Response to Global Warming

Before spring break, I noticed an article in the Bagpipe that showed how the changing weather we’ve all experienced does not disprove global warming, citing NASA’s data on the issue. I decided to write a response, not to show how wrong someone is if they believe in climate change, but to show that there is another side that ought to be taken into consideration. While many of us take different sides on this debate, we should notice that the reports of scientists are not necessarily true, and shouldn’t be treated as pure gospel. Climate change is not a debate between the community of scientists as a monolithic body and the rest of us lesser-intelligent, or perhaps self-serving people. There are many scientific dissenters in fact, and they hold annual conferences on this topic. The proponents of climate change used to say there are zero scientists who disagree with anthropogenic global warming  (see Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth for example). When the dissenters became more vocal about 7 years ago, global warming activists changed tactics and started influencing journals to refuse to publish dissenting opinion. Infamously, they fiddled with the data until they eliminated the Medieval Warming Period, producing the so called “hockey-stick graph”. After this, they started calling dissenters 'deniers', equating them with holocaust deniers. In the history of science this level of intimidation is unprecedented, perhaps only rivaled by the intimidation of non-Darwinists. However, I think some truth can be discovered through an open discussion, rather than resorting to intimidation and name-calling. By disbelieving the global warming activists, I am not necessarily a close-minded science-denier. Rather, I see reason to be skeptical in the data, which I will illustrate with several questions.

First, let’s suppose the earth as a whole is getting warmer. Is this an imminent problem? If the earth were to get too warm, then much of the ice in the poles would melt and the climate as a whole would become unpredictable and dangerous. But how warm is too warm? If the data is accurate, the global surface temperature has risen approximately 1.4o Fahrenheit over the last 130 years. But looking back to almost 10,000 years ago, several scientists have found that the Pacific Ocean was 2o C (3.6o F) warmer than today, as well as 0.65o C (1.17o F) warmer in the Medieval Warming Period than today. Obviously, our planet and the life that’s currently on it have survived much warmer temperatures than we have experienced in the last few hundred years, and so I don’t see this warming as an impending threat. [For more information, see Rosenthal, Lisley, and Oppo’s paper “Pacific Ocean Heat Content During the Past 10,000 Years.”]

Second, let’s suppose this problem is indeed an imminent problem that must be dealt with, we must ask the question: can global warming be cured? Climate change activists claim that the slope in late twentieth century temperature is caused by the rampant production of greenhouse gases (particularly CO2) by large scale firms and factories. However, animals and bacteria produce almost 150 billion tons of CO2 per year, versus 6.5 billion tons from all human activity. If we ignored all other sources of CO2, such as the oceans and decomposing vegetation, then we find that humans are responsible for only 4.2% of all the CO2 in the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , human emissions must be cut at least in half for us to stabilize the climate. However, since nonhuman sources far outweigh human emissions, even the smallest fluctuations would drastically alter the climate. If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are so influential in rising temperatures, then to halt production and progress by humans would be to capture the minnow and let the whale escape in the pond. Thus, I would deem it ineffective to prevent climate change by restricting emissions from human sources. [For more information on IPCC study, see “Analysing the greenhouse gas emission reductions of the mitigation action plans by non-Annex I countries by 2020” by Elzen, Hof, and Roelfsema.]

Third, supposing we cut human emissions in half and this could make a difference on the climate, what would the cost look like? After all, if restrictions were imposed on businesses for environmental reasons, then markets worldwide would be directly influenced. With cuts in production, the cost is at least $90 trillion, and estimates get as large as $101,000 trillion for every degree Fahrenheit forestalled, according to Lord Monckton. Dr. Garnaut’s estimated cost of abatement is around 5-20% of GDP, while the estimated inaction cost is around 1-4%, making Monckton’s figure of inaction cost about 3 times less. This is a tremendously larger cost for reducing carbon emissions, which, as shown previously, will make little to no difference in regards to the climate. However, this economic effect will directly affect the wellbeing of humans all around the earth, since the primary contributors of carbon to the atmosphere are also the primary producers of food and medicine. Without a high supply of such materials, relief programs in third world countries would fail, regardless of how we approach community development in needy societies. Thus another question arises: should care of the environment from potential harm or helping the poor through economic productivity be of more concern? My opinion, seeing that the earth has survived much warmer periods in the past, is that our first responsibility is for our fellow human beings. [For more information on Lord Monckton’s article, see “Is CO2 mitigation cost-effective?” Lecture to the Prague School of Economics, May 2011.]

God has given us a planet to take care of, and irresponsible waste and pollution is not a proper fulfillment of stewardship. At the same time, there is no reason to fear an impending heat apocalypse from human overproduction. Climate change can be a rather heated topic, but my purpose is not to put down the other side, but to show that there is scientific reasoning for disbelief of global warming. As Christians, we are all called to glorify the Creator in all that we do, and we ought to bear this in mind when facing disagreements.