The usual year-end list of "unprecedented" climate and extreme weather events is starting to hit the press. With it comes the excited claims endlessly repeated by environmentalists the world over — climate change science is settled. Experts agree that humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions are causing a global catastrophe. To stop it, we need to revolutionize the way we generate energy.
This is hopelessly naïve.
Leading experts in the field understand that climate science is immature. We are in a period of "negative discovery" in that the more we learn about climate, the more we realize how little we know. This problem is compounded by the revelation that much of the data used by campaigners to try to convince the public that today’s climate change is unusual is either wrong or highly suspect.
Rather than "remove the doubt," as Al Gore told us in last month’s Climate Reality Project, we must recognize the doubt in this, arguably the most complex science ever tackled.
Many of the ideas expressed by opinion leaders such as Gore, David Suzuki, Environment Minster Peter Kent and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are the consequences of a belief in what professors Chris Essex (University of Western Ontario) and Ross McKitrick (University of Guelph) call the "Doctrine of Certainty." This doctrine is "a collection of now familiar assertions about climate that are to be accepted without question."
Essex and McKitrick explain,
"But the doctrine is not true. Each assertion is either manifestly false or the claim to know is false. Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science. Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved."
Yet, as long ago as 1989, Gore insisted there was "no dispute worthy of recognition" about the dangers of man-made climate change. Since then, his certainty, and that of the UN and most member governments, has solidified into a dogma that few politicians, media, educators or industry leaders dare question.
But that dogma is being questioned by more and more reputable scientists who are finally speaking out in an organized fashion.
Earlier this month 134 climate experts sent an open letter to the UN Secretary General explaining that much of his assertions about climate change were scientifically invalid.
And, over the past four years, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change has clearly demonstrated that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has ignored or misinterpreted much of the research that challenges the need for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas controls.
For example, the IPCC has unjustifiably downplayed research that suggests that variations in solar output have far greater impact on climate than human activities. If this is the case, then much of the science being relied upon by governments to create multi-billion dollar climate policies is likely wrong.
Climate change and extreme weather have always happened and always will no matter what we do. Therefore, instead of vainly trying to stop them from occurring, we need to adapt to such phenomena by hardening our societies to these inevitable events. Adaptation measures could include burying electrical and communications cables underground, reinforcing buildings and other infrastructure, and preparing for a continuation of sea level rise. We must also ensure reliable energy sources so that we have the power to heat and cool our dwellings as needed.
While someday we may be able to meaningfully predict climate, it is not possible now. And actually controlling global climate will remain science fiction for the foreseeable future.
That may not be a comforting thought for climate crusaders, but that is climate reality.
Tom Harris is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition and an advisor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.