Dr. Hugh Ross, founder/president of the ministry Reasons to Believe, is an astronomer-turned-apologist specializing in Bible-science issues. Dr. Ross spoke to The Christian Post last week about global warming and what he believes are overlooked factors that cause the increase warming of the earth, including: the earth’s orbit, domestication of cows, cultivation of rice, and deforestation.
CP: How do you believe Christians should feel towards environmental issues?
Ross: God put the human race in charge of managing the resources of the entire planet for the benefit of all life. Therefore we of all people on this planet should be concerned about environmental issues and doing what we can to enhance the beauty and productivity of the natural realm.
CP: Why is everyone focused on fossil fuel burnings as the main factor contributing to global warming?
Ross: Well, that certainly has gotten the public attention. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we simply are not aware of other human activities that make as big or bigger contributions to global warming. The fact is the planet is warming right now and it is easier to blame it on some human activity rather than saying we should better understand the whole problem and recognize there are natural conditions that are impacting this too.
Another factor is that we human beings have gotten too use to the fact that we have an exceptionally benign global climate right now. We don’t appreciate how finely tuned the characteristic of the whole galaxy, solar system, and earth must be to bring about those conditions. If you look at the past record of the earth, we have to realize that this is very temporary.
I had pointed out earlier the earth’s history over the past several million years is that for every 100,000 years, we go through a dramatic climatic cycle where we get 90,000 years of ice age and 10,000 years of a warm period. I think people today just have the expectation that we deserve a perfectly benign climate forever.
CP: Is what you’re saying radical?
Ross: I don’t think that it is a radical idea. Our main point is that this is a very complicated issue with many contributions, both natural and human, and we can easily make a mistake by putting too much emphasis on one factor and ignoring other factors. The potential in many environmental issues is that if you undertake corrective action without appropriate understanding of the problem then you wind up doing more harm than good.
CP: The Evangelical Climate Initiative’s statement cites the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change as saying most of the warming is due to human activities, in particular, the burning of fossil fuels. This is contrary to what you are saying. What is your response?
Ross: That is probably the most significant in terms of new human activities, but the fact is that we human beings have been altering the climate through other factors literally for thousands of years.
I mentioned the domestication of cows and the way we harvest rice these days by irrigating fields. Those two activities alone have nearly doubled the amount of methane in the atmosphere and methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The other thing we have done is cut down a lot forest to make pastures and agricultural land. Forests are a big factor in absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
I don’t think the United States has gotten enough credit for the fact that we have actually planted a lot of forests. There are now more forests covering the United States than before “white men” showed up, so in that sense the United States has contributed to the lessening of the climate warming because now we got more trees absorbing carbon dioxide. In one sense, that helps counter all the fossil fuel burnings that we are doing.
CP: What are some suggestions you have for reducing global warming?
Ross: A better understanding of the natural processes that are at work. We don’t fully comprehend the orbital effects on the climate. Scientists are now coming to recognize that this is probably the biggest factor governing climate change.
We need a better understanding of what human activities do and not just the warming effects but the cooling effects too.
We need to develop a plan that takes into account all these factors rather than just emphasizing the one and not dealing with the others.
And we need to recognize that no matter what we do, the ice age is going to hit us. I mean eventually we are going to have a serious cooling problem and in one sense human activities have delayed the onset of the next ice age. But we need to recognize that there is no way we can sustain a perfectly benign climate forever; it has always been temporary and will continue to be temporary.
CP: What do humans do to cause a cooling effect?
Ross: Aerosol production blocks out the light of the sun. Also what we do in the Artic has a huge effect because the Artic has a long season where there is snow and ice on the ground and the kind of plants that inhabit the Artic can do a lot to reflect or absorb light from outer space.
There is a recent research paper that documents that the color of Artic vegetations has a huge impact on adjusting the climate.
So paying more attention to that and recognizing there are a lot of little things we can do without expenditure of money that can make a huge difference.
CP: Do you have any further comments?
Ross: I think a measure of humility is necessary here to realize we are not as smart as God and He understands the whole issue. I think that there is a tendency in our human context to simplify the problem and not realize how delicately balance everything is.
A lot of research we do here at Reasons to Believe examines how exquisitely designed our planet and our solar system is to make possible, for a short period of time, a high-technology global human civilization. We need to appreciate that that level of fine-tuning is so extraordinary that it can’t be attributed to natural causation; it has got to be credited to the supernatural, super-intelligent design of the God of the Bible.
We also need to realize that there a reason why God wanted us to have a global high-technology civilization and that was to quickly fulfill the Great Commission. So I say to believers, let’s take advantage of these benign conditions that God has given us, recognize that God has given it to us, and fulfill the purpose that He has given us to do.