Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Adjectives are not Arguments

OK, I complain about the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star on my blog a lot, but that is because those are the papers I read. It's worth keeping things in perspective by considering some of the other newspaper choices out there.

For example, Bill Strong has generously excerpted parts of an editorial (behind the subscriber wall) by Alan Ferguson for The Province.

You get some sense of what you're in for with the second paragraph,
"Last week, I ventured the heresy of questioning the doomsday scenario of climate alarmists who visualize a global meltdown under a blanket of man-made pollution."

Now if you strip out the exaggerations and adjectives, what is left?

"Last week I questioned whether global warming is real" Not only is the prose cleaner, it's much shorter!

Next paragraph,
"It's on the basis of an astonishing con-job pulled off by such people that Canada under the former Liberal government signed up to that toothless wonder known as the Kyoto Protocol."

Let me just note that there is no argument here, just an assertion supported by zero evidence.

Next paragraph,
"It is instructive to recall that former prime minister Jean Chretien backed this move - not on the basis of scientific evidence, of which there is none - but on "gut feeling."

(emphasis added)

So this is what we have here in Vancouver, one of our two major daily papers (both owned by the same company, of course) is claiming in its editorial pages, that there is no scientific evidence to support global warming. Seriously, what does somebody have to do to be reduced to zero credibility around here?

OK, next paragraph,
"Well, we can all stick our heads out the window and smell bad air in our major urban centres - but that's no reason to turn out the lights and go back to the dark ages."

This is a stern rebuttal to everyone advocating a return to the dark ages. I'd call it a straw-man, but straw has some substance, you know? And besides, what does the smell of the air in urban centres have to do with global warming?

"My column did elicit squawks of protest from correspondents whose red-faced rage at my effrontery did not conceal their inability to challenge my basic premise."

Talk about projection - is it just me or has this column been one big squawk, with no evidence to support the premise. And assuming the premise is that there is no scientific evidence supporting global warming, let me just link to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) website. I recommend following the link and then checking out a few reports and looking at the footnotes. Then reconsider the assertion that there is no scientific evidence.

"But for every one of them, I heard from 10 others who supported my assertion that, while global temperatures are increasing - ever so slightly - and while carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have never been higher, there is, in fact, no definitive body of evidence indisputably linking the two events."

Talk about weasel words. You can take a look at the various temperature reconstructions/projections here and judge for yourself whether the changes are best described as increasing 'ever-so-slightly'. This is always a good point to ask what the author would consider to be a 'definitive' body of evidence 'indisputably' linking the two events.

Given that we have a well-known and accepted theoretical mechanism for how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes increased temperature, that we have an empirical temperature record constructed using multiple approaches which all point to this conclusion and given that the overwhelming majority of world experts on the topic are in agreement, what, may I ask, is Ferguson waiting for? God himself (or herself) to send a messenger down with some stone tablets?

"Many of the people I heard from occupy senior positions in universities and research institutes across the country.

Their names are among the signatories on a famous letter to former prime minister Paul Martin, begging for more consultations before submitting to Kyoto"

Of course the lead signatory on that letter was Tim Ball, more info on Mr. Ball here. What's humourous of course is that Ball is known for claiming that the climate has been cooling since the 40's, based on the satellite record (see here). But, alas for Ball, it turns out that (interpretation of) the satellite record was wrong, and even Ferguson is now forced to admit that global temperature is increasing (although if he had written this column a few years ago, no doubt he would have denied that too).

Moving on,
"Their plea was ignored; their opponents, the climate alarmists, had the upper hand - and the mainstream media's uncritical attention.

Had the Liberals been re-elected, we would now be moving irrevocably into compliance with Kyoto - a process that leading economists warn could seriously weaken national prosperity."

If there's one thing I never get tired of, it's right-wing cranks, who could never get a column in a major paper if their nutty views were from the left rather than the right, using their soapbox to complain about how there is no room in the media for right-wing voices. Ah, to live in a world where cognitive dissonance has been banished.

