Skip to site content

Questions for Global-Warming Deniers

Robert Parham at EthicsDaily.com recently posted an article about Al Gore’s interview on “60 Minutes” discussing the “toxic partnership” between religious fundamentalists, who deny global warming in an effort to protect a hyper-literal reading of the Bible, and free-market ideologues, who deny it to protect their financial interests.

Gore compared global warming skeptics to those who deny that Apollo 11 actually reached the moon, or ever left the Earth.

Parham writes:

“Gore’s challenge to global warming deniers contained a gentle truth, considering the non-stop, anti-Gore drumbeat that swells from religious fundamentalists and extreme free-market ideologists, both of whom fear science for different reasons.

“The former group has long struggled with science, which they fear undermines their faith and values. From the Scopes Monkey Trial to the Florida Baptist Convention’s effort to shoehorn intelligent design into public classrooms, Christian fundamentalists have rejected the scientific theory of evolution in favor of a six-day creation account in Genesis and its first cousin intelligent design.

“At the heart of the problem for fundamentalists is biblical literalism, the same literalism that says creation occurred over six days and once purported that Planet Earth is flat. After all, the Bible refers to the “four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12) and the earth on its foundations (Psalm 104:5).

¦

“Joined at the hip in opposition to Gore and the need to discredit global warming are the free-market ideologues, who fear science for what it demands from public policy that may affect personal gain and corporate profit.

“One such group is the Heartland Institute, which identifies its mission to promote free-market solutions to problems. That means advocating education vouchers, arguing for the privatization of public services and trying to discredit global warming at every turn. As recently as 2006, the institute teamed up with a pro-tobacco group to oppose restrictions on smoking.”

Parham makes some good points, although not all global warming skeptics are Christian fundamentalists or heartless capitalists. (He knows this.) And they do not all approach the issue in the same way. Some skeptics believe in global warming, but are skeptical that human activity is its root cause. Some doubt that global warming will have disastrous effects if left unchecked. Some skeptics even doubt that global warming is taking place. For those in the latter group, I have two questions. But first, I want to make one observation.

There is nothing wrong with skepticism. Professional scientists are trained to be skeptical, to demand evidence in support of conclusions. When someone comes forward to demand evidence for global warming, or evidence that human activity is its root cause, or evidence that if left unchecked global warming could wreck the planet’s ecology, that person is behaving in a reasonable, indeed scientific, manner. So I respect those who are not convinced of global warming, assuming they haven’t yet given full consideration to all the evidence that supports these conclusions.

But the evidence that supports the mere fact of global warming is, to me, overwhelming. After considering the evidence, I cannot reasonably doubt that the phenomenon is real. The global average surface temperature is rising at a rate never before observed in human history, as demonstrated by accurate thermometer readings made continuously since just after the end of the U.S. Civil War. Additional temperature data, going back thousands of years, is gathered from tree rings and Arctic ice core samples. But even without this additional data, it’s clear from thermometer measurements that since the late 19th century, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen at an alarming rate.

I also believe that human activity, specifically the production of greenhouse gases, is the root cause of global warming, and that we risk a global environmental disaster if we do not act to reverse or slow the planet’s average temperature increase. A considerable amount of evidence supports these conclusions, but for those who doubt that global warming is even taking place, questions about its cause and its effect are premature.

So I’m curious about those who doubt that global warming is taking place. If you’re not aware of the data, review the evidence and take the time to think about it. If you are aware of the data, then I have two sincere questions.

First, what is your explanation for why scientists have reached a virtual consensus on the fact of global warming? After all, we’re talking about temperature, a fairly simple parameter to measure. People measure it every day. They use a device called a thermometer. So to simply deny the massive amount of evidence gathered in support of global warming seems to imply one of three positions:

(a.) The global scientific community is composed of idiots who cannot correctly use thermometers, or who do not understand how to correctly analyze the data gathered from those thermometers. I doubt that any global warming skeptics hold this position, but who knows? Perhaps some people do believe this.

(b.) The global scientific community is composed of liars who intentionally misreport what their thermometers are reading, or intentionally manipulate the data gathered from those thermometers.

(c.) The global scientific community is composed of sincere individuals who, unfortunately, possess malfunctioning thermometers. And not only that, but all the thermometers are malfunctioning in the same way: giving readings that are too high.

Perhaps you believe there is a fourth option. For example, perhaps you believe that scientists have not reached a consensus on the mere fact of global warming. This position would imply, it seems, one of three positions, similar to those above: (a.) those who claim there is a consensus don’t understand what the word consensus means, or are not able to recognize the lack of a consensus; (b.) those who claim there is a consensus are simply lying about its existence; or (c.) those who claim there is a consensus are sincerely mistaken. If you’re charitable and accept (c.), where are the large number professional scientists who deny the mere fact of global warming?

Second, where is the accurate global average temperature data? The global scientific community has reported that the global average surface temperature is rising. But you believe this is not correct, either because the scientists are not smart enough to read their thermometers, are lying about what their thermometers are saying, or possess malfunctioning thermometers, or something else. Whatever your explanation for why the scientists are wrong about the planet’s average surface temperature, where is the correct data that shows what’s really happening to the Earth’s climate? And who has recorded this data? Where can we see it?

Rodney Dunning is a physics professor at Longwood University in Farmville, Va. He attends Farmville Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This column appeared previously on his blog.

Links:

The Straight Dope on the moon landing hoax theory

Global Warming Facts and Figures: The Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Real Climate’s Getting Started Page