Open letter to Peter Harms re oped of December 16:
After reading Harms’ article on climate change, I feel compelled to reply.
His comments regarding the Climategate scandal are typical of the way the scandal is being used to deny the reality of climate change.
I urge Harms and other readers to read the e-mails that were sent, in their context, and they will discover that, for example, the word “trick” was used to discuss how to compare conflicting data from tree growth rings and thermometers.
Comments taken out of context can be used to misrepresent as easily as any set of data.
The bottom line reality of our climate is that:
Â¥ Global surface air temperatures are up 1.5 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years, half of that increase coming in the last 10 years
Â¥ Sea level has increased 57 millimetres since 1993.
Â¥ Arctic sea ice has decreased 34 per cent.
Â¥ Climactic CO2 levels are at 388 ppm, higher than at any time in 650,000 years.
Â¥ The Greenland ice sheet lost between 150 and 250 cubic kilometres of ice between 2002 and 2006.
It is true that the Earth’s climate is, on a geologic scale, far from stable. Nobody argues that point.
It is also true that humans have inhabited this Earth during a remarkable period of climactic calm, and that past climactic oscillations have had a profound effect on the species present at the time.
We happen to be one of those species at this time.
It is in our own self interest as a species to mitigate our effect on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
Canadians are currently pumping in excess of 19 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year.
It may be true that climactic CO2 levels are increasing as part of some natural oscillation. But, if so, it is simultaneously undeniable that humans are at the least making a dramatic contribution to this increase.
I could argue each one of the points Harms has brought up in his effort to deny climate change, but for the sake of brevity I will restrict myself to three.
Yes, Amundsen completed the first navigation of the Northwest Passage by Europeans in 1905.
What you neglect to mention, Harms, is that Amundsen began his voyage in 1903, overwintering twice en route.
Furthermore, he completed the voyage in the Gjoa, a 47-ton cutter, 72 feet long and 11 feet wide, that was aided by an auxiliary gas engine.
One could easily argue that the Northwest Passage (by a more northerly route) was completed thousands of years earlier by the paleo-Inuit people (both the Thule and prior civilizations) in their umiaks.
None of these voyages however compare to the ice conditions necessary for the use of the Northwest Passage by a modern vessel of commercial size in a commercially viable time period.
What is more to the point is the voyage of the American tanker the Manhattan through the passage in 1969.
Though the Manhattan was successful, ice conditions proved that the route was not yet economically viable.
However, on August 21, 2007, the passage became ice free to the extent that it was open to vessels without the aid of an icebreaker. This is significant.
Yes, grapes grew in Scotland around 800 AD. However, it is the Gulf Stream that warms the climate of Scotland (and western Europe).
The Gulf Stream is, by many, predicted to falter and possibly fail with climate change, actually causing colder temperatures in western Europe.
This is an excellent example of why most people now refer to this issue as “climate change” not “global warming.” While on average the globe is warming, this is not necessarily true in any specific location on the planet.
If I lived in the Highlands of Scotland, I would be preparing for colder winters, not warmer.
Yes, the Vikings made a trip to Newfoundland. There is also evidence that the Vikings may have made it as far north as 79 degrees.
However, neither of these facts point at a past warmer climate.
Ice conditions in any given area of the Arctic change dramatically and unpredictably from day to day, never mind year to year.
Any person who has firsthand experience of trying to navigate through pack ice can attest to this.
In 1881, Adolphus Greely, aboard the Proteus, managed to navigate to the site of Fort Conger at a latitude of approximately 81 degrees.
However, due to ice conditions, relief missions were unable to repeat the feat in both 1882 and 1883 forcing the evacuation of Fort Conger.
This is the reality of travel in pack ice.
What is important in terms of climate change is not the ice conditions at any one place and time, but rather the overall trend of ice cover Ã which is rapidly, globally decreasing.
Harms, you cite several local examples of evidence of a changing global climate over the past 2 million years.
What you fail to mention is the fact previous climatic changes have been accompanied by changing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, but that none of the previous changes in CO2 levels occurred with the speed of the current change.
Let me cite some more immediate examples of climate change that I have witnessed with my own eyes over the past 10 years.
The Greenland ice cap is falling apart at an alarming rate.
Thousands of square kilometres of ice are disappearing, having a huge impact on indigenous populations of all species (including humans).
On northern Ellesmere island, plants are now flowering and going to seed approximately two weeks earlier than they were 20 years ago. This is very significant, given the fact that their active season is approximately two to three months long.
Tundra ponds are disappearing at an alarming rate and investigation of the sediments at the bottom of these ponds show that they have existed for 10,000 years Ã since the last ice age.
Polar bear behaviour patterns are changing significantly as they struggle to find enough to eat in a world with less sea ice.
Northern communities worldwide, such as Canada’s Grise Fiord, are facing serious infrastructure challenges as the ground they sit on changes under their feet.
Harms, to deny climate change in this day and age puts you in the same camp as those who still deny the link between HIV and Aids, or tobacco and lung cancer.
Instead, we must move forward and tackle the pressing issues that have presented themselves:
What can we as individuals and as a country do to mitigate our effect on climate change?
How can we best prepare for the climactic changes that are now inevitable and upon us?
What are our legal and moral responsibilities as members of the world’s elite few that produce the majority of carbon per capita?
We must take our heads out of the sand. We must admit the lifestyles we have become accustomed to over the last 50 years (as supported by a carbon-based economy) are unsustainable and morally indefensible.
It behoves us to work toward finding and implementing solutions that work in the long run for all Canadians, and indeed all world citizens.
And by the way, I didn’t stress over Y2K, contract SARS or get a flu shot this year (or any other).