Churchmen who base moral notions on current scientific certainties should remember Galileo

I am getting a little worried about the way pronouncements on climate change are not merely getting to constitute a kind of substitute for religious teaching and belief, but are also beginning to encroach on the real thing: that is, they are coming to be included in the kind of thing that mainline religion is directly concerned with. Here, for instance, is a story headlined “Cardinal: failure to address climate change is ‘moral apartheid’. ”

December 05, 2011

As the Durban Climate Change Conference reached its midway point, the president of the Church’s confederation of relief and development agencies compared current environmental policies to apartheid.

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Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, said that “just as South Africa’s apartheid era policies sought divisions along race lines, today the world’s environment and energy policies divide man from nature.”

“Don’t we realize that the climate is out of control?” the Honduran prelate said during his Sunday homily. “How long will countless people have to go on dying before adequate decisions are taken?”

Your eminence, I have news for you: the climate has always been out of control. The message being given to the conference, as to all the conferences before it, is that because of “anthropogenic” global warming we are all in imminent danger, and millions are already dying. “I have met, personally, with thousands of people who have lost all,” Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, confidently told the conference, “to catastrophic floods and spreading deserts”.

Well, now. Let’s begin with those spreading deserts: according to a story in Science Daily, headlined “Mega-Droughts In Sub-Saharan Africa Normal For Region”

A … study of lake sediments in Ghana suggests that severe droughts lasting several decades, even centuries, were the norm in West Africa over the past 3,000 years.

The earlier dry spells dwarfed the well-documented drought that plagued West Africa in the late-20th century…

They go on to say that “as the planet warms, the study’s authors believe the region’s rainfall patterns will have an even greater impact”: but they say nothing about the source of this warming, which of course has happened, on and off, since the beginning of time, without any help at all from man-made CO2.

It’s that flooding, of course, which provides these conferences with their real thrills and spills, especially the flooding which hasn’t actually happened yet, but which everyone confidently predicts. Only this morning, I heard Sir David Attenborough state with absolute certainty that there is a danger that sea levels are likely to rise “several metres”, flooding many cities. “Vast quantities of land ice and meltwater will slide into the sea and cause a major rise in sea levels around the globe,” he says.

“When that will happen and by how much are difficult questions. But with over half of the human population living near the coast, the answers may be only too devastating.”

Not only cities but entire nations could disappear, it is claimed: Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, says he leads “an island nation that may slip beneath the waves if all this talk on climate does not lead to action soon”. He dramatised this by chairing a meeting of his Cabinet underwater, and has since been stirring up other other low-lying countries. He chaired a summit of them in Bangladesh, ahead of the Durban summit, and they agreed to limit their own carbon emissions (to be fair, he probably isn’t as worried as he makes out, having authorised the building of many large waterside hotels and 11 new airports). According to a leading authority on sea levels he has, indeed, nothing to worry about.

In an article in this week’s Spectator, Nils Axel Mörner writes, as “someone with some expertise in the field”, that

I can assure the low-lying countries that this is a false alarm. The sea is not rising precipitously. I have studied many of the low-lying regions in my 45-year career recording and interpreting sea level data. I have conducted six field trips to the Maldives; I have been to Bangladesh, whose environment minister was claiming that flooding due to climate change threatened to create in her country 20 million “ecological refugees”. I have carefully examined the data of “drowning” Tuvalu. And I can report that, while such regions do have problems, they need not fear rising sea levels.

I cannot forbear at this point to indicate that this man, unlike many of those scientists who don’t hesitate to pontificate on areas of study well outside their own field, about which they know absolutely nothing, actually does know a lot about this. Professor Nils-Axel Mörner was head of paleogeophysics and geodynamics at Stockholm University (1991-2005), president of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution (1999-2003), leader of the Maldives sea level project (2000-11), and chairman of the INTAS project on geomagnetism and climate (1997-2003).

His latest project was a field expedition to India, to the coast of Goa, in which he combined his own observations with the archeological record. His findings were straightforward: “there is no ongoing sea level rise”. The sea level there, he says, “has been stable for the last 50 years or so, after falling some 20cm in around 1960; it was well below the present level in the 18th century and some 50 to 60cm above the present in the 17th century. So it is clear that sea levels rise and fall entirely independently of so-called ‘climate change’.”

There are many misconceptions about sea levels, he says, not least that they are constant throughout the world. In fact, there are big variations – by as much as two metres. “You need to think not of a constant, level surface, but of an agitated bath where the water is slopping back and forth”. Bangladesh is in constant danger, not from sea levels, but from rain over the Himalayas and from cyclones which push water inland. Bangladesh “is cursed because about half of its land mass lies less than eight metres above sea level – making it highly vulnerable to coastal flooding. But this has always been the fate of delta regions: it has little if anything to do with ‘climate change’.”

As for those melting ice-caps, Sir David, they melt “at such a small rate globally that we can hardly see its effects on sea level. I certainly have not been able to find any evidence for it. The sea level rise today is at most 0.7mm a year – though, probably, much smaller.” He goes on: “We must learn to take the environmentalists’ predictions with a huge pinch of salt. In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme predicted that climate change would create 50 million climate refugees by 2010. That was last year: where are those refugees?”

Where indeed? The fact is that figures given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are mostly derived not from observation but from computer-generated findings which have been consistently proved wrong (remember the famous, now infamous, hockey-stick graph?) And not a single one of the agencies which provide the IPCC with its data predicted the pause in global warming which has been going on since 1998.

So, your eminence, a bit less of the high-flown indignation about a new moral outrage comparable with apartheid, please. Going along with what seems to be the current scientific consensus has repeatedly had a disastrous effect on the Church’s credibility. If you don’t really know (and you clearly don’t) the best policy is just to keep stumm, and think of Galileo.

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