Government & Politics Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics Science

Global warming: where the arc of the moral universe stops

The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer
The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer

Public Domain

The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer

Since the election, some Americans have found consolation in the line that Martin Luther King, Jr. adapted from the 19th-century Unitarian divine Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

So maybe the arc just got longer. So maybe justice for the poor, the sick, and the stranger among us is farther off. We’re still headed in the right direction.

But what if time runs out?

It is running out. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — famine, pestilence, war, and death — are saddled up. Greenhouse gas emissions are raising the temperature of the Earth to a point of no return.

Global warming — let’s stop calling it “climate change” — is more important than immigration, manufacturing jobs, Obamacare, ISIS, financial regulation, religious liberty, abortion, Medicare, black lives matter, and the white working class. It will destroy the moral universe itself, so far as it exists on this planet.

The only comparable threat, nuclear winter, requires the possessors of hydrogen bombs to detonate them. Global warming will destroy life as we know it without anyone doing anything. Only massive efforts by governments around the world can stop it.

Pope Francis recognized this in his remarkable 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. The same year, the Paris Agreement indicated that governments were prepared to take some modest steps.

By all rights, there should have been a national discussion this election cycle on what steps the U.S. must take. It never happened. In three presidential debates and a vice presidential one, not a single question was asked on the subject.

We elected a man who has called global warming a hoax perpetrated by China. Who represents a party committed to doing nothing about it. Who has appointed a leading skeptic to head the transition at the EPA.

It’s only human to put aside thoughts of death, inevitable and fast approaching as it is. We do so to get up in the morning, to enjoy what we can for as long as we can, to help those who will outlive us. But it is the job of religion not to let us forget our personal mortality.

It’s also human to put aside thoughts of the collective mortality that is fast approaching. We need to get up in the morning and enjoy what we can for as long as we can. But if we care about our children and our children’s children, we can’t afford to put those thoughts aside.

Religion has a job to do here too.

In the second century BCE, the Roman senator Cato the Elder ended every speech he gave on any subject with the line, “And by the way, Carthage needs to be destroyed.” Within a few years, it was.

Those who are in the business of giving sermons should think about ending each one with a comparable line on global warming. The arc of the moral universe depends on it.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

62 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Religion’s track record of having a morally uplifting role is highly dubious, either historically or today. Justice cannot even be defined (to each man what is his?). As to global warming: “We’d all love to see the plan”. The simple fact is that we can slow it a bit, but it is extremely unlikely that the earth can sustain the current population under any reasonable scenario. The “lucky” few will achieve a sustainable lifestyle, with the assistance of technology. You and I will be long gone and forgotten.

  • The mechanism of manmade climate change was covered in my eighth grade earth science class over forty years ago. It wasn’t difficult. It only gets complicated when you try to explain what’s false about the elaborate lies and distortions that the fossil fuel investors’ PR operation cooks up. Telling the truth is easy. Telling a lie is even easier. Debunking the lie is harder, and takes much more time. That’s what makes the Gish Gallop such an effective debating technique.

  • “Global warming — let’s stop calling it “climate change”’
    I’ve got an idea. Let’s use the same definitions that have appeared in meteorology and climate textbooks since the 1950s! Those definitions don’t change. Global warming is the energy the Earth receives from the Sun that it doesn’t manage to radiate back to space. It’s an energy budget imbalance, surveyed from orbit every two weeks. It can be captured in a number: 0.65 watts per square meter. As far as we know, it was slightly negative at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Climate change is the large set of observed and predicted effects of global warming: everything from sea level rise and the wandering jet stream to agricultural hardiness zones racing uphill and towards the poles.Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is the fraction of global warming that seems to be due to human civilization.

  • I will spot you the successful execution of this plan, however unprecedented that may be.
    So how does one get the other 6/7 billion or so people to step up? Perhaps we could shoot everyone who does not cooperate? Seriously, humans survived the ice ages- but not in large numbers. The only unknown is; can our technological knowledge survive? Try “The Foundation” Trilogy. I really liked the “Mule’.

