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Questioning Climate Politics

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Issue: 44 Section: Environment Geography: Earth Topics: social movements, climate change

April 11, 2007

Questioning Climate Politics

Denis Rancourt says the “global warming myth” is part of the problem

by Dru Oja Jay

Processing centre at Alberta’s tar sands. Will large-scale destruction of ecosystems be stopped by solutions like carbon trading? cc 2.0 Photo: Michael Kalus

Denis G. Rancourt is a professor of physics and an environmental science researcher at the University of Ottawa. His scientific research has been concentrated in the areas of spectroscopic and diffraction measurement methods, magnetism, reactive environmental nanoparticles, aquatic sediments and nutrients, and boreal forest lakes. He also teaches a popular class about activism, which is currently under attack by the University of Ottawa Administration.

He has written a wide-ranging critique of the science and politics of climate science, which he published on his web site (activistteacher.blogspot.com). Here, the Dominion asks him about his extremely unconventional stand on the science and politics of climate change.

The Dominion has long published articles that accept the overwhelming international scientific consensus that climate change is a fact, and that human-generated carbon emissions play a significant role in that trend. The individual members of the Dominion’s editorial team that have looked at this interview still hold that view. But what we’ve realized in working on the following interview is that our understanding of climate change is based on what scientists tell us, not on knowledge that we can claim to possess. We’ve shown Rancourt’s comments to two scientists, including a climatologist who is an International Panel on Climate Change lead author; they viewed his scientific critique as lacking merit, and as such said they were not willing to engage in a spurious debate.

We are aware that a lot of time has been spent debating climate change, and it’s a fact that the doubt created by this debate has provided some leeway for many damaging activities to continue.

Rancourt’s critique challenges us to consider whether we need a reason like climate change to stop the massive damage being caused by extractive industries, the wildly inefficient and deadly dependence on cars, the wars fought and people killed for strategic control of resources, or the destruction of entire ecosystems. If the world was suddenly 100 per cent commmitted to stopping climate change, would those things stop? As it stands, few prominent climate activists are advancing an analysis of the economic system that lies behind the constant consumption of resources, leading to the humanitarian and environmental disasters described.

As for the science, the Dominion does not endorse Rancourt’s remarks (or any other opinions not expressly signed by our editors). But neither do we think that thought that goes against our common assumptions should be ignored. Ideally, the ensuing discussion will challenge our collective understanding of the science and politics of climate change, and possibly change our perspective. --The Editors

Dominion: You refer to a "myth of a global warming dominant threat," and argue that there are greater threats currently facing humanity. Why have you chosen to advance this argument now?

DGR: I don't argue that there are greater threats. I argue that there are great threats and that global warming is not a threat. I have been researching and writing this article for many years; ever since I decided to switch my teaching and research interests from physics to environmental science. The recent increased mainstream media promotion of the global warming paradigm confirms my hypothesis that this paradigm does not threaten the main financial powers that control the media and that it probably serves power. I therefore made a special effort during the 2006 Xmas break to find time to finish a pedagogical version of the article. After experiencing how editors wanted to censor parts that would frustrate their readers or that were not in line with their publication mandates, I decided to blog it–a very un-academic thing to do.

In your article, you say that the conclusions of a lot of scientists–probably thousands of them–are basically incorrect. How do you explain what you argue is a massive collective error?

Relatively few of the relevant scientific conclusions in individual scientific articles are incorrect because scientists are very careful in drawing conclusions and they qualify and describe the validity limits of the trends that may be contained in their data. What I explain is (1) that advisory boards such as the IPCC are political, consensus-driven, and overemphasize generalizations, and (2) that there is a cultural bandwagon effect in science where many environmental scientists who are not climate experts will accept global warming as a background premise that motivates their specialized studies (in ecology for example). To the layperson (such as Al Gore) reviewing the scientific literature, this can be incorrectly interpreted as a broad consensus among experts. In fact, there is much debate among true climate experts–that I illustrate with many examples and over one hundred references.

You say that global warming is overblown as a threat, and that it doesn't exist as a global trend. What does this mean, exactly? Does it mean that sea levels not continue to rise? Will arctic permafrost not continue to melt? Or are you just saying that there's nothing we can do about these things?

I argue that there is no reliable evidence that the global average Earth surface temperature has increased in recent decades. I argue this by making a critique of how such trends are extracted, inferred and extrapolated from incomplete and artifact-laden data. I explain melting glaciers and receding permafrost as more probably arising from radiative mechanisms, linked to particulate pollution, land use/cover changes, and solar variations, rather than global warming. And I argue that atmospheric CO2 does not control climate, but is at best a witness of global changes. These arguments are technical but I have tried to present them as simply and clearly as possible in the article.
More importantly, I argue that the real threat (the most destructive force on the planet) is power-driven financiers and profit-driven corporations and their cartels backed by military might and that you cannot control a monster by asking it not to shit as much. I argue that non-democratic control of the economy and institutionalized exploitation of the Third World (and all workers) must be confronted directly if we are to install sanity.

