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I'd Like a Second Opinion

No matter what you believe, you'll find other people to back you up, but feeling safe isn't the same as being safe.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published April 21, 2006

A few summers ago I went camping in Algonquin Park with a couple of buddies and a whole pile of beer.

Bringing as much beer as we did meant making certain sacrifices. We didn't bring any chairs (not comfortable). We didn't bring enough food because my friends said they'd be able to catch fish (not true).

Worst of all, we didn't bring any water. Beer is not always a good substitute, especially first thing in the morning.

I don't know if it was the diet of hot dog wieners wrapped in tortilla shells, the reliance on beer for hydration, or the foul lake water we attempted to purify with even fouler purification tablets, but my digestive system ground to a complete halt over that weekend. When I returned home, I began a desperate diet of bran, fruit and water, which thankfully worked quite quickly.

My relief was short-lived. Like a scene from Jaws, all it took was blood in the water to turn a scene of blissful relaxation into one of sheer terror. Clearly my diet of hot dogs, iodine tablets and beer had caused some internal damage.

Panicked, I did what everyone should do when confronted with a possible medical emergency: I consulted the Internet. "Seek advice from a medical professional", I learned. The tests I could expect were of the variety all men ought to take starting at age 50, and which I immaturely hope will be replaced by a different more humane method some time in the next 23 years.

The great thing about Internet medical advice is that there's always a second opinion. I soon found a resource that advised I do nothing except wait and see if the problem would clear up on its own. This fit closely with what I was already strongly inclined to do. Relieved, I bookmarked the site as one worth visiting for future ailments and considered the issue settled.

No matter what you believe, you'll find other people to back you up on the Internet. If you're lucky, these people will have degrees.

Take global warming, an issue that was examined in Raise the Hammer in October 2005. There is compelling evidence for its existence, but perhaps due to what Ryan McGreal calls the "public relations nightmare" of trying to "get people riled up about complex atmospheric, oceanic, and geologic phenomena taking place on a global scale", there are also many critics.

An open letter by 60 scientists to the Canadian government on the issue recently published in the National Post (partially available at Political Dogs) says that climate change is nothing to worry about and advocates that "balanced, comprehensive public-consultation sessions be held so as to examine the scientific foundation of the federal government's climate-change plans":

"Climate change is real" is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural "noise."

Conspiracy theorists and "mainstream media" critics - i.e. the Internet community - quickly seized on this letter. "[Carbon dioxide] is not a 'pollutant'" said one person. "It is a harmless gas in your lungs and is a plant fertilizer." "[V]olcanic catastrophes throughout history" have had "a far greater effect on the global environment than anything that humans have done", claimed another.

We're to believe that global warming is "junk science" that is overly publicized because there's "too much money to be made in publishing doomsday analyses". The real solution to global warming is to do nothing.

But humans are not volcanoes, which occasionally explode and then die (though if America keeps building nukes, we may share a similar destiny). Production of greenhouse gases is steady and increasing, and the levels in our atmosphere are now higher than they have been for 400,000 years.

Nor is the "our planet has survived stuff like this before" argument very reassuring. I don't doubt that the earth would still exist after a major meteor impact like the one that hit 65 million years ago in Mexico, but I still find the prospect a little unsettling.

If scientists at NASA said a giant meteor was incoming, I'd stop reading all the reasons it wasn't true and start building a bomb shelter. But when James Hansen, top climate scientist at NASA, said global warming is real and that we have just ten years before it becomes unstoppable, the White House told him to shut up.

Canada's Conservative government, apparently subscribing to the same "do nothing and it'll go away" strategy, eliminated 15 Kyoto Protocol related programs last week.

Of course, just because James Hansen at NASA has some impressive credentials doesn't mean he's right. So who should be believed? The one great thing about global warming is that deciding whether or not it's happening is pretty simple. All you have to do is look around:

I cannot believe that human activity is not causing the Earth some distress.

I am not a scientist but I am not stupid. I am a human, the product of millions of years of evolution, and "in tune" with my environment.

Just as these scientists [...] disqualify human-caused global climate change based on the lack of a clear understanding of planetary processes, they must, for the same reasons, acknowledge that it also could be happening.

Would we gamble our children's future, presuming that "everything is fine", failing due-diligence with regard to preserving our ecosphere?

Or more simply:

Logic suggests that environmental stability would contribute towards climate stability. It's not rocket science.

If I lived in a hut in a green meadow surrounded by verdant forest, perhaps I would find it easier to believe that everything is just fine. Instead I live in Hamilton, home of steel mills and the misnamed "Meadowlands" and giant ribbons of pavement that transport tens of thousands of cars each day. In other words, I'm surrounded the reality of our industrial civilization, just like you.

When I drive down car-packed 14-lane wide sections of the 401, North America's busiest highway, Toronto barely visible through the smog, it's easy to think that maybe - just maybe - we really are screwing up the planet.

We're Canadians, not Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, or Aztecs, but you can be sure those civilizations had their own deniers even as they collapsed under the weight of their own pollution and resource depletion. In the 4th century BC, Plato wrote about the effects of rampant deforestation in Greece:

What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away...Mountains which now have nothing but food for bees...had trees not very long ago. [The land] was enriched by the yearly rains, which were not lost to it, as now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea; but the soil was deep, and therein received the water, and kept it in the loamy earth...feeding springs and streams running everywhere. Now only abandoned shrines remain to show where the springs once flowed. (Ponting, Green History, p.76; quoted by Wright, Ronald in A Short History of Progress, p. 88)

The Greeks did nothing and their civilization declined. We have received our warnings and they are far more dire. A few days after those 60 scientists denied climate change in an open letter to the Canadian government, 90 other scientists urged Harper to "develop an effective national strategy to deal with the many important aspects of climate that will affect both Canada and the rest of the world in the near future".

The news barely made a ripple on the Internet.

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 Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 22, 2006 at 12:57:56

Either climate change is the biggest problem, or pollution is the biggest problem. Fight it out over your egos, and nothing ever gets done. Scientists who should have more humility and respect for their discipline have jumped on the bandwagon of western "binary" thought.

Many of the solutions for one problem are also the solutions for the other. Draw a Venn diagram for "things that reduce pollution" and "things that lessen the chance of global warming", and fast-track the proposals that meet both criteria.

Everyone wins something, and it buys time for collecting more data as to where to focus future resources.

Global warming is not primarily a scientific problem. The data is still too uncertain to be used predictively.

It is a moral question, as in "In the face of uncertainty, do you try to mitigate possible negative outcomes or hold on to tried and true methods of denial?"

Failed human civilizations have always chosen the latter. Many of the same people who laugh at them in hindsight are bearing the banner of moral denial for global warming.

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By Tim (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2006 at 11:20:57

What pains me is that you don't even need to believe global warming is real to support Kyoto or climate change initiatives. Pollution is ugly and dirty and harmful; why we shouldn't try to get rid of it is beyond me. Everyone would be better off if we had more green space, less smog, cleaner water.

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