This question about the future of the climate is the leading idea of John R. Christy’s essay in the book, The Way We Will be 50 Years from Now (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2008). Christy is professor of atmospheric
science, and the director of the Earth System Science Center, at the
University of Alabama in Huntsville. He was awarded NASA’s Medal for
Exceptional Scientific Advancement for developing a global temperature
data set based upon the microwave data observed from satellites. He was also the
lead author for the UN reports on climate change. He shared in the same Nobel Prize that was awarded to the whole group of scientists and former Vice-President Al Gore. As a result of this fact I did not think his essay would provide much more than the usual "religious" babble on climate change. I was pleasantly stunned. As a result I now read Dr. Christy’s reflections wherever I can find them on the Internet. (Do a Google search with his name.)
Christy freely admits that the climate system is so complicated, and the models used for predicting the future are so completely inadequate, that we cannot have "confident forecasts to describe future changes in the types of weather people really care about" (15).
In an open letter that Dr. John R. Christy wrote just after receiving the Nobel Prize in 2007 he said:
It is my turn to cringe when I hear overstated-confidence from those who describe the projected evolution of global weather patterns over the next 100 years, especially when I consider how difficult it is to accurately predict that system’s behavior over the next five days. Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the tools available to us.
Christy’s essay in 50 Years from Today is worth the entire book. He says we can clean up our rivers and remove more and more of the waterborne diseases we now fight against if we work to improve the environment. But can we know whether temperature will be hotter or colder in the next fifty years? He simply says, "I can not know . . . though the sense today is that in most places the average temperature will be a bit warmer" (16). He also adds, "And I believe we shall be continually amazed at the resilience of the planet’s living systems" (emphasis is his, 16). For good measure he adds, "I can not know the extent of the Arctic Sea ice in 2058. But I believe that there will be at least as many polar bears as there are today because they are exceptionally adaptive creatures and I suspect more regulatory action to limit hunting quotas will likely occur" (16). He goes on to add an entire litany of things he says "I can not know," including the frequency of hurricanes, the rising or lowering of the sea level, what new forms of power generation will enhance our lives, or what forms of governance will be operational among the nations (16-17).
Christy concludes, with a proper confidence and humility both, "In summary, I can not know what the trajectory of the climate system will be well enough to advise policy makers on what specific course it will take, or well enough to help them know what they could possibly do to tweak it toward a direction deemed ‘safe,’ or even well enough to appear exceptionally prescient to those reading the future" (17). But this is not the end of Dr. Christy’s magnificent short essay. He writes:
"But I do believe that the accumulating economic development throughout the world will not be sidetracked by calls to ‘stop global warming,’ which are ultimately designed to inhibit access to affordable energy. As a result, I believe more and more people will experience better health and security and that this will be accompanied by the additional bonus of a better-preserved natural environment" (17).
I do wonder about Dr. Christy’s personal faith and life. I would love to meet him, either way. He is an optimist in a field dominated by pessimists, which stands him in stark contrast to so many of those who also write in this book. He concludes his essay with this amazingly hopeful perspective:
"In other word, I envy those in 2058, including my grandchildren who will then be about fifty-ish, living amidst the astounding advancements to come to pass, including the enhancements to both the environment and human prosperity now only a dream to billions" (17).
If you wanted a summary of my own view of the "big" environmental issue, and the year 2058, there you have it. And the man who holds it is clearly not some hack writing for a political Web site with a particular conservative agenda. Environmental alarmists please take careful note here. Truly good science is not on your side. What these secular alarmists have is an apocalyptically-driven religious view of the world that is as bad as that held by some radical millennialists inside the church. Thank God for men like Dr. John Christy in Huntsville.