Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

An Appeal To Those Concerned But Not Yet Alarmed About Climate Change

According to a recent study done at Yale University only 13% of Americans are alarmed about anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming (AGW), while on the other end of the spectrum 10% are adamantly dismissive and another 15% are at least doubtful about it. Interestingly, the majority of Americans are either concerned (26%) or cautiously concerned (29%) about the theory. If the political culture of my home state is any indication, the deniers in Utah and in mainstream Mormon political culture have the loudest voices and the biggest stages in which to air their views, and I believe this is squeezing out the majority in this state and in our community of faith who, perhaps with more moral clarity and better information, would choose to act to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

Now I must confess: I clearly belong in the most worried category. Some might call me an “alarmist” which, of course, is not a compliment. But I think the word “alarmist” is supposed to describe someone who overreacts to or distorts information for the sake of raising fears. You know the old story about Chicken Little and the sky falling. But you also know the humorous but profound bumper sticker that says, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” In other words, alarmism is only alarmism when it is based on false information or premises. Otherwise, it is what we would call moral urgency.

I fully recognize, of course, that deniers relish their minority position; it is, in their minds, a badge of honor. A stubborn minority position can be virtuous, of course, but this is only true if the mainstream is wrong. Otherwise, it is simply moral turpitude. Indeed, if a minority opinion is wrong and yet it is unyielding; if it has access to power but refuses to examine evidence honestly, especially if said evidence requires shifting relations of power in society; if citizens and leaders who today have unprecedented access to information still refuse to listen to responsible sources or to move society in the direction it needs to go in, then this is a moral failure.

I suppose like most people, I believe I am highly rational, even when I am not. But in my most rational moments, I recognize that political ideology gets in the way of my capacity to interpret data. So we must accept the fact that political ideology colors our world a certain way or it predisposes us to believe or disbelieve certain theories, but this is not an excuse to bypass the responsibility to assess information as honestly as we can. I am not using good moral judgment, in other words, if my opinions on matters automatically fall back on my political leanings, or rely on hearsay, or trust pundits over my own assessment of a situation. So years ago I set about trying to separate fact from fiction and after years of reading both sides of the climate change debate, I find so little evidence for deniers to stand on, I can’t help feeling embarrassed for them. I used to think that some time in the distant future, they will finally see their error and feel some shame about it. But the future is now, the evidence is too overwhelming, and if they can’t see their error at this point, it is obvious to me that they never will. So I am not really interested in engaging deniers or trying to change their minds. Short of a moratorium on anti-climate change rants especially by high profile people in power, I at least hope that the majority of people who have concerns will finally stop listening to their denials.

I admit that were I a political conservative, climate change would be a tougher pill to swallow because 1) Al Gore was the chief spokesman for some time and 2) it seems to suit a liberal view of government more easily than a conservative one. In fact, not surprisingly, most studies show a divide along partisan lines. Moreover, there is enough indication to believe that religious faith, of many kinds in America today, tends to mean less concern about climate change. So two more reasons pop up for skepticism: 3) if the earth were getting warmer, with disastrous consequences, why don’t the scriptures or religious leaders warn of this great evil? or 4) since scriptures do warn of great calamities in the last days, well then maybe climate change is real and we all know there is no point in trying to stop what has been prophesied.

Now climate change is really starting to sound like no big deal, especially if you are a conservative and you are religious. Climate change is either false because 1) we all know how much the liberals want to find reasons to increase the size of government and 2) we all know how little we can trust atheist and secular scientists, or it is real but no big deal because the fate of the earth is in God’s hands, not ours. But the climate has nothing to do with political party, religion, or any other belief system. The climate is either changing dangerously or it isn’t and this change is either caused by our carbon emissions or it isn’t. So it would seem that any reasonable person would not toss off an opinion on the matter without making an honest effort to understand these issues empirically. And an honest effort does not consist of merely following your general suspicions and surfing superficially on the internet to find websites, think tanks, and other sources of skepticism regarding climate change that will provide you anecdotes to confirm you in your doubts. Or listening to only one source of news. Or listening to talk radio. This is because there is steady drumbeat of doubt peddled by a host of organizations who make a living on misinformation about climate change. (You might want to read more about this peddling in Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s important book Merchants of Doubt.)

Now, it is fair to ask: aren’t those who keep up the steady drumbeat of alarm also benefiting and making a living perpetuating this theory that the world is melting? Don’t people make themselves rich off of the theory of AGW? These questions are also not without merit. And one can spend five minutes on the internet and find websites to confirm one’s liberal bias toward 1) bigger government, 2) atheistic science 3) secular anti-religious rhetoric that suggests the urgent need to act on our own instead of trusting in divine purpose.

But I have overstated the equivalence here. The fact is, while there are all kinds of websites out there, many of the major scientific societies in the world provide credible and accessible information that is not tainted by politics. It doesn’t take long to read. It isn’t hard to understand. It is a shame that so many Americans read so little about science or narrow their sources of information to so few. The spin coming from deniers is the same everywhere you go and that’s because denial isn’t coming from very many sources. Indeed, there are no credible scientific organizations anywhere in the world that are arguing that climate change is not happening or that it is not human caused. In fact, there are no scientific bodies that purport evidence of any kind on behalf of denialism. None. Zip. Let’s be clear about this: doubts, spin jobs, and anecdotes about unreliability are not scientific evidence. And honest questions that still need to be answered about the science do not constitute evidence that climate change is not real. We have every major scientific organization in the nation and in the world upholding the theory that human-caused carbon emissions are shifting the climate in potentially disastrous ways. It is not, in other words, just the International Panel on Climate Change, which consists of hundreds of the world’s leading experts, but the American Medical Association, the National Academies of Science, the Botanical Society of America, American Geophysical Union, the Pentagon (yes, the Pentagon!), etc., etc. And a whopping 97% of all climatologists accept this theory. 97%. Don’t be fooled by the old argument that “hundreds” of scientists disbelieve AGW. There are thousands upon thousands of people with Phds in the sciences across the world and yes there are some skeptics—some of whom have turned out to not exist, mind you— but they are not, on the whole, climate scientists with the proper credentials and they are nowhere near a significant percentage.

