David Suzuki and Earth Day

We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”
—David Suzuki

I’m proud to be Canadian. That doesn’t always mean that I’m proud of everything Canada does. But one thing it got right was David Suzuki. Although from Japanese heritage, this man is third-generation Canadian. He’s an academic with a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago he obtained more than fifty years ago. He’s a science broadcaster, host of the long-running CBC program “The Nature of Things.” And he’s a long-time activist regarding global warming and climate change. And today—on Earth Day of all days—I get to hear him speak his message in person at Georgian College.

His efforts at educating people about climate change and global warming stem from the fact that he’s a scientist. He may not have received his PhD in climate science, but as someone who understands the principles of hypothesis, the scientific method, experimentation and interpretation of data, and publication in peer-reviewed journals, he has more than enough expertise to be qualified to speak to the issue.

One of the problems in science today is how compartmentalized it has become. Certainly in medicine we see it all the time. As an example, I’m a doctor who specialized in internal medicine and then subspecialized in cardiology. Although I stopped there, I could have gone ever further and pursued, say, electrophysiology which is the study of rhythm disorders. Beyond that, I could have decided to dedicate myself to only pacemakers and defibrillators, or ablation techniques, or rhythm medications.

The problem with learning more and more about less and less is that eventually you know everything about nothing. Since climate science is complex, I believe someone who has a broader understanding of science will often have a better appreciation of the big picture than someone who understands only the atmospheric aspects of it, or the hydrospheric, or geospheric. Dr. Suzuki’s background in zoology obviously gives him particular expertise in topics relating to the animal world, but he has a much more holistic understanding of climate change than a sub-sub-specialist ever could. People often think of the word “holistic” and its connection to an alternative branch of medicine, but its true meaning is simply a “comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” That’s climate change and global warming, through and through.

Dr. Suzuki has understood the science behind global warming and has been warning about its dangers for decades. Like many others who understand science, he considers the evidence for global warming and its connection to human activities to be irrefutable. He is also quick to point out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assembled more than 2500 scientists from over 130 countries, coming to the conclusion that most of the global warming observed in the last half-century is due to human activities rather than other factors. (This is where phrases like “the vast majority of climate scientists around the world” comes from.) Indeed, every national academy of science around the world believes we are the main culprit for climate change, but the skeptics and deniers do a good job of growing seeds of doubt in the media.

There has even been a smear campaign against Dr. Suzuki himself; to be fair, he has garnered his own fair share of controversy, mostly borne out of frustration that progress moves too slowly toward the solutions we need. Real change requires government participation and that just hasn’t occurred enough for Suzuki’s satisfaction. (Or, indeed, for anyone’s satisfaction who believes in what the science is telling us and appreciates what we need to accomplish to stave off a global crisis in the generations to come.)

He’s also frustrated because too many people argue that global warming isn’t real. There is no doubt that climate change deniers and skeptics are out there in full force with a goal of delaying any action on climate change. Frustrating because so many of those on that side of the “debate” don’t understand the science—the main reason I wrote my book and maintain a blog on the subject. The science tends to get published in scientific journals but those aren’t easily accessible to the general public, requiring good public speakers like Dr. Suzuki to spread the message around. The skeptics and deniers typically get their information from sources that come from a well-organized campaign intent on spreading disinformation and they target the media, the general public, and policy makers rather than publish in any peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals. Sadly, these groups are too often funded by the fossil fuel industry or other groups with a vested interest in maintaining business as usual, rather than looking to develop renewable sources of energy.

As part of his personal mission, Dr. Suzuki established The David Suzuki Foundation in 1990. Its mission is to “protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future. Our vision is that within a generation, Canadians act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature.” (In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I was very honoured when asked to write a guest blog for one of the many blogs on the David Suzuki Foundation website, this one entitled Docs Talk. A joint effort with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, it’s dedicated to promoting knowledge and understanding about the impact of environment on health. As a cardiologist, I was invited to write about the impacts of global warming on heart health in particular. Never one to resist a good play on words, its title is “The heart of the matter on climate change.”)

Dr. Suzuki is a real hero. Not only for Canada, but for the whole world. Generations to come will be able to look back on his achievements and realize how how important he was in the efforts we made to save our planet from ourselves, and for our future.

