IT IS FINALLY CLEAR that economic arguments on their own have failed to sway Canadians to oppose the Kyoto accord. Those of us who work in climate science have been saying for years that the debate would be lost if the treaty's science flaws were not highlighted as the primary reason for blocking ratification. This should have been obvious from the beginning. While others at the pre-miers' conference in August were focused on the cost of implementing Kyoto, Paul Okalik, territo-rial leader of Nunavut, clearly summed up the environmentalist position when he described climate changes in the North and told the premiers, "You can keep your money!"
The extensive coverage given his statement showed how this attitude resonates well with the media and the public, many of whom have little patience with a "profits before environment" approach. But statements like Okalik's only have power if people really believe human activity has a significant negative impact on global climate. Do away with that doctrine and Kyoto reduces to another cost/benefit pollution debate, one that the treaty's supporters would have quickly lost.
The real question should have been, do most climate scientists support the doomsday scenarios of environmental extremists such as David Suzuki and others who have misled Environment Minister David Anderson?
Of course not. In the past few months, more and more climate scientists have been speaking out about the scientific flaws of Kyoto. These scientists are not funded by big oil or any commercial interests. However, many are funded by the federal government and so speaking out has been risky -- many of their peers, while sharing their skepticism about the foundation of Kyoto, have concluded that it is safer to say nothing than risk losing vital federal research dollars.< P align=justify> From this point of view, the experts who publicly oppose Kyoto are the real heroes in the Kyoto saga, the exact opposite of the "scientists for hire" label affixed to them by many environmentalists. While there are many misunderstandings in the public about the science of Kyoto, perhaps the most outrageous concerns the magnitude human emission of carbon dioxide.
Consider the following: If our civilization stopped producing carbon dioxide entirely, this would result in a net reduction of six gigatons per year to the atmosphere. This amount is so small in comparison with that produced by nature that it is less than the uncertain-ty in the measurement of carbon dioxide that is transferred in and out of the oceans or the soil and forests each year.
For this, Kyoto advocates say, we must make major sacrifices in our standard of living and lay people off from coast to coast. There are so many problems with Kyoto's science that one has to seriously question why the treaty's opponents attacked the economic difficulties of the accord -- but not its very serious science flaws.
Intimidated by the science, and environmental extremists, many of Kyoto's opponents believed climate science was too complicated for them or the public to understand. Indeed, climate is very complex -- probably the most difficult problem ever tackled. But one need not get deeply into technical details to effectively oppose Kyoto. Most of those who so vehemently support Kyoto are not formally trained in science and so are unable to deliver more than superficial "sound bites" when interviewed by the media.
Take a look at Hansard, the official record of House of Commons debates, to see some of the truly absurd claims being put forward by completely uninformed Kyoto supporters. When seriously challenged, which is rare, they simply parade out their own climate "experts" from Environment Canada or their allies in the environmental movement.
With a greater pool of scientists to choose from, and more solid evidence to cite, it would have been relatively easy for those opposed to Kyoto to have exposed the science flaws of Kyoto. Indus-try and provincial governments could simply have referenced the scientific uncertainties and refu-sed to take part in implementation discussions until the treaty was thoroughly examined by an unbiased panel of scientists and engineers.
Yet, most of those opposed to Kyoto still wouldn't bring up the science -- they were afraid of con-frontation with environmental lobbyists and bad press coverage. Environmental extremists have been working for years to foster an atmosphere in which anyone who dares doubt even the smallest part of Kyoto's science is viewed as anti-environmental. Referring to skeptics in this fashion, Suzuki impatiently dismissed sug-gestions that the science be revisited.-"We're past the science," he chastised those who wanted to examine the science of Kyoto.
Environmentalists knew this is the treaty's weak point and so, rather than encouraging Canadians to listen to both sides of the debate and come to their own conclusions, they did everything possi-ble to avoid opening the science to public discussion. So most of Kyoto's opponents quickly su-rrendered the high ground of climate science to accord supporters rather than contest the activists.
As a consequence, Canada is about to be burdened with the first of what will likely be a continuing series of draconian greenhouse gas (GHG) treaties. Emboldened by the success of their Kyoto campaign, "green" activists will next try to bully a gullible public into accepting even more severe penalties in the guise of "saving the planet."
Funds otherwise allocated to well-understood environmental problems, as well as education and health care, will be siphoned off into progressively more oppressive, and unrealistic, ecological crusades. The realities of science and technology will be swept aside as governments scramble to cash in on the fashionable new wave of irrational environmentalism.Some may consider this scenario sensationalist. But until very recently, most of those opposed to global warming treaties didn't take the threat of Kyoto seriously either. Surely Kyoto was just a fad, they thought, one that would fade away when people realized how improbable its basic premise really was.
However, Kyoto's opponents grossly underestimated the determination of environmental groups. While society's attention was focused on fighting terrorism and fixing the economy, Kyoto advoca-tes continued to recruit new supporters and developed surprisingly sophisticated communications strategies in preparation for the final push for ratification.
But Kyoto's ratification is only one battle in the war. To effectively block it from actually being imple-mented, the public and the media must come to understand how they have been manipulated by the treaty's supporters. As someone who has faced the slings and arrows of environmental extre-mists, I can assure those who have tried to win an easy Kyoto victory that no triumph in this affair will be accomplished without duress. But the loss of scientific objectivity and economic prosperity is far more serious than some uncomfortable moments in a press conference or TV interview.
Canadians needed courageous leaders in the ratification debate but, aside from a few brave MPs and a handful of others, we have been completely let down. We must demand that our leaders get back to basics -- does Kyoto work or doesn't it? I, for one, believe it does not and I am very willing to debate those who say otherwise. Is the government's point of view so weak it cannot withstand rational debate?
Dr. Tim Ball is an environmental consultant and for 32 years was a climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg.