Archive for January, 2011

Some rambling thoughts on creation care

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.

Psalm 24:1 (New Living Translation)

I remember my dad telling me that although he spent most of his waking hours in the bush as a child, he never saw a deer in the Shell Lake area until he was an adult.  That’s because he was born in 1919.  That was before the introduction of game laws based on conservation biology.  The early settlers basically shot any animals they could, and as a consequence wildlife populations were reduced to dangerously low levels.

Fast forward 80-odd years, and every fall I go back out to the Shell Lake area and hunt in the area my dad spent his childhood in.  I typically see several deer in a day of hunting.

So why are there so many more deer in that area now than when Dad was a boy?  There are probably several factors at play, including warmer winters with less snowfall, but I believe the most significant to be the introduction of science-based wildlife management.  Game laws were introduced, setting limits and seasons, and subsequently the populations of most game animals are at much higher levels now than they were 80 years ago.

As in most other jurisdictions in the developed world, Saskatchewan has moved from an era of exploitation to one of conservation and active management of those species considered most desirable by humans.  More recently the trend has been to ecosystem-based management, which takes a more holistic view of the connections between wildlife and their environment, instead of trying to manage individual species in isolation.

Considering those advances in natural resource management, it always amazes me when I encounter people who think that deer are endangered, or that all most of our forests should be preserved in parks without ever seeing axe or saw, instead of being sustainably managed for products that people require.

I guess my thinking on the topic is largely influenced by my Christian faith.  My belief in God as creator (albeit over millions of years rather than a literal 7 days)* of this beautiful earth doesn’t leave room for selfish exploitation.  I suppose that makes me an environmentalist.  I also believe that humans have a special role in God’s creation, and it’s OK to use the rich resources for our needs (and yes, for our wants).  I suppose that makes me pro-development.  A word that ties together those two concepts is stewardship.  I believe that this beautiful world isn’t ours to rape and pillage,  but it is God’s creation, and we ought to be good stewards of it.

* NOTE: Terminology of intelligent design, theistic evolution etc. aside, yes I believe that the God of the Bible is behind it all, and sustains it all.  However I don’t see Genesis as science.

Climate B.S. Award – with a Canadian honourable mention

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The Skeptical Science website has announced the 2010 Climate B.S. (Bad Science) Award.  Their four runners-up were:

Fifth Place. Climate B.S. and misrepresentations presented by Fox “News.”
Fourth Place. Misleading or false testimony to Congress and policymakers about climate change.
Third Place. The false claim that a single weather event, such as a huge snowstorm in Washington, D.C., proves there is no global warming.
Second Place. The claim that the “Climategate” emails meant that global warming was a hoax, or was criminal, as Senator Inhofe tried to argue. In fact, it was none of these things (though the British police are still investigating the illegal hacking of a British university’s computer system and the theft of the emails).

And their top choice was

the following set of B.S.: “There has been no warming since 1998” [or 2000, or…], “the earth is cooling,” “global warming is natural,” and “humans are too insignificant to affect the climate.” Such statements are all nonsense and important for the general public to understand properly.

Click here for the full post.

I think the list is well thought out, but with the inclusion of Fox News and Congress, it is obviously U.S.-centred.

Therefore I would like to suggest a Canadian honourable mention: Coverage of Climate Change by the National Post in 2010 was B.S. (Bad Science).

The National Post’s opinion section mounted a full frontal attack on climate science in 2010.  Leading the charge was Lawrence Solomon.  A typical example was his December 30 column “75 climate scientists think humans contribute to global warming”, where he grossly mis-represents an online survey of Earth scientists.  Solomon’s National Post article can be found here and the original survey report can be found here.

The poll showed that as researchers’ expertise increases, so does their agreement with the question, “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”.  Solomon seizes on the fact that the category of “Climatologists who are active publishers on climate change” only resulted in 77 respondents to that question, with 75 (about 97%) answering in the affirmative, to come up with the headline of his article.  Personally I think it is significant that although, according to a 2008 Gallup poll, only slightly over half of the general public would answer the question in the affirmative, 82% of the 3,146 earth scientists who responded to the survey answered in the affirmative, and that the percentage keeps rising as respondents’ knowledge and expertise in the field increases, right up to the highly specialized category that annoys Solomon so much.

However being an online survey, this study did have flaws. And this is where Solomon’s real duplicity is shown.  The study that is actually used more often to back up the claim that 97% of climatologists support the AGW theory was reported in a peer-reviewed article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) titled “Expert credibility in climate change” (Anderegg et al. 2010).  Solomon makes no mention of it in his column.

In addition to more articles by Solomon, other B.S. opinion columns in the National Post were written by Lorne Gunter and Rex Murphy (a writer with whom I have agreed on other science-related subjects such as Canada’s sustainable seal harvest).

The reader comments following each of these stories are heavily dominated by AGW skeptics repeating the same tired arguments (they changed the name from global warming to climate change, it’s cooling, the “Climategate” email hack proves that it’s a conspiracy, etc.).

However, in fairness, I must also point to an excellent article by Jonathan Kay in the National Post, where he argues that global warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause.  So despite the Bad Science they served up in 2010, there may still be hope for that newspaper in 2011.

2010 weather in Saskatchewan and Canada – and some thoughts on global climate

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Late in 2010 Environment Canada issued its annual Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories, and Saskatchewan is featured in two of the stories. Garnering 1/5 of the country’s weather stories is not bad for a province with about 1/35th of the country’s population.

The Saskatchewan stories are:

#3. From Dry to Drenched on the Prairies; and

# 6. Saskatchewan’s Summer of Storms.

I live in Saskatchewan, and I can verify that where I live had a cool and wet summer.  In fact I have had discussions with a couple of people this year who used that fact to argue that global warming is a hoax.  So why do I continue to agree with the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) view?  I guess it’s because I recognize the fact that although Saskatchewan is relatively big,  it’s a small fraction of the planet’s surface.  In fact I have no problem believing Environment Canada when they state in the article that, “In 63 years of weather reporting, 2010 was the nation’s warmest ever with milder weather throughout the year. It featured the warmest winter and spring ever, the third warmest summer and the second warmest fall.”

Environment Canada has some really neat graphics if one digs around their website for them.  Like this one showing Winter 2009/2010 (warmest on record):

Winter temperature anomalies - Saskatchewan was the cool spot

And then there’s this graphic of Spring 2010 (warmest on record):

And this graphic of Summer 2010 (3rd warmest on record):

And this graphic showing Autumn 2010 (2nd warmest on record):

All four of those temperature anomaly maps show that although most of Canada, and especially the far north, was much warmer than normal, the southern half of Saskatchewan tended to be slightly below average.  This kind of information helps me to understand the difference between annual temperatures at a provincial vs. national scale.

And of course Canada comprises a relatively small proportion of the globe, so it isn’t safe to infer that just because Environment Canada informs us that our nation had the warmest year on record means that 2010 was the warmest year on record globally.  It will probably take the climatologists awhile to analyze the global data, but I am interested in seeing the results.  Who knows, perhaps the analysis might provide support to the theory that the globe is cooling – it must be, after all New York City had a big snowfall.