Global warming: we are trying our best to make it happen!

Sam Norton is sceptical about Anthropogenic Global Warming, i.e. the widely accepted conclusion that the world is getting warmer because of human activity. Well, his post suggests that one piece of evidence for this may, or may not, have been debunked. So perhaps we can’t be as certain as we once thought we were that the world today is warmer than it was in the Middle Ages.

But there are things that we can be sure of. One is that the world today is quite a lot warmer than it was in the early twentieth century. That much is clear from temperature records.

Another is that (according to Wikipedia, yes I know this is not the most reliable source) the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is around 20% higher than it was 50 years ago and perhaps 35% higher than the level before the industrial age. The amount of carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere each year from burning of fossil fuels, around 27 gigatonnes in 2004, is about twice the observed rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 0.4% of 3 teratonnes which is 12 gigatonnes. Presumably around half of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide is taken up by various “sinks” and half remains in the atmosphere.

Meanwhile the reason I am enjoying eating fresh tomatoes in October is not global warming – but is an effect which is also linked to global warming. My tomatoes are in a greenhouse, which is warmer than the garden outside not because it is heated by burning fossil fuels but because the glass traps the sun’s rays. It is well known and easily demonstrated that carbon dioxide has a similar greenhouse effect. Plug into the equations, or into a simple experimental rig, the increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and the result is clear: an increase in temperature of a few degrees Celsius – just about what has been observed.

So we have observed A, a large and apparently anthropogenic increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And we have observed B, an increase in global temperatures. We can also show by theory and experiment that, everything else being equal, A causes B. I accept that that falls short of proof that the observed A is actually causing the observed B, because there are other factors which makes everything else not equal.

But perhaps it would be fair to say that if the observed B is not being caused by the observed A, but by some other factor outside our control, then we as humanity are extremely fortunate that the predicted greenhouse effect is being cancelled out by some unknown factor and so not causing even faster global warming. To put it in other words, we humans, by pumping all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, are doing all that we can to cause global warming, and if we are not causing it that is by luck rather than responsible judgment.

7 thoughts on “Global warming: we are trying our best to make it happen!

  1. Thanks for this, Peter.

    It does continue to astonish me that people can continue to play such games of diversion around the central core of this. I have already mooted to Sam my view that it is, at best, disingenuous to query particular datasets around this question, when the core observation is one that needs to be taken very seriously. Our capacity for denial, bargaining and – lets call it straight – sinful irresponsibility, is considerable.

    There is a task of repentance and reconciliation to be done. As you rightly say, though, God has perhaps already been acting more in mercy than judgment in response to our shortsightedness thus far.

    Bless you for writing this.

  2. Thank you, Paul. I chose not to bring out theological implications in my post. But yes, “sinful irresponsibility” is appropriate wording, and God is indeed merciful – but the time will come for his judgment. When “the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10, TNIV), that may be not so much God’s work as him allowing us humans to see the consequences of our actions.

    By the way, to link this to some of my previous posts, the “anthropo-” in “anthropogenic” is of course about all humans male and female, even if as a generalisation we men may be more guilty in this than women.

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  6. …the gist of which is to say that there are good reasons for changing our behaviour irrespective of the truth of AGW – which I’d strongly agree with and have frequently taught about (as Paul well knows). I just don’t believe that building a Christian case on the basis of disputable scientific theories is either wise or just. It is a form of ‘God of the gaps’ argument and will have the same fate. Most especially I think the fear-mongering is evidence of a lack of faith and Christians shouldn’t play along with such a secular outlook. Perfect love drives out fear, after all.

  7. Well, Sam, we can agree that we should change our behaviour without panicking about it. Indeed we shouldn’t join in with the fear-mongers, although I think you have been doing a bit of your own fear-mongering about Peak Oil and its apocalyptic consequences. I too wonder if we should be trying to build distinctively Christian cases about these things, or if we should instead be putting God first in worship. No easy answer there. If the world is destroyed by fire as prophesied in 2 Peter, it may be a consequence of Peak Oil rather than global warming – but Peter went on to teach us how to respond to that prospect, which is not to argue about exactly what will happen but “to live holy and godly lives” (3:11).

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