The communication below was submitted to the officers of Synod, after consultation with the Executive Director and the Director of Synodical Services of the CRCNA regarding process and timelines. The officers of Synod responded with this communication:
The officers of synod reviewed the communication submitted by Sanctuary CRC, Seattle, Washington, and considered the request to share it with the synod advisory committee addressing Overture 8. The officers have decided that the communication cannot be shared with the advisory committee or synod because it did not follow the adopted process for communications to synod nor was it submitted within the deadline. They also added that the advisory committee has similar material before it that it will be considering.
I am personally extremely disappointed in the lack of transparency regarding the treatment of this communication and the impossibility of following the procedures (as I understand them). In addition, I am disappointed by the fact that the officers of the CRCNA did not request input in a timely fashion from the Taskforce Committee that wrote the report begin discredited in Overture 8. I post this comment here so that it can at least have some exposure after being dismissed by the officers of Synod. (This action is mine alone and should not be associated with the Council of Sanctuary CRC in Seattle.)
The council of Sanctuary CRC offers this communication in response to Overture 8: Withdraw Assertions by Synod 2012 about Climate Change included in the Agenda for Synod 2019, pages 505-509. This commentary was written by Dr. Thomas Ackerman, a member of Sanctuary CRC and Professor Emeritus, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, the University of Washington. Dr. Ackerman was reporter for the Creation Stewardship Task Force and attended Synod 2012 in that capacity. We send this letter with the full support of our council, and trust that it will be a help to Synod in the discussion of this critical topic.
We had hoped to send this through Classis PNW, but as there was no scheduled meeting between the publication of the Agenda and Synod’s gathering in June, we felt it best to send along this communication from our council to the appropriate committee.
In faith, hope, and love:
Tammie Haulter, President
Alex Pulver, Clerk
Sanctuary Christian Reformed Church
204 N 85th Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
Communication on Overture 8: Withdraw Assertions by Synod 2012 about Climate Change included in the Agenda for Synod 2019, pages 505-509.
Overture 8 asks Synod 2019 to withdraw two assertions made by Synod 2012 in accepting the Creation Stewardship Task Force. It supplies two grounds for this request:
- The principal ground is that Statement 3a of the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report adopted by the Synod of 2012 (Acts of Synod 2012, pages 804-05) is no longer valid. Statement 3a, as adopted, reads “It is the current near-consensus of the international scientific community that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity.”
- The secondary ground is that this issue of climate change is not an ecclesiastical matter and should not be considered by Synod.
This commentary addresses three specific questions regarding the factual ground of Overture 8. The questions and brief answers are summarized here, with more extended discussions following.
- Has the consensus on climate change science changed in the past seven years?
The scientific consensus on the nature and cause of climate change has strengthened in the last seven years and is still agreed to by the very large majority of climate scientists nationally and internationally.
- Is the climate change material cited in Overture 8 reliable?
The material cited in Overture 8 is not drawn from the published, peer-reviewed literature [Endnote 1] of the scientific community and represents the personal beliefs of two individuals, rather than the considered opinion of the climate science community. This material has been extensively rebutted by other scientists, which is the reason it has not been published.
- Did Synod 2012 and the Task Force consider whether climate change is an ecclesiastical matter?
The Task Force and Synod 2012 considered this issue. The conclusion was to recognize the consensus of the climate science community, and then, as an ecclesiastical matter, to consider the church’s response to that consensus in terms of the Biblical call to creation care and social justice.
Both grounds cited in Overture 8 fail to support the requested actions.
Climate change science consensus
The scientific consensus on the occurrence of climate change and the causal impact of human activity has actually strengthened over the past seven years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is charged by the United Nations to produce periodic assessments of what the scientific community knows about global climate change. These reports are produced through the efforts of hundreds of climate scientists from all over the world relying on peer-reviewed literature. They are then thoroughly reviewed by more than a thousand other scientists. The IPCC authors track every single comment received and are required to respond to every single comment; all this material is available to interested parties. The comments are critical and challenging because all the scientists involved in the review process are determined to make the report as accurate as possible. The effort to produce an IPCC document is unprecedented in science and the resulting set of documents truly represents the best assessment of the climate change issue that can be made by the scientific community.
The most recent report, the 5th Assessment Report, published in 2014, states “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia” and “their [anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions] effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”. [Endnote 2] These statements are similar to the statements in the 4th Assessment Report, published in 2007 and cited by the Task Force, but are more emphatic in asserting the existence of global warming and attributing that warming to human activity.
