Monday, August 07, 2006

A Very Inconvenient Truth

There are a lot of truths that are inconvenient. Some of them begin by nagging you at the very fringe of your consciousness. You can ignore them for whole days at a time, but they just will not go completely away. At the most unexpected time they will suddenly jump on the front burner of your brain and fog up your thinking. Such a truth is global warning. My wife is a biologist and a botanist at a quite conservative Christian college--- Asbury College. The faculty there could not in any way be described as a hot bed of liberalism or ‘blue state’ thinking. It is interesting that even in this bastion of conservatism both religious and political, the truth about global warning has finally become undenial to even many nay sayers at such a place. Partly some of them came to this conclusion after becoming hands on in dealing with the aftermath of Katrina in places like Biloxi and New Orleans. All those Christian workers came back with a new understanding of how nature abused and ignored has an enormous capacity to respond with an overwhelming fury. The changing of the minds of many conservative Christians is perhaps a clear ensign that we are nearly to the point of recognizing we are dealing with an undeniable truth. Christians are sadly often the last to get religion about worldly things that have been obvious to others for many years. I say this to our shame.

Scientists of course pride themselves on trying to stick to the hard empirical data. They don’t tend to make grand pronouncements of any sort without a stuffed stat sheet to back it up. Well the stat sheet is now stuffed with evidence. The ten hottest years on record in our human history have all occurred in the last fourteen years. The most hurricanes ever in one season occurred last year. For the first time ever a huge shelf of Antarctica broke off and disintegrated into the cold waters that surround that continent. The perma-frost split in Greenland last year, for the first time ever, and the sound of huge underground rivers of melted ice can be heard in that land. And there is much more. Of the 946 articles written in peer-reviewed scientific journals over the last decade or so on global warming, they all had at least one point in common--- global warming is real and accelerating at an alarming rate as the green house gases increase exponentially in our atmosphere. Of course there are some popular articles out there that dispute this. None of those articles have been written by any of the scientists whose articles have been accepted in the major scholarly scientific journals. They did not pass the empirical data rigor test--- not even one. Global warming is no longer considered a theory. It is considered a proven fact—yes even in the heartland, yes even by scientists at very conservative Christian colleges. But perhaps you will offer the cynical response of ‘So what?’

If you have children or grandchildren, or are planning to have children, you can’t afford the luxury of that kind of response. Of course it is true that you can try to run away and hide from this truth, for instance by using escapist rapture theology. Who cares if the world is going to Hades in a handbasket, if you will soon be beamed up? But wait, what if the ‘rapture’ is merely a theory more dicey than Darwin’s, and as it turns out a theory without sound Biblical evidence?
What if there will be no escape from the problems of this world for the foreseeable future because Jesus told us to first evangelize all the language groups before the second coming? What if God expects us to properly tend and care for his good and beautiful garden-like creation until his Son comes back? What if when he returns instead he finds us sticking our heads in the sand, and ignoring the many ways we have bruised and abused the earth he created for our eco-system? What if our otherworldly redemption theology involves a gross distortion of the Biblical creation theology?

What if it is creation that God is setting out to redeem--- all of it? What if Paul was right when he says that all of creation is growing longing for the day when humans, and the creation itself will be liberated from disease, decay, death, pollution, poison, and putrefaction? What if there really are crises in this world as big or bigger than terrorism that affect every day lives of persons on all continents? Think for instance of the alarming rise in rates of various kinds of skin cancers, and of infectious diseases spread because the winters are not cold enough to kill off the bugs that carry these diseases in the breeding grounds in Africa and elsewhere? What if it is true that there has been a huge campaign of disinformation about global warming spread throughout the country, and especially throughout its religiously conservative sectors by big oil companies hungry for more profits?

My wife and I went to see ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ today. And I have to tell you, that whether or not you like Al Gore or agree with him on other issues is irrelevant. If even 10% of the data shared in this movie about global warming is correct, we have a moral responsibility as Christians if we love life, if we love our children, if we seek to emulate a God who loves the world he made, to do something about this now. Even if you don’t care about how this affects you personally at least you should care about how it will affect our offspring. And the interesting thing is we can do something about it. We can reduce our individual carbon footprints. We can stop buying gas guzzling vehicles. We can buy light bulbs that last ten times what the normal bulbs last. We can buy solar panels like you see all over the Middle East and harness the suns’ raise to heat our water. We could finally get our nation to be the last nation to sign the Kiyoto accords so we could all work together on this problem. Did you know that America has the lowest standards of any of the developed nations, including China, when it comes to demanding cars that are energy efficient? I could go on.