  • How about that Checkered Board Sky! geoengineeringwatch.org
    For an alternative view of global warming — iceagenow

  • We don’t need the government’s input to initiate anti-global warming protocols. I’ve contacted the Paris Accord folks myself, and asked what we can do as individuals. The government doesn’t control our freedom of actions as far as choosing to do good in this world, or follow the patterns of others for good or ill. So, we can do what we can to mitigate it in our lives, and suggest that others do the same. We can contact the countries to our north and south, and ask if we can align with them in helping to mitigate the effects of global warming with regard to slowing the release of carbon into the atmosphere, lessening pollution, and calling out those who are polluters, and certainly lobbying for change with the government.
    If the government won’t step in, over half the people in this country are willing to step up and be counted in the international world of mitigating pollution and the negative effects of climate change, and that’s a start!

  • If we do something, it will be more than doing nothing, and that may be just enough to alter the effects. So, why not try? Don’t we owe it to future generations?

  • How about this: You live in sewage, you die in sewage. You clean it up, then you live in a clean place, breathing clean air, eating clean food, and living on clean land. Bottom line: pollution kills, and we don’t need any more of it than is absolutely necessary.

  • We also need to call out sleazy Obama and his Global-Warming Cult, for what they did to some reputable American researchers who dared to disagree even **slightly** with the Obama Administration sales-pitch. Read this carefully:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/02/25/roger-pielke-jr-being-investigated-by-representative-grijalva-for-presenting-inconvenient-data/

    The only reason why Dr. Pielke eventually escaped the Cult’s congressional witch-hunt, was because the University of Colorado (Boulder) leadership, from its president on down, forcefully called out the liberal cultists on their global-warming witch-hunt against Pielke.

    But the vast majority of working-stiff American researchers, scientists and scholars, have NO such heavy-metal protection. So they do exactly what Pielke described in the link: they just shut up and shift their research to *safe* topics, where offering criticisms or opposing arguments won’t mean losing their jobs in this stagnant economy. They go along to get along.

    Now you know the REAL truth about global warming !!!

  • Folks are always confusing possibilities with probabilities. When cost is a factor, I insist on a reasonably high probability of success. I am all for win win, like paying for clean water, air, etc., on a local scale, but here we are discussing the entire planet, the oceans, rivers,
    the deserts and forests. I would need a lot more convincing.

  • Pielke’s just mad because he couldn’t cut it in his chosen field. The physical sciences are fiercely competitive. If you’re wrong too often, like Pielke, you wash out of the field. Most scientists wash out of the field within a few years. Most of them don’t try to explain it away as a “witch hunt” like Pielke does here.

  • A convenient excuse, but there’s no evidence that Dr. Pielke is really “washed up” at the Univ. of Colo.-Boulder. Plus, why did the UCB stick up for Pielke against Congress, if it was NOT a witch-hunt? Why did Rep. Raul Grivalja, the global warming grand inquisitor, back down?

    Then there’s a top Euro scientist with big science awards, top posts, and 225 pubs in climate & meteorology, but HE got witch-hunted by the Cult too!

    “Dear Professor (David) Henderson, I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF (a group partially skeptical of *some* global warming claims.)

    “I had not expect(ed) such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen.
    “It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy …. I believe it is best for me to reverse my decision to join (the GWPF) Board.”
    — Dr. Lennart Bengtsson, former dir., Max Planck Institute For Meteorology
    https://www.cato.org/blog/climate-science-no-dissent-allowed

    See folks, this is global-warming CULT mess. Say “No” to CULTS !!

  • The Cato Institute is a lobbying and public relations firm whose clients are fossil fuel investors. It’s their job to lie about climate science. What would you expect them to say when the science didn’t go their way?

  • Fossil fuels have been an energy “bargain” because producers and users didn’t have to pay for waste disposal. Photovoltaics are now cost-competitive with coal in large scale applications, without any subsidies. Coal is not getting cheaper. Solar is getting cheaper now the way memory chips were getting cheaper in the ’90s, for many of the same reasons. It’s only a matter of time before only a complete crackpot would invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure. Unfortunately, the crackpots are in control, and the forces of industrial inertia and corruption are enormous. Energy markets today are a lot like the electronics business was in the early 1960s. A handful of companies had divided up the vacuum tube business and they were comfortable with their oligopoly.

