If we fully develop Alberta's oilsands and burn the oil they produce, we will raise the temperature measurably all over the planet. That's the conclusion of an analysis by University of Victoria scientists Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart and published in the journal Nature.

Rather a big deal, one would think. But that's not what we read in the media this week.

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It's a soggy Monday night but the pews in one of Ottawa's most spacious churches are overflowing with believers. "We have tried to assume the position of the gods," the angry man at the lectern thunders, "without the knowledge to manage our ecological footprint."

No, the speaker is not a preacher, at least not a preacher of the conventional sort. He is David Suzuki, scientist, environmentalist, icon.

The natural systems that sustain us are infinitely complex, he tells the worshipful audience. We are only beginning to understand them and we cannot possibly predict what effect the actions and technologies of almost seven billion people will have on them. We must be humble. We must be cautious and reverent. "We don't know enough to take the place of the gods," he proclaims.

It's a familiar theme, which is appropriate because Suzuki, at 74, is summing up his life's work -- his "legacy," as he puts it in the title of his new book.

Suzuki delivers another familiar theme this night. He illustrates it with a thought experiment.

Imagine a test tube filled with food. That's the Earth, he says. Now introduce a single bacterium to that test tube and let it grow exponentially. In the first minute, one bacterium becomes two bacteria. In the second minute, two become four. Four become eight. Eight become 16. If it takes one hour for the bacteria to multiply until they fill the entire test tube and there's no more food -- and the bacteria all die -- when will the test tube be exactly half full of food and half full of bacteria?

On Science, Dogma, and Zealots

Saturday, 26 June 2010 09:16

Over at the National Post, last week was "Junk Science Week," during which Post writers like Peter Foster and Lawrence Solomon identify and denounce widely publicized "science" that is, in reality, shoddy nonsense. The editors also give a sardonic award -- the "Rubber Ducky" -- "to recognize the scientists, NGOs, activists, politicians, journalists, media outlets, cranks and quacks who each year advance the principles of junk science."

It's a great idea. There is plenty of snake oil around and those who peddle it should be called to account. And mocked mercilessly. In that spirit, I'd like to award my own Rubber Ducky. Ahem.

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The Science of Uncertainty

Tuesday, 08 June 2010 09:22

Well, it seems I was wrong. All wrong. "Climategate" and the other recent scandals have torn the lid off the rotten science of climate change. The deniers were right. Crank up the air conditioning and open the windows, happy days are here again!

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Why Environmentalists Should Love Babies

Saturday, 08 May 2010 11:30

Environmentalists should be worried about Canada's fertility rate. It's too low. We need to make more babies. It's the green thing to do.

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David Suzuki's good old days

Wednesday, 25 February 2009 13:41

Ask someone of a progressive bent to identify annoying mental habits of conservatives and a few points are likely to come up.

There's the tendency to see simple cartoons instead of complex realities. The disregard of contrary views and evidence. The lack of appreciation for science and technology. And of course there's the embarrassing nostalgia for a golden age that never was.

Which brings me to David Suzuki.

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