Salvation is a great gift from God. Its climax comes when by resurrection we receive new bodies and are fully conformed to the image of Christ. But can you imagine new bodies on an old worn out earth? How incredibly frustrating would that condition be? Have you really reflected on what 1 Cor. 15 means when it tells us that when Jesus comes back he will have some work to do. It will take some time. He will have to put some enemies under his feet before he turns the kingdom back over to the Father. And the very last enemy he must overcome affects all living things. It is not a particular nation. It is not a particular person, say the Anti-Christ. It is not a particular religion. It is death itself. Why is death the last and most stubborn enemy to be overcome by Jesus when he returns? Could it be that the renewal of the earth was just as important to him as the resurrection of believers, because the latter would have to live in the eco-sphere--- hopefully in a new or renewed earth? Blessed are those whom the Savior finds going on about the business he set for us when he returns—saving the world, not just the people in the world, but also the place where believers will finally live for all eternity if Rev. 21-22 is any clue. Think on these things.

39 comments:

Neil said...

I am not a Green, but I have recycled for 35 years, I try to minimize the utilities we use, I hate waste and I don't drive an SUV.

And yes, I am aware that there has been a slight increase in the earth's average temperature. But what is not clear is how much of that is due to human activities, and how much we could alleviate without trashing the world economy.

My suggestion: All the Greens should sell their cars, mow their lawns with manual mowers and stop using utilities in their homes. If that makes a measurable impact then we can all join in.

P.S. I agree that the rapture / escapist theology is flawed and has all sorts of bad consequences. We need to be salt and light, not hide ourselves away.

byron said...

Thanks Ben for this great post.

I wholeheartedly agree.

NB The USA is not the only developed nation to not sign Kyoto. Australia managed to get its one mention in the film on precisely this point, to our shame.

Neil said...

Kyoto would have been disastrous for the U.S. and done nothing for China et al. We should be proud for not signing such a document.

Mike Todd said...

Well said, Ben. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Ben Witherington said...

The only reason Kyioto would ever be 'bad' for the U.S. is because we ask far too little of our major corporations when it comes to complying with the most basic of requests of caring about the environment, requests that other multipnational companies in other countries do comply with. There is a main reason why Honda and Toyota are doing so much better in the U.S. now than GM and Ford. Our companies are truculant when it comes to doing what is best, and not just what is temporarily most popular, in their own estimations.

Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Ben. As a Brit, I am glad that at least one conservative American is taking this issue seriously, no longer hiding their head in the sand and hoping it will go away.

I have linked to and commented further on your posting on my own blog.

Randy McRoberts said...

I think, my good brother, that you are moving out of your area of expertise. Ten percent would be a very high estimate.

Global warming is real, no doubt. So will global cooling be real as we move into the next ice age.

"An Inconvenient Truth" is rhetoric, not science.

I want God's kingdom on earth, for sure. I'm no escapist. But I don't want my tax money spent on schemes to alleviate a non-existent or intractable problem. If folks want to give up their cars and stuff, more power to them.

Probably the best move we could make to try, though, would be to move to nuclear energy. That would solve some economic problems as well. I could support that.

I don't mean to be disrespectful to you, Dr. Witherington. I am a big fan our yours. You are a NT scholar of the highest order, and I can learn much from you. I AM learning much from you. But on this point, I just disagree.

Benson said...

Great post Dr. Ben. To dispute the facts is irresponsible and futile. How can anyone possibly deny the reality of Global Warming and our contribution to it.

Admitedly, I am not well-versed in the Kyoto accord... But I have heard many say that the expectations are unattainable... I am living in a country (Canada) where it is a strong possibility that we will be backing out of the Kyoto accord... It was signed by a Liberal government who never came close to attaining the expectations. Now a new Conservative governement is looking to come up with a more attainable agreement. However, this may be suspect too because our Prime Minister seems to be quite busy kissing George Bush's keaster. Is Kyoto too aggressive? Is it better to make a lesser expectation and follow through on what you agreed to or to set high and lofty goals and not even come close? Obviously the absolute best would be to set the high and lofty and follow through... but it would seem that this is not going to happen anytime very soon.

Benson

lingamish said...

Benson's comment about Canada reminds me of a story I read last year regarding Japan's efforts to comply with Kyoto. They had reached the point of asking executives not to wear suits to work in the summer in order to reduce the need for air conditioning. The article is here. We all have good reason to be skeptical of Kyoto but I don't think that excuses us from seeking solutions to global warming.

-M said...

Thanks Ben - I have enjoyed your postings. I am always a little mystified as to why 'conservat'ives are unwilling to embrace 'conservat'ion. Certainly the Christian ethos demands through the 'greatest commandment' that we think not in terms limited to our own consumption but specifically of the well-being & service of others. I am saddened by the manner in which Jesus' core teaching is neglected so that we can maintain social conventions - the Word twisted to serve the consumptive practices of 'the world' espousing dominion & entitlism. Modern Christianity is no less consumptive in life practices than secularism...and that is truly a perversion! We are not intended to be 'of the ways of the world' but certainly we are condemning all through our practices that result in the destruction of Creation. Sigh - let us be stewards...& let us be faithful in the small things...there is nothing more 'right' than that.

