Climate change letters to editors

Andrea Simms-Karp in black and white

A lot of dumb things get printed about climate change in newspapers and on serious websites. People put forward dubious arguments on why it isn’t happening, isn’t caused by people, or isn’t a problem. They misrepresent policies like carbon taxes, which could play an important role in mitigating it. They make dubious moral arguments, such as saying that having emitted greenhouse gasses in the past gives you the right to do so in the future.

In order to help counter this, and advance the resistance agenda, I encourage readers to submit letters to the editors of publications that print such claims. Please include any that you write as comments here, with links to the original article and any situations in which your letters actually get published. Having a bunch in one place could serve as a useful archive of pithy rejoinders to common climate change fallacies and misrepresentations.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

80 thoughts on “Climate change letters to editors”

  1. While it is true that emissions from oil sands mining and upgrading are smaller than the emissions that ultimately result from burning the fuels produced, this does not make exploiting the oil sands environmentally acceptable (“Oilsands emissions not so bad, says study,” 18 June 2009). The amount of climate change the world will experience depends on the total quantity of greenhouse gasses humans put into the atmosphere. Since capturing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles is infeasible, producing vehicle fuels from the oil sands inevitably adds to that quantity. If we are to avoid dangerous global climate change, we need to accept the need to leave most of the carbon in remaining fossil fuels underground.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  2. Sir,

    Your article (“Beyond oil,” 9 July 2009) contains two misrepresentations that ought to be addressed.

    Firstly, it claims that wind cannot “compete with the cheap and dirty coal” because it has variable output. By combining energy from wind farms in varied locations, using energy storage technologies such as pumped hydroelectricity, and practicing demand management with a smart grid, it will be possible for the variable output of wind to be corrected for. By definition, the United States and rest of the world will eventually need to move entirely from non-renewable to sustainable forms of energy.

    Secondly, the article refers to so-called ‘clean coal’ as the “holy grail” for environmentalists. Even if a coal station could safely capture and store 100% of its greenhouse gas emissions, it would be far from environmentally benign. Air pollution from coal is a major cause of death and illness around the world, and coal mining takes an awful toll on both human beings and the natural world. Far from being a holy grail, ‘clean coal’ is the aspiration of those who want the future to resemble the status quo to the greatest possible extent, namely coal-fired utilities.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  3. Sir,

    Your recent article (“Global warming is the new religion of First World urban elites,” 29 July 2009) is a disappointing misrepresentation of the key facts about climate change. The scientists who have developed our understanding of climate change and raised the alarm about it aren’t ‘ayatollahs’ defending some holy truth. Rather, they are methodical and intelligent people who have done much to uncover the complex workings of our planet’s climate system, and identify the serious consequences that human activity is having upon them.

    The factual claims contained in the article are broadly false or misleading. We know from ice core samples and other sources that carbon dioxide concentrations are at their highest level for more than 600,000 years. Further, the fact that a carbon cycle exists – in which the roles of plants and animals in producing and consuming oxygen and carbon dioxide are balanced – does not mean that the unbalanced introduction of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels into the atmosphere will have no effect. Indeed, the key physical and chemical properties of greenhouse gasses have been known for more than a century. Simply attributing factual claims to Ian Plimer without evaluating them independently is sloppy journalism that elevates the spreading of rumour over the evaluation of fact.

    Climate change is a very serious challenge facing the human race: one that calls upon us to profoundly alter where we get our energy and how we treat the planet’s ecosystems. Giving attention to those who are misleading the public about the nature and seriousness of the issue is a poor way of serving those who rely upon The Vancouver Sun as a source of accurate and useful information.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  4. ‘Global warming as new religion?’ Give me a break — climate change is serious
    By Jim Hoggan, Special to the Vancouver SunJuly 30, 2009

    There is a strange conviction, in certain circles, that the world’s environmental community has grown superhumanly strong — an idea that, with the cock of an eyebrow or the curl of a lip, any leading environmentalist can strike fear into the hearts of academics, politicians and businesspeople around the globe.

    As the chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, the leading environmental organization in Canada, I wish that it were so. To borrow the fiery rhetoric of Vancouver Sun columnist Jonathon Manthorpe, I would be delighted, if only for a day, to be one of the “ayatollahs of puritan environmentalism” or the “Torquemadas of the doctrine of global warming.”

  5. 29 July 09
    Vancouver Sun Gushes Over Denier Book Eviscerated by Climate Scientists

    In contrast, here’s the book reviews by real scientists of Plimer’s pot-boiler. Imagine if these found their way onto the back cover…

    “Naive, and reflected a poor understanding of climate science, and relied on recycled and distorted arguments that had been repeatedly refuted.” – Professor Barry Brook of Adelaide University’s Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability. He also described the book as a case study “in how not to be objective”.

    “Given the errors, the non-science, and the nonsense in this book, it should be classified as science fiction in any library that wastes its funds buying it. The book can then be placed on the shelves alongside Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, another science fiction book about climate change with many footnotes. The only difference is that there are fewer scientific errors in State of Fear.” – David Karoly, a meteorologist at Melbourne University and a lead author for the IPCC

    “Largely a collection of contrarian ideas and conspiracy theories that are rife in the blogosphere. The writing is rambling and repetitive; the arguments flawed and illogical.” – Michael Ashley, an astronomer at the University of New South Wales

    “Fails to establish his claim that the human influence on climate can be ignored, relative to natural variation.” – Ian G. Enting, a mathematical physicist at University of Melbourne

    “A cacophony of climate skeptic arguments that have been discredited by decades of research… statements that are at best ambiguous and in many cases plain wrong are repeated, figures purporting to demonstrate climate change is all natural are erroneous, time and spatial scales are mixed up . . . the list goes on. Plimer’s thesis of inaction is a course we follow at our peril ” – Chris Turney of the University of Exeter’s Department of Geography, a past winner of the inaugural Sir Nicholas Shackleton Medal for his research into prehistoric climate change.

    “Sloppy…not a work of science; it is an opinion of an author who happens to be a scientist.” – Dr. Kurt Lambeck, president of the Australian Academy of Science

  6. Ian Plimer Watch: Monbiot Forces Denier Back into His Hole

    Denier darling Ian Plimer, author of the thoroughly debunked book, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – the Missing Science, has done a runner in the face of a challenge to participate in a climate change debate with UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot.

    Plimer had originally challenged Monbiot to a face-to-face debate, and Monbiot declined. These are the sorts of publicity stunt that deniers are often keen to initiate because they can stand up and say any darn thing they please, putting at a real disadvantage a debating partner who is committed to telling the truth about science.

  7. Plimer’s homework assignment

    Some of you may be aware of George Monbiot’s so-far-unsuccessful attempt to pin down Ian Plimer on his ridiculous compendium of non-science. In response to Monbiot’s request for explanation and sources for some of Plimer’s more bizarre claims, Plimer has responded with a homework assignment that is clearly beyond even his (claimed) prowess. This is quite transparently a device to avoid dealing with Monbiot’s questions and is designed to lead to an argument along the lines of “Monbiot can’t answer these questions and so knows nothing about the science (and by the way, please don’t notice that I can’t cite any sources for my nonsense or even acknowledge that I can’t answer these questions either)”. (Chris Colose and Greenfyre have made similar points). It’s also worth pointing out as Andrew Dodds has done that each question is actually referencing a very well known contrarian and oft-debunked argument, but dressed up in pseudo-scientific complexity.

  8. Another Carbon Dioxide Myth Shot Down

    Posted By Philip Lehman

    Posted 21 hours ago

    In many of the letters to the editor, written by those who are down playing the seriousness of polluting our planet by excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, there is a recurring theme. That theme is, since CO2 is necessary for plant life it follows that more CO2 equals more and/or better plants and therefore this pollution is actually good. This seems to be one of those “last gasp” statements that gets flung out when all other arguments have failed to meet the test of objective, scientific merit. The “fertilization effect” of increased CO2 uptake was once hailed by some as evidence that the earth’s forests could take up more and more carbon dioxide as atmospheric levels increased. The equation was simplicity itself. The more CO2 you produce the better the plant life becomes; the healthier the plant life is, the more CO2 you can pump into the air and this goes on in an endless circle. Sort of like perpetual motion. Even the warming of the planet was seen as a good thing since the longer the growing season the more CO2 is taken up. If only nature were as simple and as uncomplicated as the Manhattan Conference on Climate Change promoters would have us believe.

