Richard Cizik, who is Vice-President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, has created quite a stir among his constituency by breaking ranks with the NAE’s neutrality on issues of climate change (a.k.a. “global warming”). Using the language of evangelicalism, he has described his new-found adherence to the warming worriers as a religious conversion, a moment of sudden enlightenment which overcame him at an alarming presentation by Sir John Houghton, first chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in England in 2002. Since that time he has been traveling to college campuses and churches preaching the gospel of climate emergency (and lamenting that there’s nary a word about it in the churches, though were he to go to the liberal churches he would hear plenty about it). Though he is a professed supporter of George Bush in other matters, and would normally be reluctant to align himself with Al Gore, it is Gore’s position on global warming which he embraces. He calls his position “creation care,” and cites Bible verses in support of it, which may be intended to separate himself from Gore & Co. But Gore has lately been citing the Bible himself, and in any case Cizik’s views on global warming are like Gore’s.

Given my rather public skepticism of the thesis that humans are causing any significant climate change, my friend Bob Benne, who is the director of the ethics center at Roanoke College, invited me down to Roanoke to debate Mr. Cizik on these matters. Bob has an eye for irony, noting that I come from a “liberal” church which tends to support Gore’s views rather enthusiastically, while Mr. Cizik’s religious constituency has been cool to the warmers. So we each crossed the tracks, and the cross currents intrigued Bob.

Mr. Cizik, having studied his opponent’s published remarks, opened the debate with a direct attack on my position. I’m a coward when it comes to public confrontation, and I squirmed. But then he shifted gears and delivered a passionate sermon, urging us to mend our ecologically harmful ways lest we sell out our children’s future.

When my turn came I began by saying that I had studied up on him, too, and noted that he had previously threatened us with the wrath of God if we didn’t shape up; and he interjected that he still stood by that warning. I then ran through my litany of objections to the reigning paradigm that human activity is causing dangerous global warming: the earth’s long history of natural climate swings; the probability that solar cycles are the principle driver of warming and cooling periods; the fact that climate swings do not correspond to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere; the fact that glaciers grow and recede all the time and their melting will not cause serious sea level rise; that rising temperatures will not cause more severe storms; the fact that warming will save more lives than a cooling planet and be otherwise beneficial.

Mr. Cizik did not rise to this challenge, choosing not to argue about my facts. He did challenge me directly on a couple of points. I attacked the insistent claim of the alarmists that there is a scientific consensus on the thesis that human activity is the root of the trouble, saying that anyone with an internet connection can show that is false, that there are thousands of scientists who dissent (and next week’s conference of the skeptics in New York will make this perfectly clear). Consensus is not how science proceeds, I said, and we have only to remember the “consensus” of the 1970’s that earth was cooling dangerously. To this Mr. Cizik replied that he had asked a couple of scientists he knows about that false cooling consensus, and they denied that they ever believed that. I hope I may be pardoned for thinking that two people do not constitute a refutation of that well-documented embarrassingly false “consensus” of 35 years ago.

His other challenge came out of my major moral claim, that any serious effort to reduce emissions by any significant amount, let alone the 60-80% called for by the European Union and some of our presidential candidates, would destroy economies all over the world and condemn the poor to perpetual poverty - which is why China and India will have nothing to do with emissions caps. Mr. Cizik in reply noted that the city of Portland, Oregon, has extensive “green” regulations but was still prospering. Again, I could not find this local example convincing refutation of what every sane economist knows: Economic growth, which requires energy, and is not possible if greenhouse emissions are severely curtailed, is what will permit us to adapt to the climate changes which nature has always produced naturally and which we cannot stop.

If there was a place where the discussion went awry, at least from my point of view, it was in his conflating combating global warming with other kinds of environmentalism, like being sparing in our use of resources and restraining pollution. When I protested this conflation, he replied that these points were “a seamless whole.” “No they aren’t,” I said bluntly, as the audience stirred. Indeed they are not. They are different issues and there are very different policies attached to them. Conservation and environmental cleanliness are worthy goals which I fully support; and they can be, and are, addressed by mostly sensible public policies. But cutting “greenhouse gas” emissions drastically would be an epic disaster. Fortunately it can’t and won’t be done.

Frankly, if I wanted to worry about climate change, I would worry about global cooling again, since the sun is behaving very weakly just now, and sun-watching scientists have even dared to suggest that a reprise of the Little Ice Age is in the offing. Maybe earth is already cooling. We’ve had ten years without a temperature rise, and this past winter, in both hemispheres, has marked a substantial downturn. And the sea ice is back, both in the Arctic and Antarctic. It’s too soon to tell if this is the begining of a long trend, and we’d better hope it isn’t. But we have no more control over that than we do over warming.

The debate was a pleasant and spirited exchange, marked by good humor and good will; and after the first few minutes I rather enjoyed it. Clearly I failed to persuade Mr. Cizik that’s he’s been the victim of scaremongering, and he, of course, found me as obdurate as ever. My final word, then as now, is this: Global warming is slight, is natural, cannot be stopped, and is on the whole beneficial. Trying seriously to stop it would waste billions of dollars that ought to be spent addressing real human needs.