TCS Daily

Global Warming as Secular Faith

By Dominic Standish - August 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Tourists and locals alike in southern Italy have been plagued by swarms of locusts this summer. There have been many biblical comparisons to Old Testament plagues. That the town of Matera has been overrun by the locusts has undoubtedly contributed to such comparisons. Matera was the outdoor setting for the filming of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ because it strongly resembles images of the Holy Land.

Global warming has been put under the spotlight as the principal cause of the locust swarms. Last summer's heat is said to have dried out grain fields, providing the locusts with ideal conditions to lay eggs. Meanwhile, this year's rains have increased breeding by traveling locusts. It seems that both hot and cold weather can be attributed to global warming.

The locusts in southern Italy are only the latest example of how extreme weather is constantly being linked to global warming. I was in the US two weeks ago as global warming was being widely blamed for the havoc caused by Hurricane Charley. Similarly, alarmist reactions followed the dramatic flooding of the Cornwall village of Boscastle in the UK. While the swarms of locusts have been terrible for southern Italians, they cannot be compared to the problems caused by recent plagues in West Africa. Global warming has also been linked to extreme weather in Australia and China during August.

But is global warming really to blame for such freak weather conditions? One reason Hurricane Charley was so shocking was that there have been few serious hurricanes during the last four years as part of a downward trend for tropical storms over the last 50 years. Unfortunately, Boscastle has frequently endured flooding due to its proximity to two large rivers and the sea. And the people of West Africa and southern Italy are no strangers to the problems caused by swarms of insects. While there is scientific agreement that the world's climate has warmed during the last 100 years, this is an insufficient explanation for extreme weather that is part of how our climate constantly changes.

Many responses to the swarms of locusts and other extreme conditions have been reminiscent of biblical, pre-scientific times. Most media commentators report weather-related events without recourse to the science of climate change. They employ the language of global warming to "explain" problems in a manner common to pre-modern superstition. Even the prestigious New Scientist journal ran an article this month with the following doomsday scenario on Europe's future:

"European winters will disappear by 2080 and extreme weather will become more common unless global warming across the continent is slowed."

This article followed the release of a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), launched on 19 August. The report painted a particularly bleak future for Europe. It stated that freak weather conditions, such as the floods of 2001 that killed 80 people and the 2003 heat wave that led to an estimated 20,000 deaths, are likely to become more frequent and extreme.

The EEA report predicted further temperature rises due to emissions of greenhouse gases. "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities," stated the report. Yet there is considerable scientific uncertainty about whether temperature rises are due to the sun, greenhouse gases or other causes.

Nevertheless, the EEA report does not hold back from insisting that emissions of greenhouse gases and human activities should be restrained. "Europe has to continue to lead worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA. This means reducing economic growth, especially in the transport sector, agriculture and energy production. However, "even if society substantially reduces its emissions of greenhouse gases over the coming decades, the climate system would continue to change over the coming centuries," as the EEA report points out.

The key message behind the secular religion of global warming is that sacrifices are demanded for the Earth, despite the absence of scientific evidence that these will save us from extreme weather. Only our own actions can help limit the impact of climate change. If southern Italian farmers had dug up the areas where locust eggs were buried last year, the current swarms could have been averted. And hurricane disasters and flooding can only be limited by building up our own defenses. Human activities are the solution to the problems of climate change, not the cause.


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