Thursday, September 27, 2012

Diminished Climate Alarm

For the past several years we have experienced an interesting “global cooling.” In this sense “cooling” is diminished alarm over the reality of anthropogenic global warming. Explanations abound for the reduced level of alarm. There is a more realistic appraisal from all sides concerning the science supporting or not supporting anthropogenic global warming. Our population may be more cognizant of the difference between good science and bad science. The blanket claim that science supports a particular view has been subject to a higher level of scrutiny. Instead of accepting such a statement as self-proving, the claim is invalidated as it becomes apparent that the quality of some scientific claims is superior to other claims. In addition, public awareness is increasing that there are serious economic and political agendas to be fulfilled along with altruistic motivation. Often these motivations hide behind the claim that we must accept the science which supports a certain view.

Most citizens, when questioned concerning their opinion on global warming, offer quick responses of distaste for the worst case scenario. They claim concern for the dire warnings posed by modern disciples preaching human induced global heating. In our instant answer culture driven by opinion polling, many respondents are flattered to be questioned on such a pressing issue. As I composed this post, I encountered an article in The Huffington Post: “Climate Change Deaths Could Total 100 Million By 2030 If The World Fails To Act.” The author combines poor science, unsupported alarmism, and agenda-driven journalism. The report relied less on science and more on the credibility of an unnamed report “prepared for 20 governments.”

My conversation with a new acquaintance at a recent social gathering was punctuated by his expressions of alarm about the threats to humanity if sea levels rise, world temperature increases, and food resources dry up as predicted. Joining my three way conversation, another new friend offered an account of his recent conversation with an octogenarian who had personally lived through the horrendous heat and drought of multiple years in the 1930s in the US, especially the summers of 1934 and 1936 during which blowing soil particles from the mid west reached the east coast. I pointed out that the depression era severity of that event made the drought of 2012 look relatively mild. In the 1930s, the culture was not held captive by global warming alarm as has gripped our contemporary culture in the past two or three decades and In particular, in the first decade of our new millennium. This modern phenomenon is unprecedented.

Another explanation of diminishing fervor for heroic climate initiatives may be an increased awareness of natural climate variations. The long term effects of natural climate fluctuation are easily discernable in the record of earth history. Climate variations sometimes occur on a scale of decades superimposed over timeframes of centuries. This fact is often stated as an afterthought or footnote when it should be paramount as we examine the big climate picture.

In addition, there may be increased understanding that severe or unusual weather events are distinct from climate change. For example, the 2012 heat wave and drought and even the record breaking cold wave of last winter which killed 650 residents in Eastern Europe must be understood from this perspective. Weather history reveals hundreds, if not thousands of severe weather events going back hundreds and thousands of years. In this light, last summer’s heat wave and drought in the US mid-section may be recognized as isolated severe weather events rather than a sign of long term global warming claimed by some alarmists. Media outlets, however, commonly blame global warming for severe episodes of weather. There has even been a tendency to blame last winter’s European cold snap and the very unusual lack of tornadoes last spring and summer in the mid west on a supposed global warming effect.

The famous US drought and heat wave of 1988 triggered the first wave of serious global warming warnings. Before and since then there have been many droughts, floods, heat waves, cold waves, blizzards and other remarkable weather phenomena. An examination of the frequently touted warnings that hurricane frequency and intensity has increased due to global warming has not materialized. Beginning in 2004 increased publicity about the chaotic nature of our climate system began to appear, along with several major books, a movie, art work, and attention from several major corporations. By 2007, nightly broadcast news coverage of climate change on the three major networks reached a peak of interest with Al Gore’s 2006 release of An Inconvenient Truth, followed by his Nobel Prize shared with the United Nations supported IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) for their well publicized work with global warming warnings. Network news coverage of global warming has returned to pre-1997 levels in the last several years.

