published by Postmedia News on Jan. 21, 2012
OTTAWA – Some of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s newly-appointed senators are emerging as global-warming skeptics in the wake of aggressive government positions to abandon the Kyoto Protocol, slam environmentalists and downplay potential damage caused by Canadian oil and gas exploration.
“I felt like it is kind of an insult to be a denier for a long time,” said Sen. Bert Brown, last month at a parliamentary committee studying energy policies. “It feels pretty good this morning.”
Brown made the comments as the committee heard from four well-known academics who don’t believe humans are playing a major role in warming the planet. The session took place three days after Harper’s government confirmed it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only legally-binding agreement that requires countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“I want to say that the real deniers in this whole thing are the people who started out with Al Gore’s movie and said that global warming was the problem of the world, and in less than two years, it became climate change,” said Brown. “It was not climate change in the beginning; it was about global warming. I also read something from the NASA people, who said that so far, it has warmed four-tenths of a Farenheit degree.”
Environment Canada has told the government that the science overwhelmingly concludes that the Earth is “locked in” to a warmer world, but that it can avoid “dangerous” climate change by scaling back emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. The department’s scientists also say that recently observed evidence of warming falls within the range of predictions made by climate scientists in the past.
Brown, jokingly described by the committee chairman, Conservative David Angus as the “resident denier,” is among several members of the Conservative caucus, including elected MPs, such as cabinet minister Maxime Bernier, who have openly suggested climate change scientists from around the world are involved in a conspiracy to exaggerate warnings about the dangerous impacts of fossil-fuel consumption and rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Bernier has suggested the government’s reluctance to introduce strong climate-change policies is based on its skepticism of the science.
“Every week that goes by confirms the wisdom of our government’s modest position,” wrote Bernier, in a letter before he was invited back into cabinet as junior minister for small business and tourism.
“There is, in fact, no scientific consensus. What’s certain is that it would be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars to impose unnecessarily stringent regulations to resolve a problem whose gravity we still are not certain about. The alarmism that often characterized this issue is no longer at stake. Canada is right to be cautious.”
Apart from the government’s decision to withdraw from Kyoto, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has slammed environmentalists as “radicals” while touting the virtues of industrial development in the oil and gas industry.
But Harper, who once questioned the credibility of scientific evidence linking human activity to global warming, more recently has acknowledged that the science is actually legitimate.
“I have said many times that climate change is a great problem for the world,” Harper said, in response to questions about the withdrawal from Kyoto from interim Liberal leader Bob Rae in the House of Commons on Dec. 13.
At the same time, Harper is accusing the previous government of signing onto “stupid targets” when it agreed to ratify the Kyoto agreement, while his own government promotes more industrial expansion, without any new regulations to cap pollution.
The committee itself decided to give the four skeptics a platform following a request from former Olympic alpine skiing champion, Nancy Greene Raine, another senator appointed by Harper.
“I have to admit that what I read tells me that there is not a consensus among scientists,” Greene Raine, another senator appointed by Harper, told the committee when it heard from Environment Minister Peter Kent, earlier last fall. “There are many different points of view and different kinds of research happening out there. One of the things that I am starting to see now is quite a few studies showing that we may be heading into a period of global cooling, which would maybe be a lot more problematic for Canada than global warming. Our country is on the cool side.”
Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist at the University of Victoria who publishes research in peer-reviewed journals, noted that the skeptics who appeared at the committee in December were all over the map in terms of making arguments about warming, cooling, warming from the sun, or cosmic rays.
“It was like a shotgun of inconsistent arguments,” said Weaver, noting that evidence from research must be proven by science, without opinions involved.
Paul Boothe, deputy minister for Environment Canada, has defended scientists in the department, noting they must face a rigorous and challenging process among their international peers, but have still become the largest producer of environmental science in the world, outside of the United States.
“They have to defend themselves in the scientific community and they have to be open to all the different kinds of criticisms in order to get their publications in top journals,” Boothe had told the same committee in October.
He said they are encouraged to maintain that strong science and their open minds.
“The minister and I rely on their advice,” said Boothe. “They are not saying (climate change) is the Icelandic volcanoes, but they are saying that it is real, and that is the best science that we have to work on. That is what we base our advice to the minister and the government on.”
But Liberal leader Bob Rae isn’t convinced the government is listening to its own scientists.
“I thought it was a socialist conspiracy,” said Rae, tongue in cheek. “That is what the prime minister said the last time we talked about it.”