09.22.2014 08:52 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: warm, with a chance of scattered extinction

Media expert on climate change, I am not.

You want columnist climate connoisseur? Go read Lorrie Goldstein or Ezra Levant.

“Humanity’s burning of fossil fuels is having a warming effect on the climate,” Goldstein has written. “But that it’s not as dramatic as we were initially led to believe.”

Levant is slightly less nuanced. Climate change is a “hoax,” he says, and global warming “isn’t happening.”

There are others like Lorrie and Ezra, mostly on the conservative side of the ideological spectrum. There are columnists, think tanks and academics. To them, too, climate change isn’t happening.

On the other side are progressive columnists, think tanks and academics. They do battle with the conservative side on newspaper op-ed pages and on talk radio and at conferences.

As with the abortion debate, or the Middle East, or gun control, or any number of other subjects, these implacable climate change foes debate incessantly. They agree on little, if anything. It goes on and on.

The public, for their part, tend to tune out the quarrelling. To them, it is noise. It is what American thinker David Shenk called (ironically, in this case) “data smog.”

In the modern era, Shenk posits, Joe and Jane Frontporch receive too much conflicting information, too often. They lack the time or the expertise to sift through all of the competing theories and factoids about, say, climate change. So they just give up.

For someone wishing to preserve the status quo, “data smog” is their friend. It is a tried and true method to win. In a political context, it is like vote suppression: if you conclude you can’t change Joe and Jane’s mind about something, persuade them to give up.

That strategy has certainly worked on lots of people: there is so much flatly contradictory information out there about climate change, that many folks just don’t bother to talk about it.

Now, I grew up in Calgary, and I worked in the oil patch. I don’t regard the energy industry as Satanic. I thought the NEP was an unmitigated disaster, and I think Keystone XL is a lot better than shipping oil by rail cars (because they go through places like Lac Megantic) or by boats (because boats sink).

But, that said, I wonder. I look at the pages of the New York Times, as I did yesterday, and I wonder if we might be making a big mistake.

“The nations of the world have agreed to try to limit the warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which would require that emissions slow down and then largely stop in the next 30 years or so,” wrote the Times writer Justin Gillis, who has won a fistful of awards for his work, and who has gone to MIT and Harvard.

“If they continue on their present course through the century, scientists say, the Earth could warm by as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial level, which would likely be incompatible with human civilization in its current form.”

Now, I’m guessing the next step will be for the conservative columnists, think tanks and academics to do their utmost to discredit Justin Gillis. Overwhelmed by the resulting data smog, Joe and Jane Frontporch will then shrug, and give up.

But that last bit – “incompatible with human civilization in its current form” – kind of makes you sit up and think, doesn’t it? It did me.

I’m no expert. And I’m no anti-Keystone extremist. But, some days, I still have that line from the Clash’s ‘London Calling’ running through my head:

“You know what they said? Well, some of it was true.”


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    Steve T says:

    One of the great fallacies of the climate change debate is that, if you believe in climate change, you must also be anti-Keystone. The two do not go together, for the reasons you’ve set out in your article, WK.

    While the climate change protest in NYC was well-intentioned, some of the placards were downright ridiculous. End all use of fossil fuels, immediately? Statements like that make me embarrassed to support the pro-environmental lobby.

    So, too, the resistance to Keystone. Most of the protest has little to do with the actual environmental impact of the pipeline itself, and more to do with a misplaced idea that stopping Keystone will somehow slow the use of fossil fuels. It won’t – it will just divert revenue from Canada to the Middle East, expend more energy getting the oil here, and (as you point out) continue to support more dangerous transportation methods such as rail.

    Let’s do our best to fight against this “bundling” of Keystone and climate change. They are not synonymous, and we need to stop letting the extremists ram that idea down our throats.

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      Al in Cranbrook says:

      I can’t support anything remotely related to “environmentalism” any more, I wouldn’t give ten cents to them if their lives depended on it! When I want to contribute to the cause of the ecology, I’ll donate to Ducks Unlimited or the like, who have done more for the environment than any of those activist wannabes could even begin to lay claim to.

      There are only two places in the world where claims of 97% agreement on anything are official mantra: Iran and N. Korea. That’s how utterly gullible and/or brainwashed one has to be assumed to be to actually have the nerve to promote idiotic crap like that as truth!

      I’ve read too much, about ideology, about religion, and about history. The stuff that’s being peddled on AGW has sweet F all in common with science, and everything to do with ideology and/or religion. It’s all about herding people to this church or that party in order to squeeze ’em for money and power. It’s the same old, same old. Or as they say, same shit, different pile. Kindly drop a shekel in the dish on your way out the door, thank you very much.

      In the same vein as it is said that religion is the opiate of the masses, so it is that global warming/climate change has become the opiate of the left. It soothes their infinite guilt for being human.

