Global Warming as a Religion

By: Mormon Heretic
August 5, 2013
Al Gore

Al Gore

I just finished SuperFreakonomics, the sequel to Freakonomics.  It’s an entertaining book that I highly recommend.  In chapter 5, they discussed whether global warming is even a threat, and took on both conservatives and environmentalists.

the movement to stop global warming has taken on the feel of a religion.  The core belief is that humankind inherited a pristine Eden, has sinned greatly by polluting it, and must now suffer lest we all perish in a fiery apocalypse.  James Lovelock, who might be considered a high priest of this religion, writes in a confessional language that would feel at home in any liturgy:  “[W]e misused energy and overpopulated the Earth…[I]t is much too late for sustainable development; what we need is a sustainable retreat.”

A “sustainable retreat” sounds a bit like wearing a sackcloth.  To citizens of the developed world in particular, this would mean consuming less, using less, driving less—and, thought it’s uncouth to say it aloud, learning to live with a gradual depopulation of the earth.

If the modern conservation movement has a patron saint, it is surely Al Gore, the former vice president and recent Nobel laureate.  His documentary film An Inconvenient Truth hammered home for millions the dangers of over-consumption.  He has since founded the Alliance for Climate Protection, which describes itself as “an unprecedented mass persuasion exercise.”  Its centerpiece is a $300 million public-service campaign called “we,” which urges Americans to change their profligate ways.

Any religion, meanwhile, has its heretics, and global warming is no exception.  Boris Johnson, a classically educated journalist who managed to become mayor of London, has read Lovelock—he calls him a “sacerdotal figure”—and concluded the following: “Like all the best religions, fear of climate change satisfies our need for guilt, and self-disgust, and that eternal human sense that technological progress must be punished by the gods.  And the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful.”

So while the true believers bemoan the desecration of our earthly Eden, the heretics point out that this Eden, long before humans arrived, once became so naturally think with methane smog that it was rendered nearly lifeless.  When Al Gore urges the citizenry to sacrifice their plastic shopping bags, their air-conditioning, their extraneous travel, the agnostics grumble that human activity accounts for just 2 percent of global carbon-dioxide emission, with the remainder generated by natural processes like plant decay.

That last sentence caught my attention.  What’s the biggest culprit of global warming if humans account for just 2 percent?  According to Levitt and Dubner,

It is generally believed that cars and truck and airplanes contribute and ungodly share of greenhouse gases.  This has recently led many right-minded people to buy a Prius or other hybrid car.  But every time a Prius owner drives to the grocery store, she may be canceling out its emission-reducing benefit, at least if she shops in the meat section.

How so?  Because cows–as well as sheep and other cud-chewing animals called ruminants–are wicked polluters.  Their exhalation and flatulence and belching and manure emit methane, which by one common measure is about twenty-five times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide released by cars (and, by the way, humans).  The world’s ruminants are responsible for about 50 percent more greenhouse gas that the entire transportation sector.

Even the “locavore” movement, which encourages people to eat locally grown food, doesn’t help in this regard.  A recent study by two Carnegie Mellon researchers, Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews, found that buying locally produced food actually increases greenhouse-gas emission.  Why?

More than 80 percent of the emissions associated with food are in the production phase, and big farms are far more efficient than small farms.  Transportation represents only 11 percent of food emissions, with delivery from producer to retailer representing only 4 percent.  The best way to help, Weber and Matthews suggest, it to subtly change your diet.  “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food,” they write.  [emphasis in original]

So is it even a problem?  The real question is whether it will be the catastrophic apocalypse portrayed by Al Gore, or is it something made up as Rush Limbaugh likes to claim?  Levitt and Dubner think that both positions are extreme.  They write that from 1945-1968, scientists were warning of global COOLING because there was a large increase in snow cover and a decrease in sunshine in North America.  Scientists then were worried that we couldn’t grow enough crops.  But even with that cooling period, global temperatures are up over the past 100 years.  It does appear that the ice caps are melting, but it doesn’t mean that Florida is going to be under water any time soon.

So how do we fix global warming (if it is even a problem worth fixing)?  Rather than buy into Al Gore’s economy-wrecking carbon tax plan, Levitt and Dubner have a much less expensive plan.  It is well-known that volcanoes can affect the weather.  In 1991,

Mount Pinatubo was the most powerful volcanic eruption in nearly one hundred years.  Within two hours of the main blast, sulfuric ash had reached twenty-two miles into the sky.  By the time it was done, Pinatubo had discharged more than 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere.  What effect that hat have on the environment?

