In a moment that caught undeserved attention, a week ago the US Senate voted 98 to 1 to recognize the reality of climate change. This Pyrrhic victory for the believers of climate change was made notable by the ‘yes’ vote of James Inhofe, Senate Denier-In-Chief, and coincidentally, Chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committees, both of which will be heavily engaged in the phenomenon.
As we have come to learn, Senator Inhofe’s vote was less an epiphany than a shallow effort to co-opt the issue by placing the issue in God’s hands and casting it as merely a manifestation of God’s Plans for just another splendid day in Paradise. So, here we are. Is it science or God’s Will?
Yes, it is true. Since the Planet was slapped together in the Cosmic Workshop, we have always had climate and it has always been changing. Thank you Mr. Inhofe!. Your high school science teacher and minister must be proud of you. But the issue remains: are we getting more than our millenium’s fair share, and are we major contributors, and therefore, major actors in influencing its direction. Not to take anything away from God, mind you. He (or she, it can still be argued) did a marvelous job. But something is seriously out of whack and deserves attention it is not getting, either from the All Mighty or from us.
I know that Senator Inhofe is a private plane pilot, and the record suggests that his piloting skills sometimes place too much reliance on the assumption that God is his co-pilot. With that in mind, I am deeply skeptical about his judgment as he pilots (or hijacks) Senate policy on the environment and climate change.
This issue of Science versus God in the matter of climate change seems to be slowly tilting in the favor of science as a growing number of people, including Evangelicals, recognize the undeniable: that our environment is altering at a rate unprecedented in our experience across the total range of ecologies and factors. And the net result is not positive. So, let’s try to distill knowledge down to some rudimentary facts, and not get lost in the minutia that drives too many discussions.
– Depending on one’s source of information, The Planet has been in business for between 5,775 and 4.54 billion years, give or take a million or two for rounding.
– Depending on one’s source of information, Version 1.0 of humankind has been operational for between 5,775 years and 1.7 million years. If you take the longer value of planetary existence, people have been messing around with the neighborhood for 0.0374% of the Earth’s existence, and most of that with little or no impact.
– It is estimated that the Planet’s carrying capacities for humanity during much of this time up until the beginning of the twentieth century did not exceed 1.75 billion people. Population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The earlier number reflects the technologies in place to support the population. The latter number is made possible by the technologies that have proliferated in the twentieth century, when the budding industrial age of the prior two centuries achieved full blossom and ubiquity, thanks to the maturing of the oil industry.
– The Industrial Revolution began around 1750, with the benefit of coal to fuel it.
– Joseph Fourier, some seventy years later and more by coincidence than by consequence, proposed the Greenhouse Effect theory.
– John Tyndall in 1859 confirmed the Greenhouse Effect theory in laboratory experiments.
– Coincidentally, in 1859 the first commercial oil well began production in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
– In 1896, 52 years BG (Before Gore) Swedish chemist/physicist Svante Arrhenius produced the first mathematical model to calculate possible effects of Global Warming from greenhouse gases. He viewed the impacts as largely beneficial to mankind, mostly through enhanced agricultural impacts. His model understated the impacts to follow, but he cannot be faulted for that as he probably did not calculate the impact of the first automobile produced in 1889, nor did he get the memo of Henry Ford’s master plan for mass mobility, which achieved reality in 1913 with the first plant to mass-produce automobiles.
– It takes between 2,000 and 10,000 years for Mother Nature to cook a barrel of crude oil. (God could probably do it faster, but appears not to be in that business, or Exxon-Mobil would not be so worried about where to replace its diminishing conventional reserves.
– It is estimated that the total global inventory of conventional reserves at the beginning of commercial exploitation was about 3 trillion barrels. ( Conventional reserves are the easy stuff, excluding the unconventional stuff made available by fracking that makes such a mess and is causing increasing rumbling. If Coca Cola was in the oil business, it would brand conventional reserves ‘Crude Classic’).
– Of that, it is estimated that we have depleted one-third or 1 trillion barrels by the year 2000.
– Of that, it is estimated that half was depleted in the last half of the twentieth century.
– The United States has 5% of the world’s population, and used 25% of the world’s annual consumption of energy as of 2000.
– The coal and oil that is consumed is carbon that was in essence ‘sequestered’ until combusted. The consumption of that carbon in such relatively large proportion in a veritable nanosecond of geological time can only rationally be viewed as a human ‘forcing’ of the climatic norms that have more slowly evolved over thousands of years.
– We know the chemistry of carbon consumption. We know the physics of its effect on the atmosphere.
– We know what caused Los Angeles’ smog in the latter half of the twentieth century, and we know that we were capable of intervening to reduce it.
– We know what causes algae blooms in lakes and rivers, and other forms of industrial pollution, and we know how humans can cure what humans create or contribute to.
– We detected the depletion of the Ozone layer, and with the aid of science, bent political will to do something to reverse the process.
With these facts of history and science as context, for Senator Inhofe and other political and thought leaders to deny the human role in mitigating conditions and consequences to which it contributes is an act of colossal stupidity or craven indifference*. (*See also: Concerted Ignorance).
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So much for science and history and facts. Let’s spend a moment with God.
I am a person of faith, but I happen not to subscribe to any particular brand of religion.
I would like to think that there is a benevolent God who is watching over me and has a plan in which peace and prosperity and well-being are secured for myself and humanity in general. Unfortunately, I have not found evidence of it.
I see the universe as a place in which magnificent beauty and brutality exist side by side in the interplay of forces that shape and evolve it….by whatever plan and whose ever hand. I do not presume to understand it, nor do I expect to before my clock runs out. So I navigate the unknowns with the best I can hobble together of wisdom and insight, much of which I have accumulated as the byproduct of my mistakes. Nonetheless, I am grateful that I and others are capable of doing so because, by whatever means, we have been endowed with the capacity to reason and learn and self-actuate within the boundaries of our resources and the random roll of the cosmic dice that is the nature of the universe.
The Judeo-Christian theology to which Senator Inhofe professes to subscribe recognizes the reality of human intelligence and free will. After all, it is that free will and the exercise of choice (though often not intelligence) which makes us capable of sin, the raw material for all the religions to sell salvation through their particular franchise with God.
So, if I were to presume to argue the case for climate change responsive action from the vantage point of Senator Inhofe’s toe-hold on reality, I would argue this. A God which has given the children made in his image the capacity for rational thought, and is observing them squandering it yet again, must surely be displeased, and disinclined to accept the responsibility that Senator Inhofe, and Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio and a vast array of other numb-nuts would like to dump in his lap. I imagine that an all-knowing, all-powerful God, whom the Bible suggests had little hesitancy to rain down bolts of lightning upon the richly deserving, could exact some terrible punishments on the criminally indifferent for the trespasses they are wrecking upon His realm.
And while he’s at it, could he take out ISIS as well? It would save a lot of unnecessary hardship.