Posted by: jmtoriel | February 10, 2010

Tired of Denialism yet? Open letter to deniers of Climate Change

Cut and Paste as needed:

Dear deniers,

As a ___________ in the burgeoning field of _______ and a ____ ____ graduate living in_(your town here)__, I was extremely disappointed and dumbfounded by your latest editorial in ___(your town media here)________. As per your ______(skeptic article title here)____.

I know you like to be called a “skeptic” but that seems unfair.

I am a skeptic. By definition, you are not properly referring to skeptics.

You are skeptical of things much too selectively to earn that title. No. You are denialist; i.e. when faced with a rather insurmountable array of data and evidence, you have chosen to ignore it all and to hold onto cherished notions. Like creationists are to evolution, your climate denialism is to a host of integrated atmospheric, geologic, and astronomical sciences. I guess the only thing to say is that you are generally impervious to reason on this topic.

I see that your denialism has reached a new feverish pitch. It will undoubtedly be a footnote of history to answer the future question, “Why didn’t we act on it sooner?” question. The controversy over who e-mailed what to whom at the East Anglia University Climate Unit has gotten you all a twitter. Rex Murphy recently got fired for hosting such unsubstantiated views in the Globe and Mail. The Sarah Palin and Wild Rose enthusiasts along with the  oil and gas lobby have been having a field day. If we drill more, cut taxes, the economy will rise, gas prices will lower is the wisdom — Alberta’s deficit says otherwise. Freedom of press. We’ll see how that unfolds. According to Palin’s hand notes, energy is and will be a priority.

I’ve read the reports, seen it on TV and heard you on the radio. They are in love with the pieces in FOX, Canwest, The Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times. Look at the blog responses to each article that comes out. Go see that they are practically slobbering over a bunch of mostly irrelevant emails, some nasty words by some scientists from 1999 generally backed into a corner by powerful and lying special interests in the carbon-intensive industries, and at least one ethical breach. One of the WSJ’s own bloggers wrote,

“For many people who follow global warming and energy debates closely, the saga of the purloined emails has become either a smoking gun or a gigantic distraction.”

I’ll take the latter. None of it actually changes the actual evidence of climate change. None of it. I really wish they did. We would all be better off not having to deal with it. We could all just sit back and wait for the next extreme weather event in your backyard…

So, first the two alleged ethical breaches:

1) Transparency.

As The Guardian‘s Monbiot quotes in his blog:

“But the deniers’ campaign of lies, grotesque as it is, does not justify secrecy and suppression on the part of climate scientists. Far from it: it means that they must distinguish themselves from their opponents in every way. No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that it is unimpeachable, not the last.”

Indeed. Science needs to be open. Its integrity is built upon the freedom of researchers to replicate. Without it, it can become something else – an abusable and abused system to build a new oligarchy of “experts.” Science needs openness and honesty. Period. Despoiling that is dangerous and — frankly, undemocratic.

But what are we dealing with here? An “article of faith”? A “priesthood”? A “cabal”? Or the ultimate email proven “climategate”? I think not.

These guys have been hounded! Fraudulent lawsuits in the United States. Practical kangaroo courts in front of Senate committees headed by James Inhofe. Baseless “research” free of peer review get huge press with the help of the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, and other industry front “think tanks” (like the Fraser Institute). I, myself, am not surprised that scientists basically circled the wagons because what they were doing was made into a highly funded target. As Chris Mooney points out in The Republican War on Science, and James Hoggan and Richard Littermore’s Climate Cover-Up , the climate deniers have been funded with millions of dollars of money that went largely into smearing peer-reviewed climate science.

As the editor of Nature notes, “The theft highlights the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers.”

More on that later.

2) National Policy.

For years, scientists at various U.S. federal agencies had Bush administration ideologues cutting things from their reports. Why? Not because they had done the climate work themselves or because they had better sources of data, but because they didn’t want to pay for it and they wanted to keep lining their pockets from carbon polluting industries like coal and Big Oil.

A similar occurrence is happening with the current Harper leadership (or lack thereof) on this file and the embarrassing position Environment Minister Prentice has represented abroad and at home (re spat with Premier Charest discouraging their advancements in climate change legislation that will actually attempt to meet Kyoto 1990 levels instead of increasing it by 2% CO2 emissions instead) without coming up with any actual federal plan to reduce our national emissions and ever-weakening targets announced last week to meet North American standards. What North American standards??

It surmounts to little more irony than that the WSJ and other business news journals think we should follow the money. You follow the money on the climate cranks and it’s like following the money for big tobacco so that big tobacco could keep making billions while they pollute our soil, our water, and our air and knowingly damage our health.

It’s a ruse. You follow the money for the scientists at East Anglia, IPCC, NOAA, NASA, Royal Canadian Meteorological Society, etc. and you find that they’ve got a lot of government funding done in the interest of protecting national futures. And they have the interest of people in making money with technologies that are far less polluting and exploitative and far less reliant on imports as well as a deterrent from greater global insecurities. Forgive me if I see a major difference between enormous polluting industries that are sucking the jobs out of central Canada with policies favouring the tar sands and the advancements in Asia and Europe with massive investments in renewable energy production. The US outspent on the promotion for clean energy by a margin of 14 to 1 per capita compared to Canada’s budget last year. Where’s Canada’s innovation in adopting better technology that creates more jobs and creates healthier livelihoods AND a more robust and diversified economy?

None of this negates the fact that solar activity cannot account for rising polar temperatures while the NW Passage opens up to sea traffic (ironically right where the G7 Conference was in Iqaluit, Nunuvut– was it on host Finance Minister, Flaherty’s agenda?) or the Greenland ice sheet is melting at record rates. It correlates all too clearly with rising human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures. I don’t feel lucky enough to assume otherwise!

Nothing in any of this somehow disappears the “drunken” boreal forests of the sub-Arctic where the permafrost melts and stays soft, preventing the trees from maintaining their root systems. The same is happening along the railroad to Churchill, MB. This is affecting our infrastructure as well as polar bears. These phenomenon correlate all too clearly with rising human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures.

None of this can forestall the threat to Arctic and Alpine rodents like voles and paikas that are losing their habitats because their snowy environment is disappearing in a way consistent with the incredible correlation between rising human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures. I won’t even get into the polar bear habitat…

None of this can reverse the instability of the Larsen B or Wilkins ice shelves of Antarctica. Scientists had predicted these losses but even they were surprised by loss of 3,000 square kilometers in a year in 2008. Then, this past summer, they saw the Wilkins shelf calve. Hmmm. I wonder how they described it and why they predicted that it would continue to escalate? Hmmm. Let’s see what they told Science Daily:

“The retreat of Wilkins Ice Shelf is the latest and the largest of its kind. Eight separate ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have shown signs of retreat over the last few decades. There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, which has been the most rapid in the Southern Hemisphere,” explained David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey.

“The changes to Wilkins Ice Shelf provide a fabulous natural laboratory that will allow us to understand how ice shelves respond to climate change and what the future will hold for the rest of Antarctica,” Vaughan commented. “The quality and frequency of images acquired by ESA satellites mean that the break-up of Wilkins Ice Shelf can be analysed far more effectively than any previous event. For the first time, I think, we can really begin to see the processes that have brought about the demise of the ice shelf.”

Note that this is all consistent with the predictions generated by actual climate scientists. Not the likes of Ross McKitrick, an Associate professor of Economics and Christopher Essex, a theoretical physicist (where is their scientific credibility on climate??) Are we seeing a trend?