    We have seen atmospheric CO2 levels rise to record levels in the past decades but this level is only half the story, well, 57% of the story. The other 43% of the CO2 we’ve been pumping into the air doesn’t show up as it has been taken up by plants and by the oceans. So we’ve been getting about a 50% discount on our polluting but at a cost to the oceans of increased acidification and the resultant loss of coral reef formation and a severe negative effect on the shell formation of other calcifying organisms.

    Even the intuitive idea that the longer the growing season the more CO2 uptake has been proven wrong. An international study of northern boreal forests found that they lose CO2 in response to lengthened autumn warming, offsetting 90% of the increased CO2 uptake that occurred in spring.

    For countless centuries our planet has kept a fine balance, creating an optimal environment for its health and ensuring the survival of all its parts. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are altering this balance by pouring greenhouse gases into the air and simultaneously cutting down the very forests that could serve to mitigate this abuse. Even if plant CO2 uptake were the ultimate answer we can’t plant trees fast enough to offset the damage we are doing. Much is not understood about the complex interactions that make up our world and neither simplistic solutions nor convening pseudo-scientific confabs like the Manhattan Conference on Climate Change will make this problem go away. They just become sad attempts to gloss over a very serious problem.

  9. Sir,

    I found it odd that your recent article on drought in East Africa (“A catastrophe is looming,” 24 Sept 2009) didn’t mention climate change at all. It is quite possible that the warming that the planet has already experienced is connected to the changes observed in the region’s railfall. Furthermore, it is highly likely that continued unchecked climate change will further exacerbate droughts both there and elsewhere.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  10. Sir,

    In a recent article on climate and ecology, (“Avoiding the heffalump trap“, 3 October 2009) you make the glib claim that “[b]ecause people are able to adjust their surroundings to meet their needs” there is “no doubt” that humanity would survive 4°C of climate change. This is potentially misleading for several reasons. For one, as readers of Jared Diamond will note, this capacity hasn’t been sufficient in all cases to prevent the collapse of ecologically stressed human societies. For another, we have no way of knowing that 4°C of warming would not generate positive feedbacks (such as melting permafrost) which would in turn generate much more warming.

    One of the most dangerous ‘traps’ that humanity must avoid is the unjustified assumption that we can fail to mitigate climate change and continue to live with any kind of security or prosperity. Hopefully, that lesson will be learned quickly enough that we never experience anything close to the 4°C warming your article discusses.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  11. Sir,

    In an especially misguided editorial, you argue that Canadians should “let out a huge cheer and a sigh of relief back home every time [Environment Minister] Prentice receives a [fossil of the day] award in Copenhagen.

    That’s because it will be an indication he’s looking out for our interests.”

    That statement only makes sense if the only interests you care about are those of the next few years. If you want high human welfare and prosperity for decades and generations ahead, dealing with climate change is not optional. The longer Canada waits to begin the process of going carbon-neutral, the more costly and painful that process will be.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  12. Sir,

    In a recent editorial (“The changing climate and Canadian realities “, 7 December 2009), you claim that the oil sands are a “vital resource” and that “[p]roducts from the oil sands are necessary and desirable.”

    When all the social and environmental harm generated by the oil sands is taken into account, it is far from clear that they produce a net benefit for Canadians. The most important of those harms is the increased risk of catastrophic climate change that comes from extracting, processing, and burning those fuels. Even if it proves safe and effective, carbon capture and storage will only be able to address a minority of those emissions – certainly not the large fraction generated when the fuels are actually burned. For the sake of future generations of Canadians, the best policy for the oil sands is to leave all that high-carbon fuel safely underground.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  13. Another letter to the Pembroke (Ontario) Observer commenting on a Lorrie Goldstein column that was equating the movie 2012 with the concern over climate change

    Climate Skeptic Science
    Posted By Philip Lehman
    Posted Nov.28/09

    It was interesting reading Lorrie Goldstein’s latest bout of hysteria in last weeks paper. Goldstein, a fervent climate change denier, oh sorry, they’re no longer called deniers since no one is any longer denying that the climate is warming. Now they are called skeptics, a nice tactical retreat. Goldstein was trying to link the seriousness of global warming with a movie who’s target audience seems to be young adults looking for a good adventure film and the tin foil hat set. No doubt the people who are phoning NASA in fear for their future on the basis of a movie are the same people that are scoffing at real scientific research in favour of crystal readings and blandishments from right wing think tanks that are primarily funded by petrochemical industries and are the source of most sceptic information.

    He takes Dr. Hansen to task for some intemperate remarks and then twists one of his statements to make it read as though Hansen is predicting the world will end in four years. He also makes it sound as though Hansen were the first scientist to warn about increased CO2 and global warming. That honour belongs to Suante Arrhenius, circa 1900. Then there was G.S. Callendar in 1938 and C.D. Keeting in the 1960’s. A little bit of research would have given him these facts but then research isn’t a deniers strong suit. I notice that he does not even try to refute any of the science behind global warming as that would require quoting credible research done by scientists with an opposing view and that research is difficult to find.

    I’m sure that the skeptic crowd will deny my claim of no studies so let’s look at one bit of research done by a denier scientist. This man was listed as an honoured member on the handout I received when I attended the skeptics travelling road show that breezed through town last September and filled Festival Hall with like minded people. Well okay it didn’t fill the hall but it did fill the first four rows, almost. Being a botanist our skeptic decided that glacier research would be a good fit and so published a paper claiming that since 1980, 555 glaciers out of 625 being studied were not melting but actually advancing. This was an incredible bit of news and when asked how he came up with this figure he eventually admitted he’d meant to type in 55% but missed the shift key and came up with 555. Even with this admission of an error the climate denier crew ran with the better sounding figure and for years this was held as proof that climate change was all bunk. Then he was asked how he got the 55%. This he got from a climate deniers web site that claimed since 1980 fifty five percent of the studied glaciers were advancing and quoted a paper to prove it. Unfortunately for them what the paper they referenced actually said was that in one year only, the 1979-1980 season, that 55% of 446 mid-latitude glaciers advanced. So everything about his paper was wrong. Of course the only place it got published was in a pro-denier publication but it’s still part of the denier lexicon and to this day you will still have people writing into newspapers claiming the glaciers are advancing. To read more about this Google – David Bellamy Glaciers. While you’re at it Google – Spain’s wind turbines. You don’t even have to read the full articles, just peruse the headlines to get an idea of what the Spanish people and government really think about their wind turbine program.

    And one last thing. A writer to the paper claimed that England would be hard pressed to come up with 296,000 acres to put wind turbines on. I don’t know how small the writer thinks England is but it’s bigger than it looks on a map. Honest. At present England has 457 million acres of farmland and since the footprint of each turbine is one percent of the four acres needed per turbine the other 99% can still be farmed, So that means about 3,000 acres would be lost to wind turbines. To put that in perspective it is less than one third of farmland lost to Edmonton’s urban sprawl from 2003-2007.

  14. Sir,

    You recently described how Canada’s Environment Minister wants to clean up the international image of the oil sands (“Time to clean up the oil sands, Prentice says“, 1 February 2009). This is an exercise in public relations, not in sound environmental policy-making. In reality, Canada needs to recognize that the massive amount of carbon in unconventional sources of oil cannot be allowed to enter the atmosphere and put the planet at greater risk of catastrophic climate change. For the sake of future generations of Canadians, we need to leave that carbon in the ground.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  15. The Star needs to remember Dec. 1

    I almost spit out my coffee this morning as I was reading my copy of Toronto Star over breakfast.

    Neatly inserted behind all the usual sections was one called “New Energy Future – The Energy Challenge and Environmental Responsibility”. The first headline claimed to provide us with a ‘reality check’ on climate change, and scattered throughout the section are smiling feel good stories of employees of the tar sands with little myth buster boxes on tar sands production.

    The entire section? Sponsored by Shell Canada.

    I’m so glad the Star thinks that its okay to distribute oil company propaganda to millions of Canadians as a supplementary section to inform Canadians with reality checks and myth busters about climate change and the oil sands industry.

    Remember Star, when you devoted your entire front page on December 1 arguing that the world needs to unite in the face of climate change at the beginning of the Copenhagen conference?

    This move for the Star (obviously because Shell was able to provide the $$$) seems highly antithetical, and has made this blogger extremely disappointed.

    I wonder if I had enough money, I can buy a section in the Star devoted to arguing to the existence of unicorns?

  16. I just started Climate Response ( – a website that serves as a resource to help folks when writing to the media re: climate change and climate change solutions. I also notify members about articles. This is my latest letter to the online editor of the Edmonton Journal.

    Response to David Evans, Online Editor, the Edmonton Journal, regarding: Climate alarmists feeling more heat.

