The National Catholic Review

Mid-August on a university campus is a time of greeting among people who are returning after months away.

“How was your summer?” I ask a student who works at the circulation desk in the library.

“Hot,” he says.

The hottest in U.S. history, as a matter of fact. Temperatures in June broke or tied 3,215 records. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July 2012 was the all-time warmest month since national record-keeping began in 1895. At the end of July, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 62.9 percent of the continguous U.S. was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought.

Everyone, it seems, has stories of extreme weather. The soil in our small vegetable garden turned hard as concrete. Blackberry brambles I planted last spring fruited for the first time, but the berries shriveled in the scorching 103 degree heat. A colleague vacationing in Colorado brought news of the wildfires, and many have witnessed the devastation of crops in America’s Heartland.  Agricultural losses will mean a rise in food prices at a time when millions of Americans are already hungry or food insecure.

There is a natural variability to the weather. Scientists therefore have not typically attributed any one particular weather event to global climate change. Rather, they explain that heat waves, droughts and more intense storms are consistent with the kind of things we can expect to experience in a world warmed by greenhouse gases. (See, for example, this article on recent droughts by Drs. Christopher Schwalm, Christopher Williams, and Kevin Schaefer: Hundred-Year Forecast: Drought ). 

This month, however, the National Academy of Sciences published a peer-reviewed study that concluded that global warming has changed the bell curve of weather variability such that extreme heat is much more probable than it was just 40 years ago. Between 1951 and 1980, extremely hot temperatures covered only about 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the globe in any given year. Now annual heat extremes are covering a much broader range: a dramatic 10 percent of Earth’s surface. James Hansen, one of the study’s co-authors and Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies at Columbia University, spoke about the study in this segment on the PBS News Hour: Extreme Heat Events Connected to Climate Change.

How does one make policy decisions in the face of the probabilities in which climate science deals? In 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the statement Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good.  “The virtue of prudence,” they affirmed, “is paramount in addressing climate change. The virtue is not only a necessary one for individuals in leading morally good lives, but is also vital to the moral health of the larger community. Prudence is intelligence applied to our actions. It allows us to discern what constitutes the common good in a given situation... In facing climate change, what we already know requires a response; it cannot be easily dismissed. Significant levels of scientific consensus—even in a situation with less than full certainty, where the consequences of not acting are serious—justify, indeed can obligate, our taking action intended to avert potential dangers. In other words, if enough evidence indicates that the present course of action could jeopardize humankind’s well-being, prudence dictates taking mitigating or preventative action.”

Congress and the U.S. electorate failed to take preventive action in 1988 when Dr. Hansen first testified on climate change before the Senate. In each ensuing year, we have continued to fail to act with the virtue of prudence. We are now going to need as never before the cardinal virtue of fortitude to give us the courage to enact the changes in our personal lives and public policy necessary to address the climate crisis at a time when the probability of climate catastrophes increases with each day we delay.

Elizabeth Groppe



J Cosgrove | 8/23/2012 - 11:15pm
''JR, You are falling for the Fox news interpretation of the global warming debate. ''

Interesting since I have seen Fox News about 3-4 times in the last year except I occasionally watch a Wall Street Journal program on it on Saturdays but outside of that almost nothing. I have actually seen CNN more but also very rare.   My sources of information are mainly the John Batchelor Show which is probably the most eclectic source of information on the planet and Instapundit, the very popular libertarian web site (and I am not a libertarian), Planet Money from NPR, Cato Institute podcasts and occasionally Google news.  And I read a lot.

You seem to like pigeon holing people. I suggest you give it up and ask questions instead.  And global warming has not been around since you were in elementary school.  It was global cooling before it was global warming.  Just google ''global cooling Time magazine'' to see some of their covers.  For example,
J Cosgrove | 8/23/2012 - 2:41pm
''What I get from you, is that you are willing to risk the possibility that we reach a point of no return. I would rather reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere out of an abundance of caution.''

