Open Letter to Canadians on Faith and Climate Change

Mardi Tindal is the Moderator of The United Church of Canada. The Hon. David MacDonald chaired the House of Commons Committee on the Environment from 1989 to 1993. Both will attend the COP 15 UN meetings on Climate Change in Copenhagen. In this open letter to Canadians, they explain why the Copenhagen Conference is a place where faith and science must meet.  Here is an excerpt from their letter.  To read the complete letter, click here.

We believe the United Nations Climate Change Conference is a place where faith and science must intersect.

These talks will almost certainly determine the fate of coming generations. The future of our children is at stake. Finding a way forward will require that we attend to the best science available, so we are firmly grounded in reality. But it also demands that we recognize the spiritual values that have guided humans for centuries so we can work toward a vision of wholeness.

Science tells us what is and, given certain parameters, what will come to be. Spiritual values teach us what ought to be. Only the two, working together, can see us safely through this perilous time.

Winter Trees

For example, scientific estimates tell us that by 2050 as many as 200 million people may become permanently displaced by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. How we respond to this long-range disaster will be determined by our values as human beings and by the kind of future we decide to shape. These are spiritual questions.

But our climate change discussions so far have tended to be dominated by economic and political considerations. These are important, to be sure, but they are not sufficient. It is vital that people of faith participate to ensure future-shaping decisions are not determined only by short-term considerations, such as what is least costly or most expedient.

Faith groups, perhaps uniquely among human institutions, are predisposed to take a longer view. In responding to climate change processes, which play out over decades, if not centuries, these perspectives are an essential counterpoint to the pressure of thinking that can be dominated by the next quarter, or the next election.

This is why the Copenhagen meeting is unprecedented. It is where people of many faiths and no faith must come to terms with the kind of world we want for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. Envisioning or creating the world we want means we need to work out a grand bargain that will allow life to survive in a hopeful and humane fashion. We need to be prepared to make decisions, sacrifices, and gestures of good will toward one another and the planet.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a similar point at a recent interfaith conference, saying, “Indeed, the world’s faith communities occupy a unique position in discussions on the fate of our planet and the accelerating impacts of climate change.”

He added that he has long believed that “when governments, civil society and particularly religious communities work together, transformation can take place. Faiths and religions are an essential part of that equation.”

Beyond the scientific, technological, and economic issues, climate change forces us to consider fundamental questions about how we see the world in the next 10 to 100 years—and to ask fundamental questions of faith, such as who will succeed or who will suffer with the unwanted and unwarranted changes that will occur.

Climate change is about energy, lifestyles, and power that will have an increasing impact on our planet well beyond our own lives and those of our descendants. In dealing with these issues, we are asking individuals and societies to make extraordinary decisions about not only their own future but also the quality of life of future generations.

As people of faith, we believe climate change requires not a quick technological fix, but rather a transformation in how we live our lives on this fragile planet.

As people of faith, we are called to view the earth not simply as a source of resources and wealth, but as a community in which we live and move and have our being.

For several decades, science and public policy have wrestled with a challenge first raised in 1988 in Toronto at an international conference on the changing atmosphere. The conference concluded that “humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.”

Since that time, science and experience have started to bear out that dire warning. Entire populations and ecosystems are threatened by devastating impacts such as drought, heat waves, fires, floods, storms, and rising sea levels.

Canada is in a unique situation. While we are no longer a leader in climate change policies, we do have an enormous stake in the results. As the country with the largest land mass and the longest shoreline on three oceans, how the nations of the planet determine an agreement in Copenhagen is crucial to our future.

Canada needs to take on targets in Copenhagen to minimize the impacts of climate change on communities here and abroad to live up to its Kyoto obligations.

We believe we can and will arrive at solutions together that will lead us to a saner path of sustainability.

Canada’s responsibility is to demonstrate moral leadership in the face of this global climate crisis.