As it turned out, stratospheric haze of sulfur dioxide acted like a layer of sunscreen, reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth.  For the next two years, as the haze was settling out, the earth cooled off by an average of nearly 1 degree Farenheit, of .5 degrees Celsius.  A single volcanic eruption practically reversed, albeit temporarily, the cumulative global warming effect of the previous hundred years.

They write that Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft has devised a plan where we can use the waste sulfur from coal burning power plants and spray it into the stratosphere, much as a volcano does, without the ash.  Myhrvold writes that we could essentially put an 18-mile hose in the sky, pump the sulfur dioxide up there, and it would cool the earth.  (Myrvold says this could be accomplished with a series of weather balloons and inexpensive pumps like people use in swimming pools.)  We could actually use the pollution from coal-burning plants in a beneficial way!  And it would cost a whole lot less than Al Gore’s plan:  rather than “1.2 trillion that Nicholas Stern proposed spending each year to attack the problem”, Dubner writes, “Budyko’s Blanket could effectively reverse global warming at a total cost of $250 million”, which is just 20% of that cost.  Put another way, “It would cost $50 million less to stop global warming than what Al Gore’s foundation is paying just to increase public awareness about global warming.”

So what do you think?

Are the arguments about global warming similar to religious arguments?

  • yes (66%, 38 Votes)
  • no (34%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 58

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Is Global Warming something we should even worry about?

  • yes (67%, 38 Votes)
  • I don't know (18%, 10 Votes)
  • no (15%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 57

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Do you think Myhrvold's plan would work?

  • no (44%, 24 Votes)
  • I don't know (43%, 23 Votes)
  • yes (13%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 54

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14 Responses to Global Warming as a Religion

  1. Howard on August 5, 2013 at 7:14 AM

    General President Eisenhower warned us about the dangers of the military industrial complex in 1961. Why? Profit and power motive. Since WW2 war after war has been rationalized as necessary to empty taxpayer’s wallets to feed this machine and the lifestyles those who benefit personally from it. Not that it has been all bad as we are running out of conventional wars to fight on our way to world peace. The method used to drive this great transfer of wealth and power is FEAR. Fear unites us against a common enemy even when that enemy is imagined or manufactured. Running out of conventional wars the war on terror was born and fear again opened American pocket books while transferring privacy and freedom to those who govern. This brilliant conservative money making power transfer scheme was not lost on the liberals and so the idea of fear of global climate change was born. Of course organizing liberals is like herding cats so it has been slow to gain traction.

    Is man made global climate change a reality? Sure. The question is how much does man contribute given the cycles of warming and cooling that existed long before man’s lifestyle became a measurable contributor. Given his contribution is something we should act prudently and responsibility which means take easily affordable precautions.

    Is the issue of global climate change a religion? Dennis Prager reasonably argues leftism is a largely godless religion.

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  2. Jeff Spector on August 5, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    I think the argument lies somewhere in between. As we’ve seen with all other areas of concern, the extremes make the loudest noise, essentially cancelling each other out and more moderate position prevail.

    The same can be true here. And we’ve seen it. Air pollution in most major cities is down in the last 50 years, with the possible exception of Beijing, and we are working toward a more sustainable energy world, which seems logical to me.

    I think we just wait for the cooler heads to prevail and shut out the extremes and we’ve be fine in the long run.

    Most of us will not be here when and if it becomes a real problem. Which is why most people could care less not to disturb their current lifestyle.

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  3. Will on August 5, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    We live in a telestial world by design with thorns, thistles and noxious weeds. It is part of the mortal experience.

    With that said I still believe God is in charge and planned for emissions from the combustion or jet engines. Trees, plant life and the vast oceans absorb the carbon emissions.
    I whole heartily agree with Howard, leftism is a religion that tries to take God out of the equation.

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  4. Casey on August 5, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    I read and mostly enjoyed Freakonomics, but haven’t gotten around to the Super-sequel. Still, assuming the OP quotes are in context, I’ve gotta wonder why they’re quoting James Lovelock or using him as an example. My impression is that he’s not exactly representative of mainstream environmental science; the Gaia hypothesis is a little out there. And Al Gore may have introduced a lot of the popular discourse about GW, but there were many more credible sources to deal with when Superfreakonomics was written. Based on a quick glance at Nathan Myhrvold’s Wikipedia bio I’m inclined to be skeptical of his motives and expertise as well.

