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ss triple helix - summer 2010,  Climate change - debate hots up

Climate change - debate hots up

CMF File 41 on 'Climate change' triggered opposing responses. London SpR in Public Health Helen Barratt:

Thank you for the excellent CMF File. Climate change has been described as 'the most important public health challenge of the 21st Century'. (1) As readers will be aware, the NHS and the wider medical establishment (including many of the Royal Colleges) are increasingly turning their focus towards efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, many of which also yield health benefits in their own right. Consequently, a significant part of my work in public health currently focuses on climate change.

The NHS aims to become 'the leading public sector organisation in promoting sustainable development and mitigating climate change' (2) so the issue is likely to increase in prominence for doctors in the UK. Jason and Rachel Roach provide us with a succinct summary of the problem, as well as a robust Christian response. The File has really helped to crystallise my thinking around this issue, and I will certainly be passing it on to friends and colleagues.

Consultant anaesthetist Chris Hanning took a contrary view and the following is abstracted from correspondence with the authors:

I look to the CMF Files as authoritative statements of Christian belief on ethical and medical topics and they do not usually disappoint. However, the paper by Jason and Rachel Roach falls far short of the usual standard and seems to be more a statement of their faith in Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) than a balanced review of the science.

I do not dispute the Christian duty to make careful use of the resources God has given us in this planet on which we live, nor our duty to act justly and care for the poor. Such is clear from Scripture alone and does not need the dubious 'science' of AGW to support it. The evidence for AGW, which has now morphosed into 'climate change', is not irrefutable nor is it 90% certain. A large number of reputable scientists cast doubt on the degree and rate of temperature change, the relationship of any temperature change to atmospheric CO2, the consequences of any change, and the appropriate response even if our worst fears are realised. Those who take this stance are varyingly labelled 'sceptics' or 'deniers' and routinely denigrated. It is reminiscent of the Church's persecution of those who denied the earth was flat and was the centre of the Universe.

The claims for unprecedented temperature rise are false. It was clearly much warmer during the Medieval Warm Period, when CO2 levels were lower. The earth's temperature varies with a periodicity of about 30-40 years as well as with longer cycles. In the 1970s it was relatively cold and the then current scare was for a new Ice Age. The planet then warmed until about 2000 but there has been no significant warming since.

Most of the changes predicted by AGW proponents simply are not happening. The sea levels are not rising, Arctic ice is almost back to recent average while Antarctic ice is growing. Overall global sea ice is steady and the polar bears are doing nicely. Several studies have shown that, even if the IPCC's worst predictions are fulfilled, it is cheaper to mitigate adverse changes when and if they occur rather than to ruin our economy now on the 'precautionary principle'.

There is no evidence that 'extreme' weather events are becoming more common other than by better reporting. The attribution of increasing disease to AGW rather than local factors is also unproven and real studies rather than computer models and apocalyptic predictions have not shown any correlation. Much of what Roach and Roach advocate for action has my full support, both by helping the poor and by using the resources God has given us responsibly. Scripture commands us so to do and we should not need the overstated and erroneous claims of AGW to do our Christian duty.

Jason Roach responds briefly:

Feedback is always welcome! We were encouraged that you agreed with the substantive application of the article, namely that we have a responsibility to care for the environment. I make three responses.

We entirely agree that the debate has become highly politicised. As we have recently argued, 'climate change' has undoubtedly become the 'gospel' of our age. It claims that our chief problem is neglect of the earth, and that salvation for us and the planet hinges on our repentance. For climate change to be used as a political tool and imbibed as a false gospel in this way is a terrible travesty.

Secondly, we agree it is difficult to predict with certainty the precise rise in temperature and the precise scale of the effects in such a multifactorial process. We also suggested that it is too early to show any change in disease patterns as a result of changes in heat distribution.

Thirdly, we note your criticism of the IPCC's language of '90% certain' and 'irrefutable' evidence for anthropogenic global warming. We agree scientific consensus can be proved wrong; just because the claims are based on broad scientific consensus does not necessarily mean that they are correct. Nevertheless, as we highlighted, we believe we must act on the basis of the information available at a particular time, aware that scientific conclusions are always subject to change in the light of new data.
  1. The Faculty of Public Health. Sustaining a Healthy Future: Taking Action on Climate Change. London: Faculty of Public Health, 2009
  2. Accessed 26 May 2010
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