Keystone XL and the numerical mysticism of climate change – by Peter Foster (National Post – May 15, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Despite growing public support for the project on both sides of the border, and a continued full court press from both Ottawa and Edmonton (Prime Minister Harper will be in New York this week, backed by a multi-million dollar U.S. advertising campaign), the administration of President Obama has leaked that it might take a little longer than anticipated – perhaps until 2014 — to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

According to an anonymous “official” quoted by Reuters, this delay is due to the administration’s desire to take the utmost pains in weighing all the evidence about Keystone’s impact. King Solomon would surely approve, if the reality weren’t that this decision has virtually zero to do with evidence or facts. Meanwhile facts always need perspective.

This week, an allegedly frightening climate milestone was passed. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. The breathless reporting of this figure reflects numerical mysticism, not science.

The 400 ppm figure is ritually compared with 290 ppm before the Industrial Revolution to indicate a significant increase. Now we know that, other things being equal, a doubling in atmospheric CO2 will cause a slight warming, but other things are never equal in the chaotic system of climate. Meanwhile few people are aware that alleged climate catastrophe is based not on “simple” atmospheric physics but on the computer models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, which assume that CO2 drives the climate, then assume the multiplication of that driving force via positive feedbacks, then assume the worst possible implications.

While the number of 400 has hit the headlines, another — 16 — the period of years during which there has been no warming, has received much less coverage.

During those 16 years CO2 levels have been (as Al Gore graphically suggested in his hysterical and error-strewn movie An Inconvenient Truth) going, figuratively, “through the roof.”

For anybody interested in perspective, an increase from 290 ppm to 400 ppm represents the height of a coffee mug relative to three times the height of the Empire State building. That’s not to say that such a minuscule relative change might not have an impact — indeed scientists believe it has increased the earth’s vegetation — just that anybody mounting a hydraulic hoist to make his point is likely not primarily interested in objectivity.

Surely a sixteen-year standstill in warming suggests that the science is not “settled,” and that a cool and dispassionate reassessment is required, particularly since the policy measures taken to address this alleged existential crisis have been (a) climatically pointless, and (b) economically disastrous.

However, any suggestion of revisiting the science is treated with primal screams because the climate industry has succeeded in framing this as a “moral issue,” all about hurting poor people and recklessly endangering the future of the planet. Thus to ask reasonable questions — the very essence of scientific progress — is to be morally deformed, somebody who doesn’t care about the poor, or the planet, or the future, a “denier” or a “shill” for fossil fuel interests.

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