Burke, VA, July 29, 2015
Greetings in Christ’s name! I’m David R. Legates, Professor of Climatology and Geography at the University of Delaware, a Senior Fellow of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and a Christian committed to Biblically sound environmental stewardship and the reduction of poverty around the world.
Proponents of efforts to mitigate climate change often appeal to the “Precautionary Principle”—Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration in 1992: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities … [W]here there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” In light of that, we are urged to take draconian action to avert climate change even if scientific proof that a problem exists is lacking or the efficacy of recommended remedies is unproven.
But we don’t live by the Precautionary Principle. Instead, we live by its antithesis. Let me explain.
In a congressional hearing in 2014, a congressperson asked, “Do you look both ways when crossing the street?” The scientist testifying responded, “Yes, Sir, I do.” The congressperson then explained that our response to climate change must, like looking both ways when we cross the street, follow the Precautionary Principle.
However, looking both ways before crossing a street does not really exemplify the Precautionary Principle. Rather, it exemplifies the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle—that no action should be taken to remedy a problem until and unless it can be demonstrated that it will (1) effect a positive remedy and (2) not have adverse impacts that will create new problems or exacerbate existing ones.
Looking both ways costs next to nothing but significantly reduces our potential for being hit by a motor vehicle (it effects a positive remedy and has no adverse effects), so it follows the Antithesis to the Precautionary Principle. In contrast, a solution that follows the Precautionary Principle might be to take $50 from your wallet and deposit it on the pavement every time you wanted to cross the street. The threat of serious and irreversible damage from being hit by a car is definitely real, and dropping $50 on the pavement lacks full scientific certainty of ameliorating the threat. But no one in their right mind would take such action, because it does not conform to the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle: it doesn’t effect a positive remedy, and it does have adverse impacts; namely, it would leave us bankrupt in a very short time.
More formally, the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle can be defined with respect to climate change: Action to abate climate change, either natural or human-induced, shall not be taken until it can be demonstrated that it will (1) effect a positive remedy, and (2) not have adverse impacts that will create new problems or exacerbate existing ones.
As we demonstrated in chapter 1 of A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014: The Case against Harmful Climate Policy Gets Stronger, an examination of hard scientific data about global temperature shows, contrary to widespread assumptions, that the sensitivity of our planet to greenhouse gases is much less than that of climate models, on which those who warn of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming rely, indicate. It follows that the cooling effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be much less than the same people assert. (I recognize that you have often heard that an overwhelming consensus of scientists disagrees with this. But Science is about data and logic, not counting votes. Further, claims of overwhelming consensus are false, as shown by a number of peer reviewed papers (like this one). Additional hard scientific data show that higher levels of carbon dioxide may be beneficial to life on Earth, since plants grow better in response to more carbon dioxide.
Massive, uninterrupted, reliable quantities of highly stable electricity are necessary to lift and sustain whole societies out of poverty. Alternative energy sources (primarily wind and solar), on average, generate electricity that is two to eight times more expensive than fossil fuels. For that reason, attempts to reduce climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels (reductions that will have little impact on future temperature) will increase the cost of providing an adequate supply of electricity necessary to lift from poverty the over 1 billion people who now lack it. That means prolonging their dependence on wood, dried dung, and other biomass as principal heating and cooking fuels, which in turn causes hundreds of millions of upper respiratory diseases and over 4 million premature deaths annually in the developing world, primarily among women and young children.
In light of this, the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle implies that we should reject calls to mitigate climate change by turning from fossil fuels. We must not forget the world’s poorest citizens, who will be hit hard by the severe energy restrictions imposed by climate “stabilization” efforts.
As Christians, we are exhorted both to “Test all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and to be good stewards of our environment (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:15)—especially when millions on the planet are without clean water, adequate sanitation, and affordable energy. We certainly do not want to squander precious resources or harm our environment, but neither do we want to waste time, effort, and money to “solve” non-problems when they could be directed to solving very real and large ones.
Will you please join me, then, in endorsing the Open Letter below, expressing your concern to protect the poor from harmful climate policies? You can do so quickly and easily online by clicking here.
Sincerely in Christ’s Service,
David R. Legates, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
An Open Letter on Climate Change
to the People, their Local Representatives,
the State Legislatures and Governors,
the Congress, and the President
of the United States of America
Human-induced climate change, also known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW), is real. Crucial questions facing the public and policymakers are its magnitude, its benefits and harms relative to the benefits and harms of the activities that drive it, and the benefits and harms of proposed responses to it.