While none of us may have a complete picture, together we can move in a direction that will be more life-sustaining and enhancing. Ultimately, how we respond is a matter of concern for us all. Whether we are there in person or in spirit, we all need to be in Copenhagen.

Moderator Mardi Tindal and the Hon. David MacDonald

0 thoughts on “Open Letter to Canadians on Faith and Climate Change”

  1. I am an atmospheric scientist and Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. There is nothing remarkable about today’s world temperatures. There is no scientifically credible evidence that storms have increased or that global warming has caused the polar ice to melt.

    Here are the scientific facts, from two meteorologists, as best we know them: and

    So, relax about global warming and lets concentrate on immediate environmental problems that cause series human suffering.

    I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

    • Well, Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. Smith, meteorologist. But all the reassuring in the world won’t hide the fact that the glaciers are melting, our Canadian Inuit tell us that the weather has changed in their lifetime (not to mention the permafrost is melting under their feet), and the Antarctic ice cap is melting. It’s nice that two meteorologists have blogs, but as you didn’t identify yourself (your blog is very anonymous) so those of us that might be interested in learning more about the facts of science have reason to be wary. What is your personal stake in this? As a wise person once said “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it”. On the other hand, there is scientific consensus (not unanimity, which isn’t the same as consensus but as a scientist you would know that) among national science academies that agree with man-made global warming. They include: National Academy of Sciences (United States of America); Science Council of Japan; Russian Academy of Sciences; Australian Academy of Sciences; Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts; Brazilian Academy of Sciences; Royal Society of Canada; Caribbean Academy of Sciences; Chinese Academy of Sciences; French Academy of Sciences; German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina; Indian National Science Academy; Indonesian Academy of Sciences; Royal Irish Academy; Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy); Academy of Sciences Malaysia; Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand; Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; and Royal Society (UK). So, thanks for your opinion, but I would encourage everyone to check the facts carefully. There’s a lot of “truthism” passing itself off as science these days! For more information, I would encourage readers to start with, whose purpose is to find, investigate, and eliminate the discrepancies between scientific knowledge and public knowledge on climate change. And it’s written by a 17-year old high school student, who has no horse in this race except ensuring a future for herself and her peers.

  2. I don’t know how I could have identified myself any more directly than posting under my own name. Here is my website: . You can read my qualifications there.

    If you had read the Climategate Updates 1-6 on my blog you would have learned that the reason the polar ice is melting is due to soot pollution from Asia — temperatures in the Arctic have been below normal for the last three melt seasons! The data and sources are there for anyone to see.

    Temperatures around Kilimanjaro’s glacier have been steady since the 1930’s: The reason for the glacier receding is likely local land use changes rather than temperatures.

    The weather has changed in the lifetimes of the Inuit because weather and climate are always changing. That said, world temperatures are not rising. The data is right here:

    I take no money from either side with regard to my global warming research. I do charge fees for delivering my speeches about global warming but will give exactly the same speech to anyone who wishes to pay the fee.

    Glenn Reynolds has an excellent quote that summarizes Mr. Gore and the others in Copenhagen: “I’ll believe global warming is a crisis when the people who are telling me it is crisis start acting like its a crisis.” One hundred forty private jets, 1200 limos, these people believe its a crisis?? There is a videotape here: that shows limo after limo arriving while the clean energy bus for the delegates is empty. If they really believed global warming is the threat they say it is, they would have their meetings via Skype. I judge people on what they do, not what they say.

    There are far more urgent and solvable environmental problems than global warming. I want the planet to be able to sustain my children and (hopefully) my grandchildren well as well as provide a better standard of living to people who are less fortunate than most of us who live in North America.

    I appreciate you allowing me to state my comments. Thank you.