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        pc says:

        It’s so adorable to see this issue framed as a left-right dynamic. I guess the Rockefellers must sit with the raving, loony eco-socialists now…


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          Lyndon Dunkley says:

          Now? This crop of Rockefellers has sat with the eco-socialists since the first tinge of privilege guilt hit their tiny trust fund brains. John D would be thoroughly embarrassed by all of them.

          Of course they’re not the only useless members of the lucky gene pool club to get caught up in do what I say, not what I do environmentalism. See RFK Jr.

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            Kaspar Juul says:

            A quick google of Lyndon Dunkley is… Interesting.

            Sort of puts your rhetoric in perspective.

            Environmentalist vs oil shill

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            Lyndon Dunkley says:

            Put down the Alinsky son and contribute to the conversation.

            I’ll make you a deal Juul – you live a petroleum and petroleum product free life for a week and I will quit “shilling” for the industry that allows quifs like you to survive.

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            Kaspar Juul says:

            Hey noone asked you to stop shilling.

            So sensitive…

            Should I get a soft blanket to bundle you in so you can feel better?

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        debs says:

        Al I agree, why are all these protestors in the street, for absolutely no good reason, when they should be hiding in their bedrooms fighting terrorism on the internetz. And for that matter, why is anything discussed at all about the environment anywhere….when we have waaaaayyyy bigger issues, Canada just got sold to China by Harper.
        *head explodes*
        sighhhh….the reality is, we have alot of different issues facing the world, but if we pollute it too the pt of it being unlivable…..well the terrorists have won.
        and the real terrorists, Big corporations who have usurped all powere from any world leader. Its why facts no longer are real:P

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    JH says:

    The staunch envoiromentalist I am married to tells me the biggest problem they face is the leadership of the ‘green’ organizations themselves and the politicians who pander to them. She feels they have politicized the whole issue and turned it into a Right against Left war. Thus nothing is really accomplished. When I listen to Elizabeth May or see Megan Leslie and cohorts heading off to the US to lobby against their country’s interestes I’m inclined to agree.

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      doconnor says:

      The thing is, not everybody agrees on what is in their country’s interestes, which is why we have democracy.

      It is the right who are rejecting science because the solutions to the problem are not compatible with their ideology.

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        Al in Cranbrook says:

        That’s nonsense! The right is fed up with having this crap jammed down their throats, with seeing any science that doesn’t line up with the left’s holy grail of AGW being stamped down relentlessly, and with being told there is only one side to the entire matter and everyone who doesn’t agree with can go straight to hell!

        Solutions??? Every solution (to arguably non-existent problems) offered thus far is pretty much a socialist’s GD wet dream!

        The right didn’t make this a war of ideologies! The left did! Deliberately! And with a degree of hysterical zealotry that would embarrass medieval inquisitors!

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          Marlowe Johnson says:

          Al put down your tinfoil hat for a second and ask yourself what’s wrong with a revenue neutral carbon tax. Is there something particularly ‘right wing’ about taxing income and capital gains? Taxing things we don’t want, like say pollution, instead of things we do want isn’t a left/right idea. it’s common sense.

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          Austin So says:

          Science agreed about 30+ years ago that this was going to be a problem.

          The problem is with those who try to parse out the science into little sound bites into “gotcha” moments, who now try to disprove the science with anecdotal bullshit and conspiracy theories so that they can keep the pennies that their children will pay thousands of dollars for.

          The sheer irony of people claiming shit being crammed down their throats because they are 30 years behind everyone else…rich…

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          doconnor says:

          If you pretend that greenhouse gas emissions where causing a serious world-wide problem, what would a non-socialist solution be?

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          pc says:

          Do you need the fainting couch, dear?

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          debs says:

          it obviously hasnt been crammed down far enough, you keep spitting it back up, with alot of bile:)

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    terraderma says:

    As an environmental scientist by training, I’ve given up.

    My second life as an untrained musicologist appreciates the final segue to one of the greatest protest songs ever.

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      debs says:

      I dont blame you, as everyone thinks environmental scientists are terrorists, or lying, or conspiring, or stealing, its gotten to the point that scientists arent just muzzled, they need to enter the witness protection program:P

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    Marlowe Johnson says:


    You might want to take a look at Bill McBibben’s piece “terrifying new math” piece in Rolling Stone from a couple years back. Fostering climate change denial, like smoking/cancer denial is a useful and predictable strategy for corporate interests to protect their investments and avoid problems of stranded capital.

    p.s. if you like Justin Gillis’s work you might also want to take a look at Elizabeth Kolbert.

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      !o! says:

      That’s a great article, thanks for pointing it out!

