Friday, 29 June 2012


Ideas of catastrophic climate change are not new nor are proposals to deal with it. In the 1950s Emmanuel Velokovsky suggested that the earth might wobble and tip at any moment because of the accumulation of polar ice not to mention dangerous planetary alignments. His theories were widely accepted and were set forth in his book, "Worlds in Collision" .

The response to Climate change reflects at any time the belief in the cause. When people thought it was the work of an angry God they chucked virgins into volcanos. When they thought it was a top heavy earth it was proposed to detonate nuclear bombs on one or the other of the poles to lighten up things at the heavy end.

In 1970 it was predicted by the Club Rome that the earth was on the cusp of a period of global cooling. But when temperatures rose it was decided by a consensus of scientists that we weren't cooling. We were warming.

The news concerning the likely causes was for a time, as variable as the climate itself. The United Nation's Committee on Climate Change was established to review the literature on the subject. The IPCC reported that it is very likely that climate change is caused by man. The mechanism by which this might happen is exceedingly complex and at this stage a debate exists. There is no debate over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas. There is a huge debate over rates of change. The most important one is over what to do about it.

Richard Lindzen was a member of the first IPCC and is the Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT. Of the first IPCC report he said,"it is a summary for policy makers that was not prepared by scientists."

How is a layman to judge rival claims of supposed experts? Any charismatic person can spin a persuasive argument about any subject not in the domain of the reader's personal expertise. On this point Stephen Jay Gould observed, "When I see how poorly Velokovsky uses the data I am familiar with, then I must entertain doubts about his handling of data unfamiliar to me. But what it is a person who knows neither astronomy, Egyptology , nor geology to do especially when faced with a hypotheses so intrinsically exciting and a tendency shared I suspect by all of us to root for the underdog?"

There is no shortage of charismatic people floating around today who head foundations or got elected and who make pronouncements ex cathed
Anthropogenic climate change is now generally accepted. While the precise extent of anthropogenic as opposed to changes caused by other factors is debated the political responses have sometimes been bad policy. The promotion of Bio fuels it has been said resulted in an increase in CO2.

All the hype on densification may be another example. Local governments are now rezoning for a cooler climate. If they are going to do this they should first conclusively show that increasing density will result in a net reduction of CO2. No City has done this. There is not yet a reliable model that justifies an increase in density and a radical restructuring of our society.

Planners claim that high density buildings are more sustainable in the context of CO2 emissions.

It is quite an assumption. Apartments with their common areas,elevators,lights,heat,air conditioning, and other facilities demand lots of energy.

Infill housing happens at the expense of trees and vegetation.

Planners assume that people in high rises and dense areas will not drive their cars. They will commute by transit. Vancouver's commuting patterns are changing. People live in the City and commute to work outside it. Dense urban areas are magnets. The boulevards of Paris,which has the best public transportation system in the world, are jammed with cars.

If we accept what I take to be the prevailing view of the science, the real issue is simply this: the population on earth is not sustainable. If that is so, how will it help to accept millions of people from everywhere, and dump their excrement in Georgia Straight and their CO2 in the air?

To evaluate the science is hard for a layman because science advances not by consensus. Sometimes the crazy postal worker is right and the Academy is wrong. E equals mass times the speed of light squared. When Mendelieve proposed the periodic table to the Russian Academy, its head mockingly asked whether he had considered arranging the elements in their alphabetical order.

To evaluate solutions proposed by committees is a different matter. Those are the solutions of politicians - not climatologists. There are billions to be made in the climate change industries from composting toilets to urban home windmills and from bicycles to high rises.

Don't let them try to tell you that they are endorsed by a consensus of Scientists. When a developer tells you they are in it for the principle, not the money you can be sure of one thing - its the money.

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