Questioning climate change is perfectly reasonable

Rob Slane  ·  Jul 30, 2017

President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement provoked a strong, though predictable, reaction from around the world, with governments, media, and many millions of ordinary people hailing it as a disaster for mankind. Among the more unsavory reactions was the resurgence of the word “denier”—a term that consciously alludes to denial of the Holocaust—to describe those who do not believe in, or who question “man-made climate change” (MMCC).

I want to question the logic behind the claims of MMCC, and therefore show that the “denier” label is at best disingenuous, and at worst a slander used in order to silence debate. I am not making the claim that man’s activities are not causing changes to the global climate. I do not know that, and cannot possibly know that for sure. What I am doing is simply denying that it has been, or even can be, scientifically proven.

Behind all the jargon and mass of data, the theory of MMCC rests squarely on two fairly simple observations:

  • Observation A: Man is pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than ever before. 
  • Observation B: Global temperatures are rising.

From these two observations, the following deductions are reached:

  • Deduction A: Man’s release of CO2 is responsible for the rise in global temperatures; and
  • Deduction B: Man can slow/halt/reverse the rise in global temperatures, by reducing emissions of CO2 in particular.

Now, which of those statements can be demonstrated scientifically to be true?

The only one that comes close is Observation A. I say “comes close,” rather than “is,” simply because there are no records of CO2 emissions down the centuries from which to prove or disprove its accuracy. There is no way of knowing how much CO2 was released into the atmosphere in the times of the Romans or the Reformation, for instance. Nevertheless, since it seems highly unlikely that a pre-industrial civilization could have emitted more CO2 than today, I am happy to treat it as an obvious truth.

Observation B, on the other hand, is far from being a scientifically demonstrated fact, and is very much open to challenge. First, there is the fact that again we simply do not have records going back far enough to give us an accurate picture. There is, however, abundant anecdotal evidence to show that there have been periods that have been generally cooler, and periods that have been generally warmer than today. 

Secondly, although the data does appear to support the idea that there has been a rise of surface and lower atmospheric temperatures in the latter half of the 20th century, this was then followed by a slight drop in temperatures from 1998 onwards. It is interesting that MMCC proponents themselves once accepted that this was the case. Yet, rather than allowing it to challenge their hypothesis, which is what scientists are supposed to do when data contradicting their assumptions comes along, they simply said it was a “pause” or “hiatus.”

The hiatus itself was then disputed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a report that was conveniently timed to coincide with the UN Climate Conference in Paris in 2015. However, one of NOAA’s top scientists, Dr. John Bates, later revealed that the report was based on “unverified” data. Dr. Bates accused the lead author of the paper, Thomas Karl, of:

Insisting on decisions and scientific choices that maximized warming and minimized documentation … in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming pause, rushed so that he could time publication to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy.

However, his claims were brushed aside by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal Science in which the study first appeared. Rather than engaging with his very serious criticisms, they instead seem to have basically ignored them and characterized them merely as an “internal dispute between two factions [within NOAA]”.

What this shows is not necessarily the rightness or wrongness of one side or the other, but that the MMCC hypothesis is driven not by a commitment to truth and science, but rather by politics and ideology. 

Let’s not forget there are vested interests. According to its own publications, the climate change industry is already a 1.5 trillion dollar annual concern. Several proponents of more climate change regulations have admitted wealth redistribution is the real motive. Ottmar Edenhofer, who co-chaired a United Nations panel on climate change said, “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. … We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.

dilbertstrip.png#asset:2487


You know what happens when you assume

Based on the assumption that Observations A and B are true, MMCC scientists then make a huge leap of faith to reach Deduction A—that man’s release of CO2 is responsible for the rise in global temperatures. This is far removed from science and fact. Even if we grant that both Observation A and B are irrefutably true, this wouldn’t automatically lead one to embrace Deduction A, which is basically a statement of causation. In fact, given the current state of science, Deduction A can’t logically make it outside the realm of hypothesis to theory, let alone scientific fact.

