I Just Met a Climate Change Denier...

It has been quite some time since I have met a full on climate denier, but last night while attending a panel talk at the University of Calgary I listened to 15 minutes of pure climate change denial... my jaw on the table the entire time.


Everyone is entitled to their own opinion so I am not here to bash anyone's views - especially those of a very bright, qualified geologist - however listening to his point of view actually scared me.  I cannot believe, despite all the signs, all the science, all the work worldwide that there are people who still turn their back to the reality that is staring us in the face.  I am not going to argue for or against the existence of anthropogenic climate change but I am going to make three points that I think go beyond the climate debate and are important to think about when evaluating how we are going to handle the future of energy and the environment.


Always be Wary of Statistics

Statistics are wonderful.  Data helps us to evaluate risks, qualify performance, and predict the future. But statistics are easily manipulated; they are complex and can be used in ways that don't always tell the full story.  This is often because correlation is mistaken for causality. Just because two things are moving in a similar fashion does not mean one is necessarily causing the other.  Some things are simply a coincidence.  Take for example this argument: Over the last one hundred years there has been a decrease in the number of pirates, there has also been an increase in global average temperatures. Therefore, global warming is caused by a lack of pirates. You get my point?  Although this example is ridiculous, when we do not fully understand the ins and outs of something it is easy to assume correlation is causality or just be thrown off by statistics in general.  This has been one of the biggest challenges in the climate change debate, how can science prove that rising levels of CO2 are causing rising temperatures?  The answer likely is that they will never fully be able to prove it but there is evidence that seems to point in that direction.  There will always be some doubt but that doesn't mean we should just ignore a potential problem, especially when the potential consequences are so immense.  Conversely, there are statistics that may "prove" the opposite, that CO2 is not causing climate change.  But once again, causality is extremely difficult to prove so make sure you are critical of these types of arguments as well.   


Proactivity Beats Reactivity Any Day

Just ask BP.  They lost billions of dollars and more importantly an entire reputation because of acting reactively.  I cannot think of one example of a time that planning for the future has caused me more problems than it has helped.  This goes for energy and the environment as well.  We have to think of the consequences of our decisions and be proactive to mitigate issues that may arise in the future.  It is almost always more difficult and more expensive to fix things, especially when it could've been done right in the first place.  This goes for everything in life, energy, environment and economy included.  The UN has recently started putting more emphasis on adaptation as a way to battle climate change.  I think this is a great step and very necessary but it is extremely important that mitigation remain at the forefront of society's mind.  Simply reacting will not do.


What's the Worst that Could Happen?

One of my favorite arguments for action on climate change was done by a Greg Craven, a high school chemistry teacher who applied a commonly used matrix used for evaluating religion. When it comes to climate change the matrix goes a little something like this.  On one axis you have existence and on the other you have belief.  That makes four combinations:

1) You believe in climate change + It exists

Great! You were right and you did everything you could to battle it and therefore have a healthy planet and sustainable energy systems. WIN!

2) You believe in climate change + It doesn't exist

Wow, those scientists lied to us all along, oh well at least we have improved infrastructure and are able to accommodate a growing population with clean energy solutions.

3) You don't believe in climate change + It exists

Uh oh, now what are we going to do? Hopefully we are able to adapt and come up with creative technology that will save us, one thing is certain it is going to need to happen fast, require huge efforts and huge dollars.

4) You don't believe in climate change + It doesn't exist

Yay! I was right. You hippies suck.

Well, I am not much when it comes to mathematics but when I look at these four options it appears that 75% of them point to the fact that we should take action and move towards a sustainable future. For the good of society and our planet.  And that is even without weighing in the potential effect of the impacts!! This video explains it in more depth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zORv8wwiadQ


Trust me, I am not naive.  I am not self-centered enough to think that humanity is powerful enough to kill the Earth.  The planet will be just fine... it is us who will be in trouble.  So what I am getting at is that no matter what the science or statistics or politics say, there are great benefits to cleaning up our act and being more sustainable. Period.

