Oh, dear. The debate on global warming just ended. Again.
On Saturday Globe and Mail editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon wrote that his newspaper “decided that we would also turn 2007 into our year of going green” because “We concluded that debate over whether global warming and climate change actually exists was over …” Yes, the same Globe and Mail that nine years ago told us “It appears 1998 will go down as the year that atmospheric and scientific evidence finally put to rest any doubt that the planet is being subjected to global warming, with human activity the probable cause.”
Talk about a story with legs. In February 2000, Maclean’s asserted that: “Now, what was once a hotly debated theory – that a vast layer of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other man-made gases in the atmosphere are causing the Earth’s envelope to heat up – has hardened into near certainty.” In October 2000 the New York Times announced that “Scientists Now Acknowledge Role of Humans in Climate Change.” In 2001, the National Post said “Scientists have dispelled most of the lingering doubts about the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere with new evidence from satellites orbiting the Earth.”
Then in 2006 the BBC reported that “Consensus grows on climate change” while Time magazine said, “In the past five years or so, the serious debate has quietly ended. Global warming, even most skeptics have concluded, is the real deal, and human activity has been causing it.” Wanna guess the 2015 headlines?
In one sense they have a point. Those of us who question the whole “man has set the sky on fire” theory are now routinely dismissed, at least by non-scientists, as insane or in the pay of the oil companies. It could be worse; in 2004 the head of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change compared a leading climate skeptic to Hitler. But I still think if I am in the pay of the oil companies, who I am also led to understand are successfully conspiring to keep gas prices high, they might send me larger cheques more often. As for those in the pay of governments, gosh, who could question their integrity?
In any event, those like me trying to suggest that the science is complex are not argued with so much as sneered at. We are snubbed by snobs. As the Globe’s Jeffrey Simpson recently authoritatively sniffed, “Climate-change scoffers are now as rare as defenders of the invasion of Iraq.” And they all moved away from me there on the bench. But there is something peculiar about the drumbeat of stories that this time, for sure, the evidence really is conclusive and we’ve won the debate.
As Patrick J. Michaels noted in a 2006 Cato Institute paper, new scientific discoveries should, statistically, be just as likely to increase or decrease existing forecasts. That each global-warming story ups the ante about how bad it is, how little time is left to fix it, and how certain scientists are, smacks of propaganda rather than science.
So does the rhetorical peculiarity that the people who have won the debate in the court of public opinion keep setting out to win it again instead of doing something useful with their victory. In its green coming-out, the Globe reported a vast new poll that 78 per cent of Canadians claimed to have noticed climate change in their surroundings.
Pardon me while I snore. Last April the Citizen said 90 per cent of people in 30 countries including Canada thought climate change was serious. Even in the U.S. it was 76 per cent. In 2001 the Globe said three quarters of Americans thought progress in fighting global warming “too slow” while just over half of Canadians wanted to give the UN power to “impose legally binding actions on national governments.”
Heck, in 1997 the Citizen reported an Environics poll that 61 per cent of Canadians felt “We should assume the worst and take major action now to reduce human impacts on climate, even if there are major costs.”
So why are people such as David Suzuki and Al Gore keen to persuade the public global warming is a problem? Why is the UN all itchy to convene another megaconference to sign a successor treaty to the Kyoto Accord no one even tried to implement? Why are politicians now donning ugly green ties to trade slashing insults? Surely you have something to contribute besides self-congratulatory abuse of dissenters.
I’ve said for years the alarmists have a problem because their science is bunk. But no one’s listening to me. So stop selling the product and start delivering it. Tell us what to do. Something practical that would make a difference. Based on this rock-hard “science” of yours.
Oh, dear. Did I just end the debate?
John Robson is a writer and broadcaster based in Ottawa.