And why such an overwhelming consensus? Well, for one, the evidence is coming in from all over the world and from all over the sciences. We have extraordinary corroboration across a plethora of scientific disciplines including Oceanography, Biology, Climatology, Geology, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Archaeology, Entomology, etc., etc. We can’t explain flora and fauna migrations, rapid declines in biodiversity, acidification of the ocean, warming surface temperatures in the ocean, declining ice mass, changes in the atmosphere, all with just a few teams of scientists scheming to corroborate their stories. Besides, scientists make a living and science advances precisely on the basis of disproving alternative theories. Scientists have examined each and every alternative theory to try to explain the climatic changes we are seeing, including sun spots, water vapor, and natural cycles, and they have come up with precisely no evidence to suggest a better explanation than AGW. Deniers want us to believe that anecdotes and doubts spread by individuals in an occasional Op-Ed or by think tanks or websites are enough to cause us to question the fundamentals of climate science, even though those fundamentals have been around now for well over a century. We must recognize the staggering amount of faith they are asking from us to give credence to such doubts. The sheer amount of conspiratorial collaboration across disciplines and across the world that would be necessary to achieve the kind of consensus we have now, all of it supposedly bypassing the need for any real, hard evidence, simply stretches credulity. Theories about conspiring governments and scientists generating the theory of AGW are, well, science fiction.

I am not naïve. I don’t believe in the moral purity of scientists. I don’t believe government can do no wrong. I don’t believe think tanks are full of liars paid directly by the Koch brothers. But surely claims that government can do no right, that scientists are corrupt to the bone, and that think tanks are categorically more reliable than the rest of scientific research combined are just as silly. Do scientists sometimes go along with a narrative because they are too afraid to break ranks? Of course. But does consensus—just in and of itself—suggest evidence of such fear overriding logic, data gathering, and sound scientific experimentation? If it did, why are we not challenging other theories such as the idea of continental drift, the age or shape of the earth, or the idea that smoking leads to cancer?

Well, we do in fact continue to see doubters on these questions. They just don’t go away, but they lose credibility eventually. What is so surprising is that denialism foments doubt about conspiring scientists but none about conspiring corporations. Denialism wants us to see the corrupting influence of money in science but not in government, in business, or in international relations. It wants us to distrust climate change because it is government-funded research but it doesn’t question successful government research done in the name of fighting cancer, AIDS, and a whole host of other medical fields or the government-sponsored research that has gone into our technological advances, that put a man on the moon, that enabled us to develop a fossil fueled society in the first place. Nor will deniers explain why government is so motivated to promote a theory that undermines the very structure of our energy economy.

The truth is, we did see a challenge to the theory that smoking leads to cancer, and, not surprisingly, it used the same strategies climate skeptics use today and, it turns out, it involved some of the same people (again read Merchants of Doubt). No one could disprove the theory that smoking causes cancer but they could run interference on public opinion by raising doubts about the reliability of the sources of the scientific data. And they could raise doubts about how likely a serious campaign against smoking could make a difference. There is no credible evidence that disproves the theory of human-caused climate change. There is plenty of uncertainty remaining in the science, of course, and there is occasional reason to doubt the integrity of certain scientists. But you can’t defeat a broadly corroborated theory with anecdotes nor do you disprove a theory by raising doubts about, say, Al Gore’s integrity, or about liberal desires to want climate change to be true. Climate change deniers use the methods of the brilliant court lawyer who stands up against a mountain of evidence that his client is guilty. Remember OJ Simpson? You don’t have to prove anything. You only have to sow doubt and make people afraid that they might be wrong. And you need people to gather around poles of identity. “Climate change is for nature-loving liberal secularists who don’t have their priorities straight. Don’t be one of those!”

So here’s some thoughts for those of you who remain on the fence. If you prefer small government, fine. There are small government and free market solutions out there and many thinkers believe that the fear that redressing climate change is too expensive is simply wrong-headed. The fact that Al Gore is making hand over fist investing in clean energy isn’t evidence that AGW is false; it is evidence that clean energy is the future for the global market. Just ask the Chinese. Or the Danish. Or the Germans. If you are waiting for religion to speak up, it has. You can scarcely name a major religious leader in the world who hasn’t expressed concern about climate change. This list includes Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and the Dalai Lama. Muslim, Jewish, Evangelical, and other Christian leaders have expressed their concerns, organized themselves, and are fighting against the effects of climate change. Of course, some religious spokespeople have expressed their doubts about AGW, but mostly only in America. And there are those such as LDS leaders who have yet to say anything about it, but you certainly cannot find evidence in LDS belief that we should not be taking good care of the earth, that we should distrust science, or that we should assume all is well in Zion, that as long as we do our home teaching, let the world burn. I have already elaborated on this point many times. (If it is of interest, check out links here and here and here.) I don’t recall the LDS leadership decrying genocide in Darfur. Does that mean that what happened there wasn’t a moral outrage? (It should be noted too that the tensions broke out there in part as a result of a rapidly changing climate and extreme drought.) We Mormons would all do well to remember what characterizes a slothful and unwise servant: waiting around for someone else to tell us what to care about.