By: michaelgordon On Friday, 13 May 2011 Comment Comments( 4 ) Hits Views(568)
Comments Why so simple?

Hey Ms. Taylor,


It is with great passion that I've read your compelling post, but as a scientist myself, it is very hard for me to over simplify this complex problem. Let me start off by stating that for some I might also be considered a "Climate Change Denier", but that it because of the empirical evidence that I've come across during the past decade or so. From what I recall of the time that Al Gore published his book and movie "An Inconvenient Truth," a lot of the "predictions" have not occurred, and most likely if so, will happen on a random basis (meaning that it is still not scientifically proven). 


You were head on in your first argument about "Always being wary of statistics," but as you alluded to, it applies to both sides of the argument. There are as many scientists "for" global warming as those "opposed" to global warming. It is in my view sad that we have to look at the scientific fields as pro/con when it comes to the issue, but that is all due because of governmental funding. The world's leading economies favor (including the UN) scientist who can "prove" that global warming exists. For me, before one predicts rising tides that will destroy most coastal cities, hurricanes that will make Katrina look like a walk in the park, tsunamis that will make Japan's recent disaster look like a minor splash, and droughts that will make the sahara look like an oasis, let us start by being able to predict the weather for the next 24 hours! I have been fortunate to live in some of the world's most "hi-tech" cities and to this day, it is impossible for me to get an accurate prediction of what I can expect once I step outside. Don't get me wrong, that "inaccurate" science has come very far in recent years, but we still have miles to go! Just look at what happened in Joplin, Missouri a couple of days ago. It is easy to predict other "killer" storms once a devastating one has passed because people are already afraid.


To that last point, I think it should be emphasized once more. The biggest strength behind any climate change model is the fact that it plays heavily on people's fears rather than logic. For that point, I will skip forward to your last argument from high school chemistry professor Greg Craven. His logic in my view is flawed in many ways because an oversimplified model can NEVER resolve a complex problem. By playing on people's fears and avoiding logic quite some times, he favors the ineffective and costly pro-active solution (which I will touch on in a few minutes). First and foremost, looking at his model, the BEST solution is to hope for that there is no GCC (Global climate change) and that we didn't spend on it), but that so happens to fall under what he claims is the "doomsday" scenario where everything that can go wrong will. That is simply an error in logic in my view because stating that, it undermines the fact that it would not be too late to fix some of those issues (but it would still cost quite a bit of money). His chosen option (first column) either way would cost significant amounts of money, and may or may not solve the problem (I would NEVER want my politicians to spend my tax payer money on things that may or may not happen). 

Now to your point about proactive vs. reactive. It is easy to claim that BP did something wrong after the worst oil spill in recent history, but being pro-active to that fact is not always as simple as it seems (It is also worth noting that BP made billions of dollars of that platform, and continue to do so with others, making that recent incident look like a minor dent in their budget). Global climate (as opposed to local climate) in my view is not something that the world can be to pro-active about because figuratively speaking, there are other more "simple" things that were are still unable to resolve (i.e. global rights of women). That doesn't mean in anyway that I wouldn't favor a global-oriented solution (but carbon tax is NOT a way to make it work). Pro-active is an argument also used by many POLITICIANS (not scientists) because of a desired change (i.e. pre-emptive strikes against a country that is PERCEIVED as a threat). Unfortunately, until an event has not occurred it is hard (if not close to impossible) to prove scientifically that it will happen. On the other hand, if it has happened (like the many GCC's that happened before and during the existence of humans), it is easier to prove its "repetitiveness." 


I am truly open to this dialogue, and I acknowledge that there are people who agree wholeheartedly with what I said, and those who would rather believe that unless we change our ways, the world will soon come to an end. Either way, it will be more complex than that, and if it helps to support my point, I would add that "scarring" the global population into an imminent doomsday scenario has increased the global standards of living, and improved the way in which human interacts with nature for the better.

By: , On Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Comments Re: Why so simple?

Hi Jacques,  


Thanks so much for your comment!  This is just the type of dialogue that ISES is meant to create and I am happy to see that people are reading the blog, taking in the arguments and forming their own opinions.  


