Movie Review: An Inconvenient Truth

June 20, 2006 | 96 comments
By

A review in four parts:

The Movie
The movie itself was mediocre. I enjoy documentaries on the big screen, but there was nothing here but the bland: no interesting camera tricks, no fascinating footage, no ‘ah-ha’ moment, no humor. And one suspects that Gore would be better able to defend himself against the accusation that the movie was about his own political advancement if there had been fewer shots of him looking thoughtfully out of airplane windows, wheeling his luggage through airport terminals, or working on his laptop in fancy hotel rooms. They could have, you know, interviewed some people who had been affected by climate change or something.

The Messenger
Gore makes his case reasonably well. Unfortunately, he is still Al Gore when he makes it, with two modes: Wooden and Pretending to Be Emotional. If Ronald Reagan had been the spokespolitico for climate change, we would all have willingly given up our cars by now.

The Message
If what Gore claims is true, climate change is the biggest story of this (and the last) century. But how should I know? I don’t have a science background and you probably don’t either. If I so much as attempt to evaluate his claims, I feel like a little kid in mom’s heels with grandma’s feather boa around my neck.

The Mormon Angle
What should Mormons do with the hubbub about climate change? I don’t know. You tell me.

Tags: ,

96 Responses to Movie Review: An Inconvenient Truth

  1. Wacky Hermit on June 20, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    I think Mormons need to be leaders in being wary of the “cult of science.” By that I mean the worshipful respect given to Science, which often exceeds that given to religion. All too often we find that if Science says we need to do X, we are already halfway done, but if a prophet tells us we need to do Y, we ignore him.

  2. Bill on June 20, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    They should certainly make it a more important priority than constitutional amendments, etc.

    An excellent site for the consensus on climate change is here. The scientists who run the site respond to the comments and explain things to the layperson without too much watering-down.

  3. Justin H on June 20, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    WH (#1):All too often we find that if Science says we need to do X, we are already halfway done, but if a prophet tells us we need to do Y, we ignore him.

    That may be true, Wacky Hermit, but how does that apply to the issue at hand? Has the prophet given any advice or counsel that bears on climate change?

  4. Steven B on June 20, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Mormons only ignore science if it is a “moral” issue.

  5. MikeInWeHo on June 20, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    re: 4
    Or as it applies to the BoM.

    I found the Gore movie chilling (no ironic pun intended). It really laid out the evidence in a way I had not seen before. The terrifying part is that by the time we all can cleary see what’s happening, it may be too late.

    The conservative Evangelicals are pulling ahead of the LDS on this, for reasons which I don’t understand. Please see:

    http://www.christiansandclimate.org/statement

  6. Mark Butler on June 20, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Science in general has little or nothing to say on morality. It is beyond their self-imposed constraints on what is legitimately real or what counts as truth. It doesn’t matter how good the philosophical argument for free will is, the common scientistic response is to scoff. An argument for climate change has moral implications that are obvious enough, but as for the rest, science is as best a systematic collection of facts, quasi-facts, and borderline speculation. Morality and spirituality are mysteries beyond scientific comprehension.

  7. queuno on June 20, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t have the energy tonight to respond in depth, but … reports from many corners of the Internet are that Gore conveniently ignores the scores of scientists who disagree with him. Then again, I haven’t seen it yet, but I will this weekend (however, my not having seen it doesn’t disqualify me from actually commenting on it — after all this *is* the Bloggernacle).

    A huge problem in science right now that science is being manipulated by nonscientific people. We like to romanticize scientists as truly honest people, only reporting on what they observe … and that’s the problem — they only report on what they OBSERVE, and their funding sources influence that. The accounts of the Bush administration changing scientific studies are legion. The accounts of Gore ignoring “inconvenient disconnects” are equally legion.

    So until we have a decent panel of relevant scientsts having a true debate and not swapping soundbites, I’ll treat Gore’s efforts with only slightly higher expectations than I did for X-Men III (which was surprisingly good, as the DW dragged me to it).

    Popcorn anyone?

  8. NE on June 20, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    Re #4: Well, if that is the case, then we are in trouble here. :) Seriously, one of Gore’s main points (and I would argue a decent one) is that global warming is a moral issue in that if the science is true (which he thinks it is) then we have an ethical obligation to deal with it. As a politician not a scientist, why does he say this? Well, it goes back to that stewardship thing: the earth is ours for a small time only and we have an obligation to leave it in as at least as good of a condition as we found it. Whether you believe that for secular reasons (as many environmentalists do) or for religious reasons shouldn’t matter.

    The science seems clearly in the “this is a problem” ballpark. The only questions these days within the peer reviewed science seems to be how this issue with resolve itself over time… at what point with the atmosphere correct itself and how drastic will that correction be? The other question being studied has to do with the most efficient way to decrease global warming at this point. And I am in a field that crosses over into this area.

    As far as the messenger point: My husband remarked afterwards that it must be a TN thing… we have a wonderful man from TN in our ward with the exact same unemotional humor.

  9. queuno on June 20, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    [Just one example of funding influencing research – my PhD advisor’s husband has been named the head of a multimillion, government-funded effort to “improve cybersecurity.” We’ve all joked about how he’d better find new cybersecurity threats that no one has envisioned yet, or he’ll be back to teaching undergrads. It’s not sexy if he says, “well, x-and-y is not really a *threat*”. He gets more money the more threats he can find.

    Prior to that, my PhD advisor and her husband received a lot of funding to create something that ultimately didn’t work… but hey, they got almost a hundred publications and dozens of master’s and doctoral students out of it. They also funded a lot of other research that wasn’t really relevant (so your tax dollars paid for my conference conveniently located on a beach).

  10. The Wiz on June 20, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    I take all environmental science with a huge grain of salt. In elementary school, we watched movies how by the year 2000, we would all be wearing gas masks with huge blisters on our skins. My brother watched movies about the next ice age that was right around the corner, and how we would have no gas left for our cars.

    The truth is, resources+human ingenuity=energy (power,whatever.) And our human ingenuity is getting better and better, so we need less and less of the resources to achieve the same result. And the earth has cycles, it always has and it always will.

    That doesn’t mean I dont recycle and stuff, but the gloom and doom stuff just doesn’t ring true for me, since I’ve heard it forever, and everything that was supposed to happen by now just hasn’t.

  11. samdb on June 20, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Wiz,
    What if the reason we weren’t wearing gas masks with huge blisters on our skins in 2000 was because somebody saw those elementary school movies and actively made the change?

    You write about human ingenuity solving problems, which it often has done up until now. But the ingenuity required that somebody take seriously a threat that hadn’t yet materialized and required that somebody (or, more likely, those somebodies) to do something about it.

    That said, I can’t think of much more dull than a couple hours watching Al Gore (not that I have anything against him, his message, etc.; it’s just that if I’m going to pay $20 for me and my wife to see a movie, plus popcorn, plus babysitting, it needs to be big-screen worthy).

  12. El Jefe on June 20, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    I think Gore tries to make his case for a Weapon of Mass Destruction by utilizing all the worst case scenarios. But sometimes Weapons of Mass Destruction turn out to bge less than they were made out to be.

    Does anybody remember the Big Garbage Scare? We were drowning in trash! The garbage scow sailed up and down the East Coast, and nobody wanted it. Cover stories in Newsweek and Time. Apocalypse was near…

    Well, a little recycling, a little common sense, and the Great Garbage Scare is no more.

  13. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I ought to note here that it was the Republicans who got rid of the non-partizan Congressional science advisory committee.

    Turns out they weren’t partizan enough.

    As far as global warming goes … I’m as willing to entertain the idea of a cult of science as anyone and I’ve condemned science as a new American religion several times on the nacle. But …

    There’s an old saying:

    “if one person calls you a donkey, ignore him. But if fifty people call you an a**, go buy a halter.”

    It’s time for the Republican anti-environmentalists to go buy a halter. They are just flat-out on the wrong side of this particular issue. At least on abortion and homosexuality the conservatives can invoke morality as a trump card over science. On the environment, conservatives don’t even have a disputed moral leg to stand on.

    The Republican Party needs to ditch its pro-vested business interest stance and start pushing for conservation, fuel-efficiency, restrained community planning, and alternative fuel sources.

    Because right now, just about every American under the age of 40, who isn’t an ideological warrior, thinks their anti-environment stance is a load of garbage. The only sizeable group of Americans who believes the Republican “what global warming” rhetoric will be mostly dead in about 30 years if not sooner. Frank Murkowski is as much of a fossil as the oil he’s trying to extract. He, and his contemporaries, are a political dead-end for the Republican Party. The sooner they jettison him and his supporters, the better it will be for American Conservativism.

  14. Beijing on June 20, 2006 at 6:30 pm

    The boy who cried wolf told the truth once, but the villagers had already stopped listening. You can blame the boy or blame the villagers or some of each, but the fact is: the sheep were lost.

