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Critic wary of science about climate

April 22, 2009

VIK KIRSCH
MERCURY STAFF
GUELPH

A local skeptic about climate change says the research isn't clear enough for a consensus the danger is real.

Ross McKitrick, a University of Guelph environmental economist, is the editor of a new Fraser Institute report that suggests there should be doubts climate change is real.

"Once you get into questions that matter, the science isn't settled," McKitrick said.

The conservative think-tank's report, titled Critical Topics in Global Warming, was released yesterday.

The report looks at scientific evidence countering conventional claims blaming climate change on greenhouse gases from human activity. The 110-page, peer-reviewed study of scientific literature focuses on seven key areas.

It questions conventional conclusions on the effects of ocean currents and solar activity on climate, points to historical climate variability, challenges climate analysis, raises uncertainties regarding climate modelling and highlights perceived flaws in temperature measurements.

McKitrick, who co-authored some of the work, is well-known for his past critical analysis of climate-change conclusions. These include the famous 2001 "hockey stick" graph published by the International Panel on Climate Change that purported to show a dramatic 20th century increase in global temperatures with the rise of greenhouse gases from industry. McKitrick has long concluded the spike was caused by statistical errors.

Critical Topics is based on new analysis of the international panel's fourth climate change report, released two years ago. The panel is working on a fifth.

In a time when countries, including Canada, are considering anti-global-warming measures that may harm their economies, governments must be made aware of the risks, McKitrick said.

"They need to realize there's a lot of credible counterevidence to the alarmism that's out there," the professor said. "They just need to keep understanding the range of views and the counterevidence to a lot of what they hear on the CBC or from environmentalists."

But local environmentalist and social activist James Gordon suggested McKitrick is dismissing an overwhelming body of evidence the Earth is warming through human activity, such as extreme weather like the current Winnipeg-area flooding and the recent temperature fluctuations in Guelph.

"Mr. McKitrick's views now are becoming such an extreme minority," said Gordon.

"I think we are a lot past questioning the science," he continued. "Extreme weather you can't just write off to a phase we're going through."

Addressing the Fraser report, Toronto Environmental Alliance executive director Franz Hartmann was irked by a related video on the institute's home page claiming to debunk climate change, which he criticized as cartoonish.

"I thought it was a clip from a subpar episode of South Park," Hartmann said, referring to a popular television series that tackles controversies.

The clip states in part: "The climate changes naturally. Always has. Always will." It noted temperatures in the Medieval period hundreds of years ago were warmer than today and there was also a mini-cold spell around Greenland in the 1300s. "Question the hype," the video urges.

Hartmann said it's so misleading that "it absolutely boggles the mind."

After reading the Fraser report, he suggested people consult the panel on climate change, which has studied the work of thousands of scientists who have concluded climate change from human activity is real.

"That's who I would listen to," Hartmann said.

But McKitrick said there are huge holes in the science that makes drawing definitive conclusions a problem. He noted, for example, that there's consensus the sun's output is variable but how this affects Earth's climate isn't fully understood. Nor is the impact of human activity.

"We really need to decide: is it a little problem or is it a huge problem?" McKitrick said.

vkirsch@guelphmercury.com

As published at: http://news.guelphmercury.com/News/article/470785

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