    Dear Mr. Evans,

    I am writing in response to an article published today in the Edmonton Journal – Climate alarmists feeling more heat.

    I understand and support the paper’s commitment to balanced coverage on any issue. It’s the hallmark of strong journalism. However, I also appreciate that the articles must be factually supported. I can’t imagine that the Edmonton Journal would, in the interest of ‘balanced’ reporting, invite a writer to explain to readers that the Jewish Holocaust was a hoax, providing so-called evidence to back their claims. We all know that the Holocaust happened. The evidence, sadly, is overwhelming.

    Climate science has come under fire lately. Trust me, I would welcome any strong evidence that proves without doubt that the thousands of scientists, representing 130 countries, who have been contributing to the IPCC supports since the 1990s have been putting the wool over our eyes all this time (all in the interest of receiving government money). What great news that would be. To learn that the climate is stable – that countless species are not at risk due to a quickly changing climate, that coastal communities are not in danger of flooding, that human populations need not fear new viruses and pests, and on and on.

    I am all for critical thinking. I have to say, I’m not impressed by Mr. Gunter’s op-ed piece. And I’m a little surprised that the Edmonton Journal would elect to publish it. Mr. Gunter appears to claim that the work of a scientific community is a hoax – part of some grand conspiracy for what? Not too sure. More grant money? Investment in wind turbines? Attention?

    “….the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have corrupted the scientific process in an obsessive drive to prove that climate change is real….” – That is quite the claim. An entire UN body has corrupted the scientific process. Such claims require hard evidence. Unfortunately the evidence Mr. Gunter provides would be thrown out of court if this case were put on trial.

    And who has discredited the evidence? The scientists of course. And why should we trust the scientists? This is where I get very concerned. I am all for criticism, especially when it comes to scientific inquiry, but this recent bout of attacks against the scientists themselves is very concerning. It smacks of a witch hunt.

    Let’s not kid ourselves here. The stakes are incredibly high for the fossil fuel industry when it comes to climate change. It is in their best interest to continue business as usual. We know that organizations that deny that human activity is causing climate change are funded in part of the fossil fuel industry. For example, the President of the Friends of Science admitted in the Toronto Star(January 28, 2007) that about one-third of the funding for the FOS is provided by the oil industry. The Globe and Mail (Aug 12, 2006) also revealed that the FOS was funded in part by the oil and gas sector and was hiding this fact.

    We also know that APCO, a large American Public Relations firm – the same one used by tobacco giant Phillip Morris to fight against an EPA ban on passive smoking – advised on how to discredit the climate science. You can read more on this in James Hoggan’s new book Climate Cover Up.

    I also encourage you to read up on the UK’s Guardian newspaper’s investigative series on the CRU Hacking. The Guardian appears to be the only newspaper that did any in-depth reporting on this issue – It concludes that while mistakes were made and certain scientists did not handle the pressure well in dealing with climate change sceptics, the IPCC reports are sound.

    As to Gunter’s points that Phil Jones stated in a BBC interview that the earth isn’t warming as rapidly as thought, Jones actually asserted that the long-term trend from 1975-2009 remained at 0.16 C per decade, virtually unchanged since 1998 (and higher than the 1975-1995 trend). Jones stated that the period from 1995-2009 was too short to make any inferences about climate trends. In the interview he went on to say: “I’m 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 – there’s evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.” Why is it that Gunter fudged what Jones had to say?

    As for NASA, Gunter claims: “… [T]hree years ago a significant error was found in its records… When it reconciled its old records to its new method, recent warm years ceased to be as remarkable. For instance, 1934 replaced 1998 as the warmest year.” He fails to mention that these temperatures were not global – but US temperatures only.

    Gunter also claims – “In 2008, NASA substituted September’s global temperatures for October’s (they claimed accidentally), thereby distorting upward the worldwide averages for the fall of that year — an otherwise rather cool year.” – This mistake, made by NASA’s data provider, was quickly corrected at the time and certainly does not indicate incompetency or wrong doing. –

    Is Gunter truly interested in scientific inquiry? Does he understand that minor errors are bound to happen but are quickly accessed and corrected? Why is he jumping on minor errors and claiming they are indicative of a crisis? Why is the Edmonton Journal giving voice to writers who provide such sloppy reporting and who appear to have an agenda?

    I ask that you dig deeper on this issue. I understand that the Edmonton Journal, like so many newspapers, is struggling these days. I also believe that you can’t afford to publish articles with questionable and unsubstantiated claims. It brings you down. The Edmonton Journal is in danger of losing its own credibility, as a result.

    Please take the time to dig deeper on the complex issue of climate change, as you would any issue. As an editor of a major newspaper it is your duty to do so.

    Yours respectfully,

    Cheryl McNamara

  17. Cheryl,

    Your site seems like a great initiative and thanks for posting your letter here.

    One thing that may be problematic about it, however, is the length. Newspapers rarely publish anything longer than a paragraph, except sometimes letters from very prominent people or from those who have been personally criticized by the paper in question.

    If ordinary readers are going to see responses to bad climate change articles, letter writers are going to need to be able to craft some that are short and effective, even when read by non-experts.

  18. Re “We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change” (Op-Ed, Feb. 28):

    Al Gore’s thoughtful advocacy for meaningful action on climate change will no doubt bring the climate change “skeptics” out of the woodwork once again.

    Our inability to address the climate crisis is both an intellectual and a moral failure. In the 1950s, Sputnik threatened our national pride — and America responded with an intensified focus on science education, building a space program that accomplished wonders.

    Fifty years later, the threat we face is not to our pride, but to our planet — and we respond by ridiculing those who sound the warning. Mr. Gore deserves the thanks of future generations, not uninformed mockery.

    Warren Senders
    Medford, Mass., Feb. 28, 2010

    To the Editor:

    Al Gore’s Op-Ed article was a thoughtful contribution to the frenzied discussion under way on climate change. He went right to the heart of the matter with his comment: “Though there have been impressive efforts by many business leaders, hundreds of millions of individuals and families throughout the world and many national, regional and local governments, our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing — much less reduce them.”

    Future generations may well be less kind in their assessment of our failure to act.

    Thomas F. Malone
    West Hartford, Conn., Feb. 28, 2010

    The writer is former president of the American Meteorological Society and former foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences.

  19. Sir,

    Your article on European energy independence (“EU: Funding Energy Independence“, 9 March 2010) fails to mention the kind of policies that stand a genuine chance of reducing European dependence on Russian gas: namely, those designed to move beyond a fossil-fuel based economy, through measures like improved efficiency, the deployment of renewable energy, and new nuclear construction. In the end, diversifying gas suppliers just keeps European countries dependent on imported fossil fuels. Both for geopolitical reasons – and because of the simple fact that every unit of fossil fuel burned increases the danger of catastrophic climate change – Europe should be working to rid itself of fossil fuel dependence entirely.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  20. Sir,

    Your recent article on unconventional gas (“This changes everything,” 11 March 2010) misses the most important point about fossil fuels and the environment. The amount of climate change the world will experience is determined by humanity’s cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases. If we are to have any chance of staying below the oft-cited ‘dangerous’ level of 2°C of warming, the great majority of the world’s remaining fossil fuels will need to remain underground. Those unconventional gas reserves are not a boon to be exploited, as you suggest, but rather a danger to be feared.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  21. Good afternoon,

    I read your article “A world without coal” with interest, but I must disagree with your conclusions. Continuing to rely upon coal for energy is both dangerous and unethical, largely because of the fact that every unit of fossil fuel we burn inevitably increases the risk that all future generations face from climate change. Furthermore, while coal may seem cheaper than options like concentrating solar power or enhanced geothermal, that is largely because of how many of the costs of coal remain hidden. These include everything from air and water pollution to habitat destruction.

    More of the case against coal can be found at: Why bury coal?

    Further, some of your economic objections are rebutted at: Objections: cash, jobs, and taxes

    We have an opportunity and an obligation to do better than coal. Hopefully, that is something both policy-makers and the public at large come to understand soon.

    Best wishes,

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  22. Re: Edmonton Journal article: Wildrose takes climate debate backward

    Dear Mr. Thomson,

    Thank you again for another level headed article regarding climate change – Wildrose takes climate debate backward. The debate on anthropogenic climate change is over. The evidence is too over…whelming and available to anyone who cares to take a hard serious look at it. It’s alarming that the Wildrose Alliance is making even the Conservatives look good by stalling what is required right now: discussion and debate on how best to transition to a low carbon economy and the opportunities that this transition presents to Alberta and Canada.