    I don’t know whether this is that crucial moment when scientists who may well be corrupt (#9) or exaggerrating (#10) or divided amongst themselves on this issue (#7) are telling us the truth this time that the wolf really is at the door. But if stewardship of the earth is something one cares about, is it wise to dismiss the current “prophecy” of the scientists out of hand because of their foibles and past false alarms?

  15. Mark Butler on June 20, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Conservatives are the original environmentalists. Back then it was called *conservation*. Environmentalism is a conservative issue. If there are any on the “right” who are advocating willy nilly ambivalence about the environment, it is because they are naive economic liberals, not conservatives in any sense of the term.

    However, conservatives are not radicals, no conservative believes that a tree frog necessarily has greater moral value than a human being. The debate is not between polluters and conservers, as in the black-white picture the environmentalist left so likes to paint, but rather what are the terms of a proper balance between humanity and the rest of the ecosystem.

    That is right – to conservatives, humans are actually worth preserving – that human society done right is not the enemy – it is not a matter of trying to roll back civilization to an pastoral myth where we all where hunter gatherers or small farmers, but making the best of what we have – pursuing environmental preservation through the proper application of conservation, technology, and management. There are no “polluter” conservatives. Anyone unabashedly or implicity pro-pollution is a criminal not a conservative.

  16. gst on June 20, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    Oh, if only we had ratified Kyoto!

  17. Mark Butler on June 20, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    Seeing as how Kyoto was rejected in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 98 to 2, that doesn’t seem to be (or to have been) a rational expectation.

  18. Ken on June 20, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    Re: #17: How’s that sarcasm meter?

  19. Mark Butler on June 20, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    No sarcasm here. Understatement maybe.

  20. annegb on June 20, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    Aw, I think you’re all a little crazy. No offense. Takes one to know one, of course.

  21. Mark Butler on June 20, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    Correction: The vote not to accept the Kyoto accords unless developing countries were also included was 95-0. July 25, 1997.

  22. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    The problem isn’t so much the science, as it is this unwarranted religious belief among the American seculars (and even the not-so-secular) that science actually has anything to say about what we SHOULD be doing.

    Science offers only data. Never imperatives.

  23. MikeInWeHo on June 20, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    re: 10 That is so true. I remember all the various waves of hysteria as far back as the 70s. How many ways were we doomed? Overpopulation, too much garbage, soviet missiles, ozone hole, the list goes on. (Anybody remember: “Soylent Green is….people!!!!”) So now Al Gore et. al. come along and tell us that we’re in deep water if we don’t reduce CO2 levels. Yet this alarm just feels different to me. It would be a crime against our grandchildren not to listen. My read of things also indicates that there is a very broad scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity.

    re: 22 I disagree. Scientists told us that we should avoid consumption of mercury if we value our children. They showed me that I’m less likely to get mangled in a car accident if I buy one with a bunch of air bags. That’s why secularism is such a threat to religion (see other string on this topic). Science offers plenty of moral imperatives, and can back them up with, well, science.

  24. Sheldon on June 20, 2006 at 8:13 pm

    I liked the Jim Lehrer Newshour 3 part series on Climate Change. In the last part, the program suggested momentarily setting aside the question of whether or not climate change is occurring, and to what extent humans are responsible… and instead asks, WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT, especially if it is “too late” to cut CO2 enough to stop it…. And then they look to an experiment by a Columbia physicist, who has developed a machine capable of removing 75% of the CO2 out of the air, and storing it…

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/environment/jan-june06/globalwarming_06-08.html

  25. Ivan Wolfe on June 20, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    It’s simple.

    If the earth cools over the next few decades, enviormentalists will claim their policies worked.

    If it gets warmer, they’ll insist we need their ideas even more. They can’t lose. Either way, they were right.

  26. Kevin Barney on June 20, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    I didn’t go to see the movie. The preview scared the hell out of me, so I went to Nacho Libre instead.

  27. NE on June 20, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    Re #24 – While it would be lovely to have a machine just take care of this CO2 issue, generally, in order to do something about it at this point in time we would need everyone to do their little part. The science seems to be saying if we wait much longer, it may be too late and the earth will adjust for us (and not in the most comfortable way). In order to get everyone to do their part, we probably need everyone to agree that might be a real issue that needs real attention.

    I guess what gets me on this issue in general is why are so many people, particularly in “conservative” and religous circles, willing to put their consumption needs over their stewardship responsiblities? In the case of Mormons, how can a people who spend 20% of the time during their highest form of worship being reminded about the creation of the earth and our sacred responsibility towards it dismiss any sort of conservation? And regarding this putting science above people, not once in this film was it argued that a tree frog was more important than a human. In fact, that was the overarching point… as humans, we are possibly screwing the next generation out of a home/quality of life in a big way if we don’t get this under control. The intergenerational effects were the moral issue.

    While I personally don’t believe it, I’ll grant in order to play devils advocate, that there is a chance, however small, that the science may be exagerated. Even if that is the case, wouldn’t it be wise to play it a bit more safe than sorry… at least cut down on CO2? Or do you really think that polluting the air at the rate we do has no consequence whatsoever?

    Why the dogmatic justification of polluting? I know it sounds lilke I’m just mouthing off, but am not trying to be snarky. I seriously would like to understand because I don’t get it. What morally wrong thing is Gore asking you to do as a means to decrease the environmental impact of this generation on your own children?

  28. Doc on June 20, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Mike,
    Don’t forget the Horror of Y2K. Of course, we took that seriously so nothing happenned right (OR did it)? : – /
    I have to say, oddly enough, I agree with you. Global warming does feel different, although I am not entirely sure if it is because I have been listening to too much NPR or am just sick of GWB and some scary, horrible stories about the politicising of the NIH I keep hearing about as a doctor. Ultimately, I don’t think we need the global warming scare in itself to move us to conservation. The carnage and disaster that is the middle east and the aligning of oil emporwering some of the geopolitical crazies of the world is good enough reason for me.

  29. greenfrog on June 20, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Candidly, the absence of even a glimmer of a message from the LDS Church leadership on this topic tells a remarkable amount. If the question is underground nuclear waste storage in Utah? Sure, we hear from them. MX sites? Sure, we hear from them. The potential to flood the homes of hundreds of millions who live at or near sea level throughout the Third World and displace even more hundreds of millions unless we take serious actions globally? Not so much to say.

    Whatever one may think of Gore’s (collosally anti-)dynamic personality, he is willing to use whatever attention he can draw to make the case for the hundreds of millions who live in the path of the harm we are doing.

    I take hope in this situation from Joseph Smith’s instruction for us to receive truth wherever we find it and to welcome the inspiration God gives to others, no matter whom they may be.

    If that requires us to attend to inspired words from an uninspiring speaker, so be it. General Conference sometimes requires the same of us.

  30. greenfrog on June 20, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    mangled that penultimate sentence…

  31. Bill on June 20, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    As for the “scores of scientists who disagree with Gore,” I suppose we ought to remind ourselves of the thousands who agree with him. Of course there are little disagreements on the margins, unanswered questions, different models and projections. But the consensus on climate change (that is, that human activity is contributing to significant warming) is all but unanimous among serious scientists (that is, excluding Exxon-Mobil, et. al.–financed research).

    Gore was on Charlie Rose last night sounding very persuasive. He explained how the ozone problem was solved by the bipartisan efforts of Reagan and Tip O’Neill, because they thought it prudent to heed the warnings of the scientific community. Thanks to further legislation and treaties the problem was taken seriously and has been successfully dealt with. Unfortunately, the current administration prefers to bury its head in the sand, or worse, falsify data, and pressure independent agencies to withhold information.

  32. Bill on June 20, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    “a decent panel of relevant scientsts having a true debate ”

    It’s happening all the time. Check the site I linked to in comment 2.

    Better yet, here’s my favorite post from the site: How to be a real skeptic.

  33. kristine N on June 20, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I feel as a climate scientist in training, I should reply to the claim that scientists disagree about global warming. the following was written for another audience, so I apologize if there’s anything confusing.

    There is a general consensus among scientists that human activities add to the greenhouse effect, causing the climate to warm. There is no consensus over the magnitude of the warming, or how higher temperatures will influence specific regions. Michael Mann and company, who run the Real Climate blog mentioned by #2, are of the opinion that we’ve seen something like 0.6 degrees C of warming. The borehole community (primarily Henry Pollack and David Chapman) suggest we’ve seen more like 1 degree, which is also in better agreement with numbers suggested by modelers predicting what we should see given the quantity of greenhouse gasses we’ve added to the atmosphere.

