I read it in The Star!

Please enjoy the following op .ed., written by yours truly, followed by a dismissive letter from a notorious climate change denier, followed by several letters from those who believe in science & facts & all that. Originally published in the Star Phoenix. And they just keep coming and coming and coming…


xx mvb

Reduce fossil fuel use to ease warming

Van Buskirk of Saskatoon will attend the UN climate change conference on behalf of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.

As I prepare to travel to Qatar in November to attend international climate negotiations aimed at trying to bring climate change under control, I have been thinking about the fact that during every month of the 24 years I’ve been alive, the average temperature on Earth has exceeded the global average temperatures of the 20th century.

What’s especially worrisome to me is the pace of change. Every decade, the rate of temperature increase gets higher. Scientists forecast that if we do not drastically reduce fossil fuel use, those increases will continue unabated.

Life on Earth is closely tied to climate, and two warnings from scientists this summer particularly hit home.

From the South came a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature telling us that life in the coral reefs of the Caribbean is collapsing. Coral reefs are critical ecosystems since they are home to a quarter of all marine life. Only eight per cent of Caribbean coral reefs still have live cover, compared to 50 per cent in the 1970s – a reminder of how much we are damaging the life sources we depend upon.

From the North came a very different kind of warning, but one also directly linked to temperature. Sea ice extent in the Arctic dropped this month by the largest amount in recorded history. The previous summer low was recorded in 2007, at 4.10 million square kilometres. That was down to to 3.41 million sq. km on Sept. 16. That loss in an area larger than Saskatchewan. The Arctic’s summer ice cover is now half the size it was when satellite monitoring began in 1979.

Sea ice acts like a giant mirror that reflects much of the sun’s energy back to space, thus helping to cool the Earth. This critical role is being affected.

The Arctic environment also locks away large quantities of onshore and offshore methane. As the sea ice melts, this heattrapping gas will escape into the atmosphere. My biggest fear is that the release of vast quantities of methane will cause runaway climate change that we cannot control.

I hope that the Qatar conference will bring about a detailed plan for very large reductions in fossil fuel use.

I also hope that we will take big steps to reduce fossil fuel use right here at home, so that future generations can live in a healthy environment.

Letter to the Editor: Distorted reality

Re: Reduce fossil fuel use to ease warming (SP, Sept. 27). Youthful idealism and a noble cause are no excuse for distortion and false information.

As we are in the aftermath of the Little Ice Age (1550-1850 AD), and because both satellite and weather station data indicate no atmospheric warming in almost 15 years, few readers will be snowed by Megan van Buskirk’s pleading: “Every month of the 24 years I’ve been alive, the average temperature on Earth has exceeded the global average temperatures of the 20th century.”

Sure, Arctic sea-ice cover fell to a 30-year low this month, but even NASA attributes this to a cyclone over the Arctic Ocean that broke up the sea ice and pushed large portions southward, where it melted.

Furthermore, the supposed report from the International Union of the Conservation of Nature is actually a summary of a workshop of reef ecologists. Their summary does not state that “only eight per cent of Caribbean coral reefs still have live cover, compared to 50 per cent in the 1970s.” Nor does it lay blame for reef deterioration on putative anthropogenic climate change.

Of course we should worry about the health of coral reefs: I once abandoned a research project because “my” reef was dying from nutrient overloading due to sewage and runoff. It is a pity that van Buskirk, who works for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, suspended the critical thinking she was supposed to have learned at the U of S.

Brian Pratt Geological Sciences University of Saskatchewan

Critical problem

Brian Pratt of the U of S geological sciences department (Distorted reality, SP, Oct. 4), questions the facts in a recent viewpoint article by Megan Van Buskirk pertaining to fossil fuel use and global warming.

Pratt claims that satellite and weather station data indicate no atmospheric warming in almost 15 years, and contests Van Buskirk’s statement that for every month of the 24 years she’s been alive, the average temperature on Earth has exceeded the global average temperatures of the 20th century. He accuses her of suspending critical thought.

