David Suzuki: Climate-change denial isn’t about science

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Let's suppose the world’s legitimate scientific institutions and academies, climate scientists, and most of the world’s governments are wrong.

Maybe, as some people have argued, they’re involved in a massive conspiracy to impose a socialist world order. Maybe the money’s just too damn good. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just imagine they’re wrong, and that the polar ice caps aren’t melting and the climate isn’t changing. Or, if you prefer, that it’s happening, but that it’s a natural occurrence—nothing to do with seven billion people spewing carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Would it still make sense to continue rapidly burning the world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuels? Does it mean we shouldn’t worry about pollution?

We could pretend global warming isn’t happening, or that humans aren’t a factor if it is. That would be crazy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but even if it weren’t, there would still be no reason to continue down the road we’re on. Energy is at the heart of modern society's needs, but when the source is finite, it seems folly to be hell-bent on using it up in a few generations, leaving the problems of depletion and pollution to our children and grandchildren. The longer we delay implementing solutions to our energy challenges the more costly and difficult it will be when we have to face the inevitable.

So, why do so many people insist that we remain stuck with outdated and destructive systems and technologies? Why do so many try to throw roadblocks in the way of progress and solutions? And what can we do about it?

Many books and studies have addressed the first two questions, including Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, and Climate Cover-Up, by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore. Those show that huge sums of corporate money have been spent on campaigns to sow doubt and confusion about issues ranging from the dangers of smoking to threats to the ozone layer to climate change. It’s all about protecting corporate profits and interests. That doesn’t explain why so many ordinary people buy the industry spin, but a number of theories have attempted to shed light on that phenomenon.

What’s important, though, is for those of us who rely on facts rather than spin to look at solutions. We can all do much more to reduce our environmental footprints, but the problem has grown so much that large-scale efforts are needed, and many of these must come from decision-makers in industry, government, and academia. However, there appears to be reluctance in some of those circles to act unless the public demands it. And so it’s up to all of us to become informed. Then we can hold our leaders to account and challenge those who refuse to see the big picture.

This public responsibility is especially important in light of stepped-up efforts to deny the reality of climate change or the role humans play in it. Cases in point are illustrated by the “denialgate” scandal revealed by the release of Heartland Institute documents and the revelation that Ottawa’s Carleton University hired Tom Harris, a PR man for a number of “astroturf” groups with a mechanical engineering background, to teach a course on climate change.

There are many credible sources of information, and they aren’t blog sites run by weathermen like Anthony Watts or industry-funded fake science organizations. One place to start is at skepticalscience.com. Click on the tab that says “Arguments” for scientific responses to all the main climate change denier talking points.

Another great rebuttal to the deniers came in a recent article in the New York Review of Books by Yale University economics professor William D. Nordhaus. He said his article, “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong”, was “primarily designed to correct their misleading description of my own research; but it also is directed more broadly at their attempt to discredit scientists and scientific research on climate change.”

The misrepresentation of Nordhaus’s research is typical of the Orwellian doublespeak deniers employ, but scientists and researchers are calling them on it.

Armed with credible information, we can challenge those who misrepresent science and spread confusion. If nothing else, we’ll be able to breathe easier!

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

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Tyler

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:49pm

It disappoints me greatly that I am not constantly invigorated and given hope by progressive scientific developments in my midsts. I know scientific optomism has caused problems in the past, but, especially when it comes to energy, wouldn't it be great if our leaders got excited about and gave energy to vital technological developments rather than wasting their time entertaining the fantasies of pipeline developers? The Americans are running laps around us on this one. http://energy.gov/articles/secretary-chu-announces-winning-startup-compa...

10 8 Rating: +2

Mark Fornataro

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:51pm

I am reading the memoirs of the great 19th Century composer Hector Berlioz. He decried the fools- musical nobodies- who dared to 'correct' Beethoven's compositions. One such person he described as "drunk with his own vanity, and as capable of making progress within the narrow circle of his own theories as a squirrel in his cage...His corrections are crimes." The same could be said about those climate change deniers who-including Stephen Harper - claim to know more than the leading climate scientists by denying that climate change is man made and urgently needs addressing. Like Berlioz, David Suzuki doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Tom Harris

Mar 6, 2012 at 6:33pm

It is important to know the facts concerning my teaching of the Carleton climate course as referenced by Professor (ex-UBC, I understand) David Suzuki above.

The 2nd year elective course for non-Earth Science majors at Carleton—“Climate Change: An Earth Sciences Perspective" (course designator ERTH2402) is a “survey” course that presents an overview of many of the most important areas of climate science at the level of an educated layperson. It has attracted a viewing audience in the general public via CUTV, Carleton’s cable TV station seen across Canada and, via the Web, internationally.

ERTH2402 was created by Carleton University Earth Sciences Professor Tim Patterson, PhD, and he taught the course for over a decade. Due to my public climate education work with Professor Patterson since 1998, my teaching experience, and my science and technology background and education (Bachelor, Masters degrees and doctoral courses with a focus on thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid mechanics, all critical to understanding the atmosphere), I was selected to teach the 2009 version of the course while Dr. Patterson was on sabbatical. 95% of the course material I presented to students in 2009 was the same as that presented by Dr. Patterson in 2008.

The 2009 version of ERTH2402 was taught successfully with approximately 500 students completing the course. Consequently, I was invited to teach ERTH2402 three more times—twice in 2010 and again in 2011, achieving consistently high student ratings. A total of about 1,500 students completed the course in the four sessions that I taught. Hundreds of science students--physics, biology, chemistry, environmental sciences--not to mention engineering and environmental studies took the course. ERTH2402 was not offered in 2012 but Professor Patterson will teach the course again in 2013.