    The 0.4 degree difference doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s one of the major sources of debate. Mann and company did a multi-proxy temperature reconstruction in 1999 that was heavily featured in the IPCC report on climate change. This reconstruction is commonly know as “Mann’s hocky stick” because it shows relatively invariant temperatures over most of the record (from about 1000 a.d. to the present) and a very recent, very sharp upward turning of average global temperatures. That reconstruction is wrong. It does not show either the Medieval climate optimum or the little ice age. Admittedly, these two events were not global, but Mann’s original reconstruction is seen as suspect because it doesn’t reproduce those events and the trees he used in his reconstruction are mostly from North America and Europe, where a temperature change should be observable. Even so, Mann’s approach was a good one, if flawed, and other scientists have expanded on it and managed to reproduce the events we know we should see, and show the same or higher magnitude of warming that Mann showed.

    Okay, so when a scientist presents his or her research, everyone else starts to critique it, and this is most likely where the “lack of scientific consensus” crap comes from. No-one’s science is perfect, and an absolutely essential part of science is criticism from our peers. Perhaps unfortunately, scientists can be, shall we say, exuberant in our criticism. Pollack and Chapman, among others, criticised Mann, calling his reconstruction, “just bad science.” This criticism refers to the use of only northern hemisphere trees for a “global” reconstruction, the use of only trees in the reconstruction (multi-proxy really should mean using multiple different proxies, in my not-so-humble opinion), and the inability of that reconstruction to agree with other reconstructions on the amount of warming and the aforementioned little ice age and medieval warm period. Senator Inhoffe, in a fabulously ironic twist, quoted the “just bad science” line in the senate to suggest global warming is bunk, not realizing (or at least not revealing) the quote came from scientists arguing for more warming, not less. That right there is where I think people get the idea there’s a lack of consensus. It’s not at all difficult to find scientists who passionately disagree with someone else’s conclusions without disagreeing on the fundamentals of the issue, but our vociferous disagreements are easily misinterpreted if you don’t realize these arguments are part of the process.

    There are a few people out there who do question whether humans are really causing global warming, and mostly they focus on questioning methods and whether such and such correlation or experiment really means what the author claims. Again, that’s part of good science, but easily misinterpreted as a lack of consensus.

    There are those out there who ask whether global warming will really be all that bad. Bill Schlesinger at Duke and his group show trees and plants growing much bigger, and growing more efficiently with less water, under higher CO2. Schlesinger’s working on carbon sequestration by plants, so I doubt he thinks global warming isn’t a big deal, but there are those out there who take his results to say increasing CO2 is good for plants, so it’s good for people, too.

    Among scientists there exist a great diversity of opinions on global warming, but there are very, very few who still cling to the idea that global warming isn’t happening. Because we argue over the details it’s easy to get the impression we disagree.

  34. kristine N on June 20, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    more on Mann et. al, and the real climate blog–their basic science is good, but they are pushing a particular reconstruction method. Realistically, the differences between Mann’s reconstruction and other reconstructions are miniscule for a lay-person–the main interpretations are the same.

    There’s a lot more to paleoclimate reconstruction than simply looking at paleotemperature proxies. I’m looking at reconstructing drought frequency and severity in the Great Basin under warmer conditions during the last few thousand to few tens of thousand years, and I read quite a bit about changes in many biomes in response to past climate changes. Climate change is unlikely to directly impact most of us here in the US, and indeed there are likely some places that will win out under warmer conditions (though who, exactly, remains to be seen and it’s not talked about too much). Climate change will impact marginal environments much more, and unfortunately most of the people already living in marginal human habitat are already poor, lacking the resources they will need to deal with changes in growing season or water availability.

    I’d guess climate change is only a moral issue if you think poverty is a moral issue. as far as what we LDS-folk should be doing about climate change, I’d suggest dealing with the poverty that leaves people vulnerable to the effects of climate change would be a great place to start. I personally feel we as a people are a little too much of the world when it comes to our consumerism. I certainly don’t advocate going back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (I would call that suggestion a “straw man”) but there are things we as individuals can do. Two most significant–support higher efficiency transporation of all kinds and support nuclear power plants.

  35. Blake on June 21, 2006 at 12:01 am

    Kristine: How do we know the increase in temperature isn’t something that is simply a continuation of coming out of the little ice age and part of the warming trend since the last ice in general? It seems to me that we have no control for what the temperatures would be without carbon based fuels. Keep the info coming.

  36. Seth R. on June 21, 2006 at 12:15 am

    Mike,

    Everything you listed are just raw facts with absolutely no normative value.

    Science says side-airbags reduce the chance of head trauma. So what?

    Well, you say that it means we should get side-airbags.

    That is not what it means – all by itself.

    Who says you should value your own life or safety?

    The science?

    No. You supplied the imperative for self preservation on your own, and independent of science. Perhaps your own personal morals say that you should preserve your own life. Wonderful. But you didn’t get THAT concept from science.

    Perhaps I believe that side airbags are a bad idea because we’re overpopulated and we need to get a few people killed to even out societal resources. Maybe I value my own corporate profits more than bothering to pay money to install them in my vehicles. So I say no on the airbags.

    Science fails us in this territory. It only says how things are, not how they should be.

    You can argue genetical facts. But those facts say very little about what you should do with your life, or what you are going to do this week.

    The biggest irony in America today is that while people are sniffing at “irrational religious belief” they are doing the same thing. The only difference is that they cloak their own unfounded normative beliefs in meaningless scientific data. Of course, the data don’t really support the positions of these zealots, but anything sounds cooler when you can cite a statistic in the same breath. Right?

    The supposed rationalists really are no such thing. They are taking it all on blind faith, just like the rest of us.

  37. T.O. on June 21, 2006 at 12:19 am

    #4 said: The conservative Evangelicals are pulling ahead of the LDS on this, for reasons which I don’t understand. Please see: http://www.christiansandclimate.org/statement

    This is an offshoot of traditional evangelicals like Kennedy, Robertson, Dobson, Colson, Farris, Coulter, Barton, and the like who aren’t as into stewardship (see also a list of the top 25 Evangelicals named by Time magazine ). The latter want to see end time/Rev. come. After all, the literal biblical statement is “…when the last tree is felled…”

    Nonetheless, it is progressive for some evangelicals to branch off from mainstream leaders.

  38. Eric James Stone on June 21, 2006 at 1:03 am

    It’s obvious that only a major and prolonged increase in the price of oil can motivate the average consumer to change his habits, and create sufficient political pressure to develop alternative fuels that will not produce greenhouse gases.

    Therefore, intelligent and wise people like me realize the only rational course of action is to INCREASE our consumption of oil, so as to keep its price high and bring about change.

  39. kristine N on June 21, 2006 at 1:56 am

    Blake–we know enough about the forcings that control temperature (insolation, atmospheric and ocean circulation, atmospheric composition, etc.) to model surface temperature assuming different scenarios. The most important climate forcing is the sun. The amount of energy from the sun that gets stored in the atmosphere-hydrosphere-geosphere system depends on the angle of incoming solar radiation, the albedo (reflectivity) of the surface the sunlight hits, and, related to that, what season the sunlight hits. Over the past about 1.8 million years, glacial-interglacial cycles were largely controlled by milankovitch cycles. We should be warm now anyway based solely on where we are in the natural cycle, but we are warmer than is predicted based on models that exclude anthropogenic forcing. I’m not sure exactly how much, but the difference between modeled temperature sans anthropogenic forcing and current average global temperatures is probably in the 0.5 deg C to 1 deg C ballpark. The only models that faithfully reproduce the instrumental record include forcings from anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Off the top of my head the only reference I know that shows this is the IPCC report, but most of that info is available elsewhere. I’ll look.

    Richard Alley has claimed based on gases trapped in ice cores that during the time recorded by ice cores, CO2 concentrations slightly lag temperature increases. Today we see CO2 preceeding temperature increases, so that’s another suggestion the normal climate relationships are a bit out of whack. He’s an excellent speaker and an excellent scientist (not to mention fitting the archetype of a mad scientist perfectly) so if you ever get a chance to see him speak or otherwise interact with him, it’s worth it.

  40. MikeInWeHo on June 21, 2006 at 2:15 am

    Seth, OK OK I get it. You win. Secularism is really a faith-based system; it’s a crypto-religion, blah blah blah.

    I’m a fan of the late Carl Sagan and a lot of my posts echo his ideas. His book ‘The Demon-Haunted’ world left me mostly secularized and very ambivalent about religion generally. For me, he was the closest thing to a prophet in this century, along with John Shelby Spong who has labored so hard to reconcile Christianity with Sagan, Hawking, et. al. Spong winds up calling for a radical reformation of the entire Christian faith and a rejection of all miracles, though. With its open cannon and ongoing revelation, the Church could really lead the way forward. I don’t see that happening.

    I am deeply pessimistic about the prospect of reducing CO2 emissions enough for it to matter in time. Fixing the ozone hole was nothing compared with this. Maybe Utah or Missouri won’t fry and the Saints can retreat to Zion. It will be great fun for Tim LaHaye crowd too!

  41. Mark Butler on June 21, 2006 at 2:53 am

    Basically, the Brethren teach that members have a responsibility to participate in civil and political matters, come to an informed opinion, and act accordingly. Is there really anything more that needs to be said on something like climate change?