Do you think there is any relationship between these threats you name and what climate change activists are asking people to do in terms of reducing their consumption of fossil fuels? Isn't oil one of the main driving factors in the wars that you mention?

Yes I do. Asking people to respond by changing their consumer habits is asking people to turn their attention to their consumer habits. This contributes to siphoning their vision onto their lifestyle choices and removes psychological focus from the person's political dimension. I argue that it is counter productive to stress people's individual choices and that we must find ways to make more political and social justice activists and organizers. I don't care that you emit more CO2 by breathing when you chose a more active lifestyle but I appreciate that you are trying to be the most effective political activist possible and I honour the risk you must take in being an effective social justice activist.

Economic, human, and animal justice brings economic sustainability which in turn is always based on renewable practices. Recognizing the basic rights of native people automatically moderates resource extraction and preserves natural habitats. Not permitting imperialist wars and interventions automatically quenches nation-scale exploitation. True democratic control over monetary policy goes a long way in removing debt-based extortion.
We must not substitute the effect for the cause. All such substitutions can only weaken activism. Presently, power designs and controls the legislative apparatus, just as it constructs the mainstream mental environment. Only justice can give environmental sustainability and only resistance-imposed increased democratic control of land, resources, and the economy can give increased justice. These are lessons of history that no amount of atmospheric science can change.

Of course present imperialism and corporate globalization are based on oil and the associated cheap transportation. But asking governments and corporations to sign onto carbon footprint reduction schemes and to trade carbon credits is not going to change that.

A study from the University of Leeds predicted that habitat destruction caused by climate change could render up to a million species extinct. Are these kinds of predictions subject to the same critique you bring to climate science?

There are many such studies. Ecologists studying bio-diversity are not climate experts and establishing species extinction is a difficult exercise. These are tenuous theoretical scenarios based on hypothetical changes. Natural animal and plant life are threatened by habitat destruction. The way to stop destroying habitat is to stop destroying habitat. Local ownership and control by inhabitants does wonders in this direction, compared to profit-driven corporate exploitation installed by national debt coercion. These are the same corporations that fund Kyoto lobby groups to promote carbon credits and windmills-for-oil schemes.

Weather changes have great impacts on artificially delimited micro-habitats whereas ecosystems have remarkable robustness if migration into neighbouring environments is not inhibited. For example, North America was regularly swept with massive forest fires before continental forest management was implemented and this did not cause species extinction but clear cutting and economic reforestation does reduce bio-diversity.

I argue that the "myth of a global warming dominant threat" serves to sanitize the debate and to turn our attention away from the undressed confrontation that must eventually occur between people and the hydra that exploit people if we care about life and justice. These confrontations are occurring in many parts of the world, while First Worlders debate Kyoto implementation strategies and nurture the illusion that corporations can be cajoled to be good corporate citizens. That is why more and more of my work involves activism.

But the goals of reducing consumption of fossil fuels would seem to be compatible with acting against exploitation and destruction, even if they aren't the same thing. What makes you want to confront the basis for it, and directly undermine it?

Truth and strong commitment to justice are a valid basis for a social movement, not compatible goals. Global warming or atmospheric planetary science is in its early developmental stages, with powerful computers, high-resolution field measurements, and satellite probing having just entered the scene, and at present at best provides tenuous suggestions. I have watched scientists study environmental degradation rather than denounce its most virulent forms for decades. In the 70s an army of government and university scientists tried to detect the relatively subtle effects of acid rain while deforestation, agriculture, mineral and energy extraction, over-fishing, and an exploding cottage industry transformed the boreal forest and its lakes. Most of the research had to be concentrated in a few pristine areas in national parks so that the subtle effects could be studied…

In pedagogy, one learns that the only way to get a student to accept a new paradigm is to enter into authentic discourse and to confront the student's views that are incompatible with the more broadly based model. We are all both teachers and students.

We need to stop listening to scientists, who for societal reasons usually serve and at best do not threaten power, and start seeing what is obvious to inhabitants of the Third World: Finance-driven exploitation destroys and kills. Let us stop trying to manage the planet, stop believing that consumer choices could fix or even improve things in the present corporate marketing regime, and start thinking about how to correctly identify and effectively challenge the instruments of exploitation. The main relevant personal decision is how much risk one is prepared to take, not whether the coffee has a Fair Trade label. Life is risk. Let's join the living.

