Monday, November 18, 2013

Clearer Air in Climate Change Debate

Which is getting hotter faster?

Our planet, or the debate over its warming?

We all know that the topic of climate change is based as much on politics as it is science.  For years, all over Earth, people have bickered about whether our environment's temperatures really are increasing, and if they are, whether the levels by which they're increasing are significant, and dangerous.

Which leads us to question whether or not there's anything we can do - or even should do - to try and cool down our planet.  And, if there is a role we can play, what form it should take.

Your answers to all of these questions will almost certainly reflect your politics, since liberals tend to push every panic button they can find, even if it means shutting down society as we know it.  The more conservative you are, the more skeptical you are of the science surrounding climate change, because you don't want somebody else changing your lifestyle to accommodate fluctuations in the weather.

Over in Poland, the United Nations has begun the second week of its Warsaw Climate Change Conference, convened to provide delegates from the around the world an opportunity to publicize varying perspectives on the crisis as they see it.  If, indeed, they see a crisis at all.  Australia didn't bother sending a delegation, since their new, conservative-led government is growing tired of always being vilified at these meetings.  Meanwhile, a delegate from the Philippines is staging a hunger strike during the summit because he believes Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through his country last weekend, was as powerful as it was due to negative effects of climate change caused by wealthy, Western countries.

Playing the whipping post is a rough role to sustain, and Australia isn't the only advanced country willing to risk some bad international press by turning a cold shoulder to the climate change debate.  Both Japan and Canada, two major industrial powers, have announced plans to back away from previously-announced emissions reduction plans, which in Japan's case apparently stems from its unexpected loss of its Fukushima nuclear reactors in 2011.

Tempers Tempering Degrees of Temperature

As much as impoverished Majority World leaders might like, it's unrealistic to expect developed countries to quit emitting greenhouse gasses cold-turkey, which is really what they want.  Japan, for example, is scrambling in the wake of 2011's epic earthquake and tsunami to make up for lost ground in energy production.  Besides, it's not like we have incontrovertible proof that CO2 emissions cause greenhouse gasses in the first place.  Melting glaciers is one thing, but again, how do we know glaciers don't thaw and eventually re-create themselves through some natural process?

Speaking of what we don't know, we only have several decades' worth of scientific data tracking temperatures across the globe, so while many scientists think they know how to track historic fluctuations in temperatures before reliable records were kept, there's still room for debate, isn't there?  Science may be reliable and rigorous, but it's not always right.  After all, for example, the widely-used method of determining an artifact's historic lifespan, carbon dating, still doesn't resolve every archaeological dispute.

Plus, most scientists are pretty sure there was an Ice Age, followed by at least one significant warming of Earth, so it's not like global warming hasn't happened before.  If it's just the fact that scientists can now track with ever-greater accuracy the ecological changes taking place on our planet, what makes them so sure these changes are being instigated and exacerbated by human activity?

Granted, it's not the most unlikely scenario, is it?  Let's face it:  doesn't it seem pretty logical for all of the chemicals we've been pumping into our ecosystem during the past couple of centuries to have caused at least some damage to the planet?  We can see how our air can get fouled by smoke and haze when we set a campfire, and we can smell what comes out of a car's muffler.  In particular concentrations, might the products of these chemical reactions overwhelm the natural resources with which God equipped this world?

Obviously, right now, there's more at stake for industrialized countries if climate change is real, and is caused by human activity.  After all, we don't create CO2 gasses just for the fun of it.  They're the byproduct of things we create to sell, which means that the economic model that has brought most of these chemical products to market may need to fundamentally change if global warming is as real, as bad, and will do as much harm as most scientists claim.  In that regard, it's easier for less developed countries to insist that their futures are at stake if the rest of us don't do something to reduce pollution.  However, such guilt trips by the poor towards the rich are falling on increasingly deaf ears.  Ironically, it's the same complex science doubted by conservative capitalists that liberal advocates for the ecologically disenfranchised can also misinterpret, thereby undermining their pleas.  For example, the Philippine activist on the hunger strike blames global warming for the severity of Typhoon Haiyan, but scientists have refused to blame global warming for Superstorm Sandy that raked across the New York City metropolitan area last fall.  Sometimes, big, powerful storms simply happen.

We can't even get consensus in the scientific community regarding the severity of climate change.  Most experts across scientific disciplines agree that some sort of global warming is taking place, but how that warming's warning gets interpreted depends on a scientist's specialization.  For example, in percentages ranging from the mid-80's to nearly 98%, the overwhelming number of climatologists agree not only that climate change is taking place, but that human activity is the primary cause.  Meanwhile, while they generally accept that some sort of climate change is taking place, only 36% of registered geoscientists and 30% of the American Meteorological Society's membership find global warming to be a reason for concern.

