Wednesday, February 20, 2013

So What's Wrong with "Climate Action"?

Well, we had our debate today on the "Climate Action and Energy Plan."

The "Plan" is a 200 page report that sets the parameters for how the Municipality of North Cowichan is going to go about reducing its "carbon footprint" and its energy bills.

There's a lot to be said about this; the Council debate took the better part of 2 1/2 hours, but fundamentally, the plan further entrenches the notion of "densification" (the idea of smaller lots in more compact areas to reduce transportation demands), and also talks about promoting more "local agriculture", planting more trees to "sequester carbon", and expanding the transit system to a non-conventional "on-demand" system; kind of a municipally-run cab service to rural areas that aren't well served by conventional transit routes. 

The goal, ultimately, is to reduce community carbon emissions by 33% by the year 2025 (baseline year is 2007.)  

There's a lot to this, but the thing that stuck out for me was the price tag.  We're talking about a "community investment" of $20-million per year for the next 12 years.  To be clear, this isn't supposed to be all "municipal tax dollars"; the calculation includes, for example, the money that locals would spend to rush out and buy electric cars once we "educate" them about the benefits of doing so.  

(Although I can't help but noting that the report blithely references many funding sources from various ministries of senior levels of government, as though the taxpayers who fund those ministries live anywhere but in North Cowichan.  For some reason, we were told, these aren't "tax dollars" for the purposes of our discussion.)

What was supposed to be the final draft of the "Plan" was presented to a Council Committee at the end of January, but last week, we were told there were a number of amendments being suggested by BC Hydro, which funded 30% of the $100-thousand dollar cost of writing the document.  So we didn't see the final-final draft until late Friday afternoon, and then yesterday, just 24 hours before the meeting, staff gave us several more late amendments which revised the basic reasoning behind the entire plan and changed some of the "context".  

On the basis of the fact that this is a major, major step for the municipality, I moved a motion to "refer the Plan to a future meeting of Council’s Committee of the Whole for further discussion."  

In speaking to that motion, I suggested that it would be prudent to delay, and give Council a chance to do its' due diligence on this.  "We require more time", I said, "to study the details of the document.  

"We have precedent for this.  Our Official Community Plan.. which is only about 40 pages longer than this Climate Action and Energy Plan, went through extensive Council debate before it was adopted.  That took, as I recall, at least half a dozen meetings.

"But the point is, Council got its hands dirty with the OCP; we didn’t simply accept it as presented, we wrestled with many of the details contained in it, and in the end, we came up with a vastly improved and more balanced document.

I believe this plan, if we’re going to adopt it, deserves the same kind of diligence on the part of Council."

But the rest of Council would have none of it.  My motion was defeated 5-2.  Only Councillor Koury joined me in voting in favour of a prudent delay.   

Which then took us to debate on the main motion, that Council approve the Plan (with the amendments that were included in the past week.)  

In the end, that motion also passed on the same vote count.  

To be clear, Council did not make any decision on the 1% "eco-tax" I referred to in last week's blog.  That decision is deferred until a future budget meeting, although the plan does reference the 1% "fund" for environmental and energy-reduction initiatives.  We did pass a firm motion to the effect that we're going to commission a scientific telephone survey of the community to gauge the level of public support for the 1% surcharge; we were promised the results of that survey before our final budget deadline, which isn't till mid-May. 

Some people watched the Council proceedings live online, and have asked me to post a transcript of the speech I gave in opposition to the main motion.  It is below.

It should be noted that this is the full text of the speech I intended to give; time constraints prevented me from reading all of it, but I've left it here, intact:

Mr. Mayor, it’s a daunting task to have to refute more than 25 years of conventional wisdom on this issue in the 10 minutes allotted to me under our Council Procedure Bylaw.

But I’d like to start at the very beginning.  The first time the world heard – in any serious way – about the notion of “global warming”, (which is what they called it back then), was from NASA’s James Hansen, in testimony before an American Senate Committee back in June of 1988.

And the circumstances of his appearance have always intrigued me.  PBS did a “Frontline” special on this back in 2007, in which they interviewed Senator Timothy Wirth on Mr. Hansen’s appearance.  It turns out they weren’t above using a little Hollywood stage-craft to create a good show with the desired outcome.  

