The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Heat Waves and Truth
Oh, my, it is tempting. It would feel so satisfying to use the same sort of deception and dirty tricks that our opponents have used.
But, no. Lies are self-defeating. Petty attacks don't really further the cause. And -- most importantly -- we don't need to twist the truth. The truth can speak for itself. As the Bible says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)
The topic is the warping of Earth's climate, the over-heating of our planet and the threat that it brings to the balance of life. Our enemies are those who deny the reality of what is happening, who -- from self-interest, or ideology, or ignorance, or fear -- use any tactic to sow doubt and confusion.
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This past week, there has been a major heat wave along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Day after day, hot, humid weather has made life miserable for millions of people. Temperatures repeatedly broke the 100 degree mark in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
That stretch of the eastern US, you might recall, is the same chunk of geography which suffered through a big blizzard earlier this year. In February, deep snow shut down those big cities for a few days. The climate deniers had a field day, dishing out variations on the message, "If it snows a lot, there can't be global warming." In one highly-publicized stunt, the grandkids of a US Senator built an igloo on the grounds of the US Capitol and labeled it "Al Gore's New Home."
There has been a remarkable silence from the deniers about this week's uncomfortable heat in the same place. Maybe they've finally figured out that there is a difference between individual weather events (either hot or cold), and long term climate trends. It is more likely, though, that they're hoping we won't notice this inconvenient truth.
It is tempting to adopt tactics of extremism, to use pictures of sweating people, and say "This is global warming!" To be honest, though, we can't point to one string of sultry days as evidence of climate change. As I wrote in 2003 about the deadly heat wave that killed over 3,000 people in France: "Let me guess what the meteorological experts are likely to say. Something along the lines of, 'What we've seen in Europe is consistent with what we would expect under our best climate change models. But, no, this heat wave is not proof of global warming.'"
It is tempting to make wild claims, because outlandish statements get lots of publicity. Unfortunately, the truth doesn't make for good street theater. A photo of sweltering citizens with the careful tag line, "This is consistent with projections about climate change" doesn't create a lively buzz on the TV talk shows, but it is true.
The proof of global heating isn't found in a few toasty days for Paris or New York. Climate is different from weather. The proof is found through consistent patterns across the whole planet over a period of years. That truth about Earth's changing climate is very clear.
The deniers -- with a selective and biased use of data -- often have made the outrageous claim that Earth has been cooling since 1998. (If you start with what was far and away the hottest year in recorded history, a slight drop wouldn't be surprising.) But that claim doesn't work anymore. A recent NASA report has concluded that the previous decade, January 2000 to December 2009, was the warmest on record.
And it is getting even hotter. The climate change page on Weather Underground reports, "Both NOAA and NASA rated the year-to-date period, January - May, as the warmest such period on record, and the last 12-month period (June 2009 - May 2010) as the warmest 12-month period on record." The next paragraph on that page tells us that "Asia and Southeast Asia record their hottest temperatures in history." On May 26, a city in Pakistan recorded 128.3 degrees, "the hottest reliably measured temperature ever recorded on the continent of Asia." Those extreme temperatures reflect a persistent trend across large regions.
The news this week also tells us that we'd better get used to the heat. A report published in today's issue of Science Daily says, "Exceptionally long heat waves and other hot events could become commonplace in the United States in the next 30 years, according to a new study by Stanford University climate scientists."
But can we trust those climate scientists? Last winter, in what came to be known as "climategate", the media had lots of coverage about hacked emails between some of the scientists. In the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen climate conference, snippets from the emails were used by the deniers to suggest that scientists lied, distorted data, and manipulated research.
Through the last six months, multiple agencies have done detailed reviews of the scientists, their research and their correspondence. All of those studies have shown no misconduct by the climate researchers. The truth, once again, is on the side of those who have done the meticulous scientific work to uncover and interpret the dynamics of the human-influenced heating of our planet. Unfortunately, the truth validating the scientists has been much less visible than the attacks.
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It is tempting to act like the deniers. It would be satisfying, perhaps, to ride the wave of this week's headlines and to make unjustified claims about short-term events as proof of long-term trends. It might feel good to stoop to the level of character assassination and blatant lies in refuting the deniers. It is tempting, but doing so is neither helpful nor necessary.
Many of us have been frustrated by the antics of the deniers. I know that I have been angry about their effective use of distortions and lies to discredit responsible scientists and dedicated activists. I've wished for tactics that would create a big media splash with the frightening truth about global heating.
But while the truth is compelling, it is not flashy. It does not translate well into simplistic media stunts. To be responsible, it must be enough to assert that the current heat waves are consistent with projections about climate change, without making wild claims that a few hot days in big cities provide proof.
This week's heat wave doesn't prove anything, but it does provide an opportunity to point again to the rock-solid truth about global heating. As we work to convince our neighbors and legislators about what is really going on, we can rest assured that the truth is with us.
I have to name another contrast with the deniers. We find no joy in speaking our message of truth. Where they seemed gleeful about their misrepresentations of the February blizzard, the truth of global heating is not fun.
We are like Jeremiah (the prophet of doom and gloom) who confronted Hananiah (the prophet with a cheerful message). Jeremiah admitted that the false message was attractive: "Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD fulfill the words that you have prophesied." (Jer. 28:6) The seductive words, though, are not the words of truth.
We all wish that it were not true. It would be wonderful if the rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses have no effect. But like Jeremiah, our calling is not to proclaim what feels good and makes us comfortable, but to speak the challenging word of truth.
Let us use this week's heat wave as an opportunity to spread the truth.
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