Jim White - a paleoclimatologist and the director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INCAAR) - knows something about climate change. And last Thursday, he took the time to explain it to those of us who are a little less steeped in the topic.
Global climate change comes down to simple physics and depends on three factors:
1) How much energy we get from the sun (i.e. sun cycles, our orbit around the sun)
2) How much of that energy is reflected back into space (by polar ice caps, glaciers, various aerosols)
3) The amount of greenhouse gases in earth's atmosphere(water vapor, carbon dioxide, etc.), which absorb the energy that is being reflected.
Pretty basic stuff at its core. And the laws that govern climate change are the same laws that govern other natural phenomena, like gravity - they are universal.
To make his point, he gives us a demonstration he's given frequently, recently to a group of Evangelicals. He asks one person to stand on a chair and then says to the crowd, "What happens if I push this person off the chair?"
The crowd usually says the person will jump and catch himself.
"What if I tie his legs?"
He'll catch himself with his arms, maybe break a wrist.
"What if I tie his arms?"
He'll fall and get hurt, maybe badly.
But at no point does anyone in the crowd ever say that the guy won't fall. So we do understand that there are physical laws out there that apply to all of us. Those same physical laws are involved in climate change. Whether you believe in climate change doesn't matter - it's happening. To say it's not is like saying you don't believe in gravity or thermodynamics.
It's a good argument. For many - especially for those who are religious - climate change is seen as a different type of faith that scientists are trying to convert them to. But, as White points out, this isn't about faith, which requires you to make a leap, to accept something intangible or unprovable. Climate change and the science behind it are real. They're measurable.
That doesn't mean religion and science have to be at odds - people have accepted gravity as part of their world and adopted it into their faith-based lives. This shouldn't be any different. Scientists like White aren't concerned with if or how people work climate change into their faith - they just want to make sure everyone understands the facts - the simple physics - of it all.