As for weakening national prosperity, that's a whole other discussion, but let's just note for now that other countries have reduced their emissions without paying any noticeable economic price (England, for example).

"It's not entirely clear what Prime Minister Stephen Harper now intends to do about Kyoto, though before his election he was an outspoken critic. Some fear that climate alarmists lurking in the federal bureaucracy are trying to keep Kyoto alive."

'Climate alarmists lurking in the federal bureaucracy' I just imagine some alarmist bureaucrat (an oxymoron, no?) lurking in the bowels of parliament, just waiting to attack Harper as he rounds some corner and force him to 'keep Kyoto alive'. How does this stuff get published in supposedly respectable newspapers - it beats me.

"Crucially, however, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has said she won't support trading CO2 emissions credits.

Under the whacky UN-sponsored plan, countries can trade carbon credits to meet Kyoto obligations.

Cornelis van Kooten, a professor at the University of Victoria specializing in economics and climate change, says that Canada would have to buy international credits on a scale so large "it could threaten our balance of trade."

Even then it would "do nothing to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere" worldwide. "Certainly," van Kooten told me, "the Canadian government can find better things to do with our money than spending billions buying credits just to meet a target that does nothing."

The point is that people will only have credits to sell if they have reduced their emissions, so the assertion that trading of credits will do nothing to reduce CO2 is inaccurate, although it is true that countries which have reduced their emissions by accident (economic meltdown) will have credits to sell, at least at first. It is odd that the mechanism which was put into Kyoto to make it more flexible and more market oriented is the one that outrages supposedly right wing people the most.

I'd rather have Canada cut emissions within the country rather than buying credits myself. If Ferguson had just tried to stick to that premise or argued for imporvements to the emissions trading process, maybe he might have retained some credibility. But all the talk of lurking alarmists, the exaggerations about doomsday, meltdowns and con jobs, the misplaced paranoia about a media with no voice for skeptics, the denial of there being any scientific evidence supporting global warming, the inability to distinguish between global warming and air pollution, the endorsement of discredited climate change deniers and the general reliance on perjorative adjectives (like 'alarmist') and straw men rather than real arguments all adds up to one sad piece of work.

By comparison, the Star's over-the-top fearmongering about proportional representation looks like a logical masterpiece worthy of Kant.


  • You have a stonger stomach than I do. Congratulations for making it all the way through without resorting to swearing.

    "... not on the basis of scientific evidence, of which there is none ... "

    Effing lemmings.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 10:45 AM  

  • I've always thought that The Province exists only to give us better Canucks coverage than the Vancouver Sun does.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:01 PM  

  • No swearing from me Kevin - I have already demeaned the discourse enough!

    Philip - you may have a point there. Given that global warming is unlikely to directly affect the Canucks, I shouldn't be surprised that 'The Province' is not too concerned.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:48 PM  

  • I've too given up on reading the Tab 'wrap, except to get my daily dose of dilbert. Your cut and swath through Fergies baffle-gobble was worth a subscription tho!
    The right's magical smudging of science to postpone a battle plan does get pathetic at times. Lets not forget that Martin, tho supporting kyoto, produced little action in his short time. Harpo i feel is just biding his time with many of his far-out platforms until he gets a mandate to really screw the middle and lower class. The environment will take on the profile of Alberta's north country then, a big black pit to get rich off of (and die).
    I had an interesting one-to-one with Gerard Kennedy last week where I asked him about his priorities on the environment. He said that trading credits just doesn't cut it, that if our signature on kyoto is to mean something it will take true action by the gov't and all canadians. To reduce greenhouse gases and environmental poisons, Canadians must know through some financial cost, that their actions are shortening our lifespan. To clean up the air, those of us who choose to drive, and drive more, will have to pay for the privilege. I really thought his candour was refreshing, although until he throws his hat in the ring and says it publically -- and I believe he will on both accounts -- its just a conversation between a highly ambitious and respectful dude and a somewhat less ambitious and respectful dude. He's one to watch.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:51 PM  

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