Sierra Club Drowns in Own Climate Catastrope

Thu, 2006-12-07 16:00Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Sierra Club Drowns in Own Climate Catastrope

The Sierra Club of B.C. has committed the biggest climate change-related PR blunder of the year with a press release and (very cool) internet graphic showing Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, drowning under sea-level rises of six to 25 metres.

The latest estimates of pending climate catastrophe suggest that a six-metre sea-level rise is possible by the time our grandchildren are facing down old age. But a 25-metre rise is likely hundreds of years away, even in a worst case scenario. Suggesting otherwise merely gives ammunition to the deniers who say (accurately in this case) that crazed environmentalists are stirring up public hysteria without any regard for scientific fact.

As it happens, the Sierra Club story, reported prominently in the Victoria Times Colonist and, appropriately, much less so in the Vancouver Sun, has created an opportunity for the inveterate climate change denier, Dr. Tim Ball, to take to the airwaves on one of Victoria's biggest radio stations and - with perfect credibility - dismiss the Sierra Club alarmists as ninnies.

The DeSmogBlog set out a year ago to call attention to public relations abuses in the climate change debate. It happens that most of those offences are committed by people like Dr. Ball and similar Friends of Science, who travel around on oil industry expense accounts claiming that anthropogenic global warming is either a myth or is too expensive to stop. They claim that the whole story has been trumped up by fear-mongering environmental groups.

Usually that charge is ridiculous. On this dark day, it looks undeniable.


I would agree, this a PR blunder. I would disagree that it gives "deniers" an in.

There are public relations abuses on all sides in this debate, however I would say the most consistent abuses are from environmentalists, and some climate scientists, who highlight worst case scenarios only.


But that's kind of the point, isn't it?

No, the point is a different one.

The consensus of climate scientists is that human caused C02 emissions are altering the world's climate. That's it. And groups like the Sierra Club are using this valid consensus to advocate non-consensus scenarios that are not supported by the scientific majority.

Among climate scientists, there is no consensus about "tipping points", "runaway climate change", or the statement that drastic action must be taken in less then a decade.

Abusing and misrepresenting the valid consensus to advance alarmists viewpoints held only by a minority of climate scientists is one of the main reasons the general Canadian public, while saying they are supportive of action, has largely tuned out from this debate.

Constantly attempting to scare people into action with outrageous predictions has had the opposite affect. Environmental groups are largely at fault for this. And that is my point.


Paul G., you wrote: … [Constantly attempting to scare people into action with outrageous predictions has had the opposite affect. Environmental groups are largely at fault for this. And that is my point.] … My response: My work experience was hydrologic modeling and operational river forecasting (with NOAA’s National Weather Service / North Central River Forecast Center from 1979 to 2005). I’ve predicted flood levels for the Red River basin in the U.S., the Upper Mississippi River basin and the rivers in the U.S. flowing into Lake Superior and Michigan-Huron. I was removed from government service in July (2005) for my activities at work related to climate and hydrologic change. Please do not blame others for what I do in expressing my alarmist views about climate change and global warming. I am not in any environmental groups.

Pat, I am assigning blame to environmental groups for incessantly presenting scenarios which are not part of the scientific consensus on AGW.

Advocating the viewpoint is fine, presenting it as part of the "consensus" is not.

Paul, I see, but I don’t see how anyone really knows what the “consensus” is or is not in 2006. I see what you said but I don’t see how it’s what was said in 2001 because I know that things are happening much quicker particularly in regards to the ice on Greenland. To show you my perspective, I have a photos website you can access by doing a Google search on my name. I just added two photos of 35 million year old redwood stumps to my paleoclimate album. I took redwood snapshots in 2002 when I was near Colorado Springs, northwest of Pikes Peak. Although by 50 years from now could see temperatures as warm as they were 35 million years ago, there’s no way we’ll see a return to redwoods in Colorado. Time will fly by so quickly. Climate change is supposed to take a lot longer than 50 or 100 years! If it happens even only as fast as the consensus said in 2001, I think civilization is doomed.

And your statement "civilization is doomed" is not part of the scientific consensus. So the general public, when debating what action to take, is best to ignore these fatalistic scenarios.

My point is environmentalists tend to lean towards apocalyptic scenarios. However, these are not supported by the majority of scientists, and do a disservice to the general public.

Heck, if the world reduced C02 emissions by 90% tomorrow, environmentalists would have a new upcoming catastrophe to frighten the public with within a week. Guaranteed.

Paul G.

PS. I don't have time to view your photographs today, but will try to look at them over the weekend.