Isn’t the world in God’s hands? Well, yes, but didn’t he place it in our charge? Weren’t we asked to “take good care of it,” to be stewards answerable to our Creator for how we treated the elements? He doesn’t stop us from polluting our own bodies to the point of self-destruction. Why would our relationship with the earth be any different? Why have we allowed ourselves to accept the morally bankrupt idea that since the world is going to die anyway, we don’t need to bother taking care of it? I have heard deniers claim that they still believe in good stewardship, but this rings hollow, for, as any doctor knows, you can’t take good care of a patient without proper knowledge of what she needs. Only a reckless steward ignores or cherry picks empirical evidence. What kind of moral perversion is this we have fallen into to look at the earth’s remarkable and miraculous capacity to regulate the climate and to provide the conditions of life for all living things—the very conditions that have enabled God’s plan for all of us on this planet— and imagine that we can shrug our shoulders, fail to understand what makes it work in the first place, and then watch with impunity as we bring this capacity to ruin?

If the theory just doesn’t sit well with you, then try this: what fights climate change is also what fights poverty. The poor are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They have the fewest resources to be able to respond effectively to a warming climate. This is because they are more directly dependent on the ecosystems where they live, they live disproportionately closer to sea level, and they do not have the technological recourse we do to adapt quickly. And what is primarily causing global warming is overconsumption. Material greed is the single greatest threat to the earth since it leads us to use up land and water disproportionately and to emit more carbon per capita, and we Americans are the worst offenders. Surely we can agree that any philosophy that advocates consumption at will and that sponsors indifference to the fate of the poor is immoral. Moreover, getting us off of fossil fuels gets us off of our addiction to petrodictators—the Hugo Chavezes and the Sadam Husseins of the world, whom we have created across the globe from our outsize demand for fossil fuels. And don’t buy the shallow argument that drilling for oil in the US will be enough to achieve this goal either. That’s the rhetoric of partisan politics.

What I am suggesting is really quite simple: what will help the climate is already clearly outlined in gospel principles. If we live modestly and consume only what is necessary and we share generously with the poor; if we eat meat sparingly, eat locally in season, if we cease from our labors and excessive recreation on Sundays, we are doing right by the climate. If we raise voices of concern for policies, practices, and political leaders that will move us toward solar, geothermal, wind, and other alternative energies, we are in a position to use resources God gave us in abundance. If we use our remarkable gifts of innovation, scientific understanding, and moral drive to make a cleaner and more sustainable world for our grandchildren, if our hearts are truly turned to them, then we are living right. If we do all we can just to improve air quality, especially on behalf of children and the elderly, by using public transportation, walking, and advocating for policies and supporting institutions and politicians that get us away from fossil fuels, then we are also fighting climate change. If we are good stewards of our time and resources and read widely, carefully, and thoughtfully about the earth, we are in a position to make good moral judgments. If we live with compassion on the earth and for all living things, especially the most vulnerable, if we shun those who would pervert our relationship to the Creation in the interest of self-aggrandizement and material power, are we not living a Christian life? You don’t have to be a Democrat and you don’t have to like Al Gore. You just need to live your religion with more intensity and broader purpose.

So while we wait until the picture is any more clear (are we waiting for the last 3% of climatologists to change their mind?!) or until the economy gets betters or until other issues we care more about get taken care of, we do nothing to move the needle. The only reason that climate activists feel that they must get more desperate every day in their efforts to get us off of fossil fuels is because of this sleeping giant of some 55% of Americans who feel a vague and undefined concern but who remain inactive.

I want us at LDSES to reach these people. I want them to hear the stories of the millions of people in the developing world whose lives and livelihoods weigh in the balance with a warming climate. They are the ones we end up helping in our humanitarian efforts. They are the ones whose families and communities are eroded because of increased difficulty in gaining access to the resources they need or increased difficulty in resisting the impact of a changing climate. If you have family values, you should care about climate refugees. You and I, we can adjust our AC, we can change our clothes, but plants and animals and ecosystems around us cannot adjust in time to survive the rapid rate of change we are seeing and neither can the world’s poor who are already poorer for our inaction.

  • […] In 2010, George Handley published a deeply moving account of his personal relationships with God, family, and the environment. The BYU comparative literature professor’s book, Home Waters, is a well-crafted combination of nature writing and personal memoir. In this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, Handley describes his views on how Mormon theology of embodiment intimately binds humans to the earth. Mormon theology and environmental concerns is our topic. We also touch specifically on climate change, a topic about which Handley also blogged today. […]

  • Imfear2000 says:

    I just don’t agree with what you
    are saying or what you are suggesting.

    First, part of the reason many of us are not alarmed is due to the boy who
    cried wolf issue. We have been hearing for about 20 years that unless we change
    NOW, the world will die. As time rolls on, and the predictions of calamity and
    dire consequences don’t occur, we tune out. And you respond: “but they
    will!” I respond: when? Give me a date. Cause some of the AGW crowd have
    thrown out time periods that have already occurred or will shortly.

    Second, if AGW is fact, can we do anything to stop it at this point? I’m sorry
    but the actions you are proposing would not change things on a global scale.
    Heck, they won’t even make a difference in my state or city. Just inconvenience
    me. And talking about policy and law, etc. some of the AGW experts will admit
    that unless they can erase the last 200 years and completely turn off the world
    now, it can’t stop it anyway.

    So, if the actions that AGW
    suggest we take really won’t help or make a difference, why suggest them?
    That’s where it goes to the underlying power issue. “I want you to do what
    I think is right.”

    • georgeh says:

      I don’t believe anyone said that the world would die, so your claim about what was said twenty years ago rings hollow. What was said twenty years ago has indeed come to pass and it is worse than predicted, so I think you might do well to inform yourself of what is happening across the globe.

