Synod Calls Church to Take Active Role in Climate Change Issue

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The Christian Reformed Church recognizes that there is near consensus by scientists that climate change poses a significant threat to the planet and to future generations, and that it is likely due to human activity.

Rev. Nick Overduin, Classis Toronto: “We don’t want to fiddle while creation burns.”
Photo: Karen Huttenga

Synod 2012 called for churches, members, and denominational agencies to be voices for creation stewardship in reducing our individual and collective carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

But reaching that conclusion was not by any means a short order.

The report of the Creation Stewardship task force to synod sparked several hours of spirited discussion and debate. From the accuracy of the science involved to the church’s responsibility in addressing the issue, delegates sparred back and forth in what was expected to be a contentious matter even before Synod 2012 began.

When it ended, though, delegates had decided that the issue of climate change was one the church can no longer afford to ignore.

“We don’t want to fiddle while creation burns,” said Rev. Nick Overduin, Classis Toronto, who chaired the creation stewardship advisory committee.

Delegates who supported the report warned that if the CRC and its membership failed to act, it would be ignoring the threat of having an environment that future generations, along with the poor and vulnerable, would not want to live in.

In its report, the task force, which included scientists from Calvin College and the University of Washington, said that CRC members have the theological roots to “affirm a commitment to work vigorously and heal the creation for the glory of the Creator.”

Some delegates argued that creation care was not an issue that should be addressed either by synod or the church itself; others held that the CRC didn’t have a choice but to act.

Tim Dykstra, one of synod’s young adult representatives, concluded that if synod did not approve the task force’s report, they were “throwing out the Contemporary Testimony,” which states that “we are called to commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God.”

Several delegates agreed, contending that avoiding the issue goes against the church’s very mission.

“Part of the church’s call is to care for the poor and hungry,” said Rev. Joel Schreurs, Classis Rocky Mountain. “This is about a simple obedience to care for the creation (God) loves. Those who will be most affected by this will be the poor and vulnerable—most of us will cope.”

Those who opposed passing the task force’s report argued that scientific findings did not rise to the same level of biblical teachings. Some delegates insisted that climate change was not caused by human activity but by other environmental issues.

Dr. Tom Ackerman, director of the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, said that 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is indeed caused by humans. His argument wasn’t sufficient for some delegates.

Rev. Robert Cumings, Classis Pacific Northwest, said that the church is to speak prophetically, but because science isn’t exact, to move forward and to act on the views of scientists would be dangerous. “Given the track record of environmental science, a majority report is not enough to speak prophetically,” Cumings said.

Rev. John Douma, Classis Grandville, agreed. “In the church, we talk about belief,” he said. “But ambiguity is a problem. Are we talking about the law of climate change or the theory of climate change? We want to get it right and for me—a near consensus is not good enough.”

Once synod decided that climate change is having an adverse affect on the planet, discussion shifted to how the church should respond.

Delegates agreed that the church should actively encourage members to live sustainably within “our God-given resources,” and that they should strive not only to use less energy but to be wise in the way they are using energy.

Synod also called on the church and its members to consider and advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions.

Several delegates, including Rev. Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, stated that they did not believe it was their place to deliver such messages but to remain true to the foundational mission of the church to preach the gospel.

Elder Terry Gray, Classis Rocky Mountain, said although the CRC has a history of being active in social justice issues, that didn’t make issues like climate change an ecclesiastical issue.

But Rev. Michael Vander Laan, Classis Toronto, said one couldn’t be separated from the other. “Our response to global warning will proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Vander Laan said.

Despite such pleas, several delegates warned that to promote the task force’s report and to call members to action was to carry out a mission of hopelessness. They told fellow delegates that the church’s work was to promote a message of hope and that speaking to issues of the earth’s deterioration was doing just the opposite.

Ackerman disagreed. He said that, despite delegates’ arguments to the contrary, the issue is ultimately not about doom and gloom. Instead, the report that synod adopted is an attempt to provide greater hope for years to come as long as society—and the church—takes necessary action.

