• August 27, 2015

The Doom Boom

Religious roots of environmental Armageddon

5715 Ruse

Randy Lyhus for The Chronicle

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Randy Lyhus for The Chronicle

Apocalyptic thinking has a long, if at times dodgy, history in the Christian religion. The two main sources are the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. In both, mystical visions forecast future events, especially those surrounding the end of days and the role that Jesus Christ will play when he returns, "like a thief in the night." The implication is that the end is not far off, and if you're not ready, you'll be sorry.

Perhaps expectedly, periods of great social stress have tended to be times when apocalyptic thinking goes into overdrive. The English civil wars, in the middle of the 17th century, for instance, helped give rise to nutty ideas and screwball sects. (The Diggers were given to planting vegetables on other people's lands; Quakers—for centuries now the epitome of staid and respectable—got into the practice of tearing off all their clothes and doing a lot of groaning and sighing and shaking.) More recently, America during the cold war provided fertile ground for apocalyptic speculation. The text that sparked the modern creationist movement, Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications, by the biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb Jr. and the hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris, was published in 1961, the point at which nuclear fears were at their height.

Why did Whitcomb and Morris concentrate on the Flood rather than the Creation and Adam and Eve and Eden? Because it echoed and put in theological context all the secular fears. The Second Epistle of Peter tells us that the Flood is the catastrophe marking the end of the first dispensation (when God relates in a specific way to humankind) and that we should expect the end of the final dispensation any time now. Then starts the final drama. The re-establishment of Israel is a major feature in the story, and that is why so many American evangelicals, even more than the Jews, are fanatical supporters of that troubled Mideast piece of real estate.

What is fascinating is the extent to which, since the Enlightenment, even the most secular of folk can be found echoing apocalyptic sentiments and visions. The British Labour Party, for instance, sings William Blake's famous hymn at its annual meetings.

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

Secular apocalyptic thinking continues; indeed, it thrives. The cold war may be over, but the world is not right. America is caught in a seemingly endless foreign conflict; we are in an economic downturn of a kind not seen since the 1930s; and above all hangs—or perhaps more accurately, chokes—the threat of global warming. This last topic has triggered a tsunami of books, almost all of which are linked by an apocalyptic theology of foreboding and warning. The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps; The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming; The Rising Sea; The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It; Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix; Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.

The contents aren't much cheerier than the titles. Those of us living in the north of Florida are not overly fond of Miami, believing that it hogs too much of the state's resources. Its predicted fate, however, makes one want to start fixing care packages right now. The airport will be "long gone," although the runways will remain visible 10 feet below clear water; "warm afternoons" will be "filled with the stench of thousands of gallons of untreated human waste." The police force will be corrupted by the unimpeded flow of drugs from South America. Agriculture will be destroyed by salt water. And the rich will either barricade themselves in fancy mansions on the few remaining hilltops or flee to the higher ground of Colorado.

The proposed solutions aren't cause for eager anticipation either. Even if all does not collapse, get ready for some strenuously healthy living. There is a lot of bicycling in our future. And homegrown vegetables. Not much meat, I'm afraid. And you should forget about the restaurant experience; it's far too energy consuming. We will work less so as to have more time to fix food at home. How about raw spinach covered in cottage cheese and topped with applesauce? With that kind of diet, I'm not surprised about the thousands of gallons of untreated human waste. The pong inside our yurts will be overwhelming.

If you don't laugh, you're going to cry. With so many books so obviously written to catch your eye on Amazon or at Borders, it's hard to know where to start. But one book is truly outstanding: Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century, by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter. This book lays out the facts carefully and thoroughly without trivializing or condescending. Here's Richter's bottom line: There is global warming, and we humans are responsible for it. Even if you take into account random fluctuations—one swallow does not a summer make, and one hot July doesn't make a crisis—the globe is getting hotter.

Why? Mainly because the atmosphere is bunged up with carbon and other elements—brought on by human consumption of fossil fuels—that trigger a "greenhouse effect." Richter presents a staggering graph that shows how carbon-dioxide levels are at least a third higher than they were only half a century ago. The warming of the seas and lakes, moreover, means more water vapor in the air. Gases like these prevent the sun's energy from returning to space. Hence we're caught in an ever-warming trap.

