Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2021 Full bio here.
Is climate change real? Journalists in Canada have had a field day with that question since it was debated at the Conservative Party policy meeting on March 20, 2021. It is the perfect question to ask if you want to boil a mind-numbingly complex set of issues into a simple question that can be used to misinform and confuse people. The proper answer to that question is another one. To what part of the climate policy conundrum are you referring?
You see, the “realness” (or truthfulness, or even importance) of climate policy depends on the answer to several questions, not one. Let’s break them down, and comment ever so briefly on the possible answers.
Is global warming occurring?
The global climate has been changing for millions of years, with temperatures rising and falling. They were as high as they are today during Roman times and the Medieval Warm Period. Since 1850, global average temperatures have risen slightly more than one degree Celsius.
Is today’s warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases?
This is where the controversy starts, because there is evidence on both sides. Most scientists would concur that human GHG emissions have had an effect, but it is very difficult to quantify it, given the influence of many natural variability factors.
Assuming that human-caused emissions are the major influence on climate in future (a huge assumption), are the results likely to be dangerous, even catastrophic?
This is where the debate really becomes acrimonious. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an UN-sponsored body established in 1990 with the mandate to examine only human influences on the climate, uses mathematical models to project future temperature and weather trends. The models have been consistently wrong up to now; they project about twice the warming that has actually occurred. Worse, of the various scenarios that the modelers made up to test their hypothesis, the worst case scenario is generally used as the basis of most reports that the media and the public see. The worst case report is implausible, and borderline impossible. Yet, that is the basis upon which most of the calls for radical emissions reduction are based.
Are the policy recommendations based on the IPCC’s projections technically and economically feasible?
The IPCC’s reports have been used as the basis for UN calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced from about 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 to about 17 billion tonnes by 2030, 10 billion tonnes by 2050 and zero by 2070. Various political groups have demanded that this be accelerated to “net zero” by 2050 and the Trudeau Government has endorsed this. Today, 84% of the world’s energy supply comes from coal, oil and natural gas; only 3% come from wind and solar energy, which are the energy sources the “green” movement favours. Historically, major transitions in energy systems have taken at least 50 to 70 years, and that was only when the cost and technology conditions made new sources attractive in terms of cost, performance and reliability. Those conditions do not favour a fast switch to renewables now, so the transition could only be attempted if governments, not people freely choosing, made the decisions. Even then, it appears highly unlikely.
Can governments, acting on the basis of international agreements, succeed in reducing global emissions?
Governments have been meeting to discuss reducing GHG emissions since 1992. None of the agreements they have reached has ever been successful. In fact, global emissions are 60% higher today than they were in 1990, primarily because of the growth in energy use in Asia, where it is viewed (correctly) as central to those countries’ efforts to increase the incomes and standards of living of their populations. The most recent UN agreement was made in Paris in 2015 and called for the submission of five-year plans to reduce emissions. Only the European countries are likely to meet their commitments to meet their 2030 plans; none of the other countries are. By 2030, China’s emissions will be more than twice those of the United States, the second-highest emitter. So, the answer to this question is “No.”
Should Canada ignore this reality and seek to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in its economy?
In one of the coldest, largest countries in the world with an abundance of oil, gas and coal, we are being asked to destroy our emissions-intensive industries (oil and gas, mining, petrochemicals and refining, cement, steel, metal fabrication and many others); double or triple the costs of all our energy sources; switch from reliable to unreliable electricity generation sources; severely constrain our transportation choices (e.g. give up internal combustion engine cars and trucks and all take public transit); and severely reduce the use of aviation, just to name a few. In return for these economy-destroying measures that would make us all poorer, we would reduce global GHG emissions by at most 1.6% which, given the rise of emissions in Asia, would have a negligible, if any, impact of the trends in global emissions or temperatures. In other words, our sacrifice would be purely symbolic.
So, tell me, which part of “climate change” is real for you?