[22]   Environment (1): Environmentalism & Global Warming

STORY: Climatic data show that in the 20th century, the average temperature on the earth has increased 0.6°C. Research on temperature since AD1400 found that the 20th century was the warmest century in the last millennium and possibly warmest ever; 1998 was the warmest year on record. It seems that evidence for global warming is irrefutable. What do you think?

If you know the temperature for the last 1200 years, the answer will be quite different. The temperature around AD1000 was actually about 1°C higher than today.


1.       Almost every government in the world accepts the problem of rapid global warming as a fact. The result is the 1997 Kyoto Accord which specifies how countries commit to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases. However, there are also thousands of prominent scientists who refute the disastrous scenarios predicted by the environmentalists.

103.                         What is the responsibility of Christians towards the environment?

a.   In Gen 1:28, God delegated some of His authority over the earth to man. “Rule over” something is to have authority and control over it. God expects us to take responsibility for the environment and everything in it. On one hand, we are to develop the environment to benefit mankind. On the other hand, we are to guard the environment from destructive problems such as desertification, resource depletion, and species destruction.

b.   Three possible views on the relationship between mankind and the environment:

(1)  Dominion view (or the growth philosophy) with an anthropocentric emphasis:

o        Such view believes that the earth exists to serve human needs so economic growth always has priority over the environment.

o        However, Christians cannot justify irresponsible destruction of nature. Pollution is sometimes a natural and unavoidable result of economic development but permanent pollution is not acceptable. Therefore, pollution control and reduction should be supported by Christians.

(2)  Citizenship view with a biocentric emphasis:

o        Such view believes that humans, like all other species, are members of the biosphere. They are citizens of nature which should have priority over humans.

o        However, this can evolve into radical responses which put the environment above man. For example, some even question the necessity of cars and want to ban all cars in order to reduce pollution.

(3)  Stewardship view with a theocentric emphasis:

o        Humans are empowered as stewards on behalf of God. We are also dependent on earth and must try our best to maintain it. The emphasis in economic development should be on sustainable growth (development that meets the needs of man while preserving the resources as well as the carrying capacity of the environment).

104.                         Should Christians support modern environmentalism?

a.   Definition: Environmentalism is the philosophy that stresses the importance of physical, biological, psychological or cultural environment as a factor influencing the behaviour of animals, including man. The present emphasis is on the physical and the biological environment, that is, the Earth. The objective therefore is to preserve the environment from pollution.

b.   Early environmentalism stressed conservation of the environment, such as stressing on the use of renewable (as opposed to non-renewable) resources (such as hydroelectric power) and the prevention of resource depletion (such as overfishing and overcutting of forests). Such emphasis on the responsible use of resources can be supported by Christians.

c.   Modern environmentalism, however, is based on a non-Christian understanding of the earth. Environmentalist organizations today may still fight for conservation and against pollution but because of their different philosophical foundation, methods used can be vastly different. In short, they put the environment as more valuable than mankind so they object to any economic development which causes even the slightest change to the environment.

d.   The underlying philosophy is the Gaia hypothesis (motto: “Gaia is Earth, our Mother!”): life and non-life on earth interact as though they were a single organism. Everything on earth is connected to Gaia. Literally every being on earth is itself a type of divinity or “potential divinity.” This omnitheistic paganism puts mankind as part of a whole, and thus not more important than anything else. [similar position for animal rightists]

e.   Such belief directly contradicts Biblical teaching. So it is not surprising that there are absolutely no real Christians among the ranks of the environmentalist and radical animal rights groups.

·         Some modern environmentalists even blame Christians for environmental degradation. They blame Gen 1:28 as the cause of plundering nature for personal profit. However, (1) serious pollutions have happened in cultures and societies without Christian influence, (2) abusing creation actually came from Enlightenment which upholds human beings as God.

f.    Radical environmentalists (such as Green Peace) even employ environmental terrorism (such as sabotage nuclear plants, destroying logging equipment, fishing blockades, etc.) to stop what they perceive as causing pollution. [called eco-anarchism]

g.   Recycling:

·         Recycling has been lauded as the best way to reduce garbage and garbage is disposed in landfills thus creating unusable land. However, there are persistent questions about recycling:

o        The gasoline used and pollution created in picking up and transporting glass bottles for recycling may be greater than what is saved by using the recycled glass and also the amount of water used to clean them.

o        To clean waste papers and turn them into recycled paper may require a lot more energy than burning them. Recycled paper is more expensive and of lower quality.