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climate politics

touchstone victoria BC

fascinating, though I can't advance expert discussion of climate change, I agree with Denis Rancourt that the new political frame for managing climate factors amounts to a PR initiative intended to distract the public from the need for immediate action to contain and reduce our entire anthropogenic footprint.

In BC, we have great experience with the political utility of scientific distraction by intensely managing species just as they approach extinction. Examples are: Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, Vancouver Island Marmot, Orcas, Wild Salmon, Coastal Wolf, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Caribou etc etc. These species are threatened and rapidly sliding into extinction simply because the remaining original forests are being converted into impoverished industrial even-age monocultural plantations that are incompatible with the survival of these and many other species.

Forensic research on endangered species is a macabre undertaking and though it may provide some value, it does not help a species to be studied to death when stopping logging is what would keep it alive.

The biggest problem with climate change as a political cause célèbre is that it militates for containing climate factors without containing industrial development and without condemning our cultural conviction that growth of our industrial footprint is a public benefit that can and should be traded for every other good.

Climate change may become the biggest problem that our species will face, but is this evidenced in the recent weather, or is it evidenced our long track record of simplying, exploiting and ruining the whole world just outside our doors?


Excellent Example of Human Activity leading to Glacial melt.

But Nothing to Do with Atmospheric concentration of C02....why not just stop melting the glacier!?!?

Revenge of the 'Wild Roses'

By Arshad H Abbasi

The present debate is not over the war or ceasefire on the longest glacier known as 'Wild Roses" in the local language but on the concern over the melting of the Siachen Glacier , Known as the world's longest glacier in the non-polar regions, its melting process has now been bracketed amongst the fastest in the world. Its retreat is evident from the snout (base of the glacier) and through the continuous thinning of ice along its entire length.

The Siachen, along with several other major tributary glaciers, reduced its volume by 35 per cent during the last twenty years, retreating at the rate of 110 meter per year. Hydrological analyses too are substantiating this glacier melt. A study on temperature trends of high altitude stations in this region shows temperature is increasing at the rate of 0.20 degrees centigrade annually. The extraordinary melting of Siachen and other major tributary glaciers is caused by human activity, and is not due to natural changes. It has not only led to formations of glacial lakes and snow hole, but is responsible for destructive snow avalanches on both side of Saltoro ridge.

The problem is being caused by the establishment of permanent cantonments on either side of the Saltoro ridge, the daily heavy air traffic to advance camps (up to Indra Col post), the cutting and melting of glacial ice through the application of chemical, daily dumping of more than a ton of chemicals, metals, organic and human waste, daily leakages from 2000 gallons of kerosene oil from 250 km plastic pipeline laid by India throughout the glacier. The unprecedented increase in the flow of the Nubra River, emerging from the Siachen Glaciers further supports the melting process. More so, as the yearly swelling of this river is now destroying carefully constructed bridges and infrastructure along its course. Would this be ' Siachen's Revenge" against the massive human intervention into its natural ecology?

Two decades of military activities, with daily jet flights carrying men and material into the world's highest military airport 'Thoise", at the foot of the Siachen, hourly helicopter flights, facilitated by "Sonam" helipad on the glacier at 21000 ft, provide service to the highest camp site at Base Indra. At this height, the fuel efficiency and load-carrying capacity of a helicopter is reduced to 30 per cent. Its proficiency in disturbing freshly accumulate snow is undoubtedly outstanding, while simultaneously contributing to thinning the ice. Surely clear evidence of human-influenced warming the world's largest glacier, which will have serious long-term repercussion on the water resources with climatic changes at regional and global level.

Joined in this process of rapid ice melting, is the mountain-engineering feat completed in 1986, which laid an all weather road, purely as support-line to the military activities in the Siachen. With its final destination the Nubra Valley, routed from Delhi-Manali-Leh, it requires crossing the highest passes in the world, including the 5.300 meters high Tanglang La Pass.

A death sentence seems to be hanging over this region. The constant movement of heavy military vehicles, which in turn are dependent on ancillary support along its way, are further endangering the ecology of the known 6500 glaciers in this Himalayan regions, particularly Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal state and Ladakh. This is further authenticated by a strong correlation between the melting of Siachen and other Himalayan glaciers like Meola, Gangotri which are already retreating at the rate of more than 30 meters per year.

Siachen and other Himalayan glacier contributed 24 per cent to sea level rise since last 20 years, as reported by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in 2005. On the other hand the western glaciers of Pakistan have remained stable as studies conducted by Italians and the University of Newcastle UK in December 2005, published in the "Annals of Glaciology" duly endorsed. As these glaciers are still safe from human transgression and devilry enacted on Siachen, global warming needs to be re-assessed in this context.

