February 22, 2020

How I Became a… Believer in Climate Change

From my series of posts a little over five years ago in my original “How I Became…” series, you might have thought that I embrace change quickly. After all, I have made a lot of theological changes in my life time. In fact, while I am willing to change my mind on things, it takes years or even decades for those changes to see fruition.

Climate change is no exception.

It was back in 2007 that my son Josh introduced me to “An Inconvenient Truth”. I said back then that I was not completely convinced, and that it would probably take another 5-10 years of data, for me to really make up my mind. Well, here it is 13 years later, and I am now truly convinced. A version of the two graphs presented here are what made me initially cautious, and have now convinced me.

I should note that I was never a climate change denier. Perhaps you could have called me a skeptic, but I think even that term is too strong. Cautious is probably the best way to describe my thoughts on the matter.

I am not a climate scientist. I have no opinion on the validity of climate models. I am however a qualified economist, and have made a living working with data and statistics.

Let me first tell you what you are seeing on the top graph.

In 1998, a drilling project in East Antartica extracted the deepest ice core ever, reaching down 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers) into the frozen ice. This ice, through its yearly layers, and the gasses trapped therein, gave us a historical record of over 400,000 years of climate at that location. Through it scientists were able to determine levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and temperature at any point in time during that period.

So how did they determine the temperature?

Measuring the amount of Carbon Dioxide is easiest to understand. They simply took the amount of CO2 compared to all the gases and expressed it as parts per million (ppm). As for the temperature…

Oxygen has three naturally occurring isotopes: 16O, 17O, and 18O, where the 16, 17 and 18 refer to the atomic mass made up of 8 protons and 8 neutrons, 8 protons and 9 neutrons and 8 protons and 10 neutrons respectively. The most abundant of these isotopes is 16O, while a small percentage exist as 18O and an even smaller percentage as 17O.

Analysing the ratio between 18O and 16O can provide a way of determining [historical] temperature.

In short, the ratio of 18O and 16O in snow varies according to temperature. By examining the ratio of these gases trapped at various points in the ice core, they were able determine the temperature at the time that the snow fell.

So, as you can see from the graph above, temperatures over the past 400,000 years have varied from approximately 3 degrees above the 1961 average, to 9 degrees below. At the same time CO2 varied over the same time period from 180 parts per million (ppm) to 300 ppm.

You can see how closely the two lines are inter-related. There is a very high degree of correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide.

Then the industrial revolution happened. From 1800 to 1950 CO2 rose from 280 ppm to 310 ppm, reaching past the top of the historical band. From 1950 until now, CO2 has climbed up and up and up, so that in January it measured 413 ppm, over one hundred points higher than it had been at any time in nearly half a million years!

So why was I initially so cautious?

One of my initial thoughts was that, temperature wise, we are already close to a historical high. Perhaps adding CO2 to the atmosphere was what keeping our temperature from crashing as it had in past eras? Besides, as any statistician will tell you, correlation does not equal causation. Indeed a close look at the data will show that CO2 has historically followed temperature changes and not the other way around.

So what changed my mind?

Let’s look at the graph below and discuss further.

While I stated above that temperature has preceded CO2 changes, the high correlation and strong trends indicate that there is very likely to be a feedback mechanism. That is, while in the past an initial change in temperature led to a change in CO2, it is also very likely that change in CO2 led to a further change in temperature, and they proceeded in lock step until a minimum or maximum was reached, or until some cataclysmic event resulted in a shock to the trend.

What I see in the second graph is what troubles me most. The earth has had relatively stable temperatures for about 12,000 years. That corresponds with the timeline for the rise of agriculture among humans. The rise of civilizations only occurred about 5,000 years ago. In that entire 12,000 years the proportion of CO2 has been between 255 and 285 ppm. For 12,000 years we have had a variance of only 30 ppm. We are now 130 points higher than at any point in that 12,000 years!!!

One reason why it has taken me so long to become convinced is because temperature has been slow to respond to the carbon dioxide increases. From 1998 until 2012 there was no increasing trend in temperature, and it took until 2016 to beat the 1998 temperatures. But we are again hitting new temperature highs and I believe we will continue to do so.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I am not a climate scientist. I have no expertise in climate models. I have to trust those that are. However, I do now strongly believe that we face a very uncertain future with our current levels of CO2. Whether that involves a temperature spike, and then a temperature crash I do not know. What I do know is that civilization and the events that proceeded it have only been able to occur when CO2 was between a range of 250 and 285 ppm. With CO2 now at 413 ppm, I would argue that our entire civilization is at stake. Can any action be too drastic to return us to the safe levels of CO2?