Our climate system was designed and authored by our provident Creator. Its natural variation has provided for a vibrant, productive planet--a place to thrive. Science has demonstrated the presence of hundreds of interrelated global factors, including climate factors on which successful life depends. Carbon is the building block for all life on earth. CO2 is a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels which were divinely provided as a rich resource for the development of our modern culture. Atmospheric CO2 sustains plant life. The proposition that CO2 is a pollutant is beyond reason. The proposal that rising carbon dioxide levels contribute to a harmful rise in the greenhouse effect and thus to dangerous earth warming is not substantiated by the best science.

We join with scientists and theologians who see CO2, a miniscule fraction of our atmosphere but mighty in its importance, as the provision of a caring God. We welcome the diminished concern over carbon. We salute a return to a thankful understanding of manifold divine provisions for humanity.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Evangelical Declarations and Climate Initiatives

If matters of a secular nature such as service to our fellow man, scientific discoveries, or politics were not sufficiently important to command our attention at coffee table discussions, theology always adds an extra dimension. This may be especially true if we deal with controversial matters such as climate change and global warming. How could our responsibility to exercise Christian stewardship and prudent care for God’s creation enter the discussion? Could theological questions make the climate change discussion more relevant and interesting? Would the discussion assume more importance?

From a theological perspective, climate questions leave us with important and difficult challenges. If the discoveries of science are cited as important in our climate change and global warming decision making, we must be sure decisions are based on correct scriptural principles as well as good science. Does our worldview help us regard nature as a self contained and self sustaining entity? Do we believe that “nature knows best?” or that the earth and its atmosphere, untouched by human hands, is the ideal? Such extreme positions must be balanced by conscientious biblical stewardship. How may we use earth’s plentiful fossil fuel resources and sound economics according to God’s plan for human prospering? These questions are at the heart of the evolving modern climate change dialogue.

Of many Christian groups who have claimed a share of influence in the theological dimensions of climate and global warming, I have selected two divergent movements emerging from the past decade within the evangelical community. Both groups emphasize creation care and stewardship issues with respect to climate, human flourishing, and food resources. Both groups care deeply about the welfare of the human population, particularly for the poorest among us. Scripture teaches us to care about each of these dimensions.

The Evangelical Climate Initiative began in 2006 with 86 evangelical leaders. By 2011 the number had risen to 220 leaders who subscribed to the call to action. Their initial statement, reported in Christianity Today claimed “Human induced climate change is real.” It calls on the government to pass legislation establishing limits on carbon dioxide emissions—widely believed to be the primary cause of human induced global warming. Further, one spokesman declared “Global warming is going to affect millions in this century…We feel we have to do something about it.” The original statement’s signatories included Rick Warren, Christianity Today editor David Neff, executive editor Timothy George, and editorial director Andy Crouch, Wheaton College president Duane Litfin, former NAE president Leith Anderson, and a wide spectrum of other evangelical leaders.

On the opposite side of the evangelical climate continuum is the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. It descended from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance in order to better reflect “its purpose and principles.” The Cornwall Alliance believes “Earth and its ecosystems…are robust, resilient, self-regulating and self-correcting” and display God’s glory. The Alliance denies “that carbon dioxide—essential to plant growth—is a pollutant.” They believe that “Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures. Cornwall spokesmen declare that “Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” Their concern is that “while passion may energize environmental activism, it is reason, including sound theology and sound science—that must guide the decision-making process.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative signatories seem to be comprised of a wide range of members of the clergy and many Christian ministry leaders. The Cornwall Alliance endorsers are a diverse group of ministry leaders, theologians, philosophers, ethicists, pastors, scientists, economists, and Christian educators.

How is this scenario a challenge to thinkers in the evangelical community? One sector of this wide ranging group believes the scientific evidence on climate change leads to one set of conclusions and calls to action while the other sanctions conflicting evidence and advocates completely different responses. Resolving manifestly different interpretations of climate scientists is a monumentally significant task for the Christian. Beyond this, agreement on a unified action plan could be a recipe for disharmony.

The Christian response to climate issues involves a difficult entanglement of science, theology, economics, and politics. Our idealistic desire to “do something about it,” may lead us to impossible terrain if the science is wrong or if our theology is errant. In addition, political motivation or personal desire to benefit economically from agreed upon climate solutions, may consign the entire project to failure or catastrophe.