·         However, before there is any definitive conclusion, recycling still appears a worthwhile cause that Christians can support.

h.   Christians can support efforts of conservation of natural resources and the reduction of pollution. However, Christians should not support modern environmentalist organizations because of their philosophy and actions.

i.    Christians should be careful about accepting facts with regard to the environment, even facts apparently based on scientific research. Because of the agenda of modern environmentalists which puts the environment above mankind, they could even regard unproven hypothesis as irrefutable facts.

·         Example: The meaning of the term “pollution” has been extended to include industrial emission of carbon dioxide, which is beneficial to plant growth and harmless to human beings in ordinary concentrations. Proponents of the global warming hypothesis and supporters of the Kyoto Protocol classify carbon dioxide as a “pollutant” due to their belief that it contributes to harmful global warming. But global warming is far from being an irrefutable fact.

105.                         How should Christians react to measures to reduce global warming?

a.   Global warming is something that most people accept without any questions. The reason of this wide public acceptance is not because it is a proven fact but because the global warming theory is strongly supported by powerful proponents including the United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and many western governments. They claim that:

(1)  There has been a rise in the temperature on the earth of historic proportion:

o        The 20th century is the warmest century ever. [This is based on the research published in 1999 by a group led by Mann which tried to estimate the temperature of the earth from AD1400 to the present. The statement is now accepted as fact and is quoted by many people including the Canadian government.]

o        In the last 25 years, the average temperature of the earth increased by 0.4°C.

o        The year 1998 was the warmest ever on record.

(2)  The increase in temperature is due to the greenhouse effect caused by an increase (+25% in the last 150 years) of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane) which are produced by industrial activities. These gases block radiation reflected from the ground into the atmosphere, thus causing the accumulation of heat.

(3)  Without any action to reduce the emission of CO2, there will be a doubling of the CO2 in the next century. As a result, the temperature is projected to increase by between 0.8°C and 4.5°C in the 21st century.

(4)  This global warming will in turn produce numerous natural disasters:

o        large-scale melting of the polar caps

o        rising of the sea level, coastal cities will be flooded

o        expansion of deserts

o        more violent weather patterns, such as hurricanes and tornadoes

o        increase of diseases

o        loss of arable land, decrease in agricultural production

o        massive extinction of species on earth by 2050 (extinction of up to one million species, or one quarter of all species of animals and plants on land) [predicted in January 2004]

b.   However, there are many prominent scientists from around the world who believe that:

(1)  The last 20 years were not the warmest in history and the recent global warming is simply natural changes.

o        The research by Mann et al was questionable. In 2003, 2 Canadian professors tried to duplicate the work using data from Mann. They found problems with the calculation for AD1400-1600. The corrected data show that temperature in the early 1400s was higher than today. The finding was of course rejected by Mann but not based on empirical evidence. The debate is still going on in 2004.

o        Two scientists from Harvard reconstructed the temperature estimate for the last millennium. They used more indicators in their research than Mann. Their findings:

·         There was a Medieval Warm Period in AD800-1200, followed by a decrease in temperature in AD1300-1900, called the Little Ice Age. Temperature increased since 1900.

·         Temperature around AD1000 was about 1°C higher than today.

·         The increase in temperature since 1900 was probably a natural recovery from the Little Ice Age.

·         Although the 1990s were the warmest in the 140 year period of direct temperature measurements, there were 50-year periods in the past millennium that were warmer than any 50-year periods in the 20th century.

·         They reviewed past research on climate change. The majority concluded that the 20th century was not the warmest or contained the most extreme anomaly. Of the 102 studies studied, 79 showed periods of at least 50 years in the past that were warmer than any 50-year period in the 20th century; 4 found the first half of the 20th century the warmest; only 3 studies found the 20th century the warmest unequivocally; 16 had the same conclusion but equivocally (concluded with reservation and doubt).

o        Mann’s research is largely affected by 3 questionable indicators. If one of the questionable indicator (tree ring data from western US) is eliminated, the increase in temperature becomes insignificant.

