Friday, April 3, 2009

Suzuki: hot air and a pretty face

There was an environmental emergency when the 7th edition of the United Nations and International Olympic Committee World Conference on Sport and the Environment was held in Beijing Oct. 25-27.

I arrived in Beijing on Oct. 26 on a train from Ulanbaatar, Mongolia. Smog and fog combined for an eerie shroud in the Chinese capital. The next city block was not visible. It appeared dusk-like at mid-afternoon. Flights were canceled at Beijing Capital Airport and freeways closed.

By contrast, the weather in Vancouver during the 8th WCSE March 29-31 was normal. The air appeared fresh and clear. Then it snowed on April 1. No fooling. Too bad that didn't happen on Monday morning when David Suzuki, Canada's foremost environmental panic-monger, held court at a news conference in the Pan Pacific Hotel.

The David Suzuki Foundation released its On Thin Ice: Winter Sports and Climate Change report. It's an attempt to ride the coattails of the 2010 Winter Olympics and includes some astounding predictions for the future of winter sport in Canada if global warming goes unchecked.

According to the report: under a high-emission scenario, the skating season on Ottawa's Rideau Canal would be reduced near the end of the century to one week and Whistler winter temperatures would rise 5 degrees Celsius within 70 years. The 94-day cross-country skiing season in southern Quebec and Ontario would be wiped out by 2050.

I did a word-search and "high-emission" appears 34 times throughout the report without a thorough definition.

Read between the lines of the report and it's more political than analytical. Suzuki wants more carbon taxes and wants more trading in carbon offsets. But are financial pollution penalties really the answer? Humans have done horrible things to the planet but are they really the cause for warming the weather?

Suzuki enjoys a measure of sainthood among the public of the Great White North. He was voted the fifth Greatest Canadian by CBC viewers in 2004. The CBC TV presenter and geneticist, who has a doctorate in zoology, was wedged between number four Sir Frederick Banting (of insulin fame) and number six Lester B. Pearson (the peacekeeping Prime Minister).

Suzuki is a talented communicator who deserves credit for helping Canadians understand the complexities of science through his long-running The Nature of Things on CBC. Since embracing the human-caused global warming theory espoused by Al Gore, Suzuki comes across more like a TV evangelist. He's made a shift away from professor, into the realm of preacher. The retired scientist is a professional celebrity.

When asked about differing views (and research) on the causes of climate change, Suzuki answered emotionally instead of rationally.

"It's not an argument, there is no argument about it scientifically. The discussion is what are we going to do about it, we're vulnerable as a northern country."

I asked him about his foundation's work with VANOC. The Games organization paid $10,000 for On Thin Ice's prequel, Meeting the Challenge: A Carbon Neutral 2010 Winter Games. "I don't know that," was his response.

I asked if the foundation was granted behind-the-scenes access to VANOC venues and operations so it could verify if VANOC's sustainability claims were genuine.

"We're really not that kind of an organization, we tend to look at the big picture.

"I'm sure they've got a lot of big problems, particularly economic problems in a time of economic downturn and overruns. The environment always tends to take a backseat."

Suzuki relied on anecdotal information in the news conference from snowboarder Justin Lamoreux and freestyle skier Warren Tanner, whose training has been curtailed by receding glaciers. The report did not examine the conditions of said glaciers. What's more, Suzuki conjured the name of Wayne Gretzky, Canada's greatest winter sportsman, and made an unsubstantiated claim about winter weather in Brantford, Ont., where Gretzky grew up.

"The one sport in Canada that Canadians respond to is hockey, the folklore of Canada is Wayne Gretzky, learning how to play in the backyard. Do you think in Brantford now you could learn how to play hockey in the backyard? I don't think so."

At one point, Suzuki suggested I direct my questions to Ian Bruce, author of the report. I pointed out that the report bears Suzuki's good name on the cover.

"It's the foundation. I'm just the pretty face."

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