Friday, April 20, 2007

The truth about global warming

Just kidding!

Whenever D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries decides to explain science to its congregants, you know you're in for as much fantasy as you'd be likely to find at a science fiction convention. Despite Kennedy's prolonged illness, his minions continue to mine his video archives for material with which to entertain the viewers of The Coral Ridge Hour, the ministry's hour-long weekly television program. Having already announced the death and defeat of evolution (more than once, actually), Coral Ridge has moved on to concerns about global warming and climate change—or, as they are more likely to characterize it, environmental extremism. And God doesn't like that.

The weekend of April 14 saw the debut of a Coral Ridge Hour program devoted to debunking the idea of anthropogenic global warming. It included a pitch by D. James Kennedy himself, speaking in a previously recorded sermon from the pulpit of his Fort Lauderdale church. Kennedy's segment was bracketed by pitches encouraging people to send money to receive a booklet titled Overheated and a video titled Global Warming: The Science and the Solutions. Bits of the video were featured throughout the Coral Ridge Hour program.

I recorded The Coral Ridge Hour and transcribed the introduction at the beginning of the program as well as the extended commercial for the booklet and video that purport to debunk global warming. As you'll see, even extremists like the good folks affiliated with Dr. Kennedy have abandoned any pretense of pretending that global warming is not occurring. They concentrate their fire instead on the notion that human activity has anything to do with it. The supposed experts in the program also suggest that global warming might be good for us. Perhaps it's all part of God's plan.
The Coral Ridge Hour

Broadcast April 14-15, 2007

D. James Kennedy: It's tragic that there are so many that are so hopeless and whose lives are filled with despair. They say there seems to be no future for the earth itself. We're destroying the ozone layer. We're melting the ice in the poles. We've got global warming. But the truth is that people become hopeless because of unbelief.

What is Global Warming?

Narrator: Are they warning signs of an approaching man-made catastrophe or the results of a natural weather cycle running its course? The debate over global warming is heating up, but what's the truth? Our answers could cost billions of dollars and millions of lives, so we must become informed on this critical issue.

That's why Dr. Kennedy wants you to have the new booklet entitled Overheated. It's adapted from an enlightening Truths that Transform discussion between Dr. Kennedy and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, a professor at Knox Theological Seminary and expert on global warming. You'll receive Overheated when you call or write with a gift of any amount to this ministry. You'll also receive a special Coral Ridge Hour report entitled Global Warming: The Science and the Solutions. The video, available in VHS or DVD, is your along with the new booklet Overheated when you send a gift of any amount to Coral Ridge Ministries, Box 40, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33302.
I don't have my copy of the booklet and DVD yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I sent my extremely modest “gift of any amount” a few days ago. (Modesty is a virtue, you know.)
Narrator: It's the subject of news reports and headlines and even an Oscar-winning documentary. It appears that global warming has become the hottest topic around.

Dr. John Christy, Director, Earth System Science Center (University of Alabama, Huntsville): Global warming is a popular phenomenon now because of the expressions of disaster that tend to come along with the story. And if you can show a story that has big icebergs falling off and drought and deaths or thousands of animals and so on, well, that's going to get the media's attention certainly—and people's attention.

Narrator: But with all the doomsday scenarios, what do scientists really know about global warming?

Christy: The simple answer on “What is global warming?” is to say that the earth's temperature has risen in the past 150 years. We've been able to measure that with thermometers.
Although Dr. Christy was identified on the screen as the director of the Earth System Science Center, The Coral Ridge Hour neglected to inform its viewers that the center is located at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. An oversight? I don't know. It's not as though this affiliation is something that needs to be concealed lest is discredit Christy's research center. The University of Alabama is a real school and not an example of institutionalized wackiness like Bob Jones University. I suspect, however, that the Coral Ridge video editors chose to omit the UA affiliation from Christy's identity lest people get the impression that their panel of contrarian scientists had no breadth. As it just so happens, the very next scientist to appear on the program is Dr. Christy's University of Alabama colleague, Dr. Roy Spencer. In Spencer's case, the UA affiliation was clearly stated on the screen, but the casual viewer had no way of knowing that Coral Ridge's experts were two peas from the same pod.
Dr. Roy W. Spencer, University of Alabama, Huntsville: There isn't anybody I know that doesn't agree we are unusually warm right now.

Narrator: But that's where the agreement among scientists ends.

Christy: Once you understand that the temperature is rising, the question is, well, why, and that is where a number of issues come to bear—and opinions—because we cannot know for certain.

