Posts tagged with: global warming

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I have to admit I was skeptical myself of Gregg Easterbrook’s self-proclaimed “long record of opposing alarmism” regarding global warming. To be sure, a bit of my own research showed that Mr. Easterbrook has long opposed alarmism, just not of the global warming variety.

In this June 2003 Wired magazine article, “We’re All Gonna Die!,” Easterbrook debunks a number of apocalyptic myths, including the dangers of germ warfare, runaway nanobots, supervolcanoes, and shifting magnetic poles. He does include “Sudden climate change!” (#9) as a myth, but in this Easterbrook doesn’t disagree with the many scientists supporting the notion of manmade climate change. Such scientists were among the first to decry the alarmism of The Day After Tomorrow and the attribution of increase in strength and quantity of hurricanes to global warming, for example.

To the question, “Could an abrupt climate change really happen?,” the Pew Center on Global Climate Change answers, “Scientists have just begun to study the possibility of an abrupt climate change. But when scientists talk about abrupt climate change, they mean climate change that occurs over decades, rather than centuries. It’s too soon to know for certain whether abrupt climate change could occur, but if it does, it’s not expected to happen within the next several decades.”

In this article Easterbrook is really addressing the idea that a sudden climate flip “could happen as rapidly as over the course of a few years.” He himself acknowledges that “it’s reasonable to expect that global temperatures will get warmer, owing at least in part to artificial greenhouse gases.” That doesn’t sound like a skeptic to me, and that’s from a piece written almost three years ago.

If Easterbrook was a skeptic regarding climate change on a relatively lengthy time scale, then he was a rather private one on this point. The Commons Blog has picked up and expanded on this skepticism regarding Easterbrook’s supposedly “long record.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, May 26, 2006

In a recent interview with Giant magazine (June/July 2006, “Citizen Gore,” p. 56-57, text available here) about his new movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore answered a few questions. When asked what he would say to President Bush about climate change if he could:

I’d say that this climate crisis is really a planetary emergency, and that he ought to take it out of politics altogether. The civil rights issue really took hold when Dr. King defined it as a moral and spiritual issue, and this crisis must be redefined as a moral and spiritual issue because it involves who we are as human beings. Do we care about our children and grandchildren? Are we content to just look the other way when 100 years of science overwhelmingly points to the destruction our current pattern is causing? Most people, when they finally open their eyes and look at the truth of this, say, “We’ve got to change.” To make it a political issue is wrong and the current White House is doing that.

Of course, Mr. Gore’s campaign to popularize his message about global warming has everything to do with turning this into a political issue. This goes a long way in explaining what Heather Wilhelm calls a “strange bedfellows” phenomenon. When Ms. Wilhelm asks NAE Vice President for Governmental Affairs Richard Cizik about whether “evangelicals concerned that they’re putting too much faith in government,” he responds, “You know, I don’t hear that very often. I don’t think that’s a huge concern among most people. I think they’re enthusiastic about the progress we’re making.” Those evangelicals who have been “converted” to the global warming cause are providing that veneer of moral authority, which helps make this into more than a “political issue.”

When asked why some people still won’t accept the scientific evidence, Gore replies:

A lot of people don’t want to accept the truth so that they won’t have to take on board its moral imperatives. You may already know this, but there is an interesting way that the Chinese write the word crisis. They use two characters side by side, but the first character standing by itself means danger, and the second character by itself means opportunity. When you put them together, they mean crisis. In English, crisis means a sense of alarm or danger, but it doesn’t automatically communicate a sense that in danger there is always a sense of opportunity. I try to make a point when I talk about global warming that there really is a lot of opportunity. There will be new jobs, new technology, new improvements in our lives, and more importantly, there will be an opportunity to have a shared moral purpose. We would be able to speak to our grandchildren and tell them we did something on their behalf that was tough but we found a way to accomplish it.

Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth about the Chinese words for danger, opportunity, and crisis. But that may not be the only fiction that Mr. Gore is peddling in this interview.

Since Mr. Gore is engaging economic concerns to buttress his argument, let’s have a look. His basic economic argument is that political intervention into energy policy, specifically with regard to climate change, will have positive economic benefits, because of the opportunities provided by new research and technology. This is the same basic argument that Andy Crouch makes in a Christianity Today piece. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the major economic arguments against radically preemptive action against climate change is that of opportunity cost. This is a point made by Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics and law at George Mason University. He speaks of a “rule of optimality,” and argues:

If we ignore this rule of optimality and begin abatement now for damages caused by emissions after 100 years, we leave our descendants with fewer resources – 100 years of return on the abatement costs not incurred – to devote to subsequent damage control. The critical oversight here is the failure to respect opportunity cost. Each generation must be responsible for the future effect of that generation’s emission damage. Earlier generations have the responsibility of leaving subsequent generations a capital stock that has not been diminished by incurring premature abatement costs.

