Environmental Stewardship for Religious Leaders

Environmental Stewardship for Religious Leaders

There is widespread agreement among a growing number of religious groups that environmental stewardship is important. Religious leaders are lending their moral authority to the environmental cause, and adopting programs they hope will improve the environment. Unfortunately, many of these leaders see an inherent conflict between a market economy and environmental stewardship.

Major religious groups assert that pollution, deforestation, endangered species, and climate change demonstrate a failure of stewardship that requires reform. And of course they are correct—what, however, are the incentives and information generated by alternative reform policies? Some policies can have profoundly negative impacts on social well-being.

FREE’s goal is to help increase the understanding of religious leaders as they approach environmental policy. These leaders are influential nodes in a network of congregations, providing a conduit to disseminate market-based environmental ideas, potentially to millions of Americans.

FREE will help religious leaders understand the political economy dimensions of environmental policy reform. We will explain how basic economic principles can help achieve green goals with minimum sacrifice to social welfare. Together we will explore how a culture that values America’s founding ideals, secure property rights, and responsible prosperity, can also foster a healthy environment and promote social justice.

2013 Summer Seminar Series Program Description

FREE’s 2013 summer seminars will focus on social and environmental entrepreneurship. The location is the Sacajawea Hotel, in Three Forks, a charming Rail Road hotel built in 1910.  It is thirty minutes from the Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport. 

Our seminars are specifically designed for religious leaders, seminary and law professors. Federal judges are always welcome. We explain economics is not about money but rather about the necessity and logic of making choices when facing constraints.  Americans agree government should monitor and protect people and their environments. However, governments often favor the powerful to the detriment of the weak.  What policy reforms will counter this tendency and foster healthy social, ecological, and economic conditions?


July 15-19, 2013 A Stewardship Challenge: Harmonizing Ecology, Prosperity and Liberty

Our National Park system is of great value--but ethically and ecologically complex. Combining environmental quality, social justice, and prosperity is conceptually, ethically, and politically difficult.  Good intentions alone will not suffice. What institutional arrangements hold promise for constructive reform? 

In ecology as in economics things are interdependent.  Further, decisions often have strong ethical implications.  For example, in an effort to reduce reliance on imported oil, the federal government mandated 40% of our corn be converted to fuel.  This increases food prices, political donations, and the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. We see a lesson in this example as political allocations too often foster plunder.  

Many complex and emotion laden environmental issues emerge in Greater Yellowstone. For example, wolves and other wildlife roaming outside the Park harm rancher families producing crops and livestock. This illustrates ethical issues of ecology. A fieldtrip to Yellowstone Park on Thursday will help us to understand the scientific, emotional, and ethical complexity of these issues. Lessons from the Park are easily generalized to other, even urban, environments. We will spend a day touring Yellowstone with a former Park superintendent and a wolf ecologist, and hear from the current Park superintendent as well. The rest of the conference will be at the Sacajawea Hotel, with more presentations, discussions, and camaraderie over good food. 


August 19-23, 2013 Boom and Bust in America: Parables from Butte, Montana

This seminar will explore social, economic, and ethical aspects of Boom and Bust. This phenomenon is commonly associated with the collapse of mining. It includes, however, cities that declare bankruptcy or ones whose primary industries fail. Consider textiles, steel mills, or auto manufacturing, and the nearly bankrupt states of California and Illinois. 

What valuable lessons can the Boom and Bust phenomenon offer in helping us ethically respond to today’s environmental, industrial, governmental, and social justice conflicts? We will begin at the Sacajawea Hotel with an evening and then two days of presentations and discussions. On Thursday, an all-day field trip to Butte will give us a retrospective story on the economic bust of a one-industry town. 

Presentations on the Bakken oil developments in Montana and North Dakota will highlight the excitement and physical and social problems of economic booms. How are human needs of tens of thousands of workers affecting local communities and life-long residents? What happens when the resource is exhausted? How can ethical and social justice concerns be addressed and by whom?  What kinds of roles can social entrepreneurs play to ameliorate some effects of boom and bust economies? Presentations and discussions will focus on these and similar questions.