Thanks Ben.

Mark said...

The rising energy costs have many looking for ways to conserve. However, the focus is short term income preservation and not long term. Once we become adjusted (financially) to the rising costs, human nature often leads us back to our bad habits.

I thank you for your timely reminder.

Jonathan Henry said...

Wondering, along these lines, what the implications of this discovery might be? Though it did not cycle too well in either the left, right, or centrist press outlets, this seems to be a clue that nature brings all sorts of cycles upon itself.

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2006/January/12010601.asp

Of course, God has been in control for all the ages in which our world has been around, heating and cooling, destroying and evolving. Praise the one who is wise enough to build this system!

Jonathan Henry said...

Sorry, try
this. (link valid as of 8/8/06 at noon).

The journal we are really trying to reference here is this:
F Kepler et al, Nature, 2005, 439, 187

brian said...

So corporations are truculent? One of the most popular current notions in our culture is that corporations are bad, bad, bad. They are the bogeyman for all the evils in the world. Without commenting on the superficial judgmentalism of this mentality as it maligns an enormous number of pretty decent people, I believe the real issue is a growing disillusion with capitalism. (Karl, your time may come yet.) But America's consumption craze is not a direct result of capitalism, it is a result of human nature.

Conceptually, free enterprise is actually a lot like free will. You may not like the outcome, but the wisdom of giving people free choice has its bonafides.

On global warning, conservation is great and thank the Lord we are all free to do so. How can a Christian justify a profligate lifestyle anyway? But please keep in mind that high CO2 levels in the atmosphere are not irreversable. Machines, biological or mechanical, that can remove massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere are on the, albeit distant, horizon. I have no doubt that some putrid corporation will develop one, as long as we don't take away their incentive to profit from doing so.

Henry Neufeld said...

One of the most popular current notions in our culture is that corporations are bad, bad, bad.

I don't believe corporations are inherently bad or good. They are ways in which people organize themselves for business. Nonetheless, there is nothing anti-business or anti-free market about requiring businesses to pay for negative side effects of their business.

In fact, not to do so forces someone else to pay. As consumers, we should be prepared to pay the costs of our own lifestyles, which do have an impact on the wider world.

In other words we're not talking about destroying freedom here. We're talking about taking responsibility for our own choices, whether those are carried out as corporations or as individuals.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for these further reflections. Henry you were right on target with those comments. Its not about being anti-corporation or even anti-profit. Its about them operating with a decent code of business ethics for a start.

Rainsborough said...

Dr. Witherington's second paragraph cites a good deal of evidence that adds up to reasons for concern.

Mr. McRobert's refers cites no evidence, only reports his opinions.

It's unfortunate that the most economically efficient and effective way* to address carbon dioxide emissions--imposing a tax on gasoline and other carbon fuels--is politically unthinkable now that prices have risen so sharply. Still, higher prices however they come about will lead to less usage (less than would be the case at lower prices).

*Perhaps encouragement of a turn to nuclear energy would be an even more efficient and effective way to reduce global warming.

Michael W. Kruse said...

Hi Ben, I am a regular reader of your blog and very much appreciate the insights I have gained on a number of theological topics. That is why I find your blog post on Gore’s movie all the more disturbing. The issue is not about whether global warming is happening. It is, at least slightly. This is a misdirect tactic used trivialize those who question the degree of anthropogenic (human caused) global warming. I wrote a review of Gore’s movie if you want a point by point analysis of the movie: "An Inconvenient Truth" Movie Review

“You wrote: Of the 946 articles written in peer-reviewed scientific journals over the last decade or so on global warming, they all had at least one point in common--- global warming is real and accelerating at an alarming rate as the green house gases increase exponentially in our atmosphere. Of course there are some popular articles out there that dispute this. None of those articles have been written by any of the scientists whose articles have been accepted in the major scholarly scientific journals.”

This is not what Gore claimed. He claimed that the 946 (actually I think he said 932) articles either supported anthropogenic global warming or were silent on the issue. I am not going to go through a point by point recap of the gross misrepresentations by Gore of the significance of this fact (among others.) Here is one article by scientists on this claim:
Scientists respond to Gore's warnings of climate catastrophe

Claims like Gore’s have great propaganda payoff because few in the public have any sense as to how scientific knowledge is developed. The salient point is this: Science is not done by consensus! Ask Gore to show you THE theory that conclusively demonstrates global warming. By that I don’t mean “CO2 and global warming seem to correlate.” I mean an entire paradigm that integrates a of multitude data from the atmosphere, ocean, polar ice caps, land masses, and plant and animal life. Have him show you the research that rigorously examines the various aspects of that theory in which the theory’s hypotheses withstood testing. Have him show you the predictive value of the theory on real time events. (As to the spat of hurricanes, most computer models indicated the opposite should have happened.) He can’t because there isn’t one! What there is, is a multitude (dozens) of computer model consisting of scientist’s assumptions about how this all interrelates. The forecasts are not based on observable data but on the assumptions of scientists fed into computer models and the assumptions are all over the place from model to model. Therefore, there is no SCIENTIFIC paradigm for human caused global warming, only the consensus of opinion of scientist, most of whom are not climatologist developing computer models. Opinion isn’t science and opinion is frequently wrong!