As the American people and their political representatives formulate policy regarding AGW, they should consider the following:
Human Exceptionalism and Humanity’s Role in the Earth
Severe poverty, widespread hunger, rampant disease, and short life spans were the ordinary condition of humankind until the last two-and-a-half centuries. These tragedies are normal when human beings act and are treated as if they were mere animals, which need to submit to nature. The Judeo-Christian heritage (Genesis 1:28; 2:15), in agreement with common sense, teaches instead that human beings are exceptional, able to rule over nature, freeing ourselves from poverty and hunger to live long and healthy lives. Our rule over nature should express not the abusive rule of a tyrant but the loving and generous rule of God the Creator (Genesis 2:15). It should thus express itself by enhancing the fruitfulness, beauty, and safety of the earth (Genesis 1:1–31; 2:4–14), to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors (Matthew 22:36–38).
How Societies Overcome Poverty
Our Judeo-Christian moral tradition puts a high priority on protecting and helping the poor (Psalm 41:1; Galatians 2:10). It also teaches, along with economic history, that what delivers people from absolute material poverty is a combination of moral, social, political, scientific, and technological institutions. These include science and technology grounded on a view of the physical world as an ordered cosmos that rational creatures can understand and harness for human betterment; private property rights, entrepreneurship, and widespread trade, protected by the rule of law enforced by limited and responsive governments; and abundant, affordable, reliable energy generated from high-density, portable, constantly accessible sources. By replacing animal and human muscle and low-density energy sources like wood, dung, and other biofuels, and low-density, intermittent wind and solar, fossil and nuclear fuels have freed people from the basic tasks of survival to devote time and bodily energy to other occupations.
Empirical Evidence Suggests that Fossil Fuel Use Will Not Cause Catastrophic Warming
Many fear that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use endanger humanity and the environment because they lead to historically unprecedented, dangerous global warming. This has led many well-meaning people to call for reduced carbon dioxide emissions and hence reduced use of fossil fuels.
Computer climate models of the warming effect of enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide are the basis for that fear. However, to validly inform policymaking, computer climate models must be validated by real-world observation, and they have not been. Over time, observed global average temperature (GAT) diverges increasingly from modeled GAT.
On average, models simulate more than twice the warming observed over the period during which anthropogenic warming is supposed to have been the greatest (about the last 35 years). None simulate the complete absence of observed warming over approximately the last 20 years at Earth’s surface and 17 to 27 years in the lower troposphere (where we live).1 Over 95 percent simulate more warming than observed. These data confirm the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) observation that we are currently experiencing an absence of global warming long enough to be nearly impossible to reconcile with the models.
All of this makes it increasingly clear that the models greatly exaggerate the warming effect of carbon dioxide. The models’ errors are not random—as often above as below observed temperatures, and by similar magnitudes—but consistently above observed temperatures, making it apparent that the models are biased. The large and growing divergence between model simulations and observed GAT severely reduces the models’ credibility both for predicting future GAT and for informing policy.
The Judeo-Christian worldview provided the basis for scientific method by teaching that a rational God designed an ordered universe to be understood and controlled by rational persons made in His image (Genesis 1:26), which is why science as a systematic activity arose in medieval Europe. One of Christ’s apostles, Paul, even asserted the essence of science when he wrote, “Test all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In that spirit, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman explained “the key to science” this way:
In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is—if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.2
We would add to Feynman’s statement that it also makes no difference how many people agree with your guess. The scientific method never appeals to consensus. It demands that theories be tested by empirical observation. By that test, the models are wrong. They therefore provide no rational basis to forecast dangerous human-induced global warming and no rational basis for efforts to reduce warming, whether by restricting the use of fossil fuels or by any other means.
For the Foreseeable Future, Wind and Solar Energy Cannot Effectively Replace Fossil Fuel and Nuclear Energy
Fossil fuels, because of their lower costs and higher efficiency, account for over 85 percent of total global energy use, and nuclear energy for about 6 percent. Wind and solar energy, because of their higher costs and lower efficiency, account for only a few percent. Mandated substitution of low-density, intermittent energy sources like wind and solar for high-density, constant sources like fossil fuels, before the former technologies become economically competitive, would be catastrophic to the world’s poor. It would simultaneously raise the cost and reduce the reliability and availability of energy, especially electricity. This, in turn, would raise the cost of all other goods and services—especially food—since all require energy to produce and transport. It would destroy scores to hundreds of thousands of jobs in America and, by slowing economic growth, prevent the creation of millions more here and abroad, especially in the developing world. It would slow the rise of the poor out of poverty and threaten to return millions to it. And it would make electricity grids unstable, leading to more frequent and widespread, costly and often fatal, brownouts and blackouts—events mercifully rare in wealthy countries but all too familiar to billions of people living in countries without comprehensive, stable electric grids supplied by stable fossil or nuclear fuels.
