Patrick Moore on the facts and fiction of climate change

Is the world as we know it really going to end because of global warming, or is Al Gore full of hot air? An interview with  Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore.

FLORIDA, August 9, 2012 — Few debates over the last decade have been as angry as the one about climate change.

While many deem it as a threat so imminent that island countries might be submerged beneath the sea, others claim the entire subject is the result of junk science. Where do the facts really lie?

Patrick Moore played a foundational role in organizing Greenpeace, perhaps the world’s most famous environmental activist group. For several years, he served as the chairman of its Canadian wing. However, he eventually became skeptical of the direction which the group was taking, and disassociated from it.

Today, Moore is one of the foremost voices in the field of sustainable development. He continues his work to save and preserve the environment, but is concerned about what he sees as unwarranted panic over global warming. Here he explains his views about climate change, the modern environmental movement, how it all has become so political, and much more.      

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Joseph F. Cotto: Environmentalism is a concept with which most of us are familiar, yet tend to have our own definitions of. What does it mean to you?

Dr. Patrick Moore: Yes, the semantics can be confusing. One approach is to just accept the word as a general term denoting concern for nature and the “environment.” It gets more complicated when you consider whether humans are part of the environment or not.

“Environmentalism” is an “ism” like capitalism and socialism. In that sense it connotes an ideology or shared set of beliefs, not necessarily based on scientific proof or evidence. An environmentalist is therefore distinct from and ecologist, as ecology is a science.

If someone claims to be an environmentalist, I assume they care about nature and about our impact on it. But one must dig deeper to find if they are misanthropic or accepting of humans as part of the environment. This is really a question of attitude rather than facts.

Cotto: One of the gravest concerns you have cited with the modern environmentalist movement is its increasingly ideological nature. Some might say that this, in fact, is a positive development. How would you beg to differ?

Dr. Moore: Ideology is negative in so far as it tends to divide people into warring camps with no possible resolution. My late Greenpeace friend Bob Hunter suggested early on that in order for environmentalism to become a mass movement, it would have to be based on ideology, or as he called it “popular mythology,” because “not everybody can be a Ph.D. ecologist.” I have never accepted organized religion and note all the evils perpetuated in the name of “God is on our side” I do believe in just wars such as the armed struggle to end apartheid. But that was not based on religion but rather on human rights.

For example it has become part of environmental ideology, as stated by Bill McKibben in the current Rolling Stone, that the fossil fuel industries are “Public Enemy Number One.” Oil is particularly vilified as evidenced by high-profile campaigns to stop pipelines, drilling, tankers, oil sands, and anything else to do with producing or transporting oil. Oil is responsible for 36% of global energy and is therefore the most important source of energy to support our civilization. If it is the aim of “environmentalists” to stop fossil fuel production and use, end fracking, end coal mining, end the use of oil, then they are promoting a policy that would have disastrous consequences for human civilization and the environment. If we stopped using fossil fuel today, or by 2020 as Al Gore proposes, at least half the human population would perish and there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet with a year, as people struggled to find enough energy to stay alive.

So I conclude that in balance, ideology is the enemy of the people and the environment.

Cotto: Why do you think that contemporary environmentalists have become more hardline in their views?

Dr. Moore: By around the mid-1980s, when I left Greenpeace, the public had accepted most of the reasonable things we had been fighting for: stop the bomb, save the whales, stop toxic waste dumping into the earth, water, and air. Some, like myself, realized the job of creating mass awareness of the importance of the environment had been accomplished and it was time to move on from confrontation to sustainable development, seeking solutions. But others seemed bent on lifelong confrontation, “up against the man” “smash capitalism”, “join the world-wide struggle against globalization” (I actually saw this on a cardboard sign at a demo).

In order to remain confrontational as society adopted all the reasonable demands, it was necessary for these anti-establishment lifers to adopt ever more extreme positions, eventually abandoning science and logic altogether in zero-tolerance policies. In addition, with the ending of the Peace Movement, which was decidedly left-wing politically and essentially anti-American, many peaceniks moved into the environmental movement brining their far-left agendas with them. This was very unfortunate as environmentalism by nature should be down the middle politically. Nature is not left or right and there are good ideas on both sides of the political spectrum, in particular market-based policies on the right and environmental regulations on the left. A balance of these two approaches would be optimum.

The “green” movement has not only become more hard line, they have also become irrational and fanatical.

Cotto: In the past, you have said that human activity is not the only cause for climate change. What do you believe is the greatest contributing factor?

Dr. Moore: First, we don’t know precisely how the many factors affecting climate contribute and interact in producing the earth’s climate at any given time. The cause of the onset of Ice-Ages, one of which we are presently experiencing, is a puzzle we don’t fully understand. I explain in my presentations that as a scientist who is fully qualified to understand climate change, I seem dumber than the people who say they “know” the answers because I do not profess to know the future, especially of something so complicated as the global climate.

One thing is certain, there is no “scientific proof” as the term is generally understood, that human emissions are the main cause of climate change today. Even the IPCC only claims that it is “very likely” (a judgement, in their own words, not a proof) that human emissions are responsible for “most” of the warming “since the mid-20th century” (1950). Therefore they are not claiming that humans caused the 0.4C warming between 1910-1940, but they are claiming that we are the main cause of the 0.4C warming between 1970 and 2000. Yet they provide no opinion as to what did cause the warming between 1910-1940. There is a logical inconsistency here that has never been addressed. It is also important to note that the IPCC does not speak of “catastrophe”, that is left to the fanatics and perpetual doom-sayers.

The causes of climate change are first the sun, as it is responsible for the existence of climate. Then there are many cycles of earth rotation around the sun and on its own axis. Then there is the chemistry of the atmosphere which seems to be the only factor that matters, and only CO2 concentration, for the true believers/warmists/climate catastrophists etc.

What most people don’t realize, partly because the media never explains it, is that there is no dispute over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and all else being equal would result in a warming of the climate. The fundamental dispute is about water in the atmosphere, either in the form of water vapour (a gas) or clouds (water in liquid form). It is generally accepted that a warmer climate will result in more water evaporating from the land and sea and therefore resulting in a higher level of water in the atmosphere, partly because the warmer the air is the more water it can hold. All of the models used by the IPCC assume that this increase in water vapour will result in a positive feedback in the order of 3-4 times the increase in temperature that would be caused by the increase in CO2 alone.

Many scientists do not agree with this, or do not agree that we know enough about the impact of increased water to predict the outcome. Some scientists believe increased water will have a negative feedback instead, due to increased cloud cover. It all depends on how much, and a t what altitudes, latitudes and times of day that water is in the form of a gas (vapour) or a liquid (clouds). So if  a certain increase in CO2 would theoretically cause a 1.0C increase in temperature, then if water caused a 3-4 times positive feedback the temperature would actually increase by 3-4C. This is why the warming predicted by the models is so large. Whereas if there was a negative feedback of 0.5 times then the temperature would only rise 0.5C.

The global average temperature has now been flat for the past 15 years, as all the while CO2 emissions have continued to increase. There are only 2 possible explanations for, either there is some equally powerful natural factor that is suppressing the warming that should be caused by CO2, or CO2 is only a minor contributor to warming in the first place.

Cotto: Across the world, untold millions are very nervous about global warming. Do you believe it really is the sort of threat that many perceive it to be? Why or why not?

Dr. Moore: No. I do not believe alarmism and fear are the correct responses even if our emissions are causing some warming. In particular I do not believe it makes sense to adopt policies that would obviously cause more harm that the supposed “catastrophe” that might be caused by warming. The proposal to end fossil fuel use in a short time frame with no alternative is a classic example. Many of the so-called “cures” for climate change would cause more damage to the patient that the so-called “disease”.

The climate has been considerably warmer throughout the history of modern life (550 million years) for most of the time than it is today. These were the Greenhouse Ages, often lasting 100 million years or more, when all the land was either tropical or subtropical. Not that many millions of years ago Canada’s Arctic islands were covered in sub-tropical forests. There was no ice at either pole. The sea was considerably higher. Life flourished through these times. They will say that humans are not adapted to such a warm climate, ignoring the fact that humans are a tropical species, and would not be able to live where there is frost without fire, clothing, and shelter.

I believe that a 2.0C in global average warming, or even more, would be in balance beneficial, partly because most warming occurs where it is now cold and very little occurs in the tropics. This would make northern Canada and Siberia fertile, and it would increase the number of frost-free days for food production in the temperate zones. The polar bear might be reduced in numbers but the only reason they evolved in the first place was due to the present Ice Age. Polar Bears are not even a distinct species, they are a variety of Brown (Grizzly) Bear. Some penguins that live on ice might dwindle but there are plenty of penguin species that do not depend on ice, In the Galapagos, Australia, and South America, for example.

I fear the irrational policies of extreme environmentalists far more that a warmer climate on this relatively cold planet (14.5 C global average temperature today compared with 25C during the Greenhouse Ages.

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Here in the United States, as in Canada, environmental politics have become tremendously important. What does Dr. Moore think about this?  

In 1977, he was elected the president of the Greenpeace Foundation. Less than ten years later, however, he left the organization. Why? Over the years ahead, what does he think that the greatest challenge will be to environmental sustainability?

In the second and final part of our interview, Dr. Moore will answer these questions and tell us a bit about his life and career.


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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