Global Warming: Facts, Fiction, and Freedom

Global warming might be real, but that doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it.  In fact, if your actions are motivated by guilt or fear, Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley would rather you didn’t act at all.

Hayhoe and Farley are the authors of A Climate For Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.  Though I am personally still skeptical of many global warming claims, it’s hard to imagine a team more qualified to write this book.  Katharine Hayhoe is a scientist and professor whose research has been used by the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Congress, various state and federal agencies, and over two hundred newspapers and media outlets worldwide.  Andrew Farley is a pastor, professor, and the author of The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church.  Together, this husband-wife team combines a clear presentation of scientific findings with a Biblically-centered interpretation and call to action.

A Climate for Change argues that, despite what many evangelicals may still tell you, climate change is real–and it’s happening now.

The authors begin by addressing several of the most common objections to the theory of climate change, arguing that these objections are neither scientifically founded nor realistic.  They pay particular attention to some common evangelical objections, recognizing that this is a sticky subject for many Conservatives and for many Christians:

As Christians, we’re naturally suspicious of people who believe differently from us.  How can such activists–those whose voices have so often been raised against us on fundamental issues like family and the sanctity of life–have anything worthwhile to say about the environment?

In the past, we may have seen climate change used as a political tool on the part of this party or that organization to manipulate and get what they want.  Our hesitations are justified.  It’s hard to trust information from sources we feel might manipulate facts to suit their political agenda.

But the issue of climate change really is different.  It’s not about blue politics or red politics or any kind of politics.  It’s about thermometer readings and history.  It’s about facts and figures.  It’s about reality.  And that’s what we want to explore with you in this book. (p. XV)

For one thing, many have objected to claims of global warming because of severe cold weather conditions.  It’s hard to take global warming seriously, for example, in the middle of a severe snowstorm.  This, argue the authors, is due to a misunderstanding of the fundamental difference between climate and weather:

Don’t let your memory of some recent extremes, whether hot or cold, influence whether you believe global warming is really happening.  The reality is that global warming is about long-term changes in climate, measured over many decades or more.  It’s not about short-term changes that we see in the weather from one day to the next, or even from year to year. (p. 59)

Thanks to the recent “Climate-gate” scandal, global warming facts and fiction are more difficult than ever for the public to distinguish.  This book was released in October 2009, just before the email scandal broke, so it’s unclear how or whether the facts cited might be different had the book been written today.  The authors do mention, however, that the facts on which they base their claims are both old and indisputable.  They quote Sir John Houghton:

I’ve worked with hundreds of scientists and the vast majority know that it is happening and understand the science.  The basic science after all is very old science; it’s been known for two hundred years that we are as warm as we are at the moment because of greenhouse gases.  If you put up more of these gases, the world become warmer.  There is no doubt about that from a physics point of view or from a basic science point of view.  No scientist who knows anything will dispute that. (p. 67)

The final section of A Climate for Change contains both common-sense lifestyle change suggestions and some good teaching on Christian social responsibility.  Caring for the earth, the authors argue, is a way of caring for the poor, since they are the people most directly impacted by environmental changes.  People cannot redeem the earth–only God can do that, and he certainly does not need our help.  On top of that, he never commanded the New Testament Church to care for the natural world.  Even the commands found in Genesis 1:27-31 are more general than is sometimes assumed:

If we’re honest, there really is nothing here beyond be fruitful, increase, rule over the animals, and eat anything you want. Furthermore, if we conclude that there is an ecological mandate for today within this passage, then we must equally conclude that our mandate is to have more and more children and to increase the world’s population.  This would, in turn, contribute to more climate change and environmental issues, not diminish them. (p. 133)

While the authors would like you to believe their claims about global warming, they do not want you to act without proper motivation.  Far from imposing a guilt trip on their readers, Hayhoe and Farley instead advocate simple, common-sense, money-saving solutions that will inevitably benefit both you and your neighbors even if nothing is wrong with the climate–and they suggest that you make no changes at all if you are acting out of a sense of guilt:

…the true Christian message is one of freedom of choice, not guilt of duty. The moment we adopt any action out of obligation, we set the wheels of human effort in motion.  Then it is no longer Christ in us and Christ through us.  Instead, it is merely the human-driven notions of philanthropy or activism. If you decide you don’t want to individually contribute to a solution to climate change, so be it.  You are free in Christ to decide that.  Conversely, if you as an individual decide to make decisions that will help, that is great.  You won’t earn status points with God.  (p. 139)

I still don’t know whether global warming is real.  Hayhoe and Farley believe it is, but as a non-scientist I am not qualified to critique their evidence.  I do know, however, that if I’m going to continue in my skepticism I’ll have to find some new arguments, as A Climate for Change effectively dismantled my previous assumptions.  The book is worth reading no matter what you believe about the global warming debate and who knows, you may find, like me, that you don’t know as much about the subject as you thought you did. ‘