We have had a huge response to a recent letter (written by Rod McLeod) that claimed the current science around climate change is ‘alarmist’. Here are the letters we have received, as well as the Uniting Church’s response to the issue.
Rod McLeod has, I would suggest, a poor understanding of what is being claimed when people say that there is ‘consensus in the scientific community that burning coal contributes to climate change’. Much of scientific ‘evidence’ is in the form: ‘this is the situation that we observe, and from all our subsequent observations and experiments we conclude that the most likely explanation is that the situation is caused by/explained by ‘x’’.
So the scientific consensus on climate change is that a very large majority of scientists concerned for global warming are of the view that the best explanation of the present situation, based on their observations, is that climate change is impacted by the burning of fossil fuel. That is where they believe the weight of observation and research rests, and the suggestion is that we should act on the basis of that explanation. A hypothesis by its very nature is unproven (and unprovable many times), but is acted on – as the best explanation – until disproven. This is the history of many scientific endeavours. What those who disagree need to do is say why they believe that the explanation/ hypothesis offered by nearly all scientists is inadequate, rather than denying that there is a significant consensus. Simply asserting the consensus is wrong is hardly adequate.
Chris Budden, Newcastle, Interim National Coordinator, UAICC
I was dismayed, to say the least, at Rod McLeod’s letter, ‘The Immorality of Global Climate Alarmism’ (‘Your Say’ Insights June/July 2016) What alarms me is the lack of alarm about what our coal exports, and our own emissions are doing. We are the world’s biggest coal exporter, by the way. Something to be not at all proud of. We are exporting climate chaos.
Climate scientists overwhelmingly pin climate change on carbon emissions, not because they are sheep easily given to consensus, these are scientists, but because the evidence is overwhelming. If Mr McLeod is not a reader, and I guess that he is not (except maybe Plimer), he should find the film Ice and Sky which tells the story of how hard won was the evidence of global warming and atmospheric CO2 concentrations, from the Antarctic ice core samples by Claude Lorius and others.
The old trope about denying poor people the benefits of our wonderful coal, is straight from the Tony Abbott book of nonsense. It is the poorest people who suffer most from the climate disruption it brings. And ultimately we may all become extinct, the rich of the richest countries getting in another generation before they too are wiped out on this remarkable, maybe God-given, planet we are rendering unlivable.
We have to get together and organise against the companies that put profit before people. We should not be wet behind the ears. This is a real fight, and most of us have left it far too long to confront what we are doing (myself included), or allowing our extractivist governments to do. The mining companies are very strong; the have a lot of money to corrupt the system, and are not interested at all in human survival. We need to organise against the disruption of our climate. Without a livable planet, there can be no other struggles. It will be game-over. With every year hotter than the last, this is the time of our greatest danger, but also of our greatest opportunity to make a world that is better than the one we have. Read Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, see the film, and Google the Canadian Leap Manifesto.
I commend the climate action radio show, Beyond Zero Emissions, of my wife, Vivien Langford. Alec Smith of Vancouver’s Radio Ecoshock, another great and inspiring show, has taken many of Viv’s excellent interviews and rebroadcast them on the 97 radio stations that take his broadcasts. Viv’s show is on Melbourne’s 3CR but you can hear it anywhere because it is on the internet; just Google ‘3CR’ and go from there.
I urge everyone to get involved. Consider joining 350.org, or another climate action group of people. We alone can do it, but we can’t do it alone. As the Timorese said, in their long, brave struggle… “To resist is to win”. This is one fight we must win, if there are to be any others.
Stephen Langford OT (Order of Timor) of Pitt St. Uniting Church, Sydney.
I honestly could not believe the nonsense contained in Rod McLeod’s letter (‘Your Say’, Insights June/ July 2016) To suggest there is no evidence of Global Warming and that human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels is not a major contributor to that process, defies logical belief.
There is overwhelming evidence that atmospheric pollution is accelerating global warming at an alarming rate. We must embrace environmentally, safe, clean methods of generating electricity, otherwise we will condemn future generations to an ever worsening environment. Talk about “head in the sand and none so blind”
Peter Matthews Wagga Wagga
When I read the letter by Rod McLeod (Insights, June/July) I thought he was talking “tongue in cheek”. Then I thought perhaps he believes that climate change is real and is largely man made.
