"Facts are stubborn things", Ronald Reagan reminded knee-jerk ideologues with advice that applies to many of the people gathered at the Mercer Island Library for last night's Conservative Enthusiasts meeting on Global Warming. No matter how much you may wish it were different, if you're wrong about the evidence, your position is ultimately doomed.
Mark Sussman (MIT PhD and organizer of the group) understands the importance of real debate, so he invited as a special guest Dr. Richard Gammon, climatologist from the University of Washington, and Nobel Prize-winning member of the IPCC. After a showing of the movie (I saw last year) The Great Global Warming Swindle, they invited Prof. Gammon to give a rebuttal -- and take questions from the skeptics.
Prof. Gammon deserves another Nobel Prize for agreeing to present in front of such a hostile audience. If you think man-made global warming is a crisis and you want to affect opinions, you need to persuade the skeptics, not dismiss them as idiots the way Al Gore and others do by insisting "the debate is over". (If you think there's nothing to debate, by the way, I dare you to listen to the NPR-sponsored Global Warming debate ). To Gammon's great credit, at least he was willing to come visit the other side.
The problem for most of the conservatives last night, I think, is that they approach the scientists' political motivations so skeptically that they refuse to listen, whether to facts or anything else. Unfortunately, Professor Gammon's talk ultimately failed because, like many from the Global Warming movement, he mixes science (where he is an expert) with policy (where he is not) -- and of course the audience saw right through it, and missed his overall point.
Here's the kind of presentation I'd like to see Prof. Gammon and others give next time:
- Eliminate all talk about politics. Assume nobody's a liberal, nobody's a conservative. Just talk provable science.
- Be very humble when discussing projections about the future. What may or may not happen in 50 or 100 years is so speculative and prone to error that it distracts from the real message--experimentally verifiable facts about what has happened in the past and what is happening right now.
- Stop the tape. While watching the video, push the pause button and refute the assertions one-by-one. One reason the Swindle video is so powerful is that it does have some truth to it; acknowledge those facts and the uncertainties so you have credibility when refuting the errors.
- Ask for advice. Conservatives don't want the world to end either. If humans are causing the world to warm out of control, ask the audience how they would fix it. Unfortunately, conservatives think the IPCC's proposal is "vote for Al Gore" -- which clearly has nothing to do with science.
The Global Warming deniers are making a huge bet that facts are on their side. But facts don't care about ideology. I think a committed focus on facts--not policy opinions--would change more minds.