Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers have appointed several task forces to propose ways in which Canada can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This action follows last December’s Paris climate conference where leaders of 195 nations reached an accord committing them to lowering those although they did not say by exactly how much.
The leaders’ concern and their pledges to act are based on the work of scientists who comprise the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those scientists have issued a series of ever more urgent reports about looming ecological disaster if we don’t mitigate human-induced climate change, which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels whose emissions remain trapped in the atmosphere. Their work has even moved the pope to write an encyclical in which he urged nations to treat climate change as a moral and spiritual issue demanding immediate action.
But wait. If you’re to believe a “guest column” published in the Sun newspaper chain recently, these climate scientists, not to mention Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama, all belong to an elite group of “eco-activists” and “big-government” conspirators who are trying to sell a big lie.
The column’s author Tom Harris is described as executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). He charges that Trudeau is “employing a strategy right out of 1984,” referring to George Orwell’s novel in which a totalitarian state exercises mind control on its people through its pervasive use of propaganda.
Harris also challenges the climate science that Trudeau and almost all of the world’s leaders now accept. “The surveys used to back up the [climate change] consensus are unconvincing,” he writes. Harris, however, is not a scientist, much less a climate scientist. His column contains no science of its own, nor does it make reference to any specific scientific study. In fact, he’s described on his group’s website as a mechanical engineer, who for much of his career has been involved in public relations and lobbying related to climate change.
Denying scientific evidence
According to the environmental organization DeSmog, ICSC has received money from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank that has been prominent in denying the scientific evidence for human-induced climate change. In the 1990s, Heartland also worked with the tobacco industry, questioning the science that deemed cigarettes to be hazardous and lobbying against governments’ public-health reforms.
DeSmog says that the Heartland Institute, in its turn, has received money from both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, which is a big player in the Alberta tar sands. And there’s a ripe irony here: the state of New York is investigating Exxon Mobil for allegedly funding groups that deny climate change even while the company’s in-house scientists warn executives about the negative consequences of those same changes.
Muddying the waters
There’s a template that’s deliberately used by the tobacco — and now carbon — industries who want to avoid environmental regulation and taxation. Provide seed money to create upstart organizations which give themselves names that sound credible. Use these groups to attack scientists with whom you disagree, and label as incompetent or corrupt. And peddle conspiracy theories about political leaders who challenge your interests. The object isn’t to build a competing scientific theory; it is rather to use public relations to sow doubt and muddy the waters.
Evidence and probability
Everyone has a right to an opinion no matter how dubious it may be. However, the best possible information that we have on climate change is available to us from hundreds of scientists associated with the IPCC who cooperate in peer-reviewed studies. There is no certainty in science, only evidence and probability, but I’ll cast my lot with the IPCC’s researchers any day.