Posts tagged with: global warming

It often comes to light over matters of disagreement that one side attempts to shut down the debate by emulating Ring Lardner’s father in The Young Immigrants: “’Shut up,’ he explained.” Of course, this isn’t at all a real explanation, but it sure does slam the door on any further discussion.

This disingenuous tactic is witnessed again and again in the climate-change debate. Most notably it appears in the tactics of those who believe the science is settled, a scientific consensus exists and global warming indeed poses a serious catastrophic threat to our planet – as evidenced by a March 7, 2013, webinar conducted by As You Sow for proxy shareholder resolutions.

As You Sow – which says 18 percent of its members are faith-based organizations – seeks to prompt corporate boards in which it owns stock to adopt its view of climate change. One method to achieve this goal is shutting down the debate completely. As noted in its 2013 “Proxy Preview,” AYS and a “very broad coalition of investors is continuing a vigorous initiative to make companies be more transparent about how they spend corporate treasury money on political campaigns and lobbying.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, July 19, 2012

I belong to the Christian Reformed Church, and our synod this year decided to formally adopt a report and statements related to creation care and specifically to climate change. I noted this at the time, and that one of the delegates admitted, “I’m a skeptic on much of this.”

He continued to wonder, “But how will doing this hurt? What if we find out in 30 years that numbers (on climate change) don’t pan out? We will have lost nothing, and we’ll have a cleaner place to live. But if they are right, we could lose everything.”

Over at Think Christian today, I reflect on the delegate’s question and try to begin to answer it in “Climate change and the church.” I do so primarily by attempting to inject the idea of opportunity cost into the discussion about climate change and specifically ecclesial responses.

This recognition of opportunity cost is closely identified with a central insight of economics, and it is informative to see how natural scientists and social scientists, like economists, approach the question of climate change. It’s also intriguing to see whether and how these two different groups are given platforms to speak to (and sometimes for) the church. Robert Murphy has a lengthy and worthy entrance into this broader discussion, which includes this critical observation about the insights of economists on the climate question:

The general public has no idea that the “consensus” (if we wish to use such terminology) of economic studies shows net benefits from anthropogenic climate change for decades.

Are the conclusions of such economic studies relevant to the question of how churches, groups of Christians, and individuals address the question of climate change? I submit that they are. And I also submit that Murphy’s general conclusion should chasten the confidence with which non-experts (which includes nearly everyone involved in church leadership) engage these issues:

The scientific modeling of climate change, and its possible impacts on human welfare, are very technical areas requiring years of study to master. When experts try to summarize the fields for the layperson, they sometimes present matters in misleading ways, however inadvertent.

Last week, in a reflection about American freedom and Christianity, I contended that the shift from emphasis on the pursuit of “property” to the pursuit of “happiness” illustrated the spiritual insight of the American founders. And today, Joe passed along a piece related to the economic climate in America at the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that as “America had a thriving middle class,” the United States might have been designed especially to institutionalize, protect, and promote the materially-acquisitive ethos of the time.

That, at least, is the suggestion made by Brad Gregory in his book, The Unintended Reformation. In a chapter on “Manufacturing the Goods Life,” Gregory contends that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the broader vision of social life articulated by the founders was uniquely oriented toward merely material prosperity:

The substantive emptiness of the nation’s founding documents was possible not only because Americans were strongly shaped by Christian moral assumptions, but also because so many of them had simultaneously departed in practice from the traditional Christian condemnation of avarice.

A corollary of this is that America is uniquely anti-Christian:

If Christianity is among other things a discipline of selflessness in charitable service to others, then the United States’ legally protected ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness, culturally reinforced at every turn, would seem to be its antithesis.

You might guess what this means for our evaluation of Europe, however, which ends up looking rather more Christ-like by comparison:

But, ironically, more than is true of federal or state institutions in the church-going United States, secularized Europeans’ welfare states since World War II have more in common with the social concerns and the moral commitments of the Christianity that made the Continent and Britain, because they at least seek to meet the most basic needs of every citizen.

It’s true, admits Gregory, that American freedom includes the ability to be spiritually responsible. But even the value of this is doubtful:

So too, it is obvious that he advent of modern capitalism and market-governed societies has facilitated the potential for human flourishing and the possibility of living meaningful human lives for hundreds of millions of people, which considered as such is also a very good thing. But those who are devoted to their families, demonstrate care for others, make charitable donations, and practice self-restraint do so within a world dominated by wall-to-Walmart capitalism and consumerism, with all that this implies.

What all this has to do with the Reformation is something that has to be explored within the larger argument of the book. I’m currently drafting a review of it, but it has already been reviewed and engaged in a number of significant places, like Books & Culture, the Wall Street Journal, and First Things. At this point I can recommend Gregory’s book if you want to see what the Reformation and global climate change have to do with one another (hint: the main link is the American “ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness” outlined above).

As might be expected, the question of “scientific consensus” and its presumptive role in shaping our public and ecclesial policy was raised in the context of a decision by the Christian Reformed Church to make a formal public statement regarding climate change.

