I am not a prophet, not even a futurist. I do study trends, now and then, and I try to pay careful attention to popular culture. One thing I am quite sure about: global warming will be a central issue in public debates and political campaigns for some time to come. It has become the Apocalypse Now issue of our generation. (Overpopulation, the nuclear threat and global cooling did it only a few decades ago.) The simple premise, virtually unchallenged in many places, is that we are all destroying the planet. If we do not stop it now we are doomed to wreak havoc everywhere and kill millions of animals and people. Only calloused, cold-hearted, paleo-cons would be willing to battle such "hard" scientific facts and not support all moral efforts to save the earth.

Just last week Newsweek, generally a fairly moderate news source, had a cover story that provided a first-class object lesson about this debate. The story reduced the battle to one between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" and you can easily guess who is who without even reading the story. With righteous indignation (Is there any other kind in this debate?) Newsweek argued that there is a well-funded, anti-scientific "denial machine" at work in America that is determined to stop all serious attempts to solve this crisis. This machine is driven by money from oil companies and by loony-tunes conservatives who are driven by the almighty dollar.  (Don’t look now but many profit-driven companies are getting on the global warming bandwagon because they read the signs of the times and intend to make a good profit by the scare itself! Check out Archer Daniel Midlands and look at their future plans for development sometime.)

In a great op-ed in this week’s edition of Newsweek (August 22) Robert J. Samuelson noted that "Newsweek‘s cover story on global warming was a wonderful read, but misrepresented a very complicated and intractable problem." Well, hooray for Newsweek for including this excellent rebuttal piece. That is more than I can say for many publications on the left or the right. Makes me want to keep getting the magazine really.

Samuelson demonstrates the complications in this debate by showing that there really is no cabal driving this issue at all. Newsweek, he shows plainly, has treated this story very sympathetically since way back in 1988, with numerous cover stories over the years speaking about "the dangers" and why we all should be "worried" about the planet. In 1989 a Gallup Poll found that 63% of Americans worried "a great deal or a fair amount" about global warming while in 2007 the number rose to 65%. (I am surprised it is not a lot higher actually.)

The problem, argues Samuelson and others like him (include me in their number), is quite simple. What really causes global warming and what can we do about it? What troubles me deeply is the way many evangelicals, to cite just one segment of the Church, want us to buy into the global warming theories and solutions as a matter of faith and morals. Here are the facts that make this approach pious nonsense:

1. Almost everyone who is sane about this issue knows that we can only cut emissions incrementally and that China and India will more than offset the small gains we can make in the US and Europe. But the blame America cry heard in all of this smacks of politics more than of real science and pragmatic workable solutions.

2. No single theory is the accepted scientific model that has been approved, or universally accepted. We are working off of various theories and hunches and the debate needs much more light and less heat, no pun intended.

3. What we can do is more research and development. We need to do this and we need to resist avoidance of the serious aspects of this matter.

4. We can find better ways to dispose of waste material than into the environment. Some of these are both safer and more cost effective. Real solutions will be found by those grapple with both sides of this equation.

5. Samuelson gets it right when he concludes: "The overriding reality seems almost un-American: we simply don’t have a solution for this problem." This is hard for us to admit. We are so convinced that we can solve anything and everything, especially if we created the problem in the first place (as is assumed in this debate).

This is why Samuelson suggests that we steadfastly refuse to address this issue as "a morality tale." Amen! Someone please tell this to Richard Cizik of NAE, or to Jim Wallis of Sojourners, or to Tony Campolo the prophetic screamer, and to all the others who have made this into one of the biggest moral issues of the day for Christians. We can all do a lot better in addressing this complex and real concern if we keep this type of rhetoric and silliness out of the picture. All it does is assign categories, or labels, and then we all know who the "good guys" really are. Game, set, match!

Absolutely nothing is resolved in this kind of zero-sum game of cheap moralizing.

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  1. Gene Redlin August 14, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Amen and Amen
    I have been disappointed with Christian leaders getting on a bandwagon they don’t understand who is driving.
    This is about much more than global warming.
    Well said.