Moreover, as other authors of this crop of books point out in detail, global warming isn't just a matter of hot sidewalks. Consider food production. The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, by the journalist Julian Cribb, makes clear just how intertwined global warming is with food security. Think about oil, which factors prominently in agriculture: Carbon-based fuels are changing the atmosphere and therefore the viability of farmland. Can agriculture help solve the problem? Perhaps we should reduce the number of animals—especially sheep and cows—because they are a significant source of methane emissions. If we did, however, we'd face a lack of manure, particularly in poorer countries. Should we turn instead to oil-based fertilizers? But if we're going to substitute biofuels for natural fuels, does that mean that there will be less food for humans because there is more food for automobiles?

Houston, we have a problem. So where do we go from here? There are sharp divisions among apocalyptic thinkers. The disputes center on a thousand-year period (the millennium) that we are told will occur at the end of time. Roman Catholics tend to follow St. Augustine and to be "amillennialists." Any talk about thousand-year periods is at best metaphorical; because of the first coming of Jesus we are already living in the millennium. Hence, no need to get worked up about the visions of Daniel or the author of Revelation. Protestants tend to be either "postmillennialists" or "premillennialists." The former (who divide between those who accept a literal thousand-year span and those who follow Augustine in being more relaxed about the literal length) believe that Jesus will arrive after the millennium and that it is our duty to prepare the planet for this event. We must work to make things better and show the Lord that we are using our talents properly. Premillennialists (who tend to be fairly literalist about the thousand years) think that is hubris. We can do nothing on our own and to think otherwise is further evidence of the vale of sin within which we have been trapped since Adam took that fateful bite of the apple. Jesus is on his way. There is little or nothing you can do besides recognize your sinful nature and spread the news to as many as will hear it. As the late 19th-century evangelist Dwight Moody used to say: "I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, 'Moody, save all you can.'"

Secular apocalyptic thinkers tend to be postmillennialists. They may not believe in a literal coming of Jesus, but they do believe that eventually a perfect state will be achieved down here on earth. We must therefore work to make things better. We need to roll up our sleeves and build that happy Jerusalem. By and large, this is the sensibility that pervades this crop of books on global warming, and most of the suggestions on offer are sober and sensible. They can be divided into what you might call the preventative—what can we do to make things better, or at least not worse, in the face of global warming?—and proactive—what new and innovative things can we do to break our wretched addiction to fossil fuels?

Representative of the preventative books is The Rising Sea, by the environmental scientists Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young. Well written and informative, this book lays out what global warming will entail both for those living along the coast and (in the long run) for the rest of us. They make some sensible points about how daft it is to keep building right on the seafront, especially in places that already show the effects of sea-level change.

Richter's Beyond Smoke and Mirrors is representative of the proactive works. Richter covers a huge amount of territory looking at conventional fuels, alternatives, and much more. How much oil is there? Gas? Coal? What about turning to wind, or the sun, or the oceans (tides) as substitute resources? Richter is blunt: Even under the best-case scenarios, we are not going to be able to sustain anything like the lifestyle to which we have grown accustomed.

James Lovelock, the father of the Gaia hypothesis—the idea that the earth itself is an organism and as such has needs and rights of its own—has argued on behalf of nuclear energy. So too has Richter. But even sober and sensible solutions are hardly unproblematic. In The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming, Roger Pielke Jr. puts the number of functioning nuclear power stations in the world at about 500, with roughly an equal number under construction. If by 2050 we are to reduce the use of carbon-linked energy sources by 50 percent, then we need another 12,000 nuclear power stations! And that's quite apart from concerns about waste disposal, not to mention the thorny politics of nuclear power. Can you imagine Afghanistan dotted with nuclear power stations?

