A leading scholar on global warming says a letter sent last week to all 100 United States senators urging defeat of a measure to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is factually wrong.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s chief ethics spokesman was a lead signer of a letter urging senators to “reject the alarmist claims of proponents of catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming, and to reject the draconian taxes and regulations on the American people” in bills such as cap-and-trade legislation proposed by senators Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va.

The letter, signed by Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and more than 70 others, claimed recent climate data suggest “a strong note of caution” about the reality of global warming.

“All four major global temperature monitoring organizations (Hadley, NASA, UAH, and RSS) have released data documenting that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously,” the letter said. “The total amount of cooling ranges from 0.65C to 0.75C. This is the single fastest temperature change ever recorded–either up or down–for all four organizations.”

Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said that statement is “simply wrong.”

A longtime participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007, Oppenheimer was lead author of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.

Oppenheimer told EthicsDaily.com that latest data on NASA’s Web site says the cooling has been about 0.5C, rather than .65-.75, and is not unprecedented.

The letter to senators also said the Lieberman-Warner bill, which would cap greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, factories, oil refineries and other polluters and require companies that exceed the limits to buy credits from other companies that meet them with room to spare, “would have little discernable impact on global temperatures.”

Oppenheimer said that also is wrong. “If the U.S. and other developed countries adhered to the 80 percent reduction by 2050 advocated in some Congressional bills, it would have a significant effect,” he said, “and if developing countries followed suit eventually, the climate would approach stabilization.”

Other signers of the letter opposing the Lieberman-Warner legislation included Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer of American Values, Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Environment & Public Works Committee, welcomed the letter. Inhofe said it “dispels the myth made by a few on Capitol Hill that people of faith have somehow embraced the more radical climate change proposals.”

Greenhouse gases–like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and others–exist naturally in the atmosphere. They allow sunlight to pass through and warm the Earth’s surface but block some of the heat as it tries to escape back into space. It’s called the greenhouse effect, and without it scientists say the planet would be too cold for humans to have evolved.

The problem occurs when human activity adds to the levels of those gases, causing a buildup of the greenhouse effect, which scientists contend inevitably will warm the planet. NASA says the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased about 0.7 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s, and many experts estimate the average temperature will rise an additional 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect for 200 years, but it wasn’t discussed much until the advent of high-speed computers. Scientists developed computer models to forecast weather and began tweaking them to see what would happen if the makeup of the atmosphere were to change.

Today scientists agree there is no doubt the globe is warming and that humans are at least in part to blame. Eleven of the 12 years between 1995 and 2006 were among the 12 warmest years since global surface temperatures began being recorded in the 1850s. Greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity increased 70 percent between 1970 and 2004.

Those findings prompted last year IPCC report to conclude that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.”

“With all the irrefutable evidence we now have corroborating that climate change is real, dangerous, and proceeding faster than many scientists predicted, this is the year for Congress to move this critical legislation,” Lieberman said in introducing his bill last October. “If we fail to start substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next couple of years, we risk bequeathing a diminished world to our grandchildren. Insect-borne diseases such as malaria will spike as tropical ecosystems expand; hotter air will exacerbate the pollution that sends children to the hospital with asthma attacks; food insecurity from shifting agricultural zones will spark border wars; and storms and coastal flooding from sea-level rise will cause mortality and dislocation.”

The debate entered the religious arena in 2006, when prominent evangelicals including James Dobson, Chuck Colson and the SBC’s Richard Land signed an open letter discouraging the National Association of Evangelicals from taking a position on global warming. Some of those leaders later tried to get NAE vice president Rich Cizik fired, claiming his advocacy of creation care was distracting evangelicals from other issues like abortion and gay marriage.

More than 100 religious leaders broke ranks with Religious Right kingpins in “An Evangelical Call to Action” for urgent response to climate change. The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance followed with another statement downplaying concerns about global warming.

This month a group of Southern Baptists released a statement complaining that their denomination has been too timid about addressing climate change. Though widely reported in mass media as a major shift for leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant faith group, Baptist Press said it was not an SBC initiative and carried articles offering a contrarian view of the threat posed by global warming.

Three weeks ago on his radio program Land dismissed hysterical talk about global warming as “quackery” and claimed recent evidence suggests the earth may actually be getting cooler instead of hotter.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Previous articles:

SBC Leader Claims Earth Not Getting Hotter But Colder

Organizers Defend Environmental Statement

Headlines Mislead Public About SBC Shift on Global Warming

Southern Baptist Leaders Release Environmental Statement

Timidity on Global Warming Comes from Lack of Special Revelation

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