Humanity lacks the capacity to prevent climate change: Jaccard

Post by Mike Klassen in


Professor Mark Jaccard speaking at a recent Global Civic salon

"We humans are quite clever at deluding ourselves into believing that we're reducing reducing greenhouse gas emissions, when in fact we're doing very little." That tough statement begins a short talk by Professor Mark Jaccard of SFU's School of Resource and Environmental Management. Jaccard was one of several speakers at former Mayor Sam Sullivan's public salon held in June at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Jaccard's message is grim, but clear. "We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our businesses and in our homes. We need to do it everywhere in everything we do." He goes on to propose that we need to switch to non-fossil fuel cars, but unfortunately that recommendation is also problematic. Electric cars also have a huge carbon footprint, and biofuels are also having huge consequences for the food economy.

Where Jaccard is most critical is on the concept of "carbon neutrality". He argues that it is a "fiction" to think that we can continue to burn fossil fuels at will, as long as we're plumping up a hydro dam somewhere in China, or some similar trade-off. Local governments are using carbon credits as a measure to create offsets. There is no doubt that someone is getting rich doing this, and it isn't taxpayers.

We've been highly critical of the "symbolic environmentalism" taking place at Vancouver City Hall, for example, which takes our eye off the real goals of building more dense and efficient cities. Jaccard's speech adds fuel, so to speak, to the discussion about the urgency of climate change. Real leadership from cities is one way this will have to happen, not photo ops and gestures.

Read also this post on Jaccard's talk on Gord Price's blog.

- post by Mike


Climate change is an issue that requires an international resolution. Failing a binding, international agreement, there is only one sensible course of action and it has already been adopted by the Federal Government - match any US initiative. To be more stringent would needlessly make our economy less competitive. Less stringent and we would invite trade sanctions which would also hurt our economy.

There may be many good reasons for "green" initiatives for Vancouver. Saying it is to save the planet is not one of them.

Nice self-fulfilling prophesy. Not particularly inspiring though. We obviously can solve the climate crisis and I believe we will, when we finally make the choice to do so.

One of the main problems in finding climate solutions are people that promote techno fixes that are likely not economically possible, not that great for the environment and do not improve people's lives.

From what I can tell, the basic thinking is that they assume that people aren’t willing to change their lifestyle so technology and alternative energy are needed to minimize the impact of people’s lifestyles on the environment.

However, if people don’t care enough change their lifestyles, why would they care enough to pay more for alternative energy when paying more for alternative energy will mean they can’t afford the lifestyle that they are living so they will have to change their lifestyle anyway.

By creating the myth that people can go on carrying on the way they are carrying on, the status quo is preserved and the sense of urgency to create a better world is gone.

Instead, the approach that I believe will work the best is to work on creating a better world that uses less resources and energy that people will find more rewarding, beautiful, fun and fulfilling than what we have to day. Which, given all the messes we have created, should not really be even that difficult.

Actually, reducing fossil fuel use improve the regional economy and make it more resilient to volatile oil prices. We don't produce oil or manufacture automobiles so the money spent on them just flows out of the region. If people spend less on driving, they have more money to spend at local business improving the economy.

The assertion by Professor Jaccard at the beginning of the video, "I spend my time trying to prevent climate change" may be appropriate for a DC comic book superhero but is totally absurd in the real world. He might as well try to stop sunrise, gravity or supernovas in distant galaxies. Climate changes. That's what climates do on all planets that have atmospheres, including our own.

The underlying problem with much of Professor Jaccard's work is that he assumes that the science of climate change is somehow settled and only unqualified naysayers disagree with the hypothesis that humanity's greenhouse gas (mainly carbon dioxide in most countries) are causing dangerous global warming.

The physcial science is not settled at all and an increasing number of highly qualified climate (physical science) experts (which Professor Jaccard is not) disagree.

Here is the beginnings of a list of experts into the causes of climate change who totally disagree with Dr. Jaccard and his allies:

Tom Harris
International Climate Science Coalition

Hurray for Tom Harris!!!!!!

Marc Jaccard is a global warming alamist. A doomsterist of first order.

Pity anyone would even listen to his drivel. The event where his speech was featured, is, in that sense, perfect...

Jaccard is just another eco-grifter, riding the gravy train of climate hysteria.

If it wasn't for his adoption of the Al Gore version of Eco-Doom & Gloom, he'd be an unknown professor from a backwater university.

