Monday, 14 December 2009
Global Warming Fears and Why Catholics Should be Sceptical
I am writing this as a Catholic priest and therefore from a Catholic perspective. The presentation of the so-called "mainstream" assessment of Global Warming has caused serious concerns in the minds of many scientists and non-scientists, and these concerns include certain ethical questions about the nature of the presentation itself as well as questions relating to scientific methodology and the necessity of maintaining a rigorous commitment to the truth.
In recent weeks we have heard a British Government spokesman say that the scientific objection to the usual presentation of Global Warming comes from a "tiny minority" of scientists. Elsewhere it has become common to hear some scientists and politicians, as well as expert commentators, suggest that most of those academics who object to the so-called "consensus" opinion are not real scientists at all, or have no expertise in climate related disciplines. Both of these statements are unfair and misleading, and one of them is completely untrue.
The Wikipedia website, List of Scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming, tells us that those who oppose the usually accepted presentation fall into three groups; those who believe global warming is not occurring or that it has ceased, those who oppose it on the grounds that the accuracy of IPCC (The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) climate projections is questionable, and those who believe that global warming is caused by natural processes. Whilst it is true that many scientists the world over accept that some kind of global warming is taking place, there are many who do not believe that human activity is a major factor. There is a petition on the internet (Global Warming Petition Project) which, to date, has been signed by 31, 486 American scientists. The petition itself reads;
"We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth"
On the website of the Petition the qualifications of the signers are listed. The broad categories are; "Atmosphere, Earth and Environment" (3,804),
"Computers and Math" (An important category given the reliance on computer models) (935), "Physics and Aerospace" (5,812), "Chemistry" (4, 821), "Biochemistry, Biology and Agriculture" (Another very important category given the measurements related to these disciplines), "Medicine" (3, 046), and "General Engineering & General Science" (10, 103), of which the larger number (9,834) includes the disciplines, Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Metallurgy.
Some will argue that the larger group has nothing to do with climate change and may be dismissed, but part of the problem many people have with the usual presentation of global warming is with the quality or reliability of the scientific methodology. At the same time, as we will see, the credentials of some of those most prominently involved in the IPCC are questionable.
One of the common accusations against scientists who are classed as "Global Warming Sceptics" is that they are in the pay of big business. This has been shown to be unfair and, in some cases, entirely untrue. To take one example, William M. Gray is the Professor Emeritus and head of the Tropical Meteorology Project, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University. He has been quoted as saying;
"This small warming is likely a result of the natural alterations in global ocean currents which are driven by ocean salinity variations. Ocean circulation variations are as yet little understood. Humankind has little or nothing to do with the recent temperature changes. We are not that influential" "I am of the opinion that [global warming] is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people" "So many people have a vested interest in this global-warming thing-all these big labs and research and stuff. The idea is to frighten the public, to get money and study it more"
Whatever one thinks about this last comment, it is clear that some highly qualified people are not at all convinced by the data presented and are, in some cases, even concerned about the reliability of some of those presenting it. Added to this is the often unfair and even scandalous treatment meted out to some of those who dare to question the apparently prevailing view. Little of this is reported in the major newspapers or on the TV News Networks. Some sceptical scientists are now quiet - not because they have changed their views, but because they have been threatened with job loss or have been sidelined. Where sections of the Media have signed up to support the prevailing view, it is difficult for opposing voices to be heard at all. Government Spokesmen and women are allowed to use unscientific terms like "overwhelming evidence" and make unscientific statements like, "The science is indisputable", "The science is there", "The science is in" etc, without any fear of contradiction. For the most part TV News presenters ask no challenging questions, and in referring to sceptics even suggest, by their attitude, the unspoken view that, "of course, no one really takes this seriously, do they?"
