Theology, Science, and Global Warming (RJS)

Earth from Moon.jpg

Scot has posted a few time over the last month on the topic of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), either as a short question or as part of Weekly Meanderings. One of the things that surprised me in the ensuing conversation, both on the blog and on facebook, was the sentiment expressed by some that global warming was theologically and scientifically impossible. In connection with my post last week on a related topic, Bob Robinson made reference to a document from the Cornwall Alliance, (, which makes just this explicit declaration … and calls it an “evangelical” declaration.

The initial affirmation states:

We believe Earth and its ecosystems–created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence –are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

The initial denial states:

We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of    minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

I do not want to argue the reality of global warming, the severity of the problem (assuming there is one), or the proper course of action today. I would like to consider just two questions that arise from these affirmations and denials, one scientific and one theological.

Is AGW scientifically impossible? Do you agree that the world is so vast that it is  human arrogance to think that mankind can impart significant damage to the climate?


Is AGW theologically impossible? Does the good creation of God and his continuing providence and protection mean that anthropogenic global warming, serious damage to the climate, is impossible?

I think that both of these statements – the affirmation and the denial – are dangerously flawed. Anthropogenic global warming is both theologically and scientifically possible.  Bob Robinson has a series of posts – You can see his posts here: Imago Dei is More than Dominion, Denial of the Power of the Fall, and Free Market Capitalism – dealing with many of the theological issues. It is good stuff, well worth reading.He makes some arguments along the lines of those I would make.

First – scientifically. The earth is a finite, approximately closed, system with quantifiable amounts of material. The capacity of the chemical reactions at play in the atmosphere are finite and susceptible to modeling. Now this does not mean that we have solid knowledge and models yet – but that the system is finite. Yes the eco-system is robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting … within limits. It does not have infinite capacity for correction. It is also not clear that we have made only minuscule changes in the atmospheric chemistry.  It is certainly true that we have the ability to make significant changes – and these could start out subtle and hard to detect.

Second – theologically. God certainly created a world that is admirably suited for human flourishing. It is also clear that he created humans with the ability to rebel against God – this is the story of the fall. Given fallen humanity, God clearly allows us to perpetrate massive evil, systemic, local, and global. He allowed the holocaust and the atom bomb. He allows us to eat too much, smoke too much and develop diabetes and lung cancer – despite the fact that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  He allows rape, murder, genocide, abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking.

Ultimately, I  don’t think that we can thwart God’s plan – but I do think that he would allow us to devastate human population, with a great deal of pain and suffering in the process. The current world population is  6.8 billion – would it challenge his plan to reduce the population to the place of say, 150000 years ago, with an isolated community of 20,000 surviving?

So what is the bottom line?

I don’t think that it is a reflection of human arrogance and fallen human nature to think that we can influence the climate – rather, I think that it is human arrogance and sinfulness that leads to the assumption that we cannot influence the climate, that we can act with impunity on these matters.

This means that it is important to consider the science and the possibilities seriously. And this brings us back to a harder question. How do we discern the truth of the current situation and the kinds of actions that are necessary?  Whatever these actions are – they must recognize the needs and situation of all – poor and rich (but especially poor) all around the world.

What do you think?

Is AGW scientifically and  theologically impossible? What should be the Christian response?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • RJS
    thanks for a compelling post. I also was struck by the heavily sceptical tone of many comments towards the idea of AGW. There is something cultural going on here. I may be wrong but as a European it seems that these views seem particularly American. Might it be that American culture has stronger inbuilt resistance to accepting the idea because the implications for the world’s biggest polluter are pretty stark?

  • So, there are no consequences from the Fall for creation?

  • interpreter

    Theologically, global warming is not only possible, but a given. It is one of the 7 last plagues:
    “Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” (Rev. 16:8-9)

  • chaplain mike

    I meant to add to my comment…
    That seems to me like a peculiar position to take in a supposedly “evangelical” statement.

  • The usual problem seems to occur here.. People outside of a field of expertise make sweeping assertions without doing their homework.
    so for example, most anti evolution diatribes come from non-biologists. I think the same thing happens with climate science.. This is dangerous, and we should let the facts determine our actions regarding global warming, always within the context of our christian creation theology , I grant..Therefore, let christian thinkers who make sweeping assertions about God and creation first demonstrate that they have read and UNDERSTOOD the science behind global warming.

  • RJS

    I actually don’t think that the resistance is “as the worlds largest polluter” (which is debatable) but rather a preference and trend toward individual autonomy. Regulation and control is always a red flag.

  • # RJS
    That makes sense. And coming back to your final point, highlights the need to develop not only critical analysis of views we disagree with (which can be all too convenient), but also a self-criticism that can question our own culture and ‘hear’ other views and be willing to act accordingly. Only then might there be motivation to act to help those who will be most impacted by global warming. And it seems to me that any such action will inevitably involve personal cost to a Western lifestyle. It is not surprising that any challenge to the myth of the autonomous individual living the American Dream (or western consumerist dream, it’s us in Europe too) without consequences to others will meet resistance.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS, thanks for highlighting this. Unfortunately, the sentiments behind the Cornwall Declaration have made significant inroads in some conservative evangelical circles. The “theological” arguments in the CD are among the most insidious because they contain a measure of truth.
    I think it’s true that there is a point at which Christian eschatology conflicts with extreme environmentalism. The ultimate universal conflict is spiritual, the fundamentally broken relationship is between humanity and God, not humanity and Gaia, and God wins in the end with a redeemed humanity.
    But to take a “what, me worry?” attitude towards environmental problems based on these broad eschatological outlines is deeply misguided, to put it mildly. It’s the classic hubris of thinking that God won’t mess with His chosen people even if they continue sinning. It’s like a guy who keeps smoking three packs a day because, after all, “all things work together for good to those who love God.”

  • Scientifically, I cannot believe that someone would argue that humans cannot cause global environmental impact. Global warming may be one way. Consider a more extreme case. What if we dropped a series of nuclear bombs around the world. Could happen and will cause great, long-term devastation.
    I can’t say I know whether or not AGW is a reality, but it strikes me as odd that evangelicals would feel a need to lead the charge against seeking more information about this issue, and discovering solutions if necessary. We can agree, I’d hope, that at those who bare the image of God are to be stewards over the earth. That means knowing what we might be doing to decrease the value (is there a better word?) of that which we oversee.
    Further, the solutions that I see coming to the forefront are to be better stewards, i.e., consume less, waist less, find better ways to do things that need to be done. This seems to be a theological and scientific task that the followers of Christ should support.

