Have you heard the theory that humans can manipulate the environment to the extent that their actions can actually be the cause of climate change? That’s the concept that environmentalists, scientists, the news media, and other proponents of global warming are telling us. The theory of global warming is backed by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, stating that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG [man-made greenhouse gas] concentrations.”

Alarming reports tell us that global warming—producing destructive tropical storms, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, flooding of coastal areas, more frequent heat waves, heat-related deaths, droughts, wildfires, disease epidemics, and species extinction—has begun and will only become worse. Huge sums of money and human resources are being appropriated to study this phenomenon. Utility companies are offering rebates on heating, cooling, sealing, and insulating. The EPA has an online calculator with which an individual or family can calculate personal greenhouse gas emissions from driving, using air-conditioning, and other daily activities. Citizens are encouraged to power their vehicles with ethanol or trade them in for hybrids and to pursue “green power.” Schools are teaching children how to “be green” at home: reduce, reuse, recycle; use less water; compost food and yard waste; and turn off video games, computers, TVs, and other electronics when not in use. All of these activities are meant to slow down the warming of our planet.

Are humans ultimately responsible for the temperature increases seen over the last one hundred years? Are there other possible explanations for the apparent warming trend? What does God say about the world He created for mankind to live in and tend? Was He not aware from the beginning that people would invent cars and machines that burn fossil fuels, heat and air-condition buildings, and build industrial complexes dependent on huge amounts of energy? Does He not control the rotation of the earth, nature, and governmental actions? Has God built in homeostatic mechanisms that allow for temperature variations but limit temperature extremes? The question boils down to this: Who controls the thermostat of our globe?

Let’s examine the theory of global warming to determine if human efforts have caused or will cause a difference in the atmosphere and temperature of the earth.

Warming up?

In recent months the mainstream media has used the terms “climate change” and “global warming” interchangeably. The two are not the same by definition or by common sense. “Global warming” should be used to indicate only an increase in the temperature of the atmosphere. “Climate change,” on the other hand, indicates changes from multiple sources resulting in fluctuations of temperature up or down, covering long time periods.

Exactly what has caused the increase in temperature is the subject of intense scientific debate that will not be put to rest any time soon. Roy Spencer, a meteorologist with the University of Alabama–Huntsville, says that one global warming alarmist “likes to say that mankind puts 70 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. What he probably doesn’t know is that mother nature puts 24,000 times that amount of our main greenhouse gas-water vapor into the atmosphere every day, and removes about the same amount every day.”

Experts in the British government’s Meteorological Office predicted that “the world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007,” surpassing the all-time high reached in 1998. But a funny thing happened on the way to the planetary hot flash: much of the planet grew bitterly cold. Given the number of worldwide cold events, it is no surprise that 2007 didn’t turn out to be the warmest ever. In fact, 2007’s global temperature was essentially the same as that in 2006 and 2005 and 2004 and every year back to 2001. The record set in 1998 has not been surpassed. For nearly a decade now, there has been no global warming. Even though atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to accumulate-it’s up about 4% since 1998-the global mean temperature has remained flat. That raises some obvious questions about the theory that CO2 is the cause of climate change.

Greenhouse gases

The atmosphere that surrounds the earth is made up of three main components: nitrogen gas (78%), oxygen gas (21%), and a mixture of gases called “the greenhouse” gases, which make up the remaining 1%. The greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are composed of three main gases: Carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up 0.037%, methane makes up 0.0002%, and dihydrogen oxide (water) makes up 0-4%. Along with these are a number of other gases that are considered inert.

Of the 1% of our atmospheric air made of greenhouse gases, the two main sources are methane and CO2. In both cases, these have natural sources and man-made source.

The major sources of greenhouse gases are generated by natural processes: methane, 82% by natural processes, 18% by man-made processes; CO2, 97% by natural processes, 3% by man-made processes. The heated molecules of these gases cannot escape the atmosphere, thus keeping the air warmer around the earth.

