By Dave Wilkin
I have written previously on energy and climate change, including thoughts on how Canada could help with a responsible transition to a more diverse, lower carbon, sustainable energy future. So a recently published study by a group called the Alliance of World Scientists caught my eye. Their report, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, was published in BioScience, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and quickly picked up by most of the mainstream media, some featuring catchy headlines like this one from CNN: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’ caused by climate change. Or this one in The Guardian: Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’.
So, what new important insights did this scientific report contain? First, I checked out some of the scientists who had signed it, expecting to see many top climatologists and atmospheric researchers. Surprisingly, the list appeared to be a collection of ecologists, biologists, social scientists, physiologists, doctors, therapists, students, professors, activists and maybe some real climate scientists. The day after its release, someone noticed that Mickey Mouse and Hogwart’s Headmaster Albus Dumbledore were on the list too. The list quickly disappeared, sighting “administrative errors”, before reappearing, slightly cleaned up. Turns out anyone simply clicking on their web page and filling out a few fields and submitting it made the list of “signatory scientists”, pranksters included. Point made.
Further, a quick look at the “scientist” representation from the “153 countries”, reveals the vast majority (>90 per cent) are from the US, Europe or Canada. I saw maybe a hundred from India, a dozen or so from China, and a small number from Russia and Africa.
The conclusions and key messages, contained in the report? — “Economic and population growth are among the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.”; “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.” — Obvious, but no new science there.
What actions and solutions were proposed? — “Excessive extraction of materials … driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed.”; “The world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced”; “implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables..”. — Pretty extreme stuff, but few thoughts on how.
This is an opinion piece masquerading as a scientific report. None of the mainstream media bothered to fact-check the 11,000 “scientists” signing claim, question or challenge anything in the piece. It obviously fit their profile of what grabs people’s attention.
One obvious question, given such drastic proposed actions is: at what costs/impacts to people? The message I think developing countries get from pieces like this: Sorry that we in the wealthy countries (20 per cent of the world’s population) have used up the earth’s CO2 atmospheric capacity, but to save our planet now, we all must curtail economic growth and reduce our population. But don’t worry (you 80 per cent in economically deprived/energy poor countries), we are here to help you. Little wonder so few people from developing countries (let alone climate scientists) “signed” it.
Scaring people as the mainstream media often does on climate change, has unintended consequences too. One example: A growing number of young families are going “childfree”, fearing their children would suffer horribly in a world on the brink of climate catastrophes and extinction.
Pushing opinion pieces masquerading as scientific consensus reports diminishes the mainstream media’s credibility and undermines the broader climate change movement.
Correction: The final sentence in the fourth paragraph of this commentary has been updated to include the word ‘new’, and now reads “Obvious, but no new science there.”
Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer who lives in Huntsville. He is an electrical engineer with a career spanning 35 years in IT, banking and consulting.
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