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Opinion: Facing up to the truth about climate change

If we want consumers to accept the judgment of science, we need to return the favour

Those pants look terrible on you.

Perhaps you’ve experienced that awkward moment when you try to stop a friend from committing a fashion faux pas. If so, you may have agonized how to word your concerns to avoid offence, while still getting your message across.

It’s a potentially volatile moment that perfectly captures how I feel writing this column.

What I’m trying to say is this: If you tell consumers that they shouldn’t be worried about GMOs because science says they’re safe, but deny climate change in the next breath, you lose credibility outside the ag echo chamber.

Yes, there are scientists who claim climate change is a hoax, or not caused by humans. But quoting them is like quoting Dr. Oz to justify the latest food fad. The majority of climate change scientists say that our climate is shifting, and that shift is caused by us. While the climate has changed without our help in the past, that doesn’t rule out human causes this time.

I can understand why many in the ag industry view climate change activists with skepticism. They are often self-righteous, and that’s annoying as a restless cat at 4 a.m. Some use a particularly hot day or severe storm alone as evidence of climatic catastrophe, and that’s not necessarily correct. But neither is that recent cold winter evidence that things are OK.

Climate change is more like the tide coming in than a tsunami crashing over us — a shift in weather patterns that unfolds over decades. It might not be apparent that there’s a problem until you find yourself up to your nose in sea water.

Insurance industry quote data

I was browsing around Munich Re’s website, hoping to find some bit of info to win you all over. Munich Re is a global insurance company that provides both primary insurance and reinsurance. The company is based in (you guessed it) Munich, Germany.

If you search “climate change” on Munich Re’s website, you’ll find some fascinating fact sheets. According to Dr. Eberhard Faust, head of Munich Re’s climate risks research, the melting ice in the Arctic will not cause sea level rises. He writes that the ice is in a state of equilibrium with surrounding water. If you’ve ever had a scotch on the rocks and waited long enough for the ice cubes to melt, you’d find the level of the fluid in the glass doesn’t change, he further explains. Same concept (basically).

It’s not all good news. Faust writes that if the climate warms by 2 C:

  • Central and Southern Europe are likely to see more flooding, due to more precipitation. Northern Europe will likely see less extreme flooding because there will be less snow accumulation.
  • Europe will likely see more than double the number of heat wave days, and the Mediterranean will be even hotter.
  • Losses from drought, storms, etc.… in France could nearly double by 2040.

One thing I like about Munich Re’s information is that it tries to separate natural climate variability from man-made climate change. For example, the site explains how the ocean and atmosphere affect Australia and New Zealand’s climate. We’ve all heard of La Niña and El Niño, and they certainly affect weather Down Under.

The Indian Ocean Dipole, which is all about sea surface temperature, has also had a big effect on droughts for centuries. In the positive phase, sea surface temperatures are low in the east and high in the west parts of the Indian Ocean. In positive or neutral phases, southern Australia (especially the southeast) is more likely to see big droughts. In negative phases, the same region gets more rain.

The Indian Ocean Dipole is a natural phenomenon. But, according to Munich Re, recent precipitation drops in Australia’s cool season are “unlikely to be the result of natural climate oscillations alone. It is probable that climate change was already starting to take effect, reducing the frequency of the cut-off lows which bring rains to the southwest, south and southeast of Australia and to Tasmania.”

I don’t know how helpful a Canadian carbon tax will be, or how much it might harm our economy. It will depend largely on how it’s done. I think we should also be looking at adapting at this point, and I suspect many industries are doing just that.

The fact that the insurance industry is concerned about climate change makes me concerned (especially since I live on the edge of the flammable boreal forest). I doubt the insurance industry is unduly influenced by either activists or the fossil fuel lobby. Those people are all about risk and numbers.

Of course, you don’t have to believe any of this. You have a right to your own opinion.

All I’m saying is that climate change denial is not a good look, especially when the ag industry is pleading for science-based policy.

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