Is believing in climate change “an insult to God”?

With movements such as young-earth creationism, we certainly have seen examples of religion being shanghaied into the service of anti-science. But some recent rhetoric in opposition to environmentalism and climate change science takes the cake.

For example, E. Calvin Beisner, leader of the Cornwall Alliance (a consortium of evangelical clergy) has declared that environmental movement is “deadly to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and that believing in climate change is “an insult to God.” On November 30, 2012, in a televised discussion with his colleague Bryan Fischer, Beisner further argued that it is an affront to God to not utilize the “abundant, inexpensive and effective [fossil] fuel sources” that God has provided. He elaborated:

God buried those treasures there because he loves to see us find them and put them to use.

Fischer compared those who would curtail the deployment of these resources to the “wicked and lazy servant” in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).

Many of the groups opposed to the scientific consensus on climate change are also adamantly opposed to evolution, and the two movements (creationism and climate change denial) have, in several cases, joined forces to advance their respective causes in the political arena. For example, in 2010, legislators in Kentucky introduced a bill that would encourage teaching of “advantages and disadvantages” of evolution and global warming, among other topics. In February 2012, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill declaring that some scientific subjects, including biological evolution and global warming, can “cause controversy,” so that teachers shall be permitted to help students “critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses” of such theories.

Climate change denial also found its way into the recent 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. Several candidates announced their skepticism of global warming, even skepticism of the fact of global warming, much less the likelihood of human contribution. Ron Paul of Texas labeled global warming “the greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years.” Michele Bachmann of Minnesota dismissed fears of warming because carbon dioxide is a “natural byproduct of nature.” Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania explained his views as follows:

It’s really a beautifully concocted scheme … It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.

Even Mitt Romney, who won the Republican nomination, moved to a neutral stance, compared with the pro-environment stance he adopted as governor of Massachusetts. And although Barack Obama has stated his acceptance of the reality of global warming and has advocated clean energy, nonetheless he largely avoided the issue during the campaign, because it did not resonate with an American public obsessed with high unemployment and rising gasoline prices.

Is global warming real?

So what exactly is the scientific consensus on climate change in general and global warming in particular? How solid is the evidence? Is the situation serious?

The one-sentence answer to these questions is: yes, climate change is real, according to a vast number of scientific studies, yes, it does appear to be largely, if not exclusively, due to human activities, and yes, it does appear to a very serious situation that demands strong action by worldwide governments. This consensus was reflected in a 2010 survey of 1372 active climate scientists, which found that 97% agreed that climate change is real and that the observed effects are largely due to human activities.

There is no room here to present the reams of evidence that have mounted in the past few years, but we will briefly summarize here some reports from the past 12 months:

  1. As of December 2012, the year 2012 is on track to be the warmest year ever in the U.S., compared with records going back to 1895.
  2. The average combined global land and ocean temperature for October 2012 tied with October 2008 as the fifth warmest on record.
  3. In November 2012, researchers led by a team at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory found that “We can only match the satellite record when we add in human influences on the atmosphere,” and “we can conclude that these differences are unlikely to be due to natural causes with a high degree of certainty.”
  4. In July 2012, Richard A. Muller of U.C. Berkeley, who previously had been a leading skeptic of the science behind global warming, announced that, as a result of a detailed study of global temperatures, he now agreed not only that warming was occurring, but also that human effects were the primary cause.
  5. According to a detailed 2012 study of satellite data, the reduction in Arctic sea ice appears to have crossed a “tipping point,” so that 100% ice-free summers may soon become regular occurrences.
  6. In a March 2012 study, an international team of researchers found that the ocean is currently acidifying much more rapidly than at any point in the last 300 million years. In fact, this change is happening so fast that it raises “the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.”
  7. In June 2012, a research team warned that the Earth itself may be reaching a “tipping point” in climate change that may lead to increasingly rapid and irreversible destruction of the global environment.

Note that all of the studies and reports mentioned above date since January 2012, and yet even these are just a few of the hundreds of articles, including both peer-reviewed studies and press reports of these studies. Most such news reports are featured in well-known, widely available online news sources, such as the Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American and New Scientist, so that no one can claim refuge in ignorance.

And as for the blasphemous invocations of religion, mentioned above, in opposition to concern for protecting the fragile planet for which we are stewards, we are relieved that most of the world’s major religions do not promote such propaganda. For example, in 2007, Pope Benedict urged that bishops, scientists and politicians “respect creation” and promote “sustainable development.” In December 2012, an interfaith body of Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders announced a pact to fight global warming, declaring that “global climate change is one of the largest and most important issues facing all people.”

[This appeared on the Math Drudge blog, co-authored with Jonathan Borwein, and also in the Huffington Post.]

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