    It is rather ironic, that a seeming preponderance of commenters here were ripping on the leadership for commenting on a political issue of much more serious religious import, and now we want them to declare the doctrine of Jesus Christ with regard to climate change mitigation?

  42. John Mansfield on June 21, 2006 at 8:36 am

    Something to consider is that shorelines are desirable places to live, and when the sea rises or falls the shoreline doesn’t vanish. It just moves somewhere else. You may recall that a complication of cleaning up the World Trade Center debris was that part of Manhattan was originally in the water and had been created by fill. San Francisco also has dozens of ships from the Gold Rush buried under buildings hundreds of yards from the current waterfront. (link)

  43. Frank McIntyre on June 21, 2006 at 8:52 am

    kristine,

    Thanks for your comments. What you’ve said sounds similar to what I’ve read, so it is nice to get a backup. It seems that the major questions are:

    1. Are we getting warner? (yes)
    2. Are we warmer than we’ve ever been? (no?)
    3. How much of the warmth is because of us. (some)
    4. Will feedback loops exacerbate this human warming or tamp down it down (?)
    5. Who wins and who loses from warming? (varies a lot, but in general, cold places benefit from getting warmer (its called a greenhouse for a reason), while places prone to flooding and storms are hurt due to higher water levels and more storms)
    6. What are the costs of stopping the warming (given current tech, astronomical, which is why Kyoto never had a chance).

    So I guess I would rather deal with the poverty as poverty rather than try to solve global warming– given today’s technology. Maybe later we can do more on the warming front, but it seems like it would be far cheaper to shore up the coastal regions and help move people back than to force China and India and the third world to stop burning coal, which would be enormously costly in terms of third world human life. Neither option is perfect, but so it goes.

  44. Toby on June 21, 2006 at 9:15 am

    Should the church tell us what to do about global warming? That seems silly. But it has told us what our basic attitude toward our earthly home should be. It was in a primary lesson my son brought home a few years ago. “I can be reverent by showing respect, honor and love for the world and nature.” Respecting, honoring and loving — these are the basic elements of stewardship…in my opinion.

  45. Patrick Mason on June 21, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Mark (40) – I’m not sure why it’s a foregone conclusion that not letting gay people marry under the aegis of a pluralist secular government is “of much more serious religious import” than our stewardship over the earth. And I’m pretty sure Jesus Christ cares about the earth, since He made it, contrary to the implication of your final phrase. I don’t know which is more important, or whether it even matters, but I disagree with your “this is so obvious” statement.

    A hard-core otherworldliest (just made that up) would say neither matters — God will only honor certain marriages in the next life, and the earth will be turned into a terrestrial and then celestial orb regardless of what shape it’s in before Christ’s return. But for anyone who thinks that what we do with and in the world before the millennium does matter, both are incredibly important. I just have a hard time ranking what’s more or less moral.

    Final ramble: among the first commandments were both “multiply and replenish” (at least an implicit support of heterosexual marriage, esp. as commanded to Adam & Eve together) and “here is the earth, take good care of it” (I assume no one doubts the authority or science of the Messenger here).

    (And by the way, I refuse to get in a discussion of “this commandment came earlier so it’s more important” — the most important commandments are love God & neighbor, and so far as we know, God didn’t say either of those in the Garden. But God’s earliest commandments to Adam & Eve, at least in our records, apply not just to them but to all of us when we stand in their place in the temple, and have got to both count for something.)

  46. Patrick Mason on June 21, 2006 at 9:51 am

    (I meant “this is so obvious” _sentiment_ — Mark didn’t use that actual phrase)

  47. Blake on June 21, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Thanks Kristine. It appears that something is out of whack. How do we account for the onset of the little ice age? (I’m familiar with the three leading theories — and that leads me to be somewhat skeptical about our ability to judge such matters). In your estimation, do we really know enough about the relevant factors to draw a confident conclusion?

  48. Paul Mortensen on June 21, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Kristine:

    I think you, and most other climate scientists, place a little too much trust in the models used to simulate climate. In 2002, I was a graduate student taking an econometrics class where we were learning how to build and program our own models. One component of the class was evaluating and critiquing existing models. The class instructor would from time to time give us a copy of an anonymous model and have us run it through a test regimen. One of the models he gave us turned out to be the model used (at the time) by the IPCC to simulate global climate. The consusus of the class was that the model was basically useless (a conclusion that caused much consternation among the mostly liberal/Democratic class once the source of the model was revealed) as it produced the same inertial drift regardless of the initial parameters/inputs. There has been very little improvement in climate models since 2002, the primary reason being that the best modelers in the world are not employed in the fields of climatology but in economics/finance where they get paid much more than environmental groups can afford.

    I’m with Frank on the moral issues surrounding global climate change. World poverty is such a greater moral issue that dwarfs any concern (legitimate or otherwise) about nominal human impact on the natual warming/cooling cycles of the earth. The burden of proof lies with environmental groups to establish that climate change represents a greater moral impetus than aleviating world poverty.

  49. Mark Butler on June 21, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Patrick (#40), It is part of the gospel that we should take care of the environment, of course. The trash it renewal theory has no foundation in scripture. Our stewardship is exactly the opposite – to take care of the earth according to the dictates of the spirit – the impressions that lead us to a proper balance in all things.

    I am complaining about the attitude that the Church leaders have a responsibility to take a position about what to *do* in regard to climate change mitigation – that is exactly the type of thing we are expected to figure out for ourselves – we do not need divine revelation to tell us things we can determine from legitimate science and economics. We have the general principle, we can apply it.

    Suffice it to say that the issues surrounding the marriage amendment is *precisely* the type of thing that ordinary members have a much harder time understanding – you can read positions comparable to that of the Church leadership in conservative religious-political journals like FIRST THINGS to no end, and so many will say – no it couldn’t possibly be in God’s interest to preserve the institution of heterosexual marriage in its current form, as both a civil and religious institution. Leaders are there, ultimately, to speak for God – and this implicitly is how they say God feels on the issue, in general terms. So one either has faith in their prophetic capacity, or one is reduced to a Nielsen like position as the Church as a leaderless democracy.

  50. heironymus potter on June 21, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Comment #22 and comment #36 are dead on. Had a professor at GWU years ago, who for his opening first day of class monologue said that in his biology class, the science was about processes and how they work, not why things work. The distinction may be subtle, but seemed to make sense to me at the time. Cell division. Mitosis…yadda…yadda…yadda. Not that the cell divides, because philosophically it expresses the duality of man e.g. the killer and the lover…yadda…yadda…yadda.

  51. Seth R. on June 21, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Dallin H. Oakes (I think) once explained why the Church does not opine on MANY worthy social issues and causes.

    He said that the LDS Church has one thing, and one thing only, that only it can offer to the world:

    The Priesthood and its ordinances.

    He explained that there are many other organizations that are capable of saving the environment, conducting charitable activities, mobilizing political opinion.

    But only the LDS Church can spread and perform God’s true Priesthood ordinances. And this is what the Church must focus the lion’s share of its efforts on. Spreading the Gospel, Spiritually nourishing the Saints, and Redeeming the Dead. That means temple-building, missionary work, and Church member-devoted programs and structures will ALWAYS trump other social issues.

    Marriage is a Priesthood ordinance. Thus the Church’s involvement with it.

    Saving the whales is not a Priesthood ordinance.

  52. kristine N on June 21, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Frank–I’m just going to respond to a couple of your points:

    1. Are we getting warner? (yes)
    2. Are we warmer than we’ve ever been? (no?)

    The Cretaceous was much warmer than today, as was most of the Tertiary. The earth has cooled markedly since about 40 million years ago (I think). But that slow decline has been slow. The rate of climate change is one thing worrying at least some people. About 55 million years ago there was a rapid warming of earth’s climate, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). Over a very short period of time (just a few centuries) temperatures rose something like 3 to 6 deg C, depending on where you look on the globe and what proxy you use. Obviously, life adapted and went on, but there were huge shifts in animal and plant life. A lot of animals went extinct, many evolved new, often larger forms, and those new forms only persisted about as long as the warming did, again going extinct once temperatures dropped. One of the hypotheses to explain the rapid changes in biogeography that makes sense to me (it’s far from the only one) is that the PETM caused the hydrologic cycle to become more vigorous and organisms that were opportunistic and evolved rapidly displaced previously dominant forms.

    3. How much of the warmth is because of us. (some)
    4. Will feedback loops exacerbate this human warming or tamp down it down (?)

    Depends on the feedback loop. We’ve actually dumped more CO2 into the atmosphere than we can account for by anywhere from a half a gigaton a year to 1.5~ish gigatons a year. That’s almost certainly a feedback loop or a buffering system that we don’t understand or haven’t discovered. My advisor thinks it has to do with adsorbtion onto clays. I have no idea myself. The point of this to me is, we don’t completely understand all the feedbacks, and it’s possible some of these feedback loops could change sign (as in, go from absorbing CO2 to producing CO2).

