Opinion: The Religion of Climate Change Alarmism
I am a global warming agnostic: I neither believe nor disbelieve in human-caused climate change. With this mind, I attended Professor Katharine Hayhoe’s November 29th BYU Forum address to listen to, and perhaps be persuaded by, some compelling evidence that anthropogenic climate change is real. Although Dr. Hayhoe addressed the subject with evangelical zeal, I left the Marriott Center unconverted.
I will first mention several points of agreement: (1) We must be wise stewards, as commanded by the Savior. As an engineer, I believe that efficiency is a prime consideration in process design. (2) Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the second great commandment and is a vital adherence of any true Christian. (3) A person’s belief in climate change absolutely correlates strongly to their political leanings.
If climate change were simply about “the science," there would be no controversy. Unfortunately, the debate is not really “just” about the science. It is about the proposed solutions. Those who are the most vocal about climate change (declaring it an extinction level threat and throwing food at art to gain attention) generally have very specific social/political/economic agendas (such as population control and/or forced economic equality through heavy-handed government intervention, aka socialism, to gain control of the world economy) that fighting climate change conveniently address. Therefore, it is disingenuous for Dr. Hayhoe to simply claim that science tells us that “it’s real, it’s us, it’s serious” while simultaneously stating that faith tells us why it matters and what we can do about it.
The alarmist anthropogenic climate change believers’ articles of faith are that humans are altering the climate with catastrophic effects and it is not open for debate, there is scientific consensus on the matter, and those who are ignorant or stubborn enough not to recognize this “truth” are not worthy of consideration or time. As I apparently fall into this category, I will address a few points of disagreement with Dr. Hayhoe.
While I sympathize with her efforts to make her forum accessible to the broader campus community by using newspaper headlines to illustrate her points, these were often superficial. Newspaper reporters love to connect every flood, drought, and windstorm to climate change. The problem with this is the known and admitted liberal journalistic bias. As George Orwell noted, “Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but [later] . . . I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.'"
For example, Dr. Hayhoe quoted the headline that Houston has been hit by three 500-year floods in three years. There are many nuances that this claim glosses over, but it ultimately speaks more to emergency planners’ and insurance companies’ ignorance of historical flooding probabilities and to Harris County’s poor maintenance of their bayou and creek drainage system than to actual changes in precipitation patterns. (I have eight years’ direct experience living in Houston and Harris County informing this opinion). This does not minimize the impact of flooding events like Hurricane Harvey, but the headline in no way proves climate change is happening or to what extent.
Dr. Hayhoe also stated, “Earth has a fever.” I believe the unmodified temperature data tell a different story. Reconstructing global temperature before instruments existed to measure it is not trivial. Although many self-interested climatologists have worked hard to sanitize these geologic temperature reconstructions, there is evidence that the earth’s temperature varied widely in the past. For example, the 1990 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [true climate change believers] report included the following reconstruction of earth’s temperature over the past 1000 years (left panel below), which shows ~1.5°C temperature variation with pronounced warming and cooling periods. Inconveniently, this did not agree with their hypothesis that rising CO2 concentrations are increasing earth’s temperature, so they replaced it in 2001 with the infamous “hockey stick” graph, shown for comparison, in which those previously reported temperature variations are muted (<0.5°C) and followed by a huge increase in global temperature over the past 100 years. The earth has a “fever” only in the right graph, which has been called by some climate change deniers “the greatest fraud of all time."
This apparent tampering with the historical temperature record is nothing unique. NASA published the following two versions of temperature change or “anomaly” relative to historical “normal." The left panel shows data that display no warming trend 1868-1980. The right panel shows the same data published later that have been altered to remove the data prior to 1880, especially the high point in 1878, and revised to show a distinct warming trend. Climate scientists might argue that data can be refined with better understanding, but the skeptic/cynic looks at these adjustments with a careful eye. The data may have been manipulated to fit the desired outcome; per Daniel Huff, author of How to Lie with Statistics, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.”
As a final example, Dr. Hayhoe claimed that climate change is making wildfires worse. At least in the United States and as far as acreage burned is concerned, this is patently false. Data published by the US government in the left panel below show acreage burned has dropped drastically over time. The right panel shows a similar graph updated through 2018. Overall, there has been an ~80% decrease in wildfire acreage burned since the 1930’s. Admittedly, this decline has more to do with active fire suppression by the government, but these firefighting efforts have brought their own problems of a build-up combustible material that used to be burned by smaller, more frequent natural fires, which does appear to be making wildfires more intense, but this has nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with shortsighted forest and wildland management practices.
There is no question that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are rising due to burning fossil fuels, but their effect and the extent of their effect, is open for rational debate. The graph below shows the correlation between historical CO2 concentrations and temperatures obtained from Antarctic ice cores. The inconvenient truth that never is discussed by climate change alarmists is that rising temperatures precede rising CO2 concentrations by 600-800 years, not the other way around. Admittedly, there are many nuances to this argument that I am glossing over, but the bottom line is the scientific evidence and reasons for believing this unassailable tenet of climate change faith (i.e., that increasing CO2 concentrations are driving climate change) are not as clear or compelling as journalists who write headlines or scientists whose religion is climate change would like you to believe.
In summary, although I stand solidly with Dr. Hayhoe’s Christian faith, I am a doubter as to her climate change beliefs and solutions and remain a climate change agnostic. What I do firmly believe is the benefits of continued fossil fuel use to improve the human condition far outweigh any actual or perceived worsening of the earth’s climate.
I wish BYU would give equal time to a speaker who would present more facts on the matter, such as Tony Heller, author of most articles on http://realclimatescience.com. Another thought-provoking website on the subject is http://wattsupwiththat.com, operated by Anthony Watts. Since BYU is unlikely to invite either of these individuals as a forum speaker, I commend these sources to the reader.
Written by: Professor Morris Argyle
Guest Opinion Writer
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author.
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints