David Suzuki: Attacks on climate-change science hinder solutions

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      Starting in late September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its Fifth Assessment Report in three chapters and a summary. Not to be outdone, contrarians have unleashed a barrage of attacks designed to discredit the science before it’s released. Expect more to come.

      Many news outlets are complicit in efforts to undermine the scientific evidence. Contrarian opinion articles have run in publications in Canada and around the world, from the Financial Post and Washington Post to the Australian and the U.K.’s Mail on Sunday.

      In the Guardian, scientists Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham point out that attacks cover five stages of climate denial: deny the problem exists, deny we’re the cause, deny it’s a problem, deny we can solve it and claim it’s too late to do anything.

      One attack that’s grabbing media attention is the so-called Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change’s report “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science.” It’s written by Fred Singer, a well-known tobacco industry apologist and climate change denier, with Bob Carter and Craig Idso, also known for their dismissals of legitimate climate change science, and published by the Heartland Institute, a U.S. non-profit known for defending tobacco and fossil fuel industry interests. Heartland made headlines last year for comparing people who accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change with terrorists and criminals such as Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski!

      Read Singer’s report if you want. But it’s full of long-discredited claims, including that carbon dioxide emissions are good because they stimulate life. It’s not the goal of deniers and contrarians to contribute to our understanding of climate change; they want to promote fossil fuel companies and other industrial interests, a point explicitly stated in the Heartland-NIPCC news release.

      It claims the Singer report, which isn’t peer-reviewed, provides governments with “the scientific evidence they need to justify ending the expansion of ineffective alternative energy sources and other expensive and futile strategies to control climate. Then they can focus on supporting our most powerful energy sourcescoal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, and hydro-power—in order to end the scourge of energy poverty that afflicts over one billion people across the world.”

      In other words, don’t worry about climate change, let alone health-damaging pollution or the fact that fossil fuels will become increasingly difficult to extract and eventually run out altogether. And even though mountains of solid evidence from around the world show climate change is and will continue to be most devastating for the world’s poorest people, the report feigns concern for those suffering from “energy poverty”.

      Overall, the attacks on legitimate climate science are coming from people whose arguments have been debunked many times and who often have ties to the fossil fuel industry. Some, including Roy Spencer and Ross McKitrick, have signed the Cornwall Declaration, which states: “We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence—are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception.”

      The declaration also states that “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming” and that renewable energy should not be used to replace fossil fuels. Their world view can’t accept the reality of climate change or its solutions no matter how much evidence is provided – something that offends many people of faith who believe we have a responsibility to care for the Earth.

      The IPCC report, on the other hand, is a review of all the available science on climate change, conducted by hundreds of experts from around the world. It confirms climate change is happening, burning fossil fuels is a major cause and it will get worse if we fail to act. It also examines what appears to be a slight slowing of global warming – but certainly not a halt, as deniers claim—and offers scientific explanations for it. Upcoming chapters will also propose solutions.

      Resolving the problem of climate change will cost, but it will be much more expensive to follow the defeatist advice of industry shills, whose greed and lack of care for humanity will condemn our children and grandchildren to an uncertain future.

      Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.


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      Sep 24, 2013 at 5:48pm

      Who cares if they try to discredit it?
      They can't -- it's fact.
      The real problem now Dave is that folks like you don't seem to understand there is a world wide Depression with the major economies showing all the signs of collapse.
      The problem you have now...is called the word 'tax'.
      To be used in a sentence "Corrupt western governments have been collecting taxes for all sorts of things and failing miserably"
      How about advocating that the State use it's legitimate right to regulate -- like it used to do -- with caps and no trade? Cheapest and most effective given the options?
      But ya...go ahead...during a Depression, you explain to the public how a free-market scheme will fix the environment and I'll show you how that will only create a 'permanent Conservative majority' in most key western countries that will accelerate the destruction of the planet with endless resource wars, authoritarian dictatorship and captive populations exhausted by the lies.


      Sep 24, 2013 at 7:23pm

      just watched you in Australia. Did you ever get skewered. You looked uninformed.


      Sep 24, 2013 at 9:11pm

      Since most current forms have energy have to be paid for, switching to solar and wind, which essential free, should theoretically boost the economy. Solar panels on my roof, once paid for, mean free energy for me, and no more paying rich oil barons for power.
      The real problem, is that people don't want to change their habits. They are too lazy to ride a bicycle, and think that somehow riding a train will be too inconvenient. Never mind that they could read or work on the train, or that failure to address climate change, will lead to mass starvation.


      Sep 24, 2013 at 9:23pm

      That, and the deniers have sown doubt where there should only be certainty and action. The deniers should be tried and hanged for crimes against humanity.

      The only problem I have with David's commentary, is the ending. All environmental destruction impacts future generations, but it also impacts everyone alive today. This isn't a problem for the future to deal with. It is happening now!


      Sep 24, 2013 at 9:46pm

      Reading the defensive rhetoric in this column makes me realize that there really are two extreme viewpoints... this being one of the extremes... and the truth is somewhere in the middle. This column does more to discredit climate science than it does good.


      Sep 25, 2013 at 8:15am

      There is no doubt that Climate Change is real.

      Only Moron's & the Big Oil lobby would deny that 7+ Billion people plus massive industrialization since the late 19th Century has no impact on climate.


      Sep 25, 2013 at 9:03am

      Imo, this whole issue come down to a simple choice - caution or consequence.

      Which is more prudent or wise? Parents typically choose caution over consequence for their children. Why not do the same for Earth. The only consequence I see for choosing caution in regard to climate change is that dinosaur industries will loose money.

      And, people should not forget about ocean energy. There are millions of potential gigawatts in waves and tidal flows.


      Sep 25, 2013 at 4:44pm

      The fastest mitigation to climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 and takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act!

      "A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy." ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

      "As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?"

      "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow"

      “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

      “It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.” ~ James Cameron, movie director, environmentalist and new vegan

      "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." ~ Albert Einstein

      21-Day Vegan Kickstart

      Lee L

      Sep 27, 2013 at 10:20am

      You said:
      '"If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund'

      Well jc, that's just because half a million cars don't really make all that much GHG and because you are probably including transportation in your numbers.
      On average, a HIGH estimate of CO2 emmissions from a motor vehicle is about 5 tons per year. Multiply by half a million you get 2.5 million tons CO2. A single coal fired electric plant emits 10-20 million tons per year depending on the size of it, so let's say 15 million tons. OK so get the whole USA to skip chicken and you could offset 1/3 of ONE smallish coal fired electric plant. China brings a new one of those onstream every 5 days and will continue to do so until it has 350 more. India is starting to electrify and will build 480 such plants. All in all, the world is building or plans about 1000 coal fired electric facilities. Eating Quinoa isn't really going to make a dent on that.