Global Warming

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Global Warming and Ethics

Global Warming is the theory that the burning of fossil fuels is releasing green house gases into the atmosphere which are causing a global increase in temperatures.

"...our generation has the honor of being that part of human history which for the first time is witnessing to the ability of humanity to destroy itself completely either by a nuclear event or by ecological contamination and disequilibrium. Sheer self-interest for the world's survival and society's well being may finally force a solution to the specter of either atomic or ecological destruction." —Fr. John Romanides [1]

Science is in fact the pursuit of knowledge, fueled by the desire to know, to understand, and to make sense of ourselves and our environment. This desire might itself be motivated by economic, ideological, or selfless interest, but in the end the success of the scientist is in his ability to say, "I know." In turn, this new knowledge leads to developments which are the basis of technological and economic growth. Investment from this economic growth, the increase in knowledge, and use of new technology provide the energy that advances science. One might conceptualize science as an ascending spiral, always going around, looking for the "new knowledge," and when the new knowledge is gained there is an ascent. This ascent is signified by the impact of this new knowledge.

Until recently few have bothered to ask what are the long-term consequences of this ever ascending spiral? Who knew, for example, that atomic theory would lead to nuclear weapons. Perhaps this ascending spiral of scientific knowledge is less the great tower of human achievement, but a new Babel, the fruit of man's desire to live apart from God. What are the consequences of this tower? The answer to this question which seems to be demanding the most attention is global warming. However, is this global warming indeed a consequence of technological and scientific advance, or another example of man's need to say, "I know"? Perhaps the issue of global warming is a better example of science being used as an ideological tool than an example of human self-preservation or scientific vanity? What is evident and will be closely examined within the context of Orthodox Christian Ethics, is that whatever that validity of man's impact on global warming, the issue itself is impacting the way in which we see ourselves and our environment.


Do We Really Know?

One might debate forever the causes of global warming but one thing seems definite, the world is getting warmer, or is it? Despite the information that seems to support global warming such as the melting of the Arctic ice, rise in sea temperatures and other evidences, does this really mean the globe is getting warmer or that what has been measured has risen in temperature? While the ice may be melting in the Arctic, it has increased in the Southern Oceans by 8% (Calder, Nigel. The Sunday Times. "An Experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change." February 11, 2007). There are other signs such as the frosts that have plagued California during the last year. There are these and a dozen other examples of global cooling. (The point is that if the goal is to prove global cooling and not to find out what is true, all the information gathered will support global cooling.) One must ask oneself is it ethical to emphasize one's opinion over the truth?

The real debate arises when one begins to talk of the reasons behind the increased temperature. On February 2, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the summary of its latest report on global warming and said that there will be a detrimental climate increase over the next century and that the cause of this increase in temperature is almost undeniably human use of fossil fuels. In fact the scientists claim that they are 90% sure that man is responsible. James Murphy, one of the scientists on this panel, is quoted as having said, "Certainly we can't explain that basic trend without invoking the response to greenhouse gases and aerosols" (Underhill, William. [2]). This quotation is a clear example of the "vanity of science" in which one sees a large assumption made by the scientific panel. Because one does not know why something is a certain way, in this case the rise in temperature, then must one presume upon the answer that seems most likely, in this case green-house gases and aerosols.

There is evidence that does call into question the human role. Evidence, for example, is that scientists do not understand the climate. They have theories but no explanations on climate change. What they do know is that the climate does change and it does so apart from human intervention. From the cataclysmic ice ages to the global warming that occurred at the turn of the first century, modern climatologists don't know. In fact, most supporters of the theory of man-induced global warming measure the increase in temperature from the beginning of the industrial revolution, comparing those temperatures to the time immediately before the industrial revolution, which was in fact the end of a small ice age.

The objective scientist must admit that we do not know. There are still too many questions out there. It is here that the scientist might learn from the Apophaticism of Orthodox Christianity. Just as the Christian life is knowledge that leads to unknowing which in turn leads to a knowledge that surpasses knowing, the scientist who desires to progress to the truth must accept that his knowledge is not the whole, but it is a part of an infinity of things to know. If he is blinded to all that he doesn't know because of what he knows, what hope does he have of gaining truth?

Ethical Implications of Science Serving Ideology

This debate has perhaps become more ideological than scientific. It is a debate between "conservatives" and "liberals." It has become a debate between North and South and East and West. The facts, often times if they are facts, are being employed by ideologies. Perhaps here one might employ the Orthodox teaching on dispassion. Knowledge, and thereby science, should be approached with a certain amount freedom from desires (the appetitive), individual ideas (logos), and even convictions (will).

One can perhaps understand, in light of this, why the founding fathers of the United States so strongly emphasized the separation between Church and State. When knowledge is subjected to ways of thinking, it is the truth that suffers for the sake of the idea. Perhaps it would be a positive step to say that there should be a separation between science and political or economic ideology. In fact this may abolish the need for a separation of Church and State. If members of either the Church or State approach one another in love and a desire for the truth, and not the fulfillment of what one wants or doesn't want from the other, one will realize that Church and State should not be seen as conflicting ideologies, but as a relation between two often overlapping communities.

Apophaticism, Ascesis, and Nepsis

How should the Orthodox Church respond to the debate concerning global warming? The answer to this question is an ancient one. First, as was already mentioned, science has much to learn from the apophatic approach of Orthodox theology. Second, the ascetic restraint of the Orthodox Church is the solution to many of the world's problems: overpopulation, drug abuse, and even potential problems, if, for example, global warming is man-induced. Third, one must be watchful. There is a danger that one might be so concerned that he is burning his food he does not realize that his house is on fire. As the issue of global warming is being debated and billions of dollars are being spent, the leading cause of death worldwide is lack of clean drinking water. There are innumerable preventable deaths occurring on a daily basis. "Preventable" meaning there is knowledge and there are cures or solutions, of which hundreds of millions of people could benefit, practically, not in theory. It would also do well to remember that the Orthodox understanding of ethics is not strictly moral, but also ontological. So, as we debate the consequences of potential global warming, what destruction, not just physical, is being wrought on humankind by science and technology that is catering to man's every desire to know and to do? What is the impact of a nation that has been subjected to billions of images of violence from youth? Humanity, it seems, no longer seeks self-divination through eating from a tree, or building a tower to heaven, but through this modern monument of science and technology. Man is gathered at the base of this monument debating on the existence of a crack in the wall when the roof is falling on their heads. For further information see the following two links from national geographic.

There is also an increase of temperature occurring on Mars.[1] There are also several flaws in the model that climatologists use to demonstrate global warming.[2]


  1. Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says
  2. Global Warming Models Underpredict Increase in Rainfall, Study Says
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