Blowing Hot and Cold

Armed with such support for climate change in theory, if not for its causality, some media outlets have even begun the unprecedented policy of refusing to run opinion editorials and letters to editors that refute climate change or mankind's involvement in it.  They do so - and fight charges of censorship by conservatives - by arguing that climate change is as provable a fact as it can get.

Surely such heavy-handedness cannot be a helpful tactic in this debate.  Stifling opinion is not necessarily a prudent way to promote another one.  Leave it to liberals to take aim at our freedom of speech when it comes to something as controversial as climate change.

But conservatives can be little better in the integrity department.  Consider, for example, the stunning claim - apparently out of nowhere - by a little-known Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, who believes that even if there is such a thing as global warming, it's blasphemy against God to suggest that mankind is causing it.

Rev. Skip Gillikin is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Weaverville, North Carolina, and recently, he wrote an op-ed to his local newspaper that has attracted a following of like-minded evangelicals.

"To claim that humans have significantly contributed to supposed climate change is an audacious demeaning of the character of God," Gillikin claims in his editorial.  "This constitutes a serious moral act, as one day all will give account to the God who is not mocked."

Now, considering that we live in an approximation of a free republic, the good reverend is allowed to be skeptical about the legitimacy of climate change, although it must be said that glaciers don't usually melt of their own accord.  Does he have another explanation other than the obvious:  that glaciers, like all ice, melts faster the warmer its ambient temperature is?

Nevertheless, none of us earn any credibility by ignoring the facts.  Something is happening to the glaciers, and experts say our ocean levels are indeed rising, so even if you don't want to call it "global warming," nature appears to be reacting negatively to some recently-introduced stimulus.  Aside from the economic implications of the CO2 question, what's wrong with considering all of the options that present themselves?  And if we humans are generating too much pollution, isn't that the moral problem here?

After all, God did create this world.  In fact, yes; God created life.  So is it blasphemy to say He allows people to die, or be aborted, or otherwise murdered?  Is it blasphemy to say He allows car accidents, heart bypass surgeries, cancer, mental illnesses, birth defects, or the need for one's arms or legs to be amputated?  In all of these things, God's original created order is amended, adjusted, fixed, or otherwise changed by mankind.

Yes, our sovereign God knows about His humans' penchant for pollution, and while I remain a skeptic of the extent of the impact our human activity has on long-term environmental problems,  where's the immorality in wondering if smog, a scientific fact, isn't damaging the ozone He created?  We pollute our waterways, so where's the immorality in pointing out that God's creation wasn't designed to purge itself so we can have clean drinking water even though we dump raw sewage and lethal chemicals into it?  Even in Japan, with the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, will God grant you a dispensation for you to go live safely next to those reactors to prove that mankind cannot destroy Creation?

God has given us brains for a reason.  And one of those reasons is for us to take responsibility for our sins.  There is a sinister ideology popular among some evangelicals that takes "rule and subdue" to reckless, rude, ungrateful, abusive, and unsustainable lengths regarding the natural resources with which God has blessed us.  Isn't the sin not in claiming that God's creation can be damaged by mankind, but refusing to acknowledge how we can take His good gifts to us for granted?

Evangelicals, of all people, should understand that we suffer from this pervasive, destructive thing in our world called sin.  In fact, our sin is why Christ came to Earth to die.  Sin is why we have cancer, why doctors need to perform amputations, and why the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught on fire in 1969.  And maybe sin is why we're experiencing global warming.

How can saying it's a sin to acknowledge a sin advance the cause of rational debate over our ecology?

Now, speaking of facts, and sin, if we're going to argue that climate change scientists are disproportionately picking on the United States, and not focusing on countries like China, where pollution is rampant, or the United Arab Emirates, where per capita, each person in their water-starved, air-conditioned playground is more dangerous to our planet than any American, then have at it.  America is not innocent when it comes to pollution, but it should not be expected to shoulder an unfair burden when it comes to paying the costs of our planet's industrial excess.

As it is, Gillikin does have it right when he says that God has climate change under control.  To whatever degree we humans are responsible for whatever negative changes His creation is currently undergoing, none of it has caught Him off-guard.  Indeed, He's given us not only the entrepreneurial ability to create pollution, but He's given us the intelligence to work on solutions for it.  We get injured, and doctors can usually stitch us back together.  Such intelligence works on our physical bodies; maybe it will work on our physical plant, our Earth.

And the plants on our physical plant.

After all, if nature was ours to exploit, shouldn't we be glad previous generations didn't believe that?  Otherwise, in what kind of environment would we be living today?

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