A focused study of these interwoven issues becomes essential for those in leadership in the evangelical community. We cannot afford to err scientifically, theologically, or economically. The science is definitely not settled on the maze of issues surrounding climate change, and in particular, anthropogenic global warming. Draconian solutions proposed to remedy temperature change caused by man instead of recognition of natural cycles of warming and cooling occurring throughout earth history seem not to be grounded in wisdom and reason. Economic measures costing trillions of dollars may compound our errors and be counterproductive in our desire to help the world’s poor.

For the last several years the evangelical movement toward an activist role on climate change solutions has been waning. The secular campaign is also retreating gradually. Never has there been a greater need for the application of the verse in the epistle of James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” James 1:5 (NIV). Old Testament wisdom books are filled with appropriate instruction such as that of Proverbs 2:1-6. In Psalm 90:12 we are instructed, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Biblical exhortations on wisdom apply across a broad range of human experience.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Climate Controversy

Mark Twain’s old saw “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it” is not an accurate description of today’s world. An army of climate scientists, government legislators, and journalists has, indeed, set out in recent years to do something about it. It is one of the most discussed issues of our day. Their science interpretations and motivations for remedial action are as diverse as the weather itself. Those interpretations clearly point in several different directions. Scientists are intensely confident in the certainty of their results. Non-scientists view this scenario with bewilderment when strident voices confidently proclaim science should not be challenged. Science and truth should prevail, we are cautioned. But whose science and whose truth should prevail?

A variety of factors has gradually propelled climate awareness into the realm of major life changing legislation. The most ardent advocates of government involvement acknowledge the cost of implementing such mandatory carbon-inhibiting regulations may ultimately cost our societies trillions of dollars. Stakeholders on both sides of this matter cite science as the primary driver. Beyond this, many advocates on both sides hold that the findings of climate science are indisputable. Our trust in the rectitude of climate remedies has been firmly grounded by trust in science. What we hold as true is subservient to what school of science we embrace. In view of the truth that science is a distinctly human endeavor, we are faced with a difficult, even dangerous dilemma. Whose science do we believe? Common sense and reason are sometimes held hostage to science.

Steven F. Hayward, Weyerhauser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, published a piece in The Weekly Standard in 2010. Hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia had recently provoked a worldwide stir. Hayward claims the consensus on anthropogenic climate change is crumbling, to put it mildly. He states “The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), hitherto the gold standard in climate science, is under fire for shoddy work…The U. S. Climate Action Partnership…is falling apart in the wake of the collapse of any prospect of enacting cap and trade in Congress.” Cap and trade was a major centerpiece of sweeping legislation for regulating future man-made carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The legislation passed the House, but not the Senate.

The movement toward legislative activism on climate change solutions, however, is far from dead. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee on June 19, 2012, addressed congress with a lengthy address entitled, “An Honest Assessment of Climate Change Challenge.” The spirited nature of the senator’s presentation dispelled any notion that the matter has faded into oblivion.

Sen. Kerry robustly defended the position that global warming is fully supported by science. Kerry said “when it comes to challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today’s naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system.” He denounces “the silence that empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail.” Kerry decries “the simple appeal to the lowest common denominator of disinformation.” He believes “climate change is one of two or three of the most serious threats our country now faces, if not the most serious…” The senator disdains “those who look for any excuse to continue challenging the science…” Finally, Sen. Kerry argues “there’s not a single credible scientist that will argue climate change isn’t happening,” a statement conforming to fact.

Climate scientists understand climate change happening now is similar to the climate changes of the eight major climate oscillations of the past 4000 years. Each of the four cooling and four warming episodes was unrelated to human causation. Climate scientists would agree that climate change has occurred naturally throughout Earth’s long history.

In April 2012 web articles reported on a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Seven former Apollo astronauts were included among a group of 49 NASA engineers and scientists who oppose global warming alarmism by federal agencies. The letter condemns the extreme position that carbon dioxide is the major cause of climate change. They state such statements are endangering “the reputation of science itself.” The group contends the claim “that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change” is “not substantiated.”  