Let me quote from a transcript of Senator Wirth’s interview with PBS:  

Senator Wirth says:  We called the Weather Bureau and found out what historically was the hottest day of the summer. Well, it was June 6th or June 9th or whatever it was. So we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo, it was the hottest day on record in Washington, or close to it.

Then the interviewer asks Senator Wirth:  Did you also alter the temperature in the hearing room that day? 

Wirth responds: What we did is that we went in the night before and opened all the windows so that the air conditioning wouldn’t work inside the room. And so when the hearing occurred, there was not only bliss, which is television cameras and double figures, but it was really hot.

And the public was treated to pictures of Mr. Hansen sweating profusely as he gave his testimony to that committee.  Great television.  But also, I would submit, dishonest.  

But that, Mr. Mayor, is the circumstance around which the world first heard of “global warming”.  And by the way, this doesn’t come from some sketchy “denier’s website”; the admission came on PBS, the American equivalent of the CBC.  My quote was from a transcript on their website.

I can’t help but wonder, even today, if there truly was so much urgency around this issue, why Senator Wirth and James Hansen felt the need to manipulate the circumstances surrounding the unveiling of their hypothesis?  The question has never been answered.

In fact, the whole notion of “climate science” is a puzzle to me.  And the credibility of the “science” is very suspect in my mind.  I would remind you that Mr. Hansen’s appearance before that Senate committee was in 1988.   Just 13 years earlier, the “climate science” community was all abuzz with doomsday predictions of a different kind.  In the 70’s, Newsweek Magazine actually devoted a cover story to something called “The Cooling World.”  

Let me quote a few lines.. stop me if any of this sounds familiar. 

There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth.”

The article talks about declines in growing seasons, devastating outbreaks of tornadoes, and other weather problems.

And it continues:  “To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.”   

Again, that was written just 13 years before James Hansen’s appearance before that Senate committee.

And that’s not the only thing that’s been, shall we say, “a little off” in terms of the predictions made by the “climate scientists.”  

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer has been one of the lead authors of the IPCC reports we keep hearing about - the ones upon which much of the research on climate change is based.  In January 2000, Dr. Oppenheimer told the New York Times that for children in New York, quote, “the pleasures of sledding and snowball fights will be as out-of-date as hoop-rolling, and the delight of a snow day off from school will be unknown”.   Just last week, tens of thousands of kids were off school because of that big blizzard that hit.  

Just a few months later, Dr. David Viner from the Britain’s University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, told the “Independent” newspaper that quote.. “snowfall in Britain would become a very rare and exciting event and that children just aren’t going to know what snow is.”   Since then, of course, Britain has experienced two of the coldest and most snow-bound winters ever; in ’09 and 2010. 

Back to Dr. Oppenheimer.  In 1990, he wrote that within 5 years, (again, that would be by 1995) “the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…”  By 1996, he predicted, "the Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil would stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers…The Mexican police would be rounding up illegal American migrants surging into Mexico seeking work as field hands.”

There’s a lot more of this kind of silliness.  Time constraints prevent me from giving you all the quotes and predictions that have proven false, but here’s a few more, just for the record.

In the LA Times in 1972, Arctic specialist Bernt Balchen said a general warming trend over the North Pole was melting the polar ice cap, and that the Arctic Ocean could be completely ice-free by the year 2000.

Let’s go to James Hansen again.  In an interview with Salon Magazine in 1989, he talked specifically about New York City, saying quote: “By the year 2008, the West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds...”  

Mr. Mayor, this morning I checked with a friend of mine who lives in Brooklyn.  Today, 5 years after Mr. Hansen’s prediction was supposed to happen, that west-side highway is still very much in existence, and jam-packed with traffic.  And there’s no tape on any windows. 

In 1989, Dr. Noel Brown, the then-director of the UN’s environmental program in New York, warned readers of the Miami Herald that quote: “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos.” 

I could go on, but I think you’re getting my point.  