    Best regards,
    Cheryl McNamara

  23. Response to Winnipeg Free Press article – Prentice should fight climate change to protect Canadian water: expert

    Studies conducted by David Shindler from the University of Alberta, as well as University of Regina’s Dave Sauchyn and Peter Leavitt show that the Prairies may very well be heading towards long term drought. Retreating glaciers are part of the problem, as well as lower annual precipitation, increased rates in evaporation, wetland destruction and irrigation.

    And yet the population keeps on growing, esp in Alberta. To make matters worth, a great deal of this precious resource is used in oil sands production. It takes two to six barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. It is projected that by 2020, oil sands operations could be using the equivalent of half the Athabasca River’s low winter flow.

    Despite the obvious serious nature of this problem, the federal and Alberta governments have reduced monitoring of river flows and ice packs. The policy on the oil sands is full steam ahead taking no heed to the warnings of scientists. I’m afraid that with our current governments, they seem far more interested in corporate welfare than in public well being. By the time the problem hits us hard, politicians who call the shots will no longer be in office and accountable for their shortsighted policies.

  24. In response to this letter in the local paper
    I had this published in the on line edition, but not the print version, of the Pembroke (Ontario) Observer.
    Posted By Philip Lehman

    In the past, when climate science was a new discipline and each discovery in understanding our role in the warming of the planet was new, the sceptic side came up with a variety of alternative explanations. Some of these included sun spots, volcanoes, undersea volcanoes, cosmic flux, changes in the earths magnetic field, naturally occurring cycles and the list goes on. All of these were investigated and some, like sun spots were found to have perhaps, a moderate influence. In the case of naturally occurring cycles, we were in the wrong phase of these cycles for them to have any influence on the rapid warming that has been seen. Some, like volcanoes, were shown to play a part in the cooling of the planet rather than warming.

    They then created their own scientific studies but none were able to stand up to scrutiny. Some remain to this day as examples of poorly done research.

    When their own science failed they began attacking the science that hadn’t failed. The Mann (hockey stick) graph was attacked, the accuracy of temperature recording stations was questioned, arctic sea ice measurements were attacked and again the list goes on. All of the accusations were thoroughly investigated. Some, such as the Mann graph, were investigated multiple times and all were found to be accurate in their assertions.

    Every attempt at refuting main stream science has failed for the sceptics. Even their theft of private e- mails turned out to be less story than hype. Every accusation of impropriety was again investigated and found to be more sizzle than steak as the saying goes.

    Now sceptics are showing their true colours. Cyber bullying and even death threats against scientists who bring forward new research is the latest tactic. How can anyone take seriously any cause who’s fallback position is intimidation as opposed to presenting fact. Even sceptic columns and letters to this paper have gone from trying to promote a point of view to name calling that is more reminiscent of a junior school playground than of scientific debate. Calling those that differ in opinion from you, socialist zombies and a host of other childish names and equating the teaching of children about love and respect for the environment to Hitler youth camps shows how desperate deniers have become in defence of their failing position.

    You know you are on the losing side of a debate when name calling and intimidation is the best you have to offer. Now lets get on with the solving of this problem. We are pumping enough CO2 into our atmosphere to raise global temperatures to levels that will cause hardship to much of those who are least able to cope with this man made problem. It is time to begin the rectifying of this most serious of concerns to our world.

  25. Sir,

    In a recent article (“You can turn off the lights – or collect solar energy in space,” 1 April 2010), you quoted the U.S. Defence Department’s National Security Space Office saying that “an array of solar collectors over a single square kilometre” “can collect a supply of energy – every year – equal to the energy contained in all of the known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today.”

    This seems rather unlikely. In his book “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air,” Cambridge Professor David MacKay calculates that providing an average European’s power consumption for one billion people per year would require 340,000 square kilometres of concentrating solar facilities, generating an average of 15 watts per square metre of electricity. That is a square 600km on a side.

    The energy contained in all the known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today is substantially greater than the quantity MacKay is talking about generating here. Admittedly, a space-based facility would work with sunlight unimpeded by Earth’s atmosphere, and could be exposed to sunlight at all times of day and night. Still, that doesn’t seem likely to increase energy output by far more than 340,000-fold, as would be necessary to make the claim you quote true. None of this is to say that space-based solar power will never be a useful technology. Rather, it should be recognized that the barriers to its development and deployment on an adequate scale are considerable.

    Indeed, given the need to rapidly begin curbing greenhouse gas emissions and achieve deep cuts within the next couple of decades (if we are to have a decent chance of avoiding 2°C or more of temperature rise), space-based solar may simply arrive too late to make a major contribution to the decarbonization of the world’s energy systems and economies. We need to work with technologies that are already commercially available, while putting a price on carbon and phasing out the use of coal and unconventional oil and gas.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  26. Mr. Thomson,

    Thank you for the informative reporting in your article: “Challenging the climate-change deniers.”

    It is a great shame that so much misinformation continues to circulate about climate change. As you quote Andrew Weaver and other scientists saying, the question moved beyond “Is climate change happening, dangerous, and caused by humans?” quite some time ago. The challenge now is to find a way to stabilize the climate quickly enough to prevent intolerable impacts on human beings and natural systems.

    Best wishes,

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  27. Sir,

    The recent article Neil Reynolds wrote about climate change (“Please remain calm: The Earth will heal itself,” 19 July 2010) perpetuates a dangerous fallacy – namely, that anything that doesn’t imperil the Earth as a whole cannot imperil humanity. Unfortunately, there is good reason to think that climate change is an exception. It cannot cease the yearly orbit of the Earth around the sun, but it could well undermine the stable climatic conditions that have accompanied the rise of human civilization during the past 10,000 years. By pointing at the robustness of the planet as a reason not to worry about climate change, your article commits an error comparable to seeing a baby driving around on a bulldozer and saying: “There’s no need to worry, that bulldozer will be just fine.”

    The Earth will be fine, but for the sake of humanity we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels and move to energy sources that will last forever and which will not destabilize the climate upon which we depend.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

    I have elaborated on these thoughts at:

  28. Sir,

    When Colin Robertson argues that Canada should proceed full steam ahead with the development of the oil sands (“Let’s act like an energy superpower,” 27 July 2010) he ignores the major risk that climate change will pose to humanity, if we continue to dig up and burn all the world’s fossil fuels. The amount of warming we experience depends directly on how many tonnes of oil, coal, and gas we burn. If we have the wisdom to leave those fuels buried, while developing zero-carbon renewable options, we can free ourselves from fossil fuel dependence and its many harmful consequences. These include not only climate change, but toxic air pollution and the destruction of Alberta’s land and water as well.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

    A more thorough response is at:

  29. Sir,

    The fact that “Canada’s 179 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves rank second in the world” is not something to be celebrated (“Tarred with the same brush“, 7 August 2010). Given that the amount of climate change humanity will experience depends directly on what portion of the world’s fossil fuels we burn, the best approach to the Athabasca oil sands is to leave them safely underground, while building a global economy built on sustainable and carbon-neutral forms of energy. Because most of the emissions from the oil sands take place when the refined fuels are burned in vehicles, the ambitions of the Albertan and Canadian government to deal with them using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology are not adequate, even if CCS proves to be safe and affordable.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  30. Sir,

    Vaclav Klaus’ assertion that climate scientists only think rising CO2 concentrations are causing warming is because of an unconfirmed correlation (“An anti-human ideology“, 20 October 2010) is deeply wrongheaded and demonstrably false. Scientists have know that greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation since John Tyndall established that in 1859.

    There is a ‘consilience of evidence’ when it comes to the science of climate change: multiple, independent lines of evidence converging on a single coherent account. These forms of evidence are both observational (temperature records, ice core samples, etc) and theoretical (thermodynamics, atmospheric physics, etc). Together, these lines of evidence provide a conceptual and scientific backing to the theory of climate change caused by human greenhouse gas emissions that is simply absent for alternative theories, such as that there is no change or that the change is caused by something different.

    Given the necessity of taking action to curb climate change, it is irresponsible to give a platform to those who are peddling falsehoods. The fact that greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm is not an ‘ideology’. It is a fact about the universe. Another such fact is that unless humanity wants to find itself in a climate radically different from that in which civilization emerged, we need to rapidly reduce global emissions and stabilize the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases at a safe level.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  31. The following was sent to the editors of the Financial Post regarding their printing of Vaclav Klaus’ op-ed piece,

    I was rather surprised to learn that the Financial Post printed Vaclav Klaus’ op-ed piece claiming that environmentalists support an anti-human ideology, and that his opinion on climate change is right despite the overwhelming evidence that does not support his view.