Narrator: The most widely publicized theory and the view presented in Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth is that greenhouse gases are largely to blame for the warming.

Christy: Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb energy in a certain part of the spectrum that keeps thermal or heat energy in the atmosphere. I think the simplest way to think about this is that if you were in a desert at night, you find that it gets very cold. If you're in the southeastern United States—say, Florida or Oklahoma somewhere—you'll find that the night-time temperatures in the summer stay warm. Well, water vapor—or humidity—is a greenhouse gas that keeps the heat in and doesn't allow it to escape at night.

Spencer: Sunlight comes in and warms the earth, but what most people don't realize is that, for all of that sunlight coming in, there has to be an equal amount of infrared heat energy going back out into outer space. Now the climate modelers claim that there's this fragile balance between the incoming sunlight and the outgoing infrared, and that when we add the CO2, we're upsetting that delicate balance.

Narrator: CO2, or carbon dioxide, is the greenhouse gas that grabs most of the headlines.

Spencer: They make it sound like it's the radiation balance that determines what the temperature of the earth is, but I think that's the wrong way to look at it. I think that it's the sunlight coming in that determines how warm things are going to get. Weather creates a greenhouse effect—which is mostly water vapor and clouds—and, in other words, the weather has control over the greenhouse effect. And, if we add CO2, I think the weather is going to change slightly in order to reduce the warming from that extra CO2.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, Knox Theological Seminary: The great question is how much, if at all, does that account for the warming that we have seen in recent years, and the best scientific evidence that I see indicates that it is a very tiny proportion of the total cause, if in fact it can even be viewed as a part of the cause at all.
A bit of inconvenient truth is missing from this Coral Ridge program. While Beisner heaps disdain on the notion that humans could be contributing significantly to climate change, Christy is on record as saying “It is scientifically inconceivable that after changing forests into cities, turning millions of acres into irrigated farmland, putting massive quantities of soot and dust into the air, and putting extra greenhouse gases into the air, that the natural course of climate has not changed in some way.” Of course, one can't be absolutely certain, so it is this aspect of Christy's remarks they prefer to quote immediately after Beisner's dismissive remarks. You'll note that Christy doesn't actually endorse Beisner's view; he merely notes that people are still disagreeing about the details.
Christy: We can't look out and develop an instrument that says, “This tells me why the temperature is changing.” Some people think all that you see in terms of global warming is caused by humans and the greenhouse gases we emit because of energy production. Others say it's completely naturally induced—like changes in the solar input from the sun, or various ways in which the weather fluctuates due to natural changes in the ocean circulation, or wind systems, and so on like that.

Narrator: The bottom line is that, contrary to popular reports, not all scientists agree that global warming is man-made.
Although Christy does, at least to a significant degree. Spencer, on the other hand, is rather more accommodating. That is, until he starts flogging the notion of proper credentials.
Spencer: I would say that the mainstream view of global warming is, yes, we are unusually warm right now and most of it is probably due to mankind. Now you'll hear that there's a consensus of scientists that believe this. It turns out that there are very few scientists who know enough about the whole problem to actually be able to cast judgment on this. So if you hear that a thousand scientists agree that global warming is due to mankind, chances are only ten of that thousand actually know enough about the problem to cast any judgment on the issue at all.
This was my favorite part of the program. While Spencer and Christy both have actual credentials as scientists, even if they do stand outside the mainstream, what other “experts” appear in Coral Ridge's program? Dr. Beisner, promoted by Kennedy's organization as an expert on global warming, is a professor at Knox Theological Seminary—D. James Kennedy's very own seminary, part of his Coral Ridge empire. Beisner has no science degrees, so Spencer would undoubtedly consider him eminently unqualified to preach on the nature of global warming. As noted on Beisner's own website:
Beisner is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Religion and Philosophy; of International College with an M.A. in Society with a Specialization in Economic Ethics, both magna cum laude; and of the University of St. Andrews, in St. Andrews, Scotland, with a Ph.D. in Scottish History.
Beisner is an expert all right—on Scottish history. In terms of climatology, he is a layman.
Narrator: Aside from the causes of warming, the effects of global warming are also up for debate.

Spencer: As far as Al Gore's movie goes, An Inconvenient Truth, I think there was a lot of misrepresentation and half-truths in that movie. He showed a lot of dramatic footage of different things going on, you know, ice crashing off of glaciers into the ocean and droughts and floods and, of course, what he didn't mention was everything he showed in the movie happens naturally.

