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climate (& iraq?)

According to a recent Globe & Mail poll, suddenly, strangely, climate change has become the most important issue for the majority of Canadians (climate change topped the list for 26% of Canadians, followed by health & security). A curious and surprising event, perhaps an interesting result of the democratic system.

When the Liberals (as a centrist/left party, theoretically more enviromentally friendly than the right wing Conservatives) were in power, they did NOTHING on climate change. No policy, no effective strategy, no concrete action, and no results, except a 30% increase in CO2 emissions. But when the Liberals were in power, the official oposition was the Conservatives, right wing, oil-based, and hostile to policies addressing climate change (which will have a big impact on the oil industry and energy-intensive business). So agressive climate action on the part of the Libs would have resulted in strong opposition from the Conservatives. So the Libs did nothing.

Now, the Conservatives are in power, and they just got slaughtered (by the Libs, Bloc and NDP, and public opinion) for their weak stand on climate change in their recent Clean Air Bill (tho, in their defense, at least they tabled serious policies/laws with actual impacts on industry: the Libs never did). Stephane Dion is leading the charge, and in all the hooplah, climate change lands at the forefront of issues in the mind of Canadians. Harper shuffles his deck, and climate change becomes the Conservatives shiny new focus.

So, strike one up for Minority government as a good way to get things done that people actually want: those who pull the strings in power (the Conservatives) are forced to adjust their policies according to pressures from the other side of the spectrum. Which, theoretically at least, is a good way to ensure balanced government…And one hopes, a step in the direction of taking climate change seriously as a problem.

Hopping from government to media, interesting shift in the Globe and Mail this weekend too. Rex Murphy is the Globe’s shrillest climate alarmist-alarmist (he worries endlessly about the climate change propogandists and doomsdayers that run the National Academies of Sciences in all the biggest countries and economies of the world). He has spent the last 5 or 6 thousand years scoffing at, sneering about, and dismissing climate change, with few updates in his rhetoric for annoying things like the scientific advances. But even Rex seemed to back off in his weekly column yesterday. Well, almost. He presents a couple of examples of climate research gone wild (an Italian study linking suicide with climate change, and Al-Qaeda’s insistence that the US sign the Kyoto Agreement) as evidence that the rest of the scientists are single-minded fools. Yet he after all that silliness, he finally says:

“If we believe global warming is as big a problem as the world’s experts are telling us, we also have to believe the world’s politicians are capable of fixing it.”

And concludes that their inability to fix potholes suggests they won’t be much good at fixing climate change. He might have a point there, who knows? But there was a subtle, grudging, shift, almost imperceptible, but present. A back-handed acknowledgment that maybe, perhaps, it’s possible that all those damned scientists might be worried about something worth worrying about. Even if he does not trust politicians to do anything useful about it.

Margaret Wente is another of the Globe’s usual “climate change is bullshit” columnists. A sample of her headlines from the last few years (the Globe is subscription only, so you can’t read the articles): “Ice the ‘polar bears are drowning’ theory,” “Will we freeze or will we fry?” “Kyoto always was a fantasy,” “The collapse of climate ‘consensus'” “The Kyoto-speak brainwashers” … etc.

In an article in this Saturday’s Globe, Wente finally, finally, finally actually talks to some mainstream climate scientists, instead of the odd-ball guys she fished up in previous articles (it’s all good and well to say there are scientists who don’t agree with the consensus, but they are a small minority, and often not active scientists, and more often not regarded as very serious in their research).

In any case, her article in Saturday’s Focus section of the Globe, is titled “A Questionable Truth.” She has spun her argument something like this: Al Gore’s movie an Inconvenient Truth exaggerates the likelihood of bad effects from climate change. And mainstream scientists think the probability of catastrophic climate change is … uncertain. In fact, much of climate science is uncertain. So …

And here is the interesting thing. In the past Wente’s “So…” used to be followed by, “So the climate alarmists are a bunch of propagandists, and we should ignore them…”. But this time she ended (almost, as well as a swipe at Gore) with: “So what can a worried citizen do?” To answer, she quotes Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University, who answers: “Lobby the politicians to put policies in place immediately that put a value on the environment … Drive your car to Ottawa if you have to. The most important thing is to get policies in place that are intelligent.” Translation (I think): we have a problem here, and something should be done.