  • Frog Leg

    Scientifically, there is a back-of-the envelope calculation that I have found useful in explaining how man could cause global warming:
    E = global energy output for all man-made sources of energy for 1 year
    m = mass of the earth’s atmosphere
    K = specific heat of the gases in the atmosphere
    You can get an equation for the temperature rise due to pure energy output (not even taking into account greenhouse gas effects):
    \Delta T = E/(mk)
    I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but it comes to about 1/2 degree Celsius increase per year. Of course, not all of this energy goes to the atmosphere, but a significant fraction does. If we can do this even without greenhouse gas effects, imagine how much this could add? I haven’t come up with a back-of-the envelope calculation for this part.
    In terms of practical decisionmaking, the only reason most people have to come to one conclusion or another about global warming is when they vote for candidates. The “political epistomology” question is crucially important, and very difficult. When it comes to making political judgments, how do I decide whom to trust? The average citizen cannot be expected to duplicate the statistical analyses, simulations, etc. which are done to underpin the arguments. This issue carries over to other political decisions–how do I decide that a 2,000 page healthcare bill is a good one or a bad one? How do I know which economic or military policy is better, when the devil is always in the details? I consider the political epistomology issue to be the central challenge of modern democracy–it underlies all other issues, but no one seems to pay attention to it in isolation.

  • Bill

    I am not a scientist but I thought the sun was responsible for global warming. Maybe I am wrong.
    I did some reading about a year ago about tree ring analysis and archaelogical work being done in Greenland. It was part of a study exploring global warming during the Middle Ages in Europe and elsewhere. According to what I remember reading, the tree-ring analysis and archaelogical work showed Greenland had a reather healthy farming operation going during the 13th and 14th centuries and perhaps earlier. I can’t remember where I read this. I wish I did.
    We haven’t heard much about global warming in ages past. To say there is no data available is simply not true. Data yielded by tree-ring analysis and archaeology is data isn’t it? Human created global warming seems like a real stretch and I think it’s junk science which says we have caused the warming trends we may see today. There’s no proof it seems to me. Is there something to say for local warming as opposed to global warming? Perhaps.
    But I still maintain the sun causes local and global warming. I think that’s one of the reasons God put it there.

  • Alan

    Bill, you are right, the sun is responsible for global warming. Human behavior won’t effect the sun’s radiation. The idea of climate change is that our behavior could effect the blanket that surrounds the earth.

  • MattR

    Thanks for this RJS.
    I too am often concerned at the anti-global warming/environmentalist statements coming from conservative evangelical quarters.
    I would add that, not only individualism, but a strong commitment to individual autonomy on a theological level is involved… though there has been much done (even in recent years) to show how Scripture speaks of God’s redemption of the cosmos- including the earth, social structures, etc… I fear this has yet to impact more traditional conservative circles.

  • pds
    The declaration does not state “that global warming was theologically and scientifically impossible.” It affirms that global warming is happening.
    It also discusses the negative impact of policy proposals on the global poor. I am not defending the declaration. I just think we should discuss the full declaration in context.
    How do you measure precisely the degree to which humans are causing global warming, and the degree to which it is caused by natural historical cycles? I have not seen this articulated clearly.

  • LadronesMentira

    Weatherman correspondent David sums up the Global Warming debate quite nicely here:

  • AHH

    The theological proposition that God would not allow humans to mess up his creation is already falsified in many ways at slightly smaller scales. God has let humans drive many species to extinction. God has let us pollute rivers and lakes and deforest large areas. It seems that, until the eschaton, God does allow us, and the rest of his creation, to suffer the consequences of our unwise choices.
    I am also struck by how Gaia-like the Cornwall initial affirmation sounds — Earth as self-regulating and self-correcting and so forth. I think that group believes strongly in human “dominion” — is it really “dominion” if we can’t affect the Earth because it is so robust?
    And may I add as a scientist how ludicrous it is to describe the increase of atmospheric CO2 concentration as “minuscule”? By that logic, they should be willing to breathe an equally “minuscule” concentration of hydrogen cyanide.

  • RJS

    The declaration is pretty explicit that anthropogenic global warming is scientifically and theologically impossible. This is really the only issue here that I am trying to discuss.
    The next question is where we go with the discussion and study. That is a much harder problem – with many questions coming into play.
    The sun certainly provides energy to the earth. But this isn’t the question. As to the 13th and 14th century “blip” and other fluctuations, including the little ice age that followed – one of the questions is why these happened. Was it a change in solar activity, volcanic activity – or even the decrease in the population of europe caused by the black death and plagues?
    To dismiss it all as “junk” science is nothing more than wishful thinking.

  • pds

    The Declaration is about the evidence for what is happening now, not about what is theoretically possible in any degree. You can choose to read it in an uncharitable manner if you want to.
    I am guessing that Richard John Neuhaus, who is one of the signers, would never make the absurd claim that no degree of AGW is theoretically “possible.”
    Still no answer to this question:
    How do you measure precisely the degree to which humans are causing global warming, and the degree to which it is caused by natural historical cycles? I have not seen this articulated clearly.

  • RJS

    How then do you interpret statements such as: “We deny … particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry.”
    The rhetorical use of the term “minuscule” may allow some wiggle room – but then we have to define what minuscule is with respect to this problem.
    There is no answer on this particular post with respect to the second question because it is the kind of question that has no closed form short answer – and it is a question that lies outside the realm of my expertise.
    Look – the point I want to make here is that this is an issue that must be taken seriously at all levels. To simply dismiss it or declare it a “non-problem” has potentially devastating consequence.

  • TonyL

    From an Earth system scientist:
    Thank you for opening this dialogue. I’d like to note that many of us in the Earth Sciences have been quite bewildered by the reactionary response of portions of the general public to scientific evidence that, to >90% of us, is about as unequivocal as it gets. We are only now discovering that the multibillion dollar stealth marketing/disinformation campaigns undertaken by the fossil fuels industries are far more effective than our appeal to rational thought, and I personally have only begun in the last few weeks to recognize the ideological foundations that make so many folks susceptible to their manipulation… Including overconfidence in the power-for-good of the free markets/distrust of government regulation, and the dangerous belief that God has created an environment for humanity that is “too big to fail”. Indeed, only this week I learned that a “climate scientist” (really a meteorologist, which is quite different) at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, commonly cited by skeptics to support their arguments, subscribes to the same Intelligent Design/Benevolent Gaia fallacy of belief that you describe above…
    I hope this discussion will continue between those who seek earnestly to understand the implications of human actions for the future of humanity.

  • AHH

    PDS asks:
    How do you measure precisely the degree to which humans are causing global warming, and the degree to which it is caused by natural historical cycles? I have not seen this articulated clearly.
    For starters:
    Note the error bars, so there is still some uncertainty about the relative proportions of human and natural factors. But the scientific uncertainty is about whether human-caused factors are 80% or 90% or 100%; 0% is pretty clearly ruled out.
    But we are veering off-topic — RJS asked the very interesting question about influential claims in the conservative Christian community that amount to “God wouldn’t let humans damage his creation like that.” That seems to me to be bad theology, and it is an interesting question what might be driving such theology.