As a retired environmental chemist I agree with the majority of scientists on this issue. Look at the polar ice cap & the increasing devastation of weather events.
Chris Owens FRACI, CChem, Dubbo, NSW
I remember attending a rural ministry conference in North East Victoria in the mid 1980s and we visited a tobacco farm in the Ovens Valley. When the farmer spoke to us he lashed out at the scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking. He said it was all a load of “bull….s ….”!
Now the tobacco farms have long gone and the consensus among scientists has been proven correct. So it is a rather dangerous thing to ignore any scientific consensus as Rob Mcleod seems to be doing in the June Insights. If nine doctors advised me to have a suspicious lump removed and one doctor advised me not to worry , I would accept the consensus advice every time!
Rod correctly identifies supplying affordable electricity to the world’s poor as a moral problem. But is it moral to burn coal to do this, while in the process unleashing extreme weather events which cause untold damage all over the globe?
The people most affected of course are the poorer nations of the Pacific, S.E. Asia and Africa. In any case, it seems more enlightened leaders like Narenda Modi of India have already decided how to act. In a meeting with President Obama in June, Modi said that he aimed to provide electricity to ALL the households of India by 2022. He pledged to do this “with a light footprint and a great emphasis on renewables’’. [Guardian 17/6/16]
One suspects market forces are going to shut down ‘king coal’ despite all the hype from the fossil fuel industry. The price of sea borne coal has plummeted due to the dramatic drop in demand for coal. The world is in the midst of a renewable energy revolution. Next year wind and solar output will actually surpass the world’s fossil fuel total energy output according to latest figures. Much of the drive for this is coming from China which is turning to renewable energy in a big way.
The cost of renewable energy is dropping, the scientific consensus is obvious, and the moral argument for phasing out coal for the sake of the planet is becoming increasingly apparent. Yours etc,
Ron McLeod asks previous contributors to ‘Your Say’ (Insights June/July 2016) “show him the evidence” that “turning coal into electricity is detrimentally affecting the world’s climates”. This evidence is not hard to find. It consists of more than 12,000 papers published in recognized scientific journals. It is all there in the open. Many are referenced in articles available on search engines such as Google. There are also of course many summaries- the Science of Climate Change Q&A, from The Australian Academy of Science is very readable. If one cannot find specific papers of interest via a search engine, any professor of climate science would arrange access to them for a serious reader.
However, the papers are not easy to read and evaluate because climate science is specialized and complex unlike, let’s say, Hooke’s Law of elasticity, where just one graph of stress versus strain sufficed for “evidence”. This complexity of climate is why we tend to rely on learned bodies to evaluate and summarise. In Australia this includes the Academy and the CSIRO. Globally it includes the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Mr. McLeod’s dismissal of the present learned consensus of scientists reminds me of the doting mother’s comment on her boy in the parade ”Look Dad, our Charlie’s the only one in step.”
Bruce Graham, Waitara
In Rod McLeod’s second letter to Insights about ‘climate alarmism’ (Insights June/July 2016), he wrote “Show me the evidence that turning coal into electricity is detrimentally affecting the world’s different climates.” I say, with respect, that I have already done so in my article on the Insights website – see www.insights.uca.org.au/features/be-alert-but-not-alarmed.
Please read it again and look at the references – I would particularly commend references 3 and 6. I would also encourage readers to look at climate.nasa.gov/evidence for a clear and compelling description of the most important evidence.
The reason for the strong scientific consensus is that the evidence is overwhelming.
If there is something that you would like to discuss in greater detail, please contact West Epping Uniting Church for my email address, and we can discuss it one-to-one.
May God bless us as we attempt to understand this important issue and the consequences that it will have for all of us.
Phil Chapple, West Epping
I have just read Rod McLeod’s letter to the editor on page 8 of the June/July 2016 issue of Insights.
I am dismayed and greatly concerned. It is easy to refute Rod’s ‘facts’ in his letter as being completely wrong, but the prominence of his letter in Insights and the fact that nowhere in the magazine is there a rebuttal of the many wrong comments in Rod’s letter, leads me to the conclusion that the problem is not Rod but the Uniting Church of Australia (UCA).
