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Climate change policy in Canada: are the scientific assumptions sound?

Canadian scientists among worldwide experts throwing cold water on theories of climate catastrophe
By Tom Harris
Sunday, June 4, 2006

Opposition parties are attacking the Harper government for backing away from Kyoto targets.  Environmental lobbyists are demanding the resignation of Environment Minister Rona Ambrose as chair of the United Nations discussions on climate change. And yet, scientists - those men and women whose work is supposed to be the basis for all pro-Kyoto policy - continue to speak out more and more against the establishment view on climate change.  Is this mere irony, or are we witnessing a trend?

Here are four examples:

Last week, Victoria-based climatologist Dr. Tim Ball made a whirlwind visit to Ottawa.  After appearing as guest on CFRA talk radio's Lowell Green show, Dr. Ball presented to MPs on Parliament Hill, and gave a public lecture, Climate Change in an Age of Misinformation, at the Westin Hotel. The next morning he appeared before an editorial board meeting of the Ottawa Citizen.  All the while he delivered the same message — check the science of climate change; it is different to what most people think. 

"Over the past ten years the public have been hoodwinked into thinking our emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are leading to a climate catastrophe," Ball said at the Westin. "In reality, CO2 is essential for photosynthesis and its rise and fall has never been closely correlated with the warming and cooling of the planet."

The week before, participants in an Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Seminar witnessed a similar incident at the University of Ottawa.  Then it was ex-Environment Canada Research Scientist Dr. Madhav Khandekar explaining to an audience of 60 professors, students and Natural Resources Canada scientists that much of the climate science that is accepted by the public as being ‘settled' is, at best, seriously in doubt. 

Like Ball, Khandekar completely dismantled the notion that the recent rise in CO2, the greenhouse gas most restricted by Kyoto, is the major cause of warming at the Earth's surface.  Instead, Khandekar concluded in his lecture Global Warming Science: A Need for Reassessment, land use change due to urbanization and variations in the Sun's brightness, both phenomena the effects of which he believes the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have not fully taken into account, are the primary drivers of the past century's modest warming.

Khandekar also demonstrated that there has been no increase in extreme weather events in Canada. "The link between warming and extreme weather events is tenuous at best - it is really more perception than reality and is due primarily to today's nearly instantaneous media coverage of disasters worldwide, a capability we did not have until very recently," Khandekar explained.  Globally, extreme weather trends do not appear unusual either, he says.

Two days earlier, Carleton University Earth Sciences Professor Tim Patterson gave a comparable message in a CBC TV news special report. "People in our group feel that the science has progressed now … we now feel that climate is driven by changes in the Sun," said Patterson.  As he testified before the House of Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development last year, Patterson told the CBC, "We think that by going after CO2, which is basically plant food, and which, if we look at the longer geologic record, there is no correspondence between CO2 and the temperature record, that we're wasting our money."

Patterson puts the cost of Kyoto into perspective, "Five million people a year die in Africa because they do not have clean drinking water resources.  The money allocated towards Kyoto in one year would provide clean drinking water to Africa in perpetuity." 

Appearing on CTV NewsNet at the end of the same week, Dr. Ian Clark, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Ottawa, summed up, "The science has progressed dramatically in this field; in particular we are seeing new evidence - new hard science - showing that solar forces, not CO2, is what really is the main driver of climate."  To the dismay of the environmentalist on the CTV panel, Clark continued, "There's actually been no evidence that CO2, which is a benign gas, a nutrient for plants, has ever had a measurable impact on our climate."

All four scientists were amongst the 61 climate experts who signed the April 6th open letter to Prime Minister Harper asking for open hearings on the science of climate change. However, judging from the reaction of environmental groups and pro-Kyoto scientists, public science consultations will face stiff resistance.

But those who advocate consultations are used to such opposition.  Like others on his side, Khandekar responds simply, "I base my conclusions on what the data is really telling us, not on computer models of hypothetical futures.  We need a reality check, using observed data, about how the climate is changing."

Questioning the scientific assumptions underlying Kyoto has become tantamount to environmental heresy in Canada.  And yet, as citizens concerned about the implications of climate change — on our health, on our environment, and on our economy - isn't it fair to assume that the science behind policy to address the issue is being properly scrutinized on an ongoing basis?  We need to hear more, not less, about this intense controversy if we are to develop good public policy. 


Tom Harris is an Ottawa-based mechanical engineer and Executive Director of Natural Resources Stewardship Project. He can be reached at letters@canadafreepress.com










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