You apparently haven't a clue about what I think on this. I have provided the clues but your response does not seem to reflect that you read them.  To be more precise the more I read the more I think there is a warming trend.  Just how serious I do not know.  What I do know is that scientist are not to be trusted and they have made their own bed on this by their behavior.  A scientist will lead a nice cushy life if he does research that supports AGW and will find himself an outcast if he does not.

Also what is to be done if anything is far from clear and I have not seen anyone make a good case for anything.  It is more a grab for money than anything or a grab for votes.  Both of which leads me to think the people are not serious but have ulterior motives.  Which is why I like what Bjorn Lomborg is doing.  Now he may have ulterior motives but they make more sense to me.
Marie Rehbein | 8/23/2012 - 12:16pm
JR Cosgrove,

The medieval warming period, which is not well documented as to the actual warmth or how widespread it was, is estimated at having been significantly cooler than the current temperature of the planet.  According to NOAA "... it appears that the late 20th and early 21st centuries are likely the warmest period the Earth has seen in at least 1200 years." (

The melting of glaciers is disturbing to me.  How about you? 

It is well understood that CO2 in the atmosphere holds in heat from the sun.  Venus is an example.

What I get from you, is that you are willing to risk the possibility that we reach a point of no return.  I would rather reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere out of an abudance of caution.
Bill Taylor | 8/22/2012 - 11:15am
I think it was Plato who explained it. The grave weakness of democracy is this: People will not vote for self-sacrifice. If it is going to cost me money, time, convenience, or my cherished point of view, I will instinctivley deny it. And so, Plato said, with the problems not solved because the people won't vote for it, inevitably comes the dictator.
J Cosgrove | 8/22/2012 - 10:43pm
Mr. Kopacz,

Apparently some of the vermin are currently after Michael Mann.  Mann has threatened to sue National Review after a blog post accused him of being fraudulent and that the famous hockey stick is a myth.  If you are interested here is a series of blog post documenting the dispute including a long discussion of the ''Hockey Stick''.  The National Review is anxious to pursue this with Dr. Mann. 

The hockey stick was always one of the big sticking points with me since it seemed to contradict well documented data on the extensive warming of the world in the middle ages or the Mideival Warming Period (MWP).  I once asked a climate scientist at NASA who was supporter of global warming whether the Pacific Islands that are supposedly threatened by global warming were under water during the MWP.  He told me no.  If you want to, follow the fun.  My guess is that Mann will back off because of the possible discovery process.

It is a real put up or shut up for both sides in this debate. 
Bill Collier | 8/22/2012 - 5:12pm
"In this case, it's the big space shuttle called earth."

I like that analogy, Stanley. People need to reflect more on the earth as the only home in the universe we've got available to us for many, many years to come. Would we intentionally soil and pollute our own homes to the same extent that we are making our planet less habitable and perhaps inhabitable? An ecology professor I once had provided an analogy that has stuck with me: Think of the earth as a lifeboat bobbing in a huge sea. Each insult to the earth's ecosystem is equivalent to the people in the lifeboat slowly releasing air from the only thing that separates them from safety and the mercy of the watery void. How reckless (and stupid) it would be to intentionally release air from a lifeboat. Yet all that separates the third rock from the sun from the lifelessness of the rocky mantle below us, and the inhospitable, frigid void of space above us, is the thin layer of the biosphere on the surface of the earth. (Dip a basketball in water and lift the ball out. The thin layer of water on the ball's surface dramatizes the extremely small ratio of the earth's biosphere to the planet's volume.)

There is little doubt that humanity is having a profound effect on the earth's fragile ecosystems: the Arctic and Antarctic ice crusts are thinning; the oceans are rising; large amounts of coral (which are sealife nurseries and natural barriers for nearby land) are dying off at record rates because the temperature of the oceans is rising; the oceans have become huge garbage dumps (there is a swirling collection of refuse floating in the mid-Pacific that is reportedly larger than the state of Rhode Island, and garbage is being sighted on the floor of even the deepest parts of the oceans); destructive and long-acting chemicals are being expelled into the atmosphere at increasing rates. The list goes on and on.

