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Probe Ministries > Faith and Science > Environment > The Complex Realities Behind Global Warming


The Complex Realities Behind Global Warming Print E-mail


Dr. Ray Bohlin

Written by Dr. Ray Bohlin

Is the Earth Warming?

Global warming is a very controversial and complicated topic. A few years ago I addressed my growing concerns about how certain scientists and the media were only telling part of the story.{1} I have hesitated to go further with a critique with what has become a global warming scare campaign because I wanted to be sure before getting overly critical.

Unfortunately, because of controversies over origins, embryonic stem cell research, the lack of solid information about sexually transmitted diseases for young people, and other issues, the Christian community has been given a tag of being anti-science. We are somehow afraid of science because it has the potential of arguing against the idea of a truly supernatural God.

As one trained in the disciplines of science, this reputation grieves me. I love science and nature. I always have. I studied ecology as an undergraduate and early in my graduate studies. I was a member of SECS, Students for Environmental Concerns, at the University of Illinois. I recycle my newspapers, plastic, aluminum, and tin cans and glass. I have always driven a fuel efficient vehicle.

As I grew as a believer I read Francis Schaeffer's Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology. In those pages, I saw that only a Christian environmental ethic could supply a real and workable framework for environmental action while still respecting man's unique position as being made in the image of God and man's place as God's steward of Creation. One time I even represented evangelical Christians on a panel at a meeting of environmental journalists. They were genuinely cordial and very curious about how a conservative evangelical could even have concerns about the environment.

But I could still find many points of agreement with the more secular environmental movement. Therefore, I have hesitated to criticize what has become a primary issue for the environmental movement until I was more up to date on the facts. My basic point about global warming is that there is much more controversy about what the data is telling us than what is usually communicated to the public.

The one thing just about everybody agrees with is that the earth has warmed about one degree Fahrenheit or a half degree Celsius since 1900. The controversy revolves around what has caused that increase, what its effects will be, and whether the steep increase in global temperature, especially since the 1970s, will continue to escalate out of control.

But is it realistic to think such escalation will continue? Does the data really predict such an extreme? Can computer models be that accurate?

If the Earth Is Warming, Are Humans Responsible?

As I noted above, just about everyone is convinced the earth has warmed by about one degree Fahrenheit since the year 1900. That doesn't sound particularly ominous. But some computer models suggest that global temperatures could increase by five to ten degrees Celsius or nine to eighteen degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100!

That sounds like a very unattractive possibility. But is it real? The engine that really drives the global warming freight train is not just the fact that the earth has warmed over the last century but the suspected cause. Those who support a radical view of global warming, such as former Vice President Al Gore, believe that the warming is due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The increase in carbon dioxide is caused by humans burning too many fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal.

So how much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is too much? In 1958, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were 315 parts per million (ppm). In 2008, fifty years later, carbon dioxide had risen to 385 ppm, about a twenty percent increase. Carbon dioxide is referred to as a greenhouse gas. That means that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs energy from the sun and radiates it back out as heat. Therefore, the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it becomes.

That would seem to say that increased carbon dioxide means a warmer atmosphere. But how much heat carbon dioxide accounts for is hotly debated among scientists. Some say it's the major cause of global warming; others say it probably has little effect. There has been a little reporting that the earth cooled slightly after 1998, and that the earth's temperature has stabilized for the last ten years. In fact, from January 2007 to May 2008, the earth cooled by a full degree Fahrenheit.{2} Yet, CO2 levels have continued to rise! Something seems backwards.

Australian climate scientist David Evans used to solidly believe that there was a large role for carbon dioxide in the global warming scenario. But Evans then looked at the data independently. He summed up his research by saying, "There is no evidence to support the idea that carbon emissions cause significant global warming. None."{3} The data has completely changed his mind.

Besides, the earth has warmed and cooled significantly in the last two thousand years without any human interference.{4} The Medieval Warming Period from AD 900 to AD 1300 was warmer than today (which, incidentally, was a period of great economic expansion, demonstrating that the alarmist claims that global warming will ruin the economy are groundless).

