Monday, March 02, 2009

Scientist speaks up

Scientist speaks up
Andrew Weaver's conscience pushed him into the political fray
Nicholas Read, Special to the Sun
Published: Saturday, September 20, 2008
In Keeping Our Cool (Viking Canada, 323 pages, $34), written during a sabbatical last winter, Weaver outlines in a comprehensive way what climate change is, why it's real, what causes it and what obstacles politicians and industrial interests place in the way of countering it.

Throughout there are diagrams and tables that attempt to present graphically what he admits is an inherently complicated truth. But this has always been one of Weaver's strengths. Without ever dumbing the issue down, he keeps it as simple and understandable as he can.

He has no patience with people who persist in believing there is still scientific debate on climate change.

Of them, he writes: "In a now-famous study published in the December 2004 Science, Naomi Oreskes at the University of California, San Diego, examined the abstracts of 928 articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 containing the key words 'global climate change.' Her goal was to see whether legitimate dissenting voices had been left out of the IPCC assessments and other reports.

"Her conclusions were not unexpected. Not a single study disagreed with the consensus view concerning the role of greenhouse gases in causing global warming."

As far as his own book is concerned, he agrees the crux of it comes down to a single alarming sentence on page 28: "People have simply no idea how serious this issue is."

It's so serious, he said, that unless we reach a point where we stop emitting greenhouse gases entirely, 80 per cent of the world's species will become extinct, and human civilization as we know it will be destroyed, by the end of this century. These are compelling enough reasons for people finally to wake up and do something, so why don't we?

Weaver struggles to understand. "I don't know," he finally said after several false starts. "Climate scientists who grapple with this every day ... we see where it's headed. We understand it very well.

"I guess it's like the bomb that goes off in Iraq. Can we understand the pain of those people in Iraq if we're sitting in our comfortable homes in Vancouver? Maybe not."

"I think the public needs to know, straight in their face, that you can give up on civilization as we know it. This is what I'm trying to get across in the book. Do we actually give a s--- for future generations?"

Asked, then, if international climate scientists are doing enough to alert the public to something so devastating, Weaver explained that it's not in scientists' nature to invite attention to their work.

"Success in science is other people saying your work is good without you having to tell them." Besides, he added, if scientists were to criticize the government publicly, they could lose the funding they need to do their research.
Reading in another newspaper that environmentalist David Suzuki and his wife sometimes retire to their bedroom to cry, Weaver said he can understand why. But as dire as things are, he's not ready to join them just yet.

"I know what he's feeling, but I'm still a fighter," he said. "I have my teeth in, like a pit bull, and I'm not going to give up."

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