God designed human and animal respiratory systems to breathe in oxygen from the atmosphere and then to exhale CO2. Plants require the CO2 that is exhaled by other living organisms to make sugars (stored energy) and to release oxygen back into the atmosphere. Likewise, oceans and lakes absorb and release CO2 and other noncontrollable atmospheric emissions. Other sources that release CO2 into the atmosphere are rotting vegetation and combustion from forest fires. Methane, on the other hand, is released from bogs, rice patties, volcanoes, and animal flatulence.

Believers should not fear scientific data on the composition of earth’s atmosphere, for this information helps us understand God’s created order. God’s design for our atmosphere included all of the greenhouse gases in amounts that would maintain a fairly constant global temperature.

Global temperature changes in history

Research reveals that there has been a 1.2 degree Celsius change globally over the last two thousand years.

History records major changes that coincide with these temperature variations. The period 750 BC to 200 BC historically records a time of cool temperatures. The Egyptians had to dam the Nile River to compensate for the cooler temperatures.

Roman historians record that the Tiber River froze and snow covered the land. But in 200 BC to AD 400, Roman historians wrote of less-than-average amounts of ice and snow, and grapes and olives grew farther north than had been previously recorded.

The Dark Ages were ushered in with global cooling during AD 400–600. Unusual weather and climate patterns occurred, including snow falling during the summer, as well as numerous comets, meteors, earthquakes, dimmed skies, famines, plagues, and severe storms. These events could be either the explanation for or the result of cooler temperatures.

Slightly before 600, the Medieval warming period began and lasted until 1300. Many castles and cathedrals in Europe were built during this warming period, indicating that food was plentiful, thus allowing many non-farm laborers to participate in the building projects. It should also be noted that during this period the Vikings arrived in Greenland. Viking colonists lived by fishing and hunting on ice-free seas, as well as by raising cattle and sheep on “green land” that is now frozen. The European population increased by 50% during this warming period due to the abundance of food crops. Throughout the entire world many advances were recorded.

The years 1300–1850 are called the Little Ice Age, which history describes as a time of storms, bitter cold, and rampant diseases. Travel and trade declined, food shortages killed millions, epidemics followed crop failures, and the bubonic plague reappeared.

Casual readers often ask how it is possible to accurately analyze temperature data (to the tenth of a degree!) from events in ancient history. Much of this data from two thousand years of history, deduced from tree ring and ice core data, shows trends of cooling and warming. The temperature data ranges from -0.6 degrees Celsius to +0.6 degrees Celsius of average global temperature.

Scientists often compare their historical data on worldwide temperature change to more recent changes, paying special attention to changes that occurred after the Industrial Revolution in an effort to show that global climate change has increased with the urbanization and mechinization of society.

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution from about 0.029% to its current level of 0.037%. How did that increase affect temperatures between 1900 and 2005?

Fluctuating temperatures

It is important to note that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere does not show a consistent influence on the average temperature variations. For example, the temperature in the United States from 1900 to 2005 fluctuated only 4 degrees, while CO2 continuously increased over this same period. Also, the average temperature around the globe has had an even smaller degree of fluctuation since 1990, having risen only a quarter of a degree Celsius. Meanwhile, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased steadily during this 17-year time span.

Phases of surface temperatures

According to Dr. Spencer, globally averaged surface temperatures over the last 150 years show three distinct phases:

Phase 1: The cool period known as the Little Ice Age spanned several centuries. It was a particularly harsh time for humanity. However, the temperatures began warming up. Dr. Spencer explains that “this warming must have been natural, because mankind had not yet emitted substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.”

Phase 2: Then a slight cooling occurred between 1940 and the 1970s, and it occurred “in spite of rapid increases in manmade greenhouse gas emissions. One theory is that this cooling is also manmade”—from a number of components, including acids (e.g., nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

Phase 3: Since the 1970s, “fairly steady warming has occurred.”

With all those influences, the average temperature increased only 0.8 of a degree Celsius in the last 150 years!

Now here is something you won’t hear much about in the media: The global average temperature ranges from 1998 until January 2008 show what seems to be a new trend. In the last twelve months the average temperature has dropped 0.595 of a degree Celsius. Another way of saying this is that the temperature drop in the last twelve months has wiped out two decades of global warming. The temperature drop could just be an anomaly for this year, but it might very well be the start of a new cooling trend.