If the Earth Is Warming, What Will Be the Consequences?

As I have said earlier, the earth has warmed slightly over the last century. Some have even pointed to 1998 as the warmest year on record. Although a re-analysis of the data questions that conclusion, the 1990s was still a very warm decade compared to any other decade in the century.

But what if the temperatures continue to rise? Perhaps the most common projection is of wildly rising sea levels. The 2001 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report suggested sea levels could rise as much as two to three feet by the year 2100. Many of our coastal cities and wetlands would be inundated.

But what does the data show? First, sea levels have been rising steadily since the last ice age over eleven thousand years ago. The melting of the vast continental glaciers caused significant sea level increases. Second, over the last hundred and fifty years, sea levels have increased by about six inches every one hundred years. Third, many scientists see no reason that this rate will change significantly this century or the next. Reports of Indian Ocean or Pacific Ocean islands being inundated by rising sea levels just don't stand up to investigation.

Venice has been succumbing to rising sea levels for over a hundred years. But the problem is not just rising sea levels.{5} The land mass that the city of Venice rests on has also been sinking for decades due the weight of the city and the unstable ground underneath.

Many glaciers are retreating, and that could cause sea levels to rise. But some glaciers are growing and advancing. While one portion of Antarctica has warmed, most of the continent is cooling and the ice mass is growing. The realities are more complex that we are being told.

Another major projection is that storms will be increasing in frequency and intensity. This has usually been applied to hurricanes, especially after the destructive storms, Katrina and Rita, in 2005. But again something curious went underreported. Hurricane forecasters were predicting another harsh hurricane season in 2006 and 2007.

But neither of these years panned out that way. Both were relatively quiet with fewer and less intense storms. The peer reviewed journal Natural Hazards focused an entire issue on this question in 2003, and experts from across the climate fields found no reason to expect storms of any variety to increase in intensity or frequency.{6}

There are also positive benefits of warming and increased carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide and increasing temperatures are good for plants. Vegetation has increased by six percent globally from 1982 to 1999. We forget that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is a necessary fertilizer for plants.

If the Earth Is Warming, What Should We Do About It?

Because of all this, I conclude that, at the very least, the evidence for anything resembling a catastrophic global warming due the increase of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is remote at best. Certainly the earth is warming, but at a very slow rate. The warming is likely due to a well observed cycle of warming and cooling that occurs about every fifteen hundred years.{7} This cyclical trend is probably due to cycles in the sun's intensity over this same period of time.

But those who are pushing a more alarming scenario of catastrophic global warming demand drastic action. Since many have concluded that the major component to the warming has been human produced carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, they unsurprisingly want to curtail the use of fossil fuel. The now infamous Kyoto Protocol has called on the major developed countries to curtail their carbon emissions due to fossil fuels to seven percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010, only two years away. But increasing levels of technology have increased our demand for electricity. This means we would need to reduce our emissions by twenty-three percent of today's levels.{8} Needless to say, cutting our fossil fuel use by nearly one quarter would be catastrophic to our economy.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar should be a part of our energy future, but they will always be intermittent. Storing and transporting these energy sources will continue to be expensive. Current costs indicate these power sources are four to ten times as expensive as fossil fuels.

Economic forecasting groups estimate that Kyoto will cost the U.S. economy between 200 and 300 billion dollars per year. Over two million jobs will disappear and the average household will lose $2,700 each year.{9} These enormous economic costs will be hardly noticed in households making six figure salaries. The largest impact of increasing energy costs will be largely felt by low and middle income families. The combined costs of electricity and gasoline will drive even more below the poverty line and force small businesses into bankruptcy.

The worst part of this economic news is that the actual gain in lowered global temperatures will be hardly noticeable. The U.N. itself admits that even full compliance with Kyoto will only result in a 0.2 degree Centigrade slowing of global warming by 2047.

