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The Gospel According to Sir John ...
Volume 10, Number 39: 26 September 2007

In an interview published in the September 2007 issue of Physics Today (Feder, 2007), England's Sir John Houghton, who spent 14 years working on the first three reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), preaches what he calls "creation care." Setting the stage for what follows, he begins by saying "Christians believe that we have been put into the world to look after it and to care for the whole of creation," which is "a message presented very early on in the Bible." Adam and Eve, he continues, "were put into a garden and they were told to look after that garden," and he states that "that garden is Earth."

So far, so good: we agree whole-heartedly with the stewardship principle enunciated by Sir John. In fact, most religious people -- of most all religions -- would likely agree that Deity expects us to care for the creations he has entrusted into our hands. And all people, religious or not, possess the proverbial "children and grandchildren" for whom Houghton desires to preserve as much of the natural world as possible for them to inherit; and we do not think differently from him in this regard.

Why, then, are Houghton and his climate-alarmist comrades who are so worried about CO2-induced global warming considered so holy, while we -- who think differently about the climatic and biological effects of the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content -- are considered so unholy?

The answer has nothing at all to do with religious principles. It has to do with science and what science suggests about the issue; for unless one correctly understands the many complexities of how the worlds of nature and man really operate, one may well end up promoting evil for good.

As a simple example of just how easy it is to get important matters totally backwards, we note that one of Sir John's suggestions for fighting global warming is to have "very large growth in renewable energy sources," among which he lists biomass in second place after solar. Already, however, it has been made abundantly clear that this suggestion is not only not helpful, it is hurtful.

In a study published online in Climatic Change on 15 February 2007, for example, Johansson and Azar (2007) analyzed what they call the "food-fuel competition for bio-productive land," by developing "a long-term economic optimization model of the U.S. agricultural and energy system," wherein they find that the competition for land to grow crops for both food and fuel production leads to a situation where "prices for all crops as well as animal products increase substantially." In fact, in the May/June 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, Runge and Senauer (2007) report that corn-based ethanol in the United States already "takes so much supply to keep ethanol production going that the price of corn -- and those of other food staples -- is shooting up around the world." And to put the situation in a perspective all can readily appreciate, they write that "filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn -- which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year."

What makes this situation even more insulting to Deity, we would presume, is that not only do people (and especially poor people) suffer the adverse consequences of this perverse policy, so too does what we could call "wild nature" suffer, as it loses ever more habitat and freshwater resources to the great anthropogenic land-and-water grab needed to sustain the bio-fuels craze (or should we say craziness?). In fact, even without the bio-fuels problem, Raven (2002) states that "species-area relationships, taken worldwide in relation to habitat destruction, lead to projections of the loss of fully two-thirds of all species on earth by the end of this century."

Also concerned about wild nature were Tilman et al. (2001), who noted that at the end of the 20th century mankind was already appropriating "more than a third of the production of terrestrial ecosystems and about half of usable freshwaters." Consequently, in order to meet the doubled global food demand they predicted for the year 2050, mankind could well be appropriating more than two thirds of terrestrial ecosystem production, as well as all of earth's remaining usable freshwater, as has also been discussed by Wallace (2000). What is more, Tilman et al. conclude that "even the best available technologies, fully deployed, cannot prevent many of the forecasted problems."

Fortunately, Idso and Idso (2000) have calculated that the degree of plant productivity and water use efficiency enhancement likely to be provided by the increase in the air's CO2 content expected to occur between 2000 and 2050 should be sufficient -- but just barely -- to compensate for the huge differential that is expected to otherwise prevail between the supply and demand for food earmarked for human consumption just 43 years from now. Consequently, letting the evolution of technology take its natural unfettered course with respect to anthropogenic CO2 emissions would appear to be the only way we will ever be able to produce sufficient agricultural commodities to support ourselves in the year 2050 without the taking of unconscionable amounts of land and water from "wild nature."

In light of this largely unappreciated assault of humanity upon the many life-forms with which we share the earth, plus our empirically-driven belief that CO2 has played only a minor role in 20th-century global warming, we feel it a godsend that the air's CO2 content is rising as dramatically as it is; and we feel we have a religious responsibility to share our thinking on this matter with the world, just as Sir John justifies his "proselytizing." We and he (we would presume) are both operating upon pure religious principles; but only one of us is correct in our assessment of the situation.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Johansson, D.J.A. and Azar, C. 2007. A scenario based analysis of land competition between food and bioenergy production in the US. Climatic Change 82: 267-291.

Feder, T. 2007. A physicist proselytizes about countering global warming. Physics Today 60 (9): 30-32.

Idso, C.D. and Idso, K.E. 2000. Forecasting world food supplies: The impact of the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. Technology 7S: 33-55.

Raven, P.H. 2002. Science, sustainability, and the human prospect. Science 297: 954-959.

Runge, C.F. and Senauer, B. 2007. How biofuels could starve the poor. Foreign Affairs 86.

Tilman, D., Fargione, J., Wolff, B., D'Antonio, C., Dobson, A., Howarth, R., Schindler, D., Schlesinger, W.H., Simberloff, D. and Swackhamer, D. 2001. Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change. Science 292: 281-284.

Wallace, J.S. 2000. Increasing agricultural water use efficiency to meet future food production. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 82: 105-119.