    I have up until now been impressed with the Financial Post’s coverage of the transition to a low carbon economy. Your coverage of clean energy development and innovation has been very informative.
    I understand that you feel it’s important to provide coverage on both sides of an issue. In certain cases this balancing act is not applicable. You wouldn’t include an op-ed piece from a racist, for example, or someone who believes that capitalism is the root of all evil and that we must all embrace communism. You certainly wouldn’t include the ravings of a conspiracy theorist who believes that 9/11 was engineered by the Pentagon or the CEOs of multinational corporations. We know that such opinions are either damaging or quite simply idiotic. They are not grounded in reality and evidence. They make up their own evidence and stick to it no matter what.

    The same can be said about Vaclav Klaus. Despite the fact that thousands of climatologists contribute to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, and that the majority of environmentalists call for commitments to green energy investments and green-collar jobs, Klaus has another view all together.
    Klaus’ op-ed piece is not worthy of the Financial Post. Your venerable paper is much better than this.

    Cheryl McNamara

  32. I plan to write a response to this article, but others should as well: Dirty Coal, Clean Future

    In it, James Fallows claims that: “the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm, is to use coal—dirty, sooty, toxic coal—in more-sustainable ways.”

    Given the many problems with carbon capture and storage, this claim is open to substantial criticism.

  33. Sir,

    It is lamentable that The Economist is so fatalistic on the subject of climate change (“How to live with climate change“, 27 November 2010). Rather than lament inaction, why not present a bold plan to move beyond fossil fuels? Given their exhaustible nature, that is necessary anyhow. And, by doing it quickly, we can pass a planet on to future generations that has not been tragically altered by our pollution.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  34. Sir,

    Your recent editorial on the oil sands and petroleum exports from the West Coast (“Oil and Water“, 3 December 2010) fails to mention the biggest risk associated with such an undertaking. It’s not the accidental spills that might occur, but rather the inevitable greenhouse gas emissions that will occur when the fuels are burned. If we are to avoid dangerous climate change, most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels need to be left unburned and underground. We need to move rapidly to carbon-neutral sources of energy that can be relied upon forever.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  35. Let’s just say goodbye to oil
    Jim McKenzie, Ottawa Citizen
    Re: Oil And Water, Dec. 3.

    It is hard to believe that, in the year 2010, the Citizen would write an editorial emphasizing the world’s need for oil. The world survived millions of years without oil. When man came on the scene, very sophisticated human civilizations developed in the Americas, the Mediterranean, in India and in China — all without oil. The seas were conquered by sailing ships — not diesel-powered vessels. And Europeans spread the world over without oil. The first six years of my life were spent on an Ontario farm where very little oil from fossil fuels was used.

    It is not the world — nor even human beings themselves — that need oil, it is the type of society that we have only recently constructed in the western world that needs oil. But that can change — as it surely must — because oil supplies will soon gradually start to diminish and, eventually, oil will largely disappear from our lives — see the Sept/ Oct issue of Foreign Policy magazine which features “The Long Goodbye” to oil. Our species is smart enough to figure out how to get along without oil again.

    But the real question is not “can we get along without oil?” but “should we not be slowing down the process of saying goodbye?” This would mean reducing our consumption as quickly as we can, especially in North America, the most profligate oil consuming region in the world, and where most of Canadian oil is used.

    Many other developed countries consume far less oil per person than Canada and the U.S., so the combination of less oil consumed and a strong economy is not at all far-fetched.

    By reducing oil consumption significantly, North America would accomplish two goals: we would stretch out available supplies much further into the future; and we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and this would help reduce their effect on global warming.

    The exact time of peak oil production is, of course, not known, but it will come — it will surely come. So why should we rush to use up the available supplies of this valuable resource?

    Although most of our political leaders do not want to talk about global warming, it is fast becoming the major issue facing the peoples of the world. Hiding our heads in the sand and saying the world needs oil does absolutely nothing to help us address this issue.

    Indeed, it may even aggravate it by getting us further committed to the idea that — like the alcoholic — we absolutely have to have “our fix,” and the more we consume, the better off we are.

    Jim McKenzie,

  36. Another piece for which it would be useful if someone wrote a response:

    “In 2011, the situation is different in many ways. Global warming? A non-issue for most Canadians, judging by the polls. Carbon tax? With gas prices topping $1.20 a litre and the aftershocks of the recession still being felt, the carbon tax is a dead letter. Environmentalism in general? I’m willing to bet most Canadians folding and re-folding their reusable grocery bags are satisfied they are doing enough and don’t want to ensure any further berating by holier-than-thou busybodies. Environmentalists have no one to blame but themselves for that. No one forced them to put all their eggs in the global warming basket, and with the collapse of the global warming scam, their credibility has been undermined on issues (some of them legitimate concerns) far removed from global warming.

  37. It is encouraging that the Council of Chief Executives is reiterating its support for putting a price on carbon at the national level (National Energy Strategy Gains Clout – Report on Business, July 11). A particularly simple and transparent way to do this is a carbon fee and dividend: Charge a fee on fossil fuels at their source of production that reflects their carbon content, then distribute the revenue raised directly back to Canadians, e.g. as dividend cheques. People get both more money in their pockets and an incentive to spend it on less-carbon-intensive products and services as the cost of carbon propagates in an efficient manner throughout the economy. Only when fossil fuels’ real cost to our planet is reflected in what we pay will we be able to move toward the low-carbon future necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

    James Booth, Toronto

  38. Sir,

    I was glad to see The Calgary Herald acknowledge the huge amount of greenhouse gas pollution created globally by burning coal (“Hysteria Trumps Reason“, 24 August 2011). It is wrong, however, to use that as an argument for increasing pollution from oil. We need to move beyond all fossil fuels if we seek a safe and stable climate and long-term energy security. That is why I am at the Keystone XL protest in Washington.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  39. I wrote the letter above first thing this morning when I saw an editorial in the Herald. It seems to have been pulled offline since then.

  40. Sir,

    In a recent article (“From pipelines to bridges, local politics trump national interests“, 7 Nov 2011), Barrie McKenna argues that the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is an example of local politics trumping the national interest. What this analysis ignores is climate change: a perilous circumstance that our continued fossil fuel addiction is imposing upon future generations all over the world. Far from being a local matter, principled opposition to Keystone XL is global and intergenerational.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  41. Re: “Redford goes to Washington; Premier’s visit to U.S. capital all about standing up for province,” by Graham Thomson, Nov. 8.

    According to Graham Thomson, “You could argue it’s unfair to focus so much on the oilsands when we produce more carbon dioxide through burning coal and collectively driving our cars and trucks.”

    You could argue this point, but I wouldn’t. This is not an either/or situation. This year, in addition to the Keystone XL protests, we have seen fracking protests, coal plant protests, oilsands protests and general, all-purpose action on climate change protests.

    As well we should.

    What we pay for the fossil fuels we burn does not take into account the damage they do to our health, the environment and the climate, and until we ledger the cost of these externalities we need to protest the escalating use of any and all fossil fuels. The science demands it.

    Peter Adamski, Edmonton

  42. Independent reviews of the so-called Climategate affair concluded there was no falsification of evidence by the researchers (Suppression Of Debate Is A Disaster For Science – Dec. 1).

    Meanwhile, a recent review (partially funded by a group that denied climate-warming science) of more than a billion pieces of data – five times the amount previously examined by anybody else – by Richard Muller, a Berkeley physicist who was skeptical about climate science, concluded that the consensus global warming conclusions, including the hockey stick model, are indeed supported by the evidence.

    The problem is not suppression of the debate, but is instead superficial and uninformed coverage of the science by the press.

    Carlo Ricciuti Hamilton, Ont.

  43. Ezra Levant attempts to persuade people that Canada’s oilsands are “ethical” with the philosophical argument that Canada has a good human rights record.

    That’s a bit like saying, “I’m an ethical guy because I don’t cheat on my wife, even though I’ve killed a person by drunk driving.”

    There are more ways than one to be ethical, and human rights is hardly the main point here.

    The point is that Canada’s fast and furious exploitation of oil for overconsumption and profit is wrecking the planet and jeopardizing the chance of humans and myriads of non-humans for a sustainable future.

    How can that be ethical? If the Durban talks on climate change fail to produce significant action to control CO2 emissions, it will show that humanity is not ethical, not even intelligent, just selfish and avaricious.

