Ignoring the reality of climate change in Canada

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As one sweltering day melted into another this month, it occurred to me that perhaps climate change is a hoax.

How else to explain the way the media all but ignore the subject of climate change in the midst of extreme weather? Is it weird to think there could be a connection?

So I felt relieved last week when CBC TV's The National announced a report on this summer's "wicked weather." Finally, I felt sure I'd hear something raising the climate change question.

But the report focused on "storm chasers" -- people who follow tornadoes for a hobby. And it raised the question of whether the wild weather could affect our insurance rates. Not a word about whether the unusual heat, drought and storms could be a symptom of what we're doing to the planet.

One could easily conclude there's not much being said about climate change because it isn't a factor.

But there are a few snags with this theory.

First, virtually every accredited climate scientist in the world believes that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to it by burning fossil fuels. This scientific consensus has been repeatedly confirmed by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which since 1988 has been consulting with thousands of scientists around the world.

Of course, a scientist can be wrong. It could be merely a coincidence that so many of them are wrong and have remained consistently so for more than two decades.

Second, many of the small group of scientists who are skeptical have some financial connection to the fossil fuel lobby. This, too, could just be a coincidence.

Third, as noted, it's been very hot lately. That could certainly be a coincidence. But it turns out that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000.

Perhaps another coincidence. But these coincidences are starting to pile up -- like rolling snake eyes 10 times straight.

Even if we assume all the things suggesting the reality of climate change could just be a series of coincidences, wouldn't it be prudent to investigate the issue thoroughly and publicize the findings widely?

Yet the opposite is happening in Canada.

Ten years ago, climate change got considerably more attention.

Today, the subject seems to have lost its cachet with media managers, who apparently consider it too negative or tedious for audiences they feel obliged to entertain. Media commentators tend to ignore it or dismiss it, apparently afraid of looking too earnest or Earth-hugging, and therefore out of sync with our money-driven corporate culture.

Meanwhile, the premiers of Alberta and British Columbia are wrestling over how to divvy up the spoils of the oilsands and cover the costs of pipeline spills. Dazzled by the big bucks, neither premier seems concerned about how unlimited oilsands development may be frying the planet.

All this disinterest suits the Harper government, which does its best to subvert international action on climate change and to keep Canadians from knowing about the alarming scientific findings.

Scientists working for the federal government report they are being muzzled, prevented from commenting on their findings at conferences or in the media. The Harper government is also cutting back some of its basic science programs, including shutting down the four-decades-old, world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area project, which has, among other things, been studying climate change.

"They apparently don't like the information we're generating," ecologist Diane Orihel told the Real News Network, an alternative web-based broadcaster. She and 2,000 other scientists gathered on Parliament Hill earlier this month to protest what they see as a government attack on science and the abandonment of science in shaping government decisions. The media barely covered the event or the important issues it raises -- what with the Olympics approaching and all those storms to chase.

Of course, the government's lack of interest in tackling climate change might simply be explained by Stephen Harper's closeness to Big Oil, whose enormous wealth derives from burning fossil fuels.

Or that, too, could just be a coincidence.

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet and The Trouble With Billionaires. This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: syntaxerr0r/Flickr

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