    It may be helpful to think about climate in terms of equlibrium points (Katya described one over at Zelophehad’s daughters here: http://zelophehadsdaughters.blogspot.com/2006/06/physics-parable.html)

    Instead of imagining a single bow, imagine a plane with many valleys and ridges. the climate system “marble” rests in one of these valleys in a pretty much stable equilibrium state, moving around in the bottom of the valley as forcings vary slightly. If the climate marble gets pushed too far in one direction, you end up on one of the ridges, and, depending on the direction of the forcing could end up in a different stable equilibrium point. The ridges are the “tipping points” that Richard Alley, and probably Al Gore, reference. Actually, Alley talks more about dials and switches.

    We’ve identified some feedbacks that will produce tipping points if disturbed, notably thermohaline circulation (the paleoclimate science in day after tomorrow is based on THC collapse and their description of it is fine–the physics in the rest of the film is atrocious, which is why that movie should submit itself to a good MST3K-ing).

    5. Who wins and who loses from warming? (varies a lot, but in general, cold places benefit from getting warmer (its called a greenhouse for a reason), while places prone to flooding and storms are hurt due to higher water levels and more storms)

    Sort of. More like we’ll see expansion of some species’ habitats, and reduction in others. Pikas (furry rodents that live at high altitudes and make fun sounds as you hike past them) are being pushed to higher and higher elevations because they just can’t deal with the heat and the competition. Thier habitat is shrinking, and there are some who suggest pikas may go extinct or become very inbred in thier isolated alpine “islands” as they are forced to live higher in mountains. But other species are seeing their habitats increase. A lot of insects are finding life a lot easier as of late, especially mosquitos.

    Water is likely to be one of the major issues from global warming. It’s predicted all the major glaciers in the world will be gone, or mostly gone in about 50 years. Three major north american rivers start in the Columbia Ice Fields–the Athabasca, Sasketchewan, and Columbia–each of which supplies water to agricultural areas in Canada and the US. When the ice is gone, those rivers will be too, or will be greatly reduced in size. The Ganges river is another major world river that will likely be greatly reduced in size as the glaciers feeding it disappear.

    At the same time, the hydrologic cycle may again become more vigorous, dropping more water in currently semi-arid to arid environments. It is far from clear this will happen though; during the medieval warm period (1200 to 1400 ish ad) parts of western north america suffered major drought. One of the fascinating things about this drought is that there may have been more water reaching the great basin at that point, but because it came in the summer instead of the winter (change in seasonality) it evaporated quickly, resulting in drought. At least, that’s what I’ve read.

    6. What are the costs of stopping the warming (given current tech, astronomical, which is why Kyoto never had a chance).

    we can’t stop global warming. we’re committed to about 2 to 2.5 degrees of warming right now (though I’m not sure if that’s above baseline, so we’ve already seen one degree of that warming, or if that’s from current conditions–it sort of depends on who you ask). The costs of reducing our current CO2 production are not that significant, actually. We already have the technology to vastly decrease our CO2 production, it’s just not flashy and cool. It’s things like using florescent instead of incadescent bulbs wherever possible; reducing water consuption; putting better insulation into homes; setting thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter; replacing old windows with better insulating ones. Most of it’s pretty common sense.

    Committment to reducing CO2 is, in some ways, like committment to the gospel. Most of us would gladly walk to Missouri tomorrow if the prophet asked today, but all we’re really asked to do is small, daily stuff. Somehow that’s much harder. Our government would rather invest in hydrogen fuel cells (ignoring, of course, that the hydrogen still comes from petroleum, so there’s no real reduction in CO2) than offer incentives to people to replace their windows, or forcing car companies to produce more fuel efficient cars.

    Canada used to have a “One-tonne challenge” that allowed you to calculate how much CO2 you produce, and then suggested how to reduce your production, but I see they’ve taken it down. drat.

    The only thing our government is really doing right (and I would heartily encorage you all to educate yourselves on this) is pushing nuclear energy. We have to have energy and the only other carbon clean method to produce energy–hydroelectric dams–we’ve already expanded as far as possible. I know a lot of people are vehemently opposed to nuclear energy becuase of nuclear waste, but whatever we do at this point is going to produce waste. We can engineer around the problems created by nuclear waste much more easily than we can engineer around rapid global warming. The Chinese and South Africans are developing smaller, less dangerous pebble bed reactors that essentially eliminate the possibility of reactor meltdowns, and we should really get on board behind that. I know nobody wants nuclear waste or any sort of power plant in their backyard, but if we want an industrialized lifestyle, we’re going to have to accept certain byproducts–it’s more a question of which ones are most palatable.

  53. kristine N on June 21, 2006 at 11:57 am

    wow, didn’t mean to go on quite so long :)

  54. bbell on June 21, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    I agree with number 49. Good insights When the LDS I know speak about politics or pressing global issues Global Warming is rarely if ever mentioned.

    Has there ever been a conference talk or ensign article about it? Just curious

  55. Seth R. on June 21, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Note: I only THINK it was Elder Oakes. I’m not sure.

  56. Mark Butler on June 21, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I would like to see us start using the term “sacrament” in the Catholic sense, or at least broaden our understanding of what an “ordain-ance” is – it is not just a ceremony, it is anything that God has *ordained*. If you pursue theological, even legal language anywhere else that definition is perfectly apparent, but we seem to have lost the association completely. Ceremony is only the *beginning* of ordinance.

    The same thing applies with the term sacrament. A sacrament is an ordain-ance, action, or institution that sanctifies us, fills us with divine grace. Marriage and family life is a sacrament in the true sense of the word. According to divine revelation, same-sex relationships of a sexual/carnal nature are not sacraments – more like anti-sacraments, the way of the world, in opposition to what God has ordained, and that which he *sanctifies*.

  57. Daniel B on June 21, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Climate Change is much more than an environmental issue. It will have a comprehensive effect on our world.

    Read the report (pdf) downloadable at this link. It’s by the Oxford Research Group can put climate change and other global security threats in context for any interested readers.

    http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefings/globalthreats.htm

    The report (pdf) obtainable at this lsecond link was commissioned by the Pentagon and it also dentifies global warming – not terrorism – as the greatest threat to American security.

    http://www.gbn.com/ArticleDisplayServlet.srv?aid=26231

    For an excellent summary of why climate change is a moral issue of concern to all of us in rich, high-consumption nations, and thus particularly for Christians, have a look at this report by the UK agency Christian Aid.

    http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/indepth/605caweek/caw06final.pdf

    The truth is that it should not have taken the climate change threat to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people to make us all look at our high consumption patterns and our greedy, selfish use of such a disproportionate quantity of the world’s resources, often obtained at the expense of local livelihoods, ecosystems and communities in developing countries.

    Interested Mormons should really do a bit of proper research into how seriously this threat is and how seriously it is being taken by the world scientific community. The arguments over degrees of warming and how much of it is anthropogenic are already becoming sideshows. Positive feedback loops (methane from defrosting permafrost etc) and ‘runaway warming’ are the current worry. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report due out next year will raise the political temperature on this issue enormously.

    Mormon church leaders will have to address climate change sooner or later. I’m guessing that within a maximum of 5 years time the issue will have become of such great concern in the US that the LDS church will be obliged to issue a statement either justifying or declaring a reduction in the scope of its international missionary program and a complete greening of its building programs. Missionaries flying to other countries will no longer be considered an ethical expenditure of fossil fuels and the high level of CO2 emissions they cause. At the very least US missionaries flying overseas will have to be supplanted by the use of local missionaries more and more, or there will be serious ethical questions raised.

    Climate change is not the only environmental problem to which the LDS church will have to respond. One of the biggest sources of its wealth is in vast tracts of cattle ranching country. The Western US is already beginning to stare a severe water crisis in the face and the huge amount of water that goes into producing the feed for cattle will no longer be justifiable.

  58. greenfrog on June 21, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Frank McIntyre wrote: So I guess I would rather deal with the poverty as poverty rather than try to solve global warming– given today’s technology. Maybe later we can do more on the warming front, but it seems like it would be far cheaper to shore up the coastal regions and help move people back than to force China and India and the third world to stop burning coal, which would be enormously costly in terms of third world human life. Neither option is perfect, but so it goes.

    It seems to me that this conclusion depends, rather greatly, on the expected costs associated with the effort to “shore up the coastal regions and help move people back…” Even without Kristine N’s suggestions about the relatively moderate costs of reducing CO2 output, it seems to me that economists could model the expected costs of identifying all businesses and residences located within, say, 5′ of current sea level, identifying suitable alternative locations, condemning and acquiring those locations, building infrastructure to those new areas, and then relocating all those residences and businesses. Let’s start with New Orleans and New York City, then maybe add Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, Houston, and San Francisco, just for grins.

    We’re certain that that cost is so insignificant that it is vastly outweighed by CO2 reduction costs without even doing the math?