    • I appreciate you coming clean about making money from talking global warming as a theory, not a fact. And again, I would remind readers to check out a number of reputable sources if they are interested in learning more about the facts of global warming. I won’t repeat the list of National Science Academies that have reached a consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change – they are listed in my previous comment on this topic. As Kate from Climate Sight says on her blog in reference to citing science: However, if you make a scientific claim which is not already common knowledge – like a new theory or a recent statistic – you must reference a legitimate peer-reviewed source (ie, not Energy and Environment!). The source cannot have been obviously discredited (ie, don’t reference the 1000-year temperature reconstruction by Sallie Baliunas). And I have visited your blog, Mr. Smith, and there aren’t any legitimate peer-reviewed sources. I checked out your “Climategate IV” posting, and you have 3 charts from the Danish Meteorological Institute posted, as well as a link to that same institute. As you would know as a scientist, 3 charts do not a theory prove (or disprove!). And one of your links of proof on that same posting is to a “musings from the chiefio” blog who describes himself as a computer teacher with a BA in economics who believes that the “running out” and “carbon cap” solutions will destroy the American economy. We are all entitled to our opinions – that’s why people like you and me and mr. chiefio get to blog these days (before blogging we would have just bored our friends with our opinions) – but that is NOT a legitimate source to quote science from! And finally yes, a lot of people are making denial hay out of the limos and and the jets, but to let that distract us from the crucial issue here seems beside the point. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure don’t expect my Prime Minister to be an example for me. Remember “when people lead, leaders follow.

  3. I’m flattered that you consider my opinion on this as worth considering (unless you’re just setting up a straw man so you can knock it down). The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what my opinion on what the optimal temperature for the earth is – it’s just that, my opinion. Now, if you’d asked me how to dialyze a person with renal failure, or how to bake bread, that would be slightly more valuable because those are topics in which I have either training and experience (or both). Again, I refer you and other readers to the website where Kate has posted excellent info on the “credibility spectrum”. On the bottom of the credibility spectrum is the individual – that would be me, on the topic of weather – and it goes up from there to the professional (I assume that’s where you fit in, as a meteorologist), then the non-publishing scientist, then the publishing scientist, then the publishing Earth scientist, then climatologist, and after that Universities, scientific peer-review articles, and finally at the top of the credibility spectrum are professional scientific organizations.
    So, as to the question of what the optimal temperature of the earth is, I would refer you and other readers to the IPCC or national science organizations or NASA. If you like, I’ll post the links. Cheers.

  4. “So, as to the question of what the optimal temperature of the earth is, I would refer you and other readers to the IPCC or national science organizations or NASA.”

    They don’t answer the question, either.

    Until that question is conclusively answered, we don’t know whether the optimal temperature is where we are now or somewhat higher. The IPCC seems to indicate (based on their economic analysis) that the optimal temperature is higher than current but that is based on economic projections only.

    I realize you advocate getting the CO2 concentration to 350 ppm, but is that a good idea? Based on the widespread starvation and crop failures with the cooling trend in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, it is almost certain the optimal temperature is not lower than the temperatures we see today. Per capita food consumption is up 13% since the 1970’s due to warmer temperatures and the Green Revolution. If temperatures lower, it is almost certain we would not have enough food to feed the (much larger) world population, given the problems we had in the 70’s.

    Until we can comprehensively answer the question, “What is the optimal temperature of the earth?” then there is little sense in doing anything except moving toward better energy sources (solar, nuclear) that make sense in and of themselves.

    • “‘I’ll believe global warming is a crisis when the people who are telling me it is crisis start acting like its a crisis.’ One hundred forty private jets, 1200 limos, these people believe its a crisis??” Mr. Smith, making your judgements on the seriousness of global warming based on actions of politicians is a serious mistake. We all know how slow they have been on the uptake. Part of this is due to climate change dissenters like you, muddying the waters of an otherwise relatively clear conclusion. In any case, the majority of people telling us that global warming is an issue are not politicians but scientists.

