Book Review: WEATHERING CLIMATE CHANGE by Hugh Ross

The weather used to be a value-neutral subject relevant to everyone in all times and places. “Discussing the weather” was a universally accepted way of making conversation in polite company; however, this once benign topic now borders too closely upon a much more polarizing subject of debate – global climate change.

In Weathering Climate Change: A Fresh Approach, Hugh Ross takes a deep dive into the data to establish a historical baseline by which we can gain an objective perspective on our current climate status. Ross does not deny that humans contribute to global warming, but his analysis reveals a counterintuitive repercussion: a Big Freeze as we enter an new ice age that has been long delayed according to scientifically documented trends. Humanity may be bracing itself for the wrong catastrophe.

Erratic temperature variations have plunged the Earth in and out of ice ages for millions of years. Here’s the real surprise. Over the last 9,500 years, warming and cooling effects have balanced to produce a remarkably consistent global mean temperature that has varied by no more than ±0.65°C. This is in sharp contrast to the 4-10°C fluctuations experienced every few centuries throughout the previous 2.58 billion years. The recent uptick in temperature over the past 70 years (0.8°C) has rapidly cancelled out a very slight cooling trend (1°C) accrued over this long period of balance.

“For the past 2.58 million years, whenever the global mean temperature has risen 2-3°C (3-5°F) above its current value, a glacial episode has followed. Throughout the past 400,000 years, each such global mean temperature peak has consistently and very quickly led to dramatic temperature drops that resulted in widespread glaciation.” (p. 187)

Our multi-millennial span of unprecedented climate stability has permitted a more predictable and reliable production of crops and allowed humanity to progress beyond the tedium of subsistence farming to the pursuit of other interests and achievements. As a result, we have steadily advanced from the diversification of crops, to the diversification of labor, to the diversification of financial portfolios.

“[T]he possibility for the development of global, high-technology civilization depends crucially on…[a] highly improbable requirement. There must be an interglacial episode of extreme and sustained climate stability – exactly what the climate research community recognizes as humanity’s urgent necessity.” (p.147)

In Weathering Climate Change, Ross acknowledges our waning window of stability without sounding an apocalyptic alarm. Speaking as both a scientist and a Christian minister, he seeks to motivate thoughtful, measured, and rational responses that are in keeping with the hope possessed by people of faith. He reminds us that the advancement of widespread civilization is part of our Story as we spread across the globe and carry the Good News of Christ throughout. Given God’s “mandate to manage the world for the benefit of all Earth’s life,” Ross anticipates the “possibility of a win-win-win response to the current crisis…actions that would stabilize the global climate, cool and moderate the global mean temperature, increase the quality of life for people in all nations, and even enhance the well-being of the plants and animals that share Earth with us.” (p. 50) It is probably not insignificant that humanity’s first job was tending a garden.

That said, Ross is not oblivious to the many reasons why the issue of climate change is not as straight forward as we would like it to be. Reactions to the topic range from apathy to anger to anxiety.

“Gallup has performed annual surveys of American opinion on climate change since 1989. The percentage of those surveyed indicating that they ‘personally worry about this problem a great deal’ stood at 35 percent in 1989 and seesawed between a low of 24 percent in 1998 and a high of 45 percent in 2017.” (p. 18)

Numerous phenomena interact to influence global conditions in complex and interdisciplinary ways. Dr. Ross objectively pulls together the research and offers non-partisan solutions. Weathering Climate Change is data-dense but full of data-driven surprises. Charts, graphs, and diagrams are scattered throughout its pages to illustrate the story told by the numbers. Ideally, it will help Christians have a meaningful place in the conversation and improve the civility of the discussion. The book serves as a worthy sequel to Ross’ Improbable Planet. I recommend it to any science-savvy citizen who wants to understand the research behind this highly politicized issue.

MAKE YOUR OWN TRACKS…

Strangely enough, scientific investigations are rarely incorporated into late-night comedy shows. David Letterman’s “Will It Float?” segments were zany outliers. Before the eyes of a sleep-deprived audience, sundry objects were tested for buoyancy. The experiment was simple and the results conclusive. The item-in-question was dropped into a pool of water. Within seconds, all predictions were either confirmed or contradicted. Game over. Have a good night. If only all scientific inquiries were so clear-cut and their outcomes accepted with such good humor.

Just for fun, let’s play “Will It Warm (the Earth)?”

  • Fusion occurring within the Sun
  • Weathering of the continental crust’s silicates
  • Cultivation of rice
  • Dams built by beavers
  • Burning of biofuels
  • Saving the whales
  • Logging the oldest trees in a forest
  • Widespread human consumption of ostrich meat
  • Bitcoin usage
  • Melting of the Arctic ice cap

You will have to read the book for answers, but I will provide one that exemplifies the complexity of climate change analysis:

As the Arctic ice cap melts (due to warming factors), more liquid water of the Arctic Ocean will be exposed. Liquid water will more readily absorb heat from the Sun than aforementioned ice. Consequently, more water will vaporize, but it will not remain in the atmosphere indefinitely. It will precipitate out as snowfall over Canada and Siberia where temperatures will remain well below the freezing point for water, global warming notwithstanding. An increasing expanse of ice coverage at these latitudes will very effectively reflect sunlight and cause an overall cooling effect, extending snow and ice further and further.

So, the melting of the polar ice cap is both an effect of global warming and a cause of global cooling. See why climate change research is such a challenge?