Strong words, I realize. What do we do as Christians? As human beings? I am not going to comment further here, but will try and interact with your comments below. As always, your thoughts are welcome.

Update: I am deleting the abortion thread. It was getting way off topic and deteriorating into name calling.

A Theory of Everything (That Matters): A Brief Guide to Einstein, Relativity, and His Surprising Thoughts on God by Alister McGrath- Part 4, Chapter 3- A Scientific Revolutionary: Einstein’s Four Papers of 1905

A Theory of Everything (That Matters): A Brief Guide to Einstein, Relativity, and His Surprising Thoughts on God by Alister McGrath- Part 4, Chapter 3- A Scientific Revolutionary: Einstein’s Four Papers of 1905

We are reviewing Alister McGrath’s new book, “A Theory of Everything (That Matters): A Brief Guide to Einstein, Relativity, and His Surprising Thoughts on God”.  Chapter 3 is entitled- “A Scientific Revolutionary: Einstein’s Four Papers of 1905”.  In 1905, Albert Einstein was working as a clerk in the Swiss patent office, the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern.  At that time, he held no academic position in any university or research institute.  The accounts of his time there suggest he was diligent in his duties.  But the job was intellectually undemanding, and he found he had time to work on projects that really mattered to him – solving the riddles of physics that remained unsolved at the beginning of the 20th century.

Einstein at work in room 86, third floor, Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern

Einstein was born to nonobservant Jewish parents at Ulm, in the kingdom of Württemberg, on March 14, 1879.  Württemberg had recently become part of a unified Germany after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.  He began his education in Munich, after his parents moved there.  His goal was to settle in Switzerland and train as a teacher in physics and mathematics at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich, which he attended as a student. However, his grades were not outstanding, and it was clear to Einstein that there was little likelihood he would secure an academic position in Switzerland.  He renounced his German citizenship in 1896 and in 1901 he acquired Swiss citizenship.  In 1902 he found the relatively well-paid job as a technical assistant in the Swiss patent office. In January 1903 he married the Serbian mathematician Mileva Marić, who was a fellow student during his time at Zurich Polytechnic.  The couple had two children: Hans Albert born in 1904, and Eduard, born in 1910.

Einstein was influenced at that time by German physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, who explained the observed properties of gases as “discreet particles of definite size which move according to certain conditions”.  This “kinetic theory of gases”, developed by Boltzman, emphasized that atoms were not some kind of hypothetical theoretical construction but were real objects.  This ran counter to the dominant view of that time, which was forcefully expressed in the writings of Ernst Mach.  Einstein later criticized Mach and his followers for allowing their scientific ideas to be determined by their philosophical presuppositions, arguing their prejudices against atomic theory were due to “their positivistic philosophical views”.  Positivism is a philosophical system deeply rooted in science and mathematics. It’s based on the view that whatever exists can be verified through experiments, observation, and mathematical/logical proof. Everything else is nonexistent. As we’ll see later in the book, although Einstein as a good scientist was an empiricist, he did not agree with the assertion that only statements verifiable through direct observation or logical proof are meaningful: he was a vibrant imaginative and valued intuition.

Boltzmann’s ideas stimulated Einstein to write his first published paper in 1901 on the implications of the well-known “capillary effect”, the ability of fluid to flow in confined spaces without the assistance of gravity, or even in opposition to gravity.  A familiar example is water moving upward in concrete, or sap rising in trees. The paper was not particularly well written or argued.  Einstein’s proposal for a correlation between the atomic weight of a liquid and the extent of its capillary action is no longer taken seriously.  But having a published paper to his name, he was able to circulate it to academic institutions in hope of finding a position.

Mileva Marić

In recent years, increased attention has been paid to this early article on account of a suspicion that Einstein might have had some unacknowledged assistance from Mileva Marić.  McGrath notes there was a 2003 documentary, titled Einstein’s Wife, that asserted that Marić was originally credited as a coauthor on several of these 1905 papers before her name was supposedly mysteriously removed from the final version of the texts.  McGrath notes this fits an influential media narrative which notes that male artists and academics of this period were prone to incorporate the ideas of female students or collaborators into their own work without due acknowledgment, a point which no doubt was true and ubiquitous.  However, this suggestion is no longer taken seriously.  Mileva Marić did indeed support and encourage Einstein, but the core ideas were Einstein’s own, even if he was wise enough to consult others in his quest to present them most effectively.