    P.J. Cotterill, Edmonton

  44. After up to two centuries of our producing climate-altering greenhouses gases, is it right to ask developing countries to forego automobile and airline transport, television, air conditioning and other energy consuming things we take for granted in Canada?

    That is the main excuse Canadians, Americans and their politicians are using to do little or nothing about our high-carbon world.

    Indeed, Canadians are now regarded as obstructionists at climate-change negotiations such as Copenhagen.

    Scientists are telling us the time is critical, with the door closing to limiting the global temperature increase to an already dangerous two degrees Celsius. Canada’s CO2 emissions are even worse than those of the U.S., with a 17-per-cent increase since 1990 (those in the U.S. have increased seven per cent).

    It is unfortunate conservatives such as Ezra Levant, in coining the phrase “ethical oil,” are giving people a false sense about our way of living.

    How can it be ethical to live unsustainably, with increasingly deleterious impacts on our only planet?

    We can change this; only the will is lacking.

    Our children, grandchildren and drought-or flood-stricken people in the Third World do not and will not care whether our atmosphere is warmed by carbon from Alberta coal or oilsands, Saudi crude or Russian natural gas, nor will they care about what side of the political spectrum governments that failed to act were on.

    It is unfortunate most Canadian and U.S. conservatives have politicized an ethical issue.

    Victor Dorian, Edmonton

  45. I worked for Syncrude for five years so I’ve had some direct experience in the bitumen extraction/processing industry.

    The crux of Ezra Levant’s arguments in justifying his application of the glowing catchphrase “ethical oil” to the output generated by these various operations in the Athabasca bitumen deposit region are simply an effort at misdirection.

    He and Environment Minister Peter Kent are being apologists for the industry, whistling past the graveyard of the enormous environmental toll the oilsands are generating to reach for the brass ring of greater public/ international approval of its expansion.

    Levant and others are pointedly asserting that because one nation, ours, doesn’t do immediately condemnable things in the course of operations of its energy extraction/refinement industry, and that this region is less geo-politically in conflict with its own citizenry or foreigners, our industry is consequently ethical.

    This is a ludicrous conclusion, founded on shrugging at the inherent and site-specific harms of our own Alberta industry.

    It is dishonest because it attempts to create a gangway for renewed and intensified investment in the goliath juggernaut that is the northern Alberta bitumen industry.

    This slipshod rationale doesn’t pass either the smell or the shame test.

    Alberta does not get off the hook this easy.

    John McGuire, Edmonton

  46. Re: “A climate victory we may regret,” Opinion, Dec. 28.

    The Journal’s editorial board likens the Harper government’s climate position to a game of Texas hold’em.

    From a risk point of view, I liken our government’s position to a game of chicken, wherein two drivers bear down on each other from opposite directions, each daring the other to swerve away. If neither swerves, the result is a potentially deadly collision.

    I wouldn’t be concerned if it was just the life of his government that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was risking. But what’s at stake are the lives of future generations, all because Harper refuses to believe that global warming is caused by humans.

    In its latest report, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (a government body initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama and mandated by Congress) lists 10 key findings, the first of which states that “global warming is unequivocal and primarily human induced.”

    The finding supports the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in its 2007 report stated that most of the observed increase in global temperatures since the mid-20th century “is very likely” the result of human activities.

    The U.S. National Academy of Sciences supports these findings, as does NASA, the American Geological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for Advancement of Science.

    The list goes on. And yet it’s still not enough to prompt our government into action.

    If the fossil-fuel industry needs a subsidy, support for a pipeline or help with a burdensome regulation, Harper is there with a bag of money, pompoms and a regulatory workforce reduction.

    But when it comes to action on climate change – the greatest issue facing the world – Harper is an obstructionist and has been since he first darkened our political landscape.

    Peter Adamski, Edmonton

  47. Your editorial about the Keystone XL pipeline project is right on the mark. Oil is a sunset industry with little future and no lasting job growth. President Obama understands that the high-paying American jobs of the future are in alternative technologies, but again seems to lack the courage to really stand up for what he knows to be the better policy.

    In 2008, I became an Obama supporter when he courageously refused to sign on to the proposal of a gas tax holiday, a gimmick supported by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain. He should likewise reject this latest misguided energy policy.

    Towson, Md., Jan. 2, 2012

  48. Re: “Pipeline not really dead; Keystone XL issues only resting until after the U.S. presidential election in November,” by Gary Lamphier, Jan. 19.

    If U.S. President Barack Obama’s rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was predictable, so was the federal government’s leap to the conclusion that this inflates the Northern Gateway pipeline to a “national imperative,” clearly an opportunistic ploy to convert doubting voters into siding with the northern pipeline.

    However, I hope the Canadian electorate is not so easily fooled. The arguments against the Northern Gateway pipeline are in no way changed or diminished by what happens with Keystone. These arguments include the very real threats of oil spills to both the terrestrial and Pacific Coast environments and their northern communities.

    Nor is the “bigger picture” argument altered. Existing pipelines are adequate for current and reasonably increased levels of oil production (“Geological expert disputes need for Northern Gateway,” The Journal, Jan. 17), so the purpose of another pipeline is to enable a huge increase in production, with all its associated social and environmental evils. Not least of these is the almost incalculable damage due to carbon emissions and global warming.

    If, as most pipeline proponents make out, the international requirement for oil will remain steady into the foreseeable future, why is there such a rush to drain every last drop in the shortest possible time? Having a diversity of markets is a good thing for an economy, but not at all costs. As for job creation, there are many ways in which governments could stimulate job creation, including in renewable energy resources.

    Expanding oil production is not the way to create a sustainable economy. Whether Keystone eventually goes ahead or not, kudos to the U.S. for taking time and care to protect its national environment.

    P.J. Cotterill, Edmonton

  49. Climate Scientists Occupy Wall Street Journal

    “Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition?” Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, rhetorically asked in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in response to a letter by climate change skeptics. Trenberth, along with 37 other atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, and other climate experts, signed the letter published Feb. 1.

    “You published ‘No Need to Panic About Global Warming’ (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science,” continued Trenberth.


    The Skeena Angling Guides Association (SAGA) wish to convey its dismay at the stance the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce has taken over the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

    The chamber claims to be “the voice of business”, however the content of your letter and press release concerning the issue is wholly incompatible with our organization and the tourism businesses our members survive upon.

    Referring to BC Stats’ British Columbia’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector, 2007 edition:

    * Revenues reported from angling in BC in 2005 were estimated at $867 million

    * Saltwater angling generated $467 million

    * Freshwater angling generated $398 million

    * Sport fishing related activities provided employment for 7700 British Columbians

    The sports fishing industry is key to the future success of the northern region. The proposed pipeline project would require around 225 super oil tankers per year travelling thorough incredibly treacherous waters off our pristine northwest coast.

    This represents a “titanic” risk to the region’s environment. A large marine oil spill on our coast would devastate a marine ecosystem that supports not only thousands of humans but more importantly one of the world’s most sensitive and endangered wildlife habitats.

    An Environment Canada report in 1990 analyzed the likelihood of tanker accidents occurring in Canadian waters.

    The report states that “based on current [1990] levels of tanker traffic, Canada can expect over 100 small oil spills, about 10 moderate spills and at least one major spill offshore each year. A catastrophic spill (over 10,000 tonnes) may occur once every 15 years.”

    We do not believe it takes an environmental review to understand the huge risks Alberta-based Enbridge will take to transport its dirty crude oil from “Beautiful BC” to Asia.

    The Northern Gateway Project involves huge environmental risks with minimal economic benefit.

    As a result of your stance, our members voted unanimously at the latest Skeena Angling Guides Association (SAGA) meeting not to renew our membership to the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce.

    Pioneer Fishing Lodge will also not be renewing its membership.

    Jeremy Crosby,

    Chairman SAGA and Owner of Pioneer Fishing Lodge,

    Terrace, BC

  51. Sir,

    Writing about the proposed pipelines that would feed the growth of
    Canada’s oil sands, you said that “the arguments for developing the tar
    sands are strong” (“The great pipeline battle“, 26 May 2012).

    This view seems at odds with the reality of climate change. We know that
    global emissions of greenhouse gas pollution need to fall sharply if we
    are to avoid dangerous climate change. We also know that achieving this
    will involve massive investment in low- and zero-carbon forms of energy.
    Investing billions in extracting the dirtiest and most costly types of
    oil is not the way to provide energy for a prosperous future, especially
    when doing so worsens the world’s most serious problem.