The government could create “new” jobs by having people dig holes and fill them in again. The mere creation of jobs is an ambiguous phenomena. We have to ask whether these new jobs contribute something greater to the common good of society.

Mr. Gore and Rev. Cizik emphasize the moral and especially religious aspects of environmental stewardship, and in this they are right. And a basic element of Christian morality is a commitment to the truth. Rev. Cizik contends, “For those of us who oppose the hegemony of the naturalistic worldview, we should strongly consider spending less time debating one another over who is right about climate change and collaborate together to conquer the real enemy.” But who is right about climate change is of the utmost importance!

Gore is right (and Rev. Cizik is wrong) in recognizing that the truth about the reality, cause, and solution regarding global warming has a foundational significance for the shape of the debate. It’s not just about Christians versus naturalists. But Rev. Cizik is right in this sense: the truth about global warming should not obscure our commitment to the One who is Truth.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The researchers report that "latent heat loss from the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean was less in late spring and early summer 2005 than preceding years due to anomalously weak trade winds associated with weaker sea level pressure," which "resulted in anomalously high sea surface temperatures" that "contributed to earlier and more intense hurricanes in 2005." However, they go on to note that "these conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean during 2004 and 2005 were not unprecedented and were equally favorable during the active hurricane seasons of 1958, 1969, 1980, 1995 and 1998." In addition, they say "there is not a clear link between the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation [of temperature] or the long term trend [of temperature] and individual active hurricane years, confirming the importance of other factors in hurricane formation."

CO2 Science concludes "the 2005 hurricane season was not as unique as many people have made it out to be, and that there is no compelling reason to ascribe whatever degree of uniqueness it may have possessed to recent global warming."

This isn’t news. USA Today, quoted at the US Senate’s Environment and Public Works page:

USA Today reviewed what several scientists and economists have said recently about hurricanes and hurricane intensity, and the overwhelming majority believe there is no link. In fact, the only opinion in its story favoring a link between global warming and hurricane intensity was that of a Wesleyan economics professor, Gary Yohe – not a climate scientist. Every scientist quoted disregarded any link.

Scientists like William Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, Robert Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami from 1987 to 1995, and Christopher Landsea, a researcher meteorologist in the hurricane research division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

MP Scott Brison is being tagged in the Edmonton Sun as two-faced over Kyoto in his attacks on Canada’s new environment minister. And so it goes.

There are reasonable concerns over CO2 pollution, and there should be interest in responding to climate changes as they occur, naturally or otherwise. But wielding Katrina and global warming as a political tool will eventually backfire on climate change advocates, and is likely to be counterproductive to getting man-made CO2 emissions rolled back.

[Originally posted at The Evangelical Ecologist on 5/24/2006.]

In the in-box, this interesting survey from Nate at Field & Stream:

A new survey conducted by the National Wildlife Federation (the results of which are being hosted exclusively on fieldandstream.com) shows that:

  • 76 percent of sportsmen believe global warming is occurring
  • 71 percent believe it’s a serious threat to fish and wildlife
  • 78 percent believe the U.S. should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2

even though:

  • 73 percent consider themselves conservative to moderate on political issues
  • 50 percent consider themselves evangelical Christians

and

  • 53 percent voted for Bush (compared to 29 percent for John Kerry)

Here’s the link to the full survey. I have lots of brothers in Christ who are outdoorsman and know they have been conservation conscious for generations. But I’m surprised the numbers are that high. I’ve emailed Nate back to see if we can get more details on this; worth expanding on.

[Originally posted at The Evangelical Ecologist]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 25, 2006

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 statistics are exaggerated.)

Well, TCS Daily reports that a letter to Canadian PM Stephen Harper signed by over 60 scientists asks a similar question. Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wonders, “How can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into claims about future catastrophes? The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.”

Peter C. Glover, author of the article, “Climate Change’s Gravy Train,” continues, noting that “Lindzen goes on to identify how the doom-mongers in both the science research community and media have a ‘vested interest’ in ‘hyping’ the political stakes for policymakers who provide more funds for more science research to feed more alarm. ‘After all’, Lindzen wonders, ‘who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming’?”

Read the whole thing. Lindzen raises a number of good points, including the discrimination faced by scientists who haven’t drunk from the GW Kool-Aid. As he says, “Scientists who dissent from alarmism have seen their funds disappear, their work derided, and libelled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse.”

Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today, who wrote in support of policy action on global warming, would do well to listen. As I said in response to his column, “It’s ironic that Crouch finds the source of evangelical distrust of scientific global warming dogma in the contemporary creation/evolution debates. If there’s any group that should know about the difficulty of breaking through the groupthink of mainstream science, it ought to be the proponents of Intelligent Design.” IDers really ought to be able to identify with the plight of scientists who question the predictions of the global warming alarmists.

And not only does the alarmism assure that there money for climate research funding, it means there’s commercial money available too. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) grossed $186,740,799 domestically (as might be expected, it was a bit more popular abroad, grossing $542,771,772 worldwide).

Related items:

Jordan Ballor, “A Love/Hate Relationship with Science,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (February 8, 2006).

Andy Crouch, Response #1 (September 10, 2005).

Jordan Ballor, “Comet-Busting Lasers: A Response to Andy Crouch,” Acton Institute PowerBlog (September 12, 2005).

Andy Crouch, Response #2 (September 12, 2005).

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “What Stewardship Means,” BreakPoint WorldView (September 2004).

Roy Spencer, “Global Warming Hysteria Has Arrived,” TCS Daily (April 4, 2006).

Hans Von Storch and Nico Stehr, “A Climate of Staged Angst,” Der Spiegel (January 4, 2005).

“Letter on Immigration Deepens Split Among Evangelicals,” trumpets a story from the Washington Post. Ever since evangelicals received such credit in the election and reelection of George W. Bush, the ins and outs of evangelical politics has recieved a greater share of media attention. A great part of this attention has focused on so-called “splits” among evangelicals, as a way to highlight the newly recognized reality that all evangelicals aren’t card-carrying Republicans.

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues.

This stems from the fact that political policy is most often about the prudential application of principles, and thus is a matter where there can and should be a variety of informed and committed voices. Thus, says Aquinas, human law should not seek to make illegal everything that is immoral, but only that which is necessary for the maintenance of a just society.

He writes, “many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man. Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like” (Summa Theologica, II.1.96.ii).

For Aquinas then, human law is the result of the prudent and contextual application of the natural and divine law. And it’s not surprising that among a diverse group like evangelicals, different opinions will exist as to what considerations are relevant to the construction of a particular policy.

With respect to immigration reform, for example, the previously noted Cooperman article reports that a letter signed by numerous evangelical leaders outlining four major points of emphasis was sent to members of the federal government (original letter here in PDF). Among the national evangelical organizations that signed on to the letter are the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the World Evangelical Alliance.

Notably absent, however, was the National Association of Evangelicals, and the lack of support for the bill was noted as the occasion for the Cooperman headline. According to the NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs, Rev. Richard Cizik, “the NAE itself did not sign the letter because its members are divided on how to deal with immigration.” Since the letter makes rather specific policy proposals rather than general moral and theological guidelines, many evangelicals are not ready to endorse the statement. (more…)

In yesterday’s Acton Commentary, I argued that the biblical foundation for the concepts of stewardship and economics should lead us to see them as united. In this sense I wrote, “Economics can be understood as the theoretical side of stewardship, and stewardship can be understood as the practical side of economics.” I also defined economics as “the thoughtful ordering of the material resources of a household or social unit toward the self-identified good end” and said that the discipline “helps us rightly order our stewardship.”

Within the context of environmental stewardship in particular, I concluded that economics should play a key role in defining public policy. This is becoming a more pressing issue as a number of evangelical and religious leaders around the world are endorsing specific policy initiatives to combat global warming.

Following the formation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative by a number of prominent evangelical leaders in the United States, general secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Samuel Kobia said yesterday, “Just as atomic weapons changed the very way we thought about life, so too the potential of major climatic changes put life as we know it in danger” He said this while emphasizing that all religious people should “speak with one voice” about climate change.

My brief commentary outlined some reasons why Christians may have differing opinions on this point. And Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint feature, “Evangelical Activism,” details some of the other aspects of the debate.

“Now, we all have a stewardship responsibility for God’s creation, but we also have responsibility for God’s creatures. Balancing those interests requires prudence,” he writes. On issues of prudential wisdom, Christians on both sides of a debate may well have good reasons to disagree. Check out his commentary for links to a number of pertinent resources.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, February 14, 2006

George H. Taylor, the State Climatologist for Oregon, writes at TCS Daily, “A Consensus About Consensus.” The article is worth reading. It shows that scientific consensus is often overrated, both in terms of its existence and in terms of its relevance.

With resepct to global warming, Taylor looks at some of the claims for scientific consensus, and states, “But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong.” This simply means that the majority can often be terribly wrong.

It is noteworthy that what holds true for consensus in the hard sciences also holds true for efforts in other fields. So, while Christians should take seriously the work of the Copenhagen Consensus, for example, there should not simply be an uncritical move from consensus to specific policy action. Christians are called to critically engage the efforts of science and economics, and the failure to do this on either count is an abdication of responsibility.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 10, 2006

There’s something like a question of theodicy implicitly wrapped up in the debate about global warming among Christians. It goes something like this:

Why did God create oil?

