By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 8, 2010 (IPS)
The first comprehensive look at the expected impacts of climate change on Canada offers an embarrassing and misleading “don’t worry, be happy” vision, citing more golf days and better access to northern deposits of oil and gas courtesy of global warming, critics say.
“The chart needs to be withdrawn,” said climate scientist Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto. “It is full of bad science and utterly downplays the serious impacts of climate change.”
The chart Harvey referred to is the “Degrees of Change” interactive diagram released this week as part of a national educational initiative called “Climate Prosperity” by the prestigious Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).
“How can we (Canada) talk about profiting from climate change when most of the world will suffer devastating impacts, in part because of our emissions?” Harvey said.
“It is disgusting.”
In a release about the Climate Prosperity initiative, David McLaughlin, NRTEE president and CEO, said, “Adapt and prosper will be increasingly central to Canadian governments, communities, and businesses as these effects become more and more evident.”
NRTEE officials did not respond to IPS requests for an interview.
Among the serious scientific errors in the “Degrees of Change” chart is a statement that the Arctic summer sea ice will decline by 50 percent around 2070. This September, the ice declined nearly 30 percent. With the rate of decline about 12 percent per decade and accelerating virtually every year, sea ice experts estimate there will be 100 percent loss of summer ice within the next decade or two. [See Sept article: Arctic Ice in Death Spiral, Thaws Permafrost — Risks Climate Catastrophe]
“That 50 percent by 2070 is completely wrong. I don’t know where they are getting that figure from,” said Andrew Weaver, a leading climatologist at Canada’s University of British Columbia.
Informed by IPS that Weaver’s 2007 work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is cited as the source, Weaver responded: “I was lead author of the sea ice section. We never said anything like that in our report.”
Weaver said summer sea ice wasn’t expected to survive the end of century even using the now outdated data that greatly underestimated the rate of sea ice loss.
“We are still looking at a seasonally ice-free Arctic in 20 to 30 years,” said Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, in a release Oct. 4 about the end of the summer ice melt.
The Degrees of Change chart, which is prominently featured in the current issue of Canadian Geographic magazine, was compiled by NRTEE staff, none of whom is a climate expert. A background document obtained by IPS cites a number of Canadian climate experts as having vetted the data and conclusions. Nearly all of these experts are government scientists and they are not permitted to talk to the media directly.
A blanket “gag order” imposed by the Stephen Harper government in 2005 has become ever more restrictive. Now cabinet ministers must give their approval before a scientist can comment on anything, including their own research published in a public journal.
“It’s terrible, unbelievable really, that this government silences its scientists,” said John Stone of Ottawa’s Carleton University and a prominent member of the IPCC. Stone is also listed as a final reviewer of the chart.
“I was surprised they’d spent one and a half years working on it. It was a complete mess,” said Stone, who was asked to help out a few months ago. Stone says he did not see the final version before its launch Oct. 5.
“They were selective and made very conservative choices. It is difficult to get a sense of the real impacts on Canada from the chart,” he acknowledged.
However, Stone defended the NRTEE effort. “I give kudos to them for trying to get a national debate about climate change started in Canada,” he said.
The debate may have already begun.
“This project has the fingerprints of the fossil fuel industry all over it,” said Harvey.
In fact, the report and chart was sponsored by Suncor Energy, Canada’s largest oil company, a major operator in extracting oil from Alberta’s tar sands and that markets gasoline as Petro-Canada. Suncor has been fined several times for pollution violations at its tar sands operations, even under Canada’s oil-friendly governments.
One of the impacts downplayed in the chart is the impact on marine life from increasing ocean acidification from emissions of fossil fuels, Harvey noted. “They say ‘marine life will be affected’. The scientific literature is clear that we will see complete collapse of marine ecosystems.”
The chart also says some polar bear populations are at risk of extinction if the global temperature rises four degrees C by the end of the century. Harvey says several studies this year estimate 15 to 30 percent of all species on the planet are at risk of extinction at two degrees C. At current rates of carbon emissions, the planet will be two degrees warmer by 2050 at the latest, he said.
“The whole thing paints an utterly misleading picture,” Harvey stressed.
John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada says the NRTEE, which is made up mainly of corporate CEOs and former politicians, are the advisors to the Canadian government on environmental issues. They seemed to be primarily looking for the upside to climate change for Canada.
“They say crops will grow better with more warming but ignore the impacts of drought and extreme weather,” Bennett told IPS.
The chart shows potential increases in crop yield of 40 to 170 percent due to longer growing seasons, but does acknowledge climatic extremes may limit those gains in the detailed description.
It also shows Canadian farm incomes will be at increasing risk due to drought, pests and diseases. In a similar lose- win fashion the chart shows the forest industry will suffer more fires and pest outbreaks while trees will grow faster and further north with two to four C warmer temperatures.
Andrew Weaver can’t understand how the NRTEE and Royal Geographic Society can promote a chart that indicates temperatures could rise more than five degrees C globally and utterly fail to mention the global calamity that would result from such a huge increase in temperature.
“It’s unbelievable. Four or five degrees C of warming is a showstopper…it’s utter disaster. There would be major international strife, mass extinctions of species, collapse of ecosystems,” he said.
However, NRTEE’s strongest declaration about their educational effort is that climate change is real. “Climate change is not just a theory. It’s taking place now,” said NRTEE Chair Robert Page in a release.
The first international conference on climate change was sponsored by and held in Canada 22 years ago in 1988. Canada signed the 1997 Kyoto accord to cut emissions of climate warming gases. In 2005, the Harper government said it would not make those cuts.
Canada’s emissions are amongst the highest in the world, having risen more than 30 percent since 1990. At the Copenhagen climate conference, Canada was called a “deadbeat” and “dinosaur” for its refusal to act on climate change.
“We need to get way beyond that ‘it’s happening’,” said Weaver.
First published as Canada Sees Climate Change “Prosperity” Instead of Calamity