  • ron

    Frog Leg @#10.
    The specific heat of the atmosphere is a negligible factor in determining the rate of temperature increase. Your calculation implies that the temperature should increase by 0.5 C per year, when in fact it is increasing at an average rate of 0.02 C per year. Increased presence of CO2 means that heat at certain wavelengths (those absorbed and re-radiated by CO2, half back to the earth, half into space) gets reabsorbed by the surface (land and ocean). The ocean, in particular, has a huge heat capacity compared to the atmosphere — not just because it has a higher specific heat, but because it has much more mass than the atmosphere. The ocean is not heated all the way down, but some upper layer, perhaps between 100 meters and 1000 meters deep, is. Using the current radiation imbalance (“forcing” in climate parlance) which is about 1.5 watts per square meter, several decades are required to raise the temperature of the ocean by one degree C. The uncertainty is not so much in the value of the forcing as in the depth to which the ocean is heated, which in turn renders the time required for the heating uncertain. That it will eventually occur is not in doubt at all, as far as the fundamental physics is concerned.

  • pds

    Right, the statement is qualified by “minuscule” but more importantly by the word “dangerous.”
    Thanks. Do they explain in there how much of the calculation is based on cold hard measurements, and how much is based on estimates dependent on judgment and speculation? I didn’t see how they got their numbers. Isn’t that where the dispute is?
    The Ice Age and the Little Ice Age, and the recovery from it were not caused by man, correct?

  • RJS

    No – dangerous is not the more important word. Rather dangerous is a consequence of the appropriate definition of minuscule. A truly minuscule change cannot produce dangerous alteration – any change which can produce dangerous alteration is not minuscule. This is a practical definition.
    If you were to consume an 8th of a tsp of salt is would be a minuscule amount and not produce a dangerous alteration in your body chemistry.
    If you were to consume an 8th of a tsp of arsenic or cyanide – well that is a different story. It will produce a significant change in your body chemistry. (And with arsenic – if the mystery novels I’ve read are correct – the change may not be immediate and completely obvious).
    The real question is if anthropogenic influences have produced only minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry and the whole energy storage and dissipation cycle of the earth. This is not a question with a tidy pat answer that a declaration can do justice to.

  • Frog Leg

    You misunderstand the purpose of my calculation. It is not scientific, but pedagogical. One of the psychological barriers people run into when understanding AGW is that they hold an innate belief that we are too small, and the world is too large, for us to affect it. The simple calculation shows that the total effect of man’s output does involve an amount of energy which is about the same size as something global, i.e. how much energy does it take to raise the temperature of the atmosphere by one degree. And from my experience, this calculation does help people get beyond the above-described psychological barrier.

  • Jjoe

    IMHO, an evangelical declaration that man cannot cause serious damage to the climate rests on the platform of a political party, not the bible or science.
    If we wanted to, mankind could do something in a very short period of time — nuclear bombs are a good example, but there are plenty of others in our reach — that would affect the global climate. To argue that what we can do deliberately cannot be done accidentally is logically impossible.
    The only reason doing something about global warming is even discussed is because it costs money. If doing something were free, there’d be no debate. Money trumps love of neighbor. It did it 2000 years ago, and it does it today.
    The declaration shows the striking amount to which evangelicals have become tools of culture, rather than shapers of it.

  • ron

    PDS #23,
    The positive forcings are indeed computed from “cold hard measurements” of the infrared absorption spectra of CO2 and other relevant greenhouse gases (extremely well characterized by laboratory measurements), something called the black body (or Plank) emission spectrum (which all physicists know about quite independently of the topic of global warming), with accounting for spectral line broadening due to temperature and pressure effects (independent and well studied areas of atomic and molecular physics). The math itself is understandeable by undergraduate physics majors who have had courses in radiant energy transfer and introductory quantum mechanics. The actual calculation is quite complex, not because the theory is inaccessible, but because of the extreme complexity of the absorption spectra, and because the atmosphere which radiates some of the absorbed heat back to the surface is complex as well (temperature and pressure changes with altitude affect the process). The relatively small uncertainties in the results from this process are indicated in figure 2.1 of AHH’s link.
    Negative, compensating forcings (due to clouds, etc.) are more complex and are less well quantified, hence the uncertainties are larger as indicated in the figure. There is little reason to think that under even the best of cases they will be able to substantially compensate for the positive forcings of greenhouse gases. To assert otherwise at this point is to engage more in wishful thinking than in science.
    The ice ages which occurred every 100,000 years were caused by well understood fluctuations in the earth’s orbit which changed the average amount of radiation received from the sun. However, the change in solar flux accounts for only about half of the actual temperature fluctuations that ended the ice ages; there were accompanying changes in CO2 that would have provided the positive, amplifying feedback to do so in the time frame necessary. The ice ages are natural phenomena, yes, but the same greenhouse mechanism that leads us to anticipate global warming is required to explain the full extent of the temperature fluctuations in the ice ages. In other words the same physics that explains the mechanism of the ice ages predicts anthropogenic global warming; there is no inconsistency. Those who assert otherwise don’t understand the physics.
    The extended cold period which is perhaps unfortunately called “little ice age” was not caused by the same mechanism as the 100,000 year ice ages and should not in any way be confused with them. Its spatial extent is a matter of debate, since it may have been limited to the northern hemisphere or less. Its precise cause is unknown, but whatever the mechanisms causing it were, it was not due to changes in the earth’s orbit and the tandem greenhouse forcings which produced the 100,000 year ice ages.

  • Randy G.

    Let me address the second question that RJS originally raised, and a point that David Doperdeck raised in #8: God has in fact punished his chosen people for their sins against his creation.
    I suggest that we look to the prophets, particularly Jeremiah. Jeremiah warned Davidic kings that their actions would lead to disaster. The Kings and their followers refused to believe him and tried to have Jeremiah killed for treason based on their understanding of God’s promise to David that one of his sons would always sit on his throne.
    In fact, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Judah and took the royal family off into captivity. One of the interesting points in this story is in II Chronicles 36: 20-21, which explicitly ties the sins of Judah and its captivity to its abuse of the land, including the apparent ignoring of the Sabbath laws for the land as presented in Levitcus 25.
    “He [Nebuchadnezzar] carried into exile to Babylon the remnant who escaped from the sword and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. THE LAND ENJOYED ITS SABBATH RESTS ALL THE TIME OF ITS DESOLATION IT RESTED UNTIL THE SEVENTY YEARS WERE COMPLETED IN FULFILLMENT OF THE WORD OF THE LORD SPOKEN BY JEREMIAH.”

  • Diane

    When Jesus is tempted by the devil, he is asked to jump off a tower, because Scripture says angels will stop his fall and keep him from injury. Jesus refuses to do it, saying he will not put the Lord God to test. Doesn’t this speak directly to global warming? Didn’t God make the universe with physical laws and isn’t it playing into the hands of Satan to say they don’t apply to us or we won’t get hurt if we violate them?
    I also think of a story of the Empress of China’s troops in the early part of the 20th century going to face the British (?) armed with guns, told that the gods would protect them from harm? We see what happened to them–they were killed– and to China.