Jason E. Summers notes in an insightful piece addressing the complexities of scientific authority in our modern world that “scientific claims have substantial bearing on many public issues. But unless the nature of these claims and the basis for their authority are better understood, they cannot be meaningfully incorporated within the political process.”

One of the ways of better understanding the public role of science is to understand precisely what consensus does and does not mean. As Summers writes in the context of delineating “scientific consensus,”

science develops confidence in its findings on the basis of evidence accumulated under the methodological norms of the field, but it does not conclude in a final sense. Thus, a product of scientific inquiry may be highly robust—having well explained all available data and made accurate predictions—but it is not a final and absolute truth claim because it is predicated on evidence that continues to accumulate with time.

A related point is that consensus, no matter what kind, whether popular or expert, is an imperfect indicator of truth and not determinative of it. That is, truth is not created by consensus but rather by correspondence with reality.

Abraham Kuyper makes this point in his reflections on common grace in science and art. He observes,

Modern science is dominated by distrust when it comes to our own deepest sense of life, and that distrust is nothing but unbelief. What people lose thereby they attempt to recover by locating their fulcrum in the consciousness of the prevailing majority. Whatever is generally regarded as true in scientific circles people will dare to accept for themselves.

What people generally agree upon in this manner is called the truth, the truth that people profess to honor. Pressed a bit further, they sense that such a general agreement constitutes no proof at all, so they suppose that only what I can make so clear to all persons of sound mind and sufficient education such that they finally understand and agree with it belongs to what is scientifically established.

The role of scientific consensus is absolutely central to determining what ought (or ought not) be done by various institutions (governmental or otherwise) with respect to climate change. As Andy Crouch’s original piece illustrates, the scientific “near-consensus” on climate change is the latest in a long line of scientific determinations (such as evolution) to which the public is bound to accommodate itself.

But if we confuse consensus with absolute truth, and conflate scientific conclusions with ethical imperatives, we are unduly influenced by the “priestly voice” of science and invite the tyranny of scientific consensus.

Former Acton Research fellow Jay Richards’ new co-authored book, Indivisible, has climbed onto The New York Times Bestseller list, holding onto a top ten spot for a second week. The book was published by FaithWords and, in an interesting cross-publishing arrangement, is also available in an Ignatius press edition with a foreword by Ignatius founder Fr. Joseph Fessio. Jay’s co-author, James Robison, is the co-host of the evangelical daily show LIFE Today.

If you’ve had the chance to hear Jay speak, or read his earlier book, Money, Greed, and God, you’ll recognize Jay’s dry wit in several places. Here’s an example of the prose style that makes the book so much fun to read (in a section on global warming):

Effect and cause—the warming and the cause of the warming—are two different things. This is a point of logic, not science. Retreating glaciers in Alaska, polar bears looking mournfully at the ocean from the edge of a chunk of sea ice, shorter winters year after year, may be evidence of warming, but can’t tell us why the earth has warmed.

The book is a high-flying overview, so it touches on everything from creation stewardship to economic freedom to the role of the family in maintaining a free society. Its organizing message is that economic and social conservatism reinforce each other in important ways that are often overlooked.

Here’s the book endorsement from Fr.Sirico:

It is relatively easy to observe that our society is fast reaching a climactic moment. How to discern a wise, credible, effective, and prudent course of action to avoid disaster is not easy to come across. Jay Richards and James Robison make an important contribution in pointing the way to avoid the worst effects of a coming cultural and economic tsunami. (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute)

If you have had the chance to read the book, be sure to add a quick review at the book’s Amazon page.

Civil War gravestones, Vicksburg, Miss.

2011 kicked off the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. At the beginning of 2011, I began seeing articles and news clippings to commemorate the anniversary. While not a professional historian, I took classes on the conflict at Ole Miss and visited memorials and battlefields on my own time. I must give recognition to Dr. James Cooke, emeritus professor of history at the University of Mississippi, for his brilliant and passionate lectures that awakened a greater interest in the subject for me. After reading a lot of anniversary coverage, I noticed unsurprisingly, the topic of faith was neglected.

I thought it would be a good idea to feature a few articles on the Civil War in Religion & Liberty. I asked Mark Summers, a historian from Virginia to pen something on the topic. I have known Summers for over a decade and I knew that he understood the Acton Institute and Religion & Liberty enough to deliver. He is a first class historian and the ideas for the articles were entirely his own.

The first piece, “The Great Harvest: Revival in the Confederate Army during the Civil War” is a fascinating look at the evangelical revivals that spread through the Confederate ranks. The revivals, and of course the war itself, definitely played a significant role in shaping today’s strong religious vibe in the American South. Summers says himself in the piece,

Prior to the American Revolution, New England had been the “Bible Belt” of America, while church attendance in the South was scant. The Second Great Awakening shifted the culture of Dixie, and America as a whole. The revivals took hold in the “backcountry” amongst the yeoman. Southern evangelism reflected the charismatic and independent character of the Appalachian farmers. Southern yeomen declared their independence from the staid faith of the plantation gentry. While planters dominated politics and business, humbler folk shaped the culture of Southern Sundays.

