Only someone in coma for the past decade could possibly not be aware of the climate change controversy. Every few days there are new stories in the popular media about the topic. The crux of the theory is that carbon dioxide (CO2) is put into the air by burning fossil fuels and the concentration of CO2 is having an impact on our climate. The latest climate change theory postulates that ultra-violet rays heat the surface of the earth but the CO2 traps the heat, preventing it from be reflected out of the Earth’s atmosphere. There are several claims made that relate to this theory:
- The average global temperature is on the increase and has been for about 150 years.
- The primary cause of the warming, at least in recent years, is anthropogenic (human caused). (Increases in CO2 in the air are almost exclusively due to fossil fuel consumption.) There is an ironclad indisputable scientific consensus on climate change cause and effects with regard to the anthropogenic nature of the warming.
- The consequences of this warming are going to be devastating disasters like melting ice caps and rising sea levels (therefore displacement of many people), more frequent and more violent hurricanes, and the extinction of many species.
Critics of these claims are frequently ridiculed as “flat-earth” buffoons or minions of big corporations and energy companies. The template through which events are often reported is objective impartial scientists altruistically working to save the planet being opposed by evil greedy corporations who want to destroy the earth. It is a compelling story that plays into many of the values and prejudices people have in society. But there is another side to this story. To understand it, we have to go back sixty years.
Forty-six years ago, Dwight Eisenhower made a prophetic statement in his Farwell Address. In it, he talked about the Military-Industrial Complex. He was apprehensive about the corrupting influences of powerful corporations on society. However, if we read on in Eisenhower’s speech we find this statement:
“The prospect of the domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal Employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded. Yet holding scientific research and discovery in respect as we should, we must always be alert to the equal and opposite danger that the public could itself become captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
The development of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project had been such a successful partnership between government, science and business that Roosevelt commissioned Vannevar Bush (no relation to the current president), one of his White House science staff persons, to develop a proposal for how this arrangement might be institutionalized to address other scientific problems in the future. Bush’s aggressive proposal made its way to Truman after Roosevelt’s death and was enthusiastically received. It resulted in the creation of the National Science Foundation working under the president and a host of other research arms in cabinet departments like Defense and later Energy. By 1960 Eisenhower was already having reservations. The problem is that the determination of what is a “problem” becomes less a scientific question than a political one. If you want to get funding you better study what the funders see as “the problem.”
The late 1970s were a time of focused efforts in studying and developing energy alternatives. It was during the 1970s that Energy Secretary James Schlesinger became interested in the possible impacts of fossil fuels on climate global warming; or as it was known then, “global cooling.” The global temperature had been declining from the 1940s to the 1970s and it was feared that emissions were blocking the suns heating capabilities and would throw us into an ice age.
Research funding continued to grow for studies on climate change through the 1980s when nature decided to throw scientists a curve ball. It was determined that since the early to mid 1970s the earth had started warming up. Not to be out foxed, scientists postulated that instead of blocking the suns heat, a greenhouse effect would be created that would trap the heat and create global warming. James Hansen of NASA indicated in congressional testimony in 1988, that we could expect the temperature to increase nearly 3 degrees C (well over 5 degrees F) in the next fifty years, an exaggeration by about a multiple of four. He later justified his extreme scenario because he needed to get the attention of policy-makers who were largely unaware of the “problem” of global warming.
In other words, if you can get the policymakers to perceive a crisis, you have created a “problem” for scientists to “solve.” The coffers open up. Politicians want “scientific evidence” that they are funding efforts to address their constituents “problems.”
So imagine you are a scientist. You do research and conclude that greenhouse gasses are not the problem. It is driven by variations in radiation from the Sun (for example). You conclude that the impact of the warming is likely to be minimal. What are you going to say at the next federal funding hearings? “Good news. No significant anthropogenic global warming. My colleagues and I don’t need your money anymore. Thank you very much.” Not only are you de-funding yourself but also undercutting the funding for every other scientist who is studying this topic and you are denying political powers some political ammo about “solving problems” with taxpayer money.
Scientists advance in their fields is by publishing in peer reviewed journals. The reviewers are people who have established a track record of publication and are believed to be experts in their fields. They are also people who have been competing for federal funding dollars with everybody else. They review the article that challenges the conventional wisdom about global warming and reject the article as flawed or in some way “unscientific.” The scientific community is a relatively tight knit community and suddenly you find you can’t get any of your research published. No publications eventually means no job; or at least no advancement.
We are not talking about purely objective scientific observers. Challenges to paradigms in the late twentieth century are no longer just about science. It is also about politics and potentially destroying the livelihoods of fellow scientists with whom you must have a relationship to advance. Check out Climate of Fear, an article by Richard Lindzen of MIT, in the Wall Street Journal last April.
To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.
If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.
So how is it that we don't have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It's my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear.
Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers.
It is clear there are multiple vested interests affecting the debate. Corporations fear financial loss, scientist want to keep their jobs and not lose funding, government agencies what to demonstrate their importance, politicians want to rally votes (of both skeptics and diehards) and the media loves sensation.
Mainline denominations have tended to jump right on board with the most apocalyptic versions of climate change. Evangelicals have been relatively silent on these topics until just the past few years. One of the first evangelical organizations to begin to raise the issue was the Evangelical Environmental Network. They are generally supportive of claims about major environmental degradation and anthropogenic global warming. More recently, a statement called the Evangelical Climate Initiative was issued by a number of Evangelicals that the NAE ultimately declined to endorse. A group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance was formed that supports a document called the Cornwall Declaration. It too was signed by a number of religious leaders and scientists. It takes a more skeptical view of anthropogenic global warming and differs some onhow we should respond.
So what is an appropriate Christian Response?