It's one thing for people of good will to have a debate about how best to tackle the deleterious effects that humans are having on their one and only lifeboat, but it's
quite another to deny the overwhelming evidence that the 8 to 9 billion (and counting) people in the world are not harming the environment and that we will sooner rather than later reach a tipping point-a point of no return-where last minute efforts to fix the lifeboat will be fruitless. It's time to put political philosophies aside. If one's self-interest isn't enough to do so, then we should all think about the ever-deteriorating world our children and grandchildren will be living in unless we all move fixing the earth to the top of our "To Do" lists.           
J Cosgrove | 8/22/2012 - 4:46pm
''Even Plato might approve.''

I suspect that Plato might support sustainable energy and so would most of the planet.  I have a long time friend who works at the fusion project in Princeton.  We agree that if they are ever successful there will be some really interesting societal problems if they get essentially free energy. Want to see half the planet doing nothing as they enjoy their free heat and air conditioning.  They will have lots of time to make war or some other havoc.

Lomborg, Plato and Olson are just telling the true believers why no one cares. My point was that the true believers have no one to blame but themselves.  By crying wolf and having a hypocrite like Al Gore as your spokesperson, what do you expect.  Their arrogance says we are better than you and the rest of world sees through their sanctimoniousness posturing and says take a flying ___.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/22/2012 - 1:17pm
For goodness sake, all the political mumbo-jumbo and wordy-shmerdy blah to fog the real problem. Plato, for goodness sakes.  It's like talking about Plato when you have to figure out how to do a ring job on your car. By the way, I have twice rebuilt  automobile engines and they worked.  I like the physical world.  Climate warming is a physical problem caused by the physical actions of a species writ large over an extended period of time.  If the species cannot exhibit self control at a mass level and do the things that have to be done and change the things that have to be changed, the physical limits will have their way with said species. 

Sustainable energy sources.
Distributed and local energy sources. 
Smart grids.
Secure, terrorist-resistant systems.
Rational living arrangements.
Improved energy efficiency.

Even Plato might approve.
J Cosgrove | 8/22/2012 - 12:29pm
From a discussion of Plato on the internet

''And that, according to Plato, is the reason why democracy does not work. Good government requires a sufficient degree of knowledge and understanding, and democracy in particular presupposes a competent citizenry. His experiences in Athens convinced Plato not only that the demos of his native city was incapable of making rational decisions, but also that it is simply not in the nature of most people to exert themselves in the pursuit of a serious education-to become competent governors of themselves. It will, Plato thought, always be just a small number of people who will be willing to develop their intellectual faculties to a point where they can be trusted to make informed and well reasoned decisions.

For a modern reader of the Republic it is not necessary to summarize its author's discussions as an argument against democracy. One can also read the book as a reminder of what would have to be the case for a genuine democracy to function. For the major point of Plato's discussion of knowledge, education, and democracy is the contention that democracy will not work-will not be a true democracy-unless its citizens are sufficiently prepared for it. This is a point that many modern democrats share. As prominent a founding father as James Madison maintained: ''A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.''

The challenge that Plato's critique of democracy still poses is the question whether the citizens of today's democracies are interested and informed enough to participate meaningfully in the democratic process. Are today's self-proclaimed democracies in fact societies where people are ''their own governors”- where they are well enough informed to be effectively in control of their commonwealth and their lives? Do the citizens of these societies really understand why wars are declared, resources committed, debts incurred, relations denied, and so forth? Could it be that a majority of citizens live in a cognitive haze that reduces them to voting on the basis of uninformed convictions, catchy slogans, and altogether vague hunches and feelings? ''

From Mancur Olson's ''The Rise and Decline of Nations''

''Each of the members of the group would be better off if they all could be coerced into spending more time finding out how to vote to make the organization best further their interests.  This is dramatically evident in the case of the typical voter in a national election in a large country.   The gain to such a voter from studying issues and candidates until it is clear what vote is truly in his or her interest is given by the difference in the value to the individual of the right election outcome multiplied by the probability a change in the individual's vote will alter the outcome of the election.  Since the probability that a typical voter will change the outcome  of the election is vanishingly small, the typical citizen is usually rationally ignorant about public affairs.