Youtube is a good source of information about pro and anti global warming commentators. I discovered a story which will be unknown to most people in the United Kingdom. It concerns a scientist called Dr. Alan Carlin who was a senior research analyst for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which is now an arm of the American Government. He was asked to draw up a report based on a study of data related to Global Warming. To begin with, the report was not forwarded to others in the EPA, but was held back. A leaked email to Dr. Carlin from his superior leaves us in no doubt that the report was deliberately suppressed because its findings were inconvenient. The Youtube url for the most startling report on this situation is;
This is a report on Fox News which is one of the few News Networks to allow sceptical scientists and commentators a voice.
Since Catholics are, or should be, devoted to truth and justice, it is important to look back at the beginning and early development of the IPCC. As the name suggests, this was not intended to be simply a panel of climate scientists. The IPCC is not only scientific, it is also heavily political. We can see this by looking at its origins.
Shardul Agrawala is a senior economist at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), environment directorate, where he leads the work programme on climate change and development. He is the author of a chapter in the Fourth Assessment report of the IPCC. He has done important work on adaptation to climate change (for example with relation to glacial retreat in Nepal). He is not a climate sceptic but seems to have some concerns about the political aspects of the presentation of climate change. According to him, the IPCC has its roots in a workshop held in 1985 in Villach which was organised by The United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], The World Meteorological Organisation [WMO] and the non-governmental International Council for Science (ICSU). At that workshop, some scientists, speaking in a personal capacity (not representing their own governments etc), announced a consensus that, "in the first half of the next century a rise of global mean temperature would occur which is greater than any in man's history". It was the United States Government which took this up and promoted it. The US wanted an inter-governmental mechanism. There was some concern in the US that this "consensus" would encourage costly policies, and so, there was a need to "buy time". This formal recognition of scientific expertise was of great importance since it allowed wider publication of this information and invited other governments to become involved and enter into negotiation with each other.
The conference statement mentioned other factors thought to be connected with climate change: sea level rises, greenhouse gases, acid deposition, and threats to the ozone shield. It was suggested that use of coal and oil should be reduced and energy conservation should be encouraged to help reduce acid deposition. This, it was thought, would also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Concern about the ozone layer led to the suggestion that the release of chloro-flurocarbons (CFCs) should be discouraged (it was also thought that the reduction of CFCs would slow the rate of climate change).
There had been previous conferences on climate related matters, but the conclusions of the 1985 meeting went further than anything that had been said before. In 1983 a US National Research Council report had advocated "caution not panic". There had been a previous conference at Villach in 1980. The conclusions of that meeting were also far more cautious. What happened in five years to cause such a radical response? The world situation had not worsened to any great extent, so why the change of pace?
In a paper published in 1997, Wendy Franz (then at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) suggested the answer lies in the fact that the United Nations agencies invited the eighty-nine scientists to attend in a personal capacity, without domestic governmental restraints. These agencies, acting together, were able to encourage policy recommendations under the name of the United Nations, freeing those scientists from the need to seek approval elsewhere. This was an expression of a supranational body answerable only to itself. It is an example of the move towards international policy making which we have seen elsewhere (for example in the European Parliament). This brings in another question which we need to consider, that of "World Government".
Mention of World Government brings to mind the phrase conspiracy theories. Another well-known phrase also comes to mind; "Just because I am paranoid, it doesn't mean that they are not out to get me!" In other words, we may need to look at fears and theories we have dismissed as "off the wall" to see if there is any truth in them. Before I became involved in researching climate change I never took suggestions of people promoting "world government" very seriously. I would have been tempted to consign such fears to the "lunatic fringe". Didn't somebody once say that the lunatics are often right?
