10/05/2002

Kyoto Sucks but This Sucks Harder


There's nothing I hate more than a boneheaded move by the home team.

An Alberta medical officer of health says he has been fired because of his public support of the Kyoto Protocol, a dismissal he and the province's Liberals condemn as political meddling.

David Swann, a public-health officer in southeastern Alberta, was fired on Wednesday by the board of directors of the Palliser Health Region.


A stupid, stupid, stupid thing to do. Censorship is wrong in principle but it also makes a really bad impression in practice. Don't silence your opposition, refute them. You wouldn't think that such a basic tenet would need to be repeated so often. All the Board has done is discredited themselves and created a Kyoto/free speech martyr. That's a lose/lose/lose/lose/lose outcome. Reinstate the guy, apologize for being boneheads, and then make your case if you can.

I've been scrambling to keep up with the news let alone comment on it... In order to overcome that 'who goes first' logjam - that's the one where four or five people do stutter steps and false starts at the elevator door for 20 seconds and then jamb the door simultaneously - I'm just going to start posting about the first thing that occurs to me and hope to catch up the rest later...

I got an email from Rick Glasel about the Kyoto Protocol. Rick is, if such a thing is possible, even more adamantly opposed to the thing than Ralph Klein.
I think Rex Murphy's 9/28 column in the Globe should be read by and to every Canadian. He is bang on, the Kyoto debate has absolutely nothing to do with science.

Here's the facts as I see them:

1. There is indeed some evidence, but no conclusive proof, that the planet, or at least a good portion of it, has experienced a general, but not continuous, trend towards statistically significant, but not dramatically so, higher average temperatures since the Seventies. There definitely isn't enough evidence to support any trend going back more than 30 years. It is not possible today, and it certainly wasn't possible thirty years ago, to calculate the total heat energy on earth with less than a 1% margin of error. A 3 degree Celsius temperature change is about a 1% change in degrees Kelvin. Those who beat the drum for Kyoto claim a warming trend of 0.2 to 0.3 degrees per decade. Temperatures close to the earth's surface appear to be affected by ocean temperatures, temperatures in the troposphere, microscopic dust particles in the atmosphere at all kinds of altitudes, and a number of other factors that we simply cannot measure all over the world all of the time. Even if we could measure them, we don't know enough to accurately predict their effect on weather. Climate is just weather viewed at a macro level. When was the last time Environment Canada consistently forecasted weather with 99% or better accuracy? Climate change that can cause the extinction of numerous species (never mind killing 16,000 clothed Canadians a year), or raise ocean levels enough to make New York or Tokyo unhabitable, probably has to
occur over hundreds or even thousands of years, although we don't even know that for sure. I'm pretty sure that less dramatic repercussions from global warming can be adapted to by humans and other living creatures.

2. Natural events have a bigger impact on climate than the rate of change in carbon dioxide emissions from industries in the northern hemisphere, which is all that the Kyoto Accord is concerned with. When Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991, fine particles of volcanic ash stayed in the atmosphere for years, and there were claims that the eruption temporarily cooled the earth by as much as 1.0 degree Celsius. Surely the deforestation in Northern Africa and encroachment of the Sahara Desert (which may have begun two thousand years ago, or more), and the cutting down of forests in Europe and Asia over the last thousand years would have
led to climate change on a scale equal to what has been claimed for the last 30 years, and in fact the northern hemisphere experienced climatic cooling from about 1400 AD to about 1900 AD that was far more dramatic than the current perceived warming. But no one is blaming our ancestors for almost starting another ice age. As much as human beings would like to believe that they can alter the planet on a grand scale, human engineering is no match for natural forces. Does anyone believe we can eliminate
tornados or hurricanes by slowing down the rate of increase in greenhouse gases? How are we then going to alter the overall temperature of the globe? After all, Kyoto is based on the idea that if we reduce current and future emissions, then the overall percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere will eventually (in 50 years from now, or longer) stabilize. Even if we could somehow make CO2 levels stabilize, how can we make sure that the world doesn't get warmer for some other reason? It takes a special kind of
hubris to believe that global warming on a catastrophic scale is only happening because we make electricity by burning hydrocarbons instead of using hydro dams or because Canadians like to keep their homes warm in January. It also takes a lot of chutzpah to believe that a gaggle of politicians can put an end to climate change, when Mother Nature has been making climates change since the beginning of time.

3. You can only consciously control an enormously complex system through minute tinkering with only one variable if and only if you have a complete understanding of every aspect of the system. Even then, your perfect knowledge might only result in the realization that no matter how much you change that one variable, the system is going to produce different results than you wanted, anyway. That is why Kyoto will never produce the desired result. You don't have to argue that global warming isn't occurring, and you don't have to argue that increased CO2 levels haven't caused global warming, and you don't have to argue that life as we know it won't end
because global temperatures increase 3 degrees in fifty years, to know beyond a doubt that the Kyoto Accord is wrong. And you have to know beyond a doubt that implementing the Kyoto Accord has an economic cost, because if there were perceptible economic benefits to implementing it, the accord wouldn't have to be legislated into existence. Anyone who believes in the Kyoto Accord believes that they know how to run our lives better than we do ourselves. Legislating Kyoto isn't the end of life in the free world; the
world will find a way to ignore it, or make the global economy work in spite of the Kyoto Accord; but why go through all that grief if we don't have to?

