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Ethics, Energy, and Public Policy
by James B. Martin-Schramm
Publisher:Fortress Press from Alban Books
Published:04 April 2010
In the past few decades we have become increasingly aware of the impact that human beings have on climate change, chiefly through the use of fossil fuels. But what public policies are needed to make a difference to the damage we are doing and who should shoulder the burden of paying (in every sense) for those policies? This is the theme of this book by James Martin-Schramm who is a professor of religion in the United States and research chair in the Center for Ethics and Public Life at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa.
Professor Schramm knows what he is talking about. If you want to know about the facts of climate change this is a book for you. He summarizes and presents in some detail the principal issues of climate change. As early as page five we have a table showing the Multimodel Averages and Assessed Ranges for Surface Warming between 1900 and 2010, closely followed by tables of Changes in Greenhouse Gases from Ice Core and Modern Data 1800-2000, and Changes in Temperature, Sea Level and Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover 1850-2000. The book is replete with information of this kind. This gives credibility to the factual case that the author presents. It is hard to resist the conclusion that ‘we have a problem’.
While there are other books that do the same work, what this book does is to ground this factual presentation within a coherent Christian theology and ethics. He begins his reflections by quoting Genesis 1.1-3 which speak about wind, light and creation. In other words, ‘to imagine the fullness of God is to talk about energy’. He draws his ethics largely from the ethic of ecological justice that the World Council of Churches developed in the 1970s and other Protestant churches have since taken further. This enables him to put forward a set of ethical guidelines that he then applies to the various energy options available to industrial nations – coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and renewable alternatives – in order to assess them ethically.
The book ends with a living parable. He tells us about the work his own college is doing to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. It is a book that takes us from high level discussions of theology, ethics and public policy, to a very practical example. That is a good model for any writing in this area since my impression is that most Christians do not need to be persuaded about climate change but they do need to be shown what they can do.
Reviewer: Alan Billings (24/03/10)
|Reader review: - Barry Vendy, TGBS reviewer, 15/12/10
This is a timely book on a topical issue, written by an authority on the subject, whose Christian commitment and whose passion for justice come across repeatedly, All through the book, he keeps coming back to four ‘moral norms’: “sustainability, sufficiency, participation and solidarity”, which emerged from the World Council of Churches in its pursuit of “justice, peace and the integrity of creation”. Another key notion is ‘eco-justice’ (“all ministries designed to heal and defend creation, working to assure justice for all of creation and the human beings who live in it”). There is no missing this author’s stress on justice! He gives plenty of biblical and theological foundations for that. There are chapters devoted to conventional energy sources (the author can’t quite agree about calling them ‘fuels from hell’!) and about renewable energy options (he’s reluctant to call these ‘fuels from heaven’, but admits he can understand why some people do see them that way). The chequered history of international conferences on climate change is sketched honestly. Most of the book’s illustrations are taken from the USA, coming right up to date with the Obama administration, which, though interestingly presented, may seem a bit limiting to the English reader. The same may be true of the final chapter on Greenhouse Gas Reduction strategies being pursued at Luther College in Iowa, where the author is Professor of Religion. The text is crowded with graphs, charts and tables a-plenty. And you may be glad, as I was, to find the Glossary of technical terms at the back. – I was ready for it!