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Pascal’s Blunder: Miscalculating the Threat of Global Warming

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In this week’s Acton Commentary titled “Pascal’s Blunder: Miscalculating the Threat of Global Warming”, Jordan Ballor writes on the growing voice of evangelical Christians speaking out about global warming. Ballor responds to a recent article in Christanity Today by Andy Crouch, who compares the current debate about global warming to Pascal’s wager, stating that we gain nothing if global warming turns out to be completely natural and beyond human control, but that we gain everything if we can control it. Ballor points out the error with this line of thinking:

The problem with this analogy is that Pascal’s wager is only valid when placed within the context of the eternal and the ultimate. When it is applied to everyday issues, it quickly loses its persuasive power. Crouch’s contention that “we have little to lose” if we exaggerate the threat of global warming displays no recognition of the reality of the future impact of unduly restrictive political policies and environmental regulations.

Ballor goes on to cite Vernon L. Smith and Thomas C. Schelling, two distinguished professors at George Mason University and the University of Maryland, respectively, who argue that there are much more pressing issues affecting the world to which our attention should be turned toward. The money we spend researching global warming could much more effectively be providing solutions to problems such as AIDS/HIV, malnutrition, and hunger.

Read the full text here.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Tom Jablonski

    Mr. Ballor might want to consider what the impacts of global warming would be on symptoms such as communicable diseases, malnutrition and hunger, and subsidies and trade. To continue to ignor what the consequences of our current livestyles are on the earth that supports all life is avoiding responsibility at the extreem. Treating symptoms does not cure the patient, or in other words it takes more then simple charity to make problems go away. Humanity needs to be responsible for how we live.

  • Kirby Hopper

    Quote: “Crouch argues that global warming theory, “is taken for granted by nearly every scientist working in the field,” and that there is “no serious disagreement among scientists that human beings are playing a major role in global warming.””

    Surely the many scientists who believe global warming is a natural phenomenon are not being represented by comments such as these. Does anyone have a source showing the innacuracy of these statements?

  • I’d start here:

    “A considerable number of climatologists are still by no means convinced that the fundamental questions have been adequately dealt with. Thus, in the last year a survey among climate researchers throughout the world found that a quarter of the respondents still harbor doubts about the human origin of the most recent climatic changes.”

    [url=]”A Climate of Staged Angst,” by Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr in Der Speigel[/url]

  • Steve D

    ** IF global warming is as massive in scope and scale, and as cataclysmic in consequence, as the "scientific mainstream" asserts, then there is no basis upon which to expect future generations to be wealthier than the present generation, nor to expect that amelioration will be feasible, much less that amelioration will be less costly in time-corrected terms than preventive efforts now. However, that statement was deliberately framed with an "IF." The global warming argument is not based on hard scientific evidence, because accurate worldwide temperature data is not available much before the beginning of the 20th century, while some climatic cycles are known to be many centuries long. Secondly, while some societies will face new burdens from global warming if it develops, others will benefit, and still others will face a new balance of conditions that will include benefits and drawbacks. Finally, I am very suspicious of the preventive remedies being proposed for "global warming," because they seem to be excessively prescriptive (not just identifying a problem and calling for solutions, but in some cases imposing solutions such as "carbon taxes") and are inconsistently applied (the most severe polluters — the large developing states — are given a free ride, while the already moderating polluters — the developed economies — are punitively expected to volunteer for long-term economic recession and return to decades-ago levels of energy usage).
    ** I would argue that desertification and salinization of semi-arid and arid regions due to over-grazing/-cultivation, excessive use of fertilizers, and wastefully subsidized use of ground water for irrigation of dry regions to grow water-intensive crops (not to mention watering golf courses and lawns, etc.) while moister regions are left fallow and see net declines in population, is a much greater problem, and a problem largely created by bad government policy (due to ignorance of "unintended consequences," incompetence, corruption, or combinations of these — and thus directly and relatively cheaply corrected by human action with far greater socio-economic benefits. Similarly, I would suggest that when a substantial portion of the world’s population lives in significant to severe poverty, denying them any prospect of improvement because development will mean more global warming (indeed, more human population means more global warming), and all available capital is being funnelled into cooling off the world, instead of increasing investment in productivity that creates jobs and markets, is irresponsible if not callously selfish.


  • Liam VENNER

    To alleviate any doubt that Man Made global warming is an extremely large HOAX may I recomend another Town Hall site On its Home page is listed a number of large and lenghty Scientific Oppositions to the theory.

  • Andy Crouch

    Jordan et al.,

    While I’m disappointed that you don’t even try to engage the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by far the most extensive and diligent effort I’m aware of to evaluate the science of global warming, what really disappoints me, coming from the Acton Institute, is your failure of economic imagination. Why should the action to mitigate global warming be a drain on economic resources? That has not been true of past major technological initiatives. I have every expectation that the world economy will *grow* as a result of the efforts to develop and transfer new technologies. Furthermore, there is little need for command-and-control government policies — the creation of markets in carbon emissions should do much of the work very efficiently. I recently reviewed a study — I’ll try to track down the reference, but I’m traveling and don’t have it with me — suggesting that the Environmental Protection Act, which opponents at the time saw as a major threat to economic growth and jobs, actually *created* jobs and contributed to economic growth. And there is every reason to expect that policies to mitigate carbon emissions will be better designed to harness the energies of markets than the EPA.

    Really, if the science were so unsettled and the potential economic consequences so calamitous, why would corporations like BP, GE, and Shell (Shell!) be endorsing action on climate change? I believe they see tremendous economic opportunities in this area.

  • Andy Crouch was kind enough to respond to my article on climate change (which itself was penned in reply to Crouch’s original piece), and I’ve included a response of my own. His words are in the large blocks of italics below:

    While I&#8217

  • Hello Andy,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to read and respond to my piece. In the spirit of a valued dialogue, I’ve posted a rejoinder [url=]here[/url].

  • Balmes

    Although in French I recommend to read the following book from J. Jancovici.
    L’avenir climatique – quel temps ferons-nous ?

    Once you’ve read it, I think you come to understand that it is not really disputable that recent human development has left very signicant carbon emission into the atmosphere (far above any natural emission). Also not disputable that it is hardly reversible.

    What also becomes clear, is that it is hard to predict the real effect of it on the climate globally and even more so locally ?
    And that is the dilemna I think :
    + either you are on the pessimistic side, and one starts to act to avoid a castastrophe (likely over-blown by some)
    + either you are on the optimistic side, and do nothing hoping it’ll sort itself out.
    Since the massive emissions are largely irreversible, it seems wise to me to take precautionnary measures.

    The interesting thing, from a christian point of view, with the issue is that “climate” is a common good of humanity. Unlike oil, land or other ressources, no one can take ownership of it, no nation, no individual has the solution on its own. It looks like that we are going into the prisonners dilemna. So do we choose for a win/win or loose/loose ?

  • One aspect of the evangelical involvement in debates over global warming and climate change that has intriqued me has been what I deem to be a rather large blind spot about the relation of religious conservatives to science.

    By this I mean that if ther

  • Remember when I said that I thought there is a dangerous incentive in climate change research to make things seem worse than they are? (If not, that’s OK. I actually called it an “analogous phenomenon” to the possibility that AIDS statis

  • Ominu

    Yes, here’s a very scientific argument against humans
    causing global warming:

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