Science: Global warming — amount of warming confirmed

Few issues have aroused the feelings of political conservatives and their evangelical allies as much as the claim that global warming is a fact. A newly published study has settled several key issues about this claim that had formerly made it seem questionable.

The New York Times has reported, “A team at the University of California Berkeley that set out to test the temperature data underlying the consensus on global warming has concluded that the mainstream estimate of the rise in the earth’s surface temperature since 1950 is indeed accurate.” The brief newspaper story may be found here. The study found that the earth’s land masses are 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the 1950s.

Three major groups had previously published claims supporting human-caused global warming based on a much smaller data set, but climate skeptics had raised several possible sources of error. Among those raising questions were some members of the Berkeley Earth study. The Berkeley study also shows that those possible error sources do not account for the temperature change previously found. The Berkeley study has particular weight in that it includes five times more temperature readings than the previous studies. All of the data and reports are available online.

Professor Richard A. Muller, Berkeley Earth’s founder and scientific director, stated:

Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.[1]

The Berkeley Earth team includes physicists, climatologists and statisticians from California, Oregon and Georgia. One member of the group, Saul Perlmutter, was recently awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (for his work in cosmology).

A surprising twist on the story is that the research leading to these findings was partially funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Charles Koch is a billionaire who is most well-known for his support of libertarian causes as well as the Tea Party. Koch also has extensive holdings in fossil fuels.

One real test of these new findings may be whether evangelical Christians accept them as valid. Some Christians have demonstrated a clear disdain for any scientific finding that does not fit their own ideas. This global warming issue is not like the alleged biological evolution of human beings, a far more complicated theory with many unresolved questions. The Berkeley study involves measuring temperatures and assessing whether they are higher or lower on a global basis. If science cannot carry out this task, then we have to wonder whether iPods fell from heaven rather than being designed by engineers.

No conclusion was reached by the Berkeley Earth team about a second inflammatory idea  — human causation of the observed global warming. That awaits further study of ocean temperatures.

As a final treat, watch the video showing the warming of the earth from 1800 to the present at this link. Actually, it is a bit depressing. It starts with a real cold spell in the period 1800–1820 and ends with consistent warming over the last three decades.

Climate change has already made an appearance in the competing Republican campaigns for president. All the candidates firmly doubt there is any problem and several openly allege data manipulation by scientists.  No change in their views should be anticipated based on the Berkeley Earth study because they know what their primary voters believe.

Try to keep in mind that propaganda and data are two different things. This study contains data. God has made all of us stewards of the earth and all that is in it (Gen. 1:27–28), and we will be held responsible for what humans do on this planet. God isn’t running for office.


[1] “Cooling the Warming Debate,” by Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, 20 October 2011, page 1.