Decline of Climate Change Acceptance Scares Leading Scientists


Dr. Nina Federoff, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said at a recent gathering of the AAAS in Vancouver that she is “scared to death” about the public’s declining acceptance of global warming and the growing influence of well-funded skeptics who are spreading misinformation about climate change (Times-Colonist, Feb. 27/12).

“I’m very worried,” she confided to reporters, noting leaked documents from the influential Heartland Institute of Chicago that reveal it is planning a program for US public schools intended to discredit the evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is creating world-wide environmental threats.

Dr. Federoff, of course, is from America where right-wing politics and religious fundamentalism have reacted so negatively to the reason and empiricism so crucial to scientific thought. Public support for the science of climate change is waning in the US, she noted, “even as the scientific consensus has increased.”

The AAAS meeting in Vancouver also provided Canadian scientists with an opportunity to voice their concern about this country’s version of the American problem. They complain that Canada’s federal government has been “muzzling” the scientists it employs, forcing them to vet any communication with the media through a complex process of centralized control that usually ends with no interviews at all, or with versions that are sufficiently sanitized to be politically comfortable. Dr. Andrew Weaver, Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis at the University of Victoria, has expressed exasperation with this constraint on the public’s access to scientific information. While his colleague in the US, Dr. James Hansen – one of the foremost experts in the world on climate change – has even resorted to the extreme of civil disobedience to highlight his concern about government inaction and obstruction.

Although complaint and exasperation are more restrained responses than civil disobedience, they are stages on the way to being “very worried” and “scared to death”. Perhaps Dr. Federoff is just being more emotionally honest than many of her colleagues, simply revealing what the habit of scientific objectivity keeps them from expressing so candidly. But is being “scared to death” a legitimate response? What does she know about climate change that would provoke such fear?

Part of her fear may stem from living in America where the debilitating effect of a strong anti-science sentiment is keeping one of the principle political and economic forces on the planet from actively joining a world-wide effort to combat global climate change. If this critically important environmental issue is to be seriously addressed, it will need America’s full support. And, if the past is prelude to the future, this is not likely to happen anytime soon.

The implications are sobering given the consensus of scientific evidence about the environmental consequences of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Unless this science is fundamentally flawed, unless a technological miracle suddenly supplies massive amounts of clean energy, or unless a revolution in public opinion radically alters the disposition of global politics, the prognosis for climate normality is sobering.

Here is our present situation, as outlined by the International Energy Agency (IEA), “widely considered as one of the most conservative in outlook” (Guardian Weekly, Nov. 18/11). Global emissions already consume 80 percent of the carbon allotment calculated to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide below 450 parts per million, the concentration that scientists predict will increase global temperatures above a critical 2°C tipping point. By 2015, at least 90 percent of this allotment will be used by energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, it will be all used, according to the IEA’s estimations, and we will have surpassed the critical 2°C tipping point (Ibid.).

Now juxtapose this assessment with the results of last December’s United Nations’ climate talks in Durban, South Africa. International negotiations for emission reductions will occur until 2015 and then unspecified targets – perhaps neither binding nor enforceable – will be in place by 2020.

In response to this tardy and vague objective, Fatih Birol, chief economist for the IEA, echoed Dr. Federoff’s words. “The door is closing,” he warned. “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [level of carbon dioxide for safety]. The door will be closed forever” (Ibid.).

We the public, the people of Canada and the world, must decide if this stark assessment is real, imaginary or the fabricated concoction of some global conspiracy intent on undermining the momentum of an economic, industrial and technological system that has been materially successful beyond our imagination. And we must weigh this success against the precious little time we have to halt immeasurable environmental mayhem. Then this decision must be conveyed to our leaders, by whatever political system we have, either to effect the rapid change required to avert a crisis, or to live with the risk and continue as if the scientific assessment of our situation is faulty. It’s a sobering decision.

Perhaps, in making this decision, we might each ask ourselves why Nina Federoff is “scared to death”.