I’m taken aback by Pratt’s tone, particularly when a simple reading of the recent publications by the world’s top meteorological agencies shows that he is incorrect. As a university faculty member, he should value references, so let me provide two.

In its September 2012 publication, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for August 2012, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states: “August 2012 marks the 36th consecutive August and the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.”

If Pratt remains unconvinced, he should check the United Kingdom Meteorological Office website that states, “The average temperature over the first decade of the 21st century was significantly warmer than any preceding decade in the instrumental record.”

The issue of global temperature increase is extremely important because it is starting to create climate instability in many parts of the world, including more widespread drought and more severe flooding events. And that’s something to think critically about.

Allyson Brady Executive Director Sask. Environmental Society

See big picture

In Distorted Reality (SP, Oct. 4). Brian Pratt voiced several criticisms of Megan Van Buskirk’s viewpoint on fossil fuel use and global warming. My reading of both submissions suggests that Prof. Pratt is nitpicking Buskirk’s article to support his interpretation.

For example, Pratt suggests that a storm was behind this year’s record Arctic sea ice melt. Storms are a factor, but Van Buskirk correctly identifies climate change as the biggest reason behind this September’s unprecedented decline in sea ice. The six largest Arctic sea ice melts have all occurred in the past six years.

It’s important to keep our eye on the big picture, as underlined by a new report, Climate Vulnerability Monitor, commissioned by 20 governments around the world.

It concludes that: Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year, mostly in developing countries, resulting from extreme weather events leading to malnutrition, poverty and diseases; air pollution from consuming fossil fuels is also separately contributing to the deaths of at least 4.5 million people worldwide each year; and climate change is annually costing the world more than $1.2 trillion.

Each of us has a responsibility to consider the collective evidence concerning climate change, and act accordingly. I agree with Van Buskirk’s viewpoint and support the following: Regulations and programs that reduce fossil fuel consumption, particularly coal; a slower, low-effluent development of oilsands; and the incorporation of sustainable lifestyle practices on an individual basis.

David Henry Aberdeen

Questionable claim

Megan Van Buskirk’s recent letter told us of the threats to human life due to climate change and fossil fuel use – the same thing that 98 per cent of the world’s leading scientists are saying. Then there was a letter from Brian Pratt, who accuses Van Buskirk of distortion and using false information.

Pratt goes on to refer to facts coming from NASA, the best climate research centre in North America. But here are some facts taken directly from NASA that support Van Scan this code to send a letter to the editor from your smartphone. For more information, see page A2. Buskirk’s letter.

In a news release of Jan 19, NASA stated: “The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880, according to NASA scientists. The finding continues a trend in which nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000.”

Regarding the Arctic ice melt, it says: “Near record ice melt occurred without the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007. Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not conductive to ice melt loss this year, but the melt still reached a new record low.”

James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in the Financial Post on Aug. 3: “Climate change is here – and worse than we thought.”

So, just who is distorting reality? It’s sad to think that Pratt was trying to discredit Van Buskirk.

It sounds a lot like some of the denial talk coming from those working with the oil vultures.

Dianne Rhodes Saskatoon

Disclose Ties

I was taken aback by the letter, Distorted reality (SP, Oct. 4), by Prof. Brian Pratt of the geological sciences department at the University of Saskatchewan.

Pratt attempts to undermine the message and credibility of a letter in an earlier edition by Megan Van Buskirk on climate change. Although I do not claim to be a climate change expert, I can readily recognize the patronizing and dismissive nature of Pratt’s message.

His virulent denial of human-made climate change invites one to question his motives. An online search establishes that Pratt is a signatory to the International Climate Science Coalition, whose mission statement states that it “focuses on publicizing the repercussions of misguided plans to ‘solve the climate crisis.’ This includes, but is not limited to, the dangerous impacts of attempts to replace conventional energy sources with wind turbines, solar power, biofuels and other ineffective and expensive energy sources.”

Pratt is also a member of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, whose website is sponsored by Nexen Energy. He is associate editor of its organ, the Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology.

It is unfortunate that Pratt was not more forthcoming in his letter to identify the vested interests implicating his professional pursuits and opinions.

D’Arcy Hande Saskatoon