      As for the effectiveness of the actions I propose, I don’t know for sure that they will make enough of a difference. However, we do lots of things that we believe are right, even when they don’t make a marked difference in the world. That said, I don’t see why doing the right thing, especially if it inspires a simpler and less consumerist lifestyle, leads to cleaner air, provides more resources for the poor, and helps us to be more connected as a global community can be considered a waste of our efforts. Those are at least more likely to be our gains, even if we can only slow the warming slightly.

      I am not sure what you mean by “power issue.” I am certainly not advocating for enforcement. Asking you to consider making a change is not the same thing as telling you that you must do what I say. Can we agree on that? I am asking for moral courage to do what is right. The real question for for you is: what are you doing to exercise good stewardship over the resources that have been entrusted to you? In my view, we must all answer to the Creator. I don’t want to have to explain that I never bothered myself with the question because I didn’t think it mattered.

      • Laura says:

        I’ve thought a lot about the issue of taking small actions, even knowing they won’t exactly be enough to solve a global problem. In addition to the benefits that George mentions above—an improvement in air pollution, a simpler life—taking actions as individuals or in smaller groups sends a message to those in power that this is something people care about, an issue we take seriously. The hope is that, in time, those messages will translate into action on a national or multi-national level. Meanwhile, the CO2 emissions saved when I ride my bike to work instead of drive may not be significant to the global climate, but the action reminds me that I’m invested, that I care.

      • imfear2000 says:

        No one said the world would die, you are correct. I figured you understood I was exaggerating. But there have been predicitions of masive increase in sea levels, extreme droughts, loss of vegitation, etc. that thus far are not holding true.
        But if I don’t believe that living a simpler and less consumerist lifestyle will lead do anything but inconvience me, why do it? Just to feel good about myself? To show others how “green” I live?

        Enforcement is ultimately where this leads. I live in CA where there is law enforcing many “green” lifestyles. Heck, congress passed a law not allowing me to buy a regular light bulb. Yes, there is very much so a power issue here. Why else write a blog appealing to me to change my lifestyle? You have made up your mind on the AGW issue (for a guy who proclaims himself to be very open minded, I don’t get that from your article) and want others to share your opinion and make futile changes in the way we live.

        • georgeh says:

          Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t know if you are religious or not, but I would hope that you might agree that a simpler and less materialistic lifestyle and respect and good care for the creation are fundamentals of Christian living, independent of what you think about AGW. Clearing the air of dangerous pollutants is a good place to start, since it affects so many lives and so unfairly. If we can’t agree on such basic fundamentals, then we are indeed very far apart in our views.

          I am curious to know what your evidence is that the predictions are not true and what makes you sure that we aren’t going to see even worse consequences. We are seeing the effects in many parts of the globe and in many different ways, and in many cases they are worse than were predicted. You can read about the actual and current effects of AGW in any of the major scientific literature, including Scientific American, National Geographic, etc. and in most newspapers. I can see it in the mountains near my home as a result of the pine beetle. Most of the areas of the world where the LDS church has sent recent aid have been significantly impacted by the effects of AGW. My essay appeals to our responsibility to read the science and inform ourselves of what is happening. As for your accusation that I am close-minded, you have only offered as evidence the fact that I am persuaded AGW is real. That doesn’t seem fair. I happen to find the evidence very compelling after years of reading about it. If you knew me, I think I could persuade you that I remain open to understanding this as well as I can, as I hope you do.

          And I am not trying to use anything other than persuasion by argument. That’s all the power I have or want.

        • Laura says:

          This is really a sideline point, but I just wanted to jump in to clarify a point on the light bulb regulation. Both the federal and the California laws are “technology-neutral,” meaning they specify a minimum standard of efficiency new light bulbs must meet that is somewhat lower than previous incandescent technologies. Manufacturers can make any type of bulbs they want, including incandescent (the “regular” light bulb) as long as the bulb puts out the same amount of light with less energy. You can read more about the new laws here: http://www.energy.ca.gov/lightbulbs/lightbulb_faqs.html.

          I point this out not because I think the light bulb issue is
          so critical, but because it’s one example of the kind of technology-neutral regulations that are very common in the environmental world. These regulations challenge industry to innovate, but are mostly invisible to consumers, and don’t require any lifestyle
          changes. Personally, I think this is
          unfortunate, and is sort of missing the elephant in the room—we keep eeking out improvements in efficiency through technology, all so we can keep up an unprecendented and unnecessary degree of consumption.

          I’m squarely with George on this one—I think there are all kinds of benefits to living a simpler lifestyle, including the reduced impact on the environment—but the current regulatory environment in the US and in California is not really heading in that direction. While I’d like to see it move in that direction, it’s just not accurate to say that current environmental regulation is forcing lifestyle change.

  • The Common One says:

    Thank you for a rational, thoughtful and measured overview and call to arms.

  • cheute79 says:

    I’m a Mormon, libertarian (notice the small “l”), engineer, trained in chemistry, physics and statistics, and an experienced researcher. 20+ years ago, I was on your side, but as I looked into the data (the raw data that are out there, not the manipulated data of someone or a group looking to prove their point), I am a “denier”. I’m even in the list of the Top 200 published AGW deniers.