In the end, Synod 2012 also asked that churches provide gracious pastoral care to each other in the context of discussing such a contentious issue. “We receive each other in love. We encourage each other to be more stewardly to the glory of God. We encourage the churches not to live in fear, but in the knowledge that God’ Spirit renews the face of the earth, and his Spirit is with us.”


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About the Author

Jeff Arnold is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classes Kalamazoo and Lake Erie.

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Junk Science Week: Climate models fail reality test

Ross McKitrick, Special to Financial Post  Jun 13, 2012 – 9:07 PM ET | Last Updated: Jun 14, 2012 11:17 AM ET

Computer models utterly fail to predict climate changes in regions

A few years ago a biologist I know looked at how climate change might affect the spread of a particular invasive insect species. He obtained climate-model projections for North America under standard greenhouse-gas scenarios from two modelling labs, and then tried to characterize how the insect habitat might change. To his surprise, he found very different results depending on which model was used. Even though both models were using the same input data, they made opposite predictions about regional climate patterns in North America.

This reminded me of a presentation I’d seen years earlier about predicted changes in U.S. rainfall patterns under global warming. The two models being used for a government report again made diametrically opposite predictions. In region after region, if one model predicted a tendency toward more flooding, the other tended to predict drying.

Just how good are climate models at predicting regional patterns of climate change? I had occasion to survey this literature as part of a recently completed research project on the subject. The simple summary is that, with few exceptions, climate models not only fail to do better than random numbers, in some cases they are actually worse.

There are two reasons why this is important. First, it tells us something about our lack of understanding of the climate. There are various different theories to explain the rising trend in the global average temperature over the past century. Climate models embed one such theory, based on a relatively high sensitivity to greenhouse gases and strong amplifying effects from a positive water-vapour feedback, and relative insensitivity to other things. In this setup, the only way to get a climate model to mimic the 20th-century average warming is to feed in the observed increase in greenhouse gases.

Therefore, the argument goes, greenhouse gases are to blame.

But this kind of argument could be used to support other theories too, if the models are set up just so. To say which theory, if any, is right, we need to look at the spatial patterns. Different theories make different predictions about where the warming should be taking place, a detail that gets missed if we only look at the global average. A valid model should not only get the global trend right, but also the spatial pattern of change.

Second, when policymakers and scientists think about climate change, they are usually not interested in abstract global averages but in potential changes where people actually live, namely at the local level. To say anything meaningful about this requires models that make valid regional predictions.
We already had a clue that something is wrong with spatial details in climate models. Due to the water-vapour feedback, models predict rapid, amplified warming in the troposphere over the tropics. But data collected by weather balloons and satellites fail to show this, and the discrepancy between models and observations is statistically significant.

So how do models do at predicting the spatial pattern of warming over land? Though the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) devoted a whole chapter to model evaluation, it said almost nothing about this question. The IPCC talked mainly about static features, such as whether the model can make the tropics hot and poles cold, and so forth. But it was mostly silent on the spatial changes. A 2008 report of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program went…

The majority of Synod 2012 just couldn't resist the urge to tell its members how they should think.  This might not be so bad except that Synod 2012 included no one, quite literally, who had the requisite expertise to speak credibly, in an absolute sense, about the complex science and political questions they decided they to be our voices on.  CRCNA members should be asking two questions:

   (1) Exactly why should synodical delegates think they have the AUTHORITY to tell members what to think, and to speak for members as to what conclusions they must make on this complex questions of science, politics, and economics?  Certainly, CO Article 28 says they don't. and CO Article 85 suggests what they are doing when they insist they do. 

   (2) Exactly why do synodical delegates believe they have anything close to the competency to make these decisions for members, even if it were appropriate for them to do so?  Exactly one-half ot these men and women have theology degrees and only experience as pastors.  Yet they claim the expertise of polling scientists when they declare (for all of us) what the near-consensus is among scientists, and of climate scientists when they declare conclusions about complex science questions (not to mention political and economic questions).