If Insights had received a letter from a member of the Uniting Church claiming that the harm caused by smoking tobacco was not ‘proven’, would they have published it? I doubt it. And yet we are now faced with irrefutable proof that we human beings are causing rapid changes in the world’s climate by our actions, and an increase of 1 degree Celsius in the average global temperature is already causing rapid melting of the North Pole icecap, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and the loss of coastal mangroves in northern Queensland, to name a few effects. And Insights publishes a letter claiming that Climate Change is an ‘unproven hypotheses’, and the magazine doesn’t comment.
I believe the UCA and its magazine Insights continues to ignore what is undoubtedly by far the most serious threat to humanity today, and continues to exort UCA Christians to devote more time and money to address the consequences of our lack of action on the poor and disadvantaged people on this planet. It’s what I consider a ‘bandaid’ approach; ignore the causes but address the consequences. I believe it will be grossly inadequate in future because of the extent and seriousness of Climate Change.
Someone reading Rod McLeod’s letter to the Editor in the June/July 2016 Insights might be led to believe that urgent action was not required to change the way we use energy. Nowhere in this magazine or the previous two issues where Climate Change was addressed by ‘Letters to the Editor’ is there an indication that the magazine editors or articles from contributors realise what we humans are doing to future generations, and poor people around the world, or people that are unlucky enough to live in areas that will be affected first by the coming disasters caused by us.
The imperative is there for Christians like us to speak out now, loudly, and to demand that we rapidly change the way we are living our lives. If we don’t rapidly reduce the production of greenhouse gases now, it may be too late to ameliorate disastrous Climate Change. Christ demands that we change, and He also says we should take risks. I believe the Uniting Church and Insights magazine are not even prepared to acknowledge what is undoubtedly the greatest risk to billions of people around the world, and to future generations that will suffer unimaginable hardship because of our actions. I suggest this is unChristian in the extreme.
I am 78 years old and I am a retired engineering manager with almost 40 years experience working in the electric power industry. I won’t be faced with the coming Climate Change disaster, but my children and grandchildren will be. I despair at the lack of action by Christians in the UCA and its magazine, and as a result I recently became a Quaker and I am seriously considering resigning as a member of the Uniting Church of Australia. The June/July issue of Insights has strengthened my resolve. Mark 6:11 is my reference from Jesus.
I am praying for Insights.
Bob Ross, Merimbula Uniting Church member
There are many things in Rod McLeod’s comment on global warming that need to be addressed, but one thing in particular requires a response. Mr. McLeod says that ‘Consensus among scientists and researchers is not evidence. The scientific method does not recognize consensus, only evidence.’
This sounds plausible but it’s actually just playing with words. Any ‘consensus among scientists’ is not separate from evidence. It is based on evidence. And that evidence is derived from the application of the scientific method. In brief, this is how it works. Science proceeds through individual research studies, many of which have an hypothesis that is tested. Then the best research reports are published in refereed journals. Before they are published, at least two other scientists read the reports to verify that the research has been rigorous and honest. In other words, they are concerned with whether a specific study is good research, not whether they agree with its conclusions. This is important. It means that the evidence isn’t just a mass of unsubstantiated opinion. It is produced in accordance with accepted scientific methods and represents a range of perspectives on the problem.
But, of course, no specific study produces absolute proof of anything. Science is not about absolute truths. It is about making judgments based on the balance of probabilities. And when enough scientists agree that a particular proposition is more likely to be true than false, a consensus has been reached.
So, in summary, a ‘consensus among scientists’ means that the world’s best scientists have
- examined all the research on global warming which has been judged to be rigorous in its methods;
- weighed up the evidence from these well conducted studies (both in support of and contrary to assertions about the reality of global warming);
- made a judgment about which position is best supported by this evidence.
So, what has been the outcome of this process? After examining the evidence derived from properly conducted research, most the world’s experts in the field have concluded that global warming is much more likely to be a reality than an illusion. That is undeniably the position that exists. As I said before, there is no absolute proof because that is not possible. But you can be sure that these experts will have factored into their judgments the problems with alternative energy that Mr. McLeod refers to.
Mr. McLeod has pointed to the moral dimensions of the issue as well. This is even trickier than the science. Any course of action will inevitably have negative consequences as well as well as positive ones. So deciding what needs to be done can only be based on deciding whether the positives outweigh the negatives. Will our actions cause more or less harm? This is, of course, another unanswerable question. But we nevertheless have to try to come up with an answer to it. And again, the consensus of scientific opinion has to be our guide, unless we are to be persuaded by the unsubstantiated opinions of people with interests to protect.
