Monday, February 23, 2009

Today, we are urged to believe that within the next few decades the globe will become intolerably warmer. The world as we know it will be drastically altered unless we act now to reverse our wayward lifestyles, especially our wasteful energy practices.

But wait. Aren’t we all just essentially being pressured to believe in a long-range climate forecast? And isn’t this pressure largely being applied by politicians and political organizations no less? Who today would bet serious money on a weather prediction made a month in advance let alone decades ahead? Yet the developed nations of the world are under the gun to invest hundreds of billions of dollars on a climate prophecy when worldwide financial stability is tottering. Doesn’t President Barack Obama have enough global headaches to buffer to worry about a trillion-dollar climate prescription?

Many in the environmental profession have come to an epiphany like the one the late Michael Crichton had - that contemporary environmentalism, with its authoritative, unchallengeable proclamations and rigid tenets, is analogous to organized religion. This environmental religion is headed by politicians (or former politicians) as the high priests and an established political cathedral (read Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

These adored figureheads have selected verses from a collection of scientific data and climate effects to write their global-warming scriptures. Their holy writ includes a reworking of the Book of Revelation with planetary disasters as frightening as those alluded to in the authentic account.

Salvation comes from giving the priests control over our daily lives to redeem us from our carbonaceous sins. Penance and indulgence take the form of “offsets” to carbon-spewing offenses like frivolous exotic vacations, meaty outdoor barbecues, incandescent-bulb burning, and driving a Hummer (a mortal sin!).

Not to worry though, there is mercy in environmentalism. For the ability to continue trespasses like economic expansion in industrialized nations while enjoying a guilt-free contemporary lifestyle, the offsets are invoked to spare those in Third World countries from the modern burdens of ominous power plants, dirty cement kilns, egregious chemical factories, heartless pharmaceutical industries, sterile medical clinics, gluttonous harvests and gushing purified water. At least those with guilt-assuaged consciences can relax as they vicariously enjoy the back-to-nature lifestyles of loin-clothed aboriginals foraging for food to feed their gaunt families in a lush rain forest (while annually a million natives worldwide drop dead from malaria alone).

How have we come to universally accept this new religion based on dubious prophecy that condemns so many poor souls to a living hell and will greatly limit the salvation offered by free economies? That’s where the missionaries come in. These missionaries, a k a “teachers” and “professors,” have gone out into the fields of the education system to disseminate the depressing gospel that the Earth is forever in big trouble. Thus, with sustained indoctrination from grade school through graduate school, proselytes have been harvested.

No wonder today’s scientists, let alone society, so quickly succumb to any doomed-Earth theory. Our scientific community has been primed to accept that a forecast of calamity for our atmosphere is as good as a reality.

Everyone has been conditioned to believe that an extremely complex climate system is largely controlled by a single simple gas - carbon dioxide - even though the biggest single climate regulator on Earth is most likely water. The global atmospheric temperature is substantially controlled by water in all its forms, as invisible vapor in air, as liquid in oceans and clouds, and as solid ice crystals, snow cover, and glaciers.

Besides, could other uncontrollable factors like variation in incoming solar radiation and cosmic rays, as some atmospheric scientists have proposed, have a dominant influence over climate?

So, before we all surrender to a calamitous climate change scenario, let’s put it into perspective with the very real present-day calamities of mass starvation, disease, ethnic cleansing, potential economic collapses, and the like. With these exceptionally serious challenges at hand and based on the enormous complexity of the Earth-climate system and the relative paucity of knowledge scientists have about the systems operation, we sincerely hope to encourage a return to humility in environmental research and activism and education about our biosphere. We hope politicians and scientists once again embrace the basics of science including the idea that all “theories” consist of assumptions and limitations - and this goes double for “forecasts”!

However, we expect our motivational efforts at reformation will just end up getting us burned at the stake (in a carbon-neutral fashion of course) for environmental heresy.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and co-author of “Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry” (CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, 2000). Susan T. Cammarata is an independent environmental lawyer practicing in Pittsburgh.

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