As climatologist George Taylor wrote:

But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong. I often think about the lives of three scientists who found themselves by themselves, on the "wrong side of consensus." There have been many in the history of science, but I singled out Alfred Wegener (Continental Drift), Gilbert Walker (El NiƱo), and J. Harlan Bretz (Missoula Floods). None is well-known now among members of the public, and all of them were ridiculed, rejected, and marginalized by the "consensus" scientists -- and each of the three was later proven to be correct, and the consensus wrong. As a well-known writer once said, "if it's consensus, it isn't science -- and if it's science, it isn't consensus."
A Consensus About Consensus

We are quick to follow “the money” on motivations for corporate pollution. The scientific community, while it uses the scientific method, is still a human community subject to same influences that all other mortals are subject to. Let us follow the money theree.

Here is an edited comment I recently posted at another site:

*****

Forty-six years ago, Dwight Eisenhower made a prophetic statement in his Farwell Address. In it, he talked about the Military-Industrial Complex. This is a favorite passage that is frequently cited by the Left about the corrupting influences of powerful corporations on society. I fully affirm the possibility of such corruption as real and it has to be guarded against. However, if we read on elsewhere in Eisenhower’s speech we find this statement:

“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.”

The development of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project had been such an astonishingly successful partnership between government, science and business that Roosevelt commissioned Vannevar Bush (no relation to the current president), one of his White House science staff people to develop a proposal for how this arrangement might be institutionalized to address other scientific problems in the future. Bush’s aggressive proposal made its way to Truman after Roosevelt’s passing and was enthusiastically received. It resulted in the creation of the National Science Foundation under the president and a host of other research arms in cabinet departments like Defense and later Energy. By 1960 Eisenhower was already having reservations. The problem is that the determination of what is a “problem” becomes less a scientific question than a political one. If you want to get funding you better study what the funders want to study.

The late 1970s was a time of focused efforts in studying and developing energy alternatives. It was during the 1970s that Energy Secretary James Schlesinger became interested in the possible impacts of fossil fuels on global warming; or as it was known then, “global cooling.” The global temperature had been declining from the 1940s to the 1970s and it was feared that emissions were blocking the suns heating capabilities and would throw us into an ice age.

Research funding continued to grow for studies on climate change through the 1980s when nature decided to through scientists a curve ball. It was determined that since the early to mid 1970s the earth had started warming up. Not to be out foxed, scientists postulated that instead of reflecting the suns heat, a greenhouse effect would be created that would trap the heat and create global warming. James Hansen of NASA indicated in congressional testimony in 1988, that we could expect the temperature to increase nearly 3 degrees C (well over 5 degrees F) in the next fifty years, an exaggeration by about a multiple of four. He later justified his extreme scenario because he needed to get the attention of policy-makers who were largely unaware of the “problem” of global warming.

In other words, if you can get the policymakers to perceive a crisis, you have created a “problem” for scientists to “solve.” The coffers open up. Politicians want “scientific evidence” that they are funding efforts to address their constituents “problems.”

So as a scientist you do research and conclude that greenhouse gasses are not the problem but instead it is (for example) variations in radiation from the Sun. CO2 is likely to have little significant impact. What are you going to say at the next federal funding hearings? “Good news. No significant human-caused global warming. Thank you very much but my colleagues and I don’t need your money anymore.” Not only are you de-funding yourself but also undercutting the funding for every other scientist who is studying this stuff and you are denying political powers some political ammo about “solving problems” with taxpayer money.

The way scientists advance in their fields is by publishing in peer reviewed journals. The reviewers are people who have established a track record of publication and are believed to be experts in their fields. (Their anonymity is often preserved.) They are also people who have been competing for federal funding dollars. They review an article that challenges the conventional wisdom and reject at is flawed or in some way “unscientific.” The scientific community is a relatively tight knit community and suddenly you find you can’t get any of your research published anywhere. No publication eventually means no job; or at least no advancement.

Challenges to paradigms in the late twentieth century are no longer just about science. It is also about politics and potentially destroying the livelihoods of fellow scientists with whom you must have a relationship to advance. ( Check out Climate of Fear , an article by Richard Lindzen of MIT, in the Wall Street Journal last April.)

