Calling a Bluff

Fact-checking "A Call to Action" on climate change from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.

“Generally no one is even trying to do [a cost analysis of global warming], they just wave their hands and say, 20 million people displaced, and then they say something about environmental refugees like we should all be frightened about them or something.”

That’s Kenneth Chilton, professor from Lindenwood University in Missouri and panelist at a recent Heritage Foundation event discussing (you guessed it) why global warming isn’t real. The event coincided with the release of a report from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), a coalition of conservative Evangelicals that serves as a counterpoint to the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI). The report, entitled “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and the Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming,” is a critical point-by-point analysis of ECI’s “A Call to Action,” which says that Christian moral convictions demand a response to climate change. The central claim of ISA’s “A Call to Prudence:” human-induced global warming, if it exists at all, is an exaggerated theory lacking sound scientific background.

A review of ISA’s report, however, reveals a critical lack of research, politicized arguments, and backwards thinking that misrepresents widely accepted scientific and economic data. ISA would have its readers believe that despite what scientists and the government say, global warming is a vast misinterpretation of data that is being overblown by popular media. Alarmingly, the ISA is promoting this theory in the name of the poor, who, contrary to the claims made in “A Call to Truth,” stand to be most affected by global climate change.

So I thought I’d subject “A Call to Truth” to a fact-check of its own:

A Call to Truth

Despite the ISA’s righteous claim that it represents “the truth,” there are several points in their report that are simply wrong and/or misleading. For example, the report uses a Nature article to support the claim that sea level rise due to melting glaciers will in fact have minimal impact on coastlines. Oddly, the study actually excludes ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica in models used to assess sea level rise. Dr. Sarah Raper, one of the study’s lead scientists, explains that the study was designed this way because “ice sheets are modeled in a different way [than] glaciers and this work is done by others. For the peripheral glaciers there is a lack of inventory data and problems also in definition as to where the ice sheets end and the glaciers begin. Trying to address these problems was beyond the scope of our analysis.” In other words, the study was never meant to include all potential sources of melting. ISA chose to use these results anyway, despite the fact that Greenland and Antarctica are first and second largest icecaps in the world, with Antarctica alone containing almost 70 percent of the world’s freshwater and 90% of the world’s ice.

ISA further deceives its audience by misconstruing data from another article, this time from the Climate Institute. ISA uses the article to support their claim that global warming will have little impact on agricultural production, and in fact would benefit farmers by boosting production level due to longer growing seasons and enriched carbon dioxide levels. They clearly didn’t read the article very carefully. “It is our understanding that rapid climate change is very likely to cause great problems in food production, particularly in developing countries with poor food delivery infrastructure,” said John Topping, President of the Climate Institute. Indeed, the concluding remarks of the very article cited by ISA state that “even if developing countries adapt to climate change, they will not be able to completely avoid the problems associated with climate change.”

One of the best resources in learning about global climate change is the oft-cited 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body wide recognized as the global expert on climate change. Unfortunately, ISA’s interpretation of this report doesn’t accurately reflect its findings.

The IPCC report finds “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” The ISA somehow manages to interpret that, despite the fact that “anthropogenic greenhouse gases are a substantial contributor to the observed warming, especially over the past 30 years�?????????the accuracy of these estimates continues to be limited by uncertainties in estimates of internal variability, natural and anthropogenic forcing, and the climate response to external forcing.”

Sir John T. Houghton, lead author of the IPCC report, said “We do try, in the IPCC, to look very hard at alternative explanations, and spend, actually, probably more time than we should on some of them, because they get so much publicity. We actually spend more time, for instance, on the solar variations, about which we have very little real scientific evidence but which some people have exploited in the media a great deal.” Perhaps ISA should have consulted Sir Houghton, a noted Evangelical, before misusing the results from his studies.

A Call for the Protection of the Poor

ISA, in the name of protecting the poor, argues that actions to mitigate climate change, like reducing carbon dioxide emissions, actually pose more harm to the world’s poor than global warming. Under the assumption that CO 2 reductions entail reducing energy use, ISA contends that “because energy is an essential component in almost all economic production, reducing its use and driving up its costs will slow economic development, reduce overall productivity, and increase costs of all goods, including the food, clothing, shelter, and other goods most essential to the poor.”

The claim is simply false. The Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, a US Department of Energy National Laboratory, released a study saying “a common perception among many policy makers and industry leaders is that the twin objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting a more competitive economy are inherently contradictory�?????????from a perspective of cost-effective investments in technology, however, it has become increasingly clear that these two goals are not at all contradictory. The reason is that the U.S. economy falls short of an optimal level of overall carbon efficiency.”

Moreover, a recent report from the Center for American Progress shows that high energy costs are already a major source of global poverty. The report states, “For the 1.3 billion people around the world who live on less than a dollar a day, energy does not have to be a source of sickness or poverty. Renewable energy can be a source of opportunity. Developing a bio-based economy in conjunction with opening agricultural markets and reforming subsidies can help reduce poverty by creating new job opportunities and providing a major new source of food and revenue for farmers.”

The lack of research and misuse of data that peppers the ISA’s “A Call to Truth” makes it difficult to take them very seriously. Anyone who needs more convincing, though, should take a look into who sponsored the report and why they might be interested in persuading the public that global warming isn’t real. Three of the four panelists who promoted the report at last week’s Heritage event have worked or currently work for institutions who receive major funding from Exxon Mobil. Heritage itself has received more than half a million dollars from Exxon since 1998. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which the ISA cites as a source, has received over $2 million from the Exxon Foundation in the last 8 years. So, are we really talking about “a call to truth?” Perhaps the ISA should consider changing the title. “Politicizing the Global Warming Debate: Misusing Data with the Support of Big Oil,” has a nice ring to it.

Theresa Mohin is a senior at Duke University and a summer 2006 environmental and energy intern at the Center for American Progress.

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