Admittedly, the Advisory Committee's report, adopted by Synod, was much less bad than the task force report, but still, Synod needs to do more than just split babies on tough questions or principle.  Synod needs to take seriously questions of what our denomination, whether via Synod or the agencies, say in members' behalves, and the kind of expertise that is falsely assumed when such proxy declarations are make regarding a lack of subject matter expertise.

It's time for the CRCNA to figure out what it means and doesn't mean to be church-as-institution.  The fact that Jesus Christ is Lord over all simply doesn't mean that the we should eliminate the centuries long Calvinist distinction between church-as-institution and the church-as-organism.  Another Advisory Committee wanted to dump Overture 3, which asked the denomination to study just that, what it meant to be church-as-institution as opposed to the church-as-organism, and where the subject matter boundaries of our organizational structure (agencies, CRCNA board of trustees, synod, classis and councils) were. To synod's credit, they weren't willing to simply dump that report, but the report was ultimately ultimately shuffled off to what is probably the same bureacratic structure that seems bent on eliminate the distinction between church as institution and organism.

Lest anyone this the discuss of church as institution and organism is merely theoretical, understand that the distinction is one of the key practical differences between protestants (especially Calvinists) and Roman Catholics coming out of the reformation.  If there is no distinction, then the institutional church -- in our case the synod and denominational agencies and board they create -- become an unrestricted wielder of power and authority for all CRCNA members, just as the papal structure is and does in the Roman Catholic tradition.  This current CRC trend of going back to a Roman perspective on this began a mere 15 years or so ago, but it has taken hold fast.  Before we irretrievably become more a political association than a confessional church, lets at least stop and seriously study what we are doing, what our Calvinist perspective says and why, and then decide with our eyes wide open.  Maybe the CRCNA membership wants to become a political association?  After all, a lot of that trend has happened in many 'mainline' North American church traditions.  But I think the CRCNA membership wants to stay reformed and not become a political association -- by a very large percentage.  Maybe I'm wrong, but whether I'm right or wrong on that, we should at least have that focused discussion (Overture 3) and find out.

Finally, keep this in mind.  CRCNA "leadership" thought we'd all love to adopt the Belhar as a Fourth Confession.  But when that proposition was made directly to the churches, they responded rather overwhelmingly otherwise.  In the same way, I don't think membership wants the CRCNA to become a political assocation either.

“We don’t want to fiddle while creation burns,” said Rev. Nick Overduin, Classis Toronto, who chaired the creation stewardship advisory committee.

You are welcome to your opinion, but don't give it to me. It's embarrising as a CRC member to read such nonsense.  I'm also wondering where Dr. Ackerman pulled out the number that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is indeed caused by humans.  This is pure elephant hurling.  I would be surprised if half would come to any kind of consensus and then only for fear of losing funding. The climate change hypothesis is simply a political agenda.

(continuation of above by McKitrick; McKitrick is an expert reviewer for the IPCC)  So how do models do at predicting the spatial pattern of warming over land? Though the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) devoted a whole chapter to model evaluation, it said almost nothing about this question. The IPCC talked mainly about static features, such as whether the model can make the tropics hot and poles cold, and so forth. But it was mostly silent on the spatial changes. A 2008 report of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program went a bit deeper, but only to report on tests of how daily and seasonal variations in models matched the real world (is winter a suitable amount colder than summer, etc.).

The reports weren’t ignoring anything: There just hasn’t been much work on the topic. Over a decade ago one team wrote an editorial in the journal Climatic Change lamenting that, on the few occasions people checked the spatial trend pattern, there was a tendency to use what they called “eyeball assessments”: putting colour plots side by side and declaring that they look similar. More recently, one team actually computed some test statistics, but they set the test up so that a region only failed if models and observations significantly disagreed. That’s a weak test, since lists of random numbers wouldn’t fail it.