And remember, he's trained as an economist. His knowledge of climatology, glaciology, oceanography, meteorology, geomorphology, solar physics or atmospheric chemistry is between nil & zero.

Just another eco-grifter getting famous and trying to get rich off the latest in along series of scare campaigns from the international environmental industry.

Remember the Club of Rome?
The Population Bomb?
Global Cooling?

Based on the nasty personal attacks being weilded against Jaccard by some commenters below, the "ad hominem" principle would seem to be in effect which strongly suggests that Jaccard is cutting close to the bone of his attackers and detractors.

As they say, they don't shoot at dead horses.

If Jaccard's detractors are so confident in their views of the climate change situation then they should be able to refute Jaccard without calling him nasty names or smearing him with claims that he is pursuing some sort of selfish monetary agenda for his own gain.

And if you doubt that lifeforms can change an atmosphere, check out the early atmosphere of this planet: It had no oxygen until photosynthesis evolved and plant life began spewing oxygen into the atmosphere, forever altering this planet.

Considering what early plant life did to Earth's atmosphere, it's not the least bit far-fetched that 6 to 8 billion humans and their activities could similarly change the chemistry of this planet's atmosphere.

Anyway, reducing fossil fuel use and increasing energy efficiency is a very good idea even if people don't believe in climate change. From oil spills in the Gulf to mountain top mining in the states to the northern half of Alberta being destroyed to get at the tar sands, it is getting more and more apparent that fossil fuel overuse is bad for people, the environment and the economy.

It is also rather selfish of us to think we have the right to use every last drop of oil depriving future generations of this valuable resource and leaving the environment in a mess. And before anyone brings up any "healthy economy" arguments, we seem also to be intent on leaving them with a mountain of debt as well.

Here in Vancouver, we don't produce fossil fuels so all the money spent on gas just flows out of the local economy. Now, as far as solutions go, there are many that have economic, environmental and social benefits far beyond just reducing GHG emissions. Rail, rapid transit and cycling, for example, provide people with low cost transportation that helps create vibrant communities where people are healthier.

"Solutions" that focus only on CO emissions reductions that don't have multiple other benefits including carbon sequestration and electric cars should be avoided. Expensive, risky geo-engineering should also be avoided.

Lets focus on win-win solutions.

It is of course true that "Considering what early plant life did to Earth's atmosphere, it's not the least bit far-fetched that 6 to 8 billion humans and their activities could similarly change the chemistry of this planet's atmosphere."

But that is not the topic here really. It is Jaccard's overconfidence that he, or even humanity in general, can stop climate change in the forseeable future. The evolution of the atmosphere due to biota did indeed happen but that took hundreds of millions of years, not decades as those in Jaccard's camp would have us believe humanity is doing to today's climate.

Besides, it is the height of arrogance for anyone to pretend they KNOW how the climate system works, let alone how to change it. The system is simply not understood well at all and people should simply face up to that reality instead of the childish assertions that "the science is settled" as zoologist David Suzuki is fond of saying. There are many scientists who actually DO specialize in understanding the causes of climate change who totally disagree with Suzuki and Jaccard and I would put more faith in them than in fruit fly zoologist Suzuki or economist Jaccard, wouldn't all of you?

Tom Harris

@Tom Harris

So first you state that "Besides, it is the height of arrogance for anyone to pretend they KNOW how the climate system works, let alone how to change it." Then a whole sentence later you state, "There are many scientists who actually DO specialize in understanding the causes of climate change who totally disagree with Suzuki and Jaccard and I would put more faith in them than in fruit fly zoologist Suzuki or economist Jaccard, wouldn't all of you?"

So either people can understand the climate or they can't. Which is it, you can't have it both ways.

Anyway, if we can't understand it, how can you state that climate change will not happen due to human activity. Seems to me if there is even a small chance that human activity is causing climate change, we owe it to future generations to commit to preventing it and saving some fossil fuels for them in the process.

Mike - I'd say City Hall's commitment to cycling, urban agriculture, and electric vehicles are more then "symbolic environmentalism". But what would you propose instead that would have more impact? It seems that a lot of NPA supporters (at least the ones who frequent this site) don't even believe we should be doing anything, never mind more.


Remember the Gulf Oil Spill? The industry said that would never happen while others were predicting such spills would and fought off-shore drilling. Unfortunately, the industry won the battle now everyone, including the industry, lost the war.

Many bad things never happen BECAUSE people take positive action to ensure they won't. Indeed, this is the strength of being human. We can take action to avoid danger.

