This week in the PowerBlog’s Global Warming Consensus Watch: A final pass at the Sheryl Crow/Toilet Paper controversy, just to ensure that the issue is wiped clean; The fight against climate change goes to 11; Global warming causes everything, and we’ve got professional athletes to prove it; and finally, what – if anything – are those carbon offsets offsetting? (more…)
German theologian and philosopher Michael Welker describes in his book God the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994) the biblical relationship between the prophet and majority opinion:
The prophet does not confuse truth with consensus. The prophet does not confuse God’s word with the word of those who happen to hold power at present, or with the opinion of the majority. This is because powerholders and the majority can fall victim to a lying spirit—and this means a power that actually seizes the majority of experts, the political leadership, and the public (88).
He previously outlined some of these lying spirits that have dominated recent decades. Welker writes,
“Water and air are inexhaustible natural resources”; “Dying forests are not connected industrial and automobile emissions”; “With permanent armament we are making peace more secure!”—those were some of the many astoundingly public opinions of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that, as has become clear in the meantime, can be ascribed to a lying spirit (85).
But if we were to ask what is the increasingly dominant opinion of the experts, the political leadership, the media, and the public of the ’00s, what would the answer be?
I have little doubt that the answer is, “Human beings are causing global climate change.”
After last week, we even have a clear “consensus” opinion on human-induced climate change from the Supreme Court. But while Welker himself might be inclined to concur with this particular opinion rather than those of previous decades, his warning about the dangers of consensus are well-taken.
And those who have taken up the prophetic mantle of climate change, like Jim Wallis and Rev. Richard Cizik, would do well to heed Welker’s words.
What does it truly mean to be “prophetic” about the issue of climate change? Does it mean the partnering of the Evangelical Climate Initiative with the Union of Concerned Scientists?
Or might a “lying spirit” behind the “consensus” position on climate change? How are we to tell?
Scripture itself gives us a pretty good rule of thumb to discern the spirits. In Deuteronomy 18:14-22, we read the answer to the question, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” Verse 22 contains God’s answer to the people’s question about discerning the true prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
So with this in mind we might have an avenue to respond to the sorts of predictions and claims about climate change popularized most notably by Al Gore. The advocates for government action to combat human-induced climate change ought to provide a specific set of predictions and criteria for the verifiability of their claims. Let them decide in which predictions they have the most confidence and which are the most easily provable. Give us a set of clear benchmarks for the next 1, 2, 5, or 10 years. Then perhaps we can begin to judge whether the prophets of climate change have “spoken presumptuously” or not.
But to demand such explicit and verifiable criteria is to expose what is perhaps the greatest weakness of the theory of human-induced climate change: its patent lack of testability. It is at once a theory that can account for any and all future climate contingencies, and is therefore really no theory at all. It is a theory of everything and of nothing.
In the most recent Interfaith Stewardship Alliance Newsletter (April 5, 2007), Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, adjunct scholar at the Acton Institute and spokesman for the ISA, links to a story that includes the following quote from an organizer of a mountain-climbing expedition intended to bring attention to the problem of global warming (which had to be canceled because of low temperatures): “They were experiencing temperatures that weren’t expected with global warming,” Atwood said. “But one of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability.”
Re-read that last paragraph and let its epistemological implications soak in. Now literally everything constitutes evidence for global warming. Something you predicted? It’s evidence for global warming. Something you didn’t predict? It’s evidence for global warming. Something you couldn’t possibly have predicted? It’s evidence for global warming. Can you spell tautology? American Heritage Dictionary gives as its second definition, specialized use in logic: “An empty or vacuous statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.” Likewise tautological: “If what we predict happens, that’s evidence for global warming; if it doesn’t, that’s evidence for global warming.”
That of course is the beauty of the favored phrase “climate change,” because that term doesn’t necessarily imply warming or cooling. It could be either. And perhaps in some places neither, since we are so consistently reminded that these changes are really regional phenomena.
As so many of our scientifically-minded friends have been more than ready to remind us in the context of other debates, this raises the question: If it isn’t verifiable, is it really science?
And the theory of human-induced climate change isn’t science, what is it and what are the implications for the political debate about action to combat climate change? Welker gives us fair warning that the answer to the former question might well be, “A lying spirit.”