Which brings us to March 1905 and the first of Einstein’s seminal papers in his annus mirabilis – wonderful year that established his reputation as one of the most significant scientific thinkers of his age.  What is now known as the “photoelectric effect” was first observed in 1887 by German physicist Heinrich Hertz, and investigated more thoroughly by Hertz’s colleague Philipp Lenard in 1902.  Under the right circumstances, it was found that if a beam of light was shone on certain metals, the beam was able to eject electrons from the surface of those metals.

As might be expected, Lenard’s 1902 experiments found that the rate of emission of electrons from the surface of the metal was directly proportional to the intensity of the light falling on it.  The brighter the light the more electrons were dislodged from the metal surface.  But the intensity of the light seemed to have no effect on the energy of the electrons emitted.  The electrons emitted through exposure to a very bright light turned out to have the same energy as those emitted from exposure to a very dim light.  That didn’t make sense.  Furthermore, photoelectrons were emitted only if the frequency of the light (the number of light waves that pass a point per a certain time—typically one second) exceeded a threshold frequency, which varied from metal to metal.  So why should the color of the light matter? Why did blue light seem more effective than red light?

In his first paper of 1905, Einstein proposed that according to the evidence, light seemed to be composed of particles (later named photons). Based on the work of Max Planck, energy may seem to be continuous, but on closer examination, it is made up of tiny packets (Planck called quanta) of energy. Einstein argued that the photoelectric effect was best understood in terms of a collision between incoming particle-like bundle of energy and an electron close to the surface of the metal.  Einstein’s theory allowed two of Lenard’s otherwise puzzling observations to be explained:

  1. The critical factor that determines whether an electron is ejected is not the intensity of the light but its frequency (color).
  2. The observed features of the photoelectric effect can be accounted for by assuming that the collision between the incoming photon and the metallic electron obeys the principle of the conservation of energy. If the energy of the incoming photon is less than a certain quantity (the “work function” of the metal in question), no electrons will be emitted, no matter how intense the bombardment with photons.  Above this threshold, the kinetic energy of the emitted electrons is directly proportional to the frequency of the radiation.

Einstein’s brilliant theoretical account for the photoelectric effect suggested that electromagnetic radiation had to be considered as behaving as particles under certain conditions.  McGrath says it met with intense opposition, not least because it appeared to involve the abandonment of the prevailing classical understanding of the total exclusivity of waves and particles: something could be one or the other but not both.  It wasn’t until 1915 that Einstein’s approach began to achieve acceptance, and he did not receive his Nobel Prize in physics until 1921.  Einstein’s article was of critical importance in developing the field of quantum mechanics, yet Einstein later did not like the way in which quantum theory developed during the 1920s, especially as it came to place an emphasis on probability. Nevertheless, Einstein was instrumental in the development of what he called the “wave-particle duality of light”.

A Few iMonk Gems (2)

A Few iMonk Gems (2)

We have become people who must be in a crowd or at a special event to feel we have fellowshipped with God or known the power of the Spirit. We must have products to buy to feel we are following Jesus. We must decorate our cars, walls and bodies with slogans and art to reassure ourselves we are Christians. We want Christian entertainment, and we call it “worship”, but that is almost nonsensical in any ordinary sense. When we must have a stadium, a six-figure audio visual set up and a major league praise team to have worship where “God shows up”, who are we fooling?

The simple disciplines of the inner life escape us. We rarely pray, but we have all Stormie’s books on prayer. We rarely evangelize, but we’ve been to all the seminars and can use the Evangecube with skill. We can’t stop complaining about the boring worship at church, but we’d drive 500 miles to hear Third Day. We don’t read the Bible and we don’t read books about the Bible and we don’t train our minds, but then why should we? Pastor Rick has been to the grocery store and brought home all the verses we need on every topic, illustrated and alliterated. We aren’t talking to unbelievers, and we can’t turn off television- Christian or otherwise- long enough to read a book. We can go to a Beth Moore study, but we can’t go to the scriptures on our own for 15 minutes a day.

We’re pitiful. I’m pitiful. What are we doing with our lives? And how the heck did we convince ourselves that membership in the mall and the amusement park is following Jesus, loving God and serving our neighbor?

• • •

Before you start praying for my deliverance from the demons blinding me to the truth, I want to make it very clear that C.S. Lewis’s version of demonic activity in The Screwtape Letters is one I can confidently affirm and follow. Lewis shows demons suggesting behavior, bringing thoughts into consciousness and working within divine limitations to bring souls to the “Father below.” But Lewis does not deal with demonic possession or causation, and this is wise. He stays within the boundaries of a cautiously conservative view of scripture without throwing out the insights of science or the truths of human development.

