Russil Wvong / History, politics, and the future / Global warming

Global warming: the one-page version

E-mail to Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment
Cc: Stephen Harper, Prime Minister
Cc: Tom Flanagan, University of Calgary
Cc: Barry Cooper, University of Calgary

Subject: Friends of Science argument against global warming

Dear Ms. Ambrose,

I feel a bit foolish writing this e-mail to you, since no doubt you and your staff have already heard all the arguments about the urgency of global warming. Nevertheless, after reading the recent Globe and Mail article on Dr. Tim Ball and the Friends of Science, in which Albert Jacobs crows about having helped to convince you to take a "lip service" approach to controlling carbon dioxide emissions, and your June speech on Clean Air Day, I thought I should at least make an attempt to lay out what might be called the "alarmist" case.

1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere acts like a greenhouse, trapping heat. Without CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the planet would be much colder than it is. This is uncontroversial.

2. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing steadily. The following graph, from Spencer Weart's The Scientific Discovery of Global Warming, shows measurements of atmospheric CO2 taken monthly between 1958 and 2004.

3. The following graph shows measurements of atmospheric CO2 and temperature, retrieved from the Vostok ice core in the Antarctic. It shows that atmospheric CO2 is higher than at any previous time in the last 400,000 years, a period which includes numerous ice ages. (The oldest fossil evidence for anatomically modern humans is about 130,000 years old; settled civilization based on agriculture is no more than 10,000 years old.) It's never been higher than about 300 parts per million during this period; it's now at 370 ppm and rising.

I really don't understand how groups like the Friends of Science can look at these graphs and say that they don't think there's a problem. What's especially alarming is that the level of CO2 is rising so rapidly. Maybe the Friends of Science could argue that 370 ppm wouldn't be so high as to cause problems, but what about when it gets to 600 ppm? 1200 ppm? Rising sea levels get the most attention, but the effect on Canada's farmland is potentially an even bigger concern. Here in BC, global warming is already causing problems for the forest industry, because winters are no longer cold enough to kill the pine beetle.

I also don't understand the argument that even if there's a problem, we'll just have to see what happens, because it'd be too hard--economically and politically--to do anything about it. Why would it be so hard? The goal isn't to reverse global warming, it's just to slow it down to a rate at which we can adapt. The EU countries are on track to stabilize their CO2 emissions, using the same kind of cap-and-trade system that the US used to reduce its sulfur dioxide emissions. In Canada, the Montreal Climate Exchange, which would provide a market for large-scale trading of CO2 emissions, is currently waiting for federal policy to be set.

Politically, it appears that Canadian business is on board: the heads of Alcan, Shell Canada, and other major Canadian companies called for urgent action to stabilize greenhouse gases in a November 2005 letter.

Would CO2-intensive businesses just migrate to China, India, and other developing countries? This didn't happen with CFC production, and it seems unlikely to happen as long as these other countries accept the seriousness of the problem. In June 2005, the national science academies of Brazil, China, and India, and the G8 countries issued a joint statement on the seriousness of climate change and the need to take action now. If anything, China and India are more vulnerable to climate change than most countries, since they have large coastal populations and ongoing problems with flood control.

In your Clean Air Day speech, you talked about pursuing new agreements such as the Asia Pacific Partnership. That sounds great, but we shouldn't wait for a new agreement to be negotiated--which could take years--before making a serious attempt to stabilize and then reduce Canada's CO2 emissions, as the EU countries are doing. I sincerely hope that the forthcoming Clean Air Act will do more than provide lip service.

Best regards,

Russil Wvong
Vancouver, Canada

$Date: 2006/08/29 02:34:42 $