About Ray Grigg

Ray Grigg is in his ninth year as a weekly environmental columnist for the Campbell River Courier-Islander on BC's Vancouver Island. Before this column, titled Shades of Green - now appearing on as well - Ray wrote a bi-weekly environmental column for five years. He is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism. His academic background is in English literature, psychology, cultural history, and philosophy. He has travelled to some 45 countries around the globe.

6 thoughts on “Decline of Climate Change Acceptance Scares Leading Scientists

  1. Ray, you owe it to yourself and us to read:
    Climate Coup — The Politics
    How the regulating class is using bogus claims
    about climate change to entrench and extend their
    economic privileges and political control.
    The author, Dr David M.W. Evans consulted full-time for the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Department of Climate Change) from 1999 to 2005, and part-time 2008 to 2010, modeling Australia’s carbon in plants, debris, mulch, soils, and forestry and agricultural products. Evans is a mathematician and engineer, with six university degrees including a PhD from Stanford University in electrical engineering. The evidence supporting the idea that CO2 emissions were the main cause of global warming reversed itself from 1998 to 2006, causing Evans to move from being a warmist to a skeptic. The response Evans received for making some obvious points about the evidence in 2007 was overly-strong and dishonest, alerting him that there was more to the global warming issue than just the science.

  2. Harper even shut down, the Polar Environment Research. Environment Canada’s budget was slashed. Scientists are not permitted to publish their paper, they all had to go through Harper first. I also read. If T.I.D.E. said one word against the tar sands, their budget would be slashed too.

    It seems Harper must be hiding something??? Dictators all seem to have a, paranoid, compulsive, behavior disorder, to control absolutely everything.

  3. The declining acceptance of climate change … AGW or otherwise … isn’t nearly as scary as the mind rinse being administered by corporatised gov’ts now run by neocons and religious fundamentalists. That even 30% of the population want to believe the Cons, under Harper, will save us from environmental catastrophe and lead us from the shadow of the valley of economic death is discouraging. That the remaining 70% appear blissfully ignorant and prefer to stay that way is tragic.

  4. Read the research done by Univ of Michican:
    It shows that now 62% of Americans believe in global warming. However, it is very different based on party: Dem 78%, Rep 47%. And only 9% is based on Scientific evidence. At least 34% is based on personal observations [not very reliable re global temps., and 14% from Media. Interestingly, the largest is 21% because the polar ice packs are melting- not sure if that is scientific or observation but I will lean toward logical deduction on that one.
    So- even if Americans DO believe in global warming, it has little to do with belief in science or scientists.

  5. Hi there, I’m 58 years old. My son is 27 years old.In his state of capacity, he will never be able to afford a home in Vancouver w/o my help. Will he then be able to maintain a home in the “lower” affordable places to live on common ground such as the average family enjoys now.
    Other than excessive heat in the summer, higher high water, colder winters, wild climate swings all over the world, WHAT ELSE can he expect to deal with on an allowance from the 1 %’rs?
    Tell me why the Ice caps are melting. Tell me why the Ice caps are getting smaller. Tell me why the only sustainable planet in out universe has a hole in it’s protective shield.
    You can hide only your head in the sand for so long. Hope the world as we see it today is still here in 50 yrs so our grandchildren have a life worth living.

  6. “We the public, the people of Canada and the world, must decide if this stark assessment is real, imaginary or the fabricated concoction of some global conspiracy . . .”

    As the funny little character in the animations says, “I bought a Prius to save the world.” Can you imagine anything more ridiculous, but that’s how you become popular with the AGW crowd!

    My bellwether measure oe authenticity is how they respond to, do you believe in man-made global warming?

    Rafe’s response, “I don’t know why I bother.”. It is such people with Rafe’s messianic attitude that closes the circle.

    Damien’s response seems to be to keep it cool.

    Ray’s is no response: hide behind the editor secure he will never have to engage the hurly-burly.

    My response, I don’t follow NASCAR, don’t go North Sea cruising, haven’t owned a car since 1984.

    We must certainly clean up our act: protect our wilderness from predatory oil, criminalize corrupt banking practices (most important enviro act of all that CSC diligently avoids) and elect responsible governments.

    I don’t know why I bother!

Comments are closed.