I will precursor my response by saying that I am definitely in no way, shape or form a scientist.  I work in carbon management in the oil, gas and power sectors and that is where my expertise lies.    


I agree wholeheartedly that climate science is not (nor will it probably ever) be concretely proven but I do have to disagree with the statement that there are just as many scientists against the science as there are for it.  I would love to see a statistic on this if you have it because one assertion I have heard from a renowned geoengineer and climate scientist, David Keith, is that climate change is actually one of the few issues where scientists are actually more concerned than the general public (by proportion) about its potential effects.  I do see where you are coming from with the argument that we can’t simply group people as pro or con; I for one never think things are black and white.  There is a wide spectrum of factors that contribute to any issue, especially that of one as complex as climate change.  Having said that, I don’t think that “predicting” the future is our problem at all.  What I was trying to get at in this post is it doesn’t really matter what you believe, we need to take action to clean up our act either way.  Simple logic would tell anyone that doing what we are doing to the Earth simply is not ok no matter how advanced human beings are as a species.    


I would also wholeheartedly disagree that climate science plays on emotion rather than logic.  I think it is completely logical to recognize that consumption growth at current rates will have consequences (even if we can’t predict what exactly those will be).  And I would also assert that anti-climate change arguments often play on people’s fears as well.  The coal lobby in the US is notorious for claiming that cleaning coal is Anti-American because it will lead to loss of jobs.  Ezra Levant plays on fears of terrorism as a reason for purchasing Canadian oilsands (I am not against the oil sands by the way it is just another example).  Fear is used all over the place for all sorts of arguments.  I do agree on the point that it is normally used by politicians and journalists but this is not exclusive to any one group and any one argument.    


I agree that Greg Craven’s model is very simplified, but that is what makes it relatable to people who may not know the ins and outs of the issues… in my opinion, too much confusing and contradictory information about this topic is what is making action difficult and therefore I gravitate to his simplification because anyone can understand it.  I am curious as to what you mean by the proactive approach being more “costly and ineffective” though.  There has been much very credible research done that has shown that waiting to take action on carbon reduction could lead to society paying up to 70% more for adaptation in the future.  I agree that we should hope climate change doesn’t happen… every time I eat a cheeseburger from McDonald’s I hope that I don’t gain a pound.  Actions just don’t always match hopes.  As for politicians paying for something that may or may not happen… do your politicians pay for a military?  War may or may not happen.  This is not an argument in my mind, we will never have definitive proof on many things but this doesn’t mean that we should be reckless and self serving.  


I am not sure what you are getting at by saying that BP only had a minor dent in their balance sheet.  They lost literally millions of dollars in goodwill and reputation (even though it wasn’t their entire fault).  I actually happen to think that BP is normally one of the more proactive energy companies in the world but that doesn’t change the fact that I would bet they wish they could go back and be more proactive with Horizon.  I do agree that being proactive isn’t always easy but it is clear that right now we are almost exclusively reactionary. How about a mix?  I do like your argument about pre-emptive attacks, I think it is creative and gets your point across. But I would argue that climate falls into the self defense category… we are currently attacking the earth with our consumption patterns and frankly there is no one to stop it if we don’t do it ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I am just as guilty as everyone else. I plan on flying to ISES, I live in a developed economy, I consume but I think is important that if we as humans are so creative we innovate to allow for the same standard of living in a clean manner. I know we are capable of doing it… So why don’t we?  I will tell you why we don’t… there is NO INCENTIVE to.  You are against a carbon tax but I am completely for it because a taxes are put in place to disincentives behaviour.  What do we tax now? Income.  How does that make sense?  Why do we tax things we want and not things we don’t?   


I think you bring up some very good points.  Scare tactics suck. Things aren’t black and white. We are not going to doomsday no matter how many people think we are.  I agree with all of those things.  But it does not change my opinion that we have a responsibility to change the course of our development to a way that will minimize our impact, anything less than that is simply bad business.    


Thanks again for your perspective,


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