Sorry. It’s climate change again. Recent letters in the Daily News have offered more back-and-forth about climate change, with accompanying scientific evidence, insults, and the invocation of God.
Don’t blame him, and don’t expect him to rescue us from ourselves. He created us rational creatures, responsible for most of our doings. We need to use that gift, our rational faculty, to reason ourselves out of this predicament.
But how? Six years ago long-time environmentalist Gus Speth made an extraordinary observation. Speth founded the Natural Resources Defense Council and served for a decade as dean of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
He has also headed numerous national and international environmental research and policy groups.
In a 2013 interview posted on the website of North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, Speth commented: “I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) has affiliates in 40 states with more than 15,000 engaged congregations. Its mission is “to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy,” according to its website.
Clearly their goal is rooted in science as well as religion. But remember, both change over time.
Western Abrahamic traditions – the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Quran – illustrate the broad sweep of religious thought over thousands of years and how that thought changed.
An example from science is mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian and author Isaac Newton. He laid the foundation for classical laws of motion and gravitation under which science operated – until superseded by the theory of relativity.
Referring to scientists gone before, Newton recognized how science is advanced incrementally.
“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants,” he once wrote a friend.
Modern scientists still use the calculus developed by Newton. They project various scenarios about our changing climate. Do their models all agree? Not entirely. Do they converge? By and large, yes, even though they may disagree on details.
It’s good to be skeptical about climate change; skepticism underlies all critical thinking, especially in science.
But a skeptic should always be open to changing his mind based on new evidence. A recent column from the Whitman County Gazette illustrates this well.
This usually conservative writer observes, “Winter ... are not as severe as they were when I was a kid,” then adds, “I believe the published scientific data are true and accurate,” evidence that supports his subjective observation.
Though he respects “expert opinions,” he also states, “I have known expert scientists to be wrong,” citing several examples.
While noting that experts agree climate has been changing forever, the writer believes, “this time it is different. Man has changed the face of the Earth.”
Observing “there are too many unanswered questions,” he concludes, “I think it is best if we err on the side of safety and do what we can to reduce carbon emissions.” If experts are wrong about climate change, “we would do no real harm” by reducing emissions.
But if they are right, “and we do nothing, the consequences will be dire.”
In other words, we need to err on the safe side where humanity is concerned. Might this be a glimmer of “a spiritual and cultural transformation?”
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife before retiring south of Colfax. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org