2015: The Year in Review

“We have been seeing an uptick in extreme weather events. There’s heavy rainfall and snow, and then heat waves and long periods of drought.”
—Brett Anderson, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather in Stormstown, Pennsylvania

Let’s start with the biggie: 2015 was the warmest year we have ever recorded. That’s huge. But there were a lot of other significant features that helped make 2015 “The Year of Climate.”

  • warmest July we ever recorded for our planet
  • warmest May for the state of Alaska
  • record droughts in California
  • Buffalo had record snowfall last winter, but this year the city’s first measurable snow came mid-December breaking a 116-year-old record for lateness
  • deadly heat waves in India and Pakistan followed by deadly flooding
  • flooding in Africa, normally known for its dry conditions
  • globally ocean water temperatures were the warmest since the 1880s

If you were around when “Happy Days” was big on television, then it’s likely you’ve noticed weather is different now. Certainly the number of extreme weather events all over the planet has increased. The 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change links extreme weather events like these to climate change, anticipating it’s only going to get worse. The current El Niño we’re experiencing is one of the strongest ever on record, so 2016 will likely start off even warmer than 2015 did.

But there is a sliver of silver lining on this dark cloud: namely, COP21 in Paris. For many, it’s not enough, or it’s too little too late. And pick up any right-wing financial publication and it will point out why any efforts at tackling global warming and climate change are a big waste of money. (That money is meant for the pockets of CEOs in multinational corporations all over the world, to then trickle down to the one percent that have no problem with that concept.)

Paris was a turning point. For the first time globally, the world took this issue seriously enough to come to some agreement. In time, those nations that don’t acknowledge the problem will look poorly on the world stage. (Peer pressure doesn’t stop in high school.) A time will come when all politicians—even Republicans—will be forced to agree that this problem is real. Of course, their solutions will be different. But at least they will be looking for solutions.

To all, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! May 2016 bring us even closer to a better planet for all.

The Heat is On… And It's Going to Speed Up

“If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?”
Steven Wright

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that global temperatures are predicted to accelerate in the coming years in a new study. NOAA scientists have found “that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century.”

Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, explains an acceleration in global temperatures this way:

Considering all the short-term factors identified by the scientific community that acted to slow the rate of global warming over the past two decades (volcanoes, ocean heat uptake, solar decreases, predominance of La Niñas, etc.), it is likely the temperature increase would have accelerated in comparison to the late 20th Century increases. Once these factors play out, and they may have already, global temperatures could rise more rapidly than what we have seen so far.

If this prediction is correct, a dramatic rise in global temperatures is going to happen and soon. It’s hard to know by just how much, but climatologist Kevin Trenberth says it could be up to 0.5°F. As 2015 is already on schedule to be the hottest year we’ve ever recorded, it’s very possible that the rise has already begun. Continue reading

Midterm Elections: Republicans Win, Climate Loses

America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has.”
—President Barack Obama

When President Obama spoke those words earlier this fall during an interview with Steve Kroft from “60 Minutes,” he was referring to the military. There’s no doubt that he was not referring Americans taking on a leadership role when it comes to tackling climate change. Although I think his comments should ring true in that forum as well, that “America leads,” and that it’s the “indispensible nation,” I think this week’s 2014 midterm elections confirm that the fight against global warming is going to have to wait a little longer.

Leading up to the midterm elections, many green groups tried to make climate change a major issue. Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager spent $57 million to encourage voters to think about green energy. The League of Conservation Voters spent $25 million for the same purpose. But perhaps to no one’s real surprise, it didn’t matter. With both Houses in Congress now under the control of the Republicans, there’s not much likelihood that climate change will be an issue leading to decisive action in the U.S. anytime soon. Frankly, Obama blew it when he had the chance. Continue reading

Latest IPCC Report: "Time is Running Out"

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”
Christopher Parker

Yesterday in Copenhagen, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a press release to coincide with its release of the Synthesis Report from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which summarizes the key findings of all of the AR5 reports published so far.

The message couldn’t be more clear: human activities have influenced our planet’s climate and that influence is growing. Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts. However, we do have options if choose to adopt them to limit some of these impacts, but time is running out. Political will is required to make these changes.

Here is brief video of Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations highlighting some of these key points. How well world leaders will heed these warnings next year in Paris and actually decide to make some changes remains to be seen.