  59. heironymus potter on June 21, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Has anyone heard of affluenza? I have always thought that if philosophically we could find a cure or even a vaccine for affluenza then maybe it would help cure some other social ills. Hey but really. What do I know? I pull into the local tabernacle (chapel) parking lot and gaze longingly out over the sea of SUV’s, hoping that maybe some day like Gatsby, I believe in the green light. It eludes me now, but no matter.
    http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/

  60. greenfrog on June 21, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Seth R wrote: Dallin H. Oakes (I think) once explained why the Church does not opine on MANY worthy social issues and causes.

    He said that the LDS Church has one thing, and one thing only, that only it can offer to the world:

    The Priesthood and its ordinances.

    This is an interesting aspiration, but does nothing to explain the Church taking quite public positions on the location of MX missile sites and nuclear waste dumps in Utah.

    That means temple-building, missionary work, and Church member-devoted programs and structures will ALWAYS trump other social issues. … Saving the whales is not a Priesthood ordinance.

    I like the story of the good samaritan, nonetheless.

  61. Mark Butler on June 21, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    One has to weight costs probalisticaly and amortize them properly. There are people who have done the math and remain heavily on the side that the of the proposition Frank M. is arguing – that is what economists do – they calculate the reasonable expected costs and benefits of various actions with the best available evidence and in the most rigourous possible manner. It is not the type of thing you can properly summarize in a paragraph, but rather the work of an army of scientists and economists.

    The reason why Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg has been so influential is that he summarized the actual scholarly evidence on a wide variety of these matters – demonstrating quite effectively that the situation was not nearly as dire as many environmentalists have claimed. A careful review of the evidence will demonstrate that Gore is painting a rather extreme picture. If you want to talk about worst case scenarios, there is a finite probability that you will re-materialize under the floor – and that is not even the worst case.

    Integrity in science as all about honesty in probability. People with a Manichean view of the world cannot see that. The think that we must turn the world upside down to avoid any possibility, no matter how remote, and no matter what the costs. Good scientists tell us what the probabilities are. Good economists tell us about the costs. An Inconvenient Truth is neither good science nor good economics, but a quasi-religious faith in gloom and doom. Conservatism is about realistic expectations and rational preparations, not Chicken Little.

  62. Frank McIntyre on June 21, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    kristine,

    Very interesting, thanks for writing that up. To clarify, suppose the United States adopted the steps you outlined (better windows and so forth), how much reduction in CO2 are you thinking that will cause? And that gain has to be short term, since those windows are largely going to be on the new housing stock anyway. Certainly they will as prices rise. Personally, I don’t think the government needs to do any of that. They need to figure out a way to tax putting carbon into the air and people will figure out a way to use less of it.

    And it warms my heart to see you advocating nuclear energy.

    greenfrog,

    I completely agree that one would want to estimate those costs. But I think you need to think outside the box about how to do these things.

    “We” do not need to move New York, should it be needed, it will move itself over the next 100 years as the costs become apparent (since this is the kind of timeframe we are talking about). Nor do I think it likely that the oceans are going to go up (and storms intensify) such that that every coastal resident within 5 feet of sea level must be moved.

    I am actually thinking more about Bangladesh or other countries which are likely to suffer more from bigger storms and higher coastlines. But, once again, we have a rather long time to affect this change. If we can come up with tech that makes it cheaper to solve the warming problem at a lower cost, I am all for it. I’m easy to please.

  63. greenfrog on June 21, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    “We� do not need to move New York, should it be needed, it will move itself over the next 100 years as the costs become apparent (since this is the kind of timeframe we are talking about).

    We are talking about externalities to current CO2 generation levels, so we should calculate and internalize those costs into our models, even if we actually plan to impose them just on the poor suckers who happen to live at sea level.

  64. Seth R. on June 21, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Yes, I like the story of the good Samaritan as well.

    I also like the story of when Jesus tells his mother to quit pestering him because he has a really important job to do.

    You’re equating “the Mormon Church” with “the Mormon membership.” Nothing’s stopping you from campaigning for renewable energy. But the Church is not the Samaritan on the road in this case, it is Christ at the wedding.

    The most I ever really expect to see the Church do on environmental issues is have a General Authority give a talk in Conference (like Pres. Kimball’s “Don’t Shoot the Little Birds” speech). And I’ll bet you it will be limited to very general and vague moral principles and will refrain from “sticking-it to” any of the usual suspects many of you seem to have in mind.

    Look. Just accept that Gordon B. Hinckley is probably not EVER going to publicly denounce the GOP, and get over it!

  65. Frank McIntyre on June 21, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    greenfrog,

    I agree completely. But can we agree it is a lot less costly to let people decide to move over generations rather than to try to do the eminent domain project you outlined above?

    It’s all about time. What is incalculably expensive to do in two years is much better if done over a hundred, over which scale most fixed costs are no longer fixed.

  66. Beijing on June 21, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    “Science offers only data. Never imperatives.”

    The imperative to be good stewards of the earth comes from outside of science; I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise.

    “the LDS Church has one thing, and one thing only, that only it can offer to the world: The Priesthood and its ordinances”

    Maybe the earth can be saved by proxy priesthood ordinances after it chokes to death on greenhouse gases?

  67. CS Eric on June 21, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    I believe the “new” version of the endowment ceremony is probably the most pro-environmental film I have seen. The earth is pronouced glorious and beautiful (and is shown to be so in full color, enhanced by a tug-at-your-heartstrings musical score), and Adam and Eve are told to take care of it. If members of the church don’t pay attention to that, why would they listen to a talk in General Conference? I once mentioned Pres Kimball’s “Don’t Kill the Little Birds” talk to my District President whose new house has a trophy room for all of his kills, and he nearly threatened church discipline for my broaching the subject.

  68. bbell on June 21, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    I wonder how our Pheasant hunting President Monson took the little birds talk. Also Deer hunter Elder Perry. Monson must be OK because he has mentioned Pheasant hunting with his son several times recently.

    I usually find climate change enthusiasts/doomsayers to use overheated rhetoric and find them unconvincing. Some of that Rhetoric has been displayed in this thread.

  69. Matt Thurston on June 21, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    I’m surprised by the lack of respect the issue of Global Warming is receiving here. I’m guessing many cannot see past the nose of the messenger — a Democrat, a Liberal, a Politician, a talking head representing Scientists. If the Prophet had stated the problem we’d be bending over backwards firing off e-mails to our friends and Senators and readying for the apocalypse.

    I wonder how much this has to do with Global Warming not fitting in with the Plan of Salvation? “God would never let something like that happen, at least not until after the work is finished.”

    Or maybe some see it from the opposite point of view, as a sign of the times, and therefore not worth fighting. “Global Warming is God’s way of increasing hurricanes and other natural disasters to act both as harbinger of times to come and to rid the world of the wicked. We can’t fight that ‘sign’, but we can fight the immorality of Gay Marriage.”

    Either way, it seems a variation on Frank McIntyre’s “Authority Roulette” principle comes into play here… maybe Global Warming is happening, or maybe it’s not; maybe people are the cause of Global Warming, or maybe their not; maybe we can stem the tide or change Global Warming, or maybe we can’t… but with the stakes *SO* high, wouldn’t it be smart to act as if GW is a real possibility and do what we can? In other words, to have a little faith? Can we really afford to wait for scientific consensus before acting? I’m not asked to wait for scientific consensus on the historicity of the Book of Mormon (for which there is far less proof than GW) or the causes of same-sex attraction; I’m asked to accept BoM historicity and the immorality of Gay Marriage on faith.

    I’m not saying Global Warming should be an LDS Church issue (although, why not? the stakes are certainly high enough)… I’m just amazed at the way we seem to bend over backwards on the Bloggernacle supporting and justifying controversial issues supported by the Church with nary a skeptical eye, and yet our skeptical eye is razor sharp, our doubt in full force, when an issue not supported by the Church is on display.

  70. Julie M. Smith on June 21, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    bbell,

    very punny

  71. CS Eric on June 21, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    bbell,

    The trophy room doesn’t have animals that can be used for meat–they were killed purely for trophy purposes. I’m not a hunter, but am a carnivore, so I don’t have much problem with those who hunt for game that can and often is used for food.

    I agree with the second point. As has been pointed out, even if the wolf really is coming this time, I am one of those villagers who has a hard time believing that boy any more. Even if the end of the world were as close as some say, give me something practical I can do about it. I live too far away from my job to walk, and the city has cut down on public transportation because gas prices has made it too expensive. I refuse to go back to the stone age for dire predictions that sound the same as they did 30 years ago. The biggest problem that I have with Gore (other than his charisma) is his tendency to make policy by press release.

  72. greenfrog on June 21, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    What is incalculably expensive to do in two years is much better if done over a hundred, over which scale most fixed costs are no longer fixed.

    I agree.

  73. kristine N on June 21, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    “And it warms my heart to see you advocating nuclear energy.”

    most geoscientists anymore do. in fact, I think most of us look at the union of concerned scientists as too extreme to do any good anymore. kind of sad.