      Speaking of which, Christine has talked about this already, but doesn’t it give you pause that you are by far in the minority when it comes to climate change opinions (at least in those who should know)? Why is it, do you think, that your conclusions have been entirely missed by all these well-qualified people?

      Your question about optimal temperature for the Earth may not have been answered in numbers by the IPCC, but it was still answered. The animals and plants and ecosystems on the Earth have evolved to thrive in the variety of temperatures that the climate threw at them in the years since the last ice age. This is what they (and we) are used to. Volume 3 of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report states that “temperature is known to strongly influence the distribution and abundance patterns of both plants and animals, due to the physiological constraints of each species” (p. 83-84). The Earth’s average global temperature increasing by 2 or 4 or 6 degrees will not be healthy for any of today’s fauna and flora who are used to lower temperatures.

      As for agriculture, that depends where you are looking. Canada would probably benefit, agriculturally, from an increase in temperatures. The same is unfortunately not true for small-holder farmers in Africa. Increasing water scarcity and unpredictable weather conditions have already resulted in decreased yields and food scarcity. And these are already among the poorest people on this Earth.

      I don’t disagree that moving towards sustainable energy is a good idea (although I have some qualms about nuclear). Let’s do it. However, we also need to admit that climate change is real and our actions should reflect this reality.

  5. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for the comment and you ask some good questions. Let me answer.

    Sorry, I don’t buy Al Gore’s “moral imperative” argument ( ) when he flies around in private jets (it is the hypocrisy I am objecting to, not the private jets) and has a personal carbon footprint larger than some small cities. The same is true for a number of the pro-AGW “leaders.” As I said when I first commented on this, I believe peoples’ actions more than their words.

    I am NOT far in the minority among meteorologists and geologists (the people who have actually studied the earth-atmosphere system). Gore barely passed his one course in natural science in Harvard (he got a “D”, I have his transcript, released in his Presidential campaign). Dr. Hansen has a PhD in astronomy, but is NOT an atmospheric scientist. Mr. Pachauri, head of the IPCC, has no scientific background at all. If you actually talk with applied meteorologists, they — with exceptions, of course — are deeply skeptical of the IPCC’s position. A recent poll confirms that contention.

    I am a degreed meteorologist with minors in engineering and mathematics. I am a board-certified consulting meteorologist and a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. So, yes, I work hard to prevent “confirmation bias” and try to double-examine the science to make sure there are no flaws. But, I am at least as qualified professionally as many of those who opine on the issue.

    As to whether climate change is “real”, of course it is. Climate and weather are already changing. There is nothing unusual about today’s weather/climate. The “hockey stick” has been completely debunked. The earth’s flora and fauna survived the plunge in temperatures from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age, which is a far greater change than even the IPCC projects.

    Finally, you mention “the poorest people on earth.” We are in complete agreement here. My moral compass tells me it is wrong to spend trillions in a (likely futile) effort to change the weather when $10 million (US) would prevent a million deaths a year, and the suffering those deaths bring, due to malaria in Africa through the judicious use of DDT. Given a world of finite resources, it seems to me that we should spend our (limited) money on where it would do the most good.

    I have a blog that I started the day before “Climategate” broke. If you would like to read what I have to stay about global warming, just go to: and click on “blog.” Feel free to contact me with questions.

    Good luck with your career!!


      • I have not been using peer reviewed papers in my comments because I have aimed my comments at the general pubic. But, I am happy to comply with your new policy. Of course, that means NOT citing the IPCC reports because they are not peer-reviewed.

        Kate comments, “The Earth’s average global temperature increasing by 2 or 4 or 6 degrees will not be healthy for any of today’s fauna and flora who are used to lower temperatures.”

        As the peer-reviewed paper, cited below, shows, the fauna and flora have survived much larger and more abrupt temperature changes during the last 1000 years than even the worst-case IPCC scenario.

        A simplified version is here: {deleted – it’s a blog, Mr. Smith, NOT a scientific reference}

        I invite your readers, if they wish to look at the peer-reviewed literature to investigate this for themselves.

