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Climate change deniers should support alternative energy

Monday, July 13, 2015

“I don’t believe in climate change. It is all a politically motivated hoax that is not supported by all scientists. Even if the world is getting warmer then that is better for humans. Stop wasting money on renewable energy, we don’t need it!” No, I haven’t gone off kilter on climate science and become an overnight climate change denier. The above quotation is an imaginary response by somebody who does not buy the science on climate change hook-line-and-sinker. 

While there is an 87-97% consensus among scientists that climate change is real and that humans are to blame, a small but vocal minority of scientists—and a much larger proportion of laypeople—doubts the scientific status quo. According to a PEW Research Centre survey 50 per cent of Americans do not believe that climate change is a result of human activity. 

It is easy to say that one side or the other has scientific consensus on their side and to decry the opposing side as cranks or mad hatters in the pay of big oil, the illuminati or whatever other conspiracy theory is currently trending. Thank goodness for dissent. Isn’t that what the entire scientific process is built on? Scientists trying to prove or disprove? 

The public debate has become ideological with proponents of both sides picking and choosing what data they use. Social media is full of websites proclaiming dodgy science as truth. As a rule of thumb you should never believe anything on social media that starts with, “Mainstream media will not report on this, but….” But people do. 

Sometimes even scientists cause confusion by appearing to be biased, like in the case of the recent claim by NASA scientists that 2014 was the hottest year in modern record. They then quickly had to retract their statement and announce that they were only 38% sure that this was the case. Confused? As it turns out their data results fell within the margin of error, but that was never put in the press release. 

As in every ideological war symbols are important. Renewable energy (RE) is one of the battle cries of the climate angst crowd. Conversely the climate deniers have made it an emblem of an enemy idea. Even Nobel Prize laureate Ivar Giaver announced on the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting website: “When will we stop wasting money on alternative energy?” That is a terrible shame because renewable energy is about so much more than just combatting climate change. 

Here are some of the reasons why you should choose renewable energy even if you think that climate change is a hoax:
First, fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of US$ ten million per minute according to the IMF. I start off with this one because the ideological division between climate change believers and deniers is often the old fashioned division between right-wingers and left-wingers. The political right prides itself on being fiscally responsible and the left loves another reason to hate big business so this should appeal to both. The fossil fuel industry receives US$5.3 trillion per year in subsidies. Solar power on the other hand receives nearly no subsidies.

Secondly, solar power has reached price parity with electricity from the fossil fueled grid. The cost of storage of RE power is tumbling down due to tech advances a rate similar to what the computer chip industry experienced. 

Third, resource wars! Bloodshed! Nobody has ever fought a war over sunshine. Guyana is being bullied by Venezuela in a border dispute over an area that just happens to have proven hydrocarbon reserves. China is building an illegal island in the middle of the South China Sea to establish hegemony in an area that contains, yes you guessed it, oil. World War 3, anyone?

Fourth, carbon dioxide expelled by humans in to the atmosphere ends up in the ocean and causes ocean acidification. Ocean acidification threatens animals that produce calcium carbonate shells and skeletons like corals, clams, oysters, phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton and zooplankton are just the building blocks on which the entire oceanic food chain rests. 

Fifth, stable energy prices. Have you noticed how fossil fuel prices push and pull economic activity? The sun always shines! Sixth, the World Health Organization says about seven million people die each year because of air pollution, much of that is due to dirty energy. 

Seventh, have you ever heard of a deadly sun spill? Or a wind slick? Easy to get to oil and gas is increasingly hard to find. New resources are often in fragile places like the Arctic or thousands of feet deep down in the ocean. Places where we really cannot control oil pollution when the inevitable accidents will happen. It is not as if we have done a very good job of this in the easy to get to places. 

Eighth, our civilization is largely built on hydrocarbons. From important items as pharmaceuticals to trivial ones as cosmetics, we need oil. It is insane that we are burning the building blocks of our civilization as fuel.


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