I’d appreciate you taking a look. In reply, I think that the best action for younger people, for themselves and for the world, is to decide not have kids. It is a poor decision to start a family now or expand one because all people care deeply about what kind of life their loved ones will have. If enough people see it that way, humans may be able to slow their population growth and their greenhouse warming so that people in the future may still have a good life.

There was a letter in the Victoria Times Colonist today from Dr. Andrew Weaver, Professor and Canada research chairman, climate modelling and analysis, University of Victoria.

The letter backs up most of what Ricahrd writes in his post.

There were others as well, here and here.

Short memories, yes I know. I’ve had experience with that Times’ Colonist thinking. I helped issue the spring snowmelt flood outlooks for the Red River basin (U.S. side) in 1979 and 1997. Before the runoff some people claimed the outlooks were way too high, who then disappeared as the water rose. Mainstream media likes to play up the controversy before the flood but they seem to forget that as the catastrophe becomes evident.
I thought that the main concern about rising sea levels had to do with the melting of the Greenland ice cap. But even if that disappeared completely (and by present computations that would take about a thousand years) sea levels would rise by seven metres. Disastrous enough, but where do these 25 meters come from?
NASA Study Finds World Warmth Edging Ancient Levels Sep 26, 2006 A new study by NASA climatologists finds that the world’s temperature is reaching a level that has not been seen in thousands of years. The study appears in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authored by James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y. and colleagues from Columbia University, Sigma Space Partners, Inc., and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). […] […] According to Hansen “That means that further global warming of 1 degree Celsius defines a critical level. If warming is kept less than that, effects of global warming may be relatively manageable. During the warmest interglacial periods the Earth was reasonably similar to today. But if further global warming reaches 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know. The last time it was that warm was in the middle Pliocene, about three million years ago, when sea level was estimated to have been about 25 meters (80 feet) higher than today.”
The Sierra Club report was based on peer-reviewed science (in part the Hansen publication mentioned in another comment). If you think that the peer reviewed science is wrong then you should point out what exactly you think is wrong. Instead you avoid any discussion of science and instead engage in ill informed smeer tactics (typical PR spin that I hoped you were avoiding). I think that the desmog blog has been a great source of information in climate change discussions. Unfortunately this may be your low point.

Dear Friends, There has been quite a bit of discussion over the past few days regarding the Sierra Club of BC's release showing what a 6 meter and a 25 meter sea level rise would do to Victoria, and some unkind words have been cast. The Sierra Club's work was never “bar room biology”; there was a detailed referenced scientific background paper that accompanied the original story.

The fact that the media chose not to report this is not the Sierra Club's fault. There has also been misunderstanding about the context of James Hansen's remarks (Independent, Feb 17 2006, where he says (quite accurately) “How far can it go? The last time the world was three degrees warmer than today - which is what we expect later this century - sea levels were 25m higher. So that is what we can look forward to if we don't act soon” Some people have read this to mean we could have a 25 meter sea level rise this century, which is not at all what he says, or means. “How fast can this go? Right now, I think our best measure is what happened in the past. We know that, for instance, 14,000 years ago sea levels rose by 20m in 400 years - that is five meters in a century.

This was towards the end of the last ice age, so there was more ice around. But, on the other hand, temperatures were not warming as fast as today.” “How long have we got? We have to stabilize emissions of carbon dioxide within a decade, or temperatures will warm by more than one degree. That will be warmer than it has been for half a million years, and many things could become unstoppable. If we are to stop that, we cannot wait for new technologies like capturing emissions from burning coal. We have to act with what we have. T

his decade, that means focusing on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy that do not burn carbon. We don't have much time left.” Here is a clarifying Op-Ed by Kathryn Molloy in today's Victoria Times Colonist, which states a very accurate, clear, and balanced position. It is totally valid for us to be concerned that our actions today could trigger a future meltdown of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice caps, without knowing how long (or short) a time this could take. I want to congratulate the Sierra Club on their work, and hope that public misunderstandings of the different sea-level rise predictions do not distract us from the vitally important work we have in front of us. Sincerely. Guy Dauncey Victoria, BC Sierra Club depicts a possible future Controversial maps intended to show the results of unchecked global warming Kathryn Molloy Special to Times Colonist Wednesday, December 13, 2006 CREDIT: Debra Brash, Times Colonist Kathryn Molloy explains a possible watery future for Victoria during a media conference last week.

