6.20.2005

global warming

Matt asked a really good question; Scott's example was well-taken, and I wanted to talk more about this issue. So here's a whole post on it. Matt's comment:
just like evolution, i have my suspicions about the validity of "global warming". meterologist cant predict the weather a few days in advance. how could "scinece" have any clue about something as massive as global warming? i am all for controlling pollution, making the world less dependent on fossil fuels and being mindful about wasting energy. however, is this whole global warming trend a less discussed form of the whole evolution as sicence debate?
Matt & Scott-- I don't think this is an "open-shut" case. But let's look at the evidence: 1. As Scott pointed out, average ocean temperature levels are rising. 2. Permafrost in Siberia is rapidly deteriorating, as evidenced by quickly disappearing lakes that have been in existence for as long as people have lived in Siberia. 3. Water table shifting, in some cases causing spontaneous flooding of caves, which can be attributed to a massive build-up of ground water in mountainous regions (not as much water becomes ice in glaciers). 4. Glacier deterioration/retreat 5. Sea levels rising. Venice, Italy, is suffering most from this phenomena at present. 6. More dramatic El Nino and La Nina events between the coasts of South America and Australia. 7. Increased variability in weather patterns globally leading to monsoon/typhoon and hurricane development out of season. 8. Shifts in average temperature globally. This is probably the most debated claim made by global warming proponents, but it has been documented. 9. Ice core samples taken from the Andes Mountains in Peru, Antarctica, and the Alps and Pyrennies in Europe (and perhaps more studies I'm not aware of) demonstrate an increase in trapped gasses and heavy metals produced by human activity (including so called "greenhouse gasses"). 10. Satelite images of some major deserts--Sahara and Gobi among them--show that the deserts are increasing in size each year and that overall water levels in these areas, produced by rainfall, ground water, etc., is dropping. So what do we do with this evidence? There was a book written a few years ago called The Skeptical Environmentalist. I never read it, but I read about it. It caused quite a fuss because one of the author's main claims is that the evidence for global warming is not solid. This is probably a good position to take about something as difficult to pin down as climatology--we should doubt our evidence and our interpretations of that evidence. But the author also took a second stance, one that I'm not sure I agree with--and one that drives environmentalist folks out of their minds. He wondered if, even if the evidence did point to global warming, there was anything that should be done about it. Now as a general philosophical point, I totally agree with him: just because we see that something is happening in the natural world, that doesn't mean that humans have an obligation to act on that either way. For example, just because we envision natural selection going on doesn't mean that we should eliminate those that seem not to conform to our notions of "fitness." This is what the Nazis thought and we would call them evil (or at least their interpretation of nature and the human response to it). However, I think if it becomes even slightly evident that the actions of humans are causing a dramatic global shift in the climate, we need to take very seriously what that means for all occupants of the planet. Let me be really clear here: when it comes to the environment/ecosystem the pragmatic, short-term solution to any problem might be the one best suited to addressing the needs of individuals, families, businesses, and even whole countries. But I don't think that a good short-term solution automatically leads to a good long-term solution. So we should address that carefully. Addressing it carefully means appointing people to the EPA that take this seriously and giving teeth to regulations about pollution in accordance with standards set by the EPA and other environmental regulation groups. This is where things start getting problematic. Because as Christians and as inhabitants of this globe (some of whom may totally disagree with Christianity), there is a lot of justification on Scriptural, church tradition/history, and common sense grounds for taking care of the environment (I shouldn't