Behind Copenhagen

As I write, the leaders of the world are gathered at Copenhagen to discuss what is to be done about the threat of global warming.

There remains a significant minority of climate change ‘sceptics’ in the world. The debate over the reality of global warming is a fascinating illustration of the human ability to ‘manufacture’ a preferred reality. At the one extreme you have environmentalists who have clamouring about the damage humans are doing to planet earth since the 1960s, and who now feel they have enough solid evidence to say a rather big “I told you so!” At the other extreme you have the vested commercial interests for whom saving the planet is just going to cost too much money, and who find it more convenient to believe that global warming is just a big conspiracy.

Both these extremes exhibit all the classic features of self-deception: picking and choosing the evidence that supports their case and ignoring the evidence that doesn’t; setting up ‘straw man’ arguments for their opponents and demolishing them; attacking the character of those on the other side; and so on. Their positions may be complete opposites, but sometimes it’s amazing how similar their tactics are! And none of those tactics are very likely to lead them to know the truth of the matter.

In the middle, of course, lies the real and objective science. As I understand the current state of play, the debate is able to continue because the evidence is not yet conclusive either way. It is simply not possible to say with certainty yet that man-made global warming is a perilous reality or to rule it out with confidence.

So the game becomes one of risk management. Sometimes, even if the risk of something bad happening is small, you may still want to invest a lot in avoiding it, because if it did happen, it would be disastrous. We do this every time we hop into a car. Your seat belt will be useless and inconvenient 99.9% of the time you are in the car. Yet you put up with that because that 0.1% of the time when you need it, when you are involved in an accident, it can save your life. The seriousness of the danger makes all that inconvenience worthwhile. That seems to be the argument of the more sensible and objective climate change believers at the moment, and I must confess it makes a lot of sense to me.

It also bears a startling resemblance to the argument about believing in God. Even if you believe it highly unlikely that God exists, the danger of being an unbeliever if God is real is so great that it actually makes sense to believe in God just in case. I suppose this is another variation on Blaise Pascal’s famous wager (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager).

Following the risk minimisation logic through, you will find some rather unexpected personalities on either side of the global warming debate. For example, while the Greens’ Senator Bob Brown is an avowed atheist, he sees the sense in taking the safe path on the environment. On the other hand, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell is a climate change sceptic!

That’s not to say that all Christians should be global warming believers. As I said before, the evidence remains inconclusive at this point. But it is interesting to see how people can change their standards for accepting things so drastically according to what they want to believe.

The gathering is interesting from another side as well. Nations have historically found it almost impossible to collaborate effectively on anything without selfishly seeking what’s best for themselves. Even friendly nations often will not help each other without getting something out of it, or at least safeguarding their own interests. The Americans have been the world champions at this game for some time now, although China seems to be challenging for the crown through its business ventures in Africa. But now, faced with a potential crisis that threatens the very existence of nations, and one that threatens the whole world without exception, will this selfish approach be continued? Or will the nations finally feel that they must put aside individual agendas and come together to save humanity from destruction?

I think it would be naive to expect that any real change in attitude is likely to occur, at least not until things get really, really bad. And perhaps not even then. And yet, it will be interesting to observe just how much change does occur, and how much of it is genuine rather than grandstanding on the world stage.

Meanwhile, think green! Hey, it’s a nicer lifestyle anyway.

Fr Ant

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5 Replies to “Behind Copenhagen”

  1. Very interesting…I’ve always been a Liberal Party supporter…Peter Costello for PM hahah…anyway…

    The Earth is getting warmer, we can’t deny that, but it’s just the natural cycle of the planet.

    How much human activity is speeding up or influencing this natural cycle is the real question.

    So we cannot say that global warming or climate change isn’t real and it’s not happening, but neither can we say that it is real and humans are the cause of it.

    We know, or science tells us, that through the millions of years of the planet’s existence, it went in and out of periods where it was covered in ice; i.e. the Ice Ages, and other periods of warmth which are the evolutionary periods where the different species appeared.

    Some scientists say that we are currently at the end of an Ice Age period, going into a period of warmth (which is why the Earth’s poles are covered in ice, which is slowly melting). The Industrial Revolution and the current advancements in technology are having an affect on the atmosphere with all the emissions being released, let’s not deny that. But how much this is affecting the earth’s natural changes in atmospheric temperature and the subsequent natural melting of the ice caps is up for debate.

    Personally I do not think humans are having that much of an impact. God set in place the earth’s and the universe’s natural processes, he would not allow man to disturb that and self destruct, it’s a form of suicide. God gave man an intelligent brain which through time has been capable of advancing itself and advancing man’s quality of life. Technology resulting from human advancement is then a gift from God, one he would not have given us if it had the potential to ruin his creation. I believe if man’s technological advances were going to have such an impact on the planet as what the ‘greenies’ believe, then God would never have allowed man to advance to such a degree.

    You know, I find it a little funny that on a day when it’s really hot, all over the news they shout, ‘oh no, climate change!’, but then on a day when it’s really cold, all over the news again they shout, ‘oh no, climate change!’…so which is it?? Don’t ask me! hahah.

