Religion and global warming have much in common. Both have believers and non-believers, but in the case of religion one can sympathize with both sides as there is no possible way to check the facts. In fact based arguments, disputes should lead to common understanding. But in the case of the environment, there is precious little agreement between those who say that mankind and greenhouse gases are causing global warming, and those who either deny it or say they just can’t confirm it. The late Senator Daniel Moynihan said that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. There are plenty to interpret.
The “science is settled view”for the environmental lobby is similar to how the world was created according to religious fundamentalists. No need to ask questions, just believe it and carry on living. That’s where religion has it all over the environment. The facts in the case of religion are as presented in Old and New Testaments, the Koran and the writings for each religion. There are even new entrants to the religion industry, such as the Mormons, who do not appear until the 1820s in upper state New York, where their founder Joseph Smith claims to have found golden plates which he translates and publishes as the Book of Mormon.
It is difficult if not impossible using the scientific method to prove anything one way or another about the validity of any religion. So generally people don’t bother to try. They just ask people to be believers. Religious promotion is similar to advertising by competing brands, but with religion there is no way to check the claims. When religious disputes arise, they lead to confrontation either with words or weapons with no shortage of examples of both, past and present. The current Middle East conflict appears to be a civil war within the Muslim faith.
Climate change should be different. Facts can be collected and evaluated using recognized methods of scientific procedure, so unlike religious beliefs, there should be agreement about what is known. This appears far from being the case for a number of reasons:
1. Climate, like human health, is made up of a large number of factors, each of which may affect the outcome. There can be different opinions about what factors constitute health, and further differences about how each should be measured and what differences they account for. Most would agree that numerous factors are involved, and medicine, over time, has uncovered how each factor works and what can be done to remedy or alleviate the problem. Medical understanding evolves from scientific as opposed to emotional analysis. At one time, patients were bled or given violent electric shocks as a means of treatment. With research, mostly these treatments are no longer recommended, because practitioners found out that they did not work and might even kill the patient.
2. Climate is a bit like health. There are many aspects to it and many factors which could possibly affect it. But unlike health, the proponents of global greenhouse warming state, after a relatively few years of research, that the science is settled. Human activity is responsible for global warming and we are all going to hell in a hand basket unless we act now. This is the accepted religious-like belief of some who also lobby for non-believers to be ex-communicated, which in the scientific community is at least not having their research funded, or published. It is hard for a reasonably intelligent layperson to accept that a solution has been found so quickly for such a complex problem. The claim that the science is settled re global warming and we should just get on with responding to it, and ask no more questions, is the type of treatment one would expect from the Spanish Inquisition not from inquiring scientists. Scientific precursors to this approach include Galileo who had to contend with this type of closed minded opponents.
3. The scary part about the way the debate is being conducted is that the true believers are in the ascendancy, and the challengers are being sidelined. I would argue that the science is not settled and that if the facts are considered, the jury will have a hard time reaching a definitive conclusion. If the public needs something to be concerned about, consider what Stephen Hawking sees as additional global threats, meteors, artificial intelligence, nuclear weapons and genetically created plagues. A viewing of Citizenfour, the documentary about Edward Snowden is the scariest thing I have seen for some time. It supports George Orwell’s view in 1984 except that the technology is far beyond what Orwell could have imagined.