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Vail Daily column: Is the jury out on climate change?

Jack Van Ens

The GOP denies there’s scientific consensus that human activity is the main cause of climate change.

Today, human-caused warming triggers pervasive drought, turning many communities into federal disaster areas. Now, Republicans are grudgingly admitting evidence of global warming trends. Still, they deny the Earth is getting hotter because human industry has increased carbon-dioxide emissions. The GOP clings to the status quo, arguing that science is “unsettled” in its claims about global warming.

Conservatives dismiss it as a liberal Democrat cause. If regulations in the fossil-fuel industry are adopted, then companies will go out-of-business. High-paying jobs will be lost. This Big Government take-over uses climate change as its cover, say deniers.

Lately, the GOP has mimicked “tipping the football” drill and adapted it as a political defense. Say it’s late in the game and your team needs a 70-yard score as the game clock ticks down. Coaches tell players to cluster in the opponent’s end zone. Their quarterback heaves a Hail Mary pass. Players in the end zone leap high for the ball. One tips it to another receiver who scores as the clock winds down.

Misdirection is the key to this drill. Receivers jump as if to catch the last-ditch pass, but really want to tip the football to a teammate in the end-zone.

The GOP gambles that it might catch the public’s attention and tip the conversation to uncertainty about climate change in scientific calculations. Conservatives use this cagey maneuver to tip “the climate change ball.” It misdirects attention to the specious claim that the jury is still out on whether human activity is global warming’s prime culprit.

Polls show the GOP’s skepticism over global warming. Democrats and the GOP sharply differ on this score. In a January 2014 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 40 percent of Democrats said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority, compared with 14 percent of Republicans.

Even though much of the U.S. enjoyed a mild summer, the trends toward warming are alarming. 2014 is on pace to be the Earth’s warmest or third warmest, depending on data employed. Since 1880, the warmest years have been 2010, 2005, 2007, 1998, 2013, 2002, 2006, 2003, 2009 and 2012, according to NASA. Indicators are massive flooding, devastating storms, species extinction, raging forest fires and extreme drought in California and large sections of the West.

How do some evangelical Christians within the GOP respond? They rely on their own climate change experts who remind us of tentative scientific data not based on rock-certain fact. Science doesn’t furnish clear insight on climate change because advocates “see through a mirror dimly” (I Corinthians 13: 12), argue these Christians. That is, ancient people used burnished brass plates that furnished blurry reflections. The same applies to certainty about climate change, says the faithful.

It’s a silly argument that has staying-power among climate change deniers.

Other Republican evangelical Christians are shifting their thought, no longer avoiding scientific conclusions about global warming. “Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time because it impacts every single soul in the world,” reports the Reverend Mitchell C. Hescot, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “In the conservative Christian world in the United States, we’ve gotten caught up in political partisanship. I’d like to see climate change as a Christian issue and not a partisan issue.”

Hescot elaborates on why human-made climate change strikes to the heart of Christian faith. “We are stewards (caretakers) of God’s creation,” he declares. “We believe that the Earth’s creation belongs to God, and that we are charged to care for it.”

Global warming is more than a take-it-or-leave-it scientific theory; it’s a responsibility Christians embrace to preserve and protect our planet.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, global warming experts Ben Santer and Thomas Stocker debunk the GOP’s “jury-is-out” argument. “Over our lifetimes a human-caused warming signal has emerged … ” they conclude. “This warming signal is discernible not only over the land surface, but also in the Earth’s oceans, lower atmosphere and snow and ice cover. Our best understanding — from observations, basic physics and models — is that the global climate changes observed over the last century are largely human driven” (“We Don’t Need Perfect Knowledge to Act on the Climate,” Oct. 2).

Scientific investigation uses hypothesis. Climatologists postulate by following seasoned guesses. Scientists propose tentative models to mimic climate trends. This is precisely how science works.

The GOP turns scientific inquiry on its head. Their political candidates fear admitting humans are the main cause of climate change. Instead, Republicans cobble together unscientific zones that cordon off what’s unfamiliar and uncertain. They conclude that if science can’t prove with 100 percent accuracy that climate change is largely man-made, then it must be Big Government’s lie.

Instead of using scientific uncertainty as an excuse, let’s employ it as an enabler to reverse the destruction of planet Earth.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling.


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