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Why Scientists Will Not Sleep Well Tonight

Around the world scientists are not sleeping well. They toss and turn knowing humanity is destroying the Earth’s ability to support mankind. The science is crystal clear and all of us 'ought to shaking in our boots' Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme told me last year.

But hardly any of us are shaking in our boots. Why is that?

The most extensive survey about the scientific consensus that humanity is causing global warming was published Thursday May 16 in Environmental Research Letters (ERL). Researchers looked at 12,000 scientific scientific articles published between 1991 and 2011 on the subject and found 97.1% of the articles agreed global warming is primarily caused by human activities.

The fact there is a consensus on the causes of climate change is not new. Previous studies in 2011, 2009 and even back to 2004 had very similar results. Even during the early 1990s, there was a clear scientific consensus that global warming was underway and that burning fossil fuels was the main cause said John Cook of the University of Queensland and co-author of the peer-reviewed ERL study.

“However the public thinks there is a debate about this; that it's a 50-50 split amongst scientists,” Cook told DeSmog.

A 2012 poll from Pew Research found that less than half of Americans thought that scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. Cook said he's not aware of similar surveys in Canada but expects it might be higher in Canada – but no where close to 100% awareness – that there is a consensus amongst the more than 10,000 scientists from more than 70 countries surveyed in the study.

“The consensus is a global phenomena and it's been around for over 20 years. We should be talking about solutions,” he said.

Cook says he's hoping his study will help the public finally realize this and then they will push their governments to take action.

However, just recently Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was widely reported casting doubt on climate change science saying “scientists have recently told us that our fears [about climate change] are exaggerated.”

Oliver cited as his expert source a newspaper columnist and well-known climate skeptic who has no expertise on the subject.

In recent years media rarely challenge false statements from politicians or even bother to fact-check their bland assurances that Canada does take the dangers of climate change very seriously. It is scientifically impossible for Canada to expand the tar sands and meet its climate protection commitments of working to keep global warming to less than 2C.

Nor are plans to dramatically expand the natural gas industry in BC to export LNG or to boost coal exports compatible with Canada's international commitments and moral obligations. Nor is drilling for oil or gas in the Arctic.

It's not just the Harper government's false statements and hypocritical policies that are misleading the public, there is an entire climate mis-information industry. Numerous think tanks, industry CEOs and associations and PR experts, some disguised as journalists, all claim we can burn and sell as much fossil fuel as we like.

And if climate change exists, it's not that big of a deal they say. Besides China is mostly to blame because they have a lot coal plants.

The avalanche of distortions and outright lies has become so bad and the public so confused that various groups have created fact-check websites such as the Oil Sands Reality Check launched today. On this site all facts are cited with sources and checked for their accuracy by a scientific advisory committee.

Expanding the tar sands and building pipelines are inconsistent with Canada's climate change commitments and government policy said Danny Harvey, a climate scientist at University of Toronto.

“There's no room in the atmosphere….we need to slowly phase out tar sands production or risk catastrophe,” Harvey said at a press conference today at the launch of the Oil Sands Reality Check website.

There cannot be a debate over the tar sands without having the real facts and that's what Oil Sands Reality Check site offers said Thomas Homer Dixon of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont.

“There are deep contradictions between tar sands production and the climate change reality,” said Homer Dixon, author of Carbon Shift: How the Twin Crises of Oil Depletion and Climate Change Will Define the Future.

“Canadians have not yet come to grips with this contradiction,” he said.

Image Credit: Harper's visit to NYC, May 16, 2013 by Erik McGregor via flickr.

Stephen Leahy is the 2012 co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change reporting . A Canadian,…

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