In 2005, the WWF indicated and warned that the Himalayan glaciers, which regulate the water supply to the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Thanlwin, Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers, are believed to be retreating at a rate of about 10-15m (33-49ft) each year. Policy makers and scientists of the subcontinent attributed this unprecedented proof to climatic changes or global warming. Over the past many years though, much publicity has been given and concern expressed over the high level of carbon emission in China and India. Global outcry however continuous to ignore the danger signals emitting from the melting glaciers in the Himalayas. Astonishingly, India ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in 1996, to preserve the pristine nature of this remote continent, but ignores to protect the Himalayan glaciers. An ADB study reveals that a one-meter sea level rise will displace approximately 7.1 million people in India and the economic impact of climate change on a city like Mumbai could be as high as US $48 billion alone. It was also predicted that cyclones in the Bay of Bengal will increase, while during the post monsoon season, fierce winds will become a regular feature.

Cropping patterns will need to be adapted and water-saving techniques and flood controls introduced, while municipal sewage systems will require redesigning. Other studies anticipate that between 2 to 16 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of South Asian countries will be lost every year due to natural disasters.

It is universally accepted, that the Himalayan Glaciers are not only the 'source of the rivers' and 'ecological source' for China and South-Asia, but also the 'starter' and 'regulating area' for climate control of the Eastern Hemisphere. Himalayan glaciers are the headwater of rivers that feed half of humanity. Asia is significantly affected by the height and extent of the Himalayan mountains as it plays a major role in controlling the climatic system of the region.

In turn, it also affects the global climate change. The glaciers within the Himalayas act as the controlling body of the regional atmospheric circulation and splits the upper westerly winds in winter into northern and southern branches. No-doubt, the glacial changes were recorded during the past century. However in the past 40 years or so, glaciers have shrunk more than 6606 kilometres in the entire region. The greatest retreat became noticeable since the mid 1980s. This indicates that Siachen intervention is already playing havoc with the climate of the South-Asia region.

The melting of Siachen and other glaciers is now significantly contributing to the rising of the oceans. Post-Tsunami research reports concluded that one of the causes that triggered the Indonesian tsunami is the ever-rising sea level. It increases pressure on the earth's crust, causing extreme geological disturbances. Serious alarm bells are raised by American scientists, who warned that Katrina and Rita were the result of pressure on the earth's crust and thus the increase in the rising sea levels. Siachen, still a bone of contention between two countries, needs to be adopted by the world community. With the life of 400million people living within 20 kilometres of the coastlines, the Himalayan glaciers and Siachen need to declared as a global heritage to save them from melting.

writer can be contacted at ahabasi@gmail.com

power, politics and global climate chaos

Finally, someone has the balls to identify the real culprits in the big smoke and mirrors game called global warming politics--the big, international corporations and their minions. They, and our dear governments, have known for at least 20 years that the capitalist system they love is destroying the environment on which it feeds. Talk about unsustainability!
Taking on these forces does indeed take not just balls but civic courage, vision and rage. Lots of it. I applaud all those who're doing more than simply recyclling their garbage. I live on the west coast of Canada where there seems to be an abundance of green space and a lot of very worried people diligently recycling.
What we don't have is a coherent vision of the appalling dangers that our capitalist masters are foisting on us. How about recycling the so called elites that have gotten us into this mess?
When I look at he smug countenance of the people who claim to come in the name of saving our earth, I get that quesy feeling.
Good for Rancourt; I applaud him for taking this discussion where it belongs: into the political realm.

Thank you for addressing

Thank you for addressing global warming and climate changes on this blog! I think it is time for us to do something for our nature. In simple acts like planting a tree, we can save our mother earth. Arbor Day is upon us, and we are all encouraged to do something for the arborous plants that cohabitate our space with us. Arbor Day, the holiday for trees, is the day we are all encouraged to plant a tree. It has endorsements from the environmentalists, botanists the globe over, and celebrities ranging from John Denver to Ted Nugent. (Uncle Ted is quite the conservationist, actually.) It's worth getting cash advance loans to plant one, as trees not only are good for the environment, but are splendid aesthetically and add property value to your home. Think of it as giving installment loans to the earth, if you plant a tree on Arbor Day.


Mother nature is pretty mad at the way we've been treating her, and I'm so glad to finally find someone admit that there's a problem in how we're dealing with things. The first step is admitting our faults! Going organic, conserving energy, and recycling everything you can are ways to contribute in making mother nature happy again. Little changes goes a long way, especially if we can get everyone to participate.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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