I can’t tell if you are paying attention because your eyes are closed, you’ve put your fingers in your ears, and you’re still shouting something about a “hoax” and a “conspiracy.” That’s quite a massive conspiracy.
You are basically alleging that we have a supernaturally powerful coterie of dark wizards disguised as environmental regulators, liberal politicians, goofy venture capitalists who want clean renewable energy, hippie environmentalists, and climate scientists who have been able to fabricate an array of data so massive that it can destroy extant sea ice, break ice shelves, melt Greenland, raise sea levels around the islands everywhere, bring more record highs each year and fewer record lows, and help bring up alpine temperatures and reduce deep cold snaps just enough to allow pine beetles and other pests to infest and destroy our forestry sector. Those are some pretty powerful people. I wish I had that kind of Jedi power.
Or maybe, these are people making observations, creating predictions, and generating descriptions and explanations of what has happened to Earth’s atmosphere as the result of nearly doubling its CO2 content since pre-industrial times and dumping a host of other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They’ve been measuring this consistently in Hawaii to measure parts per million CO2 levels in the atmosphere since 1958 and this undeniable evidence is rarely acknowledged.

Maybe you need to actually take some deep breaths and get your head out of your pockets and see that what’s fueled our pockets for generations (beginning in humble southern Ontario — the first commercial oil well in North America at Oil Springs in Lambton County) and is now costing the livelihoods of millions of people and many more in the future without political will. No amount of kvetching and hand-waving about email improprieties will change an unfolding tragedy and I hold you, as an editor, responsible to properly report this.

In case you don’t want to take my word for it, maybe you will listen to the editor of Nature:

“Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

First, Earth’s cryosphere is changing as one would expect in a warming climate. These changes include glacier retreat, thinning and areal reduction of Arctic sea ice, reductions in permafrost and accelerated loss of mass from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Second, the global sea level is rising. The rise is caused in part by water pouring in from melting glaciers and ice sheets, but also by thermal expansion as the oceans warm. Third, decades of biological data on blooming dates and the like suggest that spring is arriving earlier each year.”

Or this article from The Economist:

“This newspaper believes that global warming is a serious threat, and that the world needs to take steps to try to avert it. That is the job of the politicians. But we do not believe that climate change is a certainty. There are no certainties in science. Prevailing theories must be constantly tested against evidence, and refined, and more evidence collected, and the theories tested again. That is the job of the scientists. When they stop questioning orthodoxy, mankind will have given up the search for truth. The sceptics should not be silenced.”

I would add, however, that denial under the cloak of skepticism is simply unrealistic and unsubstatiated.

Please read the editorials in their entirety. You will be enlightened.

Humans have altered the climate. That alteration is accelerating. Fixating on the emails of your current opponents at the expense of a body of evidence so massive is about as ethical as watching Haitian earthquake survivors from a passing cruise ship and tossing out the refuse in the bay without acknowledging they are in any trouble and after having been told repeatedly by the most credible authorities that the refuse was incredibly expensive to clean up. Except that the Haitians are humanities next generation and they are growing up with the knowledge that climate change is real.

Creationism is foolish. Climate change denial is globally suicidal.

It’s time to come out of denial.

Yours truly,

Your Name

Your Town

Ed. Note: Special thanks to #climate bloggers who helped me with articles in content.

And I’m not sure if it was me, but the whole online paper I sent this to was pulled!

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Responses

  1. The problem I have with all of this is that the real probable causes of climate change have been ‘washed under the rug’ in a mad dash to set up taxation structures around carbon, when the underlying science is showing distinct gaps in understanding and rigor.

    Don’t get me wrong, I care about the environment, I’d just wish to see our management of it based on known factors and the strict scientific method. Too much politics (on both sides) have got into this topic to effectively ‘pollute out’ the hard science – and that’s just bad news for everybody.

    • The issue is that in an attempt to “wash the (science) under the rug” or the clear evidence of increasing extreme weather patterns is not simply an environmental issue. It’s a global (and national) security issue that will create more political, economic AND ecological instability the longer we stall. That is the ethically imperative notion that we are placing on the next generation. Right now, in North America, the heaviest polluters of GHG per capita on the planet, we have no taxation structure on carbon (with the exception of BC). On a national level, Canada has no national plan whatsoever. That’s bad news for Canadians and everybody as well.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Talk much?


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