Screwtape advises Wormwood to keep the patient unaware of his existence, and to work to keep the patient in conflict with his mother, at a distance from serious discipleship and attracted to peers who despise religion. A person reading Screwtape is sensitized to the “schemes” of the devil Paul warned the Corinthians to consider, but without the tendency to go into areas of Satanic explanation that are unwise and unwarranted. There is a great deal of pastoral wisdom in Lewis’s book, but it won’t make for much of a conference on “Power Encounters.”

I would urge those who find spiritual warfare to be a valid category to believe what scripture says, but to also believe that scripture does not tell us to resort to the demonic as an explanation for what is plainly ordinary or simply unpleasant to consider.

• • •

So…if the culture war cafeteria line has a left and right side, what side am I on?

I’m a conservative in most ways, but I am not concerned if am labeled a liberal on issues where I deviate from the norm. I’m an evangelical Christian who intentionally identifies with the Liturgical worship of Presbyterianism because evangelicals have become pragmatists at the mercy of merchants. I have no use for the word inerrancy, even though I love the Westminster Confession’s words on scripture. I believe the best way to read the literature of the Bible is as literature. I am totally comfortable with Biblical criticism, as long as it is honest about its presuppositions.

I really don’t care much for what is usually called evangelism. Some of it I completely reject as manipulation, but I believe that the Gospel message must be communicated in every way possible. I think that social action, missions, living a vocation, art, family life, justice and mercy ministries all combine into evangelism. The false choice between evangelism and social action seems childish to a student of church history.

I am pro-life, but I don’t want laws making moms and doctors into criminals. I can live with civil unions. I am not afraid of homosexuals in public life. My experience tends to confirm a belief that key elements of homosexuality are nature more than nurture, but it is a complex phenomenon with many components. Evangelicals are obsessed with homosexuality. It’s weird.

I’m a libertarian sympathizing Republican who could conceivably be a Democrat if a lot changed. I’m a bad Calvinist who can appreciate good Arminians. I love C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias and many other Arminians. I’m for the war on terror and the defeat of terror states. I can live with anyone as a pastor because I read the Bible to say that subjection of women to men isn’t the creation order, but the result of sin.

I support public schools, but I work in a private Christian school. Why don’t we support whatever parents believe is right for their kids? I reject Young Earth creationism. I can accept some aspects of evolution, but not others. I listen to every kind of media and every kind of entertainment. Secular entertainment is better. Conservative media is sometimes more effective, but often knuckle-headed and obnoxious. I’m a blogger, and so are a lot of other idiots.

I want less government unless we need more in order to survive as a nation. I think people ought to be free to do what they want and Christians should quit protesting everything that offends them. I like Dobson on a few things, Piper on most things, Capon of anything related to the Gospel and Jim Wallis more than I did a couple of weeks ago. I voted for Bush, and I like him because I can understand him. He wants to do the right thing.

I graduated from Southern, but I think I would be mostly happy at a liberal school that takes a more progressive view of the Bible. I’m into a lot of modern scholars, but I don’t buy all they say. I treat the scholars I read as people worth listening to, but I don’t expect them to line up with everything I already believed. What would be the point?


Submission in Ephesians 5:21. Egalitarianism in Galatians 3:28.

Every translation has something to say. The ESV is on my desk. The Greek is in my computer. I can preach from anything.

Am I buggin’ ya?

As I said before, it isn’t important to me to line up all my beliefs with the rest of the team. I have my doubts. I have my questions. I am obstinate and stubborn, but I also might be right that we should be true to our own journey, and not true to some team in the culture war.

• • •

A lot of people have a “mission statement” for life. I have something I call a “Life project.” I’m more of a project-oriented person. It helps me think in very practical terms. My current life project can be described like this:

I am deconstructing everything in my life that is not vitally connected to Jesus as King and Messiah.

Why “deconstruction?” Am I just trying to sound postmodern? No…I really am better at tearing things down than at building things up. Like Graham Greene said in The Destructors, “Destruction is a form of creation.” That’s very true for me.

The issue for me is not relating to Jesus. All kinds of people relate to Jesus in some way. The issue is for everything in my life to relate to Jesus. The issue is how does Jesus relate to the total package that is Michael’s world?

When I approach that question, I find that I have to tear down all kinds of things. It’s like discovering a wonderful, valuable painting on a wall, but it’s under coats and layers of other paintings. Those layers have to be removed and then the original painting, once it’s revealed, can be restored to what it should look like.

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