By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on August 7, 2019.
The opponents of those concerned about our much-challenged green planet persist in name-calling and using diatribes and hyperbolic language in lieu of respectful focus on the key issue and using evidence-based counter-arguments and reason versus a kind of atavistic clinging to old models, outdated facts and fixed beliefs. Contrarians are allegedly the credible and the vast majority (97 per cent or more) of the global scientific community is behind the great hoax of our times.
Lee Morrison, an 87-year-old retiree and former Member of Parliament (1993-2000), sitting for the Reform Party for one term and subsequently for the Canadian Alliance for another, is due some respect, which I now pay. He has a continuing willingness to contribute, as he has done recently with a guest editorial on “Climate emergency hysteria,” which appeared in the Lethbridge Herald (Aug. 1). He is also one of only three of 52 MPs of his former Reform Party who, after taking a very public, high-minded pledge not to collect at the so-called “pork barrel” (i.e., never take a pension) following their service in the Parliament of Canada, actually followed through and kept his pledge. The other two are Preston Manning and Werner Schmidt.
To bring perspective to what personal sacrifice this involved for Mr. Morrison in particular, the remaining 49 former Reform Party MPs (class of 1993) who took the pledge, and reneged, collected or will collect during their lifetime tens of thousands to several million each in pensions payments (with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper apparently the biggest winner here, with his lifetime (only counting to age 80) pension payments estimated at around $4 million), according to the fiscally conservative Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This is not to suggest in any way that any of them are no less deserving of their pension allocations than are members of any other party who have served in Parliament then. This is just to provide some context for my show of respect for Mr. Morrison. This is also old news but perhaps new for a younger generation.
Mr. Morrison indicated he was also, before his retirement, a mining geologist and engineer. No credentials are shared with the readership nor anything about what tertiary education institutions granted them, though I give Mr. Morrison the benefit of the doubt here that he has also been a fine geologist and upright in his engineering. Not all politicians are honest and forthright about their credentials and, without shame, overtly play the electorate in this regard.
Admittedly no meteorologist nor atmospheric, oceanic nor climate scientist, as is the case for most of humanity, this writer is instead a linguist and brings what limited skills he has to the task of analysis of the pertinent data. As multiple astronauts, with their incredibly varied credentials and expertise, who have taken delight and shown awe and wonder when seeing the Earth from afar, have exclaimed: she is our small, shared home in the vastness of the universe.
A linguist, I bring different tools of analysis to this situation. Argumentation characterizes our species; we don’t agree on everything. So, it behooves us to look carefully at positions put forward and separate the wheat from the chaff. What might be wheat and what chaff here?
Classic rhetorical devices which might be categorized as chaff in argumentation include such things as: outshouting the other, demeaning, deriding and/or mocking the other; name-dropping (without qualification) to give heft to the credence of one’s argument, selectivity and want of context regarding examples provided; manipulating the evidence/facts; and so it goes. For brevity’s sake, we will limit ourselves here to these. Mr. Morrison alludes to “hysteria,” “mania,” “dogma” (several times), “evangelism,” “poohbahs” of scientific organizations, scientific consensus called “myth,” “radical warmists,” and such. These words scream and they also demean. To be sure, the words selected in presenting the counter-argument are not uniformly benign either. Still, as we all know, two wrongs don’t make anything right.
Old research, once relevant, often becomes outdated. This is part of progress, part of the forward momentum and periodic stepping backward in knowledge-building. Only the fossilized mind, in Academia or in life in general, spoofs change of heart and of mind once new evidence comes to the fore, a sign of maturing thinking. Mr. Morrison drops a few names in his op-ed: Zbigniew Jaworowski, Richard Lindzen, David Bromwich and William Gray. Nearly all of their work was concluded multiple decades ago; it is highly probable they would be moved in their thinking today by new and mounting evidence. However, three of the four are dead and the body of their work is decades-old; only one appears to be more or less in mid-career.
The examples of past mega-infernos in Canadian history cited by Mr. Morrison date from 1825 in New Brunswick, 1919 in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1911 and 1922 in Ontario, and 1950 in British Columbia. All occurred years or decades apart from one another and in entirely different geographic areas experiencing varying conditions at the time. There is little mention of the devastating 2016, 2017 and 2018 wildfires, which occurred in sequence, in Alberta and British Columbia. What fires we are witnessing in 2019 appear to be a reversion to a kind of norm or new norm. As for average global rising in sea levels, Mr. Morrison’s cited increase of “2.5 mm” is off the mark. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce suggests it is 3.175 mm, a significant difference, though even the first should be concerning. It is disingenuous in the same breath to bring up “readers afraid that [land-locked] Alberta may be overwhelmed by rising seas.” Even were it so, Albertans are mindful of the plight of others, including those in eight of the 10 biggest cities in the world on or near coasts.
Mr. Morrison has shown integrity in the past, alluded to above. No QuŽbec basher, this author will allow that Mr. Morrison’s past remarks debasing QuŽbŽcois are now past history for him, too, following Premier Kenney’s ardent, inclusive appeal en franais to them in his recent acceptance speech. Mr. Morrison and those to whom he is trying to appeal are still capable of changing their minds and hearts. So-called anti-elitism, anti-expertise, anti-regulation, which permeates his discourse, are so 1990s, so of the past century. Such is also a negative drag on the collective psyche and counter-productive respecting what are today’s challenges and those of tomorrow. Albertans are not so easily duped as that. As for green, she is still not the enemy.
Peter Heffernan obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics/Language Teaching at the UniversitŽ Laval (1995). A 32-year veteran of the University of Lethbridge and 37-year Lethbridge resident, he believes respect for one another and our world will always win the day.