*****

My dad was a research chemist who studied atomic energy at Oak Ridge, TN, in the 1970s. He was at the Geological Survey at the University of Illinois heading up their coal desulphurization research in the 1980s until the mid 1990s. I have been around scientists and science all my life. There is an adage that says that a marriage of science and religion soon makes religion a widow. I think it is exceedingly dangerous for Christians with influence to be unquestioningly accepting the word of a politician on of the most controversial and politicized issues of our day. Gore is trying to affect a political climate change of his own that trivializes and demonizes dissenters. As Christians we have an obligation to be good stewards of the environment but we also have an obligation to seek and promote truth. It troubles me deeply that you seem to have joined with Gore in the political climate change he is working for.

Brian said...

I am not too big a fan of algore than anyone else but I do agree that Christians, conservative and or liberal or anything in between, need to shed the notion that we can do anything we want environmentally speaking.

Christians need to be reminded of their responsibility to obey the divine command to care for the earth. It didn't just apply to Adam and Eve, it all applies to all peoples, in all cultures, in all the world.

Like the prophets of old believers are rise up and take a prophetic role in the stand against all forms of injustice, including pillaging the earth.

Amos provided a great example of this when he cried out against the injustices of Israel in his day. Like Amos we need to stand up and speak prophetically to the culture in whch we live and say "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream" (5:24-NRSV).

Obvioulsy Amos was referring mostly to issues of social equality and concern for the disadvantaged. However, I believe we need to seek protection for God's creation as well. Perhaps there are better texts than Amos but the point is we can promote "environmental justice" in a similar manner as social justice and not worship the creation over the creator.

make sense?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Randy:

I don't pretend to be an expert in these things. You however are overlooking the point I started with-- my wife is a conservative Christian scientist. And she does know what she is talking about, having been convinced by overwhelming evidence.

And may I respectfully ask what would you like your tax dollars to go to? More intractable and irresponsible wars like the one in Iraq?

I think I'd rather spend my tax dollars on problems which can at least be alleviated. And no, Al Gore's movie is not simply rhetoric, though it includes rhetoric, and it cannot be glibly dismissed in that way, nor can the problem.

Blessings,

Ben

P.S. Michael thanks for providing another point of view with some data to chew on. That's what this blog is about.

Michael W. Kruse said...

"Like the prophets of old believers are rise up and take a prophetic role in the stand against all forms of injustice, including pillaging the earth."

Brian I am all for doing everything we can to clean up our environment we live in the developing world. We need to keep pressing for new technologies.

However, according to an EPA report, from 1970-2001, our Gross Domestic Product has risen 161%, vehicle miles traveled has risen 149%, energy consumption has risen 42%, the US population has increased 39%, but aggregate emissions of the six principal pollutants has declined by 25%! By all means lets go lower but the out of control pillaging of the earth by first world corporations is not the primary issue in my estimation. It is global poverty.

People who are in poverty don’t care about environment. They care about finding food to feed themselves and their families today. The impact of their decisions on the environment is irrelevant. They need fuel for cooking and heating. Burning of wood is inefficient and pollutes. It also leads to deforestation. Deforestation leads to erosion and contamination of water supplies. About 35-40% of water in the US is too contaminated for human use and has to be processed. In developing countries it is 95% and there are no treatment plants.

It seems counterintuitive, but one of the ways to reduce pollution in some areas of China might be to build coal power plants. Power plants would generate reliable cooking and heating energy eliminating the need for wood fuel. Deforestation could be halted and reforestation started. Forests act as pollution scrubbers for the air. The net effect would be less pollution. Of course, even better would be an energy source that does not pollute as much as coal but in the interim it is the next best.

Reliable energy is a key infrastructure ingredient to generating prosperity. The World Bank estimates that pollution per capita in an impoverished area increases as prosperity increases up to a point where the average per capita income is $3,500 annually. After that, pollution goes into decline per capita. Why? Because once people have reached a certain level of stability they begin to care about their environment.

Some of the worst pollution comes from former soviet bloc nations that have antiquated equipment and no environmental protection policies due to corrupt governance that is not accountable to the people. Want to improve the environment? End global poverty and establish the rule of law. That is where I think the bulk of our justice focus needs to be.

Michael W. Kruse said...

"P.S. Michael thanks for providing another point of view with some data to chew on. That's what this blog is about."

Your welcome. BTW, did I mention I was passionate about this issue? *grin*

Ben Witherington said...

Michael:

I am confused about one thing. You admit that there is global warming. It is also undeniable that humans are responsible for a good bit of the greenhouse gases. Why then are you so passionate about trying to deconstruct a layman like Gore's attempt to alert people to the need to clean up the environment and do what they can do? This is a mystery to me.Me thinks you protesteth too much.

Ben

Brian said...

so was my comment inappropriate, bad or poor exegesis? What?

