I don’t know a lot about blog etiquette, but I know what I like and so I’m reproducing this entire post from The Evangelical Outpost’s Joe Carter:
Let’s Melt the Ice Cap:Evangelicals, Scientific Consensus, and Global Warming
A group of more than 85 influential evangelical leaders has released a statement, the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), expressing a “biblically driven commitment to curb global warming” and calling on the government to “enact national legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to global climate change.”
The group’s manifesto, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call for Action”, includes a FAQ explaining the urgency of the issue. “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change,” notes the website. “Why? Climate change will make natural disasters like floods, droughts, and hurricanes more damaging.” The site also notes that “few are in denial about the reality of the problem, a scientific consensus that climate change must be addressed has actually existed since 1995.”
Is there a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring? An article in Newsweek appears to provide strong evidence for that claim:
There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production– with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth….
The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually. During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 13 U.S. states.
To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”
This article would appear to shore up the ECI’s claim that “Climate change, also called global warming, is an urgent problem that can and must be solved.” Except that the article is titled “The Cooling World” and is dated April 28, 1975 during a time when the scientific consensus held that climate change, known back then as global cooling, was leading to a new Ice Age.
After a long history of eschatological predictions that that fail to come to fruition, you’d think that evangelicals would be more skeptical of doomsday scenarios. But like most people, we tend to have short memories and forget that what was once considered “scientific consensus” (global cooling will lead to environmental disaster) and “conventional wisdom” (the population explosion will lead to global famine) isn’t always gospel truth.
We also tend to suffer from “chronological snobbery”, the presumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited, and are prone to believe that since global warming is the consensus in 2006 that it is more likely to be true than the 1975 consensus that global warming was occurring. But if we were wrong in 1975 then perhaps we should be careful of assuming that we are warranted in believing that we are right just because the calendar says it is 2006.
We might also have justification for being skeptical of the idea of “consensus science.” In an intriguing lecture at Caltech titled “Aliens Cause Global Warming” , author Michael Crichton has some harsh words for the oxymoronic concept:
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
A counterargument that is often presented is that since it is possible that global warming is occurring we are better off taking action now than waiting for confirmation that we are correct. Some people have the attitude of the BR-549 song that “Sometimes I gotta’ do somethin’ even if it’s wrong.”
But what we had followed the proposals offered in the late 1970’s to counter global cooling? What if we had followed what Newsweek refers to as the “more spectacular solutions proposed” of melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers? These former solutions are now considered some of the dire consequences of our planet overheating.
But even the less far-fetched proposals can have a devastating impact. For example, there was much hand-ringing over the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol even though it would have cost $150 billion annually and have only delayed the warming expected in 2100 by six years. For half that cost, notes Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care and education for every person in the world.
Almost all policy proposals offered to counter global warming would impede economic growth. The ECI warns that “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change.” But millions of people are already dying every year because of the greatest cause of environmental disaster on the planet: poverty. As Lomborg explains in the latest issue of The Wilson Quarterly:
The single most important environmental problem in the world today is indoor air pollution, caused by poor people cooking and heating their homes with dung and cardboard. The UN estimates that such pollutions causes 2.8 million deaths annually—about the same as HIV/AIDS. The solution, however is not environmental measures but economic changes that let these people get rich enough to afford kerosene.
While Bob Geldof is sponsoring global concerts that “raise awareness”, you won’t find too many celebrities raising money to end “indoor air pollution.” Handing out kerosene simply doesn’t have the same hip cache as handing out condoms. Even if it kills more people than HIV/AIDS, it will never be the issue du jour of the rich and famous.
That is why it is imperative that the evangelical community stand in the gap. Instead of keeping our car’s engine tuned as a way to fight global warming, we need to keep our attention tuned to the realities of our fellow man. Global warming may be the pressing environmental problem in 2106, but in 2006 the urgent ecological concern is poverty.