May 18, 2003
I thank you for your [Doug Winnail’s] response to my letter and set of articles dealing with environmentalist overkills. It should be noted that I can agree with you to a degree, such as about problems such as overpopulation and the worsening of the environment by many measures in Third World countries and former Soviet Bloc nations in recent decades.
But on the other hand, it’s clear that many exaggerations have been made by environmentalists about which they never concede they’ve committed any kind of error. The obvious ones concern alleged man-made cancer causing chemicals in the environment. The key point of Edith Efron’s The Apocalyptics: The Environmental Politics Controls What We Know About Cancer was that the natural environment is also full of substances that are carcinogenic by the same tests that determined various artificial chemicals are cancer causing. And, of course, if this is true, it destroys a major prop of the church’s health food subculture. For example, Dr. Robert Scheupplein of the FDA told the AAAS that natural food carcinogens cause 38,000 of the 500,000 American cancer deaths each year while pesticides cause under 40. Is natural necessarily better then? But how many members of the church over the past four decades have paid much higher prices for organic food to avoid pesticide residues (among other motives)? The ban on DDT has killed far more people than it ever could have saved, by promoting the spread of malaria. For example, in Sri Lanka, the number of cases of malaria went from 2.8 million 1948 to a mere 17 in 1963, but after its ban, the number of cases was back to 2.5 million in 1969. A particularly devastating refutation of the thesis of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring comes from how in controlled experiments birds given DDT given much higher amounts of DDT (6,000 to 20,000 times more) than were found in the natural environment hatched nearly similar numbers of chicks or even more (quail and pheasants). Furthermore, the compound breaks down easily in the natural environment, as experiments by one friend of mine (a past chemistry major at Central Michigan University) proved.
But now, let’s consider the issue of global warming. You raised the valid point that the sources I sent on the subject were dated about 1990, when many of the warmest years of the century have occurred since then. But here were faced with several issues which need to be addressed before we can cite this environmental problem as evidence of the need for Christ’s return, etc. First of all, there are natural variations in the earth’s temperature that have occurred in historical times that clearly couldn’t have been produced by human activity. The Little Ice Age, starting c. 1300, is a case in point. The earth in prior centuries had warmed enough that Viking settlers in Greenland could support themselves using medieval farming technology and typical farm animals (c. 1000-1300 A.D.) That couldn’t be done for centuries after this period of natural cooling had occurred. So then, how do we know that human industrial activity is causing the current (alleged) warming trend in the past century? Or is nature herself doing it? Correlation (human industrial activity increases as temperatures increase) does not necessarily prove causation, as I’m sure you’re aware.
The next issue is whether the temperature measurements themselves are reliable. A major problem is the heat island effect caused by the growth of cities around weather stations. This will tend to raise the temperatures measured due to the night time emission of heat from concrete and asphalt surfaces, and waste heat from buildings in winter, etc. One report from New Zealand found that the temperatures of weather stations far from human habitations that were not moved closer to urban areas showed no signs of increased temperatures. So weather stations that are found in cities that have grown rapidly in the past hundred years, even if they haven’t moved, will report temperature increases as the zone of urbanization around them grows in size. The effect could be as large as 1 degree Farenheit. You could look up the study by Jim Goodridge, a former California State climatologist, who found for 92 Californian weather stations a clear increase in average temperature from 1916 to 1987 from 58.5 to 59.4 degrees. But when he broken down the sample by counties with 750,000 or more people, 100,000 or less, and those in-between, he found the least populated counties had a drop in temperature from 55.6 to 55.4 degrees.
But then, we’re faced with the global warming model itself, which postulates that as parts per million of CO2 increases, so will temperature. But suppose that there are cases in which carbon dioxide increases, but temperature doesn’t? This is why the pre-1990 data for the past century can’t be dismissed as irrelevant. For example, in an interesting article in the Institute for Creation Research’s Impact magazine, #339, Dr. Larry Vardiman notes: “The greatest estimated warming does not seem to coincide with the period of greatest increase in atmospheric CO2.” This is because most of the increase in temperature in the past century occurred by 1938 or 1940, but most of the carbon dioxide buildup has occurred after 1940! The correlation does not hold up under close examination, which brings into question the whole causation argument based on these computer models (carbon dioxide up by so much, therefore, temperature up by so much). It’s necessary to explain away these anomalies for the global warming paradigm if well-informed readers are to be persuaded global warming is evidence that the end times are nigh. The pre-1990 data simply can’t be dismissed as irrelevant if they destroy the reliability of the computer models’ correlations. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has commonly said that global temperatures would increase by as much as 5ºC or 10ºF if CO2 were to double. Well, if the amount of greenhouse gases increase by 11% from 1880 to 1838 and the temperature increases by .33ºC, but from 1838 to 1986 a 28% increase in “bad gases” results in only a .13ºC increase in temperature, something’s wrong somewhere in these computer models. Garbage in, garbage out.
I’m old enough to remember in the mid-seventies discussions of global cooling, not warming, on TV. Did the church put out articles about, or did you yourself believe in, global cooling at the time? Yet, if the temperature has been going up this past century, how did anybody ever believe in global cooling then? And if they were wrong then, why should I believe the stories about global warming now?