  • dopderbeck

    To me, the basic underlying issue is simple. CO2 emissions are pollutants. At best, the effects of large scale CO2 pollution are unpredictable; at worst, the effects are very bad. Ergo, we ought to make at least some effort to curb CO2 emissions and to find alternative sources of energy. If the GW deniers would just admit this, maybe we could move on to the more difficult portion of the discussion: the hard utility calculations that have to be done about the likely extent of the harm and the likely costs of remediation.
    Here, things IMHO get very, very difficult. I’m sympathetic to the GW-skeptical position in this respect: I’m extremely wary of expensive plans that require a high level of multinational cooperation and large scale governmental coordination, that impose significant short-run costs on developing countries, and that don’t win the buy-in of India, China, and other major non-western polluting countries. There are agency, coordination, and free-rider problems galore here, which make my inner economist shudder.
    So is there a problem? Yes. Exactly how big is the problem and exactly what is the right policy response? Much harder to answer, IMHO.

  • pds

    dop #30
    Well put. That is pretty close to my policy position.
    There are a lot of steps that are win-win-win, like prioritizing alternative energy and insulating our homes. Last time I checked, almost everyone is for these kinds of steps.

  • AHH

    I agree with dopderbeck #30 that the much more difficult questions are those of public policy. We have to consider separately the science that pretty definitively shows us a problem is happening (with some uncertainty in the magnitude but serious in any case) and then the discussion of how best to proceed, locally and globally and short-term and long-term and all points in between.
    Unfortunately, often we don’t get to those necessary and difficult policy discussions because of people like the Cornwall crowd and the conspiracy theorists who deny that the problem exists at all (sometimes, going back to the bad theology that was the topic of the post, even denying that God would allow such a problem to develop).

  • Dan Hauge

    I find it rather curious that the declaration seems to assume that if creation is designed by God, that inherently means it is not fragile, i.e. capable of handling whatever we humans may throw at it. According to them, the only way that the earth could be fragile enough for our actions to affect it is if it were a product of random chance.
    How does this follow? It seems to me a bit like saying that it’s not possible for our violent actions to hurt other people, because God would have created people strong enough to withstand anything that other people could do to them.

  • Dave S

    I think a huge part of the problem is the reactionary nature of the politics on either side of this. I’m with dop #30 and pds #31, all the arguing about is a cover to avoid the hard work of finding common ground steps that can start weaning us off carbon based energy sources. One can argue that it’s a good idea to do that even if the non-GW crowd turns out to be right. I’m a bit agnostic on it, the system is so complex and sensitive, I think it’s hard model properly. We know a bunch, but we don’t know even more than that, but good stewardship would dictate that since we don’t know, we should err on the side of caution (start acting like AGW is real). I tend to think that the only practical solution to the energy supply issue is Nuclear. It might need to be interim, but it’s the only thing we have in hand now.

  • Dave S

    I think a huge part of the problem is the reactionary nature of the politics on either side of this. I’m with dop #30 and pds #31, all the arguing about is a cover to avoid the hard work of finding common ground steps that can start weaning us off carbon based energy sources. One can argue that it’s a good idea to do that even if the non-GW crowd turns out to be right. I’m a bit agnostic on it, the system is so complex and sensitive, I think it’s hard model properly. We know a bunch, but we don’t know even more than that, but good stewardship would dictate that since we don’t know, we should err on the side of caution (start acting like AGW is real). I tend to think that the only practical solution to the energy supply issue is Nuclear. It might need to be interim, but it’s the only thing we have in hand now.

  • Had the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming actually said that AGW was theologically or scientifically impossible, RJS’s criticism would have been well founded. But it didn’t say that. Had RJS carefully read the underlying 76-page, scholarly document “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming” (, prepared by over 25 evangelical theologians, scientists, and economists all of whom have expertise in the subject, he or she would have known this.
    What might seem a minor technicality is actually important. The Declaration rejects not AGW per se but belief in DANGEROUS AGW–a point made explicitly in the Declaration and repeatedly in the Renewed Call to Truth.
    On this point, what the Renewed Call to Truth argues theologically is that the Bible’s teaching that Earth is the “very good” (Genesis 1:31) product of a wise Creator who faithfully sustains it according to His promises (e.g., Genesis 8:22) is difficult to reconcile with the underlying presumption of fears of dangerous AGW. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible–it means we think it’s unlikely and that to be persuaded of it we would have to see very strong scientific evidence.
    On this point, what the Renewed Call to Truth argues scientifically is that there is not good scientific evidence that human emissions of greenhouse gases contribute enough to global warming to be dangerous. We explicitly acknowledge that increased atmospheric CO2 will, other things being equal, cause some warming. We cite approvingly the common calculation of 1.2 degree C from doubled CO2 before feedbacks. We challenge the assumption made by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the various computer models on which it relies that feedback mechanisms are overwhelmingly positive, magnifying that warming. Rather, arguing from the fact (universally recognized among climate scientists) that feedback mechanisms eliminate about 58% of the natural greenhouse effect (for with no greenhouse effect, Earth’s average surface temperature would be 0 degree F; with the greenhouse effect but no feedbacks, 140 degrees F; with the greenhouse effect and feedback’s, it’s 59 degrees F, which is 58% less than 140), we argue that the post-feedback effect of enhanced CO2 is minimal–raising global average temperature only about 0.5 degree C instead of the 3 degrees the IPCC gives as its “midrange” estimate (which would require that feedbacks increase greenhouse warming by 250%). We also argue that other, natural influences (like cyclical changes in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation, which in turn cause changes in cloud cover, the most important controller of Earth’s surface temperature) more strongly affect global average temperatures.
    Nonetheless, despite the misrepresentation, we at the Cornwall Alliance are grateful to RJS for calling attention to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming ( and hope many will take the time to read not only it but also the scholarly Renewed Call to Truth on which it is based.
    E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.
    National Spokesman
    Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

  • Jim M.

    As a pastor, not a scientist, I would like to address the theological posibility of GW. There is no way to substantiate that GW is a theological impossibility. Neither is the earlier reference to the Apocalypse an affirmation to GW. The biblical description of the earth is that it is “passing away.” Whether or not GW is real is not of theological significance. (If it is AGW, then we do have a stewardship responsibility to act. Even if AGW is not actual, Christians still should be the leaders in ecological stewardship.) To state that any position on GW or AGW is “evangelical” is nonsense. To be evangelical is to declare the new heaven and new earth in Christ. According to Christian theology, there is a physical eschaton. Sin brought death. Not only death to humanity, but death to creation. All creation was reconciled to God in Christ. GW is neither a theological impossibility, nor a theological given.
    As to the scientific question, I can only respond as a layman. I try to sort through the arguments as best I can. I do not think we have enough data to be certain if GW is a cycle or a threat that will continue to rise. It is certain that humans have the potential to disrupt anything, including the entire eco-system. However, it seems to me that GW has taken on a religious tenor of its own, and quite fundamentalist at that. I do think that the extreme GW enthusiasts may place our economy, and the global economy, at a much greater risk in the immediate future than GW or AGW can produce.