    It took a moon shot, that is, an audacious large scale forward-looking government R&D program, to bust the vacuum tube cartel, and we got the microelectronics revolution out of it. (One of the great things about the DARPA grant program was the grants products became the property of “the taxpayers of the United States.” It’s why you get to use the software that runs the Internet for free forever.) Science advanced and it was good for the economy and the global standard of living. “We’d all love to see the plan.” That’s the plan. We need another moon shot. This time around safe energy sources. Technology free for anyone to use. It will speed up the inevitable phase out of the 19th Century energy technology we’re stuck with today.

  • “We elected a man who has called global warming a hoax perpetrated by China.” That’s not baloney, it actually happened. If you’re dissatisfied with the outcome of the POTUS 2016 race, you could do something about it. There’s an organized movement to phase out the Electoral College, one state at a time, and replace it with a direct popular vote. (Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take a Constitutional amendment. A compact of the states will do it.) Volunteer!

  • Mark Silk again is found with lots of time on his hands this Thanksgiving week. Most of his faithful parishioners have caught a plane or packed the car for the hinterlands for the holiday. So he dabbles in the heady topic of global warming!

    Global warming and cooling has been happening ever since humanity has had the means for measuring it. The sun is the heat source, and we have no way of measuring the consistency of heat reaching the earth–something that none of these modern scientists want to tackle. Humanity lived through the Dark Ages and then in the fullness of time, discovered the blessing of fossil fuels, which we’ve enjoyed now for several centuries. Suddenly these paranoid guilt-mongers have appeared who want to shut it all down in favor of energy solely from the sun and wind. This would dampen development in the poorest of the poor countries, who can not affort this big switch in sources of power, causing millions to starve..

    Abandoning fossil fuels would even affect current and future development in developed countries. That’s why Europe and the rest of the developed world pay fine lip service to the international guilt-and-scare-mongers, but when it comes to delivering on the accords they’ve signed off on, they’ve left the scene. In democracies around Europe, elected leaders are not going to put this big burden on their people in service to heavily disputed “science.”

    It’s only in the US that a little egghead president with an overarching diety-complex, can pronounce global warming our #1 threat beyond all others. We recently had an election here, and that liberal brand of propaganda was soundly thrashed by the electorate that hopes for much better than 1% economic growth in the future.

    It’s the ultimate head trip for religionists to dabble in the idea of ‘saving the planet for God.” It’s so much easier than having to deal with that sin and spiritual growth thing.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  • “We need to call out the liars and expose them, with documentation, wherever possible.”

    Let me start.

    Anthony Watts, the person behind “wattsupwiththat”, is paid by the fossil fuel industry to lie about the dangerous nature of their product.

    “Anthony Watts was a speaker at the Heartland Institute’s 7th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC7). DeSmogBlog researched the co-sponsors behind Heartland’s ICCC7 and found that they had collectively received over $67 million from ExxonMobil, the Koch Brothers and the conservative Scaife family foundations.”

    http://www.desmogblog.com/anthony-watts

  • “The Cato Institute is a lobbying and public relations firm whose clients are fossil fuel investors.”

    Cato is paid by the fossil fuel industry to lie about the dangerous nature of their product:

    “In addition to millions of dollars in support from its co-founders, the Koch Brothers, the Cato Institute has also received at least $125,000 from ExxonMobil.”

    http://www.desmogblog.com/cato-institute

    GWPF is paid by the fossil fuel industry to lie about the dangerous nature of their product:

    “The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) [was] Founded by Nigel Lawson… In 2012, the Guardian exposed Lawson’s links to coal-fired power companies in Europe.”

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Global_Warming_Policy_Foundation

    I’m noticing a pattern in Floyd’s references…

  • What part of “the same definitions that have appeared in meteorology and climate textbooks since the 1950s” are you having trouble with?

  • Actually, the first detailed scientific debunking of the many inaccuracies of Al Gore’s famous Global-Warming Cult film “An Inconvenient Truth” was funded to some degree by the fossil fuel industry. Al Gore REALLY DID make a ton of mistakes (hey, remember the now-broken “Hockey Stick”?), and it all got exposed or at least questioned by Marlo Lewis’s CEI Study in particular, regardless of who funded the study.