Then in 2008 and 2010, a team of hydrologists at the National Technical University of Athens published a pair of studies comparing long-term (100-year) temperature and precipitation trends in a total of 55 locations around the world to model projections. The models performed quite poorly at the annual level, which was not surprising. What was more surprising was that they also did poorly even when averaged up to the 30-year scale, which is typically assumed to be the level they work best at. They also did no better over larger and larger regional scales. The authors concluded that there is no basis for the claim that climate models are well-suited for long-term predictions over large regions.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Forecasting took the same data set and compared model predictions against a “random walk” alternative, consisting simply of using the last period’s value in each location as the forecast for the next period’s value in that location. The test measures the sum of errors relative to the random walk. A perfect model gets a score of zero, meaning it made no errors. A model that does no better than a random walk gets a score of 1. A model receiving a score above 1 did worse than uninformed guesses. Simple statistical forecast models that have no climatology or physics in them typically got scores between 0.8 and 1, indicating slight improvements on the random walk, though in some cases their scores went as high as 1.8.

The climate models, by contrast, got scores ranging from 2.4 to 3.7, indicating a total failure to provide valid forecast information at the regional level, even on long time scales. The authors commented: “This implies that the current [climate] models are ill-suited to localized decadal predictions, even though they are used as inputs for policymaking.”

Indeed. Nor is the problem confined just to a few models. In a 2010 paper, a co-author and I looked at how well an average formed from all 23 climate models used for the 2007 IPCC report did at explaining the spatial pattern of temperature trends on land after 1979, compared with a rival model that all the experts keep telling me should have no explanatory power at all: the regional pattern of socioeconomic growth. Any effects from those factors, I have been told many times, are removed from the climate data before it is published. And yet I keep finding the socioeconomic patterns do a very good job of explaining the patterns of temperature trends over land. In our 2010 paper we showed that the climate models, averaged together, do very poorly, while the socioeconomic data does quite well.

Perhaps the problem is that the models should not be averaged together, but should be examined one by one and then in every possible combination, with and without the socioeconomic data, in case some model somewhere has some explanatory power under just the right testing scenario. That is what another coauthor and I looked at in the recently completed study I mentioned above. It will be published shortly in a high-quality climatology journal, and I will be writing about our findings in more detail. There will be no surprises for those who have followed the discussion to this point.

Financial Post
Ross McKitrick is a professor of economics at the University of Guelph and an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Citations available at

Next week: Climate models offer millions of ways of getting the wrong answer

McKitrick's followup article on June 20 indicated that his evaluation of 22 Global Circulation Models, along with the contribution of socio-economic indicators, concluded that only three of the 22 GCMs had any predictive power when it came to spatial pattern of surface temperatures, while three varialbes within  the socio-economic model had a consistent predictive ability for spatial patterns of temperature and rainfall.  His concluding paragraph says: 

"Why does this matter? First, the fact that the socioeconomic model has significant explanatory power means, as Myles Allen put it, there is something “wrong” with the surface temperature data, or at least with the assumption that the data processing has removed all the socioeconomic contamination. Second, since most models are basically useless at regional climate predictions, policymakers need to realize that policy plans based on those predictions will be equally useless. Finally, climate models embody the dominant current theory about the behaviour of the climate. If they keep making wrong predictions, it probably means the theory still needs work."

That might be an understatement.  

"But Rev. Michael Vander Laan, Classis Toronto, said one couldn’t be separated from the other. “Our response to global warning will proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Vander Laan said."

Vander Laan is partially correct in this statement, but incorrect in his implication.  If our response to global warming is that Christ is Lord and Saviour, regardless of whether the climate is warming or not, then yes, that proclaims the gosple.   If our response to global warming is merely that we have to stop it, then we are not proclaiming the gosple, but rather we are proclaiming our supremacy over nature, and over our environment.  We can proclaim the gospel while caring for creation, including while we reduce energy use, and reduce ghg emissions, and adapt to higher temperatures, but simply doing these things does not guarantee a proclamation of the gospel.  There are many people doing these things who pay no attention to the gospel whatsoever.