  • Mike Clawson

    Is AGW possible? Is it happening? I’m not the slightest bit qualified to answer those questions, and, here’s the important point, unless they happen to be a climate scientist, neither is anyone else here! I don’t care which Michael Crichton books you’ve read, or which GW-denier websites you got your information from, or how long your list of Al Gore hypocrisies are, unless you’re a climate scientist, your opinion on the matter is entirely irrelevant. For all the rest of us, the only question we can decide is whose qualified opinion to trust. Will you trust the thousands of reputable international climate scientists who agree on the basic theory of AGW, or the miniscule handful of scientists (many of who are paid industry hacks) who have questioned some aspect of it (at last count 41, see for a nearly comprehensive list)? You can choose one or the other, but you are NOT qualified to judge the evidence for yourself and neither am I. All this armchair punditry is the height of arrogance to me, and shameful for Christians who claim to value the pursuit of truth.

  • Randy G.

    In response to Mike (#37)
    I distinctly remember being at a church dinner in the middle of my time in graduate school and realizing that Ineither I nor anyone else needed to be a Ph.D’d cultural historian in order to be a faithful practicing Christian.
    That is to say that I do not believe that what Christians believe or think or feel is irrelevant except in areas in which they are experts. You are right to point out the profound problem of scientists’ work that is beyond us and we are unable to judge one way or the other. (I think of the OJ Trial as one marker on that road).
    The problem is too complex for me to offer a solution to the entire problem, but I do believe that AGW does offer Christians an opportunity to stand out in speaking as truthfully and honestly as we can. I attended a Wheaton Conference on GCI several years ago, that featured Sir John Houghton. His objective was to say as honestly as he could, “Fellow Evangelicals. I am one of you and I love you and I am telling you, based on real scientific work, that this is a real problem and we must act.”
    If we are discerning and if we are faithful, there may even be gospel in what we say, how we speak and what we practice.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Bob Robinson
    MattR (#13) gets to one of the theological problems: Those in the Cornwall Alliance have not embraced a theology that says that God’s intention with the gospel is to redeem the entire cosmos. They see the gospel in very individualistic terms.
    AHH (#16) gets to another theological problem: The Cornwall Alliance is does not see the irony of their declaring that humanity has been granted “dominion” over the earth, and yet failing to account for humanity’s sinful nature in the destruction of the earth. Our “dominion” is severely warped because of the Fall.
    Jjoe (#26) gets to the fact that ideology drives the Cornwall Alliance more than sound theology.

  • BenB

    I think it is here that we see the influence of Calvinism on Evangelicalism. God is all-powerful and all-excercising in that power. That is, God can keep men from destroying the earth until he accomplishes his plans and will do so. We can do nothing about it.
    That is not to say that everyone is Calvinist, but that this view of a sovereign God truly makes AGW unthinkable.
    I think Process Theology is a much better answer and, with process metaphysics instead of classical metaphysics as a starting point, there would be no reason to deny the possibility of global warming. Instead, it would be assumed that what we do affects other agents and creatures and members of the created order (all atoms and particles included). We therefore also have the capability of affecting said members in extremely negative ways.

  • Bob Robinson
    Re: Calvin (#36): I read the Cornwall Alliance’s 76-page, scholarly document “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming.” I must admit that the science and economics chapters were beyond my scope of expertise. But I am a theologian, and I found the first chapter, the theological reasons for the Cornwall Alliance to deny AGW, to fall short of a fully integrated Christian theology and worldview, contrary to their insistence that it provides just that.
    To say, as Calvin does here, that “the Bible’s teaching that Earth is the ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31) product of a wise Creator who faithfully sustains it according to His promises (e.g., Genesis 8:22)” and that this “is difficult to reconcile with the underlying presumption of fears of dangerous AGW,” is not tenable theologically. No evangelical would deny that (a) the earth was created “very good” and that (b) God “sustains” it. But to deny that humans can cause irreparable harm to the earth’s environment is a tacit denial of the Fall and its effect on humanity’s ability to image God as ruler, caretaker, and keeper of the earth. To say that dangerous global warming is unlikely because God sustains the earth is like saying that blindness from diabetes is unlikely because God sustains the body. Humans can do irreparable harm to themselves due to gluttony and slothfulness, and they can do irreparable harm to the environment due to sin as well.

  • RJS

    Bob (#40,42),
    Thanks for your comments here.
    Calvin (#36),
    I have not read the 76-page document. This post does highlight your first affirmation and denial, but is really meant to focus on a broader tendency within evangelical circles to claim that AGW is scientifically and theologically impossible. Therefore this is a conversation we need to be having.
    The scientific evidence, how it is evaluated and the appropriate actions and responses – that is a whole other issue as dopderbeck and pds and others have noted.

  • Dan Dawson

    Hi folks,
    This is a very interesting discussion here. While I’m not technically a climatologist, I am a degreed research meteorologist. To those who may not be aware, the vast majority of meteorologists are not in fact TV weather(wo)men, but are usually either those who engage in scientific research in meteorology, those who work in private forecasting companies (this does include TV stations, but also much more), or those who forecast operationally for the government (the National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center, etc.). However, someone mentioned on this thread that a climate scientist was “quite different” from a meteorologist. If he meant that a climate scientist was quite different from the typical TV weatherman, I completely agree, but in fact meteorology as a scientific field and climatology go hand-in-hand. Climatology just looks at longer time and larger space scales than typical meteorological problems. They do emphasize certain atmospheric processes that aren’t *as* emphasized in meteorology, and thus we don’t always speak the same language, but we are more like two subspecies of the same basic field than two completely different fields.
    Sorry for the long introduction there, but I wanted to clarify a few things off the bat to indicate that I at least have some expertise, albeit somewhat tangentially, in the area of climate science, at least inasmuch as the basic overlap between my field and climatology is concerned. All this said, I’m a Christian who initially approached the AGW issue with a great deal of skepticism, in much the same manner as many other typical evangelical Christians do today. Over time, however, during the course of my studies, which involved reading peer-reviewed publications on climate science and AGW, I gradually came to realize that the *scientific evidence* actually does strongly support significant current AGW, totally irrespective of whatever additional political, philosophical, or religious views or policies one attaches to the issue. In my mind, much of the current evangelical opposition to AGW is primarily motivated by certain theological and political concerns, without much regard to the science, which is a real shame, because it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I’m pretty fiscally conservative, but this doesn’t stop me from acknowledging the likely very serious future impact of AGW, based on the scientific evidence. So, to answer the questions in the post: most assuredly no, AGW is neither theologically or scientifically impossible. I didn’t go much into the theological concerns, but this post is already long enough.