    The CEI study was comprehensive and devastating to Gore’s global warming sales-pitch.
    https://cei.org/pdf/5539.pdf

    (Remember how Al Gore stuck a big tornado photograph in his movie and book, even though there isn’t a proven causal connection between global-warming and tornadoes? The CEI study caught it and exposed it.)

    So you need to come up with something much stronger than “the fossil fuel industry funded it.” (PS…they also made the same “fossil-fuel-industry” accusation against Dr. Pielke but the accusation was officially disproved.)

  • My fifth grade teacher gave us a useful technique for analyzing propaganda tracts like 5539.pdf. Read it quickly. Then cross out the statements of opinion with a pencil. Then read it again. Crossing out the opinions in 5539 leaves a handful of distortions in An Inconvenient Truth, and none of those distortions is essential to the conclusion of the film. Yes, Gore is a bad, bad, man. Yes, the long dolly shot along a glacial shelf is a CGI, not photography. It’s a pretty good CGI for ten years ago, too. “The CEI study” proves only one thing, that CEI’s funders’ agenda conflicts with Gore’s. It lists CEI’s opinions in excruciating detail, but it doesn’t actually refute any of the scientific findings presented in the film.

  • You seem to be making another mistake here. You did NOT engage what top climate researcher Dr. Lennart Bengtsson wrote at all. You didn’t even try.

    Bengtsson doesn’t work for the fossil-fuel industry; he’s not on their payroll.
    Bengtsson doesn’t write for, or work for, Cato Institute.

    A couple of Cato writers merely QUOTED from the letter that Bengtsson wrote to Dr. David Henderson of the GWPF. See the difference?

    Please stop this kind of shuffling dishonest foot-work. This stuff on your part, is why the Global-Warming Cult is correctly considered a Cult.

  • Bengtsson is a celebrity climate researcher. He’s a member of a minority current, who believe sensitivity is significantly lower than the consensus. He submitted a flawed paper to a journal, and instead of fixing the mistakes he had a very public hissy fit about it. The physical sciences are extremely competitive, and researchers burn out or wash out all the time. Most of them change careers and get on with their lives. Bengtsson chose to become a celebrity. “Jo Nova” took a similar path. Meanwhile, plenty of other lukewarmers, as that current is known, are doing just fine, still getting research grants. Some of them write crackpot opinion pieces for the opinion press on the side, too.

  • Umm, I already said upfront, way before you did, that CEI was fossil fuel industry funded.

    Needless to say, you have NO refutation for the CEI Study material which directly crashed Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” movie and book, but that’s okay — nobody else could come up with a refutation either.

    That’s when the global warmers began using the “But..but..the study is funded by the Fossil Fuel industry!!” line, ad infinitum. It was that or nothing.

  • Actually the full version of the CEI Study cannot be read quickly, especially if you are going to actually compare and think through its points directly against Al Gore’s points in his sales-pitch movie and book, “Inconvenient Truth.”

    (How do I know this? Because I printed off a copy of the full CEI version way back when, trying to understand both sides of the controversy. Read the CEI Study all the way through. Takes a little time. Here, you give it a try soon.)

    https://cei.org/pdf/5820.pdf

  • Global warming is Baloney! A hoax with proven manipulation of scientific data. Just a liberal attempt to control and tax the masses.

  • The electoral college protects the rest of us from the insanity of whacko liberals in metropolitan areas who don’t give a damn about truth and reality but want to push the politics of feelings. The people of the real America still believe in morality and personal responsibility. We don’t want California and new York ramming idiocy down our throats!

  • There have also been PAID studies by the oil industry through prestigious universities that are biased to show how great oil and natural gas are, and ignoring the facts.

  • If you can’t win, you won’t play. Okay. The rest of us will go for it, and try to make the world a little better. You just sit back and do nothing, and see what that gets you.

  • Check the credentials and the history of those “reputable” anti global warming folks. You’ll find they’re paid for by the oil, coal, and natural gas industries, or have ties to them.

