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When President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the president of France offered a sweeping assessment: Trump made a grave mistake for the future of the planet.
Trump’s assessment was less apocalyptic: He argued it would be a serious mistake for the United States to remain bound to an international agreement that burdened our nation more than it bolstered the future of humanity.
Cal Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance—a network of Christian scholars and scientists—pointed out the costs versus benefits: Fully implementing the Paris accord would cost the world about $1 trillion a year from 2030 to 2100. The United States would bear the highest financial burden.
The most optimistic outcome for spending tens of trillions of dollars: 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit of cooling. “It’s no bargain,” Beisner wrote. “It won’t slow sea level rise. It won’t reduce hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, or heat waves. It won’t save human lives.”
In some circles, that analysis is heretical. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked how Trump would explain to his grandchildren “what he did to the air they breathe—assuming they breathe air.”
Such ironclad faith in fallible models designed to predict the future is ironic in an age of deep skepticism. Over the last decade, books trumpeting doubts about God skyrocketed on bestseller lists: Reviewers hailed biologist Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
A few years later, they praised another bestseller: Darwin-follower Bill Nye’s Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. The message was clear: The existence of a Creator is refutable, but evolutionary theory is undeniable.
The same faulty logic seems to apply to climate change.
When conservative Bret Stephens wrote his first column for The New York Times in April, he noted that a modest, 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable and that human activity influenced that warming.
But Stephens added that models predicting the future effects of climate change are a matter of probabilities, not irrefutable science. “To say this isn’t to deny science,” he wrote. “It’s to acknowledge it honestly.”
It’s also to invite outrage: The newspaper met an avalanche of fury from readers demanding the Times fire Stephens for suggesting that predicting the future isn’t a sure bet.
Climate change isn’t the only area where scientific debate is anathema. When a group of physicians or psychologists questions whether it’s healthy to give puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to children confused about their birth sex, critics accuse them of bigotry and hatred.
That’s ironic given that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published an excerpt of a study about the cognitive development of children: The report argued children under 14 aren’t cognitively capable of crossing a busy street because “children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.”
But the same group argues that children who can’t cross the street safely are capable of making monumental decisions about whether to live as a boy or a girl—and whether they’re willing to forgo biological children of their own in a grave transition process they surely can’t comprehend.
This selective defiance against skepticism has broad implications. For example, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services recently announced it wouldn’t place children in foster care homes with families that won’t affirm transgenderism.
Radical responses to climate change without debate have broad implications as well. Beisner points out that spending trillions of dollars uses money that could be spent on “providing electricity, pure drinking water, infectious disease control, sewage sanitation, industrialization, and lots of other things that lift people out of poverty, disease, and premature death and enable them to adapt to any future climate—warmer or cooler.”
Reasonable questions could lead to reasonable solutions. Ignoring reasonable questions could lead to disaster. (That’s why WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky trains writers to ask: How do you know you’re right? What happens if you’re wrong?)
For Christians, discussions about the environment shouldn’t provoke dread or disdain. We don’t panic over dire predictions of the future, but we also don’t dismiss our duty to take care of the creation the Creator has made for us to cultivate and enjoy. Even in the middle of the hot summer, we believe the Christmas hymn: “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”