There are numerous other scientific, economic, and political problems with alarming scenarios of human caused global warming. Check the additional resources at the end of this article to get better informed about this crucial issue.

What Is a Christian Environmental Ethic?

To summarize: First, the likelihood that the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for this warming is very small and growing smaller. Second, the evidence is increasing that this period of warming is not unusual in the earth's history. Third, the warming trend has stalled over the last decade as carbon dioxide levels have continued to increase. Fourth, even if the burning of fossil fuels has contributed significantly to this one-hundred-year warming trend, the proposed remedy of cutting back drastically on our use of fossil fuels would cost hundreds of billions of dollars every year and dramatically affect the worldwide economy and trap even more people in poverty for little or no reduction in the rate of warming.

And last but not least, over 30,000 scientists, 9,000 of them with Ph.D.s, have signed a statement rejecting the claim that "human release of greenhouse gases is damaging our climate."{10} There is no consensus in the scientific community about human-caused global warming.

I have a growing suspicion that global warming alarmism is simply a tool to bring about a redistribution of wealth from rich to poor countries, gain higher levels of government regulation, energize and empower the extreme environmental movement, and to impose an unnecessary lifestyle designed to drastically reduce the impact of humanity on the earth.

What this perspective reveals is an environmental policy based on a naturalistic worldview. The earth is viewed as a place where all manner of species have evolved through natural process and no one species has preference over another. The earth "belongs" to all species. Humans, therefore, are just another species, whose negative impact on the earth far outweighs its presence or numbers. Correcting this imbalance vetoes any concerns about human welfare and prosperity.

But from a Christian worldview, we learn that the earth belongs to God as Creator, and by His decree we have been given stewardship of this creation. But as human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, human welfare arises as an equally valid priority. We can't callously disregard the poor and human welfare in general to satisfy a politically motivated call for environmental action based on skewed science. Check the additional resources below to help you find your way through the minefield of conflicting evidence, rhetoric, and opinion.

Notes

1. Dr. Ray Bohlin, "Global Warming," www.probe.org/faith-and-science/environment/global-warming.html.
2. wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com/2008/06/03/uah-global-temperature-dives-in-may/ accessed September 12, 2008.
3. David Evans, www.theaustralian.news.com.aU/storv/Q.25197.24036736-7583.00.html accessed September 3, 2008.
4. On top of that, ice core data from various places around the world now confirm that carbon dioxide levels have risen as the temperature rises well before humans could have had any worldwide impact. More precise measurements indicate that the rise in carbon dioxide trails the rise in temperatures by several hundred years. Climate specialists speculate that as the atmosphere and oceans increase in temperature, the oceans release more of their dissolved carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So in the past, rising temperatures has caused the rise in carbon dioxide, not the other way around.
5. Ibid, p. 161-171.
6. Natural Hazards 29, No. 2 (June 2003).
7. S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008).
8. Ibid., 60.
9. Acton Institute, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, Mich./Acton Institute, 2007), 92-93.
10. Melinda Zosh, "31,000 Signatures Prove 'No Consensus' About Global Warming," Accuracy in Media, www.aim.org/briefing/31000-signatures-prove-no-consensus-about-global-warming/. May 22, 2008.

Additional Resources

www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/read/an-open-letter-to-the-signers-of-climate-change-an-evangelical-call-to-action-and-others-concerned-about-global-warming/

www.cornwallalliance.org/docs/a-call-to-truth-prudence-and-protection-of-the-poor.pdf

www.we-get-it.org

Singer, S. Fred, and Dennis T. Avery. Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, New York, 2007, (especially page 260).

Acton Institute, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Grand Rapids, Mich./Acton Institute, 2007, (especially page 119).

Driessen, Paul. Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death. Bellevue, Wash./ Free Enterprise Press, 2003-2004, (especially page 182)

Schaeffer, Francis A. Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology. Wheaton, Ill./ Tyndale House Publishers, 1970, (especially page 125)

© 2008 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Dr. Ray BohlinRaymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

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