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January 22, 2010

Powering America's Future

(Photos by Robin Holland)

In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with policy analysts Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle about how America's energy policy should change to reflect 21st century realities.

Jean Johnson suggested that America's current dependence on oil is untenable even if one thinks the threat of global warming is exaggerated:

"In China, until recently, not that many people had a private car. If the Chinese will begin to own cars the way we do, it would put a billion cars on the planet. So if you're worried about global warming, you have to think about that. And even if you're not, you have to think about a billion Chinese drivers competing with Americans, competing with the Europeans, competing with the Indians for the oil that we can manage to get out of the ground and transmit it around the world. It is not going to be good for the price or the reliability of energy here. We are heavily dependent - about 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels... There's only so much of it, it's expensive to get, and it's not going to be here forever. We need to get started on the alternatives."

Scott Bittle argued that the energy debate has been too arcane for ordinary citizens to follow and laid out a few basic decisions that must be made:

"One of the ways in which the debate that we're currently having is so unhelpful to most people in that everyone is talking about percentages and numbers. Should we cut greenhouse gases 20 percent or 17 percent? And it makes a huge difference between the two. Should it be based on 1990 or 2005? Should it be 350 parts per million of carbon? No, maybe it's 450 parts per million... And what it comes down to, though, are a few concrete choices. What kind of power plants do we wanna build? And everything branches out from that. What do we put in our cars? Do we wanna stay with a liquid fuel in our cars like gasoline or biofuels or liquefied natural gas?... Or do we move to electricity? In which case we need to build an infrastructure for that. We can do these things as soon as we make the choice for what we want to do."

What do you think?

  • Does America need to wean itself off fossil fuels? If so, what energy source(s) should replace them?

  • How are you working to promote alternative sources of energy in your home, community, and the nation?


  • February 15, 2008

    An Age of American Unreason?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON author Susan Jacoby offered various reasons for what she calls “an overarching crisis of memory and knowledge” in America, including our educational system:

    “You shouldn't have to be an intellectual or a college graduate to know that the sun doesn't revolve around the earth. There's been a huge failure of education. I do agree with many cultural conservatives about this: I think schools over the last 40 years [have been] just adding things, for example African-American history [and] women's history. These are all great additions, and necessary, but what they've done in addition to adding things is they really have placed less emphasis on the overall culture, cultural things that everybody should know. People getting out of high school should know how many Supreme Court justices there are. Most Americans don't.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Jacoby that America faces “an overarching crisis” of civic irrationality and ignorance?
  • If so, to what extent does the problem lie with America’s educational system? Politicians? The media?
  • Do these outlets reflect the priorities of interest groups more than essential knowledge for the public good? What reforms would you recommend to promote civic intelligence?

    (NOTE: Another interview with Susan Jacoby from the Moyers archives is available here.
    Several viewers have written in stating that the Constitution does not specifically state that the Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution or all judicial review. Some legal scholars maintain that Article III does imply it and many argue that Marbury V. Madison only formalized that authority. )


  • July 5, 2007

    What Can I Do?

    As this week's story on the Earth Conservation Corps and Bill Moyers' interview with E.O. Wilson both demonstrate, local efforts can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy and sustainable environment.

    Back in October, when we aired "Is God GREEN?" the MOYERS ON AMERICA special about recent efforts within the evangelical movement to preserve our planet, many viewers wrote in about local environmental successes in their community. Here are just a few excerpts:

    Joan Conley wrote:

    I am very fortunate to live in the city of Syracuse, NY which is right next door to the Onondaga Nation. The Onondagas have a long history of dedication to the land. About a year ago they filed a land rights claim that is not about getting land back or getting money. It is their wish to work with us--their cousins, as they call us, to do a meaningful clean-up of Onondaga Lake, which is said to be the most polluted lake in the US; and also to engage in a real work of stewardship of the land and all of it's creatures. It has been my great privilige to learn about loving the creator through loving creation.

    Jennifer Knott-Kimbrell wrote:

    In Austin, Texas our church held a light bulb exchange. We encouraged members and visitors alike to bring in incandescent bulbs and trade them in for Compact Fluorescent bulbs. Now people want to know things like if the altar candles burning are petroleum-based, or if the insulation in the building is enough. It all starts with one person, one event and goes from there.

    In the spirit of continuing the conversation, we ask you to tell us about environmental programs going on in your city or town, as evidence that little by little, important work is being done to save our planet and its diverse inhabitants. As E.O. Wilson reminds us, we've only discovered 10% of Earth's species. "We live in an unexplored planet." Only concentrated efforts, often starting humbly at the local level, can ensure that there's something left to explore.



    June 8, 2007

    Are Science and Religion at Odds?

    Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Republican presidential hopeful and one of the three candidates who, at a recent debate, raised his hand signifying that he did not believe in evolution, recently clarified this action in an Op-Ed for THE NEW YORK TIMES:

    The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God...

    ...While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

    --Senator Sam Brownback, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5/31/07

    In her interview with Bill Moyers, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was an oceanographer before becoming a priest and later the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, explains how she sees the connection between science and faith:

    My faith journey has been, as a scientist, about discovering the wonder of creation...Things that come in different sizes and colors and shapes and body forms are all part of that incredible diversity of creation that's present below the waters where we never even see them. And the Psalms tell us that God delights in that.

    ...I don't believe they [Religion and Science] are, at their depth, incompatible. In the Middle Ages, theology was called the Queen of the Sciences. There are ways of knowing. It is our hunger for radical certainty that leads some people to assume that they're incompatible...

    ...Religion and science are both ways of knowing, but they go at it from somewhat different perspectives. Science asks questions about how things happen and where they've come from. Religion and faith traditions ask questions of meaning, about why we're here and what we should do with what we have here, and how we should relate to the rest of creation.

    --Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

    What do you think?
    -Are religion and science truly at odds with one another?
    -Can and should scientific terms and notions be used to explain religion and vice versa?


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