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FIRST-PERSON: Global warming propaganda from Scholastic?

WASHINGTON (BP)–Tens, even scores, of millions of adult Americans will remember warmly the weekly papers we received in school from Scholastic. They were geared for specific age ranges, Kindergarten through 12th grade, and covered many subjects.

They’re still around today, many are as useful, and unobjectionable, as they were 40 years ago.

But not all.

A few days ago the Cornwall Alliance received an anonymous email from a Kindergarten teacher at a Christian school. She had been surprised when her school principal told her not to use “The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge,” a book and Webcast video from Scholastic.com designed for Kindergartners through third graders, to acquaint them with the serious danger of global warming and how we can “go Green” to “help save the planet” by resorting to wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources.

“Can you tell me why the … program would be a bad thing?” she asked.

Her question is a good one and deserved a careful answer. Here, condensed and revised somewhat, is my reply:

You’ve said the only reason your principal gave you for not teaching the children about global warming is that “it is not a Christian worldview.” Although few have thought the issue through at that depth, he’s going right to the root of the matter.

It’s certainly not impossible, in this post-Fall world in which all people are sinners (Romans 3:20) and Earth itself is under God’s curse because of our sin (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:18-23), for us to harm the Earth, and we as Christians should pursue God’s instruction to multiply, fill the Earth, subdue it and rule over it (Genesis 1:28) in a godly way that glorifies Him and serves our neighbors by enhancing its fruitfulness and beauty and guarding against abuse (Genesis 2:15).

However, the widespread belief that human emission of carbon dioxide is causing dangerous global warming rests on an assumption that goes well beyond this. It is the assumption — common in environmentalism — that Earth and its natural systems are extremely fragile, subject to catastrophic harm even by comparatively tiny influences. To be specific, the dangerous anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is that increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere from about 270 parts per million by volume to about 540 parts per million by volume (that is, from about 27 thousandths of a percent to 54 thousandths of a percent) would cause catastrophic heating that could jeopardize human civilization as we know it, or even perhaps all life.

In a moment I’ll suggest empirical arguments against that hypothesis, but first, taking your principal’s cue, let’s focus on the worldview issue: whether that hypothesis is consistent with a Christian understanding of God as Creator and Sustainer of His creation, and the climate system as part of that creation. And to take the issue out of the highly charged one of global warming — because of the massive political and media campaign waged over it in the last three decades — let’s use an analogy. Suppose an architect designed a building so that if someone leaned against one wall it would collapse. Would we say, “Oh, that architect must be brilliant!”?

But that’s exactly the view of Earth’s climate system presupposed by global warming alarmism. Let me explain a little more fully.

Even proponents of the hypothesis acknowledge that, according to basic physics, doubling atmospheric CO2 would cause only about 1.2 degrees Celsius of increase in global average temperature. Nobody thinks that would be harmful; indeed, most studies indicate it would be beneficial to most parts of the Earth. The fears all come from the belief (generally embraced by those working under the auspices of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]) that various parts of the climate system would respond to enhanced CO2’s slight warming by greatly magnifying it — indeed, by about 250 percent (to 3C) to 375 percent (to 4.5C).

Again, thinking from a biblical worldview perspective, which recognizes that Earth’s climate system is the product of God’s wise design and is sustained by His omnipotent providence, does this make sense? Let’s go to our analogy again: Would we think an architect was a great designer if he designed a building so all its internal feedback mechanisms magnified any stress so the whole building would collapse simply because someone leaned on one wall?

In short, then, the Christian worldview provides a basis, a presupposition, from which the Christian will automatically question reasoning that leads to fears of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW).

That’s not the only reason why many Christians — including many Christian climate scientists and other natural scientists — reject fears of CAGW. Increasingly in recent years their empirical research has pointed in the opposite direction.

The fears assume high “climate sensitivity,” so that the climate will warm a lot because of increased CO2 concentration. But increasing empirical observations point to low “climate sensitivity” — that the climate will warm very little because of increased CO2. That is, they’re finding that the climate system, though not static or in equilibrium (no natural system is), is generally stable, varying within a fairly narrow range.

We start with a fact that will surprise the vast majority of the public, since most media have failed to report it: Despite continuing increase in atmospheric CO2, there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995. One hypothesis offered to explain this is that the “missing” heat is being absorbed into the deep oceans, from whence, sometime in the future, it will return to the atmosphere, causing a sudden increase in atmospheric temperature. Work by Dr. Roy W. Spencer, principal research scientist in climatology at the University of Alabama/Huntsville, shows, however, that there’s been no warming in the deep ocean over the period. This entails that the “missing” heat — if there is any — is going out into space, from whence it will never return. That means overall feedbacks (the climate system’s responses to changes in temperature) are negative (minimizing warming from added CO2) rather than positive, the climate system is stable rather than fragile, and the fears of CAGW are unfounded.

This, then, is what I would offer you as the basic case for your principal’s assertion that global warming — or, to be more accurate (since global temperature is always rising or falling), CAGW — isn’t consistent with the Christian worldview, and therefore you shouldn’t be teaching it to your undiscerning, easily frightened young students.

Let me conclude by commenting directly on whether “The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge” is suitable for young children. It presents only the alarmist view, with no balancing objections. It will incite unnecessary fears among children who view it. It states that many common activities cause CAGW, inciting unwarranted feelings of guilt. It is propaganda, taking advantage of children’s natural lack of discernment. It’s precisely the kind of thing against which Dr. Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College and the Home School Legal Defense Association, warns in his lecture “From Captain Planet to Avatar: The Seduction of Our Youth,” in Resisting the Green Dragon.

May God bless you as you seek to teach young children the glories of His creation so that they will be able to appreciate the message of Psalm 19 and Psalm 104 and not fall into the trap of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator, about which Paul warned in Romans 1.
E. Calvin Beisner is founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (CornwallAlliance.org), a network of theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, and policy experts dedicated to bringing biblical worldview, theology, and ethics together with science and economics to promote 1) economic development for the very poor, 2) wise stewardship of environmental resources, and 3) the proclamation and defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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  • E. Calvin Beisner