    I’m not sure exactly how much you reduce CO2 emissions by replacing windows and lightbulbs and such, but I’ll try and dig up something on it. I know it’s a surprising amount, but I don’t know off the top of my head.

    Do new building codes require higher quality windows and insulation? Again, my impression was instituting regulations on such things was first, left to states, and second, anathema to business-oriented governments. Requiring higher quality and higher cost materials for new construction would be a sure way to drive up costs for builders without necessarily producing tangible benefits.

  74. Frank McIntyre on June 21, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    “Requiring higher quality and higher cost materials for new construction would be a sure way to drive up costs for builders without necessarily producing tangible benefits.”

    The tangible benefit is a lower energy bill, which exactly captures the social benefit if one figures out a way to tax carbon emissions by the expected amount of damage they do.

    On the flip side, one could use the revenue from the carbon tax to subsidize growing a bunch of trees to hold the earth’s carbon. Then cutting them down and putting them somewhere they would not burn (like a landfill or or as paper in books) and growing more trees. :)

  75. heironymus potter on June 21, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    kristine N
    “Do new building codes require higher quality windows and insulation?”

    The residential building industry wants to build your house as cheap as possible. Economics drives it. They truck away the topsoil from you site and backfill it with whatever is left. They use the cheapest labor, materials, etc. they can get away with. There are national building codes, local building codes, and about the only thing that the local jurisdiction will enforce or care about are safety issues, like structural supports, electrical wiring and water and sewer. A builder may offer upgrades, at a premium. The building industry isn’t concerned about quality as much as quantity. Trying to get new building codes passed is tough. Builders are against them. It sucks. Just had a plumber come to my home today to unclog the tiolet. (My son flushed a mystery item down there yesterday). He informed me that we had one of the cheapest worst tiolets made and that he would recommend us replacing it. Bottom line the builder installed it, the county inspected it and I bought it.

  76. heironymus potter on June 21, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Yo,

    replace tiolet with toilet. blast these tiny keyboards…..

  77. heironymus potter on June 21, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    Cost vs. benefit in the building industry? Had to replace the heat pump and ac unit two years ago. We found out that we could buy a brand new unit that uses the ozone depleting R-12 refrigerant even though the stuff hasn’t been made since 1995. The cost of the R-12 ac unit was hundreds of dollars less than the the same sized ozone safe R-22 units. We bought the R-22 unit. A friend bought a home in a development at about the same time we were replacing our air-conditioning unit. Guess which unit was installed in their nice new home buy the builder? The ozone depleting R-12 unit. Most people wouldn’t even think to ask what type of heating and air-conditioning they were getting in a new home. I know I wouldn’t. They even paid for “upgrades”. Their house is just as cool as mine. I suppose we can find solace in the fact that if our air-conditioning unit springs a leak, or blows up, at least we won’t have hurt the ozone layer. So I agree with kristine’s statement:
    “Requiring higher quality and higher cost materials for new construction would be a sure way to drive up costs for builders without necessarily producing tangible benefits.”

  78. heironymus potter on June 21, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    I agree with the ideas in #73.

    “Requiring higher quality and higher cost materials for new construction would be a sure way to drive up costs for builders without necessarily producing tangible benefits.�

    I guess we could by buy a $300 toilet, to replace the cheap one we now have. It would work with less water and flush 30+ golf balls. But to what real benefit?

  79. Ed Johnson on June 21, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    This is a good thread, particularly the contributions by Kristine.

    I’m no expert, but I believe the following things:

    1. Climate modelling is very, very unreliable for making predictions. But it still might be valuable for investigating the range of outcomes we might reasonably expect.

    2. The thing that scares me by far the most is an abrupt change to a different climate regime. We know that other regimes are possible, and it seems reasonable to believe that pumping huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere would make such a regime shift more likely. I don’t know how well our political and economic institutions would withstand an abrupt change.

    3. I agree that continued increases in atmospheric CO2 are pretty much inevitable, given the world economy. On the other hand, as Kristine said, it would really be very easy to cut the USA output by a significant fraction with little or no loss in quality of life, if we were serious about it. Simply shifting taxation to emissions/fuels would be a great first step.

  80. greenfrog on June 22, 2006 at 12:18 am

    [i]Climate modelling is very, very unreliable for making predictions. But it still might be valuable for investigating the range of outcomes we might reasonably expect.[/i]

    I read somewhere recently that the insurance companies are economically interested in refining the precision of those predictions. When folk are economically interested in something happening, the chance of its occurrence increases.

  81. MikeInWeHo on June 22, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Let’s ask another question. Regardless of what you believe about GW right now, what do you believe is going to happen (politically, economically, etc) in terms of a human response, especially in America?

    I for one believe that human nature and our political system combine to make change very difficult indeed. We’ll continue more-or-less on our current path until the climate change forces us onto a different path. China and India will follow our lead in order to continue their rapid, coal-based development. And the poor people of Bangladesh, Africa, etc, will face the brunt of the results. (Deep cynic here)

  82. Seth R. on June 23, 2006 at 12:20 am

    Beijing,

    On the contrary. I actually think that when Christ comes the second time to visit those who aren’t burned, He’s going to “hand them a mop and a bucket” and say “start cleaning.”

    For some reason, I’m getting images of Disney’s Fantasia when Mickey Mouse gets his butt saved by the wizard and then is told to hand over the magic hat, and pick up the buckets (and gets a swat in the rear for good measure).

  83. Suzanne A. on June 23, 2006 at 12:29 am

    re: Developing countries not being part of Kyoto

    Wasn’t that just in the first round? Won’t developing countries be joining in the second round of commitments after 2012?

  84. Mark Butler on June 23, 2006 at 12:58 am

    There is talk of a second round, but nothing definitive yet. In fact the Kyoto Protocol first became binding upon the signatories a few months ago.

  85. Bill on June 23, 2006 at 1:18 am

    Here is a review article on the movie and other related books by the director of the NASA Godard Institute, Jim Hansen. It was interesting that toward the end he seems to regret having been too cautious:

    After Clinton and Gore were elected, I declined a suggestion from the White House to write a rebuttal to a New York Times Op-Ed article that played down global warming and criticized the Vice President. I did not hear from Gore for more than a decade, until January of this year, when he asked me to critically assess his slide show. When we met, he said that he “wanted to apologize,” but, without letting him explain what he was apologizing for, I said, “Your insight was better than mine.”

  86. Mike on June 23, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Antedotal Experience;

    1. My wife has severe asthma, to the point of having nearly died a couple times in the ER. Here in Atlanta on the Red days she has mild trouble breathing while outside. Hospitals do notice a jump in visits to the ER of people with asthma especially children, when the air quality plummets. This after 40 years of effort from the EPA and et. al.

    2. Recently my wife chaperoned an orchestra of high school students who toured three major cities in China for ten days. The pollution in China is so bad that in spite of maximizing her medical treatment she barely made it. She could not live one month in a city in China today, her asthma would kill her.

    3. The population of China is 4 or 5 times greater than the population of the US. Their economy is not as large as ours but can be expected to grow and eventually eclipse ours.

    4. If global warming is directly due to humans pumping enormous quantities of various kinds of crap into the air, then it appears to my rather limited pespective that China is already contributing (or soon will be) about 10 times as much to the problem as we are. Is there any reliable data out there that contradicts this, China not exactly being an open society?

    5. I don’t know much about India except it is another developing country that has a population of several times that of the US and that it is becoming highly polluted.

    6. Ditto collectively for several other countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, etc. etc.

    Conclusion: We can look to the past when the US/ Europe was much more industrialized that the rest of the world and was responsible for most of the world’s air pollution. We can (like most militaries always preparing for the last the war, not the next one) enact backward -looking policies that might have worked if they had been implimented 30 years ago.

    Or we can look to the future and realize that developing countires are soon going to make the previous and current contributions to global warming from the US rather insignificant, whether we cut it in half or by a third or whether we double it. Right now we have very little political influence in most large developing countries. New technology is our only hope, and not a very bright one.

  87. Mike on June 23, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Other questions have always wondered about:

    Everyone associates the recent severe droughts with global warming. Yet 70% of the surface of the earth is covered with water. With more warming, it seems to me that we should be seeing more evaporation and that would lead to more rainfall, not less. More severe hurricanes might be expected, but they come in highly unpredictable cycles anyway.

    With more warming there should be an enormous expansion of the boreal forests into the tundra in the far north across Alaska, Canada and Siberia. This should tie up increasing amounts of carbon from the atmosphere into trees and organic material. Also, wouldn’t warmer oceans have more carbon tied up in organic material than colder oceans?

    Any truth to the rumor that the ice caps on Mars are melting? Certainly blame for this too must be placed at the feet of the current blundering administration in Washington DC.