One of the most important people in the story of the climate change controversy is Maurice Strong. He was asked, by UN Secretary General, U Thant, to Chair the first 'UN Conference on the Human Environment' (Stockholm 1972). Strong had risen to these heights from his post on the security staff at the United Nations in New York. Christopher Booker ("The Real Global Warming Disaster". Continuum 2009) tells us that Strong was born in Canada 1929. He experienced the hardships of the Great Depression and became a socialist. Inspired by Roosevelt and Churchill and the beginning of the United Nations after the war, he became a believer in world government. Through his experience in the energy industry and his contacts with senior politicians, he found himself in charge of Canada's overseas development agency under the Prime Minister, Lester Pearson. This was in the 1960's when the environmentalist movement was becoming popular. Strong saw it as a cause that could bring about his dream of world government. By 1976 he had retired and became a wealthy business man. He became a member of the Club of Rome which had been set up to call world leaders together to discuss the question of over-population, a concern fired by Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb". In 1972, the Club of Rome published a book called, "Limits to Growth". It sold thirty million copies and became the biggest selling book in the history of the environmentalist movement. In 1983, Strong was picked by the Secretary General Kofi Annan to join the 'World Commission on Environment and Development' This was chaired by the Norwegian prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. Strong was convinced that man-made global warming should be one of the Commission's main concerns. He had been impressed by the 1985 Villach meeting. One of the UN bodies involved, the UNEP, was his creation.
It should be no surprise that the question of over-population has been raised again at Copenhagen (December 2009). The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has called for a reduction in world population in the interest of the environment. An article in the Daily Telegraph of Friday, December 11th, 2009 suggested that the topic was in the air but had not yet been openly acknowledged. Now it has, and as many Catholic watchers of these events will have predicted, it will now move centre stage. It is clear from the UNFPA report (see LifeSiteNews.com) that the focus will be on encouraging both contraception and (when deemed necessary of course) abortion. Many of us saw this coming. Once again it will be the people of the developing countries who will fall under the weight of the propaganda. I suspect some of their leaders already know this. Not only are the developing countries at risk with regard to their economic development, but their moral and social environment will soon be under attack by those who may have set out to seek to alleviate poverty but have ended up controling the poor. Some may wonder how I can say this. The control of the poor is already under way in the major countries of the West. Studies on this include Star Parker's book, "Uncle Sam's Plantation". In any case we have already witnessed insidious attempts to control the population of the poor in Africa. The policies of the Chinese Government, especially with regard to Tibet, have hardly raised an eyebrow in Western corridors of power, and those atrocities have rarely been reported in the Western Media which, in many areas, is controlled by liberal pro-contraceptive "progressives" who are not only "anti-life" but, increasingly, anti-Catholic.
Having said all that, and knowing that some will argue with my interpretation of the facts, there is still the problem of justice and the need for truth in the widespread scientific community. We do not need to deny that something like global warming is taking place, but there is still room - and time - for further discussion about the causes and the seriousness of the situation. Name-calling is no way to deal with dissenters. Earlier this year (2009) a special report was submitted to the United States Congress. It was not widely reported although the whole text was available on the internet. The report was signed by over 400 scientists who disagree with some aspect of the prevailing presentation of global warming. Many of them are at the top of their profession in climate-related science. This number has increased over the last five years, and increased by 100%. The fact that this is not widely known should make us think. What else is being kept off our news bulletins?
Unless we watch and read up on these things we are liable to find ourselves in very difficult situations when it comes to dealing with the Press. If Catholics too readily accept the common view of climate change and global warming, they may find themselves struggling to defend the right to life and the right to bear children against anti-natalism and the misuse of the propaganda they have already accepted as the truth. The present situation calls for careful discernment. Those who are concerned about these things are not all "global warming deniers", and many of them are certainly not ignorant of most of the facts. Unlike some of the media-supported climate change scientists and politicians, they do not make definitive statements, but try to ask questions and point to uncomfortable inconsistencies. They are not "flat-earthers" as Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called them, and they just might be the voice of sanity in the mad house.
Fr. John Abberton
- Fr John Abberton
- I was born in Sheffield and brought up in Halifax, Yorkshire.I was trained at Ushaw College, attended Durham University and was ordained in 1975. I am a member of the Marian Movement of Priests and a Secular Carmelite(ocds). I am also a reader of "True Life in God"