This morning's news brought two articles that illustrate the truth that our world is never as simple as we want to make it.
Sickening Tea? I've read and reviewed Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, and believe his Central Asia Institute (CAI) is doing wonderful work, promoting "peace through education." The Montana Attorney General's office agrees, even while concluding, after a year-long investigation, that Mortenson "mismanaged [CAI] and personally profited from it." He has been ordered to repay $1 million in mis-spent funds to the charity. (H/T DdR)
This is not the only organization I know where the founder and leader enjoys luxurious living while taking donations from those who can least afford to give. I absolutely don't believe such people should live in poverty themselves—one of my most-quoted Bible verses is Deuteronomy 25:4, You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain. But I think those who work for non-profit organizations, especially charities, and whose living is supported by the sacrificial donations of others, have a special responsibility to live moderately.
The larger fault lies with our star-struck, personality-worshipping society, however. We breed such problems. Porter once spent a summer in Bangladesh, back when merely being white automatically sent you to the front of a line. In fact, that was his chief duty while working for a charitable organization there: to accompany the Bengali workers on their errands, thereby ensuring that they could purchase bags of cement, for example, before the supply ran out. It does not take many such occasions of deference, he reported, to begin to take them for granted, and to believe, even against your will, that you somehow deserve them. How much harder must be the temptation for big-name personalities to absorb the idea that they deserve, or even require, special treatment, and luxuries inappropriate to their calling?
Human nature longs for heroes to worship. But doing something great does not mean a person is great. We can do much good without being truly good. Which is a very good thing indeed, because even the best of us are frail, fallen humans. Mortenson's sins do not make the work of the Central Asia Institute any less valuable, though they do clearly underscore the critical importance of financial safeguards and accountability.
Helpful Pollution? As one who remembers filthy rivers—that sometimes caught fire!—and the choking, sickening smell of toxic smog, I'm the first to hail the dramatic reduction in industrial pollution that has been accomplished in my lifetime. However, a recent study of the effects of aerosol pollutants on clouds indicates that the climate equation is—surprise!—a bit more complex than we want to believe.
"When industrial pollution peaked over the Atlantic, this effect played a big role in cooling the ocean beneath," Paul Halloran, a study co-author and ocean scientist with the British government's Met Office weather service, said in a statement accompanying the study. "As pollution was cleaned up—for example after the clean air legislation of the '90s —the seas warmed."
It turns out more aerosols make clouds brighter and longer lasting, thus reflecting sunlight back up and cooling seas. Less do the opposite, warming seas.
Among the consequences of a warmer Atlantic? The end of our 40-year respite from intense hurricane activity.
Not, of course, that increasing pollution is the answer. According to Ben Booth, the study's co-author,
"While cool phases correspond to periods with lower hurricane activity in the North Atlantic, "they are also linked with widespread persistent African drought (1970s and 1980s)—with all the associated food and mortality related impacts."
The moral? If a situation appears simple, clear, and easy to analyze, we're probably missing something important.