Rookie city councillor Sean Chu thinks he’s found strong arguments against climate change: it’s cold in Calgary and icy in the Antarctic.
Chu, who is skeptical that man-made climate change is a real phenomenon, has been widely chided — by Mayor Naheed Nenshi, among others — for publicly questioning climate change this weekend, based on recent weather.
“So quiet from global warming alarmists about the ice stuck ship & yyc weather, it’s deafening. Is it b/c the weather’s been so freaking cold?” he said in a tweet, referring to a Russian research vessel that had recently been stranded in Antarctic ice.
Although it’s become common for climate change skeptics such as celebrity billionaire Donald Trump to dispute climate science because of winter weather, the scientific consensus argues the extreme winter weather could actually be a symptom of climate change.
The concepts of weather and climate aren’t interchangeable; weather is atmospheric condition in a given time or place, while climate measures longer-term trends.
On its “climate change facts” website, the United States Environmental Protection Agency states that a few unusually cold winters are not impossible amid global warming.
“In fact, extra snowy winters can be expected. In a warmer climate, more water vapour is held in the atmosphere causing more intense rain and snowstorms,” the U.S. agency states. “As the climate warms, we do expect the duration of the snow season to decrease — however, as long as it is still cold enough to snow, a warming climate can lead to bigger snowstorms.”
“I’m not denying there is no global warming,” Chu said. “I’m saying, ‘Hey, there are two sides of the story. I want to see everything.’”
Chu said in an interview he believes the research behind man-made climate change is not conclusive and that there is evidence that suggests otherwise.
He said he has heard reports of other unusual weather, including dozens of deaths during a cold snap in normally snow-free Taiwan, where the councillor was born. Calgary has had a particularly brutal winter so far, with the snowiest December in more than a century and several days below -20 C. And many global warming contrarians have revelled in the seeming irony of a Russian ship getting stuck in Antarctic ice last month on a climate research expedition, during the frozen continent’s summer.
Sixty per cent of Canadians believe that science conclusively states climate change is real and man-made, according to an Environics survey of Canadians last November — the highest point since 2007.
The Canadian political consensus on climate change has also grown, making the publicly skeptical likes of Chu a true rarity. In October, Alberta’s Wildrose party added greenhouse gas fighting to its agenda, after Leader Danielle Smith was criticized last election for questioning climate science.
Much of Calgary municipal policy is based on the reality of climate change, from waste management plans and energy efficient building practices to citywide urban planning, said Coun. Brian Pincott.
He said the debate has been long settled.
“I find it disappointing that somebody in a position of authority and responsibility is not aware of those larger issues,” said Pincott, a founder of Calgary’s branch of the Sierra Club.
Reaction on Twitter to the politicians’ climate remark was swift and damning.
“Nailed it. You’re quite the scientician,” tweeted Chris Turner, a journalist and author of War on Science, a book that critiques the Harper government’s environmental policy and “muzzling” of scientists.
“What are your views on evolution?” Alex Middleton wrote.
Others supported Chu, giving him credit for speaking his mind. “Finally some common sense at Calgary city hall,” Jeff Fortin wrote.
Nenshi entered the fray, initially responding with a single word: “Wow.”
He expressed surprise winter had become a “talking point” on climate science. Nenshi asked if global warming critics have also been talking about the “killer heat wave” in Argentina, where it’s currently summer. “That’s called ‘seasons,’ ” Nenshi wrote.
Chu knocked out an incumbent to become Ward 4 councillor last October.
Chu said he welcomed debate on climate change, but he was surprised by the negative response to his musings.
“Obviously, they are not quiet,” he said with a laugh. “That’s OK. That is what the discussion is all about, to make us better.”