    Some key things to question: 1) look at the global map of weather stations that had weather stations in the 60s, 70, and even 80s. There are HUGE gaps. One cannot glibly or hopefully identify such small error in non-existing primary data and be able to say such silly things as “the global average temp will increase by 2° over ANY time frame. 2) although there have been weather stations in Antarctica for only a few decades (late 50s for the oldest ones), ALL data, except for perhaps one place on the whole continent show an DECREASE in average temps over the time period. Note the assumption is that CO2 concentration is more or less uniform throughout the globe. 3) most of the data published for years failed to show the Medievel Warm, without which the Vikings could not have settled Greenland (for 2X as long as the USA has been a country). 4) The best model data, with 95% confidence levels, are now markedly WRONG. And (if one goes to the raw data again), the data for past years and even months is always adjusted upward. There is no statistical logic that would support moving ALL numbers upward, every time. 5) sampling errors are, it seems to me, unsupportably narrow on core samples. i’ve dealt with core samples around the country, and they can’t be so tight! 6) Models are based on positive forcing, but the data (as thin as they are) suggest forcing should be negative. Models also assume minor influence by solar variation. The list just gets too long. Plus the complexity of the system (earth with troposhere) is way to much to distill down to a few equations. I find virtually no reason to believe there is but a small impact of CO2 on global temps. Man is and has influenced temps, locally for millenia, globally only recently. Burning wood (not because it added to CO2, but because it lead to de-forestation), tilling large tracts, burning jungle, irrigation (Phoenix, AZ has quite high humidity, and that ain’t normal or justifiable). I do not argue that we must use greater care of our world, and our resources, but what is proposed (that will bankrupt rich societies and destroy poor nations and cultures) is not appropriate, warranted, or supported by the data.

    • georgeh says:

      Thanks for this. I am not a scientist, obviously, and I have no illusions that I will change your mind. In my defense, I would say that the science I have read in many sources and the scientists I have spoken with do not agree with your points. They confirm, for example, that the models have proven exceptionally reliable over the past twenty or so years, and have, if anything, underestimated the changes we have seen empirically. I think I don’t understand why consistency of CO2 in the atmosphere should lead us to expect consistency in warming in different parts of the globe. We still have weather changes in the background, which is why some places have not had as much warming, or even cooling, where others have had dramatic warming. Or perhaps I don’t understand your point. Your last point seems to acknowledge that we have and are changing the climate, but you have characterized all proposals as bankrupting rich societies and destroying poor ones. I too would disagree with such solutions, if those are really what people are proposing, but I am not in agreement that that is what should be or is being proposed. You should check out Jonathan Foley’s BYU lecture that is linked in my piece (where I mention free market solutions). Thomas Friedman is quite optimistic about capitalism’s ability to respond. I am less so, but I just point him out to say that there are many solutions on the table, and I would rather deal with sorting out the good ones from the bad than having to argue over the reality of climate change at this point.

      • georgeh says:

        And I would add that the most comprehensive science does not only consider the temperature evidence, but also the acidification and the warming of the oceans and many other measurable changes on the planet.

      • Guest says:

        Ignore the spin in this story. The AGW fan club will try to explain the anomaly with words. But the fact is, their models did not predict it and cannot explain it. Fact: there has been no appreciable warming over the past 10-15 years, contrary to what George said above. Source, BBC. But I could have picked scores of sources on this. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22567023

        Warming extremes ‘not as likely’www.bbc.co.uk

        • georgeh says:

          chuckshulz (I assume Eric), As I indicated, global warming is not measured by air temperature alone. It is also measured by ocean surface and deep ocean temperatures, ice sheets, glaciers, sea level and snow cover. The corroboration of these data and across the sciences that study related phenomena, as I said in my essay, are very persuasive and more important to pay attention to than the slowing trend in air temperatures that you refer to. Because all other indicators show strong warming trends, the slowing trend does not refute the AGW thesis in any significant way. I don’t think it is productive to engage in anecdotal and selective sharing of website links. It will go on forever. I have scores too. So what. My honest question is, have you read any science to explain the slowing of the warming, or are you just reading articles about claims? You can take a specific question about the slowing trend in warming or any other honest question to the science and get ample answers from the research. But if you categorically consider any evidence as “spin” when it upholds AGW, then you have conveniently foregone the need to read any research at all and instead fall back on ideology. At that point, political persuasion is taken as its own empirical evidence. It’s a hall of mirrors. I say this because I don’t sense that you are aware of how many times your arguments have been repeated and how empty they sound, precisely because of the extensive research that already addressed these questions. You are engaging in precisely the kind of cherry picking and selective use of doubt that I am contending is profoundly unscientific and irresponsible. I would never say climate models are perfect but what do you offer as an alternative? They are proving themselves reasonable guides and I am not saying we should be rash or stupid, but we certainly won’t avoid being rash or stupid if we are obstinately confident that we can be categorically dismissive without risk.

          One doesn’t prove anything by raising doubts, and I will note that you raise doubts not only about the reality of warming itself but then intend to raise doubts about what should be done about it. So which is the thesis you are sticking by? Is AGW false? Or do you believe it is true but it is too costly to fix? You can’t have both. The fact that you slide between the two theses evidences an ideological motivation. And either way, your predictions are relying on models that are far less scientific and reliable as far as I can tell than the models used by climate scientists to establish likely outcomes of warming. All this arguing we see in our media does is hold out doubt but it doesn’t offer sufficient evidence to overthrow the AGW thesis.

          As for the costs of doing something about it, Bjorn Lomborg is hardly the definitive voice on these questions. Any responsible research into the question of his status in the field would give us reason to be cautious about giving him the last word. It’s a long story but it really is questionable to bring out Lomborg as if he were some kind of trump card. I cite Jonathan Foley in my article (in a hypertext link). He has a much stronger record of reliability and integrity as a researcher. And he is far more optimistic that we can and should make a difference quickly and that it will help, not hurt, the poor. I am not naive. I know some ideas will hurt the poor and are not well considered, but it is reckless to imagine that the world’s poor somehow would prefer we do nothing to mitigate against climate change, not to mention deaf to their appeals.