One answer is that the burning of fossil fuels is simply a divine trap for unwitting and greedy human beings, who would stop at nothing to rape the earth. Another answer is that there is some legitimate created purpose for fossil fuels.

I’m inclined to think the latter, for a number of reasons. The first answer strikes me akin to the claim that God created the earth to look old…it just doesn’t seem like something God would do. It would cast doubt on the veracity of God, in whom there is nothing false. After all, I don’t recall the covenant with Adam having anything to do with burning fossil fuels.

One possible argument in favor of the first view is that God has created the world in such a way that wrong actions tend to bear negative consequences. The wisdom literature of the Bible attests to this natural order, in which evil bears its own fruit of destruction. But this would mean that fossil fuels were created only with the fallen state of human beings in view, as a check or consequence on human sinfulness (see the corollary at the end).

It seems much more tenable to me to assert that oil was created by God as a natural resource for human beings to use wisely and to steward well in the culturing of the world. It would be much more difficult to “fill the earth and subdue it” if we didn’t have cars and planes and ships to carry us about.

If this is the case, then oil, natural gas, and other petroleum products exist to be used by human beings, but just like any other thing, are to be used responsibly. For example, we can use or misuse food: we can gorge ourselves on it (gluttony), we can waste it, we can hoard it, or we can eat and grow and share food appropriately. Oil might well be a tool like any other, that can be used for good or ill.

Supposing that one of the inevitable effects of the human consumption of oil (speaking here only about engine combustion and not other uses of fossil fuels, e.g. to make plastics) is carbon dioxide emission which inevitably raises global temperatures and adversely effects global climate, what then is our answer to the question? Is there any legitimate use for oil left if this is true? Is oil the forbidden fruit of the twentieth century?

Or perhaps petroleum products are here as a transitional stage in human development, much like societies based on wood-burning sources of energy progressed into the usage of fossil fuels. In this case, petroleum products would have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy, which would raise the standard of living and economic situation of the societies to the point where technological research would find even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.

I don’t think anyone is claiming that oil is going to be the primary source of fuel forever. It’s just the best we have right now. And most of the world, China, for example, is heading into the stage of development where use of fossil fuels is necessary and are not at the point of progressing beyond it.

A corollary: the issue of the creation of fossil fuels through animal death may or may not have an impact here. It’s an open question to me whether animal death existed before the Fall. Certainly some kind of death (plant) undoubtedly occurred, and some form of animal death (bacteria) probably existed as well. If oil is only the consequence of animal death which is itself the product of the Fall, perhaps the well is tainted, so to speak. You might be able to argue conversely, however, that this is an example of God bringing good from evil, so the origin of fossil fuels from animal fossils doesn’t seem to be definitive.

A few others have addressed this issue in previous posts, but I wanted to jump in with my two cents.

Yesterday’s New York Times notes that a group of evangelical leaders have entered the debate over climate change:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough.”

Later in the article, Rev. Ted Haggard – speaking for himself and not in his capacity as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which is not participating in this effort – states that “there is no doubt about it in my mind that climate change is happening, and there is no doubt about it that it would be wise for us to stop doing the foolish things we’re doing that could potentially be causing this. In my mind there is no downside to being cautious.” Well, no downside except nearly destroying the global economy in an effort to reverse a process that may or may not be caused by man in the first place. (Jay Richards sums up the downside nicely in this post.)

One wonders whether Rev. Haggard and the others behind this declaration have been informed of the recent discovery that plants release vast amounts of greenhouse gasses. Or that one of the most famous pieces of supporting evidence for the global warming hypothesis – the “hockey stick” graph that purports to show a sudden rise in global temperatures at the beginning of the 20th century after centuries of relative stability – has been found to be riddled with serious errors. Or that global warming is not just restricted to Earth, but also seems to be occurring on other planets in the Solar System, which may cause one to think that global warming on Earth might just have something to do with… the Sun.

Since the dawn of time, man has longed to destroy the sun…

The group will be taking their message into the media via a television campaign:

The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: “As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God’s creation. The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord.”

That would all be well and good if we knew for sure that humans were the cause of global warming. But it’s clear that we don’t know that for sure. (And if warming is indeed caused by the Sun, we’re completely dependent on God for a solution unless we embark on a Monty Burns style quest to block the Sun’s energy from reaching Earth.) In their editorial on the “hockey stick,” the Wall Street Journal sounded a note of caution that we would all do well to heed:

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet–as much as $150 billion a year–on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn’t everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?