Rob Shirkey is the executive director of Our Horizon, an environmental non-profit advocating for municipal bylaws that would require gasoline pumps to carry cigarette-style warning labels. Norm Kelly is the chair of Toronto City Council's Parks and Environment Committee.
Only one of them believes in climate change.
Kelly's skepticism isn't new, but it's been in the spotlight of late. Amid much ridicule, the 71-year-old has even taken to trying to explain himself in bizarre bursts on Twitter. On one occasion, he bemoaned "the arrogance of true beliw" (sic). On another, he advised people to read a recent batshit National Post column by "prominent academic" Lawrence Solomon. (Solomon may be a lot of things, but he is not an academic.)
Last Saturday, a supporter of Shirkey's pump-label campaign used the form on his website to generate an email to Kelly. That email - provided to us by Shirkey, with the original sender's name and address X'ed out - was identical to the generic one in the template, and made no particular allusion to Kelly or anything he's said.
But five days later, Kelly replied to that message with an extensive, defensive attempt to clarify his own views.
Because Kelly feels that the media has been distorting his position, we have copied and pasted the entirety of his explication below. (Its recipient forwarded it to Shirkey, who then forwarded it to us.)
In short, Kelly subscribes to a peculiar epistemology that suggests that the future is wholly unknowable, or at least cannot be predicted with any accuracy. Therefore, the councillor for Ward 40 (Scarborough-Agincourt) believes that planning for the future is a fool's pursuit. And that science is bullshit, because in 1999 the guesses of a chimpanzee named Chippy turned out to be more accurate than those of political pundits on U.S. TV.
Before you get outraged that Mayor Rob Ford selected this man to chair the Parks and Environment Committee, you should be aware that that committee has few real responsibilities. And also that Mayor David Miller had Kelly chair the Planning and Growth Management Committee, which actually has several.
Shirkey - who has abandoned his own epic run for City Council - responded to Kelly's letter by outlining the relative ease and simplicity of his warning-label campaign, and politely suggesting that the councillor might find the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be "a useful source for information." We'll let you know if he hears back.
Thanks for contacting me with your views on the climate, past and future.
Here's a summary of my participation at committee as expressed in a series of my most recent tweets. Hope you'll find them more informative than the media reports of my position on this important matter.
1. Didn't deny global warming. Pointed out that latest data indicated little or no warming over last 15 yrs. (Interestingly, the author of the report replied to my observation by stating that "the essence of climate change is not global warming, it's basically change.")
2. Didn't deny climate change. Just questioned the drivers and their relationship to this study.
3. Climate Modelling? Very complex. As a leading Canadian expert in the field told me, "Regional climate models have very poor predictive capabilities".
4. Climate change as disastrous as projected by the climate study? See Lawrence Soloman's column: http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/01/30/warmer-temperatures-would-be-a-benefit-not-a-problem-for-toronto/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
In short -at committee- I argued that, since climate and modelling are both very complex and since billions of dollars would be spent in responding to the predictions of one study, it would be wise to proceed cautiously ahead, keeping in mind 5 questions:
1. What could be done (to prepare for the consequences of climate change)?
2. What should be done?
3. How much would it cost?
4. Who would pay?
5. And over what length of time?
Finally, if you have time, take a look at these 2 books on the theme of predicting the future:
Dan Gardner's book, "Future Babble", in which he observes:
- "In the 1968 book The Population Bomb, which sold millions of copies, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich declared "the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines - hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now". But there weren't mass famines in the 1970s. Or in the 1980s."
- "The now-defunct magazine Brill's Content, for one, compared the predictions of famous American pundits with a chimpanzee named Chippy, who made his guesses by choosing among flashcards, Chippy consistently matched or beat the best in the business."
- "[Prof] Tetlock recruited 284 experts - political scientists, economist, and journalists - whose jobs involve commenting or giving advice on political or economic trends."
- "Over many years, Tetlock and his team peppered the experts with questions. In all, they collected an astonishing 27,450 judgements about the future."
- "the experts would have been better off making random guesses. Tetlock puts it a little more acidly: the experts would have been beaten by 'a dart-throwing chimpanzee'"
- "Experts who did better than the average of the group - and better than random guessing - thought very differently. They had no template. Instead, they drew information and ideas from multiple sources and sought to synthesize it. Most of all, these experts were comfortable that they tended to doubt the ability of anyone to predict the future."
- "Linearity isn't the norm in the world around us; non-linearity is."
Nassim Taleb's widely referenced tome, "The Black Swan", in which he wrote:
- "I find it scandalous that in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it, using tools and methods that exclude rare events."
- "The gains in our ability to model (and predict) the world may be dwarfed by the increases in its complexity."
- "Why on earth do we predict so much? Worse, even, and more interesting: Why don't we talk about our record in predicting? Why don't we see how we (almost) always miss the big events? I call this the scandal of prediction."
Councillor, Ward 40
Chair, Parks and Environment
Follow me on twitter: @councillorkelly