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Monday, January 22, 2007

Climate Change: Politics and Science

By Dr. Timothy Ball
Energy Tribune

Current weather and climate changes are not outside long-term normal patterns. However, the public believes otherwise due to a combination of political exploitation of science and the ways people understand nature. Western education automatically assumes a uniformitarian view of nature, which is the general concept that change is gradual over long periods of time; the corollary is that sudden or extreme change is not normal. Brief studies of any past weather period show significant changes in short periods.

We’re selective in what we see, and notice individually and collectively. For instance, selectivity occurs when after being introduced to someone, you seem to meet them frequently. They were always there, but just not part of your “noticing.” Collectively, the media and the public have “noticed” the weather, especially severe events, so these events seem to be occurring more often. In addition, events are presented as unusual or unique: it was the highest or lowest temperature, rainfall, etc., “ever.” What is referred to is the barely century-old official weather record, an inadequate sample for the world’s 5 billion year history.

Official records are based on instrumental data, but there are many methods for determining climate changes over geologic time. They reveal much greater and more rapid changes. One aspect of the difficulty in accepting these changes is our ability to comprehend time. A million years is hard to understand, but it is easier to understand that length of time when you understand that half of North America was under a vast ice sheet just 22,000 years ago and eastern Canada was still under ice about 9,000 years ago. Another aspect is lack of knowledge about past climates.

How did the theory that human CO2 production would cause runaway warming or uncontrolled climate changes, reach such certainty and powerful political importance? Well, the specter of sudden dramatic changes of climate ultimately leading to the destruction of the planet is a perfect vehicle for people who believe our profligate western society is heading in the wrong direction. Chief among these is Canadian Maurice Strong, head of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and until recently, Executive Officer for Reform in the U.N. Secretary General’s office. His comment, “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized nations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?” speaks directly to the point.

Industry runs on energy, but you cannot directly attack the energy source because this would anger the vast majority who benefit from industrialized society. The easiest way is to show that the byproducts of industrial activity are causing the destruction of the planet, which, even if scientifically wrong, automatically provides the moral high ground. Carbon dioxide provided the vehicle and supposedly provided the science for the theory that human addition of CO2 would lead to uncontrolled global warming. The theory quickly became fact, and the scientific method of testing, and accepting or rejecting, was effectively thwarted. Scientists who tried to pursue testing it were branded as stooges of the energy companies.

There are side-effects created by industrialization, but eliminating industry also eliminates its positive effects on quality and length of life. In the extreme this becomes anti-humanism, but it also ignores the natural evolution of the human species. Environmentalism in its more virulent forms is anti-humanity and anti-evolution. Human progress is not a natural evolution but an unnatural aberration.

Recently, focus shifted from global warming to climate change because global temperatures have declined since 1998 while human addition of CO2 has increased, thus confounding the theory. The solution was to change terminology and concentrate on climate change. This works better for the fear-mongers because of our uniformitarian view and the lack of public awareness that climate constantly changes. Now the claim is that humans are the cause of any sudden or dramatic event, whether it is extremes of temperature, precipitation, wind, or storms.

It will take time for uniformitarianism’s demise and the realization that significant change is normal, but this will occur faster than previous paradigm shifts because of the Internet.

Dr. Timothy Ball is Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of Canada’s Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP). Ball is an environmental consultant, author, columnist, and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg. He has an extensive background in the reconstruction of past climates and the impact of climate change on the human condition.

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