That's the trouble with sober and sensible solutions; very quickly they start to appear as neither. In Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix, the NASA climatologist Claire L. Parkinson brings a welcome skepticism. She shows the inadequacy of many of the models on which climate forecasts are based. She warns against large-scale, simplistic solutions. For instance, if carbon dioxide is a major factor contributing to the greenhouse effect (which it is), then a simple solution might be to plant more trees to soak it up. But as Parkinson points out, trees also soak up solar radiation, so the overall effect could be more heat, not less.

I don't think that Parkinson would have a lot of time for The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps by Peter D. Ward, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Washington. Balancing (if that's the right word) the near relish that he shows for scary, science-fiction scenes of our impending doom—it is he who gives us the portrait of a future Miami under water—is a willingness to entertain barmy ameliorative possibilities that would not be out of place in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey. How about mirrors in space, orbiting the earth, reflecting back the sunlight? Or if not mirrors, any takers on a mesh screen positioned between the sun and the earth? Frankly, I would rather take my chances with global warming than live in a world shrouded in a mosquito net.

In any case, as we learn in the enjoyable Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, by the historian of science James Rodger Fleming, there is a long tradition of crazy ideas about how to control the skies. The most dedicated of hypochondriacs would be envious on reading through the list of substances that happy inventors have proposed blasting up into the atmosphere to cure the ills of Planet Earth. Nothing thus far made and used has worked properly, or is likely to work at all. Even Ward is skeptical about some of the proposed solutions. Marine plants suck up carbon dioxide in the oceans, and these plants need lots of iron for growth. So why not try seeding the waters with iron compounds? Experiments have shown that you do indeed get plant growth, but you also get more (respiring) animals eating the plants and ultimately more carbon dioxide back in the atmosphere.

Amillennialists don't get much representation in the climate-change debate, although one might put Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future, by Matthew E. Kahn, into this category. While everyone else is moaning about what's going wrong, Kahn is the St. Augustine of this business. Things have gone wrong; things will go wrong. Calm down. Or maybe he's the Alfred E. Neuman of climate change: "What? Me worry?" Never fear! We will adapt! Miami may go out with the tide, but Detroit will be a lot more pleasant in the winter. I leave to the judgment of others the prospect of a future America where half the population lives in North Dakota and the other half lives on houseboats.

Secular premillennialists are practically a contradiction in terms, although one should note that there are those who are not so secular who are adding global warming to the list of sins for which we should repent. Prince Charles, the future king of England, can be numbered here. In a speech this past summer, he admonished us that "a big part of the solution to all of our worldwide 'crises' does not lie simply in more and better technology, but in the recovery of the soul to the mainstream of our thinking." Given his lifestyle, I would be surprised if Prince Charles is given to hair shirts, but his thinking suggests that there is one aspect of traditional premillennial thinking present in the global-warming debate: a sense of sin, of guilt at what we have done, and a feeling that we are going to make things right only if we repent and do a good bit of suffering for the cause. "Look, Jesus, I'm miserable down here. I'm not living on the fatted calf or milk and honey. Save me."

Anyone who takes global warming seriously agrees that conservation will be a big part of the solution. We have to think in terms of buses and streetcars, not single-person automobiles. We have to ask if we need meat (and red meat at that) three times a day. We have to think more persistently and consistently about the insulation of our houses. This doesn't mean hair shirts and nonstop suffering. None of my relatives in England have a dryer. They hang washed clothes up on a line, outside or in the kitchen where it is warm. And they do not think of themselves as put upon or unduly burdened.

However, when I crack the pages of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, by Juliet B. Schor, I feel that I am entering a different world—a world I don't want to be in. Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College, wants us to slow down, work less, and return to nature. Some of what she suggests makes good sense, for instance using less energy. And bicycles are a good idea. But I loathe cottage cheese; I'm not about to take up quilting; and I had enough of secondhand furniture and Salvation Army stores when I was a graduate student. And yurts all around? Give me a break. There is a theological agenda driving this kind of utopian thinking that is not entirely dissimilar to a Billy Graham sermon: Emotion beats out reason; fear of the future is used to coerce you into action now—and there is a good tinge of Puritanism about the whole thing. You have been living thoughtlessly and too comfortably. Repent! Repent!

