Feb 11, 2010

Just One Cotton-Pickin' Minute

A column appeared in the Toronto Star (Canada's largest circulation daily) yesterday, under the ridiculous headline: "Questions for climate change skeptics."

It should have been titled: Questions for asleep-at-the-wheel journalists.

The Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) currently finds itself mired in scandal over erroneous glacier info, frequent use of material produced by green advocacy groups (not to mention newspaper and magazine clippings), patently false claims regarding the non-existent link between climate change and hurricanes, etcetera, etcetera.

After bloggers performed a good deal of the spade work concerning these matters, reputable UK newspapers are finally calling for the resignation of the IPCC's chairman - and urging that its findings be subject to an audit.

Yet the Toronto Star, which appears to have done absolutely nothing to inform its readers about these controversies (despite UK papers reporting on them non-stop for weeks) doesn't feel it should be held accountable. Rather, its senior political columnist, Carol Goar, thinks it is skeptics who now deserve to be peppered with questions.

"Suppose the scientific consensus on climate change is wrong," she began yesterday's column. Suppose arctic ice melts naturally, that greenhouse gases pose no risk, and that climatologists are misguided in their concerns about "rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, longer droughts [and] more violent storms."

Doesn't it make sense "to set tougher emissions standards for the vehicles that pollute the air we breathe" anyway, she asks. Doesn't it also "make sense to stop burning up and selling off non-renewable resources as if there were no tomorrow?"

Now wait just one cotton-pickin' minute. Everyone thinks fighting pollution is a good thing. Most of us also believe in using natural resources wisely.

But those are not the measures media outlets such as the Toronto Star have been telling us we need to adopt. On December 7th, 2009 - that's 66 days ago - the Star was one of 56 newspapers worldwide that jointly ran the same alarmist climate change editorial [full list here]. The Star took the unusual step of printing said editorial on its front page [photo here], beneath large type that declared:
The world must kick its carbon habit and we'll have to change our lifestyle...Our survival depends on it. [bold added]
Within the body of this editorial, the Star told its readers that:
  • climate change "will ravage our planet"
  • climate change consequences "will endure for all time"
  • our prospects for fighting climate change "will be determined in the next 14 days" (at the Copenhagen climate summit)
The editorial also claimed that, if the average global temperature was to rise 3-4 degrees Celcius at some later date:
  • farmland would be turned into desert
  • half "of all species could become extinct"
  • "millions of people would be displaced"
  • entire nations would be "drowned by the sea"
It warned about temperatures rising to "dangerous levels," and further declared that:
...every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level. [bold added]
This is a strange argument, of course. It says we must, by applying the brakes to virtually all economic activity, deliberately embrace the kind of hardship we'd only otherwise experience during a severe recession/depression. Moreover, the reason we must endure this permanent hardship is to prevent speculative bad things from happening to not-yet-born humans at an unspecified time in the future.

As Bjorn Lomborg points out, however, "nobody emits C02 for fun." Emissions occur when we use energy. Energy refrigerates and cooks our food. It keeps us warm. It gets us to work and to church. It powers our hospitals and lights our schools. It is required to design, manufacture, and transport virtually every consumer good. In other words, it makes our world go round.

People who slip into energy poverty start burning books and furniture to protect themselves from winter's merciless bite. They perish from both the cold and their inability to access medical and social services. Their children are denied the opportunity to attend an arts school across town, because the cost of a transit pass is beyond their means.

This cramped, small, meagre, miserable existence is what the Star's editorial board told us was absolutely necessary 66 days ago, when it was urging us to "shop, eat and travel" less, and telling us we'd have to get used to paying more for energy while using it sparingly.

Near the end of her column yesterday, Ms. Goar acknowledges that:
Revelations about the shoddy research techniques and suppression of inconvenient information have cast doubt on the alarmist forecasts of the International Panel on Climate Change.
She also admits that: "Global warming may not be the greatest threat facing mankind."

This is marvelous news. It means that a lot of little kids have been told a lot of scary stories about ghastly things that might not happen, after all.

Now what really needs asking is this: How did the Toronto Star manage, within a period of 66 days, to go from telling us our very survival was at stake due to global warming to arguing that, well, fighting pollution is a good idea anyway?

Where are the soul-searching examinations of how this happened? Where are the front-page mea culpas? Where are the solemn promises to be more critically-minded (not to mention open-minded) in the future?

It isn't climate skeptics who have some explaining to do.


(Full disclosure: my first regular gig during my 10-year stint as a journalist was a weekly opinions-page column in the Toronto Star that ran from 1992-1996. It was a great job, I was lucky to land it, and it paid the handsome sum of $200 a week.)


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