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. ‘

California Air Resources Board & Cool Glass

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is about to pass legislation intended to reduce heat in automobiles by requiring automakers to use metallic reflective window glazing on “rigid windows.”  Curiosity naturally prompts one to wonder why legislators in California are desirous of the hot air in their constituents’ cars when a great amount of it already blows through the halls of the capitol building.  The answer, global warming, comes as no surprise to those familiar with the priorities of California’s state politicians.  Californians should be wary of temptation to dismiss the issue of glass glazing as unimportant – we should also think well about what isn’t being questioned.

Proponents of the legislation believe it straightforward and sensible.  The goal is to keep cars cooler by making windows more resistant to heat.  If a car is cool inside, drivers will be less likely to use air conditioning.  If drivers use less air conditioning, then they use less gasoline.  Since 9.5 percent of America’s imported crude oil is used to produce the 7 billion gallons of fuel per year consumed by light-duty vehicle air conditioning, there is great potential for saving gasoline.  Apply the law of large numbers to gasoline saved due to less air conditioning use and viola – according to the CARB, Californians will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 1 million metric tons by 2012, the date the legislation will be fully implemented.  However, even if one doesn’t buy into the assumption that society can end global warming, proponents do not understand why anyone would object to keeping one’s car cooler.  After all, who honestly enjoys the hot air blast that greets a driver when he first opens his car door after having left his vehicle sit for a day in a parking lot under the hot sun?

Critics of the legislation certainly do not enjoy hot air blasts, especially when it takes the form of arguments made by proponents that distract voters from the potentially life threatening problems wrought by this legislation.  Metallic reflective window glazing, critics argue, blocks radio waves such as those used by garage door openers, cell phones, GPS devices, laptops, and parolee ankle bracelets.  Clearly this is problematic: imagine being trapped in a car after an accident and not having a cell signal because the windows prevented signal penetration.  In addition, by undermining the ability of GPS devices to function properly, the CARB would be trading a greater good for a lesser good.  According to one study, by virtue of providing drivers with shorter routes and preventing them from getting lost, GPS devices reduced carbon emissions by 24%, ten times the total emissions cut expected by the CARB as a result of their legislation.

Interestingly, the CARB both confirms and denies radio wave blockage.  According to a CARB frequently asked questions sheet, they conducted a small study in the Southern California Area to determine if GPS devices and cell phones still functioned properly.  No details are given about the study, but apparently GPS parolee ankle bracelets as well as cell phones were entirely unaffected by the glazing.  On the other hand, signals for after market GPS devices, FastTrak devices (used to bill drivers who drive on California’s carpool lanes alone) and garage door openers were prevented from penetrating the windows; therefore, drivers would need to point these devices through special “deletion windows.”  Perhaps the world’s leading GPS manufactures should consult with the Department of Corrections to study the advanced technology used in ankle bracelets.

Clearly, if there is good reason to believe that people’s lives will be endangered as a result of window glazing, the members of the CARB should reorder their priorities.  However, like I said concerning the healthcare debate, I’m concerned by the questions not being raised.  First, who elevated “global warming” to such a degree of importance that the need to prevent it takes precedence over our desire to support a free market?  What are their names and how much control over me and the things I buy do they believe they must have in order to solve the global warming problem?  Second, if cooler cars via window glazing are such a no-brainer, then why must it be legislated?  If there is an obvious market demand, then why must the government grow itself vis-à-vis legislation and oversight, in order to meet the need?  Why must we be less free in order to attain a good we’d otherwise have attained naturally and freely?  Finally, why is this something state legislators have chosen to care about?  My heart is burdened by the problems facing my home state: an unnecessary and artificially created drought in central California killing jobs and produce, the highest taxes on business in the nation, a jobless rate over 12%, schools that are understaffed and overburdened with union demands, and the list goes on.

Are cooler cars a good idea?  Yes, and California is full of smart, creative, designers and engineers empowered by the free market to create the products and technology to cool our cars.  When they do, I’ll be the first in line to make a purchase.  However, the CARB’s current legislation is facing critiques that, if valid, pose real danger to the best interest of Californians.  The critiques ought to be taken seriously, the legislation defeated, and state legislators ought to focus on solving the serious problems they already have, such as high taxes, education, etc., instead of expanding government in order to address problems the free market is better equipped and designed to solve.

*Image courtesy Image Shack.

Bold Plans for Electric Cars – Lunch w/ TED

“Shai Agassi wants to put you behind the wheel of an electric car — but he doesn’t want you to sacrifice convenience (or cash) to do it.  Forget about the hybrid auto — Agassi says it’s electric cars or bust if we want to impact emissions. His company, Better Place, has a radical plan to take entire countries oil-free by 2020.” – TED.com

It certainly is a “bold plan” and it is very clever, but I wonder what is do be done with all the batteries once they are worn out?  Also, isn’t the process of batter production very harmful to the environment?  Assuming that global warming was not an issue, what do you think of driving battery powered cars?  I think it’s a good start, but I’m not convinced that it is a realistic solution.  For example, I am doubtful that batteries have the power to do the hard work of powering large trucks w/ trailers. ‘

Debate Over Global Warming is Good for the Environment

“The debate over global warming is over.” This is the most rhetorically powerful (read abusive) and overused card played by those who claim to be champions of the environment. The debate is over. It seems to me that those who make this claim operate on the assumption that debate leads to passivity, to a lack of action. The thinking goes: Debate creates inaction! Inaction stops progress! Progress must be made! End debate!
Given the above line of thought, it is not unreasonable to arrive at the assumption that debate stops progress. And yet, the assumption is flawed.

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