Summers wrote about the Catholic Church and Catholic soldiers in the Fall 2011 R&L. He primarily focused on Catholics in the North and how the Church was unique from American Protestantism with its ability to stay unified despite the horrific conflict. Those who have studied American Protestant history are well aware that many denominations split along sectional lines and many of the divisions we have today resulted or were exacerbated by the Civil War. Summers notes,

Indeed, it was this unity of the Catholic Church which proved unique among American Christianity. While Protestant denominations split over theological and sectional lines, the Catholic Church stood as the only major church which remained united during the war, even if its congregants fought on opposite sides.

These two articles tell powerful stories about faith in this country during its bloodiest, most heartbreaking period. The country had never seen or experienced such a massive slaughter of life. The pieces authored by Summers tell a story about our own American history but they also tell the story that points to the ancient truth, and that is that God is at work redeeming that which is separated, broken, and in despair. In the words of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

Today, George Cardinal Pell delivered a lecture at the invitation of the Global Warming Policy Foundation titled “Eppur’ si muove, or ‘yet it moves:’ One Christian Perspective on Climate Change.” He insisted that a scientific consensus is a lazy basis for the making of policy, and that before states impose drastic environmental regulations, an analysis of their demonstrable costs and benefits must be undertaken.

Galileo is supposed to have muttered the lecture’s title after recanting his heliocentrism in the face of a “scientific consensus.” Cardinal Pell spent a large portion of his lecture demonstrating the historical existence of a Medieval warm period which in the last ten years the green movement has tried to explain away, since it’s rather inconvenient to find that pre-industrial man lived in a hotter climate when you want to assert that carbon emissions must be causing current global warming. “And yet, it was warm,” the Cardinal is saying.

Cardinal Pell began with the Tower of Babel, and quoted Leon Kass’s description of that project as “the all-too-human, prideful attempt at self-creation.” Before making any sort of climate policy, the Cardinal warned,

we should ask whether our attempts at global climate control are within human capacity, (that is, the projected human imperium); or on the other hand, are likely to be as misdirected and ineffective as the construction of the famous tower in the temple of Marduk, Babylon’s chief god.

Where is the borderline separating us from what is beyond human power? Where does scientific striving become uneconomic, immoral or ineffectual and so lapse into hubris?

Even more dangerous than ineffectual scientific striving is ineffectual unscientific striving, which what we have when policy is made based not on scientific finding, but on scientific consensus. Of this consensus, Cardinal Pell says it “is a category error, scientifically and philosophically. In fact it is also a cop-out, a way of avoiding the basic issues.” He goes on:

What is important and what needs to be examined by lay people as well as scientists is the evidence and argumentation which are adduced to back any consensus. The basic issue is not whether the science is settled but whether the evidence and explanations are adequate in that paradigm.

The complacent appeal to scientific consensus is simply one more appeal to authority, quite inappropriate in science or philosophy.

Thomas Aquinas pointed this out long ago explaining that “the argument from authority based on human reason” is the weakest form of argument, always liable to logical refutation. [Summa I, 1, 8 ad 2]

Then the Cardinal goes into his lengthy defense of the Medieval warm period, which you may read for yourself in the full text of his speech.

After poking a hole in the green lobby’s weather balloon, Cardinal Pell makes his appeal to lawmakers and bureaucrats.

A final point to be noted in this struggle to convince public opinion is that the language used by AGW proponents veers towards that of primitive religious controversy. Believers are contrasted with deniers, doubters and sceptics, although I must confess no one has dubbed me a climate change heretic.

The rewards for proper environmental behaviour are uncertain, unlike the grim scenarios for the future as a result of human irresponsibility which have a dash of the apocalyptic about them, even of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. The immense financial costs true-believers would impose on economies can be compared with the sacrifices offered traditionally in religion, and the sale of carbon credits with the pre-Reformation practice of selling indulgences. Some of those campaigning to save the planet are not merely zealous but zealots. To the religionless and spiritually rootless, mythology — whether comforting or discomforting — can be magnetically, even pathologically, attractive.

For this reason (among others) I support the recommendation of Bjorn Lomborg and Bob Carter [in The Australian] that, rather than spending money on meeting the Kyoto Protocol which would have produced an indiscernible effect on temperature rise, money should be used to raise living standards and reduce vulnerability to catastrophes and climate change (in whatever direction), so helping people to cope better with future challenges.

It is folly, the Cardinal says, to rush into climate regulation efforts of little proveable benefit when their cost will be extreme. The city of Athens spent half its GDP building the Parthenon, and after eleven years of work had a fantastically beautiful temple to show for its expense. Al Gore hasn’t yet called for a 50 percent green tax, but when he does, will a two degree drop in summer temperatures be worth it?

The text of the speech was released at 3:15 ET and will soon be on the Archdiocese of Syndey’s website. We’ll link it here when it’s up.