Climate Change Doesn't Scare the Financial Post

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by Ian Angus

Clear away the steamy language and the rhetoric from the climate hysterics and in many ways the new report reads like a scaled-back version of the 2001 report…. the fact is that beyond the rhetoric, the actual summary doesn’t look all that scary.”

So wrote Terence Corcoran, editor of the Financial Post, one of Canada’s top two business newspapers, one day after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Summary Report for Policymakers.

Corcoran, who frequently gives space on his editorial page to the most bizarre of climate-change-deniers, says that the IPCC tried to produce an “ominous warning,” but “they didn’t quite pull it off.”

In a sense, he’s right. The IPCC report, taken alone, isn’t scary. It is a calmly-stated summary of what scientists now know about climate change. What they know is that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and that they are 90-95 percent certain that most of the temperature is caused by “anthropogenic [human-caused] greenhouse gas concentrations.”

And they offer their best estimates of how warm the planet will be by the end of this century, if we don’t take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

  • In the very best case, it will be between 1.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in between 1980 and 1999.
  • In the worst case, it will be between 2.4 and 6.4 degrees warmer.

The authors simply set those numbers down on paper. Because their mandate was to report on the “Physical Science Basis” for climate change, they wrote very little about what the numbers would mean for life on earth.

While Corcoran was declaring his lack of fear, Mark Lynas, author of High Tide and Six Degrees, explained in a UK newspaper what such temperature increases might mean:

“+2.4°: Coral reefs almost extinct: In North America, a new dust-bowl brings deserts to life in the high plains states, centred on Nebraska, but also wipes out griculture and cattle ranching as sand dunes appear across five US states, from Texas in the south to Montana in the north. Rising sea levels accelerate as the Greenland ice sheet tips into irreversible melt, submerging atoll nations and low-lying deltas. In Peru, disappearing Andean glaciers mean 10 million people face water shortages. Warming seas wipe out the Great Barrier Reef and make coral reefs virtually extinct throughout the tropics. Worldwide, a third of all species on the planet face extinction.

“+3.4°: Rainforest turns to desert: The Amazonian rainforest burns in a firestorm of catastrophic ferocity, covering South America with ash and smoke. Once the smoke clears, the interior of Brazil has become desert, and huge amounts of extra carbon have entered the atmosphere, further boosting global warming. The entire Arctic ice-cap disappears in the summer months, leaving the North Pole ice-free for the first time in 3 million years. Polar bears, walruses and ringed seals all go extinct. Water supplies run short in California as the Sierra Nevada snowpack melts away. Tens of millions are displaced as the Kalahari desert expands across southern Africa.

“+4.4°: Melting ice caps displace millions: Rapidly-rising temperatures in the Arctic put Siberian permafrost in the melt zone, releasing vast quantities of methane and CO2. Global temperatures keep on rising rapidly in consequence. Melting ice-caps and sea level rises displace more than 100 million people, particularly in Bangladesh, the Nile Delta and Shanghai. Heatwaves and drought make much of the sub-tropics uninhabitable: large-scale migration even takes place within Europe, where deserts are growing in southern Spain, Italy and Greece. More than half of wild species are wiped out, in the worst mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs. Agriculture collapses in Australia.

“+5.4°: Sea levels rise by five metres: The West Antarctic ice sheet breaks up, eventually adding another five metres to global sea levels. If these temperatures are sustained, the entire planet will become ice-free, and sea levels will be 70 metres higher than today. South Asian society collapses due to the disappearance of glaciers in the Himalayas, drying up the Indus river, while in east India and Bangladesh, monsoon floods threaten millions. Super-El Niños spark global weather chaos. Most of humanity begins to seek refuge away from higher temperatures closer to the poles. Tens of millions of refugees force their way into Scandanavia and the British Isles. World food supplies run out.

“+6.4°: Most of life is exterminated: Warming seas lead to the possible release of methane hydrates trapped in sub-oceanic sediments: methane fireballs tear across the sky, causing further warming. The oceans lose their oxygen and turn stagnant, releasing poisonous hydrogen sulphide gas and destroying the ozone layer. Deserts extend almost to the Arctic. “Hypercanes” (hurricanes of unimaginable ferocity) circumnavigate the globe, causing flash floods which strip the land of soil. Humanity reduced to a few survivors eking out a living in polar refuges. Most of life on Earth has been snuffed out, as temperatures rise higher than for hundreds of millions of years.” [The Independent, February 3, 2007]

But Terence Corcoran isn’t scared. Brave man!

Subsequent issues of Financial Post have featured excerpts from the Fraser Institute’s written-in-advance critique of the IPCC, a document that actual climate scientists call a “damp squib.”

“There are so many bizarre statements in the Fraser Institute report that some of us think that spotting them could serve as a good final exam in an elementary course on climate change.” (RealClimate, Feb. 3 2007)

But the judgments of real scientists won’t affect the editors of the Financial Post. They are true-believing free market absolutists, ideologues who view the world through the narrowest of neo-liberal blinders. Hard as it is to believe, it’s likely that Terence Corcoran actually believes the pernicious nonsense he writes.

That makes him particularly well-suited for the job of providing ideological justifications that make it easier for the most conservative wing of the capitalist class to oppose any limits on the right of capitalists to do just as they please — no matter how damaging their actions might be to the rest of the human race.

Meanwhile, another sector of the our ruling elite has adopted a different attitude towards climate change – or at least it sounds different.

More on that in a future post.