Saturday, January 18, 2020

Why I’m a climate change skeptic.

View from Apollo 8 December 20, 1968.
It seems almost every major natural disaster, or weather event these days is somehow related to Climate Change. Fires, floods, storms - everything short of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can be blamed on Climate Change.
The major climate change story of the year so far are the bush fires in Australia. But is it really a climate change story? My last blog post indicates that there are other man-made reasons for the fires. Its important to remain objective particularly when it's so easy to assign blame. Most broadcast media have already decided this is a climate change story, but a little digging provides other, simpler answers. Here are the conclusions from a recent online article:
"Blaming rising CO2 concentrations and global warming is only misdirecting real efforts to minimize wildfire destruction. What Australia and the world needs to address is 1) human ignitions, 2) invasive grasses and 3) fire suppression that allows surface fuels to accumulate and enable large intense and destructive fires to wreak havoc like never before!"
I am a climate change skeptic. I’m skeptical about the alarmism and our attempts to mitigate an objectively non-existent problem, and as I said in my last post, I consider the matter so unimportant (even though I’m still writing about it) that it does not warrant as much attention as it receives except maybe on a very local level to mitigate specifically local problems. I wasn’t always a skeptic.

Years ago, when I was a beginning science teacher and the idea of global warming became a cause célèbre among scientists, politicians and the general public, I was onboard. I brought up the issue to both my junior and senior biology students. Those were really the beginning days of ecological awareness. Acid rain was a big issue, so was over population, the “hole” in the Ozone layer and the idea of limits to growth. Even earlier, when I was a university student, Americans were racing to the moon. Astronauts onboard Apollo 8 around Christmas of 1968 snapped that famous image of “Earth-rise” as they swung around the moon. That powerful image contrasted our beautiful blue planet with the stark cratered greyness of the moon’s surface. We were just one lonely planet in the vastness of outer space, and we had better care for it. That was really not a bad sentiment and I was happy to teach young people these important concepts.
I didn’t even mind it when new government regulations came into force regarding sulfur-content in coal, or when bans on chlorofluorocarbons were instituted, despite my aversion to big government. 

It was only when noises got louder demonizing carbon dioxide and fossil fuels, that I became suspicious and skeptical.

Carbon dioxide is important, absolutely vital. It’s NOT a pollutant as many in our government think. I’ve taught lessons about the Carbon Cycle, and the fact that carbon dioxide is central to two of the most important processes in biology, photosynthesis in plants, and mechanical respiration in animals. Yet people were talking about carbon pollution and using computer models to show what would happen if CO2 levels increased in the atmosphere. Global Warming became Climate Change, which meant that any unusual weather event could now be related to the increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Worse yet, if anyone raised doubts about these affects or suggested they were due to natural variability, they were dismissed. 
Once politicians got into the debate, advocating against fossil fuels and using phrases like “settled science,” indicating an unassailable level of certainty around CO2 caused Climate Change, I knew there was a problem, and my skepticism was complete. Don’t get me wrong. That does not mean I think climate change isn’t happening or even that CO2 is a possible cause. My problem was with the idea of certainty. Once certainty is absolute, then science cannot exist. Dogma is the antithesis of science.

All of science is theoretical. Even those explanations we think of as scientific facts today, are just really good theories that have withstood the test of time. But doubt and uncertainty must always remain, however small. When uncertainty is totally dismissed or denied, then you are leaving science and entering the territory of dogma, a quality more associated with religion than science.

When I was a naive young student, then teacher, I used to think that science was self-correcting. Hypotheses were tested by experiments. Those experiments were replicated by others, and good ideas were affirmed while bad ideas were eventually dismissed. There was always a search for the truth. When Climate Change became political, the search for truth was subverted. That state of affairs is not unprecedented. Check out Lysenkoism in the former Soviet Union. More recently the idea that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease or that stomach ulcers are caused by environmental stress, are both widely accepted ideas but shown to be wrong. People still believe these erroneous ideas, which just shows how difficult it is to change a popular paradigm.