  2. Robin Vincent August 14, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    I feel that whether global warming is true or false is completely irelevent. What’s important here is that people are taking notice of what’s going on around them and making changes that improve their immediate environment. Dealing with waste correctly; recycling and reusing; moving away from a disposable culture; not clearing forests and habitats to grow cash crops; seeking to lower pollutants; find alternative energy sources – all these things are good for our health and our homes and our sense of connection with creation. Surely these are things worth encouraging – in line with our stewardship of this whole garden? I think it’s a shame to dismiss this because of the enormity of a global perspective, so instead see it a bit more locally in the cleanliness of your drinking water, a reduction in smog, rubbish, and a drop in fuel bills.
    So, don’t offset, don’t worry about china, don’t concern yourself with climate change – just look after your “world”, god loves it so much, and make it a better place for everyone around you.

  3. John H. Armstrong August 14, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Robin, I believe that you are right in this perspective. I was not speaking of ecology and of concern for God’s creation, something every Christian should embrace in my estimation. I was only writing about the apocalyptic overtones of much “global warming” fear mongering, not about proper Christian concern for the environment. The people I referenced in my blog confuse the two and thus many fine Christians feel they are the same issue and follow their influence and the assumptions of reports like that given in Newsweek. Save fuel, protect our water, care for our natural resources? Yes, amen! Embrace global warming theories that are in serious question and then urge wide-scale policy in our government on the basis of this highly debatable and often unworkable theory? No, I am not persuaded at all.

  4. ColtsFan August 15, 2007 at 8:20 am

    HotAir.com had a very interesting thread on the global warming issue recently.
    Or go to HotAir.com, go to “Vault”, select “August 2007”, and pick the following article, “Bombshell: NASA revises US temperatures downward”
    I support critical, independent science, and I m willing to let the conclusions speak for themselves. But the global warming ideology is not science, it is bad mis-science.

  5. Robin Vincent August 18, 2007 at 4:25 am

    That’s encouraging to hear 🙂 Whenever someone invokes the “well if China doesn’t…” universal get out clause it makes me nervous. I think the danger though is in saying global warming is nonsense you tend to imply (maybe unintentionally) that it’s ok to do nothing about your environment. And everyone sits back believing that solar energy is pointless while China still kicks out all that CO2 – so we throw another tyre on the fire and moan about how smokey the air is these days. When has our christianity or christian “duty” been dependent upon another man’s (or nations) actions. Don’t let our duty to creation be ignored or left behind during this sort of debate.

  6. John H. Armstrong August 18, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Robin, again I agree with you. I am completely in agreement that our Christian duty to care for the creation is not dependent on others actions. But the way the global warming debate is being staged has turned it into the new secular religion with its own set of moral beliefs and expected outcomes, etc. It is really a strong faith in man, who can change his environment if he wants to do so, and it cares little for the economic consequences of the very changes it promotes for the rest of the world. This is somewhat like the “Stop DDT” solution in Africa where a certain suspicious science prevailed and millions died needlessly from malaria, and still do, because of a dumb, scientifically questionnable policy.

  7. Robin Vincent August 19, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    It’s interesting what you say about Global Warming generating it’s own religious identity. I’d like to see a situation where economics is not the primary consideration – probably naivé i know but then i’m a hopeful romantic 🙂 and that through our own technological evolution we can help the developing world advance without going through their own environmental disasters as we did in the last century. Sometimes hardship is the result of the pursuit of justice. As India struggled for independence they stopped importing cotton from England and returned to making their own clothes – this created hardship in the northern english cotton mills, which was unfortunate but also a necessary part of creating a better, free India. Globally these days we’re are threaded together, we’re all affected, and sometimes we have to take on hardship for the greater good – sounds very “grand” and noble which is not my intention – i think i’m trying to express an attitude, but probably quite badly 🙂

  8. No Name Preacher August 23, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    To some extent I agree, John.
    I take the approach that global warming is real.Why it is, is the issue that is undecided.
    I am 50. Summer is warmer. Winters are more mild. Plain fact. why? Now that is the crucial issue.

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