...the typical citizen will find that his or her income and life chances will not be improved by zealous study of public affairs, or even of any single collective good.''
Stanley Kopacz | 8/21/2012 - 11:29pm
Re Carlos Orozco’s comments:
Far from proven?  FAR from proven?  Really?  There is a basic physical mechanism that has been long understood.  CO2 absorbs some infrared radiation and re-radiates some of it back.  We have increased the % of CO2 from 270 parts per million to 390 parts per million since the beginning of the industrial age and that use is increasing.  Simultaneously, the temperature has risen, as was to be expected.  Venus’ atmosphere is 960,000 parts per million CO2 and the surface temperature is high enough to melt tin.  I’m afraid you will raise your threshold of proof until even the round earth would not be proven.  Also, if you have discovered some new science that can be applied, please share.  And don’t refer me to some new influence that’s been discovered unless you can show me it is on the order of CO2.
The only scientists I respect in these matters are the climate scientists.  They put the most man-hours in and they have the best understanding of the science.  I’ve never heard anything from them that contradicts any science I know.  98% of them think it’s so.  You make it sound like it’s 50/50.  In addition, 18 American scientific societies endorse their findings.
A group of scientists affected by politics?  They are but their science shouldn’t be.  To say that it changes the work of a scientist is insulting.  Maybe their science affects the politics.  It does me.  If a political party keeps denying, and I mean vehemently denying, good scientific work,  I have NO respect for them and want NOTHING to do with them and think the country would be better off without them.  If they are so wrong about things of which I have some understanding , I might assume that they are as wrong about things of which I don’t have as much understanding, like economics.
As far as self-importance is concerned, they get their importance through good work, unlike politicians.
The so-called “climategate” scandal was a concoction and a hatchet job by vermin.  Four independent investigations vindicated the slandered scientists.
Ultimately, human-caused global warming deniers do not have the facts on their side.  That is why they resort to muddying the waters, slandering and other low methods.
Vince Killoran | 8/21/2012 - 10:27pm
"Many respected scientists can be found on BOTH sides of the debate."

No Carlos, they can't.
Carlos Orozco | 8/21/2012 - 8:15pm
"Man-made global warming" is far from proven. Many respected scientists can be found on BOTH sides of the debate. By the way, scientific circles are not immune to politics and self-importance. For example, deliberate tampering with temperature recording done by English universities that provide data on global warming to the United Nations (Climategate) did not help their cause.
james belna | 8/21/2012 - 7:25pm
Did it ever occur to you that comparing average temperatures from the present day to 50 or 100 years ago is a ridiculously imprecise and unscientific exercise? Temperature measurement is an inherently ambiguous science even under the best circumstances, and essentially meaningless under the more typical conditions that were prevalent decades ago in remote locations. To see a dramatic example of the problem, look at this chart of the average mean temperature for Los Angeles from 1921- 2011. ( There is a dramatic break in 1956. For the 36 preceding years, all but 3 were significantly cooler than average; for the 55 years after 1956, almost all of them were much warmer than average. New York has an identical pattern, except that the ''break year'' comes in the 1930's. Was there a massive climate shift in those two cities, a quarter century apart? No, but there were significant changes in the local micro-climate, due to factors such as high-rise construction, increased traffic, and air conditioning exhaust fans. Prudence dictates that we don't demolish the world's economy in response to imprecise and misleading temperature data. By the way, the most accurate way to measure global temperature is via satellite. Guess what? The data does not confirm the alarmist warming models.
Marie Rehbein | 8/21/2012 - 9:07pm
Carlos, the reality is that doing what needs to be done to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere requires cooperation among nations.  There are people who deny the science out a fear that this cooperation will lead to their domination by a dictatorship.  The idea that there would arise a one world government because of cooperation in reducing CO2 is far-fetched, but there are people whose fear overrides their reason.

