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Anti-Science: The National Post on Climate Change

Eventually, even the most committed ideologues are forced to face the facts.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published March 19, 2007

As support for action on climate change continues to grow, some influential people are carefully cultivating what they call "climate change skepticism" in order to make meaningful progress on the environment politically impossible.

These climate change "deniers", as an impatient public in the mood for change has started calling them, fall into three categories: those that maintain climate change is not happening, those that say it is not our fault, and those that say there's nothing we can do about it.

Actually, these are not really categories. They're more like stages that fit neatly into the "denial, anger, acceptance" model.

The National Post's Lorne Gunter was in the first stage a mere five years ago. In 2002 he wrote Five things every Canadian should know about Kyoto, starting with "The Earth isn't warming".

Then he hedged his bets by following up with number two ("If the Earth is warming, it is not necessarily a bad thing") and three ("Even if warming is real, there's a good chance humans are not the cause").

Mr. Gunter clearly knows his own mind, because his article of 2002 neatly predicted where he would stand now, in 2007: global warming is real. But it's not our fault.

Bright Sun. Warm Earth. Bad Article.

Lorne Gunter's 'Bright sun, warm Earth. Coincidence?' article from March 12, published in the National Post, is a prime example of shoddily researched agenda-pushing in the guise of journalism.

He starts by saying that Mars, Jupiter, Neptune's moon Triton and Pluto are all warming, even though he hasn't left his "SUV idling on any of those planets or moons."

Is there something all these heavenly bodies have in common? Some one thing they all share that could be causing them to warm in unison?

Hmmm, is there some giant, self-luminous ball of burning gas with a mass more than 300,000 times that of Earth and a core temperature of more than 20-million degrees Celsius, that for the past century or more has been unusually active and powerful? Is there something like that around which they all revolve that could be causing this multi-globe warming? Naw!

In a shaky appeal to common sense - that part of the brain that says the earth is flat - Mr. Gunter asks a series of rhetorical questions about which times of day and months of the year are warmest.

The sunny ones, of course, and this is enough evidence for Mr. Gunter to decide that climate change is a fraud perpetrated by overheated climatologists and an even more overheated sun.

I could respond with another series of rhetorical questions involving, say, the temperatures inside and outside of greenhouses, or the amount one sweats when wearing jeans on the beach versus wearing a thong, but the atmosphere is not beach wear and you are not a moron. So let's quickly examine the facts instead.

It would take too long to examine all of the planetary bodies that Mr. Gunter refers to, so I'll pick two at random: one that you may know a fair bit about, Mars, and one which no one knows much about at all, Triton, the largest moon of Neptune.

His claim about Triton's warming seem to be based on a study published in Nature in 1998. The study found that Triton had warmed from around -236 degrees Celsius to a balmy -234 degrees Celsius in the nine years since the Voyager space probe had visited it in 1989.

Why? The likely explanation according to the report's lead researcher is because Triton "is approaching an extreme southern summer, a season that occurs every few hundred years."

If a summer that occurs every few hundred years seems remarkable, consider that Neptune takes 165 years to orbit the sun. Triton was discovered in 1846, which means we have not yet observed the behaviour of the moon over a full orbit of the planet it circles.

Is it wise to reject climate change on Earth because of the climactic variations of a mysterious moon of another planet? Is it ethical to tell the public that Triton has "heated up" without informing us of the likely reason for the warming according to a leading researcher on the subject?

Mars 1, Propaganda 0.

Lawrence Solomon, who also writes for the National Post, agrees with Mr. Gunter that an increase in solar activity is to blame for global warming. "Global warming extends to Mars," he wrote in early February 2007, "where the polar ice cap is shrinking, where deep gullies in the landscape are now laid bare, and where the climate is the warmest it has been in decades or centuries."

The climate of Mars was first measured by the Viking space probes launched by NASA in 1975, which means that Mr. Solomon, like the rest of us, has no hard evidence as to what the Martian climate was like in past centuries.

He must instead rely on what current observations tell us about the Martian past, and what observed trends and well-understood mechanisms like planetary orbits tell us about the likely Martian future.

That is, he must rely on scientists. What do scientists say about melting Martian ice caps?

Global warming on Mars?, an article by Steinn Sigurosson of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University, explains the Martian "'great' summers and winters" which occur "on time scales of tens of thousands of years" as a result of Mars' eccentric orbit. (The following is slightly edited to remove hyperlinks):

Recently, there have been some suggestions that "global warming" has been observed on Mars. These are based on observations of regional change around the South Polar Cap, but seem to have been extended into a "global" change, and used by some to infer an external common mechanism for global warming on Earth and Mars. But this is incorrect reasoning and based on faulty understanding of the data.

[...]

There is a slight irony in people rushing to claim that the glacier changes on Mars are a sure sign of global warming, while not being swayed by the much more persuasive analogous phenomena here on Earth.

