The 2001 "Canada Action Plan" Crystal Ball Check

TRANSCRIPT

John Robson

I’m John Robson, and welcome to the Climate Discussion Nexus Crystal Ball Check.

Narrator

The global warming issue depends heavily on computer model forecasts about climate problems that greenhouse gas emissions will supposedly cause decades from now. But it turns out that climate experts and government officials have been making these kinds of forecasts for a long time, warning about things that, by now, should already have happened, if their models are as accurate as they claim.

John

And I think it’s time we checked how good their crystal ball turned out to be. Before we put any trust in their new forecasts, we’re entitled to see how good the old ones were.

For our first trip back to the future, we want to look at this 2001 pamphlet, which the Government of Canada mailed out to people across the country to build support for their costly new climate policy plans two decades ago.

“The Earth is getting warmer … We are changing our climate” the pamphlet warned.

It swept aside any uncertainties and insisted that we are the cause, it’s going to be harmful, and we need to take action now (that is, in 2001) to stop it from happening.

Narrator

The pamphlet went on to list the following predictions:

  • Canadian cities will experience longer and more intense heat waves

  • These heat waves will make air pollution get worse

  • Sea levels on the northern coast of British Columbia will rise by up to 30 cm by 2050

  • Crop yields on the prairies will start declining due to increased droughts

  • There will be more frequent forest fires

  • And water levels in the St Lawrence Seaway will fall by up to 1.25 meters this century

John

Now those warnings sound pretty familiar. We’re hearing them today. But it’s been almost 20 years since the Canadian government declared the debate over and made those predictions in that pamphlet. Let’s see if any of them came true.

More Heat Waves:

Environment Canada’s long term temperature archive for every city in Canada can be seen online at YourEnvironment.ca. Toronto’s records go back to 1840. Summertime daily highs have barely changed over the past hundred years.

Now here are the monthly average daytime highs for June, July and August, the hot months, since 1990. There’s simply no evidence of longer or more intense heatwaves over the past few decades. Use the site to check out other large urban areas in Canada yourself – good luck finding anywhere that shows a trend of longer and more intense summertime high temperatures.

More Air Pollution:

Narrator

Environment Canada maintains air pollution records for most major Canadian cities back to the early 1970s. In 2017 the Fraser Institute took the data and produced this report. It clearly shows that, instead of going up, heat-related pollution levels have been steady or declining in major urban areas for at least the past 20 years.

So far on the government’s predictions, we’re zero for two.

Rising BC Sea Levels

John

Global tide gauge data is maintained by the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level in Liverpool, England, and it too is all available online. According to the Government’s 2001 pamphlet, sea levels along the northern BC coast should be going up by about 6 cm per decade due to climate change. Northern BC coastal sea levels have been measured at Prince Rupert since 1925. And in fact water levels rose up to the mid-1970s, but since then they haven’t changed much at all. And a little farther north in Ketchikan Alaska, they’re actually going down.

This graph compares what the government forecast and what has actually been observed since the early 1990s. Another wrong prediction.

Falling Prairie Crop Yields

Narrator

Is prairie grain production declining due to drought, or anything else? Statistics Canada has measured annual prairie crop yields since 1908. Since the government published its prediction of falling grain yields, total wheat and canola production on the prairies has soared by over 60%, while spring wheat production per hectare is up about 66%. Another failed prediction.

More Forest Fires

John

The National Forestry Database, again operated by the Canadian government, provides estimates of the number of forest fires every year. The national record goes back to 1970. And the number of forest fires in Canada since 2001, when the pamphlet was published, has actually been going down slightly, not up, as the government’s model forecast.

Declining St. Lawrence Water Levels

Narrator

The government predicted that St Lawrence River water levels would fall so quickly they should be down by about 25 cm by now. The Water Survey of Canada is a government agency that monitors water flow and levels in all major Canadian river systems. Their data collection is easily accessible online.

Here’s the monthly average data for the St Lawrence from the monitoring station near Cornwall Ontario, going back to when the seaway opened in 1959. And here’s a chart of the data up close since 2000, comparing actual St Lawrence levels to the government’s predicted rate of decline. As you can see, the level changes a little from year to year, but it isn’t declining the way the government forecast.

John

So that’s zero out of six predictions right. That’s like striking out twice in one at-bat. Their forecasting model did far worse than random guessing would have.

It would be bad enough if they made all these mistakes while admitting that the science is uncertain and needs to be debated, and that climate is complex. But they were doing the opposite.

Already two decades ago they had shut down the idea of a debate and insisted that the science was settled. But the science that produced these forecasts was hopelessly inaccurate. The government used worthless computer projections to engage in fearmongering aimed at silencing critics and intimidating Canadians into supporting a costly policy agenda.

Narrator

So you don’t have to take at face value any of the government’s current forecasts about the supposed dangers of climate change until they can explain why so many of their past predictions were wrong.


About the Author

Dr. John Robson is Executive Director of Climate Discussion Nexus. He holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Texas at Austin and has worked as a historian, policy analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker for three decades. He has been examining the climate change issue for many years, including both the science and the policy debates.