by E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman, Cornwall Alliance
Tens, even scores, of millions of adult Americans will remember warmly the weekly papers we received in school from The Scholastic. They were geared for specific age ranges, from Kindergarten up through twelfth grade, and covered a wide variety of subjects. They were helpful curriculum supplements to teachers.
They’re still around today. I assume many are as useful, and unobjectionable, as they were forty, thirty, even twenty years ago.
A few days ago the Cornwall Alliance received an email from a Kindergarten teacher at a Christian school. She had been surprised when her school principal told her not to use “The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge,” a
designed for Kindergartners through third graders, to acquaint them with the serious danger of global warming caused by burning fossil fuels and how we all can “go Green” to “help save the planet” by resorting to wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources.
“My principal says absolutely no global warming. He does not say why other than it is not a Christian worldview. … My Kindergartners enjoy the magic school bus. They learn about so many topics that I cannot always explain. Can you tell me why the … program would be a bad thing?”
Well, I can’t peer into her principal’s mind, and she identified neither herself nor her school, so I can’t ask him to expand on his thinking. But her question is a good one and deserved a careful answer. I hope I supplied it with what follows, which is, with a few very minor changes, the main body of my reply:
You’ve said the only reason your principal gave you for not teaching the children about global warming is that “it is not a Christian worldview.” Let me begin by addressing that, for although few people have thought the issue through at that depth, he’s actually going right to the root of the matter.
It’s certainly not impossible, in this post-Fall world in which all people are sinners (Romans 3:20) and the Earth itself is under God’s curse because of our sin (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:18-23), for human beings to do things that harm the Earth, and we as Christians have a responsibility to pursue God’s instruction to multiply, fill the Earth, subdue it, and rule over it (Genesis 1:28) in a godly way that glorifies Him and serves our neighbors by enhancing its fruitfulness and beauty and guarding it against abuse (Genesis 2:15).
However, the widespread belief that human emission of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases, though by comparison their contribution is slight) is causing what either already is or will in the future become dangerous global warming rests on an assumption that goes well beyond this. It is the assumption—common to almost all environmentalist thought—that the Earth and its natural systems (biosystems, geosystems, the climate system) are extremely fragile and thus subject to catastrophic harm even by comparatively tiny influences. To be specific, in the case of global warming the hypothesis is that increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere from about 270 parts per million by volume to about 540 parts per million by volume (that is, from about 27 thousandths of a percent to 54 thousandths of a percent) would cause catastrophic heating that could jeopardize human civilization as we know it, or even perhaps all life as we know it. Stop and think really carefully about those proportions for a moment: from 27 thousandths of a percent to 54 thousandths of a percent. That means that CO2 would still, after doubling its concentration, make up less than 0.06 percent of the atmosphere.
In a moment I’ll suggest some empirical arguments against that hypothesis, but for the moment, taking your principal’s cue, let’s just focus on the worldview issue: whether that hypothesis is consistent with a Christian understanding of God as Creator and Sustainer of His creation, and the climate system as part of that creation. And to take the issue out of the highly charged one—because of the massive political and media campaign waged over it in the last three decades—of global warming, let’s apply it to an analogy instead. Suppose an architect designed a building so that if someone leaned casually against one wall it would collapse. Would any of us say, “Oh, that’s a brilliant design! The architect must be brilliant!”? No, I don’t think so. Instead, we’d think that design was pretty foolish.
But that’s exactly the view of Earth’s climate system presupposed by global warming alarmism. Let me explain a little more fully.
Even proponents of the hypothesis acknowledge that, according to basic physics, doubling atmospheric CO2 would cause only about 1.2 degrees Celsius of increase in global average temperature. Nobody thinks that amount of warming would be harmful; indeed, most studies indicate that it would be beneficial to most parts of the Earth, lengthening growing seasons in high latitudes, increasing rainfall, and thus improving agricultural yields and plant growth generally. The fears all come from the belief—generally embraced by those working under the auspices of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—that climate feedback mechanisms would greatly magnify that warming—indeed, by about 250% (to 3C) to 375% (to 4.5C).
Again, thinking from a Biblical worldview perspective, which recognizes that Earth’s climate system is the product of God’s wise design and is sustained by His omnipotent providence, does this make sense? Let’s go to our analogy again: Would we think that an architect who designed a building so that all its internal feedback mechanisms magnified any stress put on it so that ultimately a positive feedback loop would cause the whole building to collapse simply because someone leaned on one wall was a great designer? Surely not.
