US Evangelicals push back against global warming doom

Correction appended

WASHINGTON – A group of evangelicals, comprised of scientists, economists and theologians, said the mainstream view of pending catastrophe caused by climate change is exaggerated. They made the claim at an event Thursday just days ahead of a key UN-sponsored climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The evangelical scholars argued that science, contrary to what many leading scientists claim, does not support the claim that increased CO2 in the atmosphere is having a negative effect on the earth. Rather, no one currently really understands clearly how the earth is responding to the increase in the greenhouse gas, they say.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding about science,” said Dr Roy Spencer, climatologist and principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, at The Heritage Foundation-hosted event.

Spencer said there are two parts to science, measurements and interpretation of the measurements.

“I think people think that science is as simple as making measurements,” Spencer said. “[But] believe it or not most scientists – probably all the scientists I know that work in climate change – do have religious views about the earth and how fragile it is and that colors their research and how they interpret data.”

He pointed to the recent leaked e-mails by the world’s top climate scientists that suggest they have manipulated data to support their claim of the threat of global warming. Spencer said he believes those scientists did so because they are “true believers” that the earth is fragile.

“These scientists are absolutely convinced that we are destroying the environment,” Spencer said, “that mankind has caused all the global warming that we have seen …They believe it is serious and the way they look at it – all data, all measurements, there are errors in the data – is that all the errors in the data are not showing the warning.”

He continued, “So it is reasonable to analyze the data in ways that maximise the warning signal. I’m thinking this is the way they are thinking and that it’s ok in their eyes. I think they are blinded by their worldview, which is global warming is due to mankind.”

The evangelical climatologist says he has been researching the earth’s feedbacks to increased CO2 in the atmosphere – which he calls the “biggest missing piece” in the climate change puzzle – for the past few years.

He agrees that CO2, a greenhouse gas, is increasing in the atmosphere and that it is largely due to human activities. The question, however, is how is the climate system responding to the little increase in warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he noted, agrees the direct warming from the greenhouse gases is small. The difference is how big an impact is the warming having on the climate system.

Based on his research so far, Spencer said there will be some warming because of increased CO2 but he thinks the impact on the climate will be small.

“I don’t think anyone has any clue on how much quantitatively that warming is going to be until we understand feedbacks,” he said.

But he noted that when he did see clear feedbacks it has always been “very negative”.

In other words, if the feedbacks we've been getting are the kind that will continue over the next few decades, then we have nothing to worry about, Spencer said. “It also means most of the warming that we have seen in the last 50 to 100 years is mostly natural.”

Spencer was part of a panel that included Dr E Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation; Dr Charles van Eaton, retired chairman of the economics department at Hillsdale College in Michigan; and Dr Craig Mitchell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.

Republican Senator James Inhofe also made a brief appearance where he called the global warming claims the “biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Inhofe, known to be a vocal opponent of the mainstream climate change view, commented that the smartest thing the “liberals” did was to try to “divide and conquer” the evangelical community. He specifically pointed out the disagreements he and the more conservative evangelicals have with Richard Cizik, former vice president of governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals.

Inhofe criticised Cizik for following a liberal agenda such as supporting population control. Several other leaders of the panelists also blasted Cizik, who is considered the representative of the green evangelical movement, for promoting the idea of impending doom due to global warming.

Last month, Cizik and Harvard scientist Eric Chivian led a team of evangelical leaders and secular scientists to meet with the White House and Congressional offices to voice shared concern about finding solutions to the climate change problem.

Cizik, who has received heat from conservative Christians for working with liberal scientists on the climate change issue, talked about his experience witnessing ecological destruction of creation caused by climate change in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the desertification of the Sahara desert at a recent press briefing.

“We can all pretend these things aren’t happening,” Cizik had said. “Anyone who has not discovered the truth about global warming has not sought the truth in the right places.”

In an e-mail to The Christian Post, Cizik also responded to Inhofe’s allegations of his support of population control by explaining that a few years ago at the World Bank he had addressed a question about whether evangelicals would take on the issue of the rapidly rising population in the world. To that question, he said he had responded that it was “too hot to handle” at the time and still believes it is too controversial now for evangelicals to get into unless there are clearer facts and terms.

He also recalled saying that “evangelicals do not oppose contraception per se, unlike many Catholics, who practice only natural family planning methods”.

Cizik noted in the e-mail that he does not support abortion as a method of “population control”.

“I have been an unapologetic pro-lifer for decades,” Cizik stated, noting that he has a history of opposing China’s “one-child” policy. “But I also believe that access to legitimate family planning, not abortion services, is an abortion-reduction strategy.”

Though speakers on Thursday went off on a tangent criticising Cizik, their main purpose was to disprove the mainstream view of impending global warming doom and to sound the alarm on how proposed climate policies, especially cap and trade, would devastate the world’s poor.

Southern Baptist theologian Craig Mitchell had opened the event by denouncing the cap and trade legislation – a pollution control policy that sets a limit or cap on the amount of pollutants that can be emitted – as “immoral” because it would do serious harm to the world’s poor without guaranteeing that global warming would decrease.

Meanwhile, economist Charles van Eaton said the cap and trade idea would create a “perverse” market, noting that a market arises spontaneously and the policy would benefit a few but at the expense of the majority.

Panelist E Calvin Beisner further explained why the poor would be harmed by the global warming policies by saying that the proposed solutions would raise the cost of energies that emit CO2, resulting in higher costs for the poor to use electricity, for instance.

Beisner shared about a time several years ago when he was on a radio programme with an emergent church leader who supports global warming regulations. Beisner said he had expressed that the poor in sub-Saharan Africa need electricity for their homes.

“And to my enormous shock his reaction was, ‘Oh no, that is the last thing they need. They don’t need refrigeration, they don’t need air conditioning and those sort of things because all that will do is promote more global warming',” Beisner recalled.

“I was astounded because for lack of electricity in their homes, the average woman in sub-Saharan Africa spends six to eight hours a day gathering sticks and dung, carrying them back to her hut, then plasters the dung outside her hut so it can dry in the sun. And then she burns those sticks and dry dung in a little open fire inside her hut to cook her food and heat the hut in cold weather.”

Beisner went on to raise concern about the adverse health effects of the smoke to women and children who spend the most time in the hut breathing in the smoke that causes respiratory problems, such as tuberculosis.

“Every year that we delay the electrification of those homes, we have condemned those people to more such deaths,” he said.

The vocal spokesperson against global warming then asked the audience how many hours they spent gathering energy a day.

“The drive to suppress the use of fossil fuels in order to reduce CO2 emissions is, I believe, morally unconscionable,” Beisner asserted.

In response to the ideas presented, Alexei Laushkin, a spokesperson for the Evangelical Environmental Network, a group that advocates for actions and polices that protect the environment, told The Christian Post after the event that the EEN, though it disagrees with the panelists on some points, agrees that it is the role of evangelicals to speak on behalf of the poor on whatever climate change policies are proposed.

The issue of climate change, including all the ramifications of capping emissions and providing aid to help developing countries adapt, will take center stage next week in Copenhagen, Denmark, where world leaders, including President Obama, will gather to discuss the issue.

Correction: Saturday, December 5, 2009:

An article on Friday, December 4, 2009, about a group of evangelicals and their views on climate change incorrectly attributed the word “hoax” to the evangelical scholars. Sen. James Inhofe was the only one to use the word “hoax.” Other speakers talked about scientists misleading the public to believe in pending catastrophe due to global warming.