Global warming is worse now than when I first wrote about it in my out-of-print book, Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Christian Guide to Protecting the Earth, published in late 1991. Scientific evidence is more definitive. Moral action is more urgent. Opposition is more boneheaded now than then.
In the third chapter of my book, I focused on ways human beings were assaulting the earth. One way was global warming, which received about one page of review.
“Scientific evidence does point toward a global warming trend. Six of the warmest years in recorded history have occurred during recent years: 1990, 1988, 1983, 1987, and 1981,” I wrote.
Seventeen years later, the prestigious Goddard Institute for Space Studies reported that eight of the warmest years have occurred since 1998.
That’s right. We have had hotter years since my 1991 book, and more of them.
Released on Jan. 16, 2008, here’s what Goddard’s 2007 summation report said: “The eight warmest years in the GISS record have all occurred since 1998, and the 14 warmest years in the record have all occurred since 1990.”
The year 2007 tied 1998 as the earth’s second warmest year in a century. The year 2005 was the warmest year.
The report said, “It is apparent that there is no letup in the steep global warming trend of the past 30 years.”
Addressing the global warming skeptics, the report said, “‘Global warming stopped in 1998,’ has become a recent mantra of those who wish to deny the reality of human-caused global warming. The continued rapid increase of the five-year running mean temperature exposes this assertion as nonsense.”
Underscore the word “nonsense.” That’s a strong word for scientists to apply to those who deny man-made global warming.
When I wrote my book, I referred to the global warming doubters as “environmental skeptics,” a term that in hindsight may have been too respectful for some who deny climate change. In 1991, the skeptics rejected the idea that scientific data proved that the climate was warming. Nonetheless, empirical data continued to accumulate, making the case abundantly clear that the climate is changing.
There is a difference between skeptics and deniers, however. Skeptics doubt with reason. Skeptics are open to truth, to proof. Given evidence, skeptics generally shift from doubt to belief, from reluctance to acceptance.
The same can’t be said of deniers–deniers are those who are ideologically unyielding, regardless what evidence is presented, what proof is delivered. Deniers have little room for science, for empirical evidence. No amount of testimony and hard evidence will convince the Holocaust-deniers that the Holocaust really happened, for example. The same kind of rigidity characterizes the global warming deniers who would rather dismiss an abundance of evidence than abandon their false ideology.
At the end of my chapter, I concluded: “Despite our lack of definitive scientific evidence in some areas and our inability to predict the future, we would do well to act today. We must set in motion prudent initiatives which keep future generations from suffering due to our failure to act. We must view present-day reforms and initiatives as an insurance policy for the future.”
Then I wrote, “But most of all, we need a new ethic of earth keeping.”
We still need a new ethic of earth keeping. If the global warming deniers will not listen to science, perhaps they will listen to faith. Maybe faith has more power to challenge and change ideological convictions than science, than reason.
Until enough Americans see with clarity the reality of climate change, we need faith leaders to offer clear biblical teaching about our obligation to care for the earth. The earth is the Lord’s and we are caretakers of it.
The needed new ethic is that straightforward and much overdue.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.