Climate Science and Evangelicals

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs, Environmentalism, Politics, Science

One of the true hot-button issues conservatives routinely debate  is climate science and global warming. I have listened to some of the strangest and most confusing debate over this issue. Some of the worst debate over this issue is routinely endorsed by evangelical Christians who laugh at climate science and demonize those who take it seriously. Some even produce impressive looking papers on what is wrong in the ciimate science debate. Much of this makes Christians look rather foolish to those who do rigid research on this problem.

Glaciated_grinnell_area-preview What must be understood in this debate is that there is no doubt that global warming actually exists. The question is not, “Is global warming real?” The question is what causes it and what can, or should, we do about it?

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry recently suggested that the flow of grants has led to a growing body of research arguing for human causes of global warming. In the September 26 issue of USA Today, Republican Bob Inglis, a two-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-99, 2005-11), laid waste to this form of reasoning when he noted that scientists do not make a name for themselves by parroting consensus by rather by finding ways that challenge it! If you know anything at all about scientific research, and about how research actually works, you know he is right. You don’t get a theory named after yourself, or a prestigious award given in your honor, for writing papers that say, “Yes, just as he/she said!” You become famous, and make real breakthroughs in science, by demonstrating new insights and by providing new understanding to the scientific community.

What conservatives have done is create an appearance of uncertainty about the science of this issue when little uncertainty presently exists among working scientists. 97% of climate scientists have concluded that the planet is rapidly warming as a result of human activity. 97%! But only 15% of the public knows this to be true. And most of them care very little about this issue. I can count on one hand the number of conservatives I’ve heard in the last year who took this issue seriously at all. Most reason, “It doesn’t impact my life right now so why should I care that much about something that will only impact people decades from now?”

Conservatives sometimes admit climate change is real but then quickly assert that human activity has little or no part in it. And if there is some human element they will then argue that the costs of correction are just too heavy, especially in bad times like now.

Bob Inglis tackled this proverbial response of conservatives when he noted that when they argue that the markets will deliver innovation and ultimately correct the problem they are right but they do not actually practice their own beliefs. This theory about the market is what has been argued about our dependence on foreign oil since 1973 but things have not fundamentally changed. Why? Inglis cogently argues that if we passed along the “real costs” of petroleum (the national security risks, the costs of protecting the supply lines from the Middle East, the cost of pollution from the tailpipes of our cars and the cost of taxpayer subsidies) then we would soon be made aware of our real problem! Markets can and would respond but not when some  fuels continue to escape accountability. Markets work best when they are most freed of interference. This is just good economic sense.

Inglis concluded his opinion piece in the September 26 issue of USA Today on how to engage climate science politically with a credible call to action:

Conservatives can restore our objectivity by acknowledging that Americans are already paying all the hidden costs of energy. We can prove out commitment to accountability by properly attaching all costs to all fuels. We can prove our belief in free markets by eliminating all subsidies and letting the free enterprise system sort out the winners and losers among competing fuels.

Or, more cynically, we can attempt to disprove science, protect the fossilized and deprive America of a muscular, free enterprise, no-growth-of-government alternative to cap and trade.