Thursday, December 3, 2009

Politics: Fear and Climate Change

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Long-time readers of this blog know that I have a real problem with making decisions on the basis of fear, and zero patience for those that incite fear in the electorate as a political tactic. Some things, though, are fundamentally scary. Even those that don't believe in climate change likely would agree that if changes that scientists predict, like rising sea levels and more powerful hurricanes and other storms, were to actually occur that this would be a scary outcome.

Correct or not, the scientific consensus that the world is currently on a path to that kind of climate change has started to result in political action, and this has incited fear in industry. With the possible exception of petrochemical companies that are not diversified, I find this fear more than a little bizarre--it has been demonstrated time and again that "green" process changes, things like reducing energy use and recycling feed stocks--almost always lead to efficiencies that save companies money in the long run. Even for "carbon intense" industry, it seems to me that a move toward more climate-sensitive technologies represents a tremendous business opportunity for them to seize and make money.

Instead, though, many companies are resisting any change to the status quo, and fomenting bloggers and other defenders of the status quo that now have given us "ClimateGate" over some obscure e-mails at East Anglia University that taken out of context make it appear that scientists falsified climate data. Even the supposedly-liberal CBC aired an irresponsible commentary by Rex Murphy tonight. Murphy tried to claim that climate change is no longer settled science--never mind all the work that researchers all over the world have done that had nothing to do with East Anglia--and that climate change science and advocacy are irretrievably linked. While there were clearly problems at East Anglia, to make the claim that climate change scientists have been driven by financial and power considerations is pretty rich coming from an opposition that has the financial resources to overwhelm the entire academic sector and still hasn't been able to find more than a handful of researchers willing to agree with them. The argument borders on absurdity.

That's what happens, though, when people get scared. People need to get past their fear of the what-if's of climate change and take a hard look at the actual data are telling us and start looking for rational, effective, worldwide solutions that make economic sense. That's what is supposed to happen at the upcoming Copenhagen conference, and we can hope that it still will.

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