Monday, December 7, 2009

Greed, Stupidity, and the Climate Scandal


IT'S BEEN ALL OVER THE MEDIA: CLIMATE SCIENTISTS were engaged in fraud as proved by a series of emails and files stolen from East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit. Some of those emails suggested fudging data and excluding competing theories from being published. Of course, every climate skeptic on the planet - especially the ones connected to the oil industry - has come crawling out of the woodwork to announce that human-induced climate change is a fraud and fighting it is an enormous waste of money.
Nonsense. Let's put this absolutely stupid, retrograde position to bed. As Robert Watson writes in the Guardian newspaper in Britain:


The global temperature analysis is robust and the work of the UEA Climatic Research Unit, on the land component, is fully supported by two separate independent analyses in the US at Nasa and Noaa. The evidence for climate change over the past 100 years also comes from observed changes in retreating glaciers throughout most of the world, a decline in Arctic sea ice, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, changes in precipitation patterns, and changes in vegetation and the behaviour of wildlife.
All three analyses of global temperature have been thoroughly and independently assessed by the IPCC, which is one of the most rigorous scientific review bodies in existence. Many thousands of scientists have dedicated their time to preparing and reviewing the most comprehensive and authoritative assessments of climate science available. In addition, governments from around the world have also reviewed the IPCC findings and, by consensus, approved the key findings in the summaries for policymakers and synthesis reports.
There is absolutely no basis from the email scandal to question the science behind climate change. What is astounding is that no one is raising questions about who is behind the illegal break-in to the East Anglia computers to create this furor just prior to the Copenhagen Summit. To say that the sophistication of this operation ought to make us dubious is a serious understatement, involving as it did, sophisticated security operations, computers in multiple countries, including Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia. This was a big job and it wasn't some computer nerd in Nebraska. What's more, in recent days there were also multiple attempts to break-into the offices of one of Canada's leading climate scientists, Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria.
Beyond the character of the break-ins being a cause for suspicion, there's the fact that there's a lot of money at play here - to reverse climate change means that humans must substantially reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and other forms of carbon producing fuels (I would include agri-fuels here, as I've commented previously.) Exxon alone made over $40 billion in 2007. Shell made $31 billion. Climate change is a very high stakes debate. Saudi Arabia certainly understands this and has staked out its position:


“There is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change,” says Mohammad al Sabban, the lead climate negotiator for Saudi Arabia.
I'm sure everyone is surprised that Saudi Arabia would take a backward position on climate change. It's certainly in the forefront of human progress on many other fronts, like women's rights, democratic governance and criminal justice. Not.
There is a second point worth noting in all this frew-fra. Even if climate change were not a proved science. It wouldn't matter. The reliance on oil, coal and the private automobile is causing terrible environmental destruction to our planet - not to mention destroying our health - without taking into consideration the climate. The Tar Sands in Alberta create vast toxic lakes and cause birth defects and exotic cancers in local populations. It is leading to the depletion of the water table, loss of wetlands and the cutting down of boreal forests. The mining of coal is both dangerous and environmentally destructive. In China the use of coal plants has led to a serious degradation in air quality, causing an estimated 1.75 million premature deaths. Then there are the effects of acid rain, caused by automobiles and coal burning, et al, which kills lakes, trees and wildlife. The rapid rise in asthma in our cities is, at least in part, a result of reliance on private automobiles.  Our reliance on suburbs as the model of residential development leads to higher car use and decreased exercise, which has almost certainly contributed to an increase in obesity - an important factor in cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Not to mention that the suburbs just suck and also lead to higher rates of depression and social isolation.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. What it points to is that the use of carbon-based fuels are a key element of environmental destruction on the planet today. Regardless of climate change science, we need to reduce our dependency on carbon fuels. However, this need is made all the more acute by the fact of climate change - by the melting of glaciers and thinning of the ice sheet; by the increase in extreme weather events; by the rise in sea levels, et al. Now is not the time to let the fight for action on climate change be derailed by the greed of big oil, the stupidity of climate deniers (my favourite being Lord Monkton from the UK who said during a recent US Tour that "They are about to impose a communist world government." Sheesh, if only.) or the spinelessness of politicians. Now is the time for action.
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