What is the truth on climate change? Which scientists speak the truth regarding climate change? God’s people in science or in any other profession must search out and apply truth concerning the natural world. The discovery of truth is an achievable goal of awesome responsibility. When scientists disagree on a matter of great import to humanity such as the multidimensional global warming issue, the stakeholders share responsibility and culpability for searching out what is true and what is false and acting accordingly.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Climate Certainty

Today’s national discussions of anthropogenic climate change are saturated with severe misinterpretation and rampant speculation. Armed with information from the exceedingly complex discipline of climatology, many analysts cite the following climatological realities. (1) There is little doubt that carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing as a result of human consumption of fossil fuels. (2) There is also little doubt that in general our climate is warming somewhat.

Second, among a large portion of scientists and government authorities, the perceived realities often connect to the belief that (3) man’s fossil fuel consumption contributes to a dangerous rise in global warming. The concomitant result includes the occurrence of dangerously increased intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, and other undesirable effects such as rise in sea level, not to mention short and long term temperature changes. Awareness of realities (1) and (2) are not in dispute, but in the past few decades we now confront well publicized suspicions that option (3) is occurring. Climate change activists state our country must join with other countries in a unified fashion to act on (4) reducing fossil fuel consumption by developing alternate energy sources and mitigate the generation of carbon dioxide from our present fuel sources. Many other actions have been proposed.

Even among laypeople, some study of the scholarly literature on historic climate change would be instructive. The ups and downs of historic long term climate oscillations are not widely discussed. The 2000 BC to 2000 AD period reveals climate fluctuations which may cause contemporary climate pessimists to reanalyze their stance. There have been significant warm and cool intervals of extended climate fluctuation in the past eight millennia. The era from 6000 BC to 2000 BC is termed the Holocene climate optimum. It occurred following the close of the last major Ice Age.

During the last four millennia, including the time the Old Testament was written, earth climate experienced four warm periods interspersed with four cool periods. In the 400-500 years prior to the history of Israel and the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, a modest cool period was followed by a warm period from 1500-500 BC. During the Grecian Empire, a cool period persisted prior to the warm Roman Climate Optimum up until 500 AD. Then cool conditions prevailed during the Early Middle Ages. From 900 AD to 1350 AD earth experienced the Medieval Warm Period, followed by another cool interval until 1850. Since 1850 the Earth has experienced a warming trend we still experience. During these alternating episodes the range of long term warming and cooling varied significantly up to 2˚Celsius. Presently we are not as warm as Earth temperatures during the two Holocene optimums 4500 and 7000 years ago.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have limited ability to affect weather. One source claimed the gas itself “does not have any effect on the weather.” (This statement needs some explanation beyond the scope of our post.) Carbon dioxide, a miniscule fraction of our atmosphere (almost 0.04%) is important for the health of green plants and other vital chemical reactions on our planet. While carbon dioxide is about 40% more plentiful now than the carbon dioxide level at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a different perspective may be helpful for us: About 1/3600 of the atmosphere was carbon dioxide several hundred years ago. Now about 1/2500 of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide. The difference in the two concentrations is about 1/8700.

A Canadian organization, Friends of Science, has published large amounts of research on climate science. Here is a passage from their publication “Climate Change Science:”

The history of the earth tells us that climate is always changing; from warm periods when the dinosaurs flourished, to the many ice ages when glaciers covered the land. Climate has always changed due to natural cycles without any help from people.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a political organization promoting a theory that recent minor temperature increases may be caused by man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. C02 is an infrared gas, and increasing concentrations can potentially increase the average global temperature as the gas absorbs long-wave radiation from the earth and emits the absorbed energy. However, the warming ability of the C02 is limited because much of the absorption spectrum is near or fully saturated. When C02 concentrations were ten times greater than today the earth was in the grips of one of the coldest ice ages. The climate system is dominated by strong negative feedbacks from clouds and water vapor which offsets the warming effects of C02 emissions.