  • I’m with dopderbeck #30. A spent the summer of ’78 during college to help my Dad build his passive solar house that was also designed for installation of solar panels when they became affordable. I’ve been recycling since I was a teenager and have followed environmental issues all my life. I’m also skeptical of significantly dangerous impacts from GW. Nevertheless, the are many benefits to humanity and the environment from more sustainable renewable fuel sources.
    I’ll need to go back and look again at the Cornwall declaration but when I read it some time back I don’ recall getting the vibe that AGW was theologically impossible. The second quote doesn’t suggest this to me at all. It is suggests that the signers think the CO2 additions are minuscule relative to other greenhouse effects … water vapor being by far the largest greenhouse contributor … and that the dangers are grossly exaggerated. I took the first quote to mean that the earth is a considerably more robust system than alarmists are claiming, not that it is inviolable. I think the charge that they are saying it is theologically impossible is a bit harsh.

  • Dean

    Strange, isn’t it, that we all know that if even a few nuclear bombs (made by man, btw)were detonated, it would horribly impact the earth in a bad way (i.e. dangerous), but we deny that increased CO2 and other global warming gases could be dangerous. A few nuclear explosions = bad, very bad. A few billion gas explosions a second in internal combustion engines around the world = maybe a sunken Maldive atoll or two, but not bad or dangerous.
    Has the law of reaping what we sow been rescinded?
    Is it “prudent” for us to pour into the air stuff we should not breathe, pour on the ground stuff we should not eat, and pour into our water stuff we should not drink? For all we know, AGW might be the least of our worries.
    In my book Bob Robinson’s remarks are right on.

  • sean leroy

    I didn’t get the whole “impossibility” thing from CA. I really think that’s a total over statement and would humbly request you revise your original post.
    Be that as it may, if CO2 is the great boogeyman that the AGW crowd says it is, we should seriously stop exhaling! The fact of the matter is that CO2 is only one of many so called greenhouse gases and of the billions of tons sent into the atmosphere, human generated CO2 accounts for only 3.17%, or something like that – I added the .17 to sound official.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, once again, a great discussion post. Thanks.
    A real learning curve for me again.

  • Mike C #38
    Many folks (particularly of a liberal stripe) are fond of remembering Dwight Eisenhower’s warning in his farewell address of the domination of society and public policy by a military industrial complex. What fewer remember is also this warning.
    “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.”
    Science is done by scientists … that is communities of human beings with hopes, needs, and egos. It is heady stuff to be at the forefront of saving human civilization. What of the person who grew up motivated to go into environmental science or climatology in order to save the world? What happens should that person be confronted with growing evidence that the threat is not real or great? It isn’t easy. Scientists have egos and find it hard to shift paradigms (Just read Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”) I’m not suggesting that scientists willfully distort data but personal commitments do impact what gets studied, what gets reviewed (at what level of scrutiny), what gets funding, and the ability to see alternative paradigms. Science is the product of human effort not an infallible source of knowledge.
    Meanwhile, politicians want to be seen as protecting and helping people. Taking the lead in developing policy that saves the world is pretty heady stuff too. The marriage of the scientific-technological elite and the political class becomes neatly wed.
    Meanwhile, it is claimed ad nausem that oil companies have supported efforts to undermine the AGW message. All true … just as true as that the now defunct Enron spent millions of dollars in promoting AGW because it would increase demand for their natural gas relative to the oil products of the oil companies … just as it is true that Margaret Thatcher pumped money into researching the possible link between CO2 and warming back in the ‘80s in order to make fossil fuels less attractive relative to nuclear power and thus overcome the resistance to nuclear power by the Green Movement. There is money pouring into all sides of this thing, not just from oil companies.
    Furthermore, once companies change their strategies to act as if there is a looming disaster they have a vested interest in cementing the belief in the public’s mind and compelling similar behavior from competitors. Otherwise, the resisting companies will have a competitive advantage. Their interests are now united with scientific-technological elite and the political class.
    Here is what I find particularly interesting. One of the hallmarks of post-modernism is its supposed skepticism toward authority and experts. Yet among the Emergent community, when it comes to AGW, accepts this with all the fervor of a Bible-Belt fundamentalist uncritically embracing everything the scientific technological elite tells them.
    I am skeptical. AGW true-believers can deceive themselves all they want that the widespread skepticism is due to right-wing conspiracies, Fox News, and Oil companies. They can demonize and ridicule dissenters and appeal to unquestioned fidelity to the scientific-technological elite all they want. All this does in convince those who are really searching that the demonizers must not have a convincing case and all it will do is solidify the opposition. That is the real impact of the climategate a few weeks ago. The public has no way to discern the truth in such complex issues. A transparent and fair process for studying these issues is paramount for the public to have faith. As we saw, that is what we don’t have.
    Clearly we take heed of the experts and try to discern the implications for policy but I categorically will not give uncritical deference to climatologists, economists, or any other -ists.

  • RJS

    Kuhn’s understanding of scientific revolutions is interesting and insightful. I’ve enjoyed reading it – but he also overestimates and oversimplifies. His view of scientific revolution and paradigm shifts is far from the last word on the matter.
    The politics and economics of this issue (the idea of AGW) is interesting – from a human sociology point of view.
    It took decades to convince people of a link between smoking and lung cancer – many people ignored, debunked, claimed skepticism and died. Some didn’t of course, because lung cancer also contains an element of chance and other factors play a role. But the “experiment” was run millions of times before people actually became convinced of the link. (People resisted the paradigm shift – not scientists, and for “unscientific” reasons.)
    The science of the ecosystem and the climate is incredibly complex and contains factors that I don’t think are yet well understood. One of the real problems here is that we cannot do the experiment – we get one shot. We extrapolate and make a best guess. I don’t think that it is the scientists who are exemplifying Kuhn’s major point. I think it is the general population.

  • RJS

    But Michael – I am not making a pronouncement on the reality or magnitude of AGW, I don’t know enough. The point I am trying to make is that ideology and theology don’t give us the answer.

  • My summary of the Cornwall Alliance Declaration on Global Warming is “For God’s sake, don’t be hasty and thus do something really harmful.” This is particularly reasonable since the science really isn’t settled. A well-known engineer, Burt Rutan, has looked at the data presentations intended to show there is man-caused global warming and found them to be not up to engineering standards of honesty. Some of his work (which is still in progress) documenting specific problems can be found by following the link to Also, the “Climategate” emails do a lot to explain why the “peer-reviewed” literature is stacked against AGW skeptics; no wonder people reading the literature don’t get a balanced picture.