have to rehash the whole "stewardship" concept here). Yet this whole way of thinking--examining our motives and trying to see things from the perspectives of people who aren't even born yet or even from non-humans--is counter-cultural. And governments and businesses don't think or act this way. Businesses, at least, can't act in accordance to long-term plans that matter little for the success of the business. Capitalism just doesn't work along these lines. Long-term, environmentally sensitive thinking implies that we may have to put what seems immediately best for our own self-interest on the shelf for a moment. It means that we might have to attempt to get at the issue from a non-pragmatic/utilitarian angle. And Americans are notoriously bad at that. (I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, I know.) So--as Christians--we might have to say that capitalism as much as it is tied to pragmatism is not in the best interests of humans, the Church, our individual purposes on earth. I know this is a dramatic statement and that it is not always so black and white as that. But we've got to stop thinking of ourselves as consumers first and people of God second. Leaving issues of faith aside for a moment, I can hear the skeptical peanut-gallery--"So what?!? We don't know that this stuff is caused by humans; we don't know that global warming is bad; we don't know that we can do anything about it even if it is a problem." I think these are all legitimate points of contention. And ther are others. As the greatest producers of various kinds of air and water pollution, energy companies have lobbied Congress again and again to pay no attention to speculations about global warming with (among other things) the implied threat that increased regulations on these companies would bring higher fuel rates and job losses. In the shorter term, it definitely seems like the desires for people to have low-cost electricity and gasoline, jobs working in those plants, and higher stock prices for those energy companies are important. I just don't find these arguments convincing over the longer term. Even if there's only a chance that the pollution produced by humans, that cutting down vast swaths of forest in Brazil, Columbia, Southeast Asia, etc., and that the unnaturalness of piping water from natural sources to large cities like Phoenix and L.A. will cause cataclysmic devastation a century into the future isn't that worth taking seriously? I don't mean that draconian restrictions should be instituted on anything that might produce pollution or cause the air or water to heat up. But, as far as I can tell, the Kyoto accords are not draconian. The fact that the U.S. refuses to sign is, at least in my reading of it, due to other motivations than concern for the well being of its citizenship or the rest of the global populace. <> Simply put, it appears that the leaders of this country and much if not most of its voting citizenship are more interested in not rocking the economic boat than in putting the West on a course that would potentially save hundreds of millions of lives (those that live in coastal areas) in the future. There is political prudence in that strategy--it's one that will make wealthy businesses and their stockholders happy in the short run. Perhaps it will take the rest of the world banding together over issues of long-term importance like this one to finally convince the superpower to get off it's economic duff and start "leading the world" in things of ethical import rather than just myopically focusing on the short term bottom line. And this issue wouldn't even be that big of a deal (i.e., I could be a complete cynic and just move to Switzerland) if it weren't for other topics that America is deeply engrossed in. Let's talk about the environment and long-term perspectives on debatable, non-pragmatically-inclined evidence with reference to the (in my mind at least) admirable long-term position that conservatives take on important issues like abortion. When you look at abortion, social welfare, and environmental policy together the message almost seems like, "We want you to be born but beyond that it's up to you. Don't come asking me for financial assistance. And don't expect me to allow you to have a home free of humanly-caused toxins or a stable climate." I'm not sure how well this accords with orthodox Christianity (or Judaism or Islam) in regards to social or environmental issues. < /rant>