I agree that issues of conservation and care for the creation is not just a local probem but also a global problem. I also agree that global poverty is a major contributor. After spending last summer in the Philippines and a couple months in Thailand a few years ago, I am grateful for the EPA. It seemed like emissions was a non-issue in those countries at the time.

Poverty alone isn't the issue either, it is the worldview/religion as well. Secular humanism, communism, Hinuism, Buddhism and the like don't necesarily promote respect for the creation.

But then again, who am I to talk? America is/was a "Christian" nation yet is an equal or greater contributor to global environmental issues, is it not?

Look, I agree that we need to take Algore's comments with a grain of salt and respond to the truthful aspects in a Christian way, but all I was trying to say in my last comment was that as Christians I think we have a responsibility to hold our nation accountable to be more careful and I would like to add that one role missionaries have is to promote not only social justice but also "environmental justice" in the world.

Missions needs to take a more holistic approach and not just meet peoples spiritual needs but also meet their physical needs and promote responsible living.

How do I need to correct my thinking? Thanks. I do appreciate the dialogue.

Randy McRoberts said...

I don't know what to say, Dr. Witherington. I'm sure your wife is a competent scientist, as am I. Competent scientists disagree on the scale of global warming, the causes of it, the prognosis, and possible (or impossible) fixes.

I guess I'm more troubled that you have been highly influenced by this film than that you are concerned. By all accounts, the science in the film is shoddy and incomplete, angled to influence just as you have been influenced.

It's as if you had been to a talk by Bart Ehrman and had decided to give up your faith. Not on that scale, of course. I'm dumbfounded.

Henry Neufeld said...

In lieu of a trackback, I'd like to note that I quote and comment on this blog entry at Non-Expert Comments, in which I discuss the need for non-experts, particularly Christian leaders to comment on issues of this nature.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Brian: I think you are right, we go with the truthful bits of the movie, and don't allow the critque of its errors to let us off the hook of moral responsibility for the environment.

And Randy I realize there is over dramatization in the movie-- it is after all a piece of rhetoric. For me however it is the icing on the cake. It confirms something the scientific evidence had already persuaded me about. And I see it as a good tool to galvanize people, provided of course we add a 'fact-check' addition to the picture.

Blessings,

Ben

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for taking a stand on this issue. One of the main things for me on this issue is to put our "political heads" aside when we are addressing it. Like you wrote, if even a small part of what most scientists fear is true, then the consequences are far too serious for anyone--conservative or liberal--to use the same partisan logic in coming to their conclusion. On this one, way better safe than way sorry!

Rainsborough said...

Do some of those concerned about global warming make exaggerated claims as to its extent? Are their motives questionable?

Have scientists at times engaged in groupthink? Are their motives questionable?

No doubt the answers to all these questions is yes.

But fortunately science does have self-correcting mechanisms. (Wegener was in time vindicated.) These mechanisms and the scientific method are all aimed at ensuring that mere opinion, however widely shared, doesn't count so much as does the evidence itself. The only kind of argument that can be decisive must refer to the evidence, including evidence of causation.

(Here too an analogy comes to mind. For several years, the evidence that tobacco causes cancer was largely correlational. The mechanisms of causation weren't yet understood. But the correlational evidence looks pretty good now, and acting on it saved lives.)

Further, it might turn out to be the case that the alleviation of poverty militates against some policies aimed at reduction of emissions. But it should be recalled that enormous reductions in air pollution have been achieved since 1970 at much smaller cost than feared. And those who are impoverished may well be the most exposed to the deleterious effects of warming.

Michael W. Kruse said...

"It is also undeniable that humans are responsible for a good bit of the greenhouse gases."

The issue is whether these greenhouse gasses actually are responsible for the increase in temperature and if so to what degree. I don’t think I have every heard anyone deny the gases are from burning fossil fuels.

Yes the average global temperature has been increasing over the past 100-150 years but not in a linear fashion. Meanwhile, the levels of CO2 have been rising steadily through the twentieth century. The global temperature increased significantly 1910s-mid-1940s. Then the mean temperature went into decline from the 1940s-until around 1975.

I was in college in the late 1970s. The science classes I had then were talking about the impending anthropogenic ice age because of what we now call greenhouse gasses. That theory was still in contention as late as 1994 when it was presented on the cover of time magazine. Now that the temperatures have been rising since 1975, the apocalypse of global cooling has become the apocalyptic vision. I showed in my post above why there is strong financial incentive to have just such a view.

So if temperature increase is a direct result of levels of CO2 in the air why hasn’t the temperature increased in a similar linear fashion? Is there any other correlation that might explain the temperature fluctuations? Yes. Solar radiance variations.

Go to wikipedia and look at the article on Solar variation. If nothing else, look at this chart that shows the remarkable parallel between solar radiation variance and global temperature changes over the last 600 years! Solar Irradiance Model. The studies that document these findings are among the 932 studies that Gore says “didn’t deny” anthropogenic global warming! That is a technical truth but a grossly misleading statement. Those showing solar radiance correlations didn’t comment on anthropogenic global warming because it wasn’t what they were studying. Furthermore, there have been reports in scientific journals that show warming is happening on both Mars and Jupiter. Is that from our greenhouse gasses?