    Interestingly, I was having a conversation with a friend not so long ago in which he questioned my belief in God and spoke to me about his own personal God-searching quest.
    I pretty much said to him what is quoted above, that if God exists then believing in him is of utmost importance, if he doesn’t exist then whether I believe in him or not, it matters little because it changes nothing. He went away and thought about that and came back and he said, ‘I think I’ve come to the conclusion that God exists’. When I asked him how he came to that conclusion he told me it was for contingency’s sake, as a back-up plan, or ‘just in case’. I told him that this is a wrong reason for him to have reached his conclusion, but didn’t know how to answer his subsequent ‘why?’ and ‘what is?’…any guidance??…

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  2. Hi Father Antonios,

    I’ve been reading your blogs for a while. Can I just say that I love them as well as all the comments and discussions that they generate!

    That said, I’d like to make one point. Nathan mentions that:

    “Technology resulting from human advancement is then a gift from God, one he would not have given us if it had the potential to ruin his creation.”

    While I wholeheartedly agree that human advancement, including technology, is a gift from God, I disagree that He stops us from ruining His creation. This is where our free will comes into play. God gives us the tools, knowledge and capacity to advance our lives and the lives of every human being on this planet. And all this for the glorification of His name. But, we also have the choice to turn away from Him and use these advancements for our own personal gain; sometimes, to the detriment of humans and the environment.

    Let’s take a look at stem cell research for example. God has given us the capacity to dabble in this technology so that we may be able to preserve the quality life for certain people. But with this comes those researchers who would prefer to end human life to further their own investigations into the potential of the technology.

    Personally, I too am of the opinion (based on no proof whatsoever lol) that the weather patterns we’re experiencing are part of the natural cycle of the earth. But we can’t ignore the fact that us humans with our technological advancements have had some major (sometimes damaging) impacts on God’s creation. As such, I cannot accept this as an argument against global warming.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

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  3. ‘While I wholeheartedly agree that human advancement, including technology, is a gift from God, I disagree that He stops us from ruining His creation. This is where our free will comes into play’.

    I do agree that God gives us the free will to use the gifts he gives us, whichever way we choose, and that we will be held accountable.
    But; and excuse the sarcastic tone of this comment it’s unintended, does that mean that I am held accountable for using a 100W light bulb as opposed to a 60W bulb because the former burns more carbon?
    Does that mean I will be judged for my choice to use a 100W bulb because it litters the environment and also has a detrimental effect on others who use ‘greener power’, or those in remote tribal areas around the world who do not use electricity at all? Will I be judged for polluting the environment for the rest of the human race?
    I don’t think so…or I hope not…

    There is an established order in creation, set from the moment it came into existance. Planets rotate; the sun gives off heat; stars are born and they die; plants grow from seeds unassisted, bringing to life a growing, living thing out of something which has died; and the climate changes.
    Humans cannot disturb this natural order.
    Yes, we emit carbon into the atmosphere, but it’s not going to have such a devastating effect on the planet as has been made out..

    Interestingly, Al Gore, who is possibly the biggest greenie around reckons that the northern ice cap could be completely gone in the next 5 years.

    Although he also said that there are sections of the ice cap which are melting and other sections which are not. If this is not proof that this is nature at play doing what it does naturally, with God’s watchful eye, I don’t know what is…

    I’m keeping my 100W bulb…I like my house bright…

    I should work for Tony Abbot hahah… 🙂

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  4. The Earth is getting warmer, we can’t deny that, but it’s just the natural cycle of the planet.

    This is false, for two different reasons. First, if the Earth is getting warmer because of the “natural cycle of the planet”, we should see some evidence of that. But solar energy emission studies have shown NO evidence whatsoever of an increase in solar energy large enough to cause the observed warming. Secondly, the basic thermodynamic models require that the increase in carbon emissions must produce higher mean global temperatures.

    Personally I do not think humans are having that much of an impact. God set in place the earth’s and the universe’s natural processes, he would not allow man to disturb that and self destruct, it’s a form of suicide.

    I’m not sure if you know this, but human beings commit suicide everyday. God allows many men, and women, to commit suicide all the time. Empirical observation suggests that God has no interest in preventing individual or small group suicides, so the notion that God would absolutely prevent larger groups suicides…lacks a strong empirical basis.

    Moreover, we have already observed human beings making substantial observable changes to the atmosphere. Two examples are ozone depletion and acid rain. These were both major environmental crisis that humans caused, but through hard work, humans were able to remediate these environmental crisis. In fact, I know some engineers who developed the equipment needed to stop acid rain. Before that technology was developed and deployed, vast numbers of plants and animals were killed by rising acidity levels and we faced the very real prospect of losing thousands of species. This was a real problem that actually happened in our own lifetime. Do you deny this? And if you don’t deny it, then surely you must accept the fact that human beings can cause severe and catastrophic environmental changes, right?

    God gave man an intelligent brain which through time has been capable of advancing itself and advancing man’s quality of life. Technology resulting from human advancement is then a gift from God, one he would not have given us if it had the potential to ruin his creation.