          What I want to know is, What is your perception of environmental problems and how do you define good stewardship? Just curious.

        • Barry Bickmore says:

          In EVERY single numerical modeling class I’ve ever heard of, you get introduced to a quotation by the statistician George Box. “All models are wrong. Some are useful.” In other words, if people (usually those who don’t know anything about numerical modeling) want to find flaws in ANY model, they don’t have to look far. And yet, scientists use such models all the time, because they are far from useless.

          In what other human endeavor do we demand absolute perfection before we’ll listen to the evidence?

      • chuckschulz says:

        There has been no appreciable warming for the past 10-15 years. The AGW dudes in this BBC article try to spin out of it with words, but the fact is their models did not predict this result and cannot explain it. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22567023

    • Barry Bickmore says:

      Hi Cheute79,

      1. If there are huge spatial gaps in the historical temperature record, it’s a good thing we have teleconnection. After accounting for things like elevation differences, it turns out your measurement network spacing doesn’t matter as much as one might think.


      2. We can even estimate how good statistical models that rely on teleconnection are based on recent satellite measurements, which have better spatial coverage. The surface measurements compare just fine.

      3. If you are looking at raw temperature data, you are liable to be fooled. Raw data has to be corrected for things like changes in the time of day temperature readings are collected, instrument changes, etc. Check out the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) site for a thorough accounting of all the corrections that are needed to make the raw data usable. The people running this project were initially skeptical of the surface temperature record, as well, and they figured out how to use ALL the available data. It didn’t matter much whether they used 2% of the data or 100%.


      4. Antarctica is a special case, because the circulation of the Southern Ocean around the continent buffers the climate.

      5. There are core samples, and then there are core samples. The annual layers in glaciers are usually pretty well defined. (I’m collaborating on a paper about uncertainties in these measurements, and while the uncertainties reported probably should be a little wider, they aren’t that bad.)

      6. The idea that the models are way off is absolute nonsense, since nobody ever claimed GCMs are good at decadal-scale projections. The only thing the current situation shows is that the models aren’t good at predicting rare situations where you get multiple La Niñas in a row.

      I could go on, but as an Earth scientist, I have to say that your objections, while there are a lot of them, don’t amount to much when you examine each one.

      • chuckschulz says:

        Of course the models aren’t good at predicting decadal variation. Climate is glacial, literally. We are still emerging from the Little Ice Age, and we should expect it to get warmer. Maybe someday the Vikings will return to Greenland.

        Short term climates modeling is perverse, which is why the man-bear-pig hysterics of the past 15 years are so weird. Every time a hurricane or a heat wave happens by, it’s all AGW. But give a huge gaping anomaly in the models — no warming for 15 years — and suddenly it’s all geologic time.

        The bottom line is that we know next to nothing about what causes climate change. But we do know that even if these models are correct nothing short of economically catastrophic interventions would have any impact. Those interventions simply are not going to happen.

        Cheap carbon will be burned in the first world and the third for the foreseeable future, and we will be better for it, not least of all those who are still struggling to feed, water, medicate and clothe their families and heat their homes.

        Titling at wind farms requires resources. Use them instead to solve real problems we know how to fix, as Bjorn Lomborg argues.

        • Barry Bickmore says:


          I don’t think you fully understand such models. Weather is chaotic, meaning that can oscillate wildly and is highly dependent on initial conditions. To the extent that we don’t EXACTLY know the initial conditions, we can’t successfully project into the future IN THE SHORT TERM. In the long term, all those wild oscillations tend to average out, so that even imperfect models with imperfectly known initial conditions can do all right. Pick up any book on “Chaos Theory”. It’s interesting stuff.

          Note also that the only economic reports that say effective climate change mitigation has to be “economically catastrophic” are those put out by… ahem… rather suspect “think tanks” whose operations are largely funded by the likes of petroleum, oil, and tobacco companies. And when you actually run the numbers in those reports, usually you find that they are counting on all that money to be collected for carbon taxes and the like to go into a giant black hole, never to be spent. Since when has the government EVER decided not to spend money it managed to collect, for Pete’s sake?

          Finally, people still live in Greenland, in case you hadn’t heard.

          • chuckschulz says:

            I don’t think anyone fully understands the models, Barry. And since science requires falsification, claiming that your models cannot be falsified until we are all dead is not science.

            Funny you should mention chaos theory, since that is pretty much my point. There are SO many complex interactions, that these models can’t even begin to address. They can’t even begin because they wouldn’t know where to start. The parsimony required for modeling such complex matters makes a mockery of the model.

            I don’t think Bjorn Lomborg is industry-funded, and I don’t think that only industry-funded people believe that (a) Kyoto and its children were impractical from the outset and would have done nothing to address the alleged problem in the first place, and (b) any real effort to contain C02 in the near term will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and further impoverish millions.

            Are you really suggesting that the world can shift from carbon to the green fuel du jour without lowering standards of living?

            And, oh my, “in case you haven’t heard.” Is that like 12 year old snark? You surely know that the Viking colony there was disastrously snuffed out by the Little Ice Age. http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/greenland/ So why the snark?

            Finally, it’s not clear to me from your CV that your research has any bearing whatever on climate science, and that you have any particular expertise in it. Am I missing something?

          • Barry Bickmore says:

            Hi Chuck,

            I am a geochemist who used to be a climate skeptic. I had to start teaching a little climate science in some of my classes, so I was motivated to start looking into it more. Since I have related expertise (such as numerical modeling of Earth processes), I was able to check into a lot of the science myself, however, and changed my mind. Lately, I have been involved in some paleoclimate work, and will be submitting the first paper shortly, but I don’t consider myself a climate specialist by any means.