(2)  Recent global warming is not caused by the increase of greenhouse gases.

o        The average temperature on the earth has increased 0.6°C in the 20th century but 0.5°C of the increase occurred mostly before 1940 while 80% of the additional CO2 entered the atmosphere after 1940.

o        When CO2 increased rapidly after 1940, there was actually a drop in temperature between 1940 and 1975.

o        Between 1978 and 1998, the surface temperature increased 0.4°C while the temperature in the lower atmosphere measured from satellites increased less than 0.1°C. Yet, according to the theory of greenhouse effect, the increase should mostly be in the lower atmosphere. Therefore, the increase in temperature is likely not due to greenhouse effect.

(3)  Environmentalists exaggerate the possible consequences and sensationalizes scientific research with speculation.

o        Up till now, there is no concrete reliable evidence to support the disasters predicted by environmentalists but there are many examples where exaggerations were made.

o        In 1980, the computer model for melting of polar caps due to higher temperature predicted a catastrophic 25-foot rise in sea level by 2100; the predicted rise was reduced to 3 feet in 1985, and 1 foot in 1995. As for actual records of sea-level change, tide-gauge measurements indicate no acceleration in sea-level rise in the 20th century. Satellites recorded a 1-2 mm rise per year in the mid-1990s.

o        In 1990, U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted an increase of 3.3°C between 1990 and 2100; this was revised to 2.8°C in 1992, and to 1 to 2°C in 1995.

(4)  Even if global warming can be reduced by controlling greenhouse gases, the overall effect will be too insignificant and the cost is too high and the money will be used in better ways elsewhere.

o        At the present, greenhouse gases only account for 2% of the atmosphere. Even if all countries complied to the Kyoto Accord, greenhouse gases will only be reduced slightly, perhaps down to 1.9%.

o        In the US, complying with the Kyoto Accord will reduce the GDP by $200 billion per year, with 500,000 jobs lost. If the money is used to provide clean drinking water and sanitation, 2 million lives could be saved.

c.   As global warming is a main topic of radical environmentalists, any opposing viewpoints are systematically silenced.

·         Undoubtedly, people from both sides of the debate have good intentions. Yet, the debate on global warming is like the evolution debate in which one side persistently tries to silence the other side. [Secular humanists try to stop any teaching of creationism in public schools.]

·         However, unlike the evolution debate, there is no large group opposing the doubtful theory of global warming like the creationism supporters from evangelical churches.

·         That is why global warming is taught as irrefutable science and all governments bought into the actions to reduce global warming. On the other hand, empirical evidence and research against the global warming theory are not taken seriously.

·         The media do not report any large-scale refutation of the global warming theory. These refutations only appear in scientific journals but never in TV news.

o        Leipzig Declaration of 1997, signed by 100 atmospheric scientists and climatologists, states that “the dire predictions of a future warming have not been validated by the historic climate record.”

o        Petition Project, present-day ongoing project, signed by 19,000 working scientists from all over the world, including 2,660 physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers and environmental scientists; and 5,017 scientists from other disciplines in the United States alone, states that “the large temperature increase predicted by the IPCC has not happened” and “contrary to the conventional wisdom, there does not exist today a general scientific consensus about the importance of greenhouse warming from rising levels of carbon dioxide.” (published in the journal Climate Research, objecting the “Big Benevolent Lie” of global warming)

·         When the article published the article by the 2 Canadian professors on Energy and Environment, environmentalists even pressure the journal to fire the editor. When a prominent Danish scientist (their head of environmental research) presented an opposite point of view in a UN-sponsored conference in South Africa in 2002, he was shouted down when making the presentation.

·         Past examples of natural or man-made disasters show how robust the environment is. Predictions of long-term impact have all proved to be wrong in the past, e.g. Mount St. Helens, Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, burnt oil wells in Kuwait. In these cases, the environment recovered in less than one-third of the time predicted by environmental “experts”.

·         Question: Why are global warming proponents act irrationally, not allowing objective discussions? Because the hypothesis cannot stand up to scrunity and the defeat of the hypothesis will spell great defeat of the whole environmentalist movement. Their objective is to uphold the importance of the environment (above man), not objective scientific facts.

d.   Christian attitude:

·         There is no irrefutable evidence to support one side or another in the debate. “Global warming” should NOT be accepted as proven fact.

·         We should remain open-minded and accept results of objective scientific research.

·         We can provide qualified support for actions to reduce pollution.

·         But we cannot support drastic actions such as those specified in the Kyoto Accord as the Canadian government openly admitted that the impact has not been fully studied. Some estimates put the job loss at 100,000 (some estimate even much higher) if Kyoto is fully implemented in Canada.