My concern is that people will get so turned off by this sort of secular preaching that they will overreact and not adopt any of Schor's ideas. It is like being told to lose 50 pounds, quit drinking, and go to the gym for two hours each day. Even if it is good advice, it is too much, too soon. And I'm not convinced that her advice to stop doing everything that we love doing is such good advice. My suspicion is that we are being presented with a false dichotomy: Do we have a better chance of improving things using Richter's nuclear power plants or Schor's vegetable gardens? The truth is that we need both.

Finally, no apocalyptic vision would be complete without villains—the Antichrist or the Whore of Babylon. There is a great deal of flexibility on these issues; even the most ardent biblical literalist is apparently free to plug in his or her own favorite baddie. For generations good Protestants have fingered the Pope specifically, and the Roman Catholic Church generally. The more enterprising have looked further east. Saladin was once popular. More recently: Saddam Hussein.

A similar flexibility characterizes villains in the global-warming debate. For a long while, thanks to a much-quoted lecture given in the 1960s by the University of California at Los Angeles historian Lynn White Jr., many people fingered Christianity itself. White's ideas set off an extended debate about the role of religion in creating and sustaining the West's destructive attitude toward the exploitation of the natural world. Following White, people thought that Christianity made humans too central to the story of creation. God gave us the natural world entirely for our own use, and as a consequence we were led not to think or worry about the dangers of excessive consumption or production of harmful byproducts. Now the thinking has broadened. Prince Charles thinks that religion is the solution. His baddie is science as a whole, and Galileo specifically. The Italian mechanist turned us from the love of wisdom to the search for profit. Perhaps Pope Urban VIII was onto something when he had the aged scientist placed under house arrest.

Let me make a forecast. The gloom and doom of the current crop of books will pale in comparison with those now under contract. After the troubles this summer down in the Gulf, look for BP and its leaders to do a turn as Antichrist. There will be little for which that beleaguered company will not be found responsible. The greed in the past; the troubles in the present; the dangers in the future. But as we await this inevitable reaction, let me end on a note of caution. Everything that is said about BP will probably be true. I have no desire to defend the company. I live in a state whose beaches have been befouled. (The rest of the nation may be fast forgetting, but here in Florida, where we are faced with another dismal tourist season, the blame game is just getting started.) But do not rush too quickly to judgment. As today's books on global warming show, there is more to a story than brute facts. There is the pattern into which you want to put them. The line that you want to follow, even if you are not quite conscious of what line precisely it is that you want to follow. And that line, while it guides, can also distort. Richter, for instance, is too deeply committed to a postmillennial belief that a solution can be found if we work long enough and hard enough. I am sure that Schor, too, is deeply committed to a premil­lennial sensibility: Doom is upon us, and to expiate our sins we must welcome discomfort and suffering.

I am not saying that we shouldn't think about these things. Global warming is as significant a problem as we now face. To plunge into the literature is not an option, it's an obligation. We need to try to make sense of it all and offer prescriptions, even if it means engaging in a little apocalyptic thinking. The strategies are not always stupid.

But be aware of what you are doing and what is driving you. Recognize that thinking, especially about complex problems, is never a formal-logic driven, disinterested reflection of objective reality. Rather, it is shaped by deep patterns in our culture. Bringing those to the surface can be as useful as an empirical inquiry. Failure to do so may mean that we are indeed doomed.

Books Discussed in This Essay

Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century (Cambridge University Press, 2010), by Burton Richter

The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (Basic Books, 2010), by Roger Pielke Jr.

Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future (Basic Books, 2010), by Matthew E. Kahn

Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), by Claire L. Parkinson

The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It (University of California Press, 2010), by Julian Cribb

Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (Columbia University Press, 2010), by James Rodger Fleming

The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps (Basic Books, 2010), by Peter D. Ward

Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (Penguin Press, 2010), by Juliet B. Schor

The Rising Sea (Island Press, 2009), by Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (Bloomsbury, 2009), by James E. Hansen

Michael Ruse directs the program in the history and philosophy of science at Florida State University and is a blogger for Brainstorm.