I have tried to read everything that I can find the time to digest on the subject of global warming. I saw Al Gore’s award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and even had some nice things to say about it. I have always been put off by the use of terms like "environmental whackos" and "earthist nut balls" from the political right. There is, in my humble opinion, little doubt that the earth is getting warmer. What is in great doubt is almost everything else. How warm will the earth become and how soon? Why is it really warming? What can we do about this problem now? How fast should we respond? And will radical responses, the kind that Al Gore argued for this week in the House hearing room on Capitol Hill, make a real difference? Bottom line: Will these alarmist responses help or harm the overall state of things on the earth? I am presently a skeptic when it comes to proving most of the claims being made by the alarmists. Something inside of me wants to agree with the climatologists who have deep concerns, if for no other reason than to avoid association with the right wing craziness and the radical left.
But make no mistake about it, this issue is politicized in every possible way. Anyone who argues otherwise is asleep. Both sides have a horse in this race. And alarmism does sell right now. Just think about the conspiracy theories that run rampant throughout modern life. Al Gore spoke of the planet "having a fever and if your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science-fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the blanket is flame retardant, you take action." That is about as alarmist as you can get it, so it seems to me. I am not sure if Gore is referring to Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, when he refers to a science-fiction novel, but it is a best-seller that has had immense impact on many, including me. Before you blow it off please read it. Be sure to read the forty-plus pages of annotated notes and bibliography of books that Crichton read in order to write this book. It is a fun book, but it makes a serious point that I think Gore and his friends miss. (I actually wonder if the book makes them angry because it is so good.)
The press reports say that Al Gore was at his "most passionate" when describing global warming as a "moral imperative." Dennis Hastert (R.IL) offered agreement with Gore saying that human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature, as did some other Republicans. This crusade has taken on the tones of a moral crusade with many people becoming more and more alarmed. This includes a number of evangelicals who have signed unwise and misleading statements on the climate. I, for one, take the words "moral imperative" very seriously. I think these words are being pressed into service in troubling ways that border on becoming vacuous if we are not truly careful.
In a column published yesterday by Hoover Institute scholar Thomas Sowell he says that we should not expect a lot of fair and open debate about climate change in the near future. Why? National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a debate in which people were polled before and after the debate. After hearing the debate a good number of people who previously believed global warming was primarily caused by human carbon emissions changed their minds. Sowell suggests that this spells the end of such open debate in the near future. That would be a real shame. If this is really a "moral imperative" then those who are convinced that it is should not fear the debate but rather enter it and show people like me why they are right. I am open to facts and would change my mind if I saw the right reasons to do so. Attacking the motives of the non-alarmists is not convincing at all. In fact, it makes me loathe to accept the Gore thesis more than ever. After all, isn’t this the same politician who invented the Internet?
Darn it! I messed up that title again…
Oh, I’m sorry. I messed up that title. Gore’s newest book will be called The Assault on Reason. Here’s the book description from Amazon.com:
A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason…
…We live in an age when the thirty-second television spot is the most powerful force shaping the electorate’s thinking, and America is in the hands of an administration less interested than any previous administration in sharing the truth with the citizenry. Related to this and of even greater concern is this administration’s disinterest in the process by which the truth is ascertained, the tenets of fact-based reasoning-first among them an embrace of open inquiry in which unexpected and even inconvenient facts can lead to unexpected conclusions.
How did we get here? How much damage has been done to the functioning of our democracy and its role as steward of our security? Never has there been a worse time for us to lose the capacity to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from national security to the economy, from issues of health and social welfare to the environment. As The Assault on Reason shows us, we have precious little time to waste.
Gore’s larger goal in this book is to explain how the public sphere itself has evolved into a place hospitable to reason’s enemies, to make us more aware of the forces at work on our own minds, and to lead us to an understanding of what we can do, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason and safeguard our future. Drawing on a life’s work in politics as well as on the work of experts across a broad range of disciplines, Al Gore has written a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking.
Heady stuff, to be sure. Al Gore, Defender of Reason! But come now; let’s face facts. On the issue that he is best known for – climate change – Gore has done absolutely nothing to reasonably engage in debate. Quite the contrary – he denies that a legitimate debate exists, and his current popularity depends entirely on his ability frame the issue of climate change as a “crisis,” regardless of what the facts actually say.
(An aside: at the moment, I’m watching C-SPAN 3’s live coverage of the Senate hearing on climate change, and I’m pretty sure that Sen. Barbara Mikulski just credited Gore with “saving drinking water.” WOW; I never knew. And Barbara Boxer just invoked the name of Rosa Parks – they’re hauling out the moral big guns today.)