Misplaced Arguments from Authority

Mr. Gunter then turns to a favourite card in the climate change denier hand, the argument from authority:

Habibullah Abdussamatov of the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St. Petersburg, Sami Solanki of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon of the Solar and Stellar Physics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a host of the rest of the world's leading solar scientists are all convinced that the warming of recent years is not unusual and that nearly all the warming in the past 150 years can be attributed to the sun.

The inclusion of Pulkovo Observatory's Abdussamatov, who plays a central role in Mr. Solomon's article (climate change deniers with credentials are a rare breed) seems honest enough, but the use of Sami Khan Solanki is particularly instructive when it comes to the tactics of climate change denial.

Dr. Solanki is probably in Mr. Gunter's article for saying in 2004 that "the impact of more intense sunshine on the ozone layer and on cloud cover could be affecting the climate more than the sunlight itself."

How Strongly Does the Sun Influence the Global Climate?, a report released by the Max Planck Society and which is based in part on Dr. Solanki's work, also says, "Since the middle of the last century, the Sun is in a phase of unusually high activity, as indicated by frequent occurrences of sunspots, gas eruptions, and radiation storms."

This sounds a lot like Mr. Gunter. But the report's conclusion features a quote from a prominent scientist: "according to our latest knowledge on the variations of the solar magnetic field, the significant increase in the Earth's temperature since 1980 is indeed to be ascribed to the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide."

The prominent scientist quoted is Dr. Solanki.

As if misrepresenting Dr. Solanki weren't enough, Mr. Gunter then resorts to weasel words by saying that in addition to the scientists he says share his views, "a host of the rest of the world's leading solar scientists" say that "nearly all the warming in the past 150 years can be attributed to the sun."

A host is defined as "a multitude or great number", "an army". Sounds like plenty. But on Wikipedia's list of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming that have "a record of scholarship in the broad area of natural sciences," only sixteen scientists are listed that blame natural causes more than human activity for rising temperatures. Many of these sixteen blame volcanoes, water vapour, and ocean currents instead of or in addition to solar activity for the temperature increase.

Claim Dismissed

So what about the basic claim of Mr. Gunter's article and the others like it, which is that a brighter sun is responsible for a warmer Earth?

It's true that the sun is in a period of increased activity. Some researchers believe the level is the highest it's been in 8000 years, but others have demonstrated (PDF) that "the radiocarbon record reveals several periods during past centuries in which the strength of the magnetic field in the solar wind was similar to, or even higher than, that of today."

Regardless, this increased activity is responsible for a portion of global warming. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report accounts for this portion, calculating that human activity is a warming force of about 1.6 watts per square meter, while increased solar activity is responsible for a warming force of about 0.12 watts per square meter.

In non-technical terms, this means that human activity has more than ten times the impact on Earth's climate than the increased activity of the sun.

But these are facts - cold, hard, unreassuring facts that sink to the bottom of the National Post under the weight of advertiser pressure and ideological certainty, finally dropping off the margins altogether.

Eventually, though, even the most committed ideologues are forced to face the facts. That's when the third stage of climate change denial commences, the part where it is too late to do anything about it so we might as well stop trying.

Let's not let things get that far.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 19, 2007 at 12:15:19

I can't believe you used Wikipedia to prove one of your points! Don't you know Wikipedia has a well-known liberal bias? ;)

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By adrian (registered) | Posted March 19, 2007 at 12:40:56

To quote Stephen Colbert, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=...

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By zanis_e_v (registered) | Posted March 19, 2007 at 17:48:25

I had to guffaw when the IPCC was presented as a source of "facts - cold, hard, unreassuring facts". Read some of Lawrence Solomon's other columns, where he talks about how the IPCC is systematically eliminating any scientific debate around climate change. About Lawrence Solomon - before you dismiss him as just some big-oil, right-wing crank, consider that he's the director of the Urban Renaissance Institute, which is an off-shoot of Energy Probe (http://www.urban-renaissance.org). He's been fighting big energy companies since the 70's. He's now promoting denser, more vibrant urban environments and better mass-transit. While he may not share RTH's politics, his aims and yours coincide well. That someone who worked alongside Jane Jacobs (at the only NGO she ever supported directly - Energy Probe) has chosen to speak out about the deadening of scientific debate on climate change should make us pause before labeling something 'anti-science'.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted March 19, 2007 at 18:37:36

I was at the "Do you CO2" conference march 10 at Mcmaster. They brought in a climate change skeptic, Francis Manns. Poor guy.

He accused the mainstream scientists of being blinded by ideology, likening his group (Friends of Science) to Galileo and Copernicus struggling to voice the truth against opression by the masses. Had some good points, like sunspot activity but very limited data and nothing followed up on, essentially recycled ala his accusations of the CO2 camp.

