One the hottest topics in the news at present is climate change. Scientists have got the politicians talking, and conferences on climate change are in progress around the world. Al Gore is recruiting an army of messengers to spread the bad news of climate change. The community is being divided. People are being labelled as sceptics if they do not believe the ‘consensus’ view.
When I studied science, facts were established by reproducible experimentation so there were no ‘sceptics’. When we hear this word we stop and ask ‘are we still talking about science?’ We also reflect on the last time such language was used. Some one hundred years ago people who did not believe in evolution were labelled ‘sceptics’.
What are the facts in relation to climate change? We should firstly distinguish between climate and weather. Weather is what we experience from day to day regarding temperature, rainfall, cloud, wind and so on. We know how changeable the weather can be. Climate is the average of these phenomena over time – be it a year or many years. There is much spatial variation in climate. Some places have a tropical (warm) climate and other places a temperate (cool) climate, some places are wet and others dry. Each place has its seasons – there is summer and winter, or a wet season and a dry season.
What’s in the Bible?
With regard to seasons, it is written in the Bible that these will not cease while the earth remains (Genesis 8:22). God intervened in the days of Noah to change the seasons. He made it rain continuously for over a month and a great flood covered the whole earth for a year. Sea levels rose dramatically at that time and there was great destruction. But afterwards God promised there would never again be a flood to destroy the whole earth (Genesis 9:11). We can be confident that there will never again be a worldwide flood. Those who do not believe in God are not so sure these days. People are worried about refugees from tropical islands, or their expensive real estate by the sea, if not about their own life. So the cry goes up ‘we must stop climate change’.
In the days of Elijah there was no rain in the land for three and a half years. When Elijah prayed to God, the heavens gave rain and the earth produced its fruit (James 5:18). Moses told the people of Israel that if they failed to keep his covenant he would curse them by, among other things, withholding the rain (Deuteronomy 28:23f). Our land is experiencing a severe drought at present. Many link this drought with climate change – few link it with God. God of course sends rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45), but the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the Creator God has power to control the rain, and the wind. Did not Jesus stop the wind by his word?
While we are looking at the Bible let us remember that God made the sun which regulates all climates. The sun is the source of heat for planet earth. Some years ago scientists were worried that as the sun slowly burns up, the earth may cool. Maybe the greenhouse effect will compensate for such cooling! One day God will bring an end to the sun and the whole universe. The heavens will pass away, the Bible says (Matthew 24:35, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelations 21:1).
What Science Says?
‘We are in the middle of the worst drought for over a thousand years’ one politician said. ‘Wait a minute’ I thought, ‘we have had our bicentennial but when were our millennium celebrations’. Who was recording droughts a thousand years ago? Of course there are ways of projecting back into history, but we must draw a clear distinction between actual verifiable records and so called ‘proxy’ records. Remember carbon fourteen dating and the assumptions surrounding this method of dating rocks and fossils.
As I write this ‘blog’, cold winds have dropped the temperature to the coldest on record for this day of the year – so the meteorologist says. We are very interested in records these days. Global records of temperature only go back to about 1860. Not all of those records are reliable, but it is possible to remove most that are spurious. Still there is the tendency to record temperatures where people live, giving an urban bias. Yet the literature is full of graphs going back thousand of years. These are based on proxy measurements from ice cores, tree rings and the like.
Phillip Stott from the University of London states,
what has been forgotten in all discussion about global warming is a proper sense of history.
Some say there have been periods of global warming in the past, just as there was an ice age. The Bible gives us a very good sense of history, history from the perspective of the God who in the beginning created the earth, separating the dry land from the sea. God made the mountains, the seas, and the forests, all of which affect the climate. The data from direct measurements shows that average global temperatures increased 0.6 +/- 0.2°C during the last century. This is the average. Some places actually show a temperature decrease. At many places in the world people might welcome a small increase in temperature. How much heating oil would be saved if temperatures in Canada increased? Direct measurements everyone accepts, but then the question comes ‘why?’
Why is the temperature increasing, and will it keep on increasing? If CO² levels are plotted on the same graph as temperature they follow the same trends over time. Direct measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide on a global scale only go back to 1958. The industrial revolution is blamed for increasing CO² level in the atmosphere. It is interesting that some years ago plant physiologists sought to promote plant growth by increasing CO² levels. Crops and trees grow faster when the CO² concentration is higher.
Deforestation has exacerbated this increase in CO² because there are fewer trees to absorb the CO² produced in the combustion of fossil fuels. For many years tree planting has been encouraged to reduce erosion and soil degradation. Recently data from the UN suggests that deforestation has slowed globally to just 2% p.a., and that it would be stable apart from two countries. This is to be commended. We have a divine mandate to be wise stewards of this earth that the Lord has given to man (Psalm 115:16).
Linking the facts of science together is where the difficulty comes. The question of cause and effect; how are global temperatures related to global CO² levels. From the carbon cycle we know how CO² levels could increase. We also know that gases in the atmosphere stop long wave radiation escaping from the earth’s surface – the greenhouse effect. But there are many other factors to consider (like water vapour and other gases), making a direct linkage between temperature and CO² a ‘consensus opinion’ rather than a ‘conclusive fact’.
This is where the word ‘sceptic’ gets introduced. If the ‘consensus’ of the experts is that CO² has caused the rise in temperatures, then some think it becomes a ‘fact’. Dr Naomi Oreskes quoted in the SMH (16/11/06) found that none of the 928 papers she reviewed disagreed with the consensus position. Remember how we were, and still are told that since the consensus of the experts is that man came from monkeys, and that the earth is billions of years old, then it is ‘scientific fact’.
People want to know the future so they extrapolate the temperature graph into the future. The result is dramatic. The earth could be 5°C warmer in 50 years. That would mean sea levels would rise by 5m or more, depending on who you ask. But the consensus is that we can stop this predicted temperature rise. At last man can control the climate. We can avert our own demise through drought and floods and storms and overheating. This ‘consensus’ view remember is that CO² is causing global temperatures to rise. Therefore we can and must stop CO² levels from rising. This is the doomsday call from many today, from people who cannot see beyond life on this earth. This is the call to arms to all mankind to fight against the elements that threaten our existence.
Those who don’t heed this call are condemned as sceptics. Those who say ‘we should be responsible before God to manage his creation wisely’ are rejected. Those who say ‘let us not exploit and waste the earth’s resources for this is not pleasing to God’ are ridiculed. Those who say ‘God made this earth and he is in control’ are shouted down.
The Word of God says there will be famines and earthquakes, along with wars and rumours of wars, as the end approaches (Matthew 24:7). The whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs (Romans 8:22), not because man lacks knowledge about the earth and it’s climate, but because he lacks knowledge about God and refuses humble himself before God in repentance for his sin.