Where did we get the idea that the environment is a steady state entity? Global temperatures have fluctuated up or down much more rapidly and to greater extremes at other times in the past few millennia. About 14,000 years and ice age ended and as glaciers receded, they dramatically altered the landscape and wiped out species. There is a certain parochialism of the present going on here to assume that we are now immune to major natural changes in the environment.

You asked, “Why then are you so passionate about trying to deconstruct a layman like Gore's attempt to alert people to the need to clean up the environment and do what they can do?”

Because that isn’t all he is asking. At the public policy level he is seeking massive (national and international) government interventions into the world economy costing 100s of billions of dollars possibly crippling the rising global prosperity as more nations integrate into the world economy. In the meantime. I am much more concerned about ending AIDs in Africa. I am interested in finding clean water systems for developing countries where 95% of the water supply is contaminated. I am concerned the amount of sulfer dioxide in the air when, compared to our worst polluted city (New York), it is three times higher in Mexico City, three and one half times higher in Bejing, four times higher in Moscow, and five times higher in Rio de Janerio. I am concerned that places like Haiti have virtually deforested their country because they lack another energy supply.

We are called to be stewards of the earth. But the call and motivation to good stewardship needs to come from sound biblical exegesis not apocalyptic scare tactics. I don’t believe that Christians should become good environmental stewards because of global warming alarmism any more than I believe people should become Christians to avoid being left behind at the rapture. It is done out answer to a call from a loving God who values both humanity and His creation.

Al Gore made his movie and printed his book. I have gone to great lengths at my website and here to factually show why I believe he is in error. As usual in these discussions, the factual challenge is ignored. Instead, it is merely assumed I have ulterior motives. (I protest too much. *grin*) And this is precisely what Gore is hoping for! It is full fledged Bulverism.

C.S. Lewis believed that Ezekiel Bulver was the founder of twentieth century. From C. S. Lewis, God in the Docks:

“In other words [in debate], you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism. Someday I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – ‘Oh you say that because you are a man.’ ‘At that moment’, E. Bulver assures us, ‘there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism our age will thrust you to the wall.’ That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.”

(C. S. Lewis, “Bulverism,” in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, 271-277. p. 273.)

Gore’s strategy is to declare silly anyone who disagrees with him and mount up an army of followers who will uncritically do the same. He has no intention of truly informing and engaging legitimate challenges to his assertions. He just demonizes all dissenters. Bulverism.

Again, my passion about this is that Christian stewardship and environmentalism is grounded in the Word and in honest efforts to act according to truth. I reject Gore’s apocalyptic claims as unsubstantiated and I reject his Bulveristic tactics.

Michael W. Kruse said...

Rainsborough, it sounds to me like you are saying we should do what is prudent; not jumping to the assumption of an unsubstantiated apocalyptic crisis. I agree. Somewhere between neglect and declaring an apocalypse is the balance.

Ben Witherington said...

Dear Michael:

Thank you again for more information to process. I am unconvinced of your argument and here's why. That there is such a thing as solar radiance variation is not in dispute. That it accounts for much of the global warming phenomena is most certainly in dispute. Here's why.

Solar radiance in itself does not produce green house gases which in turn are trapped in the atmosphere which in turn cause global warming. We may thank the interaction of the sun with pollution for that, in particular CO2 emissions!

At the very most you could argue that solar variance affects, or has a positive correlation with the global warming. It may be one factor in the equation. That's fair enough. What you can by no means take out of the equation is the human factor and its polluting ways, something we have some control over.

Its good to know there are other factors involved, but there is one we have control over-- pollution which certainly produces greenhouse gases.

So I am all for working against the AIDS crisis, but it is a mistake to think that we should concentrate on those sort of problems and ignore what is probably a much bigger problem in the long run--- ruining the whole environment we live it.

Blessings,

Ben

Ben Witherington said...

P.S. To Michael:

A field trip to Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is very instructive. This is the tallest peak east of the Miss., over 6,000 ft. When you get above the 5,000 feet line there today, guess what happens? All the trees are dead.

Why?? Scientists from all over the world came and studied this phenomena and came up with a single answer--- pollution trapped in the atmosphere (especially pollution from a nearby major paper mill) which weakened the trees and then made them vulernable to a certain kind of beetle. The trees could not process all the CO2, nor exhale enough 02 to deal with the problem. End of trees. When the trees, and the snow at elevation all go we are in deep trouble.

Blessings,

Ben

Michael W. Kruse said...

Thanks Ben.

"Solar radiance in itself does not produce green house gases which in turn are trapped in the atmosphere which in turn cause global warming."

