Thursday, November 25, 2010

Saving the Bible from climate change

Representative John Shimkus has drawn attention to the role that Christian theology can play in the climate change debate. My sources of information are a Huffington Post article, which is based on a Toronto Star article by Cathal Kelly.

In a 2009 hearing, Shimkus cited God's promise to Noah:
“Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”

(Interestingly, Jerry Falwell's 2007 sermon on climate change quoted the same passage. ) Here's Shimkus' analysis, from the Star article:
“I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for his creation,” Shimkus said. "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood," Shimkus asserted. "I do believe that God's word is infallible, unchanging, perfect."

I for one, do believe that the bible is infallible, unchanging, perfect. My problem is that he sets up the bible to be disproved by events in history. Shinkus took the trouble to cite this scriptural passages to say that the bible refutes global warming alarmism. That is a very fair assessment of his purpose in citing Scripture.

Okay, what is global warming alarmism? It is that due to anthropogenic gas pollution, the earth will experience radical, geographic shifts in its zones of agricultural productivity, and experience massive local flooding (just the low lying areas of the planet, not "the earth" as in the flood of Noah). Can anyone point to me a major green organization, a citation from the ICCP, or Science or Nature that says more? I'd like to see it!

Now the question is whether the earth has already suffered cases of massive local flooding, or radical shifts in zones in agricultural productivity due to weather changes? The suffering of the Bangladeshi people due to flooding is all too well known. It's already happening. Global warming alarmism is that more parts of the earth will experience flooding, not that the entire planet will be underwater. Greenpeace just released a statement saying,
"In an extreme runaway scenario, a complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet would add 7 metres to the world’s oceans, and a complete melting of the Antarctic sheet would add 60 metres. Those scenarios would require a massive restructuring of human civilisation as we know it. However, even a one-to-two metre rise in sea level will inundate certain port cities, islands, atolls, flood deltas and coastal plains, obliterate vulnerable species and displace millions of people.

Now let's look at seedtime and harvest. Has the weather either starved people or caused massive local suffering? How about the Irish potato famine (blamed on increased rainfall & cool weather that led to blight), and the American Dustbowl (blamed on a drought) being but two examples. And as one of my conservative friends pointed out, even during the Irish famine, the country was a net exporter of food. So we had massive suffering due to loss of agricultural productivity, but no "end to seedtime and harvest".

I would also note that the promise in Genesis 8 speaks to what God Himself would not do, not what people can do to themselves.

As I see it, there are five possibilities:
  1. The Bible (or at least Genesis 8) is fallible and has been completely disproven by multiple events in history, OR
  2. God breaks his promises, OR
  3. Our recollection of human history is wrong, because the bible is true. Those Irish immigrants to the United States were lying to us about conditions back home. OR
  4. There is a significant portion of the green movement that is saying the earth will lose all its agricultural productivity and be completely flooded, like to the top of Mount Ararat (and I just haven't been listening), OR
  5. Shinkus is engaged in three sins: One is a misrepresentation of what green activists and climate scientists have actually said. The second is setting up the reliability of the Word of God to be mocked by people who read the newspaper. The third is tacking "and the bible is infallible" to the end of his political opinions.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tea Party versus Reality

First, let me digress a bit with a talk about how difficult it can be to get a firm grasp on some political questions. For example, I have heard (or heard of) two different interviews with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in the past year or so. From my memory, in the two talks, Greenspan gave completely different philosophies on taxes and government deficit spending. What is Greenspan's view on deficit spending? Why did I perceive two different opinions? Well, I might have heard him incorrectly one or both times; Greenspan might have misspoken or he changed his mind; he himself might not have sufficiently developed his own opinions in order to realize the contradictions. Or I might not know enough about economics to comprehend a highly nuanced theory. Furthermore, what does it matter what Greenspan's opinions are? Will knowledge that Greenspan himself weighed in on one side or the other of this issue immediately change any partisans' minds? Probably not. So, to a large degree, political questions of this type may be "unknowable" or hopelessly intractable.

I might not know much about economics, but I know a thing about how cold I've been over the past twenty years, and in twenty years of discussion with friends and family members about how cold it was for them across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I know that it's gotten warmer since 1973, by my own direct observation. If however scientists were able to come up with a scientific explanation that says I was wrong in my direct observations, I probably should listen. But they haven't.

What if I were to consult the scientific consensus and it were to confirm my own personal observation that the earth (and the Eastern Seaboard) were in fact warming, AND political activists of a certain political persuasion tell me that the earth is cooling? How likely is that the political activists would be right, and my personal observations are wrong, and the compiled scientific data are also wrong? I think it's pretty unlikely.

This is my response to a poll by the Pew Research Center on climate change. They asked all kinds of questions related to policy decisions, and I don't care about that. I did not quote any policy-related poll data below. Maybe the question of what is the best policy is another unanswerable, intractable question. Similarly, the poll says that there's about a 20% of the populate across the board who believe that the earth is warming, but it's not due to human pollution. Fair enough: it's interesting that this one view does not correlate to any political orientation. But is anyone in the room stubbornly denying reality itself? I think it's pretty obvious here.

What is completely alarming is the response to the question of whether the earth were warming at all. The poll answers here show an amazing sensitivity to political affiliation. Seventy percent of Tea Party Republicans believe that there is no warming. Fourteen percent of Democrats have the same denial of reality. This is sad. If you're completely wrong, most likely denying your own observation of reality, on one point, how many other points can you be wrong on?

Global Warming Poll, originally uploaded by pterandon.