Then he launched into a rant on banning the entirely harmless chemical DDT (thin eggshells etc are a complete myth) as an example of bandwagon junk science, had to take issue with the Iraq war being mainly about oil... it was pretty sad.

Boy I'd love to see some credible skepticism about global warming. The media is to blame for two reasons: of course the right wing media bias, duh, like who pays the bills?, but then apparently real media tries to give equal time to each side, regardless of the strength of their arguments. This sets the tone for the layperson that each argument deserves equal credibility if they get equal airtime. And controversy sells papers.

BTW, the science fiction writer Robert J Sawyer took the place of Severin Suzuki. What an excellent speaker and thinker. Even Manns complimented his speaking ability, but with a passive-aggressive tone, as in nobody who speaks that well ought to be trusted. Often true, but as Manns himself said, correlation is not causation. Indeed!

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By farmer6re9 (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2007 at 08:09:55

The sun is zooming in, it is white. When I was much younger it was a more yellowish orb. We ought not horse around with the facts, there is revelation in them if we look long and hard and recall how things were.

The science which has the answers is already within us and should we choose to ignore it much longer, we will most certainly feel its ill affects.

The consciously cognitive conscience; We should not overlook the divine interventions for we all know that hell is a hot spot and internal combustion could well be what exhausts our civilization's race. Will God allow us puny creatures to utterly destroy this place? I don't think so but it will be changed beyond our recognition because we fail to remember our own history. We discount the seriousness in the legend of Noah and the Ark as a fairy tale for Sunday school kids. We don't believe anymore in the demise of wicked cities like Sodom and Gomorrah nor the salvation of repentant cities such as Ninevah.

History is blemished with writers who said this and that and did nothing themselves, to empower future generations of readers into a loving relationship with God the Father of all creation, since the last writer in the New Testament put down his quill pen. God's son is the one we all should be concerned with, Jesus Christ is that faint flicker of good conscience in each of us that we all should get in touch with.

Hamilton could be Ninevah and be spared the wrath all this horsing around in insignificant issues will inevitably bring.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 09:05:14

Zanis,

You wrote, 'I had to guffaw when the IPCC was presented as a source of "facts - cold, hard, unreassuring facts".'

Are you saying that the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report contains no facts? Or do you have some evidence that their calculation that "human activity is a warming force of about 1.6 watts per square meter, while increased solar activity is responsible for a warming force of about 0.12 watts per square meter" is incorrect?

You also wrote:

"About Lawrence Solomon - before you dismiss him as just some big-oil, right-wing crank, consider that he's the director of the Urban Renaissance Institute, which is an off-shoot of Energy Probe (http://www.urban-renaissance.org)."

I never dismissed Mr. Solomon as anything. The words 'oil' and 'right-wing' do not even appear in my article. I simply disagreed with Mr. Solomon's interpretation of events on Mars.

Mr. Solomon's credentials and his aims are besides the point. It's what he said in his article, not who he is, that matters. That's something that Mr. Solomon should take to heart in the article I referenced, where he quotes Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov, "one of the world's chief critics" of climate change theory, as saying:

"Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians. These parallel global warmings -- observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth -- can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance."

Ignoring Dr. Abdussamatov's no doubt distinguished career and focusing simply on what he's saying, is it possible to find fault with this statement?

The statement can be summed up as: Earth and Mars both show signs of warming, so the reason for the warming must be the same.

This conclusion is leaped to, not demonstrated. There are all sorts of reasons why Mars might be getting warmer (such as seasonal variations). However, I have yet to see any real evidence that Mars is in fact getting warmer.

Science is about looking at the evidence, not taking statements at face value because they come from distinguished sources. So I think the term "anti-science" I have used is fair.

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By jt (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 15:35:00

Regarding the "Anti-sience: the washington post on climate change". The only true anti-science is religion. Most people simply don't know scientific technique well enought to understand the debate. Sun spots have been accurately mapped for 150 years. They track exactly with warm periods. If you need a model of how radiation can affect CO2 then just place a bottle of carbonated water in you microwave (and stand back). The above artical does not contradict NASA finding of menting but only says that it COULD BE part of a long cycle of the martian orbit - we don''t know where we may be in the orbit. Scientists resason from data - even if they cant spell - rather than infer that a 10,000 obatal chang happens to be concurrent with earth warming - it is more probable that the same mechanism is warming each. It is you pea brains who are in the grip of religion !