But what may be causing the global warming? One interesting manipulation of the statistics comes from using the base year 1880. It was an unusually cold year! So a return to “normal” would be “proof” of global warming right there! Consider the point in the Imprimis article I mentioned to you by email (March 2002, by Sallie Baliunas) about the sunspot cycle and the Maunder Minimum. Changes in the sun’s output of energy may well have far more to do with temperature changes on earth than increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. A high level of magnetism neatly correlates with high temperatures, and low levels of magnetism correlates with lower temperatures in the past 400 years. This correlation/causation may be a lot more significant or reliable than the carbon dioxide/temperature one.
But, have temperatures really been increasing? Thomas Karl, George Maul, and Kirby Hanson, scientists of the National Oceanograpic and Atmospheric Administration, found for the 48 contiguous states that an urban-adjusted (no heat island effects, etc.) temperatures had not increased statistically 1895-1987. So then, in the premier industrial nation of the world in the past century, with the best, most reliably kept temperature records, there is no warming? Again, pre-1990 data can’t be dismissed as irrelevant if we had all this CO2 and other warming gases like methane dumped into the atmosphere for decades . . . and nothing happened! It’s time to explain such anomalies in the global warming paradigm. The Impact article I cited above notes that: “Temperature trends of radiosonde measurements from 63 upper-air stations between 90ºN and 90ºS latitude from 1958 to 1996 and measurements of a satellite microwave sounding unit between 83ºN and 83ºS latitude from 1979 to 1997 of global lower tropospheric temperatures were studied. Both of these systems show a slight decline in temperature since 1979.”
Can anecdotal evidence refute general statistics, if we have reason to believe the general statistics are reliable? For example, you cited a case in which a glacier you’ve personally seen has shrunk considerably. Other glaciers have shrunk as well. (Although I suppose they must have been growing during the Little Ice Age!) For example, a study in the journal Science reported that in West Antarctica the ice was thickening, not melting. In the journal Nature, another study found that Antarctica’s desert valley’s had grown noticeably cooler (!) since the mid 1980’s. (I’m depending on a January 30, 2002 Wall Street Journal for this above information, so it’s recent stuff, not c. 1990 material). That Nature article found a 0.125ºF a year cooling from 1986 to 2000. So, are melting glaciers in Alaska and Kenya balanced out by cooling in Antarctica? Are there really any major meltbacks of glaciers in Anartica? I can’t say for certain, but that’s the hazard of using anecdotal evidence or (in medicine) personal testimonials about how effective this drug or that herb is. Scientific knowledge is about generalizations, not individual particulars considered in isolation, when extrapolations can be safely made from large, unbiased samples by the process of induction.
So then, given this highly detailed discussion of global warming, where does that leave us? If in some regards the environment is not bad or is improving, should that be left out of articles that use environmental problems as evidence for the end of the age approaching? Can one imply “Everything is getting worse, hence, we need Christ’s return” when demonstrably not everything about the environment is getting worse? If concessions have to be made that some things are better (like fish living in Lake Eire, the disappearance of killer smogs over industrial cities, the overall growth of forests in the United States since 1944, etc.), can hard-hitting—or alarmist—articles still be written on this subject? If we have to make concessions, like a proper scholar does when facing anomalous facts that contradict his theory, then it’s harder to move people to action (and repentance), isn’t it?
Did we in the church back in the 1960’s buy into the predictions of massive famines hitting the world in the mid-1970s? Of course, the Green Revolution put that all off for several decades or more. God can always pull the plug on the whole system whenever He chooses since really human life is so fragile when nature is fundamentally hostile to human life and we’re so vulnerable to bad weather (although we modern men like to pretend otherwise). But here’s one point to consider as the world’s population grows yet the natural resources aren’t: Are basic commodity prices higher today than they were in (say) 1960, when adjusted for general inflation of the money supply? Do gold, oil, copper, iron, corn, wheat, etc. cost more or not? When American farmers were recently faced with some of the lowest prices for some crops in recent years in decades, it leads me to believe there is still slack in the world system, so long as we’re blessed with reasonably good weather. Likewise, human technological inventions can reduce the need for certain materials that straight-line extrapolations based on population growth don’t consider. For example, the use of fiber optics cables made of glass have reduced the need for copper for telecommunications.
It’s fine to observe that Dixy Lee Ray or Warren Brookes have biases for one reason or another. But so does the Worldwatch Institute. Ideological biases have caused far more trouble in the past century than those motivated by material self-interest. Far more people in the past century (a 100 million or more) were killed in the name of socialism than in the name of capitalist greed. The Worldwatch Institute’s left-wing biases make it no more reliable than (say) the public relations department of General Motors or ExxonMobil on the state of the evironment. The latter may be motivated by some level of material greed (although often that doesn’t exceed the material interest anybody has in their payroll check, I would wager, in many cases), but those motivated by visions of socialism have killed a lot more people and lied a lot more while proclaiming their altruism in the past century.
So although I’m willing to concede there are many deep problems in the world, and that it’s full of sin and corruption, we have to beware of implying certain general conditions are worse than they really are. I grant there are many major environmental problems out there, such as declining water supplies in many parts of the world, overfishing, deforestation, overpopulation, etc. But it isn’t balanced to pretend the good news doesn’t exist, which is the point of such a book as Lomberg’s. There is a need for the church to be a watchman, but we risk becoming chicken littles instead if what’s good is ignored while describing what’s bad in order to move people to action. We have to learn from the mistakes that put 1975 in Prophecy into print.