Global Worrying

I think I’ve discovered what makes me so uncomfortable about the assertion that global warming is a real and urgent problem.

A front-page New York Times story on May 1 concerned (thanks, Mr. Rumsfeld, for the pithy phrase) a “known unknown”: the earth’s cloud cover. Specifically, the causes and effects of its extent, altitude, and qualities—which are only very imperfectly understood. MIT professor of meteorology Richard S. Lindzen, the article explains, considers clouds a sort of planetary self-corrective mechanism that can counter the effects of greenhouse gases, the global warming drama’s villains.

Predictably, despite his unassailable credentials and the scientific community’s ostensible commitment to objectively consider all hypotheses, Dr. Lindzen has been excoriated by many of his colleagues, who, while they concede the enormous effect of clouds on climate, say he lacks proof for his contention and that, by raising the cloud issue, he is acting, in the words of one, in a “deeply unprofessional and irresponsible” manner.

The Times reporter mirrors that negativity, beginning his piece by stating that “a small group of scientific dissenters,” having had “their arguments… knocked down by accumulating evidence,” have “seized on one last argument,” namely, “that clouds will save us.” There is a reference to “withering criticism” of Dr. Lindzen and an assertion that the renegade researcher has been “embraced” by “politicians looking for reasons not to tackle climate change.” The sneering is subtle, but it’s there.

Less subtle was the environmental zeal of Al Armendariz, the erstwhile top Environmental Protection Agency official in Texas, who recently resigned after a video emerged of him discussing how to enforce oil and gas extraction regulations. He suggested the approach of “the Romans,” who “used to conquer villages” by taking “the first five guys they saw and… crucify[ing] them,” rendering the village “really easy to manage for the next few years.”

Of course, neither the hasty dismissal of rational speculations like Dr. Lindzen’s nor the over-enthusiasm of some environmentalists like Mr. Armendariz means that climate change isn’t real or that we have no responsibility to try to deal with it. We simply don’t know. The climate alarm-raisers may turn out to have been modern-day Chicken Littles squawking that the sky is warming. But they may turn out to have been environmental prophets. To be sure, most of the scientific community believes the latter. But in something as complex and long-term as climate change, even a scientific consensus—“groupthink,” Dr. Lindzen calls it—is only a contender for truth, not its arbiter.

Still, what those who preach with absolute certainty that our climate is in crisis bring to mind is the late writer Michael Crichton’s assertion that people who do not believe in G-d “still have to believe in something that gives meaning” to their lives, and that “environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.”

Environmentalism, he elaborated, posits “an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature,” then “a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge”—i.e. technology and exploitation of natural resources—and “as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.”

“We are all energy sinners,” he concluded, summing up the new religion’s world-view, “doomed to die, unless we seek salvation.”

What Dr. Lindzen’s contention and the reaction to it have helped me realize is that, whether or not Mr. Crichton is correct, a core credo of environmental zealots (whether or not they also believe in G-d) is the belief that human beings are where the environment buck stops, that we alone can make or break the planet.

Once again: the climate may in fact be in crisis. What discomforts me, though, is the stance of those who insist that they know with absolute surety—which they can’t—that it is. And that by lambasting any who dare dissent from their pronouncement, they show unwillingness to even consider the possibility that the world G-d created for us humans may not need our help to stay inhabitable—that, in His wisdom, He may have imbued not only our skin with the ability to heal its wounds, but the earth’s to do the same.


The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

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