I’ll have more to say about skepticism in my next post.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Is climate change an existential threat to humanity?

Canonized! Saint Greta.
It’s ironic, even funny, that the year that climate change became a climate crisis, then a climate emergency, has ended in disappointment for the true believers at the COP25 (or as I prefer CON25) in Madrid.

2019 was also the year that media hype has reached fever pitch with stories of imminent disaster if we don’t act now, of tipping points, unlikely young heroines, climate strikes, marches, and of radical new movements, all in a concerted effort, allegedly, to save the planet.

By the way, the meeting in Spain was supposed to be held in Chile. Ironically Chile had to withdraw because of massive political protests regarding exorbitant price increases for fuel etc., which is precisely what the Madrid meeting would have encouraged the rest of the world to do to forestall climate change. But alas, they could not agree.

The latest climate change catastrophe everyone is pointing to, are the Australian Bush Fires. Yes, it has been hot and dry down under, and bush fires are common in the Aussie summer, but these fires are very severe. Why? The answer is likely related to available fuel, rather than climate change. Historically the aboriginals knew this and practiced “cool burning” when conditions allowed. This involved intentional local burn offs of accumulated fuel (brush) to reduce the chances of huge conflagrations of the type we are now witnessing. The aboriginal practices were discontinued when pressures from Green activists forced new and possibly unwise government policies.

But let me answer my question in the title. Emphatically NO

Climate change is no more a threat to humanity than overpopulation was in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich published his book The Population Bomb. There was no bomb, there were no worldwide famines, Ehrlich and his book were simply wrong. Some simple advances in agricultural technology solved the Malthusian crisis that Ehrlich had predicted. Coercive government action on a world-wide scale was NOT required. No taxes, no limits to the number of children in families (except for the Chinese, and they will rue that day). It did not require a concerted effort by a world government to solve the alleged crisis. It was solved because people became smarter, wealthier, and healthier through free markets. In fact, today we live in what is arguably the best of times ever for humanity.

The best of times.
How can I be confident that climate change won’t threaten humanity this time? History tells me. At least five major ice ages have occurred throughout Earth's history: the earliest was over 2 billion years ago, and the most recent one began approximately 3 million years ago and continues today (we are living in an ice age!). Currently, we are in a warmer interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago. At its peak, ice thicknesses would have dwarfed building (see graphic below) in areas where cities now exist. I'm writing this blog post at a location just north of Toronto. In fact, very close to my home is a moraine left over from that last continental glacier.

The Great Lakes are remnants of the last glaciation.

That last ice age coincides with all of recorded human history. The entire history of our human civilization has taken place in this interglacial period after the continental glaciers retreated. Not only did humanity survive that ice age, but today humans are being accused of possibly preventing the next one. I’m assuming there will be another ice age, but maybe not. We don’t entirely understand why the previous glacial periods occurred, and we certainly have a very poor track record making predictions into the future, even the near future (see graph below).

The idea that humans are the primary cause of the climate change is now so entrenched in our media, in our culture, that anyone doubting it, even suggesting there was a debate, is dismissed and equated with being a Holocaust denier. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.

The models don't jive with reality.
The reality is that the media, most politicians and many scientists would say there is no debate. Climate change is happening and humans are the primary cause. We, the people of Earth, must do something now because its reached the point of an existential threat to humanity, despite my comments above. It's an emergency, a climate crisis no less.

That, I believe, is an accurate description of the present state of affairs for the affirmative side, if there were a debate.
However I believe there is still a debate and I take the contrary position, not that climate change isn’t happening, it is and has been throughout history, but that the matter is so unimportant, that its not even worthy of further discussion. The difference between these two opposing positions is staggering and needs to be unpacked. How serious should observers consider the debate given some interesting facts? 