    I imagine that the people killed by atomic bombs were never killed since God would never give humans technology that had the potential to ruin God’s creation, right? I mean, lots of scientists theorize that a full blown nuclear war might make the Earth uninhabitable by human beings, but they must be wrong, right?

    I believe if man’s technological advances were going to have such an impact on the planet as what the ‘greenies’ believe, then God would never have allowed man to advance to such a degree.

    Since God did allow humanity to develop the technology to produce acid rain and to destroy the ozone layer, then clearly your theological reasoning is wrong.

    You know, I find it a little funny that on a day when it’s really hot, all over the news they shout, ‘oh no, climate change!’, but then on a day when it’s really cold, all over the news again they shout, ‘oh no, climate change!’…so which is it?? Don’t ask me! hahah.

    I see you have never studied thermodynamics. Let me suggest you find someone who has and ask them what happens to a close dynamical system whose total energy rises. They will confirm that not only does the average energy increase, but also the range of observed energy. Which means that not only should the average temperature on Earth increase, but we should see larger temperature volatility, meaning colder lows as well as hotter highs. Now, obviously, most people on television are not smart people so they have no idea what they’re saying, but just because television broadcasters are dumb does not mean that climate change is a myth. After all, there are many ignorant Christians in the world, but that does not mean Christianity is false, does it?

    does that mean that I am held accountable for using a 100W light bulb as opposed to a 60W bulb because the former burns more carbon?
    Does that mean I will be judged for my choice to use a 100W bulb because it litters the environment and also has a detrimental effect on others who use ‘greener power’, or those in remote tribal areas around the world who do not use electricity at all? Will I be judged for polluting the environment for the rest of the human race?
    I don’t think so…or I hope not…

    Why on Earth not? Surely we shall be judged for all the choices we make. If we make bad choices without understanding, then I suspect God will not judge us harshly. And if we make choices that are bad but have only a small negative impact, then I imagine God’s judgment will also be small.

    I mean, seriously, every judge in our society makes decisions about mitigating and extenuating circumstances; they tailor their punishments based on what people knew and what it was reasonable to expect people to know. Do you really think that God will be less competent or less merciful than even the worst courtroom judge today?

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  5. What’s with the agression?…anyway…

    God does not ‘allow’ people to commit suicide and if he had no interest in preventing people from committing it then the act should go unpunished and unjudged, but it does not…

    God does not sit idly by and allow us to conduct our lives completely as we choose ‘willy-nilly’…if he did then we would have no use for him, and neither can we call him the ‘Pantokrator’; ‘the controller of all things’…yes I agree that God does give us the free will to choose the way we live our lives, but free will is not without boundaries, if it were there would be no judgement.

    God did not give man the ability of technological advancement so we can create atomic bombs or deplete the ozone layer…God’s original intention, I believe, was to bring man closer to him by way of comprehension of a world we cannot see with our eyes…we just learned to use this technology for the detriment of ourselves and others…that’s our own fault…but even through all the technological advances of human history, we have been unable to alter the natural processes of the created universe; the cooling and warming of the planet being one of them…the depletion of the ozone layer is not an example to the contrary (interestingly, the ozone is thinnest over the south pole, where it is uninhabited and no one is emitting anything???)…as such, I do not think I can be convinced of the significance of man’s involvement in the warming of the planet…

    Studies, which you seem to rely so heavily upon are only one side of the coin. Look hard enough and you will find just as much studies proving to you that the whole phenomenon isn’t real, or rather man’s involvement in it is highly exaggerated, all while using the same sciences you have quoted above…I suggest you conduct for yourself a well rounded study before you make your conclusions.

    I’m no global warming expert by any means, I’m just calling it as I see it, as scientifically invalid as my opinion may be…science is not the be-all-and-end-all anyway!! If it were then we would have no reason to believe in God and there would be no reason for the existence of his Church.

    People are going on about the whole global warming thing the same way the fundamentalist Christians are going on about ‘the end of times’…that it’s all going to happen tomorrow…
    Fundamentalist Christians point, among other things, to famines and world wars as ‘signs’ that the end is nigh. What they fail to realise is that wars and famines have been occurring throughout the last 10,000 years, what they also fail to realise is that at the turn of every century or millenia people ran scared because they thought the end was near…read the Epistles and you will notice that the Apostles themselves taught as though Christ was returning in their own life time…but here we are over 2,000 years later…
    So it is with all those who cry global warming…they think if something is not done then we will be destroying the planet in the next 50 years, making life difficult for our children and grandchildren…I seriously doubt it…
    The earth is not going to be a hot hell with risen seas tomorrow any more that it’s going to rain fire and brimstone from heaven tomorrow, bringing on the end of the world…

    And seriously, if I’m going to be judged for using a 100W bulb just because I like my house to be bright, then I should also be judged for using up too much electricity while cooking because I use an electric rather than a gas stove-top…next thing you know I will be judged for wearinbg shoes because shoes have more of an impact on the ground I walk on than if I walked barefoot…I mean seriously, have be lowered God to being that petty??…

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