The Federal Government wants to hear ideas from everyday Canadians about climate change. In many communities in Canada there are consultations going on that are supposed to enable us members of the public to have a voice in policy making. I attended one of these in Vanier (Ottawa) in July 2016 and can tell you the entire event appeared to attract mostly people with a certain view, funnel them into discussion on topics that were pre-selected, have group notes taken by people whose minds are made up and have full-group statements made only by those same note takers with no opportunity given for individuals to address the full audience or speak up to the municipal politicians in attendance.
The event was hosted by Ecology Ottawa, whose website report on the event can be read here. On the way into the event the reception table had literature about stopping energy pipelines such as the proposed Energy East, which would allow the product of Alberta and Saskatchewan to be shipped to refineries in eastern Canada with less wasted energy and much more safely than by using trucks and rail. This immediately made it obvious the town hall was not to be a full and reasoned discussion but a directed lobbying effort with foregone conclusions.
At the start of the session there was no initial presentation of facts upon which the discussion was supposed to be based. Rather, there were pre-written questions written on cards that were placed on tables - questions that presume to summarize a vast scientific data set that in fact remains under great debate and dispute, never mind the extrapolated implications that can be dis-proven with a little knowledge of economics. It was perfectly clear to me that the presumptions of the evening included the idea chain known as dangerous anthropogenic global warming (DAGW), namely that:
- the planetary mean temperature is rising
- this rise is outside the historical range
- the rise is caused by atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)
- human activities are causing the rise of CO2
- the rise of CO2 and temperature represent a significant danger to human life
- human industrial society cannot easily adapt to the temperature change
- drastic measures to reduce then eliminate the use of energy sources that produce CO2 are warranted
- governments are morally correct to initiate force against energy producers and consumers (everyone) to coerce them into taking these drastic measures.
In a chain of reasoning if one link is erroneous then the conclusion cannot be supported. When I first began to study these issues in the early 2000s I accepted some of these assumptions as true but I quickly learned there was a great deal of contradictory evidence and that much of the information supporting DAGW was exaggerated, misleading or even falsified. I found that except for item 4 in the chain above, everything else in the list was either patently wrong or at least there was serious concern about its validity and/or significance. Eventually I realized that the whole concept of DAGW was so fundamentally flawed that it could be safely rejected as irrational but that it would likely take humanity many years to purge the errors from the realm of public discussion. As the weight of scientific evidence de-bunking DAGW continues to grow, its advocates are doubling down on their rhetoric and lobbying effort to gain political power before the scheme is exposed as delusional.
Now back to the town hall event. As I said, the discussion questions were pre-selected and presumed all of the eight statements above are true. Participants were asked to discuss topics such as innovation to reduce CO2 production, ways to reduce CO2 production in daily life and the like. I chose to sit at a table where innovation was the main topic. Realizing the group leader (an Ecology Ottawa representative) and the group itself would likely stop listening and become hostile to further ideas if I voiced my direct opposition to their DAGW assumptions, I chose to actively listen and to try and inject an element of rationality into the discussion. For example, when others advocated for massive use of government force against citizens in the areas of housing and transportation I suggested that all proposed measures should be tested against a vital standard - the harm they might do to our most vulnerable citizens if the measures were enforced, absent such distorting side-measures such as subsidies and wealth confiscation and redistribution, which mask the true and intended policy effects. If a policy makes energy more expensive and thus makes life harder for citizens, the damage to their lives must be considered, not to mention the more important moral propriety of causing them harm in the first place. Taking one person's wealth and giving it to the damaged person does not solve the problem, it only expands the scope of damage.
I tried to get our group talking about energy innovation and to show that while fossil fuel energy is currently the best source of dense, abundant, safe, cheap and portable energy, that it was not likely to remain so as nuclear fission energy could be unshackled and replace much fossil fuel energy with far less CO2 production, never mind the exciting potential of nuclear fusion in the near future that has unlimited potential to produce safe, distributed, cheap and abundant energy to all of humanity, improving human life by an enormous measure without CO2 emissions. To my dismay but not my surprise, one group member spoke strongly against fusion energy by saying that abundant cheap energy would release heat and cause the planet to warm dangerously. He apparently has no idea that the amount of heat itself is not a dangerous issue and that the Earth's climate system has a number of auto-regulatory mechanisms that prevent large changes in temperature, absent external changes in energy from the Sun. The fact that he saw what could be the greatest source of energy ever discovered, that could advance the quality of human life beyond measure and lift entire civilizations out of poverty, starvation and disease if allowed to progress as to be avoided at all costs was a scary testament to the philosophy of those who believe in DAGW. Maybe he thinks solar panels and windmills do not produce heat as a by product or that society should stop progressing or even regress to pre-industrial times.
At another point I tried to help the group see that cooperation (persuasion by means of reason, a part of the political-economic system known as capitalism) was the proper and moral path to energy policy and that coercion (use of force to override the free will of individuals) was to be avoided as improper for a free, human, reasoning society. While there were a couple of faces that appeared sympathetic to the idea, I sensed a lack of understanding of what political force really means and a young man beside me stated clearly that while persuasion and cooperation are good, that at a certain point force must be used. In this context I did not dare to point out to him and the group that his was the political ideology of Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Pot, Chavez, Castro and many others whose policies led to the death and suffering of hundreds of millions of human beings. I did not point out that his idea was contrary to the discovery of political freedom in the enlightenment, the advance of humanity in the consequent industrial revolution and the founding principles of the country he lives in. Such statements would have certainly provoked strong emotions and blocked any modest, reasonable ideas I was trying to get on the table.
I must give credit to our group leader dutifully and quite fairly recorded comments and did not override the discussion. During the summary session he actually mentioned my idea of having a "harm test" for every policy initiative. However, the entire event was structured so that no participant had any opportunity to speak to the whole group since only Ecology Ottawa group leaders were given the floor, and they generally spoke from the very same perspective, having likely had only participants from that same perspective. I think most people like me, who have opposing views based on considered research and reasoning, would not consider attending an event positioned like this as they would see it as a waste of time and they would not be listened to. That was my expectation yet I chose to use the event as an opportunity to look inside the minds of those who have opinions different from my own, to see if I could learn more about them, how they came to hold these ideas, how well reasoned they are and if they are open to discussion.
I am sad to say my impression is that they are not at all open on this subject. When have you heard of a public debate on the science of climate change? When has such an event been held by your political representatives to help them understand the related issues? Why do people like Al Gore steadfastly refuse to engage in a public debate? Why are people with differing opinions being prosecuted for holding these ideas? Why does David Suzuki advocate for jailing people who produce life-promoting fossil fuel energy and those who advocate for its continued use? Why do so many people ignore the basic science done by hundreds of researchers all over the world that contradicts and even disproves all aspects of the DAGW hypothesis chain of ideas and instead continue to advocate for massive political force against innocent citizens? These questions and many more will need to be answered and understood if humanity and our life-promoting industrial civilization is to survive long into the future. Such crucial topics will very likely not be discussed at climate change town halls across Canada.