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This article was published 2/5/2013 (1390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is right to label climate activist Dr. James Hansen’s end-of the-world proclamations as nonsense. But Oliver makes a strategic mistake when he actively promotes the hypothesis that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activities are causing dangerous global warming.
Climate campaigners point out that it is illogical for the government to lobby on behalf of the oil sands, one of the most CO2-intensive energy sources on the planet, while also lecturing us about the importance of reducing those same emissions. It is analogous to a doctor telling a patient they need to lose weight while also encouraging them to eat more chocolate cake. Global warming alarmists are wrong on the science of climate change, but they are right on this logic.
It is not enough to assert that the oil sands constitute only 1/1,000 of world emissions, as Oliver repeatedly reminds us. It also makes no sense to cite climate alarmist scientist and Green Party of British Columbia deputy leader Andrew Weaver in support of the government’s position, as the minister did last week. If humanity’s emissions were causing dangerous global warming, then we should set an example by trying to cut back, not grow, projects that emit large volumes of CO2, as the oil sands clearly do.
Using their current approaches, the federal and Alberta governments have ceded the moral high ground to pipeline and oil sands opponents. While governments come across as practical due to their focus on jobs, wealth creation and energy security, they also appear immoral to the many people who still believe that CO2-induced climate change is the most serious threat to our future.
In contrast, climate activist pipeline opponents, while often seen as impractical by those who understand our energy needs, appear highly moral to many in the public and the press.
This is a serious problem since the authorities who must approve Keystone XL — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama — are apparently more concerned about appearances of environmental morality than by practicalities of energy security and economics. This was plainly shown in their Earth Day statements in which both focused mostly on climate change, not reducing air, land and water pollution. Obama’s ongoing drive to destroy coal — America’s cheapest and most abundant energy source — due to its hypothesized climate impact also makes his priorities clear.
So oil sands supporters such as Oliver and Alberta Premier Alison Redford must help the public understand that the fundamental premise of the global warming movement is unfounded. The science is too immature to know the future of climate and climate control will remain science fiction for the foreseeable future. Cancelling valuable projects to try to "stop climate change" is therefore irresponsible.
Oliver and Redford can start this education process by stopping governments' use of the language of their opponents. Calling CO2 "carbon dioxide" will help people remember that the gas under discussion is an invisible, odourless, naturally-occurring substance essential to life on Earth. Calling it "carbon," as Redford and Oliver do now, supports the incorrect notion that it is pollution, something black and dirty like soot.
Most importantly, federal and provincial governments need to convene open, unbiased public hearings into the climatic impact of the oil sands. Qualified scientists from all sides of the debate should be invited to testify so that the public will better understand the vast uncertainties in the field. Support for expensive CO2-reduction programs would consequently wither and the anti-Keystone/oil sands campaign would fail without the government even committing themselves to a position on the science.
In the meantime, Oliver and Redford must take their lead from the fictitious Lady Answerall who, in Jonathan Swift’s 1738 farce Polite Conversation said "she cannot eat her cake and have her cake." Because that is exactly what government is currently trying to do by boosting two hopelessly incompatible policies at the same time — stopping climate change and promoting oil sands expansion. Since the oil sands have immense value to Canada and the world and the climate scare is based on an incorrect interpretation of the science, it is obvious which policy must be sacrificed.
Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition and an advisor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy".
— Troy Media