1. fergbutt - November 28, 2010 at 06:03 pm

Nary a mention of the East Anglia e-mail controversy. Nor the apocalyptic predictions in the 1970s of a coming ice age. Sorry, too many bona fide weather scholars disagree with the warming prediction, which is largely supported by scientists whose specialties work counter to critical thinking or by climatologists eager to get a grant. But go ahead and label me a denier. Labeling is always the best defense of the zealot. So much easier than being troubled by contrary evidence.

2. educatedfool - November 28, 2010 at 07:28 pm

Follow this blog for awhile and get back to me, fergbutt...


3. agnana - November 28, 2010 at 08:03 pm

A solid essay. I noticed a number of years back that much of the argument over global warming policy seemed to be driven less by the details of the science than by the predispositions of those involved as to whether capitalism is a good thing or a bad thing. The thing to remember is that there are actually three questions at work here.
a.) Is anthropogenic global warming real?
b.) Is it a larger problem than climate variability?
c.) What kinds of action should be taken to deal with it?

Ironically, the argument for global warming is really a conservative one from a physics point of view- thermodynamics wins in the end. It basically amounts to "if you put a gas that traps heat into the atmosphere, the planet will warm". And given that the earth is warmer than the moon, it seems pretty clear that the greenhouse effect actually does work. However, the fact that this is driven by a thermodynamic mechanism rather than a dynamic one tends to lose a lot of observational meteorologists and weather forecasters, who fundamentally don't really think in terms of equations and conservation laws. On the time scales of the evolution of weather systems, the impact of radiative cooling is small. Thermodynamics is also why we are- in the long term- likely to be heading for another ice age as a result of changes in earth's axis and orbit.

That does not mean, however, that the "climate amillenialists" are completely wrong. Because still remains unclear is how large the impact of increasing greenhouse gasses actually is. And the problem is that earth's history is consistent with a range of possibilities, as do the models. But what I realized about five years ago was that if the conservative models are correct and we don't do anything about carbon dioxide, we'll get the same result as if the most alarming models are correct and we clamp down- and that's about a 4-5C temperature rise. That's enough for legitimate concern about serious effects, including sea level rise.

It's far from clear to me, however, that apocalypse is at hand. Carbon dioxide is a solvable problem- it's just expensive. An annual expenditure of order 2% of global GDP (less than the cost of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) would actually allow us to basically keep atmospheric carbon under control- through various carbon capture mechanisms. And this is probably about the same size as the actual cost of global warming, maybe a bit bigger. That's actually the central problem- global warming is not like a heart attack- where you either get a bypass or you die. It's more like diabetes, which requires long-term lifestyle changes to see a reduction in risk. And that's not something that it is easy to get millennial about!

4. jdbeatty - November 29, 2010 at 09:15 am

1) Panic is always an easy sell. The rubes who like rollercoasters and slasher movies have deep pockets, so do millenialists.

2) A naturally occuring gas is not a "problem" requireing "lifestyle changes."

3) The beaches will not disappear overnight. The idea that untreated sewage will stink up a flooded Miami is preposterous.

4) The "warming" trend could reverse for the same reason it began...we simply don't know enough about why it stated to kow if it can be affected by human activity.

5) "Anthropmomorphic climate change" is a slogan originating in incredible hubris.

5. dwilliams5 - November 29, 2010 at 10:35 am

I'm just finishing a book by Robert Nelson called The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion Versus Environmental Religion that I'm reviewing for a journal. As the title indicates Nelson suggests that not only are the teleological visions of environmentalism susceptable to theological reading, so are the competing constructs of economics.

