Toronto’s environment chair again expresses doubt about global warming -The Star

January 29, 2013
Daniel Dale, Urban Affairs Reporter, Toronto Star

The extreme weather caused by climate change can have a big impact on city infrastructure and budgets. One example: a large section of Finch Ave., west of Keele St., that was washed out during a storm in August 2005.

Don’t get him wrong: Norm Kelly, the chair of council’s parks and environment committee, has no problem with Toronto thinking about how to prepare for the potential consequences of global warming. He’s just doubtful that global warming is a thing.

City environmental officials and an expert consultant appeared at the committee on Tuesday to present a report that forecasts dramatic changes in Toronto’s climate by 2040. Kelly asked them a series of pointedly skeptical questions.

He cited a Forbes pundit who writes articles with headlines like “Sorry Global Warming Alarmists, The Earth Is Cooling.” He cited “one scientist” who argued that 20th century temperature trends didn’t match trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide. He claimed, without much elaboration, that not a single 1970s scholar made an accurate prediction of the future.

“I wish the future could be as clear as the futurologists in all fields are suggesting,” Kelly said. He added: “Life is so complex that it’s very difficult to get a handle on what may be coming our way.”

There is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is occurring and that human-produced emissions are primarily responsible. City air quality project manager Christopher Morgan told the committee of a recent informal study that found the consensus view was challenged in a scant 24 of 13,950 peer-reviewed articles.

Kelly was not persuaded. “We interpret the past. We imagine the future,” he told reporters during a break in the meeting. “I think there’s information coming along the academic pipeline that suggests that there’s a complexity to the issue that has yet to be fully understood.”

Kelly has held contrary views on climate change for years. “I see no consensus on the warming climate, or the causes,” he said in 2007. At a committee meeting in 2011, he argued that global warming would be good for Toronto’s tree canopy.

Kelly, a staunch ally of Mayor Rob Ford, is a former Upper Canada College history chairman and real estate broker who served as a Liberal MP between 1980 and 1984. He represents Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt.

Kelly’s committee has little power. And despite his self-described skepticism, Kelly supported all of his colleagues’ motions on the $250,000 report, which he said should be taken “seriously” for precautionary reasons.

Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, was nonetheless perturbed.

“It’s really unfortunate that Councillor Kelly is not paying attention to the vast amount of science that makes it clear climate change is happening and that it’s human-caused, and most importantly that it’s beginning to have an impact on the livability of our cities,” Hartmann said.

The report, by SENES Consultants in Richmond Hill, forecasts much less winter snow but much more summer rainfall, fewer but more violent storms, and significantly higher temperatures. City officials believe all of these changes could challenge Toronto’s aging infrastructure.

SENES also noted, however, that local weather could generally become more pleasant. Asked whether he still believes global warming would be good for the city, Kelly responded deliberately.

“I was talking to one climatologist who said we could end up having the climate of Tennessee,” he said. “That ain’t bad.” He then returned to the meeting.

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