    Canada’s oil sands and the dangerous carbon they contain should be left
    in the ground, and the billions that would be spent developing them
    should be invested in climate solutions like renewables and energy

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  52. Growth wins, green loses

    May 12

    Canadians are on a bus. The driver is Stephen Harper. Fifty kilometres back the fuel lights went on, stating low fuel. Now the engine oil lights are on and the overheat engine warning lights are on. The bus is careening down a hill to a cliff or a lake. Instead of heeding the warning lights, Harper steps on the gas, holds his hand over all the indicator lights, and keeps the music going while passing around another round of chocolate candies. He wants to get you to your destination faster.

    What do you do? Jump off the bus, cross your fingers and say a prayer, or have faith in Harper?

    This is what the so-called budget bill C-38 does. It takes away generations of environmental protection, cancelling both the Environmental Assessment Act and the Climate Change Accountability Act. It amends a host of other environmental protections. All for oil and profit.

    The New York Times, in an op-ed on May 9, said it bluntly: “Game over for the climate.” That’s the problem when you have an economist as the driver. Economics is a pseudo-science that does not take into account the “externalities” that it cannot measure. We have known for over a century the basic chemistry and physics of what carbon dioxide and methane do to the Earth’s atmosphere.

    When economics trumps the basic biology of life itself, and the supporting physics and chemistry of our Earth, we will not have much time left.

    When will we start to heed the warning signs? When we’re over the cliff or drowned in the lake? “Enjoy the ride while you can and don’t care about the results!” is what most of us are saying by our inaction.

    Martin Mostert, Willowdale

  53. Sir,

    Your analysis of the economics of the oil sands (“A stake in the oilsands“, 18 July 2012) is rather disappointing. You claim that digging up the oil sands is inevitable because it is “what Canada has to sell”. This ignores the reality that human beings have already added a dangerous amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and that if we continue on our present course we will transform the planet in ways that produce enormous human suffering. Given what we know about climate change, Canada should be working with the rest of the world to deploy forms of energy beyond fossil fuels, while substantially reducing our total energy usage. If we keep burning coal, oil, and gas we are choosing to force a harsh and impoverished world on our descendents. It’s time to invest in sustainable energy instead.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  54. Sir,

    Even if it could be made from diamond and indestructible titanium, the Northern Gateway pipeline would not be safe. (“Enbridge to address Northern Gateway safety concerns“, 20 July 2012) There is already a dangerous amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, and there is no way in which the oil sands can be exploited without adding to that burden. For the sake of future generations, we should be leaving that carbon safely underground while working on deploying zero-carbon energy options.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  55. Sir,

    Your recent headline “Canada halfway to meeting emissions-reductions goal: sources” seems at least a bit misleading. The federal government now claims that its plans – which remain to be implemented – are now projected to produce half the desired reduction below a projected business-as-usual emission level. Rather than being halfway to meeting the target, it’s nearer to the mark to say that the government now estimates that its plans are halfway adequate for reaching its stated goal.

    It’s worth noting that this goal isn’t sufficiently ambitious to accord with another goal set by the federal government – that of avoiding over 2˚C of temperature increase – and that the emissions from Canada’s booming fossil fuel exports are not being counted here. If the world as a whole is to avoid dangerous climate change, Canada must do more. We also mustn’t ignore the climatic impact of the coal, oil, and gas Canada exports to be burned elsewhere.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  56. Re: Redford deserves sympathy for having to deal with B.C., Opinion, Aug. 14

    Barry Cooper’s op-ed resorts to sexist insults in defence of Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

    Living in our “backwater play-ground,” British Columbians apparently oppose the pipeline because we “drink lattes in the rain,” “believe in spirit bears and water sprites and require grief counselling when trees blow down in Stanley Park,” rather than developing our resources like “normal, productive, hard-working Albertans.”

    Cooper likens us to Nietzsche’s “last men,” weak and unwilling to take risks.

    He describes the disagreement between the female premiers of Alberta and British Columbia as a “hissing match.”

    Barry: I am a female British Columbian. I drink lattes but do not believe in water sprites. I don’t need “a shrink.” I don’t “hiss.” I am not a “scatterbrain.” Like you, I am a pencil-pushing academic, though I have worked in the Alberta oilfields as a technician and engineer.

    I oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline not out of greed or weakness, but because I have concluded that it poses unacceptable risks of spills on land and water and, most importantly, because the combustion of the bitumen that does not spill will contribute significantly to irreversible global warming. And that will harm women, children, and even manly men.

    Kathryn Harrison Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

  57. Problems of shale

    SIR – There are several very real drawbacks to shale gas that you did not raise in your leader (“Fracking great”, June 2nd). The first is that it is far from clear whether shale-gas extraction will bring down future gas prices much, if at all. There are some doubts that recoverable reserves in many parts of the world are as large or as economical to recover as drilling firms have suggested. Without the price-reducing effect, most of the other purported benefits of shale gas simply no longer apply.

    Second, immediately switching from coal to gas encourages the problem of locking-in carbon emissions, since generating-plants that are built now are likely to be emitting carbon until at least 2040. This will force up the already high costs of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

    Finally, it is worth noting that relatively cheap gas is already hindering emissions reduction: low-carbon energy technologies across the world struggle while the promise of relatively cheap gas erodes the economic rationale for building them. In turn, this means governments must offer ever-larger incentives to these industries to encourage their growth. To say the result is suboptimal is to understate the situation. Net economic benefits are likely to be low if they exist at all, and it is doubtful that there is a net environmental benefit, or at least, any such benefit will cost the taxpayer a great deal more than it need have.

    Shale gas undoubtedly has a role to play in the future energy mix, but at present it is becoming the perfect excuse for politicians to avoid making tough decisions about carbon emissions.

    James Coleman

  58. Carbon politics

    Re Conservative Carbon Amnesia (Sept. 21): O the irony.

    A revenue neutral carbon tax, which distributes the dividend back to citizens, is probably the most conservative policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and unleash market-driven innovations that Canada so desperately needs.

    It’s also the most effective policy, judging by its success in other jurisdictions, in diversifying economies while reducing emissions. Perhaps this is why the Conservatives, so in love with the oil sands, are so vehemently opposed to it.

    Cheryl McNamara, Toronto

  59. Sir,

    In your recent article on Canada’s oil sands (“The sands of grime“, 17 November 2012”) you miss the main environmental problem with oil sands expansion. It isn’t just that oil sands crude is dirtier and that pipes leak. The problem is the vast size of the reserve. Avoiding dangerous climate change requires leaving most of the world’s fossil fuels unburned. Canada’s ambition to dig up and burn it all risks causing profound harm to all of humanity.

    Milan Ilnyckyj
    Toronto, Canada

  60. Sir,

    Sunday’s rally against the Keystone XL pipeline (“U.S. protest paints Keystone as emissions villain” 17 February 2013) shows the huge constituency allied against this destructive project. Toronto was there because Canada and the U.S. must work together to build the infrastructure that will let us transition away from fossil fuels, not pipelines that will lock in decades more of unsustainable emissions from the world’s dirtiest oil.

    Milan Ilnyckyj
    President, Toronto

  61. The Climate Scientist and the Pipeline

    A Scientist’s Misguided Crusade,” by Joe Nocera (column, March 5), was a misguided critique of one of world’s leading climate scientists. James Hansen is a powerful voice of conscience. He deserves our respect for being one of the first to stand up in the early days of climate disruption awareness and demand that our leaders take action.

    The nation’s foremost climate scientist shouldn’t have to go to jail to get politicians to pay attention to our destabilizing climate. But I was proud to join him. Civil disobedience has a proud tradition in America of strengthening our most fundamental values.

    Keystone XL is a dirty, dangerous pipeline proposal that demands the attention of climate scientists and all Americans. Contrary to Mr. Nocera’s assertion, tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil on Earth. Moreover, and again contrary to Mr. Nocera’s understanding, our country is already reducing its oil demand, by several million barrels of oil daily. This pipeline is destructive and unnecessary; it will undermine the progress we’ve made recently in reducing carbon pollution in the United States.

    Americans need to stand up and support Dr. Hansen, and speak out against Keystone XL — especially after last week’s flawed State Department environmental review.

    If President Obama is serious about acting on climate disruption, he will listen to Dr. Hansen and to the millions of Americans calling on him to reject Keystone XL.

    Executive Director, Sierra Club
    Washington, March 6, 2013

  62. SIR – The reduced warming of the past decade is brief and can be understood in terms of natural fluctuations from the El Niño phenomenon, the effects of volcanoes, the solar cycle and the uptake of heat from the oceans, which continues, in contrast to your statement. There are and will always be fluctuations in global temperature, but the underlying trend is robust, man-made and consistent with a climate sensitivity of around 3°C.