Stanley Kopacz | 8/21/2012 - 7:42pm
To Jim Belna, you are right. Satellite measurements are best. The earth looks cooler. What happens to a house when you insulate it better? It looks cooler to infrared.  But it's warmer inside.  I'll leave it to the paleoclimatologists and statisticians to tell me how "ambiguous" their estimates are.  They do present their findings with error bars.  But, at bottom, it's the interaction of CO2 and infrared radiation.  If you can prove a hundred-and-fifty years of spectroscopy wrong, you've my attention.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/21/2012 - 7:26pm
If a political group denies the scientific validity of the results of scientists doing science, I will oppose that group.That's why I'm a non-republican.
David Smith | 8/21/2012 - 6:46pm
Adapting to climate change oughtn't to be a political issue.  It becomes politicized when one extremely vocal group insists that all the bad stuff is caused by one other group, whom the vocalizers identify with one pernicious political philosophy.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/21/2012 - 6:30pm
It has nothing to do with conspiracies or political ideology.   It's physics and chemistry.  I'm an engineer.  If there's a problem, do what you have to in order to fix it.  If you choose to pretend problems aren't there and you can luck through, you end up with space shuttles blowing up.  In this case, it's the big space shuttle called earth. 
Carlos Orozco | 8/21/2012 - 5:45pm
Marie, how is it that one world government could be benign? The very definition means that countries could not opt-out of such  a "paradise".
Marie Rehbein | 8/21/2012 - 4:52pm
Climate change and what to do about is another issue that puts fear into the hearts of conspiricists.  They would rather do nothing than do what in their minds amounts to taking more steps on the road to a one world government.  The one world government, of course, would be almighty and oppressive, as they see it.
Marie Rehbein | 8/25/2012 - 10:11pm
Whether we learned about global warming in the 60's might depend on where we went to school.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/24/2012 - 6:14pm
The global cooling predictions in the 1970's canard is addressed at

Anyway, the science is more mature now.  The computers are a better.  The instruments are better and that's what happens with science.
Mike Brooks | 8/24/2012 - 4:27pm
@Marie -  I remember the anti-pollution education in the 60s, but I don't remember talking about global warming; I do remember concerns about another ice age, though.

The other thing I remember was in the 80s when all of us stopped using aerosol deodorant and hairspray and closed the hole in the ozone layer.  Of course, that's not what really happened, but that's the going story.

Marie Rehbein | 8/24/2012 - 11:03am

Unless I am a time-traveler, it was global warming that we learned about in elementary school.  It was part of our education pertaining to pollution of the atmosphere.

I hope that you can include "An Inconvenient Truth" in your list of sources of information.
Marie Rehbein | 8/23/2012 - 4:18pm
JR, You are falling for the Fox news interpretation of the global warming debate.  The science behind this has been around since I was in elementary school in the 1960's.  Ongoing research has supported the original observations that suggested global warming.  The only scientists on the take are those who work for people with immediate interests, who don't care about our descendants. 

You are darned right that what is to be done about this is far from clear.  But this isn't because it's not known.  It's because there are so many who won't go along with anything because it might cost them something short term.
J Cosgrove | 8/23/2012 - 9:26am
''At bottom, do you, Mr. Cosgrove, accept''

It seems reasonable what you ask to accept though I am not one who has studied this like you have so to answer your question, it seems reasonable.  The next question is just how much these effects are.  Are their effects a lot, moderate or just trivial?  And if in fact they are substantial, what does one do about it?

What I do know and have observed is that scientists are not an honorable lot as most of us were led to believe when we were going through our science education.  They can be quite prejudices, dishonest, nasty as they mock those who do not agree with them, the so called vermin of the world.  Especially those in academia and where no actual physical consequence is under consideration as in most ofthe non academic world.  When the science has political implications be very aware of any study because there is a tremendous pressure to conform and research grants depend on how one conforms.  I have seen this play out in the evolution debate where if one deviates slightly from the conventional wisdom, one can expect ostracism and lack of funding.  If you want to see some nasty scientists, just go to evolutionary biology.

And climate science is I think you would agree, highly political and most of the money is spent on research to show that global warming is in fact happening and is caused by human activity.  There is false image that the oil companies are generating billions of money fighting it when in fact the truth is just the opposite. So I will repeat what I said a couple times, the global warming advocates are their own worse enemies because of their attitudes and how they approach the proselytizing and how they have fed the politicians in both their never ending quest for power and money as they feed off each other.  That is what I think you should be after, not the vermin who disagree.

