Climatologist: We Have a ‘Moral Imperative’ to Burn Fossil Fuels

By Barbara Hollingsworth | August 20, 2015 | 4:54 PM EDT

Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama/Huntsville, testifies before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2012. (Screenshot)

( – We have a “moral imperative” to burn carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels because the energy they provide is a “liberator” of humanity, says Dr. John Christy, a climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

“We are not morally bad people for taking carbon and turning it into the energy that offers life to humanity in a world that would otherwise be brutal,” Christy wrote in a recent oped. "On the contrary, we are good people for doing so."

He also challenged what he says are contradictions in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, in which the pontiff called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The pope’s encyclical “displays a lack of understanding of how the real world works,” Christy told According to microwave data from satellites going back to 1978, which are precise to within .08 of a degree, “very little warming is taking place,” he pointed out.

In his encyclical, Pope Francis also wrote that “a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system…. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system….There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.”

“The encyclical calls for renewed attention to the ‘wisdom’ that all human life is sacred, having ‘infinite dignity,’” Christy pointed out in his oped. “On the other hand, we are asked to forgo the fundamental means by which human life flourishes today – carbon-based energy (coal, oil, natural gas).”

Carbon-based energy, which is “the most affordable and reliable source of energy in demand today, liberates people from poverty,” Christy explained to “Without energy, life is brutal and short.”

Pointing out that it was “warmer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago than it is today,” Christy said that the computer models cited by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted global warming that is “three times” what the satellite data shows is the Earth’s actual temperature. “It demonstrates we do not know how to model the climate system, in my view,” Christy said.

 “All the datasets show some slight warming (+0.11 degrees Celsius per decade since Nov. 16, 1978), some more than others,” he told “But still, the amount of warming is much, much less than what was anticipated from climate models, and that’s what I’ve been showing and demonstrating in various venues, including Congress.

“In a congressional hearing last May, I demonstrated that the models are significantly above in their temperature projection from where we actually are right now. So if you go back 36 years to 1979 and run the models, they all show lots of warming. The real world shows very little warming” despite rising levels of CO2.

On May 13, Christy told the House Committee on Natural Resources that even if the U.S. completely eliminated its fossil fuel emissions, so that “there would be no industry, no cars, no utilities, no people” - the impact on global temperatures would be “so tiny as to be immeasurable.”

“The two largest impacts on temperature are the El Ninos in the Pacific as well as volcanic eruptions, which shade the Earth when they put the dust and smoke in the stratosphere. So once you account for both of those, there’s not a whole lot of warming in the planet,” Christy told

“The conclusion we have reached is that the world, the global climate, is not very sensitive to carbon dioxide. And that can occur if the climate responds in its many facets to release heat – when you add the heat from carbon dioxide. So carbon dioxide does allow more heat to be retained in the climate system, but the climate system also has many ways to allow an increased release of heat into space.

”So we think that’s what’s going on, that there are feedbacks that are allowing that heat to escape and not accumulate the way models have indicated it should.”

Fossil fuels cannot easily be replaced with renewable sources of energy without imposing much higher costs on the very people who can least afford it, Christy pointed out.

And drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed under its Clean Power Plan, will have a “miniscule” effect on global temperatures, Christy added.

“The science is fairly simple in terms of numbers. The amount of carbon dioxide emissions avoided by this plan is miniscule compared to the world emissions. Therefore, its impact on the global temperature will be miniscule.

“It will be so tiny we can’t even measure it. It’s going to be less than .02 of a degree for the next several decades," Christy said. “We measure the global temperature through satellites, my colleague Roy Spencer and I, here at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. And we see changes of more than that from day to day. It would be impossible to detect and attribute a .02 degree change to any regulation that was proposed.”

Christy pointed out that there is little chance that renewable resources of energy such as wind, solar and biomass will replace fossil fuels anytime soon, noting that the “world utilization of coal is growing every year, even in places like Japan and Germany, because they realize their renewable portfolios just do not provide the energy a modern economy needs.”

“Cost and reliability – both of those are factors in renewables. They’re just not able to produce the amount of energy a modern economy needs,” he told “And they have demonstrated that over and over. The only renewables you see out there, by and large, are those that are heavily subsidized, so their cost is very high. They’re just not as affordable.

"And the poorest people on the planet aren’t going to pay the highest price for energy. That’s just a fact,” he stated.

Christy added that during the next year or so, there will likely be “a bump in global temperatures from the huge El Nino that’s occurring out in the Pacific. So be ready for a bunch of press about ‘warmest month, warmest year’ and so on due to this El Nino.

“It will be couched in terms of human-caused global warming, but no one can prove how much warming is due to humans and how much is due to Mother Nature. And [global temperatures] will come down off that when that El Nino is spent,” he told

There will be a “lot of noise and wringing of hands and pronouncements of a grand deal to come” at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) conference, which will be held in Paris, France from November 30 to December 11, Christy predicted.

“But the world will continue to burn carbon because the world needs energy - that’s the enabler of human progress and longevity. So no matter what they say in Paris, emissions will rise.”

Related: Climate Scientist: 73 UN Climate Models Wrong, No Global Warming in 17 Years