Canada's Chicken Little

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Appeared in the Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette, and the Peterborough Examiner

After being struck on the head by an acorn, Chicken Little ran to tell the King that “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Thanks to that charming fairy tale, Chicken Little has, ever since, been an icon for foolish alarmism. Now, just in time for the New Year, (and with a new Prime Minister to try to pressure), Canada’s very own Chicken Little, a “senior climatologist” with environment Canada has come out with a laundry list of sky-is-falling hysteria.

Environment Canada’s David Phillips says that nature is trying to give us a wake-up call, in the form of unusually extreme weather events of “biblical” or “Hollywood epic” proportions. Discussing his list of Canada’s worst weather events of 2003, Mr. Phillips told CBC that “many scientists as well as average citizens” are linking the recently “weird, wild, and wooly” weather to climate change. “Even the weather astute Canadians will be no match for what nature will throw at us,” he opines. In other words…the sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Or is it? There are two reasons why Canadians should ignore Mr. Phillips’s doom saying. First, no single weather event, or series of weather events, can be linked to climate change, manmade or natural (though politicians just love to stand in front of a weather disaster and posture about it). Consider this quote from the website of the Pembina Institute: “Scientifically, however, it is not possible to link one, two or three individual weather events to climate change, since there’s always a chance that the events could simply have been natural coincidences. Climate is an average usually taken over a period of 30 years. Events occurring over three or even 10 years are not spread over a period that’s long enough to establish a reliable trend.” That’s pretty straightforward and should certainly be known to Canada’s senior climatologist.

Other climatologists clearly understand this. As John Christy, a meteorologist with the University of Alabama put it in testimony to the US Congress, “I want to encourage the committee to be skeptical of media reports in which weather extremes are given as proof of human-induced climate change. Weather extremes occur somewhere all the time. For example, the U.S. temperature for last November and December combined was estimated to be the coldest since records began in 1895. That does not prove the U.S. or the globe is cooling or that climate is changing unnaturally. What it demonstrates is that extremes occur all the time.”

Second, abnormal changes in extreme weather patterns are just not happening! Studies of recent weather patterns fail to show a meaningful trend in extreme events. The “bible” of climate change, the 2001 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found no systematic changes in the frequency of tornadoes, thunder days, or hail events in the areas where there’s enough data available for analysis.

Most recently, and more locally, Madhav Khandekar, a climatologist who studied weather patterns in Canada’s prairie provinces for Alberta Environment, found that the evidence just doesn’t back up the panic-mongering. Whether it’s rain, snow, drought, flood, extreme heat, or extreme cold, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hailstorms, high winds, blizzards, or ice storms, Khandekar shows that there is little or no evidence of either increasing frequency, or increasing severity. In fact, Khandekar shows that many of these damaging weather events are decreasing over time. Other researchers, including Christy, have shown that the same is true for the United States.

Now, Canada’s Chicken Little already has his own Henny Penny in the person of Environment Minister David Anderson, and I’m sure they’re on the way to Paul Martin to shout out their dire warnings. But the Prime Minister should understand two things: Anyone who claims that extreme weather events are being caused by manmade global warming is full of hooey in two dimensions. First, the evidence just doesn’t reveal any significant trends in extreme weather events. Second, nothing in the theory of climate change links individual weather events -- even 10 years of abnormal weather -- to manmade global warming. Let’s hope the Prime Minister has better sense than to fall for still another strident burst of unsupportable climate alarmism.

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