Climate change, or the assertion that man-made carbon emissions are to blame for significant changes in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, is an issue as polarized as it is partisan. Environmentalists scorn skeptics as “deniers,” while skeptics have dubbed their activist counterparts “alarmists.” On one side, there is call to action, and on the other, deep skepticism. In the face of incomparably destructive wildfires in Australia and the US, stronger and stronger hurricanes, record-breaking heatwaves, and rampant flooding and tornadoes, should we act now, or question the urgency of the threat of climate change?
Let’s explore arguments for both.
Arguments for action
Some climate change skeptics might have ulterior motives.
Anti-climate-change positions, whether by scientists, policy makers or commentators, often have dubious ties to the fossil fuel industry. Consider Texas senator Ted Cruz’s past contention that climate change is a ruse to help big-government politicians seize more power. Now, consider his claim in light of the $25 million in donations he was given in 2016 when running for president by energy-backed super-PACs. The republicans are not alone in taking money from fossil fuel companies. The Democratic National Committee also accepts donations from such companies. The energy industry wins much from paying for support of statesmen and scientists. The fact that big fossil fuel companies poured record-breaking amounts of money into President Trump’s 2017 inaugural festivities raises questions about the influence of money on politics. But Trump aside, since 2009, US-based coal, gas, and oil companies have received over $20 billion in federal subsidies, and billions more in subsidies from state governments.
Taking care of the world and the creatures in it is a sacred stewardship endowed to humankind alone.
The consequences of climate change are already in full swing in the natural world, as evidenced by the destruction of several ecosystems and the extinction of species. Recent record-breaking heat waves and forest fires, as well as lack of rain in various countries around the world are likely products of human carelessness. Humanity’s oldest texts have stressed man’s responsibility to safeguard the world in which he lives. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us: “Let [man] rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth.” Here, man is assigned custodianship of the Earth and its creatures. If God’s great variety species and ecosystems are to be preserved, it must be man to preserve them.
Commitment to emissions reduction is worldwide.
The Paris Agreement, an initiative that commits countries to lower their carbon emissions through voluntary measures, has garnered more multilateral support than any previous UN initiative. While it’s true that in 2017, the US announced its intention to pull out of the Agreement in 2020, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden has said that he plans to rejoin it in addition to introducing a $2 trillion plan to fight climate change. Further, Pew Research polls demonstrate that a majority of the general population in most countries concede the potentially disastrous effects of climate change. Can it be that nearly every other leader/country on the planet is wrong?
Arguments for skepticism
Climate change legislation may be too severe.
Sweeping government regulations, spending billions on green infrastructure, erasing the fossil fuels industry (and thereby, the jobs of countless average Joes), and cow-towing to international coalitions all have the potential to challenge American autonomy, and stint its economic growth. The US Congressional Budget Office predicts significant disruptions in the economy to accompany policies set to counter climate change, if put into action. With nearly 270,000 energy jobs at stake, it’s important to insist that policy be proportional to the actual risk of climate change.
The ubiquitous “97% consensus in the scientific community” statistic is not entirely straightforward.
An large number of news articles reference a “97% consensus” among scientists that climate change is indeed attributable to man. The scientific community and the public seem to have taken this number at its face value; few attempts have been made to recreate the results, and one survey that did try reported distinctly different findings. The author of the 97% survey admits that his goal was to narrow the “consensus gap” in a way that would encourage speedy legislation. So, if no one is double-checking the consensus statistics, how can we be sure that it is right to act upon its assumptions?
Sometimes scientists get it wrong.
Who remembers the population explosion? The population explosion was posited by a Stanford University biologist who claimed in the late 1960s that the Earth’s predicted rapid population growth in the 1970s and 1980s would lead to mass famine and carnage. Believers advocated for broad public action, including taxes on children and compulsory birth control. Small families became en vogue in America, and in a more extreme answer to this perceived problem, 8 million sterilizations were performed in India. In the end, there was no food crisis; food security dramatically increased in the 1980s, but it was too late for the thousands of Indian women who would never bear children. This is a clear example of how sometimes even scientists get things wrong.
The Bottom Line: To the extent that species and habitats are being destroyed, and public trust and safety is being eroded by special interests, man has a moral imperative to intervene in these processes. That being said, it’s always important to temper our actions with the knowledge that nothing is 100%, and skepticism is a useful tool for attaining balanced solutions. Given that it is our planet in question, where do you stand on climate change?