    The IPCC’s range on sensitivity is supported by, but not merely based on, models. It is deeply rooted in physics. Quantum physics and thermodynamics, the same physical laws that underlie the functioning of our computers and power plants, yield a baseline climate sensitivity of about 3°C. This is based on the facts that carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane absorb infra-red; a warmer atmosphere holds more water; and ice and snow melt under warming. Any deviation from this baseline needs a reason. As long as we do not find modern physics to be fundamentally wrong, we will have to plan for a climate sensitivity of 3°C.

    Since CO2 emissions are consistently at the upper end of the IPCC’s scenarios, both our solid understanding of climate change on a global level and our lack of understanding of hurricanes and other climatic extremes demand more, not less, caution.

    Professor Anders Levermann
    Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
    Potsdam, Germany  

  63. Green subsidies

    SIR – The Economist’s criticism of renewable energy subsidies amounts to wanting something but not wanting to pay for it (“Stubborn things”, October 5th). Those subsidies are simply government funding for developing technology that voters want. There will always be a delay between investment and the fruit of the resulting research. Until then funding is required at all levels, from pure science to industry.

    Douglas Staple
    Department of physics
    Dalhousie University
    Halifax, Canada

  64. Sir,

    In a courteous response to our fossil fuel divestment campaign (“Toronto350 campaign neglects to consider U of T’s current dependence on fossil fuels“, 3 March 2014), Li Pan argues that the evidence for social harm from fossil fuels isn’t as strong as the case that tobacco harms human health. As the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC makes plain, the link between burning fossil fuels and social injury from climate change is now unequivocal. The article also argues that the university’s reliance on fossil fuels is a reason not to divest. This gets things backwards. Our present global dependence on fossil fuels is the main reason why we need to re-direct investment to climate-safe forms of energy. The fact that we have a long way to go is an argument for immediate action, not for further delay.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  65. Sir,

    To conclude that climate change is not “a problem like no other” (“In the balance“, 5 April 2014), you need to ignore what scientists say about a world that is 5-6˚C hotter (which is where we are headed) as well as the prospects for abrupt and runaway warming from sources like melting permafrost. Ignoring those risks is unjustified, even if it makes it easier to support a political and economic status quo obsessed with GDP growth at the expense of true human prosperity in the future.

    Milan Ilnyckyj
    Toronto, Canada

  66. Our changing climate

    SIR – “In the balance” (April 5th) presented a false dichotomy between being dispassionate and being alarmist about the impacts of climate change. There is nothing alarmist about the risk of extreme weather events leading to breakdowns in critical services and food systems. Such breakdowns have already accompanied, for example, the 2011 floods in Thailand and the 2010 drought in Russia. And there is nothing dispassionate about economic damage estimates that, in the words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are “incomplete” and face “recognised limitations”.

    Rather than suggesting that the risks assessed by the IPCC are scare stories and that the overall economic costs of climate change would be manageable, The Economist could explore the assumptions used by economic models and their developers to arrive at such estimates.

    One assumption is that the occurrence of impacts will automatically lead to adaptation to those impacts. The IPCC chapter, “Adaptation opportunities, constraints and limits”, shows that such optimism is not justified. Not every farmer facing crop losses has the ability to choose a different crop variety, and not all urban dwellers can move to an area where they are not exposed to floods or landslides.

    The world is facing impacts of climate change precisely because it is difficult to take effective action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. To assume that adaptation to these impacts will take place with little extra effort, at low or no cost and with immediate pay-off, is quite silly, and not a reflection of reality.

    IPCC author
    Stockholm Environment Institute

  67. The IPCC’s cost estimates

    SIR – You described the estimated costs of mitigation in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “preposterous” for being too low (“Another week, another report”, April 19th). But the cost of 0.06 percentage points of economic growth that you quoted is a reduction in the annual average consumption growth rate over the 21st century in stringent mitigation scenarios. This should not be compared with absolute reductions in economic output or consumption in a particular year. Indeed, the reductions in the rate of consumption growth correspond to median consumption losses of 1.7% by 2030 and 3.4% by 2050, relative to what would otherwise happen.

    You argued that the “costs of emission-reduction measures have routinely proved much higher than expected”. In the report the IPCC highlighted that cost estimates depend on a variety of assumptions, including the availability of relevant technologies and co-ordinated international action. These can indeed increase the costs substantially, as laid out in a comprehensive table in the summary for policymakers.

    The IPCC does not specify the feasibility of achieving a certain long-term climate-policy goal, but identifies the technological, economic and institutional requirements for achieving alternative goals under different socioeconomic conditions from a large body of scientific literature. Technological development, breakthroughs and human ingenuity will change these assumptions over time.

    That is the reason why these models should not be used as prediction machines, but as “living maps”, drawn up by scientists with the most recent evidence available to help policymakers navigate safely through a widely unknown landscape.

    Ottmar Edenhofer
    IPCC Working Group III
    Potsdam, Germany

  68. In an interview for the New York Times, President Obama explained that humanity can only burn a small fraction of the world’s remaining fossil fuels without experiencing dangerous climate change. Companies that assume that they will always be able to emit unlimited carbon pollution are hardly the choice of the “smart money” today (“Suncor still cheap, even as smart money slides into oil patch“, 8 June 2014). Rather, the smart money is moving away from dirty energy into climate solutions like renewables and energy efficiency – led by institutions like Stanford University, which has divested its endowment from coal stocks.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  69. Margaret Wente suggests that no one, with the possible exception of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, is contemplating a significant national carbon tax because “the impact on the economy and ordinary Canadians would be excruciating” (We’re All Climate Hypocrites – June 5). Sadly, she’s probably right. Future generations will pay the ultimate price because of our generation’s reluctance to limit our material comforts for the sake of human well-being beyond our lifetimes.

    Corporations oppose significant carbon taxes because of their self-interest in maximizing profit and minimizing cost. Governments are disinclined to lead in long-term environmental protection because their terms of office are brief and elections are won with promises of bread and circuses. Consequently, the public gets lip service on climate action and a lot of spin on the economic benefits of the fossil fuel industry.

    However great those benefits might be, they must surely pale beside the suffering likely to be visited on subsequent generations because of our failure to act.

    David Greer, Victoria

    I have lived a law-abiding 68 years on this planet, have never been arrested, have paid my taxes, voted in every election, even donated blood regularly. But I am ready to get in front of those bulldozers to stop this climate crime (How To Stop A Pipeline Even If It’s Government-Approved – Report on Business, May 31).

    Thousands of Canadians will join me. Clayoquot Sound was only a skirmish. This is war, war against the greedy, short-sighted advocates of dirty oil who seek to rob our children of their heritage.

    Tom Needham, Haliburton, Ont.

  70. Sir,

    You argue that the rationale for supporting renewable energy is the hope that it will eventually be cheaper than fossil fuels (“Sun, wind and drain“, July 26th). That would indeed be welcome, however the main reason for supporting renewables is that continued fossil fuel reliance threatens to undermine the climatic stability that supports human civilization. The cost of fossil fuels cannot be measured in dollars alone, but must incorporate the risk and harm they impose on human and natural systems.

    Milan Ilnyckyj

  71. Misdirected energy

    SIR – A recent Free exchange column (July 26th) asserted that “wind and solar power are even more expensive than commonly thought”. But the column made the fundamental mistake, based on an inappropriate measure, of assigning system costs to specific technologies and ignoring innovation in the system. It thereby perpetuated a myth dispatched by research many years ago about the high costs of intermittency in renewable energies.

    Adequate capacity is a statistical property of the system. Whether or how much any given source contributes to that depends on its availability at times of need. The cost of backup hinges on the cheapest way of ensuring reliability. Yet the studies that you cited ignore all the systems research in this area, which contains three broad conclusions.

    First, the most relevant measure is cost per kilowatt hour; cost per kilowatt is almost irrelevant, since people buy energy, not capacity. Second, the assignable cost of “backup” is modest and indeed can work either way: it amplifies the value of solar power in areas with air-conditioning peaks and the greater output of wind during winter enhances its value per megawatt hour in northern Europe, for example. Third, innovation and development of the system itself can radically reduce backup costs. Indeed, progress in energy efficiency, smart meters, distributed generation (including industrial backup plants) and pooling through interconnectors, in Europe and California, suggest there may be no need for dedicated new backup at all.

    It certainly cannot be equated with the cost of new conventional capacity assigned per megawatt to renewables.

    Michael Grubb
    Professor of international energy and climate policy
    University College, London

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