The United States government is mandated by Congress to release a scientifically authored and peer-reviewed climate assessment for the nation, following a procedure similar to that of the IPCC documents. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, publicly released by the current administration in 2018, provides a detailed look at climate change in the United States and a sobering projection of climate change into the future. It states: “With significant reductions in [anthropogenic greenhouse gas] emissions, global temperature increase could be limited to 3.6°F (2°C) or less compared to preindustrial temperatures. Without significant reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century compared to preindustrial temperatures.” [Endnote 3]
Both of these scientific evaluations, one international in authorship and one national in authorship, provide similar statements that anthropogenic emissions are increasing, climate is warming at an unprecedented rate, the warming is a direct consequence of human emissions, and global temperatures will rise to very harmful levels by mid to late 21st century unless we drastically curtail our emissions. Evidence of warming can be found in many indicators including enhanced melting of sea ice, reduced length of winter as measured by frost-free days, migration of birds and insects, and an increase in the rate of sea level rise. The consensus of climate models run by nations throughout the world is that global warming is due to greenhouse gas increases and that the warming will continue at its current rate or greater unless emissions are reduced substantially. While climate science is indeed complex, the climate science community is clear regarding the causes and trends of global warming.
Material cited in Overture 8
Overture 8 relies on unpublished material from two climate scientists. This material is drawn from testimony before a US House of Representatives Committee hearing on climate change. The material cited in Overture 8 has not been published or reviewed [see Endnote 1]. It has been considered by the climate science community and found to be lacking in credibility [Endnote 4], which is the reason that it remains unpublished. As such, the grounds offered by Overture 8 rise only to the level of personal opinion, not reliable scientific findings.
Overture 8 also raises the argument that science is not consensus driven and that society should be wary of a scientific consensus. Nothing could be further from the truth. The primary objective of scientific research is to arrive at a consensus understanding of physical processes. Upon occasion, new research deviates from or contradicts the current consensus. It is then the work of science to either find the flaws in the new research or modify the existing consensus. The material cited in Overture 8 is not new research, but unpublished complaints about existing science. Without review and publication, it simply should not be taken seriously.
Climate change as an ecclesiastical matter
The Creation Stewardship Task Force Report does not take its own position on climate change science, precisely because the Task Force members collectively were not experts in climate science. The Task Force Report accepts the consensus opinion of the climate science community and then asks, “what is the appropriate response of the church to this major problem?” In Statement 3a, Synod 2012 adopted the thought process and the language of the Task Force. Synod 2012 did not speak on the issue of climate science, but merely accepted the clear consensus of the science community and then spoke to the need of the church to respond in faith, hope, and love. More erratic weather is already impacting fresh water availability, increasing extreme weather events, and driving millions of people around the world into food insecurity. Ample empirical and anecdotal evidence from World Renew and other relief and development agencies show that climate impacts are already reversing the economic gains of previous decades. If left unchecked, rising global temperatures over the next decades will have deleterious effects on crop yields due to water stress and growth of pests, the habitability of low lying land areas such as river deltas and atolls due to sea level rise, the productivity of ocean ecosystems due to ocean acidification, and death and destruction of humans and other species due to severe weather.
Synod’s own prior commitments to ending hunger (And He Had Compassion on Them, 1978) and addressing the root causes of global poverty (For My Neighbor’s Good, 1979) are consistent with Synod 2012’s assessment that the effects of human-induced climate change are matters not only of creation care, but also of social justice—both of which are addressed at length in the Bible. As such, they are certainly ecclesiastical matters.
- Articles published in scientific journals are first submitted to a journal editor. The editor sends the submitted manuscript typically to three other scientists who are experts in the scientific field of the article. These scientists provide reviews of the article to the editor recommending whether the manuscript should be published and what changes are required if it is to be published. These reviews are returned anonymously to the author(s) along with the editor’s decision on publication or not. Published, peer-reviewed literature is of a much higher standard than opinion pieces because it has been vetted by reviews by peers and an editorial evaluation.
- These statements are from the Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers, available for download at https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/ (accessed April 2019). The IPCC summary contains a much more detailed discussion of these statements.
- Fourth National Climate Assessment, Chapter 2 (Katharine Hayhoe, lead author), available at https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/chapter/2/, accessed April 2019.
- For example, Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has provided a detailed assessment of the shortcomings of Dr. Christy’s graph presented as Figure 1 in Overture 8. (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2016/05/comparing-models-to-the-satellite-datasets/)