  • I could be paddling a rowboat down Market Street in San Francisco after the poles have melted, and there will still be conservative fanatics who deny that humans are responsible for Global Warming or that it is even real. I invite you to my web-pages devoted to raising awareness on this urgent issue:

  • RJS #50, 51
    I think there are at least four issues that tend to all get lumped together.
    1. Has the global average temperature been rising? Certainly the 20th Century trend was an increase, though that appears to have stalled. Temps also declined over two periods in the 20th Century. Recent years don’t tell us much about what to expect over the next hundred years. We can’t falsify and confirm anything with a decade of temps.
    2. Is some portion of the warming anthropogenic? It seems likely that some portion of it is.
    3. What difference does it make that the earth is warming? Now we are moving into some exceedingly speculative arenas around which there is not consensus. Example: We are told there will be an escalation in hurricane activity and severity. Al Gore used the hurricane vortex as the iconic image coming from a smokestack on the cover of “Inconvenient Truth” and each succeeding weather anomaly since is touted as AGW. Since Katrina, hurricanes have become less frequent and milder. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t just a temporary lull but when each negative anomaly is touted as evidence while each departure from the predictions is dismissed as irrelevant, confidence is not inspired.
    4. What should we do from a policy standpoint? Here ideology and theology certainly do come into play.
    Yes, the public was slow in accepting the impact of smoking. But lets go back a little further the first of half of the Twentieth Century in the U. S. when eugenics was widely embraced. Is was “scientifically known” that intelligence varied by race. Public polices dealing with education, family planning, and employment opportunity were based on such policies.
    We can’t build a case that we should embrace AGW because people were once mistaken by cigarettes anymore than build a case against AGW because scientists once mistakenly embraced eugenics. The possibility of believing something false when it is true (smoking causes cancer) or believing something is true when it is false (race determines intelligence) is always a risk.
    Therefore, equating people who have doubts about AGW and its alleged consequences as equivalent to those duped by cigarette companies … or worse, as some do, equating them to holocaust deniers … or the more subtle “deniers” for short … does nothing to further civil discourse.
    When it comes to the significance of the human contribution to GW and the anticipated impacts what we have is genuine bone fide uncertainty. We are dealing with a case of risk management.
    Furthermore, I have little doubt that much of what drives some of the skepticism about AGW is ideologically or theologically based … and it is at least equally true of those who embrace AGW.

  • Michael,
    I respectfully must disagree, unless the ideology referred to in my case and in the case of some I know is respect for the strong case science has made through data that global warming has significant cause from humans with possible catastrophic consequences.

  • I also think Bob Robinson’s posts on the Cornwall Declaration were quite insightful as to its lack theologically.

  • Dan Dawson

    @Michael (49)
    “Science is done by scientists … that is communities of human beings with hopes, needs, and egos. It is heady stuff to be at the forefront of saving human civilization. What of the person who grew up motivated to go into environmental science or climatology in order to save the world? What happens should that person be confronted with growing evidence that the threat is not real or great? It isn’t easy. Scientists have egos and find it hard to shift paradigms (Just read Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”) I’m not suggesting that scientists willfully distort data but personal commitments do impact what gets studied, what gets reviewed (at what level of scrutiny), what gets funding, and the ability to see alternative paradigms. Science is the product of human effort not an infallible source of knowledge.”
    I completely agree, but, ironically, it was the growing evidence that AGW was actually occurring that led me to change my views, and indeed, it was not easy at the time. I faced some opposition from family and friends, who worried that I was “turning liberal”. In the end, it was the weight of the evidence that changed my mind, and not any political or idealogical argument, and certainly not monetary considerations (I get paid to study severe storms and tornadoes, not climate, although I’m interested in what sorts of impacts GW might have on these phenomena). Also, no one really claims that science is infallible, though some who hold to extreme forms of philosophical naturalism and scientism might come close.

  • Dan Dawson

    @Blaine (52)
    First, Al Gore is not a scientist, and many climate scientists that I have spoken to have told me that he doesn’t speak for them. He certainly doesn’t speak for me. Anyone, and I mean *anyone* who uses individual weather events as evidence either for or against AGW doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate. Period. Note, this is *not* the same as a climate scientist referring to, say, the possibility of more and frequent heavy rain events under a warming world, as they are not referring to a singular weather event in that case, but rather a collection of them. Such things can only be discerned and verified as averages over long time scales (months to decades).
    Second, I find the fact that most of the AGW skeptics out there are not climatologists or meteorologists rather revealing. I have no problem with people outside of our field criticizing aspects of our science: in many cases this is healthy and keeps us from getting to narrow in our focus. But, at the very least, such critiques need to be backed up by sound understanding of the underlying physics of the problem, and as far as I’ve seen, most of the critiques fail miserably in this regard. It’s not because the people (at least most of them) are stupid, it’s just that they don’t have the requisite basic understanding of the atmosphere system to mount a credible critique.
    Finally, the idea that the deck is stacked unfairly against AGW skeptics in regards to peer-reviewed publications just doesn’t hold water. There’s no such thing as a “balanced view” in science. Either a theory or framework has evidence and sound reasoning going for it, or it doesn’t. Science journals are under no obligation to permit an opposing viewpoint paper from being published if the science within is rubbish. It’s certainly true that some papers that should be published are initially rejected because the findings or claims are so radical, but eventually these find their way through the system, it just might take some time.
    I’m not trying to hold up scientists as uniformly paragons of virtue who are never motivated by personal concerns. Far from it (and no one knows this better than us scientists who are in the thick of all the bickering and politics that takes place behind the scenes). What I am saying is that overall, the system corrects for this, and eventually the better theories and findings rise to the top, even if they are vigorously opposed at first. If it turns out that AGW is a load of dingoes’ kidneys, this will eventually become known in the literature. However, the opposite trend has been occurring.

  • AHH

    Michael K. #54 divides the issue into 4 questions. I might make a little different division, but his is not unreasonable.
    The best quick answer to #1 and #2 (existence of warming and human vs. natural influence) is the graphs at the bottom of this FAQ:
    One can observe that we have already seen about 0.5 degrees C of warming, so we have already hit the amount that Calvin Beisner says will be the total.
    Of course some here have given their reasons for distrusting this scientific consensus, and a few of the reasons have not been totally unreasonable. But it’s the best information we have to go on at this point, and I think even reasonable people who point out the human element in science overestimate the degree to which that humanness could bias the results on such a heavily scrutinized topic.
    On #3, the connection made in Al Gore’s film to hurricanes has been rightly criticized, not only by people who don’t have the expertise to judge that question (like Beisner or me for that matter) but also for example by the genuine experts at The jury is apparently still out on whether that connection exists or not.
    More firmly established effects (although their magnitude has some uncertainty) include:
    1) Rising sea level and its effect on people and ecosystems who live at what is now sea level.
    2) More extreme heat waves and precipitation events.
    3) Acidification of the oceans. This is less publicized, but we are conducting an unprecedented experiment by carbonating our oceans over a short time scale. Can ocean ecosystems adjust to the changing pH, which some creatures near the bottom of the food chain are sensitive to? People whose diets depend on seafood (and those who consider such people as neighbors) should be worried about this one.
    Then we all seem to be agreed here that his question #4 about deciding wise and just policy to address the issue is a complex question where science alone can’t give us the answers.