In short, then, the Christian worldview provides a basis, a presupposition, from which the Christian will automatically be quite skeptical of the kind of reasoning that leads to fears of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW).
That’s not the only reason why many Christians—including many Christian climate scientists and other natural scientists—reject fears of CAGW. Increasingly in recent years their empirical research has provided significant support for that position. In fact, it has been pointing in the opposition direction from the fears. The fears assume what’s called high “climate sensitivity”—that climate will warm a lot because of increased CO2 concentration. Increasing empirical observations point to low “climate sensitivity”—that climate will warm very little because of increased CO2 concentration. They are finding, in fact, that the overall feedback mechanisms are not positive (magnifying the influence of any given stress on the climate system) but negative (reducing the influence). That is, they’re finding that the climate system, though not static or in equilibrium (no natural system is), is generally stable, varying within a fairly narrow range. A variety of different studies increasingly lead these scientists to believe that the 1.2 degrees Celsius of increased warming that would come from doubled CO2 in the absence of feedbacks is not magnified by the overall feedbacks (to about 3-4.5 degrees C) but rather is reduced by them (to something in the range of 0.5-1 degree C). For just one illustration of that, see the recent work of Dr. Roy W. Spencer, principal research scientist in climatology at the University of Alabama/Huntsville, a Christian, a good friend of mine, and a contributing scholar to the work of The Cornwall Alliance, discussed in his two most recent blog posts here
. They’re a little technical and assume that readers are already familiar with some of Spencer’s ongoing work in this field, but with the background I’ve given you, you should be able to understand his basic case. Let me try to summarize it for you.
We start with a fact that will surprise the vast majority of the public, since the media have failed to pass this along effectively: There has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995. (This is something admitted even by IPCC lead scientist Dr. Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia; see here
.) Various alarmists have been quite puzzled by this—one of them, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, saying
it’s a “travesty” that we can’t explain it. Lately one hypothesis offered to explain this lack of atmospheric warming is that the “missing” heat (“missing,” of course, only if one first assumes the hypothesis of overall positive feedbacks) is being absorbed into the deep oceans, from whence, sometime in the future, it will be returned to the atmosphere, causing a sudden and very rapid increase in atmospheric temperature—global warming coming back to bite us, so to speak. The work on which Spencer reports in the two blog posts I linked above demonstrates pretty clearly that this isn’t the case—because in fact there’s been no warming in the deep ocean over the period in question. This entails that the “missing” heat—if indeed there is any—is going out into space, from whence it will never return. That, in turn, means that overall feedbacks are negative (minimizing warming from added CO2) rather than positive, the climate system is stable rather than fragile, and the fears of CAGW are unfounded.
This, then, is what I would offer you as the basic case for your principal’s assertion that global warming—or, to be more precise, CAGW—isn’t consistent with the Christian worldview, and therefore you shouldn’t be teaching it to your young students.
The Cornwall Alliance—a network of evangelical theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, other academics, and policy experts committed to bringing Biblical worldview, theology, and ethics together with excellent science and economics to promote simultaneously (a) balanced, Biblical Earth stewardship, (b) economic development for the poor, and (c) the proclamation and defense of the gospel of Christ—has made the case against CAGW in greater depth in several places. I would encourage you first to read for yourself our major study A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming
(the work of 29 different evangelical theologians, scientists, and economists). After that you might also want to watch Dr. David Legates’s lecture “Putting Out the Dragon’s Fire on Global Warming,” part of our 13-part DVD series Resisting the Green Dragon
, available at www.ResistingtheGreenDragon.com
Let me conclude by commenting directly, though very briefly, on “The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge” video and whether it’s suitable for children—Christian or non-Christian, in a Christian school or a public school. The program presents only the alarmist view, with no balancing consideration of the scientific, let alone the worldview, objections to it. It thus will cause unnecessary fears among children who view it. It states, that many common activities are causing CAGW, causing unwarranted feelings of guilt for harming others when in fact those activities almost certainly aren’t harming others. I would put it in the category of propaganda, taking advantage of the naivete and lack of discernment common—unavoidably, given their youth and lack of widespread study and experience—to Kindergartners through third graders. It’s precisely the kind of thing against which Dr. Michael Farris, founder and chancellor of Patrick Henry College and founder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, warns in his lecture “From Captain Planet to Avatar: The Seduction of Our Youth,” in Resisting the Green Dragon.
I hope you find this helpful. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance, and may God bless you as you seek to teach young children the glories of His creation so that they will be able to appreciate the message of Psalm 19 and Psalm 104 and not fall into the trap of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator, about which Paul warned in Romans 1.