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Gore’s claims called ‘alarmism’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hollywood loves Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” but a growing number of scientists are uneasy with the catastrophic scenarios in his film on global warming, according to a report in The New York Times March 13.

At issue for scientists is not Gore’s assertion that climate change is taking place or that humans are primarily responsible for rising temperatures. “They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism,” writes William Broad, the Times’ senior science correspondent.

As a result, many scientists who once praised Gore’s activism now are giving a second look to the more radical claims of the documentary -– such as the advent of super hurricanes and an enormous rise in sea level. They are concerned that Gore may be “overselling” predictions about what will happen in the future should the climate continue to change.

Meanwhile, in a rare occurrence, several evangelical scholars who have taken a more conservative approach to climate change said the article in The Times helps dispel some -– but not all -– of the myths of catastrophic global warming.

The Times has published more than 60 news stories and editorials about global warming since Jan. 1. The story March 13 is the first to offer serious criticism of Gore’s claims on human-induced climate change.

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press that few conservatives would have thought that The Times “would help bring out significant and broad-based scientific opposition to some of the points of the human-induced climate change agenda,” especially when it is so often preached by “one of their favorite people.”

“We’ve been looking at this issue for several years now out of our desire to practice stewardship of the environment, to care for creation, but we have not been able to find the level of consensus Gore claims on global warming or consensus about how it will affect the world,” Duke said. “The report is potentially very damaging to Gore’s notion of climate change, and also potentially damaging personally, to his credibility.”

Duke and others, such as Wayne Grudem, research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary, and Cal Beisner, associate professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are part of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a conservative group of religious scholars and scientists who claim that human-induced climate change is a fallacy and that the poor will be hurt by efforts to limit the use of fossil fuels.

Gore, of course, disagrees, contending that increased emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in the atmosphere may radically alter life on the planet, with the sea displacing millions — and massive storms, droughts and heat waves killing millions more. This is where many scientists break from Gore, The Times reported.

“Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming,” The Times noted. “The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow motion process.”

The U.N.’s IPCC report “estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches -– down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.”

As uncomfortable as scientists are about Gore’s exaggerated claims about natural disasters, they are just as uncomfortable with his conspiracy theories about large oil companies trying to sway scientific and public opinion on the matter, The Times recounted. And they also are aghast that Gore continues to claim that the current warming of the earth’s climate is unprecedented in history.

“Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms,” The Times report concludes.

The Times report on Gore’s global warming emphasis was immediately rebuked by numerous commentators on the political left, including Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. Pope wrote on the environmental organization’s website that Gore “freely and frequently concedes” that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the details, but not “about global warming’s reality, not about its being caused by human green-house pollution, and not about it having serious consequences.” Pope said Gore wasn’t being an alarmist, and there is “nothing there” in the story.

But for evangelical opponents of Gore’s radical environmental agenda, there is something there. Grudem, speaking from his office in Phoenix, told Baptist Press it is no surprise that Gore’s “wild and unsubstantiated predictions are being called into question by a large number of scientists.”

“The method he uses is really a ‘cherry-picking’ of isolated facts to support a very dubious theory -– a highly destructive dubious theory. It is one that allows the government to take our freedoms and our property, or least the right to use them as we wish,” Grudem said.

Grudem also said Gore’s environmental push runs contrary to what the Bible says about man’s relationship to creation -– he is told to rule over it in Genesis 1:28 -– as well as what the Bible says about the wisdom of God in Proverbs 3:19-20: “By his wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by his understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.”

“I find it highly doubtful that the Lord would set the earth up in such a way that we would destroy it by obeying His command,” Grudem said. “And yet, that’s exactly what the alarmists would have us think.”

Many governments in the world have accepted Gore’s claims, or at least the claims of the IPCC, but Duke said an uncritical stance on global warming on the part of the world’s governments will lead nations to spend billions trying to curb so-called “greenhouse gas” emissions. They will, in the process, fund an entire “global warming abatement industry,” he said, and billions will be made by people who promote fear about human-induced climate change.

“Governments should be spending their money trying to protect their people from the effects of global warming, rather than trying to stop what is an unavoidable part of the earth’s natural cycle,” Duke said.

Beisner, co-author of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance’s study, “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming,” has risen to the forefront of the conservative response to proponents of human-induced climate change. He said he agrees with his colleagues.

“This attempt to reduce CO2 emissions around the world will deprive developing nations of the cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy that wealthy nations used to become wealthy,” Beisner said. “It will condemn them to added generations of rampant disease and early death. And that, consequently, makes those policies morally hideous.”

As Gore has been traveling the world on the global warming stump, several scientific studies have challenged the basic premises of his documentary on climate change. In early February, for example, Science magazine published a study citing the expansion in thickness of Greenland’s ice sheet. That data confirms a 2005 survey conducted by the European Space Agency that cited the rising altitude of the ice sheet. Gore contends in his film that the continued rapid melting of the ice sheet is evidence of global warming.

Gore also claims in his film that the melting of the glacier in the Glacier National Park in Montana is evidence of global warming. But he apparently ignored a study published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2003 that said the glacier has been melting since 1850, or since the end of the last “little ice age.”

Information from NASA’s Mars Global Surveryor and Odyssey in 2005 revealed that the planet’s southern polar ice cap, composed of carbon dioxide ice or “dry ice,” has been receding for several years. Simultaneous warming on both planets may hint at a natural rather than human cause for global warming — solar activity. A group of Russian scientists at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory said a long-term increase “in solar irradiance” is heating both planets.

Facts and omissions like these are the reason some scientists now want to keep at least the more radical points of “An Inconvenient Truth” at arm’s length.

For his part, Gore is defending his work. In an e-mail response to the author of The Times article, he said that scientists continued to support his claims, although there “will always be questions around the edges of the science, and we have to rely upon the scientific community to continue to ask and to challenge and to answer those questions.”

Taken at face value, even Beisner might agree with the statement. Though he claims The New York Times has shown “no interest over the years in presenting contrasting scientific views,” he said he believes the article might prompt other scientists to do what they are supposed to do.

“I would not assume that this article is a personal attack on Gore. In fact, the debate has often been demeaned by people taking criticism of their scientific claims as personal attacks,” he said. “They should instead focus on doing what good scientists always do – strive for the facts.”

When they do, Beisner said, studies of global warming, like Gore’s, will be less likely to include “isolated facts” that have been gathered to support a pre-determined hypothesis. They will also not include “non-facts,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Gregory Tomlin