Climate change deniers deluded

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

It must be difficult, if not downright embarrassing, to be a climate change denier these days. After all, the scientists they’ve attacked have been exonerated, London’s Sunday Times newspaper ran a retraction and an apology for an article deniers were using to discredit climate change science and more and more denier “experts” are being exposed as shills for industry or just disingenuous clowns. (Naomi Oreskes’ excellent book Merchants of Doubt offers insight into how the deniers operate.) Meanwhile, evidence that fossil fuel emissions contribute to dangerous climate change just keeps building.

We use the term deniers deliberately. People who deny overwhelming scientific evidence, without providing any compelling evidence of their own and who remain steadfast in their beliefs even as every argument they propose gets shot down, do not demonstrate the intellectual rigour to be called skeptics. Meanwhile, evidence of the harm our fossil fuel addiction causes beyond climate change mounts every day, as oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico and industry and governments spend huge sums of money to keep us hooked.

Let’s take a look at some recent events. First, three independent investigations found the unimaginatively named “climategate” was anything but the scandal or “nail in the coffin of anthropogenic global warming” that deniers claimed. The reports, the last of which was released in early July, found that East Anglia University climate scientists at the centre of the hacked emails brouhaha could have been more open about sharing data, but their science was rigorous and sound.

And a review of criticisms of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s global assessment of climate change found that, despite “a very small number of near-trivial errors in about 500 pages,” the report contained “no errors that would undermine the main conclusions.” Yet another independent study supported Penn State University climatologist Michael Mann. Deniers have been attacking professor Mann’s research for years.

Another blow to the deniers’ arsenal came when London’s Sunday Times was forced in June to run a fulsome apology and retraction for an article it published in January questioning the findings of the IPCC report on rainfall changes in the Amazon. The Times admitted it had misrepresented the views of climate researcher Simon Lewis and that, contrary to its article, the findings of the IPCC report were backed by peer-reviewed research.

As their arguments fall apart, deniers have stepped up their efforts, even going so far as to send hate mail and death threats to scientists who are working to ensure our survival in the face of the greatest danger we face. And then we have the spectacle of the fossil fuel industry and petro-fuelled governments doing all they can to prolong our addiction to non-renewable and polluting sources of energy as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

Our federal government recently cancelled an 18-month investigation into tar sands pollution of water and destroyed all draft copies of the report. And Alberta premier Ed Stelmach paid $55,800 to place a half-page ad in the Washington Post promoting tar sands oil and a pipeline to carry it to the US after the newspaper refused to publish his arguments. Meanwhile, premier Stelmach has joined with Alberta and federal government officials and oil industry representatives to promote tar sands oil in the US and to water down any US regulations that might reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Of course, the deniers will ignore the evidence. Nothing would please us more than if they were right. Life really would be easier if fossil fuels like oil and coal did not cause environmental damage or pose risks to life on our small planet. But this is the real world, with real scientific evidence pointing to the urgent need to make changes in the way we live and get energy.

We have many ways to confront the threat of catastrophic climate change, from individual efforts to conserve energy and pollute less to government initiatives to encourage development of clean energy technology. It’s time to listen to the people who continue to look at the facts in the face of baseless accusations, break-ins and threats. We need to listen to those who are trying to do something about our predicament rather than wishing it away.

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