The Poor Would Suffer Most from Attempts to Restrict Affordable Energy Use
The poor, whether in America or elsewhere, will suffer most from such policies. The world’s poorest—the 1.3 billion in developing countries who depend on wood and dried dung as primary cooking and heating fuels, smoke from which kills 4 million and temporarily debilitates hundreds of millions every year—will be condemned to more generations of poverty and its deadly consequences. Instead, they desperately need to replace such primitive and dirty fuels with electricity, the most affordable sources of which are fossil fuels.
The poor in the developed world, too, need more, and cheaper, electricity and other energy from fossil fuels. On average, they spend two or more times as much of their incomes on energy as the middle class. When governments mandate substitution of wind and solar for fossil fuels, the affected poor lose access to decent food, housing, education, health care, and more as their energy costs rise. Some freeze to death, as tens of thousands did in the United Kingdom in several recent winters due to that nation’s rush to substitute wind and solar for coal to generate electricity, because they are unable to pay their electricity bills and still buy enough food.
Affordable Energy Can Help Millions of the World’s Poor Emerge from Poverty
The same computer climate models that exaggerate the warming effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide nonetheless rightly simulate that greater economic development driven by growing use of fossil fuels will add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Consequently, the IPCC finds that the warmest scenarios for the future are also the richest, especially for those societies that are now the poorest.
The risks of poverty and misguided energy policies that would prolong it far outweigh the risks of climate change. Adequate wealth enables people to thrive in a wide array of climates, hot or cold, wet or dry. Poverty undermines human health and life even in the best of climates. It follows that because reducing fossil fuel use means reducing economic development, it also means condemning poor societies to remain poor, and requiring poor people of today to sacrifice for richer people of the future—a clear injustice.
Rising Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Enhances Plant Growth
While adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere causes far less warming than previously feared, it has a positive effect on plant life. Scientifically understood, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a gas harmless at twenty times its current atmospheric concentration and vital to all life on the earth.
With more carbon dioxide in the air, plants grow better in warmer and cooler temperatures and wetter and drier soils, make better use of soil nutrients, and resist diseases and pests better, increasing their fruit production, expanding their range, and greening the earth. This makes more food available to all other creatures, especially—as agricultural yields rise, making food more affordable—the world’s poor. Substituting wind, solar, and other low-density energy sources for coal, oil, and natural gas therefore hurts the poor not only by raising energy (and all other) prices but also by reducing food production. It also hurts the rest of life on earth by depriving it of the fertilizing effect of heightened carbon dioxide.
By using fossil fuels to generate energy to lift billions of God’s precious children out of poverty, we liberate from the tomb of the earth the carbon dioxide on which plants and therefore all the rest of life depend. This beautifully reveals the Creator’s wisdom and care for all of His creation—people, animals, plants, and the earth itself.
Summary and Call to Action
Climate change is overwhelmingly natural and cyclical; human contribution to it is slight and not dangerous; attempts to reduce human contribution by reducing CO2 emissions would cause more harm than good; and expanded use of fossil fuels is necessary to provide the abundant, affordable, reliable energy indispensable to lifting and keeping societies out of poverty. Although CO2 emissions warm the earth slightly, they do not warm it dangerously, and the benefits of fossil fuel use, especially in enabling whole societies to rise, and remain, out of poverty, far outweigh whatever risks might accompany their small contribution to global warming.
In light of these considerations,
- We call on the American people to speak out against policies aimed at curbing global warming and make their views known to opinion leaders at local, state, and national levels.
- We call on local, state, and federal policymakers to speak out against and refuse to endorse any global agreements that require such policies.
- We call on the news media both to resist demands by climate alarmists to conform their coverage of climate science and policy to any consensus that human activity is causing dangerous climate change and to refuse to characterize those who challenge any such consensus on scientific grounds as “deniers,” a pejorative term incompatible with rational, open, respectful discussion of scientific issues.
It is both unwise and unjust to adopt policies, whether at local, state, or federal levels, let alone a global agreement, requiring reduced use of fossil fuels for energy. Such policies would condemn hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings to ongoing poverty, and put hundreds of millions more at risk of returning to the poverty from which they rose, while achieving no significant climate benefit. We respectfully appeal to you to reject them.
Click here to endorse.
1McKitrick, R.R., 2014, “HAC-Robust Measurement of the Duration of a Trendless Subsample in a Global Climate Time Series,” Open Journal of Statistics (4):527–535, online at http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojs.2014.47050.
2Feynman, R., 1965, The Character of Physical Law (London: British Broadcasting Corporation), 4, emphasis added.