  88. MikeInWeHo on June 23, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Mike, I disagree with the “throw up your hands ‘cuz we can’t do anything about China” approach. You’re right, visiting the major cities there is a real eye-opener, in a scary way. You see the beautiful new highways almost devoid of traffic, and think: When these people all get their car, we’re hosed. Ironically, GM looks to China for salvation. Anybody looked at the projections for private auto ownership in China? They’re jaw-dropping.

    The US is probably the only country that can lead in a situation like this. We have the technology and the resources to slash our carbon emissions rapidly. Once we do it and prove we can still be an affluent society (maybe even get richer doing it), China and India will eventually follow. That’s what has happened for a century in most things economy- and environment-related. They’re building Starbucks across Asia, not squid-on-a-stick stands across America. America leads.

    History may prove that never before was our leadership more urgently needed. The fact that we’ve already wasted a decade and are currently pointed in the wrong direction doesn’t change that.

  89. Seth R. on June 23, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Global warming is supposed to change global climate patterns, air currents and stuff like that. So “increased evaporation” really might have nothing to do with whether the intermountain west gets more rainfall this year.

    Others are blaming pesticides and PCBs in our water and air for increases in mental disabilities, increased cancer rates, and birth defects. The data, so far, is inconclusive. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all this crap coating our food, running through our water, and floating in the atmosphere actually is messing us up in many different ways.

    My mom (graduate degrees in biology and biochemistry) said she even saw a study that correlated an increase in homosexual activity among frogs with an increase in environmental contaminants (frogs tend to be very sensitive to any pollutants, and are therefore often good indicators of when you’ve got a problem).

    Environmental pollution causes an increase in homosexuality? Well, who knows … guess you can go add that one to your “gee wiz” collection.

  90. Seth R. on June 23, 2006 at 11:24 am

    MikeInWeHo,

    I promise I did not post the “homosexual amphibian thing” right after your remarks on purpose. Your post cleared right before mine.

  91. Bill on June 23, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Mike, China’s cities are so polluted because coal is still the primary source of energy, and they don’t have strict clean air laws. US per capita carbon emissions are twice that of EU nations, and ten times that of China. This is mostly because of cars and trucks, which account for over a third of all CO2 emissions.

    Check here for some interesting charts and graphs on China’s energy use, and trends, as well as comparisons with the US.

  92. MikeInWeHo on June 23, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    LOL, your post made my day, Seth !!! No offense taken.

    Although I have noticed a lot of frogs moving into West Hollywood lately…..

    Bill, thanks for the interesting link. China may well clean up its act in terms of particulates, etc, just like we did as we became wealthier and more aware (American leads!). Again, we need to lead on CO2 next.

  93. Glen on June 26, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    To build upon kristine\’s excellent points, see a review of the science and a call for action by James Hansen, lead climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19131.

  94. Mike on June 27, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    MikeInWeHo, I really didn’t mean that we should throw up our hands cuz we can’t do anything. But the fact is that China is going to do what China wants to do. If they want to burn more coal then they will. They may follow our example and they may not. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can get them to go along with us in the same way we think we can get our friends in Europe and Japan to go along with us. That may not be true either. We must take this into consideration.

    Bill, you have a vaild point with those graphs, at this time the US is a major pollution source although we have made much progress. But my point is that in 10 to 20 years China may not be on those graphs anymore. They may develop more quickly than predicted. They may pollute far more than we can ever imagine. They have the potential to pollute 5 or 10 times as much as we ever did. And one thing I do know about the communist government in China is that they lie even more than both Bushs and both Clintons put together. They have no reason to tell the truth about pollution. So how do we get accurate information in a political environment where every side has demonized the other? I still think if the truth were known, China is pumping far more carbon and other nasty things into the atmosphere than the experts think.

    I think we can agree that US/Europe/Japan should lead in this and that many more advanced countries are in a better position to lead than developing countries. It will probably be expensive and developing countries might feel they can’t afford it. How this all shakes out in the details is another matter. Technology is one of the answers and we need to create a society where it can flourish. Again how?

    Tax cuts to big business in the hope of them creating it? Tax cuts to small businesses for the same reason? Policies favoring the more productive half of society over the more dependent half?Create agencies? How about changing the EPA from some kind of punitative watchdog agency to a creator of new environmental technology agency? More money for schools? More money for the top half of the school class instead of the bottom half? But wait a minute didn’t Einstein (or some other great inventor?) flunk out of school at some point? Force pollution regulations on cars that make them more inefficient so they burn more gas, but not trucks and now almost everyone drives trucks? (SUVs are trucks). I can’t help thinking that many of the policies we have created to help the environment don’t work. On the other hand keeping the economy strong makes it more likely and affordable to improve the environment.

    Does anyone remember the 1950 Studebaker? My dad had one and when properly tuned it got 40 mpg. We have not made ANY substantial progress in fuel efficiency in 50 years. Cars today are safer and put less of the other noxious substances in the air and the lead is out of the gas. But the bottom line is that if you burn a gallon of gas to go 40 miles you put that much carbon into the air and that carbon is causing more havoc than anything else.

    One of the biggest problems in America is that one political party has captured this issue of saving the environment as one of their major mantras and has successfully painted the other party as anti-environment. Every election they trot this issue out. But then they act like such freaks that the anti-environmental party benefits from it and hence has no reason to be closely associated with this cause. (Both parties do this on a variety of issues, homosexuality is another notable example). As long as rabid environmentals act out and those who really care about the environment fall for this ploy, they will on average spend half the time fighting the administration in power, and only half the time enacting any useful legislation and making any lasting progress. If they associate with a party that seems to be loosing more elections than winning them, then it will be even worse than that. People who are concerned about the environment need to make it an issue that transcends poltical parties. That way progress can be made regardless of who wins the next election, especially when the election choice boils down to bad versus worse.

    I consider myself an environmentalist. I have figured out how to commute daily 27 X 2 miles to work on a bike in a city with the worst traffic and a flat out hostile environment to biking. I recycle by the ton, not the pound; just for a few examples. I personally think Gore is an idiot and a hypocrite. I read his book he published about 12 years ago and it was filled with pure nonsense. Eliminate the internal combustion engine by the year 2000? His distorted whacky ideas in the past have caused me to not even waste the time or money to view his current movie. He is a kook, a major turn off and actually has the opposite effect he intended- on me and at least half the population.

    I can’t really tell if he is sincere in his desire to give up political ambition and just go around and preach ways to save the environment or not. Something tells me that a guy who came within 300 votes of the US presidency has more on his agenda. He lost (Yes he did, they recounted the Florida votes a million times and he lost every time) to a ding bat like Geo. W. after leading most of the campaign and then he acted like one of the worst sore loosers in our history and then he spent months in the wilderness communing with the caribou. Somehow I can’t help thinking he must have it in the back of his head that he is going to go all the way in 2008. The subtitle to the movie should read: Vote For Me. His movie is yet another example how he really doesn’t care about the environment more than political power, but is willing to exploit the issue to gain popularity.

    What would be nice is for people who do care about the environment to get themselves in positions of influence in both parties and make things happen. We American Mormons are considered to generally be reliable conservatives and so when the conservative party is in power we should take whatever advantage we can and get them to do things that actually help the environment. More of us also need to get ourselves involved with the other party or parties and help them steer a course likely to succeed in improving the environment. Aside from that, and probably most important, we can look at our personal lifestyle and figure out ways to be easier on the environment.

  95. goneagainfinnegan on July 1, 2006 at 12:20 am

    Al Gore never took a hard science course. He didn\’t take calculus. When the Prophet tells us to stop using internal combustion engines, I won\’t ask to see his academic credentials. Al Gore gets no such pass from me.

    As a general principle, laws that will be ignored weakens all laws. We saw a news segment this week: a black clergyman was praying that God would lower gas prices to make it easier on black working class people. Isn\’t that the same as praying that black working class people would be able to generate \’greenhouse gases\’ at the same rate as in the past? Scarcity begets thrift; price controls beget unnecessary consumption and genuine shortages. The working class always has suffered the most when an economic system has to shift from one source of wealth to another. We\’ll quit using cars when they can no longer afford to use them.

    In the meantime, volcanoes aren\’t listening to this debate at all and solar cycles oscillate. The Earth has been much, much warmer than it is now, and much cooler. Mars is warming faster than the Earth.

    I have faith that all of this is not at all out of control; quite the contrary. Let\’s not deify the earth for the sake of our stewardship.

  96. Jeremy on April 18, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Just a thought about the movie. When Gore presents his numbers he concludes that because the numbers change in proportion to eachother that they definitely are a cause and effect situation. Anyone that knows basic logic can understand that if A and B, does not mean A therefore B. Anyway, the Earth is in a mortal state and will eventually be dying, can we have an effect on the death of the Earth? We may be able to slow it a little, but when it is your time, it is your time. I think as individuals, we need to ask the Father if there is a cause and effect issue going on with global warming and if we receieve the answer as yes then as individuals we need to be good stewards. If this is moral, then we need to each ask Father and go from there.