Political elite out of touch on climate change

Tom Harris

By Tom Harris

Guest Columnist

In his September 8th speech announcing California’s new greenhouse gas emission laws, Governor Jerry Brown said, “If we don’t stop climate change, it’s not going to be 110 [degrees] in Imperial County; it’s going to be 130, 135! Not for a few days or a few weeks, but for months on end!”

Brown’s statement is ridiculous, no matter what you believe about climate change. Even if humanity vanished from the face of the Earth, climate would continue to change. It is as much a part of the natural world as is sunrise or gravity. Brown’s assertion that we could be responsible for a warming of 25 degrees is utter nonsense.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated in their latest assessment report that surface temperature, averaged over all land and ocean surfaces, increased only 1.53 degrees between 1880 to 2012. And a significant portion of that is part of the natural climate cycle coming out of the Little Ice Age. So, our contribution to the warming that has occurred in those 132 years is something less 1.53 degrees, a far cry from Brown’s excited forecast.

Similarly, claims that 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record are meaningless when you consider how little they set records by (seven hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit and 29 hundredths of a degree, respectively).

Sea level rise has also been unremarkable in the past century. There has been no recent acceleration, and the current rate of rise is less than one tenth that of 8,000 years ago.

There has been no overall change in the incidence and severity of extreme weather in the past century, either. As in the case of temperature and sea level, the contribution of our emissions to extreme weather must have been very small indeed.

So Brown’s concerns are based solely on possible future events.

To develop rational climate change policy in this case, we must first greatly improve weather and climate sensing systems. Without this basic information, how can we know what data to input into our computer models to make climate forecasts? Furthermore, since the computer models are created using the existing data, accurate data is critically important if our models are to be meaningful.

Once we have sufficient data, we still need to determine if current and expected near-future changes are dangerous. If they are, then we must figure out whether we are causing very much of these changes.

Former University of Winnipeg professor and historical climatologist, Dr. Tim Ball explains that the collection and interpretation of data needed to fulfill these requirements has only just begun. Ball explains that there are relatively few weather stations of adequate length or reliability on which to base model forecasts of future climate. “Brown’s forecasts therefore have absolutely no credibility in the real world,” Ball explains.

The UN’s My World global survey shows that the governor of California and indeed most of the political elite are completely out of touch with average people on climate change. After 9.7 million people from 194 countries have been polled, “action taken on climate change” rates dead last out of the 16 suggested priorities for the UN.

For most of the world, and especially those in developing nations, the message is clear: in comparison with access to reliable energy, better healthcare, government honesty, a good education, etc., climate change is not important. Its time for governments to stop wasting billions of dollars trying to stop the climate from changing. The world has real problems to solve.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

Tom Harris
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