With climate change, the only way to absolutely prove it one way or another is to do nothing. However, I would get really no satisfaction out of saying "I told you so." I would much rather that we take action to ensure that it won't happen. Yes, we would not be able to say for sure that it would have happened if we did not take action but so what, we would likely be living in a much better world anyway that is not addicted to fossil fuels.

@ Chris

Any green initiative that is justified because it reduces GHG is symbolic because Canada could disappear and it wouldn't make any difference. I hope this doesn't make you feel that your advocacy for cycling is any less important.

@ Richard

The only reason that Canada is the best positioned of any developed country is because of our resources - we have something that the rest of the world needs and will continue to need. That doesn't mean we should or have to ignore environmental concerns but just because an airplane crashes, you don't stop flying.

So if you want to keep our standard of living including our generous social programs, I suggest you should reconsider your view of our resource industries.


The overheated pace of resource extraction, specifically oil, is very damaging to the long-term economic prospects of Canada. It would be much more economically prudent to significantly slow the pace of extraction to avoid the distortion of the economy and ensure the prosperity of future generations.

Oil is only going to get more valuable the longer it stays in the ground. The rapid paced extraction increases labour and material costs thus maximizing extraction costs. The oil industry is crowding out other industries such as manufacturing sending all these jobs oversees. When the oil is gone, jobs will be gone as well.

It is also not a good idea to use oil revenue to fund social programs and regular government expenses. These should be funding by sustainable revenue such as sales and income taxes. Oil revenue should be placed in rain day funds or even better, to build an economy and infrastructure for the future. Indeed, this is what smart oil-rich countries do.

Instead, Canada simply uses it to maintain government spending while reducing taxes. When the oil is gone, the result will be high spending and a decreased oil revenue leading to high deficits and economic collapse.


"just because an airplane crashes, you don't stop flying." Actually, you likely do if you are in the plane. :)

@ Richard

Oil is not crowding our our manufacturing industries, it is our lack of competitiveness. Perhaps you haven't noticed that just about everything today is manufactured in China. How do you pay for it? The Americans borrowed the money and now China is sitting on $2 trillion US dollars and the US is in big trouble. We pay for our imported consumer goods with our resources.

Are you prepared to have a lower standard of living?


Oil is partially responsible for our lack of competitiveness. It has driven up our currency so our exports are not competitive, it has driven up the cost of office space and real estate and it has driven up labour costs and taken away talent from other industries.

Regarding standard of living, that actually means is not always agreed upon but lets start with quality of life as shown in the liveable cities list.

The 2010 Mercer list:

Monocle's list.
1. Munich
2. Copenhagen
3. Zurich
4. Tokyo
5. Helsinki
6. Stockholm
7. Paris
8. Vienna
9. Melbourne
10. Madrid

Not really any cities from major oil producing countries in the whole lot except for Vancouver which is thankfully far away from any oil production. Note that Calgary or Fort McMurrey are nowhere to be found. After Canada, the next is Australia at #29.

Much higher on the list are countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Angola and Kazakhstan. All places that have issues that affect liveability.

In fact, there is a case to be made that oil allows corrupt and incompetent governments to survive by "buying off" the population with money from oil.

Even in countries like Canada and the US, there are issues. In Alberta, when the conservatives finally decided to stand up to the oil industry and demand higher royalties, the industry funded the Wild Rose Party to force the government to back down. Then there is poor Louisiana.

So I hope I've help put to rest the myth that the oil industry is good for the standard of living. Sure, there are countries like Norway which have done a good job but for every Norway, there is at least one Nigeria.

"... the height of arrogance for anyone to pretend they KNOW how the climate system works..."

It seems to me the that the height of arrogance is for someone who doesn't have a degree in climate science to think that he knows more than the 97% of climate scientists who accept anthropogenic global warming.

@ Richard

You still haven't dealt with my point. Without our resource industries (not just oil but mining as well) how would we pay for all the wonderful imported consumer goods we have come to enjoy.


What are future generations going to do when all the oil is gone?

Canadians are smart, resourceful, innovative, well educated people who will figure out other was to prosper as have the people in other countries that are much less reliant on oil and natural resources. In fact, without such resources to pay the bills, people have a much larger incentive to be innovative and create the industries of the future.

And I never said do without, what we need to do is dramatically scale back oil and resource extraction to economically and environmentally sustainable levels.

The last comment in reply to Bill was from me, not from Bill. My apologizes to Bill and others for the confusion.

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