Of course, part of the scientific process is that the gathering of evidence goes on, and that today’s consensus might not be tomorrow’s. But we cannot delay making a judgment on global warming until all the evidence is in, because we will never reach that point. The bridge might well collapse before our eyes while we dither about whether it really needs repair. And if the consensus of expert opinion had persistently been that repairs were urgently needed, failure to act would not just have been stupid but immoral as well because of the resultant harm to innocent people.
So it must be sensible to act now on the basis of the best current available advice (that is, the current consensus among respected scientists) rather than procrastinating while the world’s oceans swallow small islands and peasant farmers in Third World countries watch their crops wither during unprecedented droughts. That would be more than immoral. Because once this bridge has gone, no human endeavour will be able to replace it.
Peter Geekie, Austinmer
Response from UnitingEarthWeb’s Jason John and Miriam Pepper
It was heartening to see the large number of responses to the letter, “Climate Alarmism.” Several of the respondents included references for people wanting to investigate further. Another great one is the sceptical science site (http://www.skepticalscience.com ), started by John Cook (a Christian), which has amongst other things an excellent list of climate myths and responses, at basic, intermediate and advanced levels.
Bob Ross is right in that the church has put a lot of resources into responding to the consequences of Climate Change on humans, but this hasn’t been the church’s sole focus. We recently surveyed the Uniting Church’s engagement in ecological issues across the country from 2000-2014 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270704103_Pepper_M_and_John_J_2014_Ecological_engagement_in_William_Emilsen_ed_An_Informed_Faith_The_Uniting_Church_at_the_Beginning_of_the_21st_Century_Mosaic_Press_Melbourne)
For more than a decade, the Uniting Church has stood in solidarity with churches in the Pacific and other international partner churches, who have asked us to support their call for a stronger global response to climate change. We have repeatedly advocated to our government to set greenhouse gas reduction targets of the order needed avoid catastrophic climate change, to put in place policies that shift us away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, and to support the people on the frontlines of climate change. It is true that the church has been better at advocating for government action than it has been at implementing its own policies.
UnitingWorld has also been calling the church to stand in solidarity with Pacific Islanders calling for urgent climate action (http://www.unitingworld.org.au/unitingworld-calls-for-solidarity-with-pacific-partners-at-copenhagen/ ). UnitingEarth was involved in the much increased church engagement in the recent People’s Climate March (http://ume.nswact.uca.org.au/peoples-climate-march/). Uniting Church members were involved in the recent Newcastle #BreakFree2016 actions (http://www.insights.uca.org.au/news/breakfree2016-in-newcastle )
The NSW/ACT Synod was one of the first organisations to divest from the fossil fuel industry (http://unitingearthweb.org.au/take-action/fossil-fuels.html), followed by other Synods and Assembly. Admittedly, the response is patchy. For example, Synod has never adequately actioned our own resolutions on carbon emission reduction from 2008 (http://unitingearthweb.org.au/synod-resolutions.html). UnitingEarth and UnitingResources will revisit these in 2017.
There is still much to do. Although nearly half of UCA congregations indicated that they had engaged in environmentally-themed worship in the last NCLS, and this is double the proportion of non-UCA congregations, only 25% had taken steps to reduce their energy consumption, and 15% had participated in other activities.
Despite these low percentages, Uniting Church congregations are significantly more engaged than other denominations, and we remain optimistic that our engagement is accelerating, so that we are on track to become the faith community to which people who are passionate or anxious about our ecological future can turn as they explore the spiritual and faith dimensions of their relationship with the rest of creation.
Everyone reading this can us travel further down the track, by following up our Synod’s divestment campaign with specific congregational and personal action. We are asking people to switch to those power providers who did not seek to undermine Australia’s renewable energy targets, and to make a noise whilst doing so. As part of this year’s Season of Creation (http://unitingearthweb.org.au/worship/soc.html) , please join us in action to support renewable energy (http://www.unitingearthweb.org.au/make-the-switch )
Jason John and Miriam Pepper, Uniting Earth NSW/ACT