Global warming from a Biblical perspective

For Christians, our final authority must come from God’s Word. Global warming is not mentioned specifically in Scripture, but Scripture does reveal the position we should take when evaluating the claims of global warming.

In Genesis 1 and 2 God tells us that He formed everything in the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing). He established all physical laws that control every aspect of living organisms and nonliving materials. He put into motion the cycles that control water, temperature, wind, erosion, tides, seasons, and time. Living creatures were created to cover the earth. Man was created from dust, and God breathed into him life and gave him the responsibility of caring for His creation. It is important to note that mankind is special in God’s creation. People glorify God by being good stewards and caring for the earth. However, they do not have any special control or influence over the processes that God has established.

Consider the following examples that occurred chronologically in the Bible.

Genesis 6—9 records God’s intervention in earth’s history to punish sin. Human sin was so grievous in God’s sight that He sent a flood to destroy mankind. But He saved Noah and his family and dramatically changed His creation forever. He made Noah and his family caretakers of the animals that He brought to them. However, He did not give Noah control over the elements in any way; the earth was under only God’s command.

In the days of the patriarchs, God allowed Job to suffer terrible loss, which he couldn’t understand. But when Job considered God’s power in the universe compared to his own, he responded: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.” Our response should be like Job’s: “I am insignificant before the Creator of the universe, and I will put my hand over my mouth and say no more.” God controls the thermostat. He controls the wind, the rain, the snow, the sunshine. Mankind’s God-given task is that of caretaker of the earth. Who are we to think we have control over any aspect of God’s creation?

When Jesus lived on earth, His disciples were amazed that He could command the wind and waves (Matthew 8:24–27). They knew that only God, not mankind, can control nature.

The Bible’s teaching is clear from the Old Testament through the New Testament that God is in total control of the universe and all that is found in it. We humans are created beings who have been given a special position in creation, but who do not have the ability or power to alter God’s plan for nature.

Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk radio host, recently said, “The global warming people essentially are atheists. You cannot believe in the God of Creation and believe manmade global warming. You just can’t. You might run around and say, ‘I don’t want to destroy God’s creation.’ God’s laughing at you. You can’t! He could, but you can’t. You can’t create it; you can’t destroy it.”

Summary: A Christian view of global warming

It is clear from the evidence that global warming is (1) a series of warming and cooling trends seen over time that has affected history, (2) not a man-made phenomenon, and (3) controlled by God since the creation of the earth.

The God of the Bible created mankind and will sustain His creation until the time He returns and takes His people to live with Him. God will again intervene in the normal course of nature during the great tribulation period, as recorded in the book of Revelation. Until that time the temperatures on the earth will go up and down within the limits set by God. Dr. Larry Vardiman, chairman of the Astrogeophysics Department at the Institute for Creation Research, states, “God has designed the atmosphere with a built-in thermostat which maintains thermal equilibrium. This climate condition does not lead to a runaway greenhouse or a new ice age. The view of a climate with a built-in thermostat contrasts strongly with the conventional worldview that the atmosphere is unstable and a minor perturbation could lead to a natural catastrophe of either fire or ice.”

John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel, sums up how the global warming crisis should be viewed. He says that some “scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data to create an allusion of rapid global warming,” that other scientists “jumped into the circle to support and broaden the ‘research’ to further enhance” the claims of global warming, that “their friends in government steered huge research grants their way to keep the movement going,” and that “soon they claimed to be a consensus.” He believes that global warming “is not about environmentalism or politics. It is not a religion. It is not something you ‘believe in.’ It is science; the science of meteorology.” He concludes that global warming “is a non-event, a manufactured crisis and a total scam.”

Environmentalists, scientists, news media, and other proponents of global warming are wrong: Humans cannot manipulate the environment to cause climate change. Science demonstrates it. And God alone controls the earth’s thermostat.

James C. Calcamuggio was formerly the chair of the Division of Arts and Sciences at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Owatonna, Minn. He is a graudate of the University of Toledo, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School. A registered pharmacist, he also works part-time at the Owatonna Hospital pharmacy. He also regularly speaks to churches, teachers’ conventions, and civic groups on creation issues, science, and herbal medicines.