Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The recent IPCC Assessment Report concluded as a “virtual certainty” that Greenhouse Gases were the principal cause of climate change.

In a previous commentary we anticipated the response of denialists. We observed that:

  • cautious language in the Report would lessen its impact on public opinion;
  • the use of the qualifier “virtual” – after all these years of study some lay persons might expect a direct statement that either GHG are a cause or they are not!
  • climate models projected an increase in the world average temperature as a consequence of increased GHG emissions. Denialists point to a pause in global warming over fifteen years while emissions have increased.

To avoid interminable discussion over the significance of “virtual”, 4RG has a different approach.   Yes, until new observations are made and further studies carried out there is a “doubt”.   But the world must not wait until every last “doubt” is resolved.

 “The Science is very clear and the debate is over. Climate change is happening now, it’s getting worse and humans have caused the majority of it,” said Christian Holz, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada. “Climate scientists have done their job – again – in making this clear beyond any reasonable doubt and now the issue is in the hands of societies and their leaders to fix.”

The key word in this summary is “reasonable”. In criminal cases the evidence must satisfy a jury of the guilt of an accused beyond a “reasonable” doubt. The Supreme Court of Canada further explained these words in this sentence:

“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not involve proof to an absolute certainty. It is not proof beyond any doubt, nor is it an imaginary or frivolous doubt.”

We would add that “reasonable doubt”  is not a doubt manufactured because of antagonism to those scientists who have worked to produce the report.  It is not a doubt based on the assertion that “climate change” is a hoax, only supported by 97% of the world’s scientists as a means of advancing the importance of their career or their profession.

These are the criticisms of many institutions that are fronts for the fossil fuel industry.  To maintain the role of fossil fuels as suppliers of the world’s energy, these institutions are prepared to raise objections for the sole purpose of creating doubt.

Regrettably Canadian Government Ministers have attempted to convey a sense of doubt about climate change.  At one time or another a number of ministers have suggested that the science of climate change is “debatable”, or “unsettled”.  Admittedly these Ministers have retreated from if not retracted these statements when challenged.

Yes, there are uncertainties on many issues related to climate change.  But not a reasonable doubt as to that GHG emissions are the cause.

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