Climate change and christians

A month ago I pondered why so many christians appear unwilling to accept the broad consensus of reputable climate scientists that human-induced global warning is a serious threat to the earth.

I have now come across some information that suggests that christians are not doing their homework, but are believing things told to them by people who are presenting misleading information, perhaps for dishonest reasons.

A strong statement? Read on!

I am not an apologist for climate change. But I do think we need to give a fair hearing to reputable scientists on both sides of the debate, rather than people with vested interests or faulty information. And once we clear away the extreme views not supported by evidence, we must recognise there is a very strong scientific consensus that we have a problem and we need to act now if we are to care for God’s earth.

Using dodgy statistics to misrepresent the facts

Take this statement from a pamphlet by an Aussie group calling itself The Galileo Movement.

“there has been no increase in the global surface temperature since 1998.”

But according to the data in the global temperature graph, 1998 was only the third hottest year on record; 2005 was the hottest and 2010 was second hottest. So the information is wrong if we take individual years as our criteria. If we take averages over several years, it is clear the the statement is still wrong, in fact further wrong, because the average over the period 1995-2000 is significantly lower than the average around 2005, as the graph shows.

Global temperature graph

Global temperature 1880-2010 (US EPA)

So not only is the statement factually wrong, but it has attempted to be misleading by picking one hot year (1998) out of a period that is generally not so hot. The truth, as the Wikipedia shows, is:

“each of the last 10 years (2001–2010) features as one of the 11 warmest on record”

The last decade is by far the hottest decade in more than a century.

Apparently not caring about the facts

Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones is apparently a disbeliever in global warming. As this Sydney Morning Herald report outlines, in a recording of the March 15 broadcast obtained by the Herald, Jones said: ‘Nature produces nearly all of the carbon dioxide in the air. Human beings produce 0.001 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the air.’ It is apparently not correct, yet Jones later denied he had said it, despite there being a recording to show that he had indeed said it.

The SMH reports Jones justified his actions by saying ‘he does not set out to be a journalist’ – whether this means he’s not worried about being biased or not worried about telling the truth, or something else, I don’t know.

So what are the facts?

Here is a quick summary of what seem to me to be facts:

  • “Globally, observed CO2 emissions, temperature and sea levels are rising faster than expected…. We have already observed changes to our climate that are more rapid than anything the earth has experienced for at least 1800 years.” (CSIRO, Australia)
  • The same CSIRO web site reports that impacts have included “global average surface temperature increase of 0.74 ºC in the past century; a decline of 10-15 per cent of the Arctic sea ice extent and a 40 per cent decrease in its average thickness; an average sea level rise of 20 mm per decade over the last 50 years”, with some severe impacts on animal life.
  • The majority of climate scientists around the world, using valid statistics and computer models, have concluded that it is almost certain that (i) a significant cause is a human-induced increase in the amount of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere, and (ii) action is needed now to avert significant human and ecological catastrophes.
  • The scientists admit that they do not yet understand all the processes and consequently their models are not exact and will, like all models, require further development as new data is available. Nevertheless they conclude that: “Our present scientific understanding of climate change, although incomplete, is sufficiently robust to inform decision-making and action.” We can conclude that their broad conclusions are unlikely to change, although some details surely will change.
  • There are some reputable scientists who are not convinced. However it has been argued that most scientists opposed to the consensus view are either not working in the field or work for organisations who stand to lose financially by action against global warming.
  • There appears to be a campaign of misinformation by some who stand to lose financially, somewhat similar to that mounted by the smoking industry some years ago. It uses misleading statistics (as shown above) and hints of conspiracy theories to sow seeds of doubt contrary to the actual data. This distorts the views of scientists working in the field.
  • It has been argued that some in the environmental movement, and some anti-capitalists, are using global warming to destroy capitalism or the US. This may be true, but obscures the genuine scientific consensus that action is needed.

A sensible response

Does a global conspiracy explain the claims about climate change? When I worked in environmental management, almost ten years ago, I had opportunity to meet with some of the CSIRO scientists who have been doing this research. I found them to be genuine, cautious rather than sensationalist, and quite convinced that their conclusions were as solid as science could deliver. They were surely not part of any conspiracy.

Christians should avoid the extreme views on this matter and look to the evidence. We should avoid using, or being impressed by, selective statistics like those quoted by the Galileo Movement – climate data is so variable that it is possible to compare atypical years and apparently demonstrate that warming isn’t happening. But use of longer term graphs, objective statistics, validated computer models and simple observation all appear to show that we indeed have a growing problem.

Let’s not be naive. Let’s not jump aboard any climate change scare campaign or denial campaign. Rather, let’s accept what the sober scientists are telling us. And if we doubt the scientists, let’s make sure it is on good evidence, not just the scuttlebutt of biased and less than honest commentators. And if we ever get to the point that the data shows something different, then change our minds accordingly.

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