Oh, Canada…

Meet Timothy Ball, our northerly neighbor’s most prominent climate change denier.

July 28, 2015

Photo: .Martin./Flickr

Climate change denial is not a uniquely American phenomenon. The 3 percent of actively publishing climate scientists who reject the fundamentals of anthropogenic global warming are scattered around the globe, supported by politicians and pundits who help spread their message of doubt. Deniers are blogging from Sydney, speaking at skeptics’ conventions in Toronto, and arguing with parliamentarians in London—even if few Americans know their names.

Let’s change that. This is the first in a series of profiles of climate change deniers abroad. I’ll start with our neighbors to the north.

Meet Timothy F. Ball, one of Canada’s most prominent challengers of mainstream climate change science. Typically described as a historical climatologist, Dr. Ball spent 24 years in the Department of Geography at the University of Winnipeg.

Ball’s career trajectory is interesting. His early publications are technical and historical in nature. In the 1980s, he published articles in scientific journals with esoteric titles like “Manitoba Climate: Past, Present and Future” and “Manitoba Climate: Its Impact on Agriculture, Past, Present and Future.” These papers are sometimes cited in noncontroversial Canadian histories.

A more propagandistic spin appeared in his writings around 1990. The timing is not surprising: Two years earlier, NASA climatologist James Hansen told Congress, “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” The public climate change debate had begun in earnest, and Ball quickly added his voice to the skeptics, writing articles like “Global Warming; The Need for Objectivity,” “Global Warming: Fact or Misinformation,” and “An Iconoclast's View of Climatic Change.” Ball’s peer-reviewed publications slowed to a trickle once he began to publish climate change denial literature.

In interviews, Ball leverages his credentials as a climate historian to make two basic arguments. First, he says that climate scientists have been wrong before, pointing out that many climatologists were worried about a coming ice age in the 1970s. He also disputes the simple reality of a warming planet, claiming that the world has actually been cooling since 1998.

Ball is partially correct—scientists are, in fact, wrong sometimes—but his examples don’t hold up. The majority of climate scientists were predicting future warming, not a looming ice age, in the 1970s. The claim that the planet has been cooling since 1998 is also deeply dishonest. A powerful El Niño spiked global temperatures in 1998, causing the next few years to look like a cooling period. In fact, over the long-term, global average temperatures have been—and still are—rising steadily. It’s surprising that a man who trumpets his credentials as a historian would take such a short-term view.

Ball’s other argument is that the climate changes periodically, so there’s no reason to believe that what’s occurring now is caused by carbon pollution. In the CBC documentary The Denial Machine, Ball asks, “When the Vikings were farming in Greenland in soil that’s now permanently frozen, the question is, then what caused that warming?”

Ball’s logic—the planet went through warm periods before fossil-fuel combustion began, so carbon can’t be the cause of current warming—is confused. Climatologists don’t claim that fossil fuels caused all warm periods, only this one. In any event, the weather in Greenland is a local phenomenon. Climate science is concerned about global conditions.

As with many climate change deniers, there have also been questions about Ball’s funding sources. Canadian watchdog Jim Hoggan claims that Ball’s organization, Friends of Science, received money from oil and gas interests after being funneled through other sources. The CBC’s documentary also reports that fossil-fuel companies funded the group’s conferences.

You don’t need to consider industry influence, though, to reject Ball’s positions. I’ve read many of his articles and watched his interviews. I’m always left with a simple question: Where is Ball’s evidence? He questions the mainstream science and data, but his own presentation of data is incredibly limited (which perhaps explains his paucity of recent peer-reviewed publications). A real skeptic makes his own case. Ball never does.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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