        Here is the paper:

        A graph from the paper showing the relationship is here: {ANOTHER blog reference!!}

        The raw data used in the paper is here:

        • *heavy sigh* As I have pointed out previously, I am not a scientist. That puts me on the bottom of the credibility spectrum with regard to climate science. You, Mr. Smith, have said you are a meteorologist and that you get paid to speak publicly as a denier of global warming. That puts you just above me on the credibility spectrum (although your motivations are more suspect than mine), considerably lower than the highest rungs of credibility such as publishing climatologists, universities, peer-reviewed journals, and professional scientific bodies. And for you to question the credibility of the IPCC reveals more of your bias. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, is the leading body for the assessment of climate change, “established by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences” ( It would be at the top of the credibility spectrum, and commentors can feel free to cite it freely on this blog.
          As for your argument regarding the climate cycles, it’s not a new one, and I will let Coby Beck respond to it from his excellent series “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic” (
          For example, we see in ice core records from Antarctica and Greenland that the world cycled in and out of glacial periods over 120Kyr cycles. The cause for that climate cycle’s timing is fairly well understood to be the results of changes in the orbit of the Earth, though the mechanism behind the resulting response has not been conclusively established. These orbital cycles are regular and predictable and they are definitely not the cause of today’s warming. The other important difference between the glacial-interglacial cycles and today is the rapidity of the current change. The rate of warming is on the order of 10 times faster today than seen in the ice cores.
          Such rapid warming on a global scale is very rare in the geological record, and while it may not be unprecedented, there is very strong evidence that whenever such a change has happened, whatever the cause, it was a catastrophic event for the biosphere.
          Interested readers should go to the link provided to get the citations for this information.
          As for your link to the “The Younger Dryas cold interval as viewed from central Greenland”, I suggest people use this link instead, , as it links directly to the article rather than your link through Science Direct, which requires a subscription fee.

          (BTW, I think you meant “public” in your first sentence:)

          • Christine,

            Reciting talking points does not advance the issue. I wish you were reading the information I am linking to, rather than commenting without reading. I am NOT a “denier” of global warming and I have never said I was. It is you that is twisting my words. I am also a published author in meteorological journals and it is factually incorrect for you to imply otherwise.

            I have been very public about my beliefs and they are stated here:

            It says, explicitly, “CO2 is a greenhouse gas and, if everything else is equal, the atmosphere will warm as concentrations increase.

            If everything is equal, the warming will be less than the IPCC projects because increasing concentrations of CO2 seem to act via a logarithmic relationship rather than direct (1 to 1) relationship. My judgment is that the IPCC is overstating the effect of CO2 by a factor of 3 or 4. Nevertheless, CO2-related warming could become worrisome if it continues enough decades into the future.

            However, we do not understand the relationship of clouds, small particles (called aerosols by atmospheric scientists), and, especially, the sun to climate change. The IPCC models treat clouds and some of these other factors purely as contributors to global warming and this is likely not the case. So, we don’t know for sure what the net warming due to CO2 might be in the real atmosphere.”

            I don’t know how much clearer I can be. Yes, CO2 causes warming. But there are so many poorly understood factors..the biggest being the sun, which is showing signs of causing cooling..we should be continuing research into the climate while putting our dollars into solving more immediate and solvable environmental problems.

            As to the IPCC, the Climategate emails and, more important, the released documents and computer code shows it is laden with politics and its scientific conclusions are tainted.

            Let me conclude by citing the words of a very wise Kansan. In the same speech where he coined the phrase “Military-Industrial Complex,” President Eisenhower had a second warning for society. He said,

            “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

            Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

            An almost exact description where we find ourselves with regard to the IPCC.

            Good science occurs when people use good data and think for themselves.

            Thank you for allowing me to post on your blog. I’ll sign off at this time.

            Merry Christmas,


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