The thread is disappearing but this author it 2 for 2 in her OP's and I am sure she and others will revisit it again in an attempt to use Catholic social thought to influence political attitudes. It is so transparent.  That is one of the constant rhetorical techniques on this site, trying to use Catholic social teaching to funnel one into a voting pattern that one thinks desirable.  It is what a lot of us object to here.  It seems the only thing of importance on this site is not whether something is true or not or helps the poor or advances the Catholic religion, but how one should eventually vote.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/23/2012 - 8:08am
Re "kill the hockey stick"

re "answering the vermin"

There is always the anecdotal evidence.  This is the approach of the lawyer manufacturing doubt, not the scientist looking for a coherent picture or explanation.
 In a large body of data, outliers will always be found, especially in a complex system like the earth's weather.  Local variations are many. 

At bottom, do you, Mr. Cosgrove, accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the temperature level of the earth's surface?  DO you accept that mechanism of absorption and re-radiation? This is where the science starts.  Otherwise, a conversation is impossible.  It's like argueing with a lawyer.  You end up chasing your rear end.

I am out of time.  Liberals (if that's what I am) work, too.  This thread will fall off the edge, soon.
Bill Taylor | 8/22/2012 - 9:32pm
Easter Island was once covered with forest and its population went out to sea in wooden canoes to fish. Somewhere along the line, somebody cut down the last tree on the island. What was on his mind, nobody can say. But by the time Europeans got to that mysterious place, its inhabitants were cannibals busy devouring each other. Some kind of moral here, and I think Plato would have understood.
T BLACKBURN | 8/22/2012 - 6:05pm
"Personality mattered less than whether what was said was technologically sound." Oh, that can't be true. What matters is whether I think the speaker is a hypocrite, an incredible hypocrite or a true believer. I also believe every op ed Exxon or BP sponsors, and I have a wonderful comment that has not much bearing on the subject, from Edward Gibbons, but I won't bore you with it. But I could.
Stanley Kopacz | 8/22/2012 - 5:35pm
I had a thermodynamics teacher in college.  He had such a sad sack, monotone delivery, I could hardly listen to him.  When I forced myself from reverie to listen to him, I could hear that he had probably the best presentation I ever heard on a topic in physics.  In my career as an engineer, I have sought to advance technology and solve problems by working with all kinds of people, some I liked and some I didn't like. Personality mattered less than whether what was said was technologically sound.  I thoroughly recommend this attitude.  It takes hide and testicular fortitude to transcend personality differences and get to a course of action.  It is very satisfying at the end when you look at the accomplishment in spite of the personal conflicts.
T BLACKBURN | 8/22/2012 - 12:20pm
Let's not blame the public for everything. A lot of money has been spent trying to convince a distracted public that there is no need to worry about climate change. The gullible ones  bought the snake oil. Snake oil causes abusive outbursts, among other things.

But here is the deal, or what the bishops call prudence: If the skeptics are right, the oil companies get richer. If the skeptics are wrong, you fry.
Bill Taylor | 8/22/2012 - 11:15am
I think it was Plato who explained it. The grave weakness of democracy is this: People will not vote for self-sacrifice. If it is going to cost me money, time, convenience, or my cherished point of view, I will instinctivley deny it. And so, Plato said, with the problems not solved because the people won't vote for it, inevitably comes the dictator.
J Cosgrove | 8/22/2012 - 10:38am
From some of the anti-skeptic skeptics.

Just moved it to the top of my Netflix list.

The worst enemies of doing something about global warming are those who espouse it the loudest. They are incredible hypocrites.  If they didn't try to grab for the money more quickly then the debate would have been much different.  The politicians and the celebrities don't really believe it or else they would act differently.  That is what the true believers should be after, not the skeptics.  Using Church doctrine also strikes me as hypocritical too.  How can we confuse the rubes for our political objectives.  If we cannot scare them to death, then may be we can make them feel guilty because of Catholic social principles.

Recently by Elizabeth Groppe