            One thing I have published peer-reviewed papers on is teaching the nature of science. It turns out that the “falsification” criterion (proposed by Karl Popper) is too stringent, because if a theoretical prediction doesn’t pan out, you can’t always tell whether something is wrong with the data, the theory, or an auxiliary assumption used to apply the theory… or any combination of the three. Read any Philosophy of Science textbook, especially the parts about Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos for a discussion of this point.

            Since so many things can and do go wrong, the decision about when to dump one theory in favor of another is always a little subjective. In the case of GCMs, even if the physics of the models were absolutely perfect, it’s still going to be applied over a 3D grid of cells that are kilometers across, so the model results would never be exactly right. So the idea that you can wait until you get a 15 year period when the temperature trend is statistically indistinguishable from zero OR the trend it’s been on for the last several decades is ridiculous. We don’t have computers big and fast enough to make the models that good, even if the physics were perfect. If models like this can’t be good at everything, and nobody ever claimed they were good at predicting decadal-scale oscillations, it doesn’t make any sense to take one decadal-scale observation and declare them “falsified”.

            If you think Bjorn Lomborg is arguing that we should solve the “real problems” instead of climate change, you should go back and re-read his books. Rather, he argues that we ought to be spending 0.5% GDP on alternative energy research so we can make it cheaper to go off fossil fuels. While I think he has a tendency to ignore worst-case scenarios (whereas Al Gore has a tendency to dwell on them,) if we suddenly decided to follow Lomborg’s advice, I would be ECSTATIC.

            You’re the one who was snarking about the Vikings “returning” to Greenland. Since the descendants of the Vikings (Scandinavians) still exist, and some still live in Greenland–and have since the 1700s (during the Little Ice Age), I thought you deserved a little snark in return. Turnabout is fair play, I guess. 😉

          • chuckschulz says:

            I know Lakatos. Not personally, but I know his work. And i know the difference between naive falsificationism and his view of a research agenda, which is itself quite distinct from Kuhn.

            While Lakatos rejects Popper, he does not reject the notion of falsification utterly. Instead, he sees it as a long series of tests and failures and adjustments, as the model is refined, threatened, and then defended or abandoned. You still must make claims and test them. And if you say my claims are not testable in our lifetime, then at the very least you cannot claim that the science is “settled.”

            I am a fan of Lakatos, and I what bothers me about the AGW hysterics is precisely the form of shutting down of disputation, the conscious effort to pretend that the science is settled, when of course it is not, that he condemns in his famous address: http://www.lse.ac.uk/philosophy/about/lakatos/scienceandpseudosciencetranscript.aspx

          • Barry Bickmore says:

            Hi Chuck,

            You said, “And if you say my claims are not testable in our lifetime, then at the very least you cannot claim that the science is ‘settled.'”

            1. Coincidentally, I just did a post on my blog in which I said people like Al Gore should knock off saying the science is “settled.”


            2. I never said anything about climate models not being testable in your lifetime. They are already testable in many ways, including how they reproduce warming/cooling and precipitation spatial patterns. (Now THOSE are tough to get in the ballpark if your physics isn’t pretty good.) I was just saying that your particular criterion for rejecting the models as useless seemed ridiculous to me. You are free to disagree, but I tried to give good reasons why I think that.

          • Guest says:

            “Rather, he argues that we ought to be spending 0.5% GDP on alternative energy research so we can make it cheaper to go off fossil fuels.”

            And yet, Amory Lovins tells us, “We don’t need any technological breakthroughs. We can do this baby today, Barry O.”

            Either we can transition without hurting those who need cheap fuel today, or we can’t. I say we can’t. I don’t even think it’s feasible, no matter how much we hurt the poor to do it.

            If Bjorn wants to spend a bunch on R&D and see what happens in 50 years, then fine. But my understanding was that if we didn’t pull the plug yesterday we were all doomed.

          • Barry Bickmore says:

            Hi Chuck,

            Back up and read the comment you were responding to before. I said that the only people reproducing economic reports that say effective climate mitigation has to be economically catastrophic are from industry-funded think tanks, and they usually posit magical money black holes. You responded that you didn’t think Lomborg is industry funded. I pointed out that Lomborg doesn’t argue that we effective mitigation is out of reach–he mainly just disagrees with others about the best strategy to approach it. Now you respond that Amory Lovins (whoever that is) says we can make the transition today with present technology, and that some unnamed people say that “if we didn’t pull the plug yesterday we were all doomed.”

            So are you conceding the point? Because your last response has nothing to do with what we WERE talking about. Either there have been full, number-crunching, economic analyses of climate change mitigation strategy that say we are doomed to economic catastrophe, or there haven’t. And if there have, they were either from some industry funded think tanks, or they weren’t. Which is it?

            Now, do a little number-crunching of your own. Lomborg suggests spending 0.5% GDP on R&D to make the energy transition cheaper. In the USA, at the moment, that amounts to $75 billion per year. What do you say? Would you commit to supporting such a measure, just in case most of the climate scientists are right? At least then if drastic action is needed in a few years, we will be better prepared to take it.

          • Barry Bickmore says:

            Wait! If that wasn’t Chuck responding, I apologize… to Chuck, not the anonymous poster.

          • chuckschulz says:

            I will concede your point on Greenland snark. I didn’t hear myself. That said, it seems to matter that the settlement was destroyed by an ice age that we still have not fully emerged from, as it suggests that change is continuous up and down, whatever we do or don’t do.

          • Barry Bickmore says:

            Hi Chuck,

            Thank you for forgiving my snark in response to your snark. It’s fun, but I’ll try to control myself. 😉

            The LIA wasn’t a real “ice age”, and in any case, it isn’t as if the causes of it are mysteries of the ages. There are several known factors that would have combined to cool the climate at that time, including 1) increased volcanic activity (this is probably the big one), 2) decreased solar irradiance, and 3) decreased human population (and hence less CO2 release and more reforestation) due to various epidemics.