Consider that the chief spokesperson for the climate crisis side is a sixteen year old autistic school girl from Sweden, who has lately been absent from school for great stretches of time. She is little more than a self-appointed (maybe not  self) media wunderkind with no particular expertise except her age and innocence. How she, aged 16, organizes rallies and marches around the world, no one seems to ask. It’s astounding to me, almost laughable given all the scientists that might be available, that the media has chosen her as the chief spokesperson for such a complex and apparently important scientific and politically significant idea. It’s beyond ludicrous that she was recently named most influential person of 2019 by none other than TIME magazine (see photo). It’s practically a self-parody. If, as many people would agree, belief in climate change has become a secular religion, Greta was just canonized by TIME. 

Consider also that most nations of the world have signed onto an “accord” that has set goals and targets for fixing the problem. However, the leader of one nation, the one with the largest economy in the world (USA) has decided to opt out of the accord and the nation with second largest economy (and growing fast - China) plus other smaller but important contributors (India) to the problem have been exempted from the accord. In fact they are not going to help solve the "emergency" for at least another ten years, and they will continue to exacerbate the problem in the meantime. Am I exaggerating?

I've got much more to say on this issue, but that will wait for another post.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The power of a single voice - war on superbugs

Lytic cycle of T4, a virulent phage. 

The media loves stories of looming crises and dire predictions. The story of antibiotic resistant superbugs has been around for over a decade and it periodically gets retold because there is a lot of truth to it. It’s a story of evolution by inadvertent artificial selection that is happening on a global scale. We are losing the ability to fight common bacterial infections because we have abused and overused common antibiotics. This has created bacteria that are immune to all but a few of our most potent antibiotics, and those too are disappearing fast. Soon people will be dying of infections that were once easily treated by modern medicine. We will soon revert back to a time before antibiotics, at least that is the "superbug" threat and the crisis being circulated by mainstream media.

On of my oldest friends, a high school buddy, a friend for more than 50 years, recently saw a media report on superbugs and the losing battle. He thought that that media report had omitted an important tool in the medical arsenal to fight common infections. So he wrote to the media outlet and pointed to a long known but overlooked and under used tool to fight infection: Phage Therapy. Subsequent stories from other media outlets prompted similar letters/emails, and he started getting thank you acknowledgments for his troubles. Here is what CTV News, a recipient of one of those emails has done with the story recently. It gives hope to those affected by these superbugs, even restoring people who were near death to good health.

The story of bacteriophages and their life cycle, is often told by biology teachers (like I was) to senior biology students as a model for how viruses work in general (see diagram above). It shows how viruses cause disease by destroying cells and also shows that viruses are not cells at all, so are not affected by antibiotics like bacteria. It’s only been in the last twenty years that there are anti-viral drugs that are commonly used today, mostly for immunocompromised patients (as I am now). Antibiotics have been around for almost 100 years, but commonly used for the last 80 years. 

I’d like to think that my old friend’s emails have influenced and corrected the dire warnings posted in the press, radio and TV. It's a lesson for us all: speak up when you can help. Certainly phage therapy appears to be a viable treatment for patients as a last resort as the CTV story (linked above) explains.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A man that says what others are afraid to.....

Douglas Murray
As Christmas approaches writers are out in full force promoting their latest publications for our gift consideration. Thanks to my wife, a voracious reader, for pointing out a column about such a book in the National Post. On top of all she does to support me in my condition, she also knows what I might write about.

In the Post, Barbara Kay writes about her recent interview with Douglas Murray and his latest: The Madness of Crowds: Gender , Race and Identity. This book and his previous book: The Strange Death of Europe, fit very well with my previous two posts on the cultural shift that has taken place. The Europe book opens with the following statements:
“Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide.”
I could not agree more with those statements, something I would have written about if I had been writing over the past four years, lots to catchup on. I also agree with much of what Murray says in general, as Kay points out he says what others are afraid to, a man after my own heart.
 See for yourself in this hour long interview with Murray done for the Hoover Institution in the YouTube series called Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson. It’s an excellent series that I have been watching for many years and Robinson is an excellent interviewer. You should subscribe and watch, its well worth your time.