Questioning climate change claims

November debate between professors will call into question common-held beliefs about climate change

Climate change may be a scientific reality for many, but on Nov. 8 leading scientists and policy makers will debate what is actually happening to our environment and what Canada should do about it.

A professor in the Queen’s Faculty of Law, Bruce Pardy said he’s still a bit uncertain as to whether humans are causing the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and whether it poses a problem to the environment.

“I don’t have a stance, I read the science and I think that it is fair to say that there is a debate and it’s a fascinating debate,” he said. “The concentration of greenhouses gasses has gone up. What I don’t know is whether that concentration is causing an effect. For the kinds of questions I pursue the outcome of that scientific debate doesn’t matter.”

On Nov. 8, Pardy will be squaring off against Matthew Bramley, the director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, as to whether “Canada should embark immediately on a program of deep reductions in its own emissions.” Bramley will be arguing yes, but Pardy will arguing no.

The debate, which will be put on by the Queen’s Environmental Law Association, will feature four debaters. Two will go back and forth on a scientific question and when they are done, Bramley and Pardy will face-off on the policy question. Afterwards, there will be time provided for an audience question and answer period.

Pardy said one thing he’s sure of is that while the science backing climate change is done in a rational manner, this is not always true of the policy decisions.

“Sometimes when we turn to the policy question for some reason it becomes emotional, irrational, moralistic, symbolic,” he said. “Instead [we need to] say what kind of action is required to solve the problem.”

He said people often become very charged about climate change issues and have a tendency to jump on any of course action, rather than looking for the best one.

“Let’s assume for a moment that humans are causing climate change. That doesn’t necessarily lead us to a conclusions that Canada today should do everything it can to reduce greenhouse gasses,” he said. “If the causal relationship is real than what you require is a global agreement that everybody will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

John Smol, a professor in the biology department and another of the debate participants, has a much firmer stance on climate change.

“It’s the most important environmental problem we’re facing today,” he said. “It affects so many things, not just the environment but things like economic security, health, forestry, fisheries.”

He will be debating the resolution that “without deep reductions, humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases will very likely cause climate change with severe, worldwide impacts in this century” against Larry Solomon, founder and director of Energy Probe and an environmental author. Most recently, he authored a book entitled “The Deniers”.

Smol will be taking the affirmative stance on this question. For him, the problem is that there’s a lot of talk but not much action.

“Research we do shows it’s a more serious problem than people realize,” he said. “And the longer we wait the less options we’ll have.” He said he’s spoken to other “climate change deniers” who tend to argue that the human related gases aren’t enough to cause a notable change in climate.

“There’s many types of people who deny the problem,” he said. “There’s an impression that the denier side is consolidated but they’re arguing even within themselves.”

He said deniers have a tendency to pop up in the media, but they account for a fairly small percentage of the scientific community.

“There’s a lot of outstanding reproducible science that says we’re in a very serious problem and we’re wasting time and we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, we have to decrease our carbon footprint and get ready for change.”

Many communities in Canada have made pledges to reduce their emissions. This can stunt economic growth, which Pardy said is one of the only results these efforts can yield.

“It doesn’t make any measureable difference on the atmospheric problem,” he said, “Imagine that for the sake of global warming we shut the country down tomorrow and Canadian emissions were reduced to zero. If that happened and nothing else happened in the world, no significant change would occur.”

He said that no one community and no one country can really make a dent in the problem. Instead of focusing solely on reducing our own emissions, Pardy said we should focus on achieving an international agreement to reduce emissions worldwide.

“If your objective is to achieve an international agreement than the question is what actions will lead us to this,” he said. “Acting alone in isolation doesn’t do that, and moral suasion as a way to change the behaviors of other countries has proven to be ineffectual.”

By moral suasion, Pardy said he means that some countries have come to the negotiating table thinking that by indicating they have lowered their emissions, they should be able to guilt other nations into following suit.

Pardy said nonetheless, unless China and the United States, the world’s two largest emitters, agree to reduce their emissions, even international agreements will likely prove futile.

“If you have a negotiations around where one of those countries refuses to sign on you won’t have an agreement,” he said. “It might be better than our current process, which involves everybody in the same room, … to ditch the model and put China and the U.S. in a room and say ‘tell us what the deal is and we’ll sign on’.”

Pardy admitted an effective international climate change agreement is unlikely in the near future. He said Canada should take three steps but quell their actions there.

“Number one, it should state, as it has, that Canada is ready to sign on to an international agreement whenever that agreement includes everybody.

Number two, it should remove its domestic energy subsidies and … create a genuine marketplace to see what is economically feasible.

“Number three, it should plan to coordinate with whatever the Americans come up with if anything and that is for the reason of our trade.

“Once you’ve taken all those steps in your strategic interest, and done all you can to promote an international agreement, after that you should do nothing because anything else is solely to your detriment.”

For Pardy, economics are a key factor in climate change policy decisions.

On the one hand, he said he is worried too many resources are being devoted to the issue.

“All the time and resources climate change is sucking out of the economy could be used to make real change for our citizens today.”

The other economic problem inherent in climate change agreements come from decisions as to what emissions levels are acceptable for each country. Because of the relationship between industry and emissions, more developed nations will have higher emissions.

“If you could figure out how to increase growth while lowering emissions you’ve discovered a new thing,” he said.

Emissions can be measured per capita or based on net emissions derived from subtracting bio-capacity for carbon absorption from total carbon emissions.

He said the per capita model would essentially cripple the Canadian economy because of our low population while allowing other more populous nations to continue increasing their emissions.

“In China’s case [it] would be 40 times Canada’s [output],” he said. “China [currently] emits close to 10 times what Canada does.”

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