6. krawson - November 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

It's too bad that Michael Ruse begins with a rather glib and "academic" perspective on this very real issue... seeming to trivialize climate change with his willingness to equate it with religious fantasies of the apocolypse. The thoughtful and useful information in this review is, unfortunately, well buried by the sensational (and then the hauty disdain for the sensational).
It looks to me, Michael Ruse, like you will indeed be "taking your chances with global warming," along with the rest of us; far to many of us in this country are more willing to bicker and posture than to take a realistic look at the world around us. (I learned about "the greenhouse effect" in my science class in high school in the late 1970s. I didn't have trouble understanding it then and I don't now. I have a lot of trouble, though, understanding the intransigence of supposedly educated people.) I hope the minds gathered in Cancún, Mexico, today for the opening of the global climate talks are more amenable to rational discussion and problem solving than the American public seems to be (I say with willfully naive optimism).
Three very good op-eds on the subject ran in the NYT yesterday:

7. jwaage - November 29, 2010 at 11:29 am

Michael, A great review and one of the most useful in memory on these pages. Thanks for all the references as well.

to krawson - If the issue were one of science and only science, I would agree with you. What makes this review work is the fact that the science has been buried in the political and religious rhetoric so thoroughly that such a review as this is helpful in sorting through it all. Since the religious and political rhetoric is so much a part of the debate, would you suggest ignoring it entirely or would drawing attention to the extremism and its connections to historical extremism make sense? I fun the historical perspective that began his review valuable for putting the issue in the larger social perspective it actually exists in. We can deny the "idiots" all we want, but the science is not going to stand on its own in a world that will not recognize its existence or relevance. If we have to confront the deniers, perhaps the broad range of references Ruse provides will help us more that the science obviously has.

8. klymkowsky - November 29, 2010 at 11:46 am

I am surprised that there is no mention of Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist", which addresses many of these issues (as well as the history of pessimism).

9. ebeisner - November 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

Ruse completely ignores the very large body of literature, including hundreds of peer reviewed articles (http://www.populartechnology.net/2009/10/peer-reviewed-papers-supporting.html), that supports the view that climate change is largely natural and cyclical; anthropogenic CO2 emissions play a very small role in it; a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration would yield only about 0.5C degree increase in global average temperature, which, insofar as it would even be detectable in any given locale (and mostly it wouldn't be--weather and local climate, not global average temperature, is what's important to ecosystems and human thriving) would be generally more beneficial than harmful to humanity and the rest of life on Earth; that the costs of reducing CO2 emissions would exceed the benefits (www.CopenhagenConsensus.com); and that economic development, especially for the world's poorest countries, is a far more cost-effective response to climate change (whether natural or anthropogenic, whether warming or cooling) than mitigation. For a study of the theology, science, and economics of global warming and related policy by 29 evangelical theologians, scientists, and economists, see http://www.cornwallalliance.org/docs/a-renewed-call-to-truth-prudence-and-protection-of-the-poor.pdf. For a brief synopsis of some of the arguments against the alarmist position reflected in all the books Ruse mentions, see http://joannenova.com.au/global-warming/. And for just a few books to get started understanding this position, see:





(The last two are by Dr. Roy W. Spencer, climatologist, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama/Huntsville, lead scientist on the NASA satellite remote sensing program on which we depend for global raw data on atmospheric temperature, and an evangelical.)






http://www.amazon.com/Climate-Change-Reconsidered-Nongovernmental-International/dp/1934791288/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1291048230&sr=1-1 which is available free in PDF at
http://www.nipccreport.org/reports/2009/pdf/CCR2009FullReport.pdf for the whole thing (enormous--opening will take a while) or http://joannenova.com.au/global-warming/ so you can open individual chapters separately.

10. krawson - November 29, 2010 at 11:55 am

jwaagi - point appreciatively taken.
Although I think confronting the politics and economics of climate change denial would be at least as useful as confronting the psychodynamics of the denial... historical or otherwise.
(I didn't, and wouldn't, use the word "idiots," by the way.)

11. dank48 - November 29, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I think the sun has been overlooked as a factor in global warming, climate change, whatever. Of course, since there's nothing we can do about the sun's activity or lack thereof, it would be a bit difficult to politicize, much less radicalize. But with 99.86% of the matter in the solar system, the sun seems to me difficult to ignore.

