I don’t want to be one of those grandpas who spoils the grandkids with a habitable planet. It’s the same reason I will not buy life insurance. I get hit by a bus and my family gets rich? Sorry, I don’t want anybody happy at my funeral. –Stephen Colbert’s facetious bit about President Obama’s “radical pro-survival agenda,” January 28, 2013
Sticks and stones can break my bones but “alarmist” doesn’t hurt me. I do find it irritating, however, and exhausting. In Terrance Corcoran’s Financial Post article, Extreme media alert, he trots out the over-used “alarmist” and “extremist” insults countless times to compensate for the fact that his argument holds no water. Normally I wouldn’t follow a particular journalist down his own rabbit hole of delusion, but Corcoran conveniently bundled up a number of simplistic denial techniques into one big package of idiocy…I couldn’t help myself. It really covers a lot of ground. So here we go:
Corcoran says an Environment Canada report will “supposedly show that Canadian winter temperatures have risen 3.2 C” since 1948. ”As a standalone bit of data, not much can be made of it.”
So, temperatures have gone up a few degrees, but it doesn’t mean anything. Nonsense alert #1: Admit the problem but downplay the risks. Go ahead and tell the Australians, whose continent is literally on fire, that a few degrees doesn’t mean anything. Or the Texas farmers and ranchers who lost $8 billion to record breaking drought last year. Here in Canada–with that seemingly insignificant winter temperature increase–we’re already seeing ”more erratic storms, health concerns [like West Nile virus] and property damage.” And that’s just the beginning.
He goes on to ask, “How can we have record warm and record cold at the same time?” (The ever-astute Margaret Wente also posed this question in a recent opinion piece–here is a rebuttal). I’m not even going to address the old “I feel chilly, so global warming must be a hoax” adage–if we seriously haven’t moved beyond that by now then there really is no hope for humanity. But just for fun, here is the link to Philip Bump’s clever article, How to respond to people who say the cold weather disproves global warming.
Moving on...”even James Hansen, the godfather of climate science, concedes that global temperatures have not risen for the last 15 years.”
Yes, this is the temperature plateau that deniers love to cite as evidence that everything is just peachy (“See? It stopped!”). If only it were that simple. Nonsense alert #2: Cherry-pick and misuse data to suit your argument while ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Instead of looking to cocky journalists to interpret this data, why not ask the experts themselves: the climate scientists? In an interview with NPR, Climate and Ocean Scientist Dr. Mojib Latif cites changes in ocean currents as the cause of “short-term climate fluctuation” and stresses that we must consider trends over several decades. Another prominent scientist, Michael Mann, warns that despite this short term trend, “global warming hasn’t stopped by any objective measure; and that “in many respects (e.g. the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice this summer), it is well ahead of schedule”. For some strange reason (I don’t know…maybe because of their expertise?) I consider these guys slightly more credible than Corcoran.
And now for my favourite bit. As part of his bizarre argument that implies some sort of nefarious plan on the part of the insurance industry (which is, in fact, panicking right now because of the dramatic increase in weather related disasters), Corcoran writes, “Adapting to climate change — whether it is caused by carbon emissions, volcanoes or other natural pressures — is preferable to crazily trying to control carbon emissions and micro-manage the world weather system.”
Crazily control? (Maybe we should have a free-for-all and stop trying to crazily control other harmful things like water pollution or nuclear waste.) Here we have Nonsense Alert #3: Paint mitigation attempts as too risky. Surely we don’t want to risk this precious fossil-fueled economy that is working out so nicely for everyone, do we? (The Chinese, in particular, seem to be having great fun with their air quality right now). Oh, wait–or is it working out quite nicely for a select few (like Corcoran’s Financial Post readers), and screwing over everybody else? To say that decarbonizing our economy is “risky” is akin to saying that quitting heroin is risky. Sure, you might have some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms at first. But once it’s done, you’re far healthier, you have more money in your pocket, and–woo hoo–you don’t lose your teeth and die. But that’s just my “radical pro-survival agenda”.
What I don’t understand is why some mainstream Canadian journalists (like Corcoran, Margaret Wente, or Rex Murphy) are so hellbent on ignoring science? I wonder if they’re trying to go the maverick route (“Look at me, everyone, paddling furiously against the current!”). Or they think being dismissive of anything alarming will invoke a sort of libertarian/ John Stossel/ common-sense vibe and capture the hearts of readers who want to “pshaw” everything anyway.
I’d love to be that dismissive. I’d love to pshaw climate change but unfortunately, I’m not a moron.
And that brings me back to my “alarmist” point. At what point is it OK to be alarmed? As David Roberts puts it, If you aren’t alarmed about climate, you aren’t paying attention. Here is an excerpt:
Now ponder the fact that some scenarios show us going up to 6 degrees by the end of the century, a level of devastation we have not studied and barely know how to conceive. Ponder the fact that somewhere along the line, though we don’t know exactly where, enough self-reinforcing feedback loops will be running to make climate change unstoppable and irreversible for centuries to come. That would mean handing our grandchildren and their grandchildren not only a burned, chaotic, denuded world, but a world that is inexorably more inhospitable with every passing decade.
Take all that in, sit with it for a while, and then tell me what it could mean to be an “alarmist” in this context. What level of alarm is adequate?