Published by Senator Grant Mitchell on 10 May 2012
The Alberta election has yet again raised the incomprehensible denial of the science of climate change by people who should know better. During the election, Danielle Smith, the Leader of the Alberta Wildrose party said that the science of climate was not settled. Similarly, but in a different forum – the Canadian Senate – these speeches were given recently by Conservative Senators denying the science. I expect this position finds further support in the Conservative caucus.
Deniers of the science repeat a number of common arguments, each without any foundation:
They claim that there is a climate science conspiracy somehow coordinated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is the global organization mandated by the UN to assess the science of climate change.
A conspiracy of this size would involve the efforts of literally thousands of scientists from all over the world and spanning over 150 years. The science of climate change was first articulated in the early 1800s when the link between GHGs and warming was first observed. Those original findings have been corroborated many, many times since and, in fact, predictions based on that original science have been confirmed by actual scientifically measured findings many times since.
Second, it would have to involve the clandestine communication amongst these many thousands of scientists to "get their story straight" and how would that ever be possible?
Thirdly, there would have to be something in it for all these scientists, one would think, for them to risk their reputations, integrity and jobs to do this. What could that possibly be? Scientists gain great renown in their scientific community by debunking accepted scientific wisdoms. After over 150 years of this science being advanced, questioned, evaluated and scrutinized, no credible sustaining rebuttal of the science of climate change has ever been established.
Deniers claim that the scientists in the IPCC are somehow incompetent or influenced by politicians. Governments appoint their country's representatives to the IPCC. Both Conservative and Liberal Canadian governments have appointed, for example, Dr. Andrew Weaver. He has been instrumental in the work of the IPCC. He is one of Canada's leading scientists, recognized at the highest levels many times over for his work on climate change. Do conservative climate deniers suggest that their government is appointing representatives to the IPCC who are incompetent or conspirators? Dr. Weaver, in his appearance before the Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment, explained at great length the process by which the IPCC writes its reports. Scientists from all over the world discuss and evaluate practically every entry in their report. Everything reported must be based upon science and cannot be speculative. They are careful to use moderate language. The IPCC itself does no scientific research. It simply reviews and reports that which is done independently all over the world and draws conclusions on the basis of it for policy-makers.
The deniers claim that there is a significant and credible scientific community that rejects or doubts the science of climate change. Not true. Every major academy of science from every major nation in the world accepts the science. Thousands upon thousands of peer reviewed scientific articles have over and over again reaffirmed the science. Increasingly sophisticated research and measurement techniques continually reaffirm the science. There is literally no peer reviewed scientific literature that establishes any arguable doubt to the conclusion that climate is changing due to human activity. Much of the work done by the deniers has been funded by oil companies.
The deniers claim that while there may be climate change, and even warming, it is not caused by human activity, or it is caused predominantly by things other than human activity. One of their classic arguments is that it is caused by increasing water vapor in the air, not by GHGs generated by human activity. However, they deniers neglect to acknowledge that air can only hold more water once it has warmed. So, greater water vapor in the air is not a cause of warming; it is a consequence of warming.
Another denier favorite is sun spots being the cause of warming. In fact, if sun activity were the cause, then both the atmosphere and the stratosphere would be warming, but that is not the case. The atmosphere is warming because GHGs are trapping heat, heat which is no longer escaping to warm the stratosphere. The stratosphere is actually cooling.
Moreover, while sun activity will affect warming or cooling on earth, the last decade or so has been a period in which sun activity has been in a cooler phase, and we will soon emerge from that. Despite that, in this decade, almost every one of the ten years have registered record warming.
The deniers pull out the Michael Mann "hockey stick" "straw-man" and try to say that it is the seminal and central observation by the climate scientists and then try to debunk it. In fact, there are many studies that confirm the hockey-stick finding, independent of the Mann study.
In the end, there is not even remotely reasonable doubt about the human contribution to climate change. It is happening and it may be happening even more quickly than we imagine. It demands action and leadership.
For anyone who still believes that humans are not causing warming, I say that they should be praying that they are wrong. Because if we are not causing it, we cannot fix it — and are they saying that whatever they think is causing it will stop at some convenient temperature that will not be destructive and will be survivable? How do they know?