Before explaining why, it’s necessary to remind ourselves of the differences between these three concepts. A hypothesis is a suggested explanation for an observable phenomenon, or a reasoned prediction of a possible causal correlation among multiple phenomena. A theory is a tested, well-substantiated, unifying explanation for a set of verified, proven factors. A scientific fact is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.”

There are a number of reasons that MMCC is merely a hypothesis. For instance, once again the fact that we do not have records of global temperatures going very far back means that it is impossible to say whether the rise in temperature in the latter part of the 20th century was an anomaly, or actually part of a long-term, cyclical trend. In other words, we have no testable way of identifying whether it was “natural” warming or “man-made.”

We also have no idea whether pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere does actually cause warming. Some MMCC scientists believe with sincerity that it does, but this is a belief based squarely on the assumption that we have complete understanding of all the heat and energy systems in the universe. But do we? No, is the answer.

In fact, Solar/Cosmic Ray Theory posits that changes with our sun and other stars, or even the position of our solar system in the Milky Way Galaxy’s rotation can affect cycles in the Earth’s temperatures. At a conference in 2013, scientists attempted to provide an explanation for why the effects of MMCC had apparently stalled (the hiatus mentioned earlier). Although there were many suggestions made, all speakers mentioned the absorption of solar energy by the oceans:

Whatever solar energy is making it through to the surface, much is being absorbed by the hidden depths of the oceans… readings from satellites since 2000 show how much energy is arriving at the planet, and how much is leaving, so if the energy left behind is not manifesting itself in rising surface temperatures, then it must be going somewhere—and the deep ocean is the most plausible explanation.

In other words, estimates indicate that some energy is unaccounted for. What they were essentially proposing was that the Earth itself may well include a mechanism (or perhaps mechanisms) to regulate heat and energy that they hadn’t previously considered. 

If you have a Biblical worldview

None of this should come as a surprise to Christians. Our default position should be to assume that an omniscient God, Who created the Earth for man (Psalm 115:16), and expressed His desire to see it filled (Genesis 1:27-28), would have designed the Earth to be capable of coping with the “footprint” of man throughout the ages.

MMCC remains a hypothesis simply because there is no way to properly test it. We don’t have other Earths with the same conditions which we can run experiments on. We don’t have long-term climate records or a complete picture of how our planet has been designed to cope with energy. The claim that man’s release of CO2 is responsible for the rise in global temperatures is nothing more than a hypothetical one.

Finally, Deduction B, that man could reverse a global trend, is not even in the same ballpark as proper science. Again, it is nothing more than a hypothesis, and a fairly flimsy one at that, based as it is on layer upon layer of other questionable assumptions.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not denying that MMCC could happen or is currently happening. It’s possible. Rather, the point I have made is that it cannot be anything other than a hypothesis, and hypotheses are—or at least should be—open to challenge. However, the fact that this particular hypothesis has been so unquestionably accepted by so many, and that those who challenge it are labelled “deniers,” ought to give every reasonable person cause to wonder.

This is not how you get scientific inquiry that drives scientific progress. Actually, it has far more in common with a religious cult: There is a dogma (MMCC); a priesthood (the scientific consensus); an eschatology (we’re all going to die if we don’t do such and such); heretics (deniers); and punishment for heresy (“deniers” are portrayed as beyond the pale, dangerous, or even downright evil).

Whether you accept the claims of MMCC or not is something you should decide on the basis of the available evidence. But challenging the claims, far from being on a par with denying the historical fact of the Holocaust, is a perfectly reasonable position.

If you want a reasonable discussion about MMCC, start with scientists who acknowledge that we are created by God, and who have an appropriately humble attitude about the limits of human knowledge. Creation Ministries International provides a thorough discussion of the topic, considering various viewpoints fairly. Start with CMI’s article “Global warming and ‘climate change’—recent developments and guidelines for discernment,” and it will lead you to many more resources.

Rob Slane lives with his wife and six home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, contributes to the Canadian magazine Reformed Perspective, and blogs on cultural issues from a Biblical perspective at www.theblogmire.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @theblogmire or send email to him at rob_slane@hotmail.com