Sunday, January 07, 2007

On global warming denial

One of the problems with podcasts is that one rarely gets to listen, they build up and you feel obligated to at least try and catch up. I was listening to an audio podcast from the December 13th the Agenda on TVO (about which I have written previously) which concerned the question of the amount of room for true debate in modern media. At one point the question of the use of the word "denier", usually linked to those who dispute or downplay the Holocaust, being used to describe those who do not subscribe to the theory of Global Warming while discussing a recent column by Rex Murphy. One of the participants said (and I have done my best to transcribe accurately and all emphasis below is mine):
Until today I never heard the term "global warming denier" okay, until I read Rex Murphy's column. I don't think... I haven't heard that term. I hear "sceptic", is the term I hear. If someone's using the term "denier" that's the wrong term because it makes of us think of the Holocaust, which is a fact. Global warming is a theory. Now, it's a very widely held theory, but it's still a theory.
The speaker was apparently (as I said, audio only) Judy Rebick, of rabble.ca. I was curious as to which fringe theorist Murphy had found using such an inflammatory term. I found this as the second google hit, a June 2nd piece in the Washington Post. which led in from the reading of a form letter by Senator George "Macaca" Allen, now unemployed (or not employed on Capitol Hill anyway) but then a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"Oh God," interrupts Gore, cutting the performance short with a weary sigh at yet another example of what he likes to call the "global warming deniers" -- people who may have come around to the acceptance of global warming as real, but who still cling to what he calls the "manifestly untrue" explanation that it's all, or mostly, the result of natural causes.
Al Gore, this is the fringe theorist using this inflammatory term. But it wasn't a direct quote so I tried googling but adding Gore's name. This produced the following from the Seattle Times in reference to Congressman Dave Reichert (Rep.):
"C'mon! And this man is a United States congressman?" asked Gore. "You know, 15 percent of people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat. They get together on Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers."
It also produced this op-ed by Gore in the Daily Telegraph:
The global-warming deniers in the US were so enthusiastic about this particular canard that our National Academy of Sciences eventually put together a formal panel, comprised of a broad range of scientists, including some of the most sceptical, which vindicated the main findings embodied in the "hockey stick" and definitely rejected the claims that Monckton is now recycling for British readers.
I do agree with Rebick. Gore should not use this term in such a blanket manner as it does have connotations beyond scientific debate. The CBC broadcast a Fifth Estate programme, The Denial Machine, (google video) though the CBC programme does deal with active efforts to suppress and alter government materials so the description seems more apt and the people who did it are clearly identified, especially with reference to the previous antics of the tobacco industry.

There are many things that could be done to reduce the disproportionate effect North Americans are having on the planet per capita and rather than do some work on it, even where it would have little economic impact, there is a coterie of politicians and business people who prefer not to acknowledge the issue. Some Senate Republicans seized on Gore's term, declaring there would be "Nuremberg trials for skeptics" (although reading that linked release and who they're complaining about makes you wonder how the US got as powerful as it has with such a weird system of governing).

Japan's resource dependency has kept them intensely focused on getting more benefit out of less energy. (New York Times - rego or bugmenot required) The US focus is merely on getting more energy, continuing to rely heavily on coal for domestic power and refusing to consider major investments in renewables and with no plan to develop new nuclear facilities while the clock runs out on the existing ones. Japan's energy efficiency has created products which are now a US$7.9bn export industry, ten times the figure in 2000. There politicians lead by example with the Prime Minister installing fuel cells at home, and the average Japanese home uses about 40% of a US household's electricity demand.

Reducing global warming impact often has implications for improving production efficiency in general which can create positive economic impact and reduce non-GHG impacts too. When the Montreal Protocol required the elimination of trichloroethane from the production processes of a company I worked for, it made them look at not merely replacing the solvent but finding ways to reuse and reclaim the replacement. Even if it turns out, as many sceptics think, that natural processes are causing climate change to the extent that human intervention is not significant, this kind of environmental action is not wasted and if it turns out to be humans then it's a good job we did it.

For those "conservatives" who still don't want to know - it's the economy, stupid. One day that phrase will doom US conservatives as surely as when Bill Clinton first coined it.
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