Climate change moving in right direction.


It’s like a Chinese finger puzzle: the more you struggle to get out, the more you’re stuck in the trap. And that’s exactly what it’s like trying to puzzle through the right wing climate-change-denier traps set by the Courier’s “guest commentary” writer Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd last week.

To be clear, this Murgatroyd fellow actually has nothing to do with the Courier; he’s a stringer for Troy Media, a Western Canadian outfit that offers its right wing columns to weekly newspapers at no cost. In his column, “Desperation grips environmental industry” Murgatroyd takes aim at Al Gore, David Suzuki, George Monbiot and British PM Gordon Brown. The intent, if I read it correctly, was to connect these high profile men to the “bizarre rhetoric” he claims is being launched before the upcoming climate change talks in Copenhagen.

In his slap at Al Gore, the “champion warmist,” as his invective begins, Murgatroyd claims that Gore told a business forum in Dubai that sea levels will rise by 220 feet in ten years. In actual fact Gore was reported as saying 67 meters, which was translated into 220 feet.

But wait. Apparently Gore was misquoted by the Arab Internet services company Maktoob Business, the original news source. This was uncovered by the right wing American’s writer Marc Sheppard (who first ran a highly critical piece on Gore’s misreported statements). Sheppard concedes:

“Yesterday, I received such advice from Mr. Husain, who wrote to me in an email: ‘In the second quote, it should be 6-7 meters… not 67… It has been rectified on the website.’”

Husain clarifies further. The quote: ‘If the North Pole were to melt it could increase sea levels by 67 meters’ was replaced with: ‘Gore said if Greenland and West Antarctica, made up of massive ice sheets, were to melt it could increase sea levels by 6-7 meters … Greenland and West Antarctica are such massive amounts of ice each one of would lead to a six to seven meter increase in sea level if it were to melt. And both West Antarctica and Greenland are beginning to melt.’

Cleaning up just one misreported mess is tiring enough. So I won’t bother to deal with Murgatroyd’s slagging of Suzuki, Monbiot or Brown. But his voice is evidence of the quagmire of right wing sophistry spinning around climate change, peak oil, resource decline and environmental degradation on the Internet. Rather than talking about the potential impacts of these environmental challenges, these corporate shills do nothing but look for cracks in the messengers’ findings.

I find this reprehensible. And so do others.

Over the past two weeks I received two e-mails on the subject.

The first was from Liz Neve who wrote: “I want to express my thanks to Mr. McEachern for writing about the Courier's increased use of the opinion pieces from right wing think tanks based in Alberta. On the day his article appeared, there was another piece, from a third organization, Troy Media, on the same page, in which the author defends those who deny climate change—even though the enormous majority of science confirms the human impact on climate change and the importance of our needing to change the way we do things. Could it be that Troy Media is also funded by Alberta oil, as the other two Mr. McEachern discussed are?”

The other was from Donald Gutstein, a media prof at Simon Fraser University. Donald wrote: “I enjoyed your column on right-wing think tanks. You might find my book Not A Conspiracy Theory published last month, interesting in this regard.”
His cover blurb reads:

“In Not a Conspiracy Theory, Donald Gutstein skillfully documents one of the most important but least recognized political developments in the last thirty years: the prolongued propoganda campaigns mounted by business to influence our opinions on fundamental issues of social and political life. Think tanks with impressive names and populist sounding agendas—staffed credentialized researchers with well-honed reputations—churn out research that purports to be both independent and free of bias. But peel back the curtain and what do you find? Big business with its big bucks and anti-democratic agenda: maximizing and maintaining profits no matter what. Free of bias? Not even close.”

The climate deniers want us to believe that nothing is happening. And as I’m not a climate scientist, that may well be. But there are some scientists that I tend to trust. One of these is James Hansen, the scientist who successfully launched the global campaign to ban CFCs, which were destroying the protective ozone layer around the earth.

Hansen believes that figures that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is using for sea level rise this century—about 1.6 meters, tops—is too low. He warns that over 5 meters could be possible by 2095, as ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctic may be non-linear. The IPCC’s figures are based on a linear progression., contradicting the opinions of many right wing climate change deniers, reported the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration findings, stating: “The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for June 2009 was the second warmest on record, behind 2005, 1.12 degrees F (0.62 degree C) above the 20th century average of 59.9 degrees F (15.5 degrees C).”

And a month later the CBC reported that: “July was the warmest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping.”

Here’s the most troubling aspect of all this. The Internet is overrun with climate change critics, the vast majority of whom have no scientific grounding in the climate science at all. Murgatroyd, for example, is a psychologist. Great, he knows how to shape opinion. But do we trust his climate science?

The real climate scientists—and the politicians who should be listening to them—are a distinct minority on the Internet. And what they do publish is often too technical for the lay reader.

I would think these issues would merit attention at the highest political level. And indeed they have. Prime Minister Harper recently appointed Mark Mullins of the right wing Fraser Institute to the board of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which funds university research projects including studies on climate change, and appointed his good friend and climate denier John Weissenberger to the board of Canada Foundation for Innovation, which funds large research projects.

Now that’s moving in the right direction.


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