(Not content to leave it at that, however, Wente finishes with a swipe at Al Gore, “even though much of what he says is dubious or just plain wrong, he’s going to win that Oscar anyway.”)

But when you read the text of her article, and what the actual scientists say (rather, what she decided to quote them as saying), it’s a funny thing. There is not one scientists there arguing that climate change is not a major problem worth addressing. Not one person saying: climate change is not happening. Not one person saying: humans have no impact on the climate. Not one person saying: there is nothing to worry about. Not one person saying: we should do nothing. The scientists she interviews, instead, are cautious, level-headed, and, like most scientists, uncomfortable with sensational headlines. Says one, “The probability of another metre of or sea-level rise in the next 50 years isn’t zero, but it isn’t 90 per cent either. And if you pinned me down to tell you what it really is, I couldn’t do that.” That is, there is a risk of serious problems, and scientists can’t pin down just what that risk is. Which hardly suggests: a) that there is no risk, or b) that we should do nothing.

Another interesting thing: Wente and some of her pals at the Globe (the paper probably has had a 50-50 split on the issue) have spent the last ten years pillorying the Kyoto Protocol. Yet when discussing how to address climate change in this article, she writes: “But climate economists generally agree that the first and most important thing to do is to put a value on the atmosphere. You do this with carbon taxes and emissions caps. If emitting carbon costs money, then people will have a big incentive to cut down on it.” The Kyoto Protocol was a loose international framework whose objective was to a) get nations to agree to emissions caps on their national emissions, b) provide a timetable to try to meet those targets, c) provide some loose mechanisms to meet them. The Kyoto Protocol does not say ANYTHING about how any one country should meet their targets; that is left to countries figure out for themselves. (Which is why the “Made in Canada” solution trumpeted by Harper is hogwash: Kyoto’s objective is to get every country to come up with their own solution). Wente’s main expert’s opinion about how to address climate change suggests, essentially, that we should have started working within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol years ago. Wente manages make it sound as if she had just uncovered a sensible and innovative answer to this climate problem, a solution ignored by the hordes of rabid alarmists with Kyoto as their bible as they made their joyful march to climate apocalypse. That’s pretty disingenuous. The whole point of Kyoto was to do exactly what she seems to agree with here. And she has spent 10 years mocking Kyoto. At least, Ms. Wente, have the decency to utter a quiet little mea culpa. There is more dishonesty (intentional or accidental, I don’t know) in that article, but Rome was not built in a day. Ms. Wente has written her pivotal article on climate change, hovering on both sides of the argument, but she won’t go back to her old ways. She will continue to be distrustful of the enviros (which is fine), but I’d wager that she’s now convinced that things must be done.

I wonder: does the Iraq debacle Iraq have anything to do with this sudden turn-around in the public’s climate opinions? After all, those for the Iraq war tended to be, on balance, those against doing anything about climate change. And personally I always found it strange the dichotomy between the logic of spending billions on Iraq as compared to billions on climate change. Both threats (Saddam’s WMDs/climate chaos), according to their proponents, could have catastrophic impacts on all of us. Both would take massive amounts of resources, effort and policy will-power to address. Yet Iraq will gobbled up an estimated $1 trillion, with probable results of: destabilizing the Middle East, weakening the American position internationally, both among friends and foes, exposing the US as bad failed occupiers, stretching the military to the breaking point, and emboldening enemies (after all, the US can hardly make any military moves now, and Iran is the big winner in their blunder). All this sold by the same folks who told you not to worry about climate change (including Wente, including Murphy). So, maybe this is the effect of a little reality settling in. If the right was SO wrong about everything in Iraq, maybe it’s time to wonder what else they might have gotten wrong. Is the collapse of the Neocons and their grand vision for Iraq a chance for thier more moderate cheerleaders (in the press and public) to examine everything they sold with a new eye? After all, you only buy a lemon from a car salesman once. After that you steer clear.

It’s pretty hard to believe anything the current President says these days. It always was, for me; but it seems the naked emperor and his disastrous war has been revealed. So if you don’t have any more faith in the guy who is President, maybe it’s time to take a look at what the other guy, that guy who *could* have been President, has been parroting on about for the past few years.

I didn’t like the movie, and sure he goes too far in parts, and gets some things wrong. But hark: that’s the sound of Wente and Murphy reevaluating climate change. A good sign.