrid compact, they would save 610 gal, or $2135, every 10,000.

Grace and Peace

September 26, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Environment | 1 Comment

The role of fission nuclear power in our energy future

I am somewhat cautious about fission nuclear power and its role in America’s energy future. It may play a temporary role, but it is not a long-term solution to our energy needs.

There certainly are advantages to fission power, such as no emissions of greenhouse gases or other pollutants. Those opposed to nuclear power often point to the risks of radioactive leaks, and the problems with short- and long-term radioactive waste. But there is an issue that does not come up often in the discussions I’ve seen about nuclear power: uranium is a non-renewable natural resource, just like coal or petroleum. Whatever role fission power plays in our energy mix, it is an interim or short-term role. A few hundred years from now, we will not use fission as a significant source of electricity. Uranium is a non-renewable resource; fission power is non-sustainable.

Building new nuclear power plants is an issue in the upcoming presidential election. Here is what John McCain’s energy policy page says:

John McCain Will Put His Administration On Track To Construct 45 New Nuclear Power Plants By 2030 With The Ultimate Goal Of Eventually Constructing 100 New Plants.

I’m not opposed to this, but view it more as a necessary evil rather than a long-term solution to our energy needs.

Barack Obama’s energy policy page says nothing about nuclear power.

Grace and Peace

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Energy | Leave a comment

Should we be Picken wind or natural gas?

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Picken plan (which is being promoted extensively by T. Boone Picken, oil and gas billionaire). Basically, Picken’s proposal is to use natural gas for automobiles rather than for generation of electricity, and to use wind power to replace gas-powered power plants. There are many merits to this plan, such as reduction in petroleum imports from unstable sources, and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. It is almost certainly better than the status quo. It also would make Pickens even wealthier, but that is beside the point right now.

Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute, argues that Boone might be only half right. Brown, writing in Sunday’s Washington Post (Want a better way to power your car? It’s a breeze, HT: Geology News), agrees that we need to make much more use of wind power (clean, cheap, domestic), but that we would be better off using that electricity to power our cars rather than just using it to generate electricity for non-transportation uses.

Here are a few observations:

  1. Pickens is doing us a service by pushing for alternatives. We hear a lot of talk about the need for alternative energy sources, but we are not moving all that fast.
  2. It is not clear from the Washington Post article that wind power is sufficient for both our domestic/industrial electrical needs and transportation needs.
  3. Natural gas reserves in North America are still large, and gas reservoirs that were once thought to be unexploitable are now being brought into production. Yes, we import some natural gas, but that is almost all from Canada, which is a considerably more stable source than most OPEC countries (The European Union gets a lot of its natural gas from Russia, so they have fewer energy options than does the United States)
  4. The combustion of natural gas produces carbon dioxide, but not as much per energy unit as other fossil fuels, such as oil or coal. It also burns more cleanly in terms of particulates, sulfides, and other pollutants.
  5. We need a multi-faceted approach to meeting our energy needs. Some day we will come up with sustainable alternatives, using renewable, clean sources such as solar and wind power. Until that time, natural gas will play an important role in our energy mix.

Grace and Peace

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Energy | 1 Comment

Picken an alternative

The over-dependence of the United States on foreign oil is bad for our economy and for our national security. This week, I read several plans for significantly reducing our oil imports. One of these was from billionaire T. Boone Pickens. He would have us invest a trillion dollars in wind energy, installing thousands of wind turbines in the high plains, stretching from Texas to North Dakota. The electricity generated by these windmills would replace power plants that produce electricity by burning natural gas. This natural gas would then be used to power automobiles, reducing our dependence on imported oil. The United States has large reserves of natural gas, and natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, which adds to the attractiveness of this plan.

This plan would not only make Pickens an even wealthier man (he has large investments in both wind power and natural gas), it might be good for America.

Los Angeles Times story: T. Boone Pickens could gain from his energy plan, but so might we

Pickens Plan web site

There are weaknesses, but his plan is much better than the status quo. Pickens has lots of money, and he will be actively promoting his plan.

(HT:, Be Bold, Be Gentle)

Grace and Peace

July 12, 2008 Posted by | Energy | Leave a comment