Sorry about the long essay, Lawrence, but I get so choked up about this, I can't stand it. What I have put down here is available to anyone with high school physics, an Encyclopaedia Britannica, daily delivery of a newspaper, and a willingness to think it through. I feel better already.

No need to apologize, Rick, I quite enjoyed it. Besides it gives me the opportunity to point out a view good news links that I've seen recently; like this one about new polls in Alberta that show 72% of Albertans opposed to Kyoto, and this one about the apparent dissension within the Liberal government on meaningful Kyoto numbers. Chretien attempted to present Kyoto as a fait accompli but public opinion is swinging against it and the Liberal caucus is showing some signs of independence. I'd never call myself an optimist but I don't think that Kyoto is a done deal just yet.

P.S.

10/01/2002

Mark Wickens has been all up and down that "16,000 deaths" figure as presented by the Toronto Star. He even managed to get a correction notice out of the Star - good for Mark and good for all of us. I'm so cheered up by his success that I've decided to go ahead and post a bit of number-crunching I did the other day when this figure was first tossed out.

According to the OMA, "about 1900 deaths" occurred in Ontario in 2001 as a result of air pollution (let's ignore the fact that air pollution and greenhouse gases are different animals for the moment). So if 1,900 deaths occurred in Ontario, the industrial heartland of Canada, where did the other 14,100 deaths occur? Ontario accounts for only 12% of the alleged pollution deaths even though Ontario has 38% of the population of the entire country and the overwhelming majority of that population lives in the very belly of the smog-belching beast - industrial southern Ontario. I guess they must be dropping like flies in Vancouver and Montreal because Toronto, Hamilton, Sudbury and Oshawa are apparently safe-havens as far as environmentally-induced mortality is concerned. The OMA states that 88% of the deaths (14,100 deaths annually) are occurring outside of Ontario among 62% of the population. Your odds of biting it from smog in Ontario in any given year are .000016 but your odds outside of Ontario leap up to .000073. According to the OMA's figures, you are 4.5 times more likely to be killed by the environment in Brandon, Manitoba than by the environment in Windsor, Ontario.

Of course, I'm being a smartass. It's only folks like David Suzuki and the Toronto Star who present statements like that last one as if they expected you to believe it.

9/30/2002

I've been really disappointed with the media's non-reaction to the story about electoral commissions and the Speaker of the House that I was ranting about last week. I guess that it is judged to be too esoteric or too procedural to interest the average reader. Thank heavens for the Hill Times. They have printed an editorial this week that, while it isn't as hysterical as I'd make it, is at least addressing the issue.
We encourage MPs to continue to publicly discuss their concerns about the process because this is, as Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said, "one of the pillars of our Parliamentary democracies," and these commissions are supposed to be independent bodies.

But MPs should not be personally interfering in picking members of the commissions. The commissions are supposed to be independent. Mr. Kingsley told the conference for chairs, members, secretaries of federal electoral Boundaries Commissions in 2002 in Ottawa that: "In 1964, Parliament decided to make independent commissions, one for each province, responsible for readjusting electoral boundaries. Your independence as a commission is a fundamental element of the readjustment process. It is one other element that sets Canada apart as a world leader in electoral democracy.

"Moreover, the fact that the act prohibits any Senator, any Member of Parliament or any member of a territorial or provincial legislative assembly or council from being part of a commission illustrates this firm intention to shield the process from undue political interference."

Some opposition MPs are alleging the opposite is happening. If the process is flawed, MPs from all parties should band together and make their arguments clear and strong. Otherwise, it looks like they're just fighting to protect their own political fiefdoms.
The point is well made. The only people who seem to be making any noise on this thing are those who are apparently getting the short end of the stick. I'd like to see the principle of independance defended on a purely abstract basis but, if we can't have that, then self-interest is better than no interest.
Is there a connection between the cancelled Sea King helicoptors of 1993 and the used submarines that we got shafted on? Scott Taylor says yes...
Taylor said he believes Canada was pressured into buying the four Victoria-class submarines after it cancelled its 1993 contract with Britain for high-tech military helicopters to replace its aging Sea Kings.

The helicopters became an election issue in Canada in 1993, as the then-opposition Liberals criticized the proposed new choppers’ hefty price tags. After he was elected prime minister, Jean Chretien scrapped the deal. Taylor said sources told him immediately afterwards that Canada would be buying the submarines as an unofficial compensation for breaking the deal.

Canada was on the hook for $500 million after it cancelled the helicopter deal.

“It was never the choice of the Canadian navy to buy these (subs),” he said. He said there were other, better options, such as vessels being offered by Australia, but the political pressure swayed the decision.
I'd love to see some confirmation of this. If it's true then there is a much larger price tag than we first thought to that cynical and indefensible cancellation of 1993.