The history of climate and C02 concentration shows that temperature changes precede C02 changes and cannot be a significant driver of climate.

Our Creator made Planet Earth, its human inhabitants, and its climate system according to His own purpose. These purposes originated in the mind of God for the ultimate benefit of man. Climate changes ushered in eras of mobility, new conditions for the changing populations, and helped man adapt to new population patterns. Humans have been the recipients of God’s provision of spiritual blessings and redemption as well as provisions in the physical realm of our home on earth. For this we bow before Him in thankfulness.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Subduing Global Warming

When the lively contemporary topic of global warming is raised, we discover the topic provides ample opportunity to voice our personal views. Many participants in the discussion assume any prudent person ought to be informed and perhaps share a consensus belief. Some vigorously believe in anthropogenic global warming, others confidently deny any connection to human activity, and still others voice confidence in primarily natural, cyclical climate change but leave the door open to the possibility that human activity on climate warming remains significant.

Our title is meant to convey two meanings: (1) The term global warming has come to mean anthropogenic global warming. When the common usage term is applied in this fashion, it is almost always used to convey a negative meaning.  (2) The secondary meaning relates to the incessant tendency to link global warming to virtually every harmful weather event as a probable cause. Journalists reporting on natural events such as heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, storm frequency, change in sea level, and receding glaciers frequently spice their reporting with the event’s probable connection to global warming, most often anthropogenic global warming. Some enthusiasts even credit cold weather events ultimately to events triggered by the global warming phenomenon. They claim these extreme events are intensified by a warming earth.

The Genesis 1:28 mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it” may be applied broadly to our obligation to care conscientiously for our God-provided home on Planet Earth. Responsible care of our earth’s resources is a mandate of scripture. If our earth is warming dangerously as a result of human activity and this truth can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, human remedies are needed. In my discussions with friends who assume various positions on this issue, we must realize that caution is necessary before embracing a single location on the climate change spectrum. We must begin with the realization that our earth’s climate is an incredibly complex system.

An early pioneer of climate change, Hubert Lamb, in 1971 established the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. He planted in the public awareness ideas which have persisted since that time. First he envisioned the onset of global cooling. He was dubbed the “ice man.” Then he switched viewpoints as England experienced a drought and heat wave in 1975-76, and became an advocate of global warming. Rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels were permanently implanted in the public awareness--a decades old legacy which still survives among climate alarmists. Lamb superimposed his ideas of anthropogenic global warming within his teaching and writing along with his descriptions of natural, long term change.

Since 1850 glaciers worldwide have been retreating with few exceptions. Changes in ice cover may be triggered by the long term rise and fall of annual temperature of only a degree or two. The Medieval Warm Period of roughly 300 years was followed by the Little Ice Age of approximately 500 years until 1850. Glacier retreat has generally been occurring worldwide since then. It precedes any significant worldwide fossil fuel consumption. Hubert Lamb was aware of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Ages but is better remembered for triggering public alarm over human caused climate change.

Earth is a finely tuned and incredibly sensitive dynamic machine. Our climate responds to multiple factors. We have discovered cause and effect relationships of dozens of weather events, including the long term ups and downs of temperature and precipitation patterns. Climate changes are evident from the geological record both since the onset of man’s presence on earth and in the eons of time before he arrived. The Creator’s handiwork has left us to discover, benefit from, and sometimes suffer from the dynamic effects provided by our incredible weather machine. When it becomes apparent that man impacts our climate in a detrimental way, we may be able to act in prudent ways to reduce harmful effects at least to a small degree. We should remain aware that multiple natural influences in our climate system overwhelm our worldwide weather events. “Subduing global warming” may not mean we are capable of climate control.

The Christian response to climate change issues should be reasoned and carefully studied. Whether climate changes are triggered by man or result from natural causes is an issue our churches may wish to include at some level in their instructional offerings. Our Creator seeks to have His children seek knowledge of the truth concerning our natural environment as a providential gift of God.