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By zanis_e_v (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 15:56:01

Sorry, I was unclear: I was addressing the 'you' not to you (Adrian) but to you (others reading the posting). Without some background info on Lawrence Solomon, it is too easy for a reader to just think: National post (right-wing) and climate change denier (probably in big oil's pocket). And yes, those numbers are not 'facts' but best guesses. Further, those guesses come from a body which I see as severely compromised in its scientific objectivity. Please read Chris Landsea's Open Letter to the Community (http://www.lavoisier.com.au/papers/articles/landsea.html) on why he resigned from the IPCC. Personally, as a graduate student in geography, I can attest to the overwhelming pressure by funders and the entire academic community for attention grabbing results in climate change. If you don't toe the line, you don't get funding, and don't get published. This applies to a certain degree to all research, but the amount of money involved, and the messianic significance attached to the 'inconvenient truth' makes climate change research very vulnerable. Situations like the one Ted Mitchell experienced should be embarrasing to scientists - that no practicing researchers have the guts to present differing views. You are going to hate me for this, but I think that in some ways the climate change movement parallels the eugenics movement of the last century. Eugenics was accepted by a majority of leading scientists and it was based on the latest scientific theories (evolution, genetics, psychiatry) and methods (eugenicists developed modern statistics). All data pointed to the conclusion that the 'feeble-minded' were out-breeding the rest of society. Their models showed that within a few generations the the western 'races' would have completely degenerated into imbecility. And so the scientists raised the cry that we must do something about it - we had to act now. Different jurisdictions boasted of how progressive they were by showing off data on how many feeble-minded were in 'colonies' and/or sterilized. Obviously the efforts to abate carbon emissions are much more benign than sterilization. But there is still something uncomfortable about making major policy efforts to change how people live based on (to my mind) a few people's still murky forecasts, models, and knowledge.

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By hydrotruckban (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 16:17:02

jt wrote, "Regarding the 'Anti-sience: the **washington** post on climate change'" so I'm already a little bit concerned about your reading comprehension....

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By farmer6re9 (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2007 at 22:21:30

Please allow me to unleash my pea from its pod for a moment and approach this subject at an even simpler level. The second paragraph of this article reads:

"These climate change "deniers", as an impatient public in the mood for change has started calling them, fall into three categories: those that maintain climate change is not happening, those that say it is not our fault, and those that say there's nothing we can do about it."

To that I agree wholeheartedly, wrong, wrong, wrong! It is happening, it is our fault and there is something we can do about it. But I staunchly disagree with the commonly accepted approach to the problem, which is actually multiple problems rolled into one all encompassing cloak of global warming. Which is really our global warning.

Thinking outside of the box and looking at the whole picture instead of foe-cussing on one single thing is my approach. The earth and the companion planets in this solar system are heating up, that's a given. The scientologist/gnostic thinkers have got a slew of solutions because they've got reams of skewed data, well funded peer review and special agendas. But what no one individual wants to admit is that it is their own damn fault. Far be it for me to spew accusations when I myself have contributed to the friction in this world.

I am a sinner and certainly not a perfect citizen but I have learned that saving the planet starts in one's own backyard. The universe and everything in it is electric. Are you a good conductor or a high ohm low tolerance resistor? Actinic or adiactinic?

All we can do is what is expected of us: Raise responsible children, recycle to the best of our ability, give our employers 110%, carpool, turn down the thermostat in winter and up in the summer. Don't buy cheap goods, spend your money in your community and do business close to home. This list could go on and on...

I don't wish to hurt anyone's feeling with my religious foundation, but y'all now know where I'm coming from. And I now know that here, there is a mutual admiration for Firefox. So if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise I'll continue to comment as I sees it fit. Unfortunately I believe we're 50-2000 years too late to reverse the damage done, therefore with the time we have left there should be a preparing of the heart through prayer and repentance. Let God work out the finer details we humans cannot possibly comprehend.

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By Robert (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2007 at 10:02:09

I just do not understand conservative excitement about the environment, other than pure greed, which automatically removes their argument in my mind.

The minute you have a monetary stake in this topic, you're opinion just isn't important anymore. I will never care about your economic well being (or my own) when people start dropping.

More importantly, they make is sound like fire and brimstone if we start making changes, that suddenly we'll all be living in third world conditions. Bunch of bull if I've ever heard it.

If you don't believe in pollution changing the planet or causing disease, go to Beijing for a few weeks...even the Olympic committee is saying they'll have to move sports inside because the pollution is so bad.

Where is it exactly that you think all this pollution is going? Magically teleported by god and aliens?

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By head in the sand (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2007 at 12:06:15

>> with the time we have left there should be a preparing of the heart through prayer and repentance. Let God work out the finer details we humans cannot possibly comprehend.

So that's the religious response to climate change? Whatever happened to stewardship?

Attaway to stick your head in the sand and leave our problems for someone else to fix.

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By ICEAGE (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2014 at 13:15:41

you guys are idiots! only an ostrich would deny that the sun is the primary driver of our climate.

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By ICEBRAIN (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2014 at 15:28:10 in reply to Comment 97393

That's a pretty smart ostrich to even have an opinion on what's causing global warming

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