Far from being a friend to reasoned debate, Gore has a long history of ignoring facts that may be inconvenient to his predictions of global catastrophe. For instance:
…in March 1995, Gore gave his annual Earth Day address at George Washington University. ‘‘Torrential rains have increased in the summer in agricultural regions,’’ he said, referring to a yet-to-be published paper by federal climatologist Tom Karl. In fact, Karl had found no change in the frequency of daily rainfall in excess of three inches. What he did find was a tiny change in the amount of rain coming from summer storms of between two and three inches in 24 hours, but these are hardly ‘‘torrential’’ and are most often welcomed by farmers everywhere, who pray for such rains. America’s breadbasket is usually in great need of moisture come August.
In July 1998, Gore visited northeast Florida, which had experienced a series of substantial range and forest fires. He said the conflagrations ‘‘offer a glimpse of what global warming may mean for families.’’ The reason Florida went up in smoke during this normally hot season was the overabundance of vegetation that resulted from excessive rains in the previous winter. While it might be convenient to finger the 1997–98 El Nin˜o as the cause, statistical studies show El Nin˜o is in fact associated with less-than-average burned acreage in Florida.
These – and a myriad of other – inconvenient facts haven’t stopped Gore over the years, and even though the facts still dog him today, he doesn’t appear to be troubled by them one bit. (Another aside – at the moment, he’s referencing the movie 300 and the crusade against Nazism, presumably to lend the deep moral credibility of previous efforts to save civilization to his climate change efforts. Credit where credit is due: the man has some real… self confidence.) Rather, Gore’s preferred method of “debate” is to simply not acknowledge any other argument. So much for reason.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, even supporters of Gore are admitting that he takes some liberties with the facts in order to advance his argument, and here’s yet another bit of evidence that Gore will ignore in service of his Higher Truth. No doubt Gore’s new book will go over big with certain audiences; as for me, I’d say that Gore is the last person in the world who should be complaining about an assault on reason.
It has become common for politicians to cite God in promoting their programs and views. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has recently joined this growing list by invoking God’s name in promoting a new Illinois health care program. This proposal is a tax-increase-for-health-insurance plan that the governor promoted last week as something "God intended" for the people of this great state since God does not want people without health insurance. He even says his new tax increase is a "moral imperative." That sounds pretty important to me.
Al Gore, in accepting his Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony two weeks ago, said that his "inconvenient truth" about global warming was the great moral issue of our time. Now the governor of Illinois says that universal health coverage and a significant tax-hike for Illinois’s citizens is a "moral" issue.
Blagojevich, who is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is not known for expressions of personal faith and has generally not injected God-talk into his political agenda. A spokeswoman for the governor, however, said this reference was not accidental because he does have a "deeply held belief" that everyone should have access to health care based on moral principle. Blagojevich has previously cited the "Golden Rule" and made a few references to biblical history to promote several similar ideas. The facts are pretty clear. More and more politicians on the left do not want to be left out on God-talk.
The problem here is one that we see on the left and the right routinely. Moral imperatives too easily become associated with particular programs for solving social problems. The same governor who invokes God for this tax increase also promotes using tax-payer money for embryonic stem cell research. He has also voted to require pharmacists, who have problems of conscience with birth control, to dispense birth control pills against their conscience or they will not be able to practice pharmacy in this state.
Most agree that Blagojevich is bringing God into his agenda in order to make his very partisan points. It sure seems that way to ordinary observers. Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego, the son of a Methodist minister, baptized one of the governor’s daughters. What is his agenda as a Republican? To promote the expansion of gambling in the state. Former Senate President James "Pate" Philip of Wood Dale was at least honest when he once said, "I’m an Episcopalian, but not a very good one." Blagojevich is Orthodox for sure but to those Orthodox Christians I know his practice of faith is so inconsistent that they conclude with me that it seems, at least on the surface of things, like he is not a very good one.
Leave it to politicians, based on the numerous polls that routinely say people still retain a place for God in their private thought and public response, to invoke God’s name more and more in the coming days. I think the next time I hear a politician tell me that some program "is a moral imperative" I am going to hold on to my wallet and have some serious doubts.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."
Several weeks ago now I was offered a review copy of Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. After watching it on a cross-country flight in November I elected to let Gore’s expos’e sink in a bit before I pasted my thoughts more or less permanently on the web. Thanks in advance to Rachel Guthermann of Special Ops Media for being patient with me on posting the review.
It’s probably fitting to end the year with a nod to this influential movie; it’s a compelling bit of cinematography and he deserves all the credit for its success… (more…)
In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.
I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”
The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”
Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).