Last week the Sierra Club B.C. published maps of the capital region showing new coastlines if sea levels were to rise six and 25 metres. Some media reports attributed erroneous statements to the Sierra Club, even going so far as to say that we “predicted” a 25-metre sea level rise within decades. That is simply not the case. Most global warming science is based on climate models that attempt to predict how the climate will respond to varying levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climatologists the world over concur that humanity's propensity to emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases is causing our planet to get warmer. With the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and our current rate of emissions, we will be hard pressed to keep temperatures from rising a global average of 2C (compared to pre-industrial times) before the end of this century. If we don't keep the increase below 2C, climatologists believe we could trigger “runaway” warming where various feedback loops drive us into a 3 to 5C warming scenario some time in the next century. Determining the impacts of these temperature increases is devilishly complex.

However, one way of trying to understand the implications for our planet is to ask the question: What did the world look like the last time it was at this point? Well, the last time Earth became 2C warmer was 130,000 years ago, and sea levels were roughly six metres higher. Estimates by scientists of how quickly this could occur range from a century to thousands of years. The last time the Earth was 3 to 5C warmer, which is what we're heading for if we continue with “business as usual” levels of greenhouse gas emissions, was three million years ago and sea levels were approximately 25 metres higher. No one alive will see a 25-metre sea level rise – but whether or not the Earth warms enough to experience one will be determined, in the next 20 years, by the actions of everyone alive. We have to prevent greenhouse gases going much beyond present levels, and certainly not beyond doubling. This is a massive undertaking and the Sierra Club believes a demonstration of the consequences of failure is a valid motivator to get on with the job. We risk creating environments with which our species has no experience.

As NASA climate scientist James Hansen says, beyond a 2C increase it would be “practically a different planet.” But the planet has been there before, and the Sierra Club B.C. has mapped one aspect of that state, sea level, as an overlay on our current habitat – our cities (see; a backgrounder on the science is available there as well). The Sierra Club map is intended as a visual aid to show us what that “different planet” would look like. It's an attempt to depict the threat in a way to which our brains can respond.

The desired response is not a building boom atop mountains, but widespread resolve to make the significant changes in behaviour necessary to avert the worst impacts of global warming, not to mention the visionary laws and policies we need from our governments. The same scientists who tell us we're on this path also tell us we have time to make those changes. But, that means the next 10 to 20 years will have to be very different than today. Our politicians must set a trajectory for our economies that drives low-carbon innovation and lifestyles.

We need mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets and the support and incentives to meet them. Recent polls show British Columbians and Canadians increasingly understand the threat and are ready to make the changes necessary. In its soon-to-be-released energy plan, the B.C. government has the opportunity to demonstrate that it, too, is ready to meet the moral and technical challenges posed by global warming. The people of B.C. demand nothing less. Kathryn Molloy is executive director of the environmental lobby group Sierra Club B.C. © Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006

PS The fact that Des Smog Blog does not allow for paragraph breaks in its text is unfortunate. Now readers have to drown in a sea of words, as well as a future sea level rise! cheers, Guy
Hi Guy, Still working out some user-interface issues with the new site – in the meantime if you want to break up your comments, hit “input format” at the bottom of the comment box and swith to “filtered html.” -
The key point to not lose sight of is that the view expressed by Jim Hansen (and reflected in the Sierra Club BC statement) and the seemingly contradictory one expressed by Andy Weaver are more or less scientific bookends. The problem is that the course of transient melting cannot be firmly estimated at this point (mainly due to a lack of sufficiently exact measurements of the ice and the underlying terrain). Recent observations of early signs of dynamical melting in both Antarctica and Greenland (e.g., increased outlet glacier flow, ice shelf collapse, “icequakes” of increasing magnitude, increased surface melt extent, satellite confirmation of recent substantial net mass loss) are what lead to the concerns by Hansen and others about rapid transient melting. Arguably the conservative approach (the one taken by Andy) is to pay attention to only what has been modeled and reflected in the TAR, i.e. a “slow melt in place” that ignores any effect of the observed dynamical melt modes (which for the most part were not observed until after the TAR was published, and for the most part too recently to even be included in the AR4). The upshot is that talking about a 6 meter rise in a century as a worst case is speculation, but speculation with a reasonable scientific grounding. Richard, I think you should do a correcting post on this.
For volume of runoff observed during spring ice break-up on rivers in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains (U.S.) was often double or even triple our initial projections. Pat Neuman NOAA-NWS-NCRFC Snow-and-Ice Hydrologist, 1980-2000
Scientists don’t know the time table for rapid sea level rise. e.g. A dynamic region of the West Greenland Ice Sheet …”is not well understood and is responding rapidly to climate change.” NASA Expedition Probes Deep Within A Greenland Glacier Paris, France (SPX) Dec 14, 2006 Greenland_Glacier_999.html
And see this article. This estimate from a very respected climate scientist is for only 1.5 meters by 2100, but may still be conservative.