  • My points being:
    1. The organization that trains rats to clear land mines so poor farmers in Africa can be safe and plant war ravaged areas with food crops, is actually doing a direct demonstrable good.
    2. Half the population of the world lacks the basic infrastructure needed to live a decent healthy life. Your plan would require them to make sacrifices, while we live in luxury that they can only dream about. If you expect them to cooperate, you had better be ready to let them move in to your spare bedroom.

  • Take a copy of the script to “Inconvenient Truth”. Cross out statements of opinion.

    Short film.

  • Al Gore is not a scientist. You should get your science news from scientists and technical journalists, not from retired politicians, not fossil fuel industry public relations men.

  • Nonsense. Nations that are developing energy infrastructure for the first time should begin with current technology, not relics of the 19th Century, and they are. Fiber optics terminating at cell phone towers reach parts of Africa now that never had and never will have copper land lines. In those places, they can afford a solar panel and a 12 volt refrigerator. It’s way cheaper than the diesel generator they can’t afford to repair, or building out a coal powered grid to reach them. If it’s not forced to adopt the obsolete technology, the developing world will not make the same mistakes we did.

  • Over a billion people use biomass (sticks, dung, grass) for cooking. If they are going to use solar panes land 12volt refrigerators, your are going to have to provide them.

  • Look up Paris Accord and follow the contacts to the liason. Geez! I guess you folks don’t know how to do an internet search.

  • There are plenty of real conspiracies. There are plenty of real threats and hazards, and plenty of lying by the government. For example, the electronic dragnet revealed by Ed Snowden is real. COINTELPRO is real and ongoing. And the Zapruder film demonstrates the Warren Commission’s magic bullet hypothesis is a lie. Sometimes I suspect nonsense like Chemtrails (and HAARP as a weather control machine) are decoys, invented by the Mighty Wurlitzer (you know what that is, right?) to discredit investigations into genuine government wrongdoing. That’s my meta-conspiracy theory.

  • I admire your enthusiasm, but not your wisdom. Our country has gone from 90% rural to 90% urban and suburban, in a mere century. The Electoral College has become more vital than ever to prevent the vast countryside from becoming ignored by the population centers, especially since neither literacy, nor property, is required in order to vote these days. Unhappily for the cities, they are not self sufficient, except in arrogance.

  • Well I agree with you 100%. My chemtrail comment was ONLY in response to man-made global warming. Otherwise………I would put it down on a long list of other issues we should be worried about. But for kicks………try spending a few days on geoengineeringwatch. They make a pretty solid case.
    In regards to JFK……….have you read Michael Collins Piper: Final Judgment?

  • Untrue, but if that’s the only thing you have to say, you obviously can’t do an internet search. Have a nice day.

  • I’ve spent more than enough time on geoengineeringwatch, globalresearch.ca, Infowars, half a dozen 9-11 Truther sites, Principia Scientific, and Watts Up. It’s crap. The central message is that everyone is lying and no information is reliable or falsifiable. Therefore, all opinions are equally valid. So you might as well get your worldview from whatever opinion outlet confirms your beliefs. It’s an orientation invented by kings and dictators to keep their subjects ignorant and fearful. When I was younger, I was taught we had escaped that mindset with the Age of Enlightenment and the modern scientific method. Recent events convince me we stand at the brink of a new Dark Ages.

  • Google it yourself and you’ll find out the Air Force is hiding the UFO it shot down, at Area 51. And Elvis isn’t really dead. And the moon landings were faked. Pagerank won’t protect you from nonsense. You need a much smarter weighting system. That’s why people use Impact Factor, as imperfect as it is, as they search the refereed literature.

  • Did you listen to your own clip? He’s proposing the program, not “admitting” that they’re already doing it.

  • You can look up the official Paris Accord site, and then find the link. Apparently, you don’t want to. Well, go troll somewhere else. Let the adults do their work.

  • Again, it seems you forgot to listen to your own clip. The Florida TV weather reader is describing radar chaff. It’s aluminum confetti. It’s been used to defeat military radar almost as long as there’s been military radar. It’s not a geoengineering device.

ADVERTISEMENTs