Contrary to what was reported in The Guardian, when I last taught at Carleton I was not a “Heartland associate” (and still am not) and did not become an unpaid “Policy Advisor” with Heartland until approximately six months after I had completed teaching the Carleton course. I explained to Guardian reporter Suzanne Goldenberg that Heartland encourages fair and open dialog on climate change and even hosted a friendly public debate between a “skeptic” and an “alarmist” at their last climate conference in Washington DC seven months ago.

Contrary to assertions in the Guardian piece, the 2011 version of the ERTH2402 course was well supported by peer reviewed science literature and was in no way extreme. It merely concluded that we are a long way from understanding the science well enough to be able to make reliable forecasts about future climate but that we should help vulnerable peoples prepare for and adapt to inevitable climate change. The course was completely nonpartisan politically and avoided any commercial endorsement.

Tom Harris

8 10 Rating: -2

JC

Mar 6, 2012 at 6:44pm

And animal agriculture denial isn’t about science either!

"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. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." From the UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow"

Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.org

Michael A. Lewis, PhD

Mar 6, 2012 at 7:00pm

Use of the pejorative, "deniers," is a meaningless attempt to discredit all who do not swallow the anthropogenic global warming proposition without question.

There are no deniers. There are, however, scientists who question the validity of blind acceptance of the anthropogenic CO2 origin of global climate variation. These scientists are not morally debased, paid off by energy corporations or part of some global conspiracy. They are scientists, working with data, devising methodology and drawing conclusions from their research.

Even if it were true, which it is not, that man-made CO2 were causing all of the observed climate variation, there would be nothing we could do about it. Climate change is underway, as it always has been, and cannot be stopped or significantly modified by human effort, least of all by economic manipulation and opportunism.

Yes, stop pollution, habitat loss, species extinction. This we can do something about. Climate variation will do what it will.

The best we can do is to devise resilient human societies prepared to work within natural cycles of resource availability..

Martin Dunphy

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:29pm

Re: Tom Harris

Mechanical engineer Tom Harris is the executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition....
The DeSmogBlog, which investigates those who deny human-caused climate change, has revealed that Harris is also a veteran spin doctor who's been affiliated with groups funded by the energy sector.

"In 2008 and 2009 the ICSC sponsored the Heartland Institute's annual International Conference on Climate Change," the DeSmogBlog reported. "The sponsors of the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change have collectively received over $47 million USD from organizations connected to the oil and gas industry."
http://www.straight.com/article-562441/vancouver/kyoto-withdrawal-draws-...

seth

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:38pm

Actually David is the worst sort of warming denier, not believing the science that tells us we are only a few years from an unfixable global warming warming precipice preferring instead the junk science that tells that 50% renewable electricity by 2050 will be just fine. So he pushes the impossible wind/solar/gas backup scam against the workable nuclear solution knowing full well that every year he can defer the fossil to nuclear conversion another 3 million folks die world wide from fossil air pollution.

Here's greenie superstar George Monbiot giving the David and other greenie warming deniers a well deserved boot.

"..This year, the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet's living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved. .."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/sellafield-nuclear-e...
seth

6 13 Rating: -7

Anton

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:50pm

Dr. Lewis' comment more or less summarized my view on this ongoing debate.

I'll ask, if there were a button you could press that would ensure that the planet Earth stay stagnant, meaning it's temperature never rises nor falls and no species ever goes extinct for the the entirety of existence (I don't know how long that might entail... you seem to), would you press said button?

9 9 Rating: 0

opit

Mar 7, 2012 at 7:02am

The confusion factor in this supposed debate is high - as it is meant to be. It starts with a false dichotomy of views about climate rather than an wild diversity of opinions and proposed drivers : energy policy being conflated with irresponsible use of planetary resources on a continent pioneering scrubbing operations to reduce acid rain - which then finds the concentrated toxins a least as great a hazard and ignores those to go whoring after a mythical responsibility to protect the planet by taxing energy use and paying the proceeds to the UN.
Meanwhile back at the ranch energy innovation is stymied, throttled and kept secret as a strategic military consideration : i.e. protecting corporate vested interests.
The ash problem is covered in detail by Sourcewatch.
The political angle is continually obscured.
The appeal to protect the Earth is not furthered by wrongly identifying the problem and relying upon the forces who caused the problems to rectify them.
Plus foreigners are the ones expanding and innovating while using up ever increasing resources servicing an export market and growing domestic consumption.
We exhale co2.
I am far more concerned by the crazing of the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico by dozens and dozens of wells and hydrofracking - a known producers of crustal displacement - in a volcanic subduction zone containing vast methane deposits under extreme pressure. That is even scarier than proposed Arctic release of methane from frozen bogs because of rerouted ocean current conducting heat to the North.
Consensus ? That's an idiotic 'Appeal to Authority' manufactured to give credibility to forecasting the future using inapplicable models whipped up to demonstrate ability to forecast the future using a culturally relevant crystal ball ( Shiny ) John Farnham opitslinkfest.blogspot.com

to depressing to think about

Mar 7, 2012 at 12:09pm

People do not want to acknowledge the truth because it interferes with their plans. People do not want to acknowledge the truth because of fear of the implications of the truth. The second reason is by the most common, ignorance is a polar bear panhandling for spare ice. The time to take action on global climate change is now. Without action, the whole planet is in big trouble from rises in sea levels to extremes in weather conditions that affect crops and water. Conserving energy while adapting new energy sources is insurance that the future on this planet isn't so bleak for those who inhabitant and do little harm.
Is smoking harmful? Not to some, it is a must in their everyday life's even if it kills them in the end. Our addiction to petro is no different in society as signs of harm that is being done is all around us, cough, cough but little is done to make meaning full change. Now how stupid is that?
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