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    patrick says:

    To suggest that Ezra has any credibility with the global warming debate is such a complete disservice to the discussion. He has quoted fraudulent Lords, right wing think tanks for anti warming propaganda. He will guide us over the cliff in service to oil and corporate elite. Lorrie gives voice to anti windmill whack jobs who think turbines are hurting their brains (and living in the area all the complainers are people who didn’t get a windmill or a free income), believes crime is going up in the face of all documentation proving otherwise and hedges “global warming” as happening but maybe it’s not all our fault which denies facts, science and statistics all across the board.
    Neither are worth a thought about global warming issues.

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    Ron Waller says:

    “I thought the NEP was an unmitigated disaster, and I think Keystone XL is a lot better than shipping oil by rail cars (because they go through places like Lac Megantic) or by boats (because boats sink).”

    Who says if Keystone is built that will stop Alberta’s tar from being shipped by rail and tankers? Trudeau and Harper support Alberta’s goal of tripling production by 2030. They both want more Chinese foreign investment in the tarsands to make it happen. They both believe exporting bitumen (by tanker) and other resources to China is “the future of Canada’s economy” (JT.) They both support the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to BC, which will pump more bitumen than Keystone. It will increase tanker traffic off the BC coast from 5 to 30 tankers a month.

    Fact is the harder environmentalist make it on Alberta, the less profitable Alberta’s tar looks to foreign investors. God knows the Canadian government is doing nothing to stop expansion. Trudeau believes cosmetic environmental regulations will make it easier to build more pipelines and export more resources. We will need a real change of government to stop being a nation of environmental freeloaders.

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    Lyndon Dunkley says:

    The entire debate is ridiculous as the two fundamental issues are strangely and constantly ignored: what is the perfect, or even right, climate and who decides. I wish we had California’s climate in Alberta but likely a Somalian would feel the same; either way it’s obviously not fair its probably 77 degrees and sunny in San Diego today right?

    So with no real goal in sight, we flail along, spend billions, demonize the same “villains” from another direction all while yelling stop climate change, which I’ve never seen any scientist claim we could fully do.

    You want to know what’s incompatible with human civilization in it’s current form? An overnight or likely even an over-half century elimination of oil.

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    socks clinton says:

    Harper did support the multi-billion carbon capture storage (CCS) program in which Alberta pumps billions of litres of carbon dioxide back into the ground to offset the tarsands carbon footprint. Hopefully it doesn’t bubble back to the surface as CO2 gas and asphyxiate everybody or turn into the even worse greenhouse gas methane by those sub-terranean bacteria.

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      terraderma says:

      CCS does not work – the site is leaking, that’s the nature of rock. The solution for CO2 rebalance will not be as simple or economically neutral as thosein the emission business would like to think.

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        Marlowe Johnson says:

        incorrect. the pressure under which the CO2 is pumped into the rock is such that is in supercritical form, so leakage isn’t really a short term problem. long term maybe but most of it binds with the surrounding rock over time. the problem with CCS isn’t the technical feasibility; it’s the cost. simply put there are far cheaper options for reducing emissions than CCS. it really is a last resort technology that only makes sense if you believe: 1) that renewables and other low carbon power technologies won’t keep getting cheaper over time, and 2) that cheaper forms of carbon capture and storage (e.g. biochar) can’t/won’t be deployed at scale.

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    socks clinton says:

    Canada is in good company. Second world nations China, Russia, and India have also announced they won’t be sending their leaders.

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    WestGuy says:

    What would be a good recommendation is for people to find the latest GHG inventory report for Canada and see which sectors are generating the GHGs. (The last report I’ve seen is for 1990-2012). The largest source of GHGs for Stationary Combustion sources are Electricity and Heat Generation (88 Mt) compared to Fossil Fuel Production/Refining at 63Mt. The oilsands are a part of that 63Mt, not all of it. Road transportation alone generated 132Mt. When broken down by economic sector, Oil and Gas is the largest at 173Mt, followed by transportation at 165Mt and Electricity at 86Mt. In 2012, Canada generated 699Mt of GHGs
    I’ve said this before but both sides are wrong. It would be logical to assume that humans are having an impact on climate and act accordingly. Even if we’re not, there’s never a down side to reducing pollution (Not all pollution is GHGs, however). When you approach it from that aspect it doesn’t matter if CC is a hoax or not because your primary aim is to reduce GHGs.
    On the other side, the environmental movement seems to suggest that all we have to do is hammer industry and everything will be good, people won’t be the least bit inconvenienced. All you have to do is look at the GHG inventory numbers to see what is generating the most GHG and it’s domestic use. Power and heat generation, and road transportation. So for any meaningful change in GHG levels to take place, it will directly and adversely impact people. We live in a northern climate. Does anyone understand the amount of GHGs generated to get that box of oranges to your local grocery store in the middle of December? It certainly wasn’t grown locally. And you can Carbon tax the shit out of the Oil and Gas industry but what do you think will happen to the price of gas and diesel after that? It’s a complicated issue and one that will adversely affect people if it’s going to be effective.

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