Why Progressives Must Reverse Course on Climate Change

Published December 16, 2014

[Editor’s Note: Heartland Institute Research Fellow H. Sterling Burnett interviewed Tom Harris after his speech at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change. Harris expanded on his ICCC talk.]

Q: You mentioned in your presentation at ICCC-9 you were once a moderate believer in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Could you describe your conversion to climate skepticism?

Harris: In 1999, I had an article in the Ottawa Citizen discussing comparative planetology, how studying the planets improves our understanding of the Earth. Professor Tim Patterson of Carleton University made my article compulsory reading for his climate change students, while pointing out the mistake in my assumption Venus’ high temperature, partly due to its high CO2 levels, is a warning of what could happen on Earth if we allowed CO2 levels to continue to rise. Patterson invited me to his lab to see what really drives climate change. I accepted his invitation, and Patterson showed me his proxy data demonstrated a clear correlation between solar forcing and Earthly temperatures, but little correlation with CO2 levels. He referred me to myriad scientific references and scientists to speak with about this rapidly evolving field. My subsequent investigations convinced me the climate scare was scientifically unfounded. So, I changed sides. Since then, Professor Patterson and I have coauthored several dozen articles and occasionally appeared on the radio together.

Q: What is the International Climate Science Coalition, what does it stand for, and how did it come about?

Harris: The ICSC is a nonpartisan group of independent scientists, economists, and policy experts working to promote better understanding of climate science and policy. We aim to create an environment in which a more rational, open discussion about climate issues emerges, thereby moving the debate away from costly and ineffectual “climate control” measures. Instead, ICSC encourages assisting vulnerable peoples to adapt to climate variability and continuing scientific research into the causes and impacts of climate change. ICSC also focuses on publicizing the repercussions of misguided plans to “solve the climate crisis.” This includes the dangerous impacts of attempts to force replacement of conventional energy sources with renewable energy sources. The ICSC was created in 2007 by Terry Dunleavy of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC) with the assistance of NZ-based power engineer Bryan Leland. Public and media response to the NZCSC’s nonpartisan, science-based approach had been so positive they wanted an international group to represent them across the world. In 2008 I became ICSC Executive Director. ICSC has about three dozen advisors in science and policy areas, as can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/3pzha26.

Q: You recently agreed with IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri it was time to reverse course on climate change, but your idea of a course correction is very different from his. What course do you think needs to be charted?

Harris: Governments need to take a ‘no-regrets’ approach to climate change, a strategy that creates real-world benefits regardless of whether it turns out we cause dangerous climate change. This approach would focus on helping vulnerable people across the world adapt to climate changes in the present. Because it satisfies ulterior financial, political, and philosophical motivations having nothing to do with the helping the environment or the poor, mitigation has received nearly all of the $1 billion a day currently being spent on climate across the world. Just 1/20th of the funding goes to helping people cope with climate change today. This is immoral. Funding for mitigation efforts should be zeroed out entirely, but it is important to continue fundamental climate science research to better forecast future climate change, helping people prepare for whatever nature throws at us next.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing proponents of sound climate science?

Harris: Two things. First, most mainstream media act as a free communications arm for climate alarmists and thereby greatly amplify their voice. Second, funding for climate realist organizations is miniscule compared to what’s available for alarmist groups. As a result, for example, for every press release ICSC can afford to put on a prominent wire service, Al Gore’s groups can put out 100. They simply swamp the media with easy-to-use, dramatic, but hyperbolic sound bites, while we struggle to be heard at all.

Q: If there were just one message you could help our readers understand, what would it be?

Harris: Climate alarmism is one of the core causes of progressives. This presents a serious challenge to climate realists because the United States and many other countries are evenly split between left wing and right wing. Consequently, valuable as it is to keep conservatives from falling off the wagon, to win the climate war we must convince people of all political persuasions the climate scare is not substantiated scientifically, which makes it a colossal waste of scarce resources. To do this, we need to use nonpartisan arguments and appeal to what non-right-wingers say they consider important: social justice, tolerance, and protecting nature. We need to show them what else could be done to help the poor and the environment with the money wasted on climate mitigation. In other words, we have to work with those who may be our intellectual opponents in other areas. ICSC’s nonpartisan, science-based approach is opening doors traditionally closed to skeptics in the past.

Internet Info

International Climate Science Coalition, http://www.climatescienceinternational.org/ Donations in support of its work can be made there.