Photo: Attacks on climate change science hinder 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.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

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.

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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 sources — coal, 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.

September 26, 2013

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Oct 04, 2013
7:57 PM

I would like to see a conversation about original Rio — Agenda 21 and where it is now. It seems like the original idea for a sustainable planet has been co-opted by the corporate elite and their talking heads who make pots of money creating plans that exclude local people.

Look around: People are skeptical of Agenda 21 because they have been excluded from the “sustainable” conversation. They see money being wasted — they see “Push Pull” planning questions. People are not stupid.

As long as governments (at all levels) bring in planners, experts and NGOs who usurp the local voice (sitting around conference tables making plans that may never be implemented or worse, imposing unreasonable projects into a community under the guise of sustainability) there will be resistance to everything related Agenda 21 and sadly, there will be science denial on climate change.

Rather that rail on about the attacks on science, try to see how denial came about and help change that conversation. Ask people why they see Agenda 21 as a scam. Have you noticed that those who have money are unsustainable and those without money bear the cost of their unsustainable projects? Maybe it’s time for research to see if that’s the problem.

Agenda 21 is also rejected because it’s used in an efficiency argument and efficiency is not usually sustainable.

I’m just saying the “he said — she said” argument is not getting through. You know you’re science is right but others know (with that same certainty) that stuff they’ve seen from Agenda 21 is a scam. Many who reject Climate Science reports look no further than “Agenda 21”.

Fix the Agenda 21 credibility problem and maybe this problem will fade away. Take local science to local people and let them decide. I think they know there’s a problem — we all see the impacts. And please help stop Agenda 21 imposters. Thanks

Oct 03, 2013
6:17 PM

Money is still important to people. We need a strong economy, right? And we all enable the fossil fuel industry with our consumer dollars.

Sep 28, 2013
12:39 AM

Human nature being what it is, we seem to have to have some disaster looming over our heads before we will change a negative behaviour. That being said, it’s probably stupid for me to say “why can’t we just do the right things for our planet: stop polluting it with fossil fuels and develop clean, sustainable alternatives, regardless of why there are climate changes?” This argument of “yes climate changes are happening and we’re the cause versus no it isn’t or we’re not the cause” is such a drain on our energies and what we could be getting accomplished, since I don’t think we can ever know conclusively all the answers. The earth is a living entity that may be changing naturally and we haven’t been around long enough to predict what the end result will be. I’ve always felt, let’s just do the wisest, and obviously cleanest, healthiest things for our environment, just because it’s right…that will always be the right thing to do…that won’t change. I don’t need any other reason why. Let’s just keep finding the best ways to take care of our earth and DO them. Thanks! Arlette

Sep 27, 2013
11:17 PM

The voice of reason on environmental matters is not dictated to by special or should I say specious interest groups!

Sep 27, 2013
6:10 PM

The most worrying claim is that we are past the point were we can do anything about climate change. This appears to be a view held by some highly placed officials in at least one government.

The idea that industry regulation is the only answer is false. We all have it within our ability to use a fraction of the fossil fuel in our day to day living. Industry cannot force us to use more fossil fuel if we choose alternatives. It’s important to support every form of individual effort to produce less carbon dioxide, rather than taking the narrow view that only large projects attempting to compete with the energy supplied by fossil fuel will yield a satisfactory outcome. Less can be more.

Sep 27, 2013
4:11 PM

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

Sep 26, 2013
9:04 PM

More on this from your latest audience downunder…

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