We hear now (in full-page ads) from the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Their summons, signed by 80-odd evangelical leaders, is to address the global-warming crisis. The opening statement declares that "as evangelical Christians, we believe we're called to be stewards of God's creation."
That isn't an inflated claim; ministers of the Gospel are expected to address common concerns. This time we are advised that "global warming can and must be solved. It is no small problem. Pollution from vehicles, power plants and industry is having a dramatic effect on the Earth's climate. Left unchecked, global warming will lead to drier droughts, more intense hurricanes and more devastating floods, resulting in millions of deaths in this century."
The premise is that the planet is suffering from rising levels of greenhouse gasses, which are bringing on increasingly sharp climate changes. As Anthony McMichael of the Australian National University in Canberra has articulated the problem, climate change would lead to "an increase in death rates from heat waves, infectious diseases, allergies, cholera as well as starvation due to failing crops."
Two questions arise. The first, and most obvious, is: Is the information we are receiving reliable? There is a certain lure to apocalyptic renderings of modern existence. Some remember, not so long after the first atomic bomb was detonated, predictions that we were directly headed for nuclear devastation. After a bit, a Yankee skepticism came in and informed us that Dr. Strangelove was a creature unto himself -- that he could be isolated, and that nuclear armament could proceed, with high levels of caution. Today the problem on the nuclear front is proliferation. And the crisis is at our doorstep in the matter of North Korea and Iran. But even if they develop the bomb, we do not go straightaway to the end of the world with Strangelove.
The environmentalist alarum is strongly backed by evidence, but there are scientists who believe that the data of the last few years, indeed of the last century, attest to cyclical variations that make their way irrespective of the increase in fossil-fuel consumption. Professor Robert Jastrow, a distinguished astrophysicist, is skeptical in the matter. Yet recent reports of measurements done in the Antarctic have not been fully absorbed by the non-believers, and they aren't likely to ignore as simply inconsequential the increase in greenhouse gases, whatever dispute there may be about their exact effect.