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

e

you bring up a great point about the interface between being a christian in name and one in deed. i wish i had something of value to say other than it is convicting me to be less consumer oriented.

i think that commercial concerns are at the front of the global warming issue. anyone would be a foolish to think that the way we live our lives does not impact the world. the delicate balance is that we have 401(k)'s and a lifestlye that is not very eco-friendly.

i am such a creature of habit that i tend to forget the bigger issues because my contribution is small relative to american consumers. however, we do have a biblical mandate to watch over the earth.

will your recent post start a fresh conversation on this issue?

matt

6/21/2005 8:42 AM  
Blogger Scott Sloan said...

e, I concur with Matt. There are always hard choices that we have to make when it comes to environmental stewardship.

Appearances mean a lot especially to fortune 500 corporations. If they have a bad image as a polluter, They will eventually change because public opinion also = $$$. Bad public image = a cut in profits to your competitors. Just look at Boeing.

6/22/2005 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

e and scott

i have a quick question to ask. when the mainstream media develops and presents a story, how many views opposing their papers philospohy do you think the authors are required to research?

I ask this because buzz-word stories (global warming, evolution, religious archaeology, etc) seem to get tremendous air time. so, coroprate intersts for stockholders and being the first to move a peice seem to bear more attention than a well-crafted work. the ossuary from the time of james, bush's military records, gitmo koran abuse, etc should cost more than a credibilty loss, or a corportate blush and apology.

wouldn't it be interesting to see the media (conservative or liberal) not jump first for buzz but rather present content and cherent analysis rather than rhetoric or party-line psychobable? neil postman was a decade before his time with his work. sad that we dont have as many thoughtful authors as him in the media spotlight.

matt

6/22/2005 8:56 AM  
Blogger e said...

matt, your comment is well taken. i have a long response and a short one. given that i have 5 minutes before class, i'll take the short one....

neil postman was right. stop watching TV news, stop reading magazines like newsweek and time, stop reading the newspaper--even the NY Times.

the job of the news media is to provide a "more educated" form of entertainment now. it is not necessarily to inform, just to whip up public interest over a passing topic only to magically forget about it and introduce others immediately. if a news story is valuable, you'll hear it on the radio or it will appear in journals or books that have to pass through a--theoretically more scholarly and thoughtful--approval process. of course not all of the crap can be removed, but it seems like the filter is more stringent than in TV, magazines, or newspapers.

BTW--Bravo to the gallaughers for turning off their TV. b made me do that when we got married and i've almost never regretted it.

6/23/2005 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." Albert Einstein

'Global Warming'.... the scientists desire to be understood and to get research funding has led to many a catch-phrase term that the public and media then grabs onto! Erik, as always I am in awe of your broadness of study and thought which reminds me to turn my brain on occasionally.

The area of global warming is complex and echo's Einsteins words...we make bold guesses, that become statements of exactness in the media, based on data that covers only a mere blink of time. It is not that we are wrong as that we are like toddlers pretending to drive a car. Should we be wary of harming our planet..yes, but at the same time this planet is a huge living machine that has handled meteor impacts that make our messing look trivial.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that we should be mindful of the only home that humankind has, but at the same time we should remember that scientists are just like imaginative children drawing conclusions from their less-than-perfect observations. A published paper/press-conference does not a fact make (being mindful of Drs. Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons and their cold fusion claims).

Fact: The global ocean temperature has risen by 0.037 degrees celcius between 1955-2003 (NODC Ocean Climate Laboratory, Levitus etal, Geophys.Res.Lett.

Fact: If the energy from a 0.1C rise in ocean temperature was transferred to the atmosphere the atmosphere temperature would increase by 100C.

Fact: This is will not happen (see paper!)

However, it would be all to easy to see the media, and/or scientists, manipulate this data to their own ends. As God calls his children to examine and test themselves (2Co13:5) so to should we examine and test the knowledge we are given and told is true.

Anyway that was my 10 cents worth.

Have a great weekend!
Andy

6/25/2005 10:45 AM  
Blogger e said...

Andy--thanks for your dime. you make me turn on my brain :-)

Your point is well taken: we can't simply grab onto whatever the news media reports and take it for God's truth. Also, as you deftly pointed out, there is controvertable evidence about the warming itself--if the energy transferred, we should be nervous. But the implication is that it won't; and we shouldn't.

And your other, very significant comment that the earth can take care of itself is a good one, I think. Be that as it may, I don't want humans to alter the environment to the extent that _human_ life requires significant mechanical help to continue. Also, I happen to believe on grounds probably similar to Einstein's comment that tigers, pandas, geckos, butterflies, beetles, worms, etc. are fine the way they are--even if they don't count for much. I would hate to have us make the world unlivable for them whether through our direct or indirect action.

There's no question that life would continue (barring thermonuclear war), even in the case of catastrophic environmental changes. The question is whether or not that life would be worth living.

6/25/2005 5:42 PM  

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