Category: environment

Something in the air

By , 5 December 2009 9:15 am

I don’t recollect that I have really talked about global warming at any point in these blogs. There have been several reasons for my omission: I have to teach the subject (and it’s not an easy one) and other people have been talking about it so loudly that I haven’t felt the need to say anything. However we are on the verge of the Copenhagen Conference and there are some very interesting things happening which I think merit some discussion.

Right at the start let me say that I hold to what I would say is still the ‘general scientific consensus’ that a) there is some sort of rapid climate change/global warming going on, b) that is almost certainly due to our production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and that c) it is a wise and prudent thing to try to cut CO2 emissions. In short, I am a cautious and not uncritical believer in anthropogenic climate change. (And incidentally last month was the wettest November on record in the UK, and one of the warmest too.)

Until about a week ago, I would have said that most of the attendees at the forthcoming Copenhagen conference would have held to that general scientific consensus. But something rather strange and troubling has happened. Someone downloaded many megabytes of e-mails and data from the prestigious Climatic Research Unit of University of East Anglia’s servers (as ever, see Wikipedia for details) and those perusing them have claimed to find evidence of fraud and fabrication of data to support claims of global warming. Within days, the Internet and even the newspapers have been full of allusions of conspiracy from that eclectic group that we might call climate-change deniers. The result is that, at the last minute, it may be hard to get any major decision at Copenhagen.

Let me make some comments here. First of all, I have read what are claimed to be the most revealing e-mails and frankly I am unimpressed by the claims that they demonstrate any fabrication of data. In terms of substance, I see no evidence that any significant claim of the ‘global warming is a fact’ scientists has been undermined, let alone overturned. In terms of style, what I have read sound no worse than the sort of hasty communications that go on between all scientists over publications and theories, particularly those in the hotly contested frontline areas of science. (Heaven help any of us if all our e-mails were ever published!)

Second, the timing of this piece of criminal hacking is very striking. I cannot believe it is an accident. I would love to know how it was done and who funded it. A lot of people have a lot to lose at Copenhagen: not just the big oil companies. I have a niggling suspicion that there will be some new revelation this weekend; just on the edge of the conference itself.

Thirdly, as one or two of the wiser commentators have pointed out, what is particularly striking about this series of e-mails is in fact the absence of any reference to a plot, a conspiracy or even a grand plan to spread the message of global warming to an unsuspecting world. I’m afraid the protagonists appear to be ordinary scientists more concerned with getting their papers published rather than inventing a monstrous lie that will terrify the World.

Finally, the most serious allegation has been that the climate change believers have been guilty of foisting a religious creed on a gullible world. Now here I pause. Indeed, much of the language used by the ‘global warmers’ has been religious in both tone and content. We have been asked to simply believe the men and women in white coats and invited to put our trust in the scientists. In fact, the language has been more than religious, it has been positively eschatological. We have wiId-eyed prophets of doom and their camp followers with their placards and banners. Didn’t I read somewhere that we had just ‘days to save the world?’ Actually, more than one prophet about the state of the future as a result of global warming has ransacked the book of Revelation for metaphors.

Yet what is interesting is the tone and language of the ‘climate change deniers’ is exactly the same. It is the dark counterpart of the affirmers. Here though instead we have talk of a sinister conspiracy, of fraud and manipulation of figures and the twisting of graphs. There are hints in some circles that these men and women are liberals, promulgators of dissolute lifestyles and even dark intimations that they want to undermine the very lifestyle of the Christian West. I don’t think anybody has yet identified the Antichrist among the global warming community but it cannot be long. Perhaps the newly appointed President of Europe (apparently a strong Catholic) may yet be pushed forward as a candidate. (The fact that he is from Brussels is slightly problematic: it’s hard to treat a Belgian Antichrist seriously. But perhaps that’s part of the diabolic disguise.)

Cautiously, I wonder if what is happening is that both pro and anti-climate change parties are scrambling to stand upon the high ground of the hill that Christianity once held but has now sadly vacated in the West. There is a double tragedy here: not only is the Christian voice muted, but in the ensuring silence both parties have sought to acquire the stern and solemn tone of religious truth.

I gather that it may not have been G.K. Chesterton who wrote that ‘once men cease to believe in Christianity, it is not that they believe in nothing it is that they believe in anything’. However I still think that it is true. What we are seeing is a version of this: ‘when men and women cease to believe in Christianity, they will continue to use its language to support whatever else they passionately believe in.’

Have a good week.

Books, BigDogs and Wetlands

By , 28 March 2008 7:01 pm

This has been a particularly cold Easter in the UK and even down here in Swansea we have had flurries of hail and chill winds. I’ve been busy despite being on holiday, but some sun would have been nice.

Two items of news first. First, Tyndale have kindly let me post the typeset first chapter of the Infinite Day so if you want to read it try this link. Whether it is related or not but the pre-orders for the book are looking quite nice on Amazon. Secondly, I came across some fascinating video of a large mechanical/robotic dog (the BigDog project) on the web this week, an impressive feat of engineering and electronics. It’s some way away from my Krallen but not that far. I note that they are talking about these things carrying ammunition on their backs to the battlefield. That’ll be the first generation; the second generation will use the ammunition; the third won’t need it.

What else is news? Well, we have an joint churches initiative in the UK this year called Hope 08 and I have been getting involved with the environmental project side of this in Swansea. The planning is that on the May Bank holiday we will gather as many volunteers as we can from our churches and go down and try and tidy up a very unloved cycle path and sports ground next to a rather fine wetland. It’s in an area of Swansea that is distinctly post industrial and some of the rubbish/trash is dreadful. I thought this would be cue to put in a couple of photographs; so let’s see whether this works.

I don’t talk as much about the environment on this blog as I ought to as it is something that I am very interested in. There is a new book by the head of A Rocha, Peter Harris, called Kingfisher’s Fire: A Story of Hope for God’s Earth which I intend reading when I get the time. It updates the history of A Rocha and gives a lot of thought to the basic of Christian environmental involvement. It includes a chapter on the Lebanon project that I was involved in starting up. Peter gives a not entirely flattering picture of me but, hey, I guess he has to be honest.

Anyway there is a major role to be had by Evangelicals in environment for all sorts of reasons, some of which I may develop in other blogs. It is often assumed that it’s New Agers who dominate the environmental world. Actually, I think that is an utter misrepresentation. In my experience, New Agers love the countryside and nature and have a deep sense of its mystery and beauty but they do not have the doctrine of incarnation or a model of servanthood that Christians have. The problem is that an awful lot of environmental work is actually not very mystical or spiritually uplifting; for example, we are going to be doing a lot of picking up of plastic, scrap metal and worse. Anyway it needs doing and it will be a great witness for the evangelical churches in this town if we can get a couple of hundred people out to help tidy things up. Mind you, a pack of those BigDogs with panniers wouldn’t go amiss.

Every blessing.

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