            Likewise, during the past 15 years the temperatures have still been going up, albeit more slowly than the average over the last few decades, but the cause is not some giant mystery with no plausible answers. If you take the temperature record, remove the signal correlated with the ENSO index, then the trend over the last 15 years is the same as it has been for the last 40. In other words, the ENSO cycle has tilted more toward the La Niña end recently, and so more heat has been shoved down into the deep ocean, instead of coming back up during El Niño events. Measurements of global ocean heat content down to 2000 m depth show that, indeed, the deep ocean has been heating up more, recently, and the total heat uptake has continued apace.

            What all this means is that maybe the GCMs aren’t that great at projecting the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which everybody already knew.

          • Barry Bickmore says:

            P.S. My point above was that it’s not particularly persuasive when someone like you hand-waves about a particular climate change being “natural”, and then acting like “natural” climate change is something nobody could possibly understand. Climate changes because energy moves from one place to another more or less efficiently. The reasons why this happens are quite well understood, even though they aren’t that easy to predict as exactly as we would like.

  • Jenessa says:

    Thank you for inspiring me to research and to do the morally right thing, I will try. Thank you also for your logical, cohesive, not-angry presentation. Wonderful article.

  • Laura says:

    This is a fantastic article, George. I’ve shared it several times today, and will likely share it several more. I have to say that I’ve been really encouraged over the last few years to hear individuals and groups from various religious communities start
    to speak up in support of action against climate change. Interfaith Power and Light and the Evangelical Climate Initiative come to mind, but no doubt there are others. Thank you for adding a reasoned, informed, and compassionate voice from the Mormon tradition to the mix!

    • georgeh says:

      Thank you, Laura. No doubt your work on air quality is motivated by good religious principles.

  • chuckschulz says:

    I think it’s a misnomer that the poor in underdeveloped countries have the most to fear from AGW. It has been argued persuasively that they have the most to fear from AGW policy hysterics, to the degree that they will be asked to forgo the cheap energy sources that we took for granted in building our own wealth.

    “Bjorn Lomborg argues that many of the elaborate and expensive actions now being considered to stop global warming will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, are often based on emotional rather than strictly scientific assumptions, and may very well have little impact on the world’s temperature for hundreds of years. Rather than starting with the most radical procedures, Lomborg argues that we should first focus our resources on more immediate concerns, such as fighting malaria and HIV/AIDS and assuring and maintaining a safe, fresh water supply-which can be addressed at a fraction of the cost and save millions of lives within our lifetime. He asks why the debate over climate change has stifled rational dialogue and killed meaningful dissent.”


  • Brenda, Fiji Islands says:

    In the south Pacific, there are whole islands being lost to sea level rise. Many of these people know it’s only a matter of a few years before they have to relocate, and they are really quite sad to lose their homes. What’s sadder than the loss of their homes is that we fossil fuel addicts of the developed world don’t seem to notice or care.

    • Spencer says:

      Brenda, which Islands are those?

      Generalizations abound on claims like the one you’ve just made – hopefully your not referring to the Maldives, one of the oft-cited but decisively debunked instances of sea-level demagoguery? Specifics please. Which whole islands?

    • Spencer says:

      For the record – between 1790 and 1970 the Maldives’ average sea level was HIGHER than it is today. So you can put your mind at ease on that front (I know, PHEW, right??)

  • Jesse Hurlbut says:

    In 1976, Provo operated a Hydrogen bus. Where is our fleet of Hydrogen buses today? http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2506&dat=19760229&id=UpdbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hVENAAAAIBAJ&pg=2702,5275017

  • jhlangerman says:

    I would like to thank you for your eloquent, moving, well-researched article. If there is even a 1% chance that global warming is “real,” why are we not mobilizing a WWII effort to protect our children’s future? There is simply no excuse. We in MA are spearheading an effort to put an accurate price on carbon, reflecting the health and environmental damage it causes. We will be the first to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax in the U.S. if WA state or OR doesn’t beat us. Make no mistake, this is coming. The time for denial is over. Thank you again!

  • Matt Weed says:

    This is a timely and compelling article. I’m an active LDS member and feel a strong pull toward earth stewardship. We can and must make changes. Our posterity will look at us in one of two ways: either the generation that turned a blind eye and left them holding the bag, or the generation that stood up and shouldered an unquestionably difficult situation and made the necessary changes (not for the good of our own self interest, but as an investment in future generations).

  • Lisa Del Buono says:

    I want to thank you for this article. My niece, who is a member of the LDS
    community, sent this to me. I would like to mention a great first step that
    addresses the issue of climate disruption, a revenue-neutral fee and dividend on carbon.

    With this approach, a steadily increasing fee is put on all corporations
    that are removing carbon from the earth at its port of entry (oil, natural gas,
    coal, etc.). The revenue generated would NOT be used to grow the government,
    but would instead be returned to American households to help offset the
    subsequent increases in costs of fossil fuels until the transition to renewable
    forms of energy is complete.

    This idea has bipartisan appeal because it does not grow the
    government and is a market based alternative to the regulatory approach Mr.
    Obama has been forced to use through the EPA to address climate change.

    Many other countries have already instituted a similar fee without changing
    (and in some cases improving) their economies. Jobs at home would be protected by instituting a border tariff on any country without similar legislation,
    thereby providing incentive for other countries to address climate change

    To learn more about a revenue neutral carbon fee and divident, please go to http://citizensclimatelobby.org/files/images/FeeAndDividendLegProposal081811.pdf