    Finally, while I’d agree that some of the talk about the dangers of global warming can occasionally veer into the hyperbolic and that some of the proposed solutions don’t take economic consequences sufficiently into account, I’m much more amenable to an evidence and science-based approach than “do whatever we want and let Jesus magically sort it out”. I always thought the God I worship expects his followers to maintain and improve on our stewardships and not just shrug and expect him to bail us out later. Must be my radical leftism talking :P

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  5. Andrew S on August 5, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    I apologize, since I skimmed the post, but based on the title and the basic gist, maybe another good article to read might be Nathaniel Givens’ T&S article: “Mormonism and the new religion of secularism“. Givens uses environmentalism as an example down the page.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on August 5, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    As time continues, the arguments about global warming have become more vague and far-reaching. Nearly everything is evidence of it. I am not unconcerned about it, but it seems to be overblown and unclear what the practical solutions are.

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  7. el oso on August 6, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    The AWG models that the radical global warming true believers cling to are getting discredited more and more. Some of the true believers even preach an article of faith which translated into standard English is:
    “The vast majority of scientists who make their living studying global warming think that anthropogenic global warming is occurring.” Followed by:
    “We need more money to study and address this problem”

    I have no idea if Myhrvold’s plan would work, but I am certain that most true believers in AGW will reject it immediately. That would be like high-church clergy believing Joseph Smith’s visions in the 19th century.

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  8. Jan on August 7, 2013 at 6:34 AM

    I find it interesting that so many Americans are taking global warming seriously: mayors, governors, private industry, the U.S. military. The only people who aren’t taking it seriously are some members of Congress and people who are making opposition to global warming into a religion. My bishop, an environmentalist, believes we should be taking it seriously but rationally, realistically. His argument is that even if man is not accelerating global warming, why should we continue to pollute our land and air and water? Shouldn’t we look at the earth the same way we look at the human body we have been given and take the best care possible of it?

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  9. Hedgehog on August 7, 2013 at 6:59 AM

    #8 ‘The only people who aren’t taking it seriously are some members of Congress and people who are making opposition to global warming into a religion.’

    Of course, there are no doubt plenty of big business interests lobbying congress, because it would cost them money to take it seriously.

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  10. h_nu on August 7, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    ‘The only people who aren’t taking it seriously are some members of Congress and people who are making opposition to global warming into a religion.’

    As a scientist I have to admit I find arguments towards percentages of believers fairly unconvincing… I don’t believe in truth by democracy, that’s NOT how the scientific method works. Same with “truth by Shaming” and “truth by WE ALL KNOW …” These are tactics used by political hacks, fake scientists, and the retarted writers of the internet.

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  11. Bill on August 8, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    Did not take long to find a four-year-old review debunking the Superfreakonomics climate change arguments. There are many more, including several linked to in the post:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/10/16/why-everything-in-superfreakon/

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  12. Douglas on August 11, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    I would say that it is a religion for the leftist environmentalist radicals whether or not they acknowledge it. Their general view is that mankind is an intruder upon the Sacred Mother Earth (“Gaia”) and that anyrhing that decreases our numbers or lowers living standards is good. Naturally it begs the inconvenient question as to why then they don’t dig a pit, kill themselves, and let their remains nourish Mother Earth.
    The trouble with this irrational view, besides being imnical to mankind, is the cockamanie and counter-productive solutions that politicians put forth to mollify public opinion, even against sound engineering principles and common sense. For example, out of the Osaka accords of 1986 was the decree to phase out and ban R-12 refrigerant, for supposedly its use would wipe out the ozone layer in the atmosphere and therefore wipe out all life. Never mind the utter ridiculousness of the modelling (no account of the massive energy requirements necessary if we wanted to do that on purpose). The solution, replacement with R-134, not only mandated needless design changes and/or retrofiting, but as the replacement refrigerant is far less effective, more likely wiped out and then some any purported ecological benefits with greater energy expenditures (“can you say ‘Carbon Footprint’, folks?).

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  13. jonapulse on August 11, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    You got your numbers off. 250 mil is not 20% of 1.2 trillion dollars. It’s 0.02%. Million –> Billion –> Trillion.

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  14. Douglas on August 11, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    I like Hank Hill’s approach to the Global Warming issue:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCOMTHOFd8o

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