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What Does Joe Oliver Know About Science? Not Much

04/13/2013 11:44 EDT | Updated 06/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Imagine you have this avuncular Uncle Joe. He doesn't read much about climate science, but he looks at the websites that tell you the whole thing is overblown and there's really no risk. It would become annoying. It would cast a shadow on the predictable dinner conversation at family gatherings at which you grit your teeth and to try to bring him up to speed on the science.

But when those same attitudes and willful blindness form the basis of federal government policy as expressed by our federal Minister of Natural Resources, it is a sign of negligent disregard for the public interest. It is unacceptable.

This is what Oliver told the editorial board of La Presse: "I think that people aren't as worried as they were before about global warming of two degrees...Scientists have recently told us that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated."

Thank goodness the editorial board at La Presse knows how to ask questions. They pressed him to name any scientist who thinks our fears are exaggerated. He couldn't.

The extent to which the minister doesn't know his brief was further exposed when the editorial board asked him about the International Energy Agency's annual World Energy Outlook's concern for limiting carbon. Oliver had actually quoted from the report to justify his claim that fossil fuel production must ramp up to meet demand. When asked if he had not seen that the same report had made it clear that avoiding a two degree global average temperature increase is essential, and that in order to do so, two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground and not be accessed before 2050, Oliver drew a blank.

"I have no idea, I didn't read that conclusion," said Oliver.

Well, that's like saying, "I opened Moby Dick and I never saw that line 'Call me Ishmael.'"

Mr. Oliver must simply never have read the report at all. He must have had the selected quotes from briefing notes because to open the report at all is to see an executive summary in which climate concerns are front and centre.

"Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2°C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes," said the report. "If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time. Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies ... would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much-needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions."

I keep trying to determine if Stephen Harper has ever had a briefing on climate science. This revealing exchange with the editorial board of La Presse confirms that if Joe Oliver has ever had a science briefing, he wasn't listening.

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