I realize the fallacies of so-called ad-hominem arguments.  I’m not attacking the character or the integrity of the people who’ve made these obviously alarmist predictions.   I’m sure they’re very sincere in their beliefs.  But beliefs and scientific fact are two different things.  And based on their track record, I have a problem basing what are in effect multi-million dollar decisions for this municipality on the opinions of people like this.  

To the plan before us.  The central point is two-fold.  “Climate Action” and “Energy Reduction.”  

And the latter is clearly driven by the former.  Quoting from page 51 of the report:  “The global average temperature over the first decade of the 21st century was significantly warmer than any preceding decade on record over the past 160 years…. Current evidence strongly suggests that the Earth is warming at a rate at the top end of IPCC reported predictions, 6 degrees Celcius by the year 2100. This rate of warming is predicted to have drastic and devastating climate and weather effects, making much of the planet uninhabitable.”

Thus we are told, it’s critical that we do something.  And soon. 

But there are differing opinions on whether all of the data above is actually true.  Dr. Phil Jones with the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, in an interview with the Daily Mail in the UK just three years ago, “conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.  And in that same interview, he was very clear that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.”

The consensus that our report refers to is by no means unanimous.  Just a few years ago, a group of more than 100 prominent climate scientists, most of them with PhD’s, sent an open letter to Barack Obama in which they disagreed with his assertion that the science on this is beyond dispute, and that the facts are clear.  They wrote that “the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now.  After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events.  The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior.”

It’s worth noting several things here.  I said that most of these scientists have PhD’s.  Many of them were “peer reviewers” on the IPCC reports. 

So the presuppositions which the report we’re looking at are based upon are by no means unanimous.  And "consensus" is not "science".  I mean, 500 years ago, the "consensus" was that the world is flat.   

“Climate change” is a complicated issue.  And as I sort through all of this, I have to acknowledge that I’m not a scientist.. But I do know this. 

The National Academy of Sciences defines the term “fact” as quote “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as ‘true’.  Truth in science, however, is never final, and what is accepted as fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.”  

And the problem with the climate change issue is that the whole thing is not based on "observation".  After all, how can one ‘observe’ something that’s going to happen?  It’s based on computer modelling, much of which has been found to be wanting.  The technical term is “hind-casting”, and much of the scientific community acknowledges that there are serious structural problems with that particular scientific methodology.

But we have before us a report which makes recommendations for major community expenditures - some $20-million dollars a year over the next 12 or 13 years - based on so-called facts which are by no means unanimously affirmed.  And many of the people who’ve put forward these facts have a history of being less than accurate in their previous predictions.  I hope you understand my dilemma. 

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned that in the overall scheme of things, scientists at Environment Canada say our entire country is responsible for just 2 percent of the world’s GHG emissions.  I can’t imagine, given the output of large urban centers like Toronto and Vancouver - and the output from Alberta’s oil sands industry - how small our contribution to the global problem is here in North Cowichan.  But apparently, we should be spending millions and millions of dollars to fix this.  

I need more hard evidence before committing that kind of funding.

The second part of the plan talks about energy.  Mr. Mayor, I’m all about reducing our energy consumption.  For its own sake – the cost savings it can generate - and for the sake of the environment generally.  We should be doing the kinds of refits that are talked about in this plan.. the stuff that’s within our corporate control.  I’m not in favour of creating some kind of reserve fund to do this, by the way.. the 1% option that we’ll be looking at in our budget.  If a project has cost efficiencies and a 5 to 7 year payback, let’s fund those projects with short term borrowing, bite the bullet on the short term interest, and then pay for the balance through the savings that are generated. 

I also recognize the political reality that, to meet our commitments to the Provincial government under the Climate Charter, we should be doing something to reduce our emissions.  And I’m not against that.  

But this plan is, frankly, one of the most “statist” documents ever presented at this Council table; a bunch of social engineering that dictates everything from where people can live to what they should eat, what and where they should drive, and how they should heat their homes.

I’m all for good environmental policy, but this goes way beyond that, and it does so based on a system of projections and models promoted by a group of people who are, frankly, alarmist and simply not credible.  

I’ll be voting against this plan. I'm sorry.  I'd love to support it, because there is some good stuff in here about energy reduction, but it just goes too far. 

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant piece. Wish more would adopt this reasoned thinking...