Here at the global climate change summit in Paris, it seems Christians are everywhere. We have been leading prayer vigils, encouraging our national negotiators, and acting in concert with our brothers and sisters from all over the world. We share two things in common: a conviction that the earth and all its people belong to the Lord; and the understanding that the natural systems that all creatures depend on for survival are imperiled by runaway pollution from burning fossil fuels.
So you can imagine the surprise that we Americans felt when we were shown a article in the Fox News Online opinion pages signed by 383 people who identified themselves as Christians. The title made the message crystal clear: Far from addressing an acute threat perceived by every nation, the global effort here in Paris would “doom billions to live in extreme poverty.”
Delegates from every nation at the Paris Climate Summit, COP-21
My goodness! The whole world is gathered here working feverishly day and night; they all agree on the basic facts of climate science; they are supported by the leaders of virtually every Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox association in the world, plus leaders of virtually every other world religion.
And yet their efforts will doom billions to extreme poverty? Really?
Well, as you can imagine, the first thing we wanted to know was: Who are these people who seem to know what no one else does? Well, the Fox op-ed article listed seven theologians and academics, who called their fellow signatories “nearly 400 other climate scientists, physicists, mathematicians, economists, theologians, philosophers, and ethicists.” Now that’s impressive! 400 climate scientists and other scholarly types. But I figured it would be worthwhile scrolling through the names, just to see what popped out.
383 is a lot of names, so I settled on the names beginning with “S.” There were 43. Six of them listed no academic degree whatsoever; 10 boasted bachelor’s degrees; 11 had master’s degrees; and 16 held doctoral degrees in topics ranging from theology to engineering, history, biomedicine and economics.
Hmm. So where were the “nearly 400 climate-scientist” types? Well, to be fair, I did find one. He was a meteorologist whose work is so controversial that the editor-in-chief of a peer-reviewed science journal resigned when the journal elected to publish his research. Later peer-reviewed research concluded that this scientist cherry-picked from less than half of his own data sets to support his conclusions.
Okay. So maybe the “nearly 400 climate scientists” look a little more like a gaggle of signers from scores of specialties, or perhaps no specialties at all, plus at least one climate scientist with a very controversial C.V. But an informed reader of the signatories list will also notice something remarkable: It’s who’s NOT there.
Not on the list are mission sending agencies, whose people are laboring among those already beset by climatic upheavals. Not on the list are Christian relief and development organizations – like World Vision, Tear Find and Christian Aid – who affirm that climate change is the greatest threat to all their progress to date. Not on the list are the representatives of the worldwide evangelical Christian church, like the Lausanne Movement, the World Evangelical Alliance, or even the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals.
Their absence speaks volumes. Those who live and work among the world’s poor haven’t touched this letter. Those who are committed to relieving poverty are nowhere to be seen. Those who unite the voices of Christians from every country have kept their distance.
But let’s not throw the whole thing out just yet. Why, exactly, were these writers arguing against the climate action supported in Paris by virtually every country in the world? Well, because they claim that the science is “uncertain.” The only reasons to fear, they write, are “computer climate models,” and those models are biased to make future global warming look worse than it will be.
Now from our perch here in Paris, this is a remarkable claim indeed. The best experts from every country in the world are here. They are debating, even today, whether global warming of 2.0 degrees Celsius should be the target limit, or whether the world should pull out all stops to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees. Island and low-lying nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh note that 2.0 degrees will doom their homelands to inundation beneath the rising seas. Comparatively safer countries reply that the earth has already warmed by 1.0 degrees, and substantial further warming is already “committed,” or baked in by our greenhouse gas emissions to date.
They would be surprised indeed to hear that the whole problem is nothing but a few biased climate models that overstate the problem. The writers who hold these assorted degrees (or none at all) should definitely catch the next plane to Paris, and relieve these exhausted negotiators of their worries.
Of course, we’re not actually here because of computer models at all, whether or not the Fox News op-ed criticism holds any water at all (which I suspect it does not). We’re here because all the critical data tells us that the world is even now heating dangerously. Consider:
- Global heat records are being broken year after year, with 2015 expected to demolish the prior record set in 2014. In fact, 13 of the 15 years of this century have broken all prior heat records, with the only competition coming from 1997 and 1998.
- Arctic sea ice coverage is declining at an alarming rate of 13.3 percent per decade.
- Worldwide, glaciers are retreating at unprecedented rates, imperiling societies that depend on stable river flows.
- The Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing 134 billion tons of ice per year, and Greenland is losing 287 billion tons per year.
- Oceans have become 30 percent more acidic than a generation ago, as they soak up ever greater amounts of atmospheric carbon, imperiling coral reefs and plankton that form the base of the food chain.
- Damage claims from extreme weather events are rising sharply. Even adjusted for inflation, billion-dollar weather events demonstrate a clear upward curve.
- Sea level rise is now a clearly established fact, up 200 mm since the Industrial Revolution, and accelerating with ocean warming and ice sheet melting.
- Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now far above any levels observed in Antarctic and Greenland Ice cores from samples trapped in snow and ice over hundreds of thousands of years.
- Atmospheric methane levels are similarly higher than any historically measured levels.
- Ocean heat content is also rising fast, as the ocean absorbs greater surface heat.
And in the face of all this data recognized by the world gathered here in Paris, the Fox News authors tell us that we have no need to worry, because they have issues with a few computer models.
Of course, anyone can tell that these “nearly 400 climate scientists” – or whoever they are – evidently have something else in mind. It will sound familiar to those who observed the tobacco wars of the last generation, when Phillip Morris and others labored for decades to belittle and undermine the science that demonstrated the links between smoking and cancer, and the dangers of secondhand smoke.
More recently, others will recall that in 1997, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond used the Fox News op-ed language almost verbatim. Contrary to the advice of his own Exxon scientists, Raymond said: “Forecasts of future warming come from computer models … which are notoriously inaccurate.” (Exxon’s scientists had acknowledged that this was nonsense more than a decade earlier, both publicly and in internal documents. And in the early 1990’s Mobil’s chief scientist affirmed that “the science of global warming is well established and cannot be refuted,” according to lawyers currently pursuing shareholder fraud actions against the company.)
So, to the nearly-400-climate-scientists-or-whatever, we Christians in Paris wish you were here. We wish you could hear the testimony of Filipino Bishop Efraim Tendero, who leads the World Evangelical Alliance with its 600 million members. We wish you could hear the leaders of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Seychelles, who are contemplating the disappearance of their homelands. We wish you could hear our English Lake District friends, or our Norwegian brothers and sisters, who are this week enduring the worst floods on record. Or those from the Maldives, also suffering record rain storms. Or even our own countrymen from Washington State, which just shattered its daily rainfall record in freak storms.
The problem is not computer models. The real problem was summed up by climate scientist Gus Speth in an address to religious leaders in 2009. “I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science,” said Speth. “But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.”
Please, Fox News writers, whoever you may be, please join us in extending a helping hand to the world’s nations gathered here in Paris. God’s creation is groaning for his children to rise to their calling.