Christy: You know, in science, as Lord Kelvin said, “All science is numbers.” And so, when I hear people talk about polar bears, I say, “Well, let's be scientific about them. Let's actually count the polar bears.” And it turns out the polar bear population has grown by a factor of over three in the last forty years.
Just how scientific are Dr. Christy's numbers for the polar bear population? They're actually very speculative. For someone who counsels caution in drawing conclusions about the nature of global warming, Christy is very quick to accept as reliable estimates of polar bear population that naturalists consider highly doubtful. Well, one can't be expert in everything!
Narrator: Some experts say the record-setting 2005 hurricane season is evidence for global warming, but not all agree.

Spencer: There's a lot of uncertainty over whether hurricanes are either more frequent or more intense. Certainly 2005 was a record year for hurricane hits in the United States. That was pretty amazing. But then you remember that 2006 was a flop, basically. It was below normal. And it turns out that since we only have good hurricane data—as far as how many hurricanes are out there in the Atlantic—since we've had weather satellites back in the 1970s, that we really don't know how many there were before then with much confidence.

Narrator: But what about the future? News reports claim global warming is the number one threat to our future survival as a planet, saying that ice caps could melt, submerging entire cities under the ocean.

Beisner: For example, on sea-level rise, where people have—particularly because of Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth—they have these pictures in mind of sea level rising 20, 40, 60 feet. Something like that. Well, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates sea-level rise through the entire 21st century at probably not more than a total of 16 inches in the entire century.
Beisner lays it on pretty thick, doesn't he? Gore cited a 20-foot rise in sea level as the consequence of melting the southern ice cap, should global warming continue unchecked. There is a lot of frozen water in Antarctica. The IPCC report confirmed that the southern ice could raise the oceans by as much as 7 meters, in agreement with Gore's statement. It's a warning, rather than a simple prediction. The folks who accuse Gore of hyping worst-case scenarios are pretty stuck on worst-case scenarios themselves, aren't they?

It's time for another expert with sterling credentials when it comes to global warming and the environment. This time it's a Dominionist theologian. Dr. Spencer must be pretty tweaked at the poseurs who were presented right alongside him as experts like himself.
Dr. Richard Land, author, The Earth is the Lord's: Whether the oceans are going to rise 2.5 feet over the next hundred years, or whether they're going to rise 20 feet—which is the model that Al Gore uses for his Inconvenient Truth, his “crockumentary” that won an Oscar—I mean, is a doomsday scenario that there's absolutely no scientific evidence for. No reputable scientist is talking about a 20-foot increase in the oceans.

Narrator: Some experts say we should take aggressive action to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, not only to protect the environment itself, but also to save people living in poverty. Others say the opposite is true.

Spencer: We have at least one million Africans dying each year because of lack of access to electricity. We have Africans dying by the hundreds of thousands, mostly children, because we've got poor people burning wood and dung in huts, which cause respiratory illnesses, which kill mostly children. Meanwhile, these people can't have electricity because environmentalists that don't even live in Africa put pressure on their governments and don't let them build hydroelectric dams that could give them electricity and save their lives. So basically what's happening is we are sacrificing the poor at the altar of radical environmentalism.

Narrator: Even if scientists don't have all the answers, Christians should be concerned about global warming, but they should be concerned about their approach to the issue.

Beisner: I think there are some very significant risks to evangelicals getting involved with this without really knowing the science or the economics well. The first and most important risk, the one that I care about the most, is that they might unwittingly endorse a policy that is very destructive to the poorest people in this world, the most vulnerable people. Those people desperately need abundant and cheap energy to drive the economic development that will lift them out of absolute poverty.

Land: In Genesis chapter 2, Adam was put into the garden to keep it and to till it. To keep it means to guard it and to protect it. To till it means to cause it to bring forth its fruit, to develop it. For what purpose? For human good.

Spencer: Well, from the biblical standpoint, I think we are called to be good stewards of the environment, right? And that's where Christians, you know, understandably get involved in environmentalism. Of course, what does good stewardship mean? I mean, it's clear that humans come first, but at the same time we shouldn't be destroying the environment wantonly. So there's a gray area, and people have to decide, you know, how far you go to protect the environment.

Land: I think we need to, in our evangelical Christian churches, to do a far better job than we have of helping people to understand what a biblical earth-keeping ethic is. What creation-care really means and what our responsibilities are in terms of creation-care, and part of that being to understand that human beings come first in God's creation, not last. And they're not irrelevant and they're not considered the enemies of God's creation.
Actually, Dr. Land, some people are the enemies of what you call God's creation. I think you and I would disagree, however, on who they are.

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