Paul MacRae, June 7, 2008

In an article in the June 6, 2008, National Post, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion declares: “The debate is over, the science is conclusive: Climate change is real, it is man-made and unless something is done, it will damage the planet and our way of life. What our country needs now is bold leadership that will engage Canadians in an honest debate, quickly put a price on carbon and–given uncertain times–bring forward a plan to allow Canada to succeed in the 21st-century global economy.”

Let’s parse this statement by Dion to see if it makes any sense.

First, Dion’s comment comes right out of the Al Gore playbook almost word for word, with one significant change. Here’s Gore, from the book version of An Inconvenient Truth, page 261: “There is misconception that the scientific community is in a state of disagreement about whether global warming is real, whether human beings are the principal cause, and whether its consequences are so dangerous as to warrant immediate action.” In short, for Gore and Dion, global warming is real, it’s human-caused, and it’s going to be catastrophic.

But, oddly, Dion departs from the Gore script to describe the problem as “climate change,” not “global warming.” Why?

Perhaps because Dion is aware, even if the Canadian public isn’t yet, that the planet isn’t currently warming and hasn’t since 1998. What we’re left with, then, is a meaningless statement, “Climate change is real,” as if this was in any doubt about this by anyone on any side of the climate question. The earth has been experiencing climate change ever since it was formed four and a half billion years ago. Dion might as well say “the weather is real” or “bread is real.”

Is the “debate” over? Part of the Gore script is that there is 100 per cent consensus that human beings are causing climate change. What about the 400 scientists who signed a petition against this view? What about the 31,000 (and counting) scientists who’ve signed the Oregon petition opposing Gore’s and Dion’s view that everyone is in agreement? Apparently they don’t count; for Gore and Dion, the only people who count are the 2,000 or so scientists who contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Sleight of hand

Gore and Dion are engaging in a sleight of hand when they say there is 100 per cent consensus that global warming (or climate change) is real, human-caused, and potentially catastrophic.

First, 100 per cent of scientists would agree that climate change is real. The number who think global warming is real would be almost as high, given that the planet has clearly warmed since the glaciers started to melt about 15,000 years ago. However, there is no general agreement–and certainly nowhere near 100 per cent — that climate change is human-caused and that it’s going to be a catastrophe.

There is plenty of evidence that natural cycles, not human activities, are the “principal” cause of climate change. And there is no evidence at all — because we can’t get data from the future — that the current climate change will be a catastrophe.

For some, climate change may produce major problems: sea levels will rise if warming resumes, for example, but sea levels have been rising ever since the latest glaciation ended 15,000 years ago, and at times the seas rose much, much faster than today’s increase of about an inch or two a century. We can handle this.

For others, climate change may produce benefits: longer growing seasons in the northern countries, for example–and most of the world’s land, and ice, is in the northern hemisphere. Warming could be a boon for agriculture in places like Canada and Russia.

Also, we have data from the past showing that the planet has had levels of carbon dioxide 10 times higher than today’s in the past and temperatures 10 degrees Celsius higher and there was no catastrophe or we wouldn’t be here.

Meaningless statements

So, while climate change is “real” (a meaningless statement), global warming at the moment is not “real” because the planet isn’t warming, hasn’t for the past 10 years, and may not for another 10 years according to a study published in Nature in May. Below is a graph showing the flatlining and then, in the past year, the fall in temperature, using data from the Hadley climate centre in Britain.

The planet isn\'t warming
The planet is not warming

If the planet isn’t warming, then how can climate change be human-caused? Humans are continuing to put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but the global temperature isn’t rising as the Gore and Dion hypothesis predicts. Maybe carbon dioxide levels don’t affect temperature that much; maybe natural factors are more important than human factors when it comes to climate change, especially since less than five per cent of yearly carbon emissions come from human sources. Maybe we contribute to climate change, but not much.

As for Dion’s pious call for “honest debate”–he cancels that out by saying earlier in the same paragraph that “the debate is over,” let’s just get on with cutting carbon emissions because they cause warming. So why talk about debate, which implies there might be a real exchange of views, when Dion says there’s no need for such an exchange?

In fact, there’s never been a real debate in Canada on whether human emissions are the main cause of warming and whether it will be catastrophic. To my knowledge no group of scientists who oppose the “consensus” have appeared before a parliamentary committee to explain their point of view. Canadians haven’t been exposed to a real discussion of climate change because one side–Dion’s side–has hijacked the discussion so there’s no discussion.

And, what if the planet not only isn’t warming, as it isn’t at the moment, but is heading into a long period of cooling? Interglacials like our own only last 10,000-20,000 years and we’re well past 10,000 years in this one. Does it make sense, if this is so, to cut carbon emissions if they cause warming? (Not that carbon dioxide creates that much warming since water vapor is the main warming agent, but if we’re cooling, every little bit would help.)

So, Dion’s comments are self-contradictory and/or meaningless and potentially disastrous if the planet has stopped warming. If that’s the case, you’d want more CO2 in the atmosphere for whatever warming it provides. Climate change is real–of course it is. Principally human-caused? Highly unlikely, but Dion doesn’t see any need for debate on this. Catastrophic? Maybe. Nobody knows for certain, but Dion doesn’t want any skeptics muddying the discussion.

And this nonsense is coming the leader of one of Canada’s two major political parties. That’s a lot scarier than the prospect of global warming (excuse me, climate change).

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