It is difficult to carry on this kind discussion at a technical level in a blog. I understand the assertion that these gasses are trapping the heat. The key point I want to make scientifically is that it is precisely the notion that this greenhouse gas effects global temperatures, or to what to degree it occurs, that is being challenged. There is claimed to be a consensus, or a convergence of opinions, but there is no rigorously tested model with predictive value.

The questions are being raised not just by some kook fringe but by noted scientists in climatology. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is looked to as THE authority on this topic yet the majority of them are not climatologists and climatologists are all over the map on this topic. Some argue just the reverse of what you stated. They say that it is solar radiance that is the issue and the greenhouse effects that are marginal contributors. What all this means is, we don’t really know!

Christians who are for minimal government involvement need to be cautious they don’t become deceived by corporate interests who have vested interests that are not in the public’s best interest. (As an interesting side note, Enron was a big backer of the Kyoto Accords because it would have made their natural gas more affordable relative to other fuels. Corporations come down on both sides of these issues.) On the other hand, it is important for Christians with other perspectives not to get sucked into political machinations of those who may have political agendas harmful to the economy and other public interests.

Pollution is never a good thing. Christians should be environmentally responsible at a personal level and be pressing corporations and governments for better energy options. Let us make it a high priority. But pollution is not the only stewardship question on the table. This is my central contention. Let us be truly discerning.

I agree that there are localized conditions where concentrations of pollution cause horrific effects. I am not familiar with the example you give in NC but I have been to places like Beijing and Mexico City. It is a wonder that anything lives in some of these places. I am told that the problem comes in extrapolating some of these effects of localized pollution to a planetary model. It is not as straightforward as it may seem.

I’ll leave it there. Thanks for a forum where I can air my crankiness. :)

Cynthia said...

Thank you so much for this entry.

I have been reading your blog for quite some time, but have not commented, because I did not havea blogspot account. I registered today, in order to leave this comment.

Zoned In said...

Michael...

I feel like someone who has wandered into the middle of a discussion that's been going on for some time, and am not sure I should speak up.

But one of your last paragraphs caught my eye:

"Because that isn’t all he is asking. At the public policy level he is seeking massive (national and international) government interventions into the world economy costing 100s of billions of dollars possibly crippling the rising global prosperity as more nations integrate into the world economy. In the meantime. I am much more concerned about ending AIDs in Africa. I am interested in finding clean water systems for developing countries where 95% of the water supply is contaminated. I am concerned the amount of sulfer dioxide in the air when, compared to our worst polluted city (New York), it is three times higher in Mexico City, three and one half times higher in Bejing, four times higher in Moscow, and five times higher in Rio de Janerio. I am concerned that places like Haiti have virtually deforested their country because they lack another energy supply."

This seems to be a common assumption on the part of those who would minimize climate change - responding would cost too much, would take attention away from all of the other horrific environmental needs we have, would make the poor poorer and on and on and on. I can't buy these arguments for a couple of reasons: 1. Ramping up to respond to a public crisis always creates jobs and new technologies.
2. The entire cost of responding to climate on a number of levels hardly compares with money now going down the drain in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, ...
3. Almost all of the environmental problems you cite as needing attention are closely connected to the climate situation. Reforestation in Haiti? Would tie in directly with a climate response strategy.
4. But most important of all, I have yet to see a person who is objecting to climate change actually doing anything about all of the other problems that they seem to be so concerned about... Methinks the real concern is for their own lifestyle, level of energy consumption, next car they have their eyes on, and so on.

There's more at www.careofcreation.org!

Ed Brown

Nathan said...

Ed, that doesn't really respond the substance of Michael's post. Actually, it's more of a veiled ad hominem attack, based on little or no information about Michael, his lifestyle, or his actions.

Josh S said...

They did not pass the empirical data rigor test--- not even one.

There's a professor of climatology at MIT who would dispute that. He would say that they failed to pass the "be on board with the political agenda of the editors of the major climate journals" test.

There is far more about climate we don't know than we do know. Current climate models say that as global temperature increases, we should see fewer big storms, not more. But when we get more storms (which we have always been completely unable to predict), it's global warming's fault.

is because we ask far too little of our major corporations when it comes to complying with the most basic of requests of caring about the environment

The American diesel industry alone has spent billions in reducing emissions to arbitrarily low levels, levels that their European counterparts do not have to comply with. We spend billions every year making our environment cleaner. A lot of that is wasted money that goes to reducing some engine's emissions by another .001% because do-gooder environmentalists are clueless about what the real environmental problems are.

There is a main reason why Honda and Toyota are doing so much better in the U.S. now than GM and Ford.

Yes, they don't operate union shops, have good quality reputations, and have their finger on the pulse of modern trends in style. What's that have to do with global warming?

Josh S said...

Here are two pieces by Professor Lindzen:

http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008220
http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008597