And if it's not too cynical, how many grants have been obtained to study the thesis that the sky is not, in fact, falling? Urgent problems, or rather problems perceived to be urgent, get attention. Problems perceived to be minor, tractable, easily correctible, or beyond fixing are another matter.

12. ebeisner - November 29, 2010 at 01:01 pm

Although I know scores of scientists and developmental & environmental economists who deny catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, I know not a single one who denies climate change, and I can't think of any who denies that anthropogenic CO2 probably has SOME impact. Calling the position I advocated in comment #9 "climate change denial" is a straw man.

13. drj50 - November 29, 2010 at 02:33 pm

This is a helpful summary of some ecent literature. We are all in the author's debt for summarizing these works so helpfully -- even those who disagree with their authors' conclusions.

I am not sure, however, that the title is quite right. Ruse does not so much find a religious origin for apocalyptic thinking about the environment, but finds similarities between religious and environmental thinking about future cataclysm, finding in one an analogy for the other. Understood that way, one could find other analogies between religious and scientific thinking; one thinks of the postmillenial orientation of Darwinism, with life constantly progressing to "higher" forms (note the often implicit value judgment) and its social-science cousins.

One minor quibble. It is not true that "Protestants tend to be either 'postmillennialists' or 'premillennialists.'" The 16th-century Reformers were great fans of Augustine. And postmillenialists have been in short supply for the past century and a half. The latter half of the 19th century saw a great rise in premillenial movements within historic Protestantism (and amon various "cults"). Then World War I finished off a great deal of the postmillenial optimism that remained -- things were not clearly getting better and better. It may have experienced some degree of revival in the mainline churches in the latter 20th century (e.g., movements for civil rights and against war), but within evangelical Protestantism, postmillenialists have been a very distinct minority for more than a century. But then, there don't seem to be many environmental optimists among us right now either.

14. anonlibrarian - November 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Whatever else the review may have to offer, the uninformed slander against the Digger movement was both rude and unnecessary. The Diggers were a left wing movement fighting the enclosure of public lands against a backdrop of political upheaval and extreme inequality. To claim that they "were given to planting vegetables on other people's land" completely ignores their motivations and role as a defender of the poor. The plantings were done in time of great hunger and poverty on land stolen from the poor and left fallow. They were one of the earliest manifestations of communism and an early resistance movement toward what would become capitalism.

Their ideas were not nutty and they were not a screwball sect.

15. raymond_j_ritchie - December 01, 2010 at 03:20 am

14# Dear Anonlibrarian - your comment on "The Diggers" is rather amusing. You might know "Digger" is a nickname for Australian soldiers dating back to WWI. It is of British not Australian origin, even though Australians happily adopted it. Nearly everyone thinks that is a reference to gold miners and their democratic tendencies dating back to the great Australian gold rush days of 1851. Since I know more history than most I have long known that it is actually a rather snide reference by pompous Etonian British officers to the abhorrent democratic faction of Cromwells army. It was meant as an "insider" insult that the poor depraved colonials would not understand. Never occurred to them that some would understand and gladly accept it.

16. raymond_j_ritchie - December 01, 2010 at 03:27 am

Now for the global warming issue. I work on photosynthesis and so I know about CO2 and the carbonate system in seawater. A mass spectrometer and the 13C/12C ratio will tell you where the CO2 is coming from. It is anthropogenic. I accept the reality that increased CO2 will lead to global warming or more accurately more thermal energy in the atmosphere. That will happen unless the 2nd law is repealed. This will mean a global climate with more severe atmospheric circulation (weather) than in historical times. In other words the climate will become simultaneously warmer, colder, wetter and drier than at present and the frequency and severity of storms will increase, particularly tropical cyclones. Perfectly good reason to avoid real estate in Florida or the Gulf states of the USA. There is no solution on a human generation time-scale because there are simply too many people chasing too few resources.

17. mainiac - December 02, 2010 at 11:34 am

This comment is not intended to hijack the discussion, but if science points to minor natural but mainly anthropogenic causes of climate change, an obvious question is when will population growth be controlled? Isn't it time for a limit on human fertility, or is the control of population growth impossible due to religious/cultural practices?

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