  • I need to offer a bit of personal background. I’m not a scientist but my dad was. He was research chemist, first with Philips Petroleum, next as college professor (during the last ten years of my childhood ’68-’78) and the 17 years at the Geological Survey at the Univ. of Illinois as chair of the coal research division studying clean burning coal gasification and liquefaction. During the college professor years he spent summers at places like Oak Ridge studying nuclear power.
    As a child I had a steady diet of stories about looming disaster from lack of energy resources. There wasn’t enough fuel to keep the world going to the end of the century. There simply wasn’t that much fuel in the ground. Draconian changes were needed to save humanity. I heard variations of this narrative around the dinner table, from colleagues my dad worked with, from the mailings we received from various causes at home. These weren’t the views of loons but of mainstream scientists who shared a consensus view that we were running out of fuel and believed they needed to sound the alarm to save civilization. Those that opposed this narrative were either stupid or dupes of big business and conservatives. Sound familiar?
    With all due respect, I don’t think I’m over emphasizing the sociological aspect of science consensus in the least. I had a firsthand front row seat of it in action at an earlier episode of environmental alarmism. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We have warming. We almost certainly have some human impact on warming developments. But pardon me if I’m deeply skeptical about the hyperbolic alarmist scenarios.
    Climate science is about more than studying the atmosphere. It involves at least five highly complex systems: Atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere (ice-coverd regions), lithosphere (land masses), and biosphere. Any one of these is difficult to model but trying to model all five and their interactive affect is mind boggling. We simply don’t have the wherewithal to know with high levels of certainty what will happen and we do know the planet is often more adaptive than we believe.
    What we can surmise is that there is evidence that too much CO2 may have undesirable consequences and it is therefore prudent to find ways to manage excessive production. Again, we are dealing with risk management.

  • Mike Clawson

    Michael Kruse (#49) – you’re preaching to the choir with me regarding the socially driven nature of science. I’m a postmodern skeptic thru and thru. But at the same time, skepticism doesn’t mean outright rejection, and just because I don’t think science is ever “pure”, that doesn’t mean I think that I myself am qualified to dispute the informed conclusions of thousands of specialists in their own field. For me it’s not about blind faith in science or scientists, it’s about having the humility to recognize my own limitations and not think that I have a right to play armchair pundit on issues that I am not qualified to speak to.
    And as I said, the bottom line is that unless you are qualified, you have to trust somebody. You have to buy into one set of arguments or the other. And when I find that the vast majority of AGW-skeptics and deniers are non-specialists with very strong pre-conceived political or theological commitments that would lead them to reject it out of hand regardless of the science, and that the vast majority of people who are qualified to evaluate the evidence scientifically support the theory, well… it makes it pretty clear to me which side I should be listening to.

  • I can certainly understand someone having personal experience with scientists being wrong. It is absolutely true that scientists get things wrong all the time. What is rarely true is that vast majority of the scientists studying one issue all get it completely wrong. There is some interesting research which was published last January in Eos, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, which basically resolves the question, “Is there a scientific consensus on the cause of climate change?” The answer, finally documented in a peer-reviewed journal, is “yes”.
    Researchers Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman from the University of Illinois, Chicago, conducted a survey of over 3,000 earth and climate scientists – the survey was sent to 10,257, but 30% is a very respectable response rate for a survey. This included all geosciences faculty at reporting academic institutions, US federal research facilities, US Department of Energy national laboratories, and state geologic surveys associated with local universities – exactly the people who should know the most about the topic.
    The most important question asked:
    “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”
    The answer:
    90% of participants said that the climate has gotten warmer
    82% said that man is significant contributor
    The level of consensus increases with the scientists’ active engagement in research and their knowledge about climate:
    89% of climatologists that man is significant contributor.
    90% of actively publishing scientists who have published on climate change agree
    97.4% of scientists who have published over 50% of their recent papers on climate change agreed that human activity is a significant contributing factor to global warming.
    I personally find it impossible to believe that 97.4% of the credentialed scientists publishing papers subjected to peer-review on an intensely scrutinized issue like climate change would get it completely wrong.
    I know this is a site dedicated to belief and not science, but if we and our children are to thrive in our time on this world, I think we have to make decisions such as these based on the best science we have. While we have to take steps to take care of our citizens and preserve an environment in which business can be sustained, the cost of getting this wrong – in human, environmental and financial terms – are beyond belief. And if these 97.4% of scientists are right, we have very little time.
    You can download a copy of the article here ( by clicking on “Article in EOS (pdf)”

  • pds

    Mike #61,
    It seems that in being humble about the science, you are making your decision in part based on psychology and tribalism. I am not so pessimistic about our ability to understand the science involved.
    Regarding your psychology, tribalism and motivation criteria, which position is likely to get a scientist funding for research and prestige in academia? Which position is a scientist who leans left politically likely to adopt?

  • Mike Clawson

    pds – “psychology”? “tribalism”? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m talking about listening to those who are qualified to speak to a subject, not just those who happen to agree with my politics or theology – so in fact, it’s just the opposite of tribalism. Indeed, when I came to accept AGW myself, I was still pretty politically and theologically conservative. Most proponents of AGW were NOT part of my “tribe” at the time, I just came to realize that all that tribalism was pretty much irrelevant to the truth of the matter. AGW is a scientific question, not a political one.
    As for “left leaning”, are you kidding me? We’re talking about an INTERNATIONAL array of scientists. Do you really think that climate scientists from the US, France, China, Brazil, India, Russia, Indonesia, Denmark, Nigeria, etc. are all going to share the same political leanings? Do you think that “left-leaning” even means the same thing in those countries as it does here? Given that we’re talking about an international consensus, it seems pretty ludicrous to me to suggest that political leanings are the primary reason that most scientists would accept a theory like AGW.
    As a counter example to this suggestion, I personally happen to know a geologist from a politically and theologically conservative school who was skeptical of AGW back in the nineties when the science was still less certain and the consensus was not as strong, but has since come to accept AGW – not because he got any research funding for it (he has not), or because of his politics (which, as far as I know, are still pretty conservative), but simply because as a scientist he was convinced by the evidence.

  • Mike Clawson

    Thanks for providing actual facts James (#62). Very helpful information. And I agree, if these 97% of qualified scientists are right, then we can’t afford to be distracted by silly political games any longer. We’re talking about real people and real lives that threatened by this. The reality of AGW may be a scientific issue, but our response to it is a moral one.

  • Josh

    A little late to the game here, but I wanted to post a relevant youtube video:
    Summary: U.S. House Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) opens up the March 25th 2009 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, a hearing devoted to the topic of Climate Change, by reading from Genesis 6. He then ends his opening statement by saying
    “…the earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth.”
    So there’s at least one person whose theological views are informing their ability to adequately analyze the issue of Climate Change. It just so happens that they are very, very influential.

  • Josh

    A little late to the game here, but I wanted to post a relevant youtube video:
    Summary: U.S. House Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) opens up the March 25th 2009 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, a hearing devoted to the topic of Climate Change, by reading from Genesis 6. He then ends his opening statement by saying
    “…the earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth.”
    So there’s at least one person whose theological views are informing their ability to adequately analyze the issue of Climate Change. It just so happens that